Disclaimer: I don't own these great characters, and besides, I can't tell them what to do. I can only make plot suggestions, most of which are ignored, anyway, and all of which are free. When considering fanfiction, that saying 'you get what you pay for' takes on a whole new meaning!

'Endgame's Endgame

by Linda Bindner

A/N1: Watching the season 8 episode 'Endgame,' or at least understanding the episode very well, is a must before reading this fic.

A/N2: I have no knowledge of military proceedings, so please realize that all that follows is completely made up, especially when concerning the military. Please don't boil me in oil if you know better.

A/N3: Thanks to Noda and PaulineFitz for betaing - your suggestions are gold!

The Jack Part of the Story

Prologue

Saturday was the day General Jack O'Neill saved all of SG-1 from certain death by choosing to do nothing. He hadn't let Prometheus blow them and Osiris's ship out of the skies, saving Earth from the potential threat posed by the Trust, and through them, the Goa'uld. He had instead chosen to do nothing, giving time for his friends on SG-1 to beam to Prometheus before the remaining Trust members piloted their ship into hyperspace.

But the fact that doing nothing is what ultimately saved the lives of all those on SG-1, not to mention saved the Stargate (and in effect, the whole Program) was beside the point. The bald facts of the instance were that while the 'Gate and SG-1 were safe, the Trust members that were still living had gotten away, and would surely come back to haunt the SGC at a later time. Plus, several thousands of Jaffa were now sure to die from the symbiote poisoning that O'Neill had allowed to continue existing on board the Trust's ship.

This bad choice among even worse choices was what had become known among the SGC personnel as a 'karmic trade' - a situation that was either win/win, or lose/lose, depending on how one looked at it. It was an event where neither side could gain an advantage over an opponent - the classic 'no win' situation. When faced with that 'no win' situation, O'Neill had gambled for, and gotten, the most fortuitous outcome that anyone could have expected.

Unfortunately, what was good for the SGC wasn't necessarily good for the entire country. Those people in charge of the whole country were constantly being held accountable for all that happened during their tenure. Hence, when things didn't go exactly as planned, someone had to take some kind of responsibility for the disaster that always ended up happening.

The results of those 'karmic' situations were always taken very seriously. People liked to point fingers, to blame some 'Joe' or some 'Jon' for what had happened (actually, anybody who was convenient would do). And though the Stargate Program was classified, and few individuals knew about any of the events that had transpired that fateful Saturday, those few who knew about it agreed that it felt better when the shit hit the fan to say that it was 'Jon's fault.' And those few decided the instant they read the reports of all that had happened on that Saturday to lay the blame at the feet of one General Jonathan 'Jack' O'Neill.

Chapter One

Tuesday morning, SGC:

Numb, Jack read over the letter that had arrived only that morning one more time.

To: Brigadier General J. O'Neill

From: USAF Office of Special Investigations

re: the decisions of Saturday, 12 February, 2005

General O'Neill,

This is to notify you that there is a scheduled disciplinary investigation into your command decisions made during the events that transpired at _____________ AFB (classified) on the day in question, and is scheduled to begin on the afternoon of February 17, 2005. Allegations have been made that:

1) Brigadier General J. O'Neill did knowingly and purposefully break regulations of the UCMJ article 134, specifically that policy known as 36-2909, the Fraternization Regulation, by allowing favoritism for former team mates to affect his professional judgment. Fraternization is a recognized offense according to the UCMJ.

2) Brigadier General J. O'Neill is hereby requested to cease unprofessional relations concerning former team members Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, civilian scientist Doctor Daniel Jackson, and the civilian contractor Teal'c. Refusal to cease relations as requested can include (but are not limited to) counseling, official reprimand, creation of a UIF, demotion, transfer, and court-martial according to the MCM.

Please cooperate with the OSI and this official request, in accordance to those regulations pertaining to this investigation, pending disciplinary action and/or court-martial. Thank you.

USAF Office of Special Investigations

Well, this was it, the day Jack had been waiting for since he took the promotion to General. The Powers That Be had finally figured out that they had made one hell of a mistake by giving him a promotion instead of the retirement he'd asked for. If this hadn't been considered a bad situation before, it had definitely mutated to become of the 'shit hits the fan' variety now.

Idly, Jack wondered why some staff member of the mucky-mucks hadn't tried to phone him first rather than sending a letter. He supposed that they wanted to have some type of a formal paper trail that they could later refer back to if it was necessary. Yet he was too... stunned... to give that idea much more than a cursory thought. Instead, he read through the letter one more time, dispassionately noting the chills that raced up and down his spine as each word rang like a gong going off in his mind.

He understood the fact he had truly shown favoritism for SG-1 on Saturday when he had decided to wait to give Prometheus the order to blow them up before hearing that his people were safe on board the Earth ship. If SG-1 had beamed to Prometheus without the Stargate, he admitted to himself that he wouldn't have hesitated to give the order of 'blow the Trust to Hell, Prometheus.' Instead, for the first time in his military career, he had chosen to honor the lives of his friends rather than do his obvious duty, and had chosen not to give the order that would have ended their lives.

Not that he could have done any differently.

His thoughts then moved to how he had tried, hard, every day, to erect walls of emotional defense between himself and the three remaining team members of SG-1. He had attempted to create that necessary distance that command required between him and his closest friends. And he thought he had been doing a good job of it, too. He wasn't particularly pleased with the feelings of leaving his friends behind like he was, of often pretending to be too busy for them. And though it made them unhappy, and made him very unhappy, he had done it.

Now, it appeared that his efforts had apparently been for naught. He had managed to accomplish very little with his 'distance of command' ploys, with his pretense that SG-1 was not any more important to him than any other team on the base. At the first opportunity, he had given in to that draw he felt for the members of SG-1 relatively quickly. He had felt relief beyond measure that his gamble had worked on Saturday, and everything had been alright in the end. The bottom line of the Saturday mess was that his friends were alive. But the price exacted for that decision was turning out to be rather exorbitant, he realized.

According to anyone looking in from the outside, it would seem a simple case that by keeping his friends alive, as opposed to carrying out his duty, he'd broken Air Force regulations. He couldn't, wouldn't, deny it. And as to ceasing the relations he had fostered over the years with his former team members... Like that was ever going to happen! He might as well resign right now and save the OSI the trouble of getting him canned.

On one level, Jack realized that this was his worst fear come true. He had always been aware of the possibility of disciplinary action, especially considering his checkered past. He'd grown particularly aware of the possibility right after the time he'd met Carter. Only his promise to himself not to encourage such a disciplinary investigation from transpiring over the years he and Carter had worked together had stopped Jack from behaving how he had often dreamed of behaving concerning her.

Now, the dreaded investigation was happening anyway, in spite of the fact that Carter was only a small part of the reason behind that scrutiny. A personnel disciplinary hearing was what all airmen worried about from the minute they joined the Air Force until the day they officially retired. And now, here it was.

On the other hand, Jack was almost relieved that the dreaded event was finally here. He could stop anticipating it. He briefly wondered what the investigators hoped to uncover, but suspected that he already knew all about what they would find. As he'd already noted to himself, it was a simple case, really: he had purposefully broken the fraternization regulations by choosing his team members lives over doing his duty, and had ended up subsequently endangering the SGC, as well as the country. True, he had saved the lives of his friends. But now he had to pay the consequences for his actions.

At the same time, a tiny part of Jack saw this promised horror as an opportunity. The OSI was sure to find that he had broken the regulations, and in so doing, was in breach of the vows that he had made all those years ago when he had joined the Air Force. Yet those friends he had saved were the most important things in the Universe to him, even if such an emotional attachment went largely unacknowledged. Now, he was finally going to be allowed to admit to that attachment. In fact, now was the chance to finally admit everything - he no longer had anything left to lose.

Another idle thought struck Jack - he wondered if they planned to throw him in a holding cell while waiting for the day of the investigation. So far this Tuesday morning, nothing so untoward had transpired. But it was still early. Anything had time to happen. Throwing him in a cell of some kind to await the investigation was the logical thing to do. After all, how could he be expected to run the base when his decision-making process was under scrutiny like this?

Jack stared around the space that made up his empty office, contemplating all that he saw: walls full of pictures, awards, commendations; all celebrating a long career of dutifully upholding the regulations while serving with distinction in the USAF. All the pictures and framed awards seemed like useless scrap to him now. He wondered what kind of price he could get for them on ebay.

While glancing around his office, his gaze landed on the stacks of forms filling his in-box tray. Suddenly, he grinned. One good thing about the investigation - he wouldn't have to worry about doing his paperwork during that time, which was definitely something worth celebrating.

Another reason to celebrate now was simply being surrounded by those very alive friends of his. No investigation into any of his previous decisions could take his friends away from him, and that alone made him feel simply ecstatic.

So Jack negligently tossed the OSI notice onto his desk, then made a grab for his phone. He punched in some memorized numbers, waited a moment, then smiled a huge grin. “Carter! I know it's early, and you're probably doing something with some doohickey or other, but the fact is, what with briefings and phone calls and all, I missed breakfast this morning. I wonder if you'd like to join me for a donut or two in the Commissary? We can get Daniel to join us so we can make fun of him for dying so many times. Whadya say?” He paused while she asked a question of her own, then jovially replied, “No, that's okay, Teal'c's quarters are on my way - I'll drag him along, you call Daniel, and we'll see you there.”

Ten seconds later, the office of Brigadier General J. O'Neill was empty.

Chapter Two

Jack had just sat down at a table for four, and sunk his teeth into what passed as the Commissary's version of a donut when Carter and Teal'c joined him. As per usual, Teal'c sat beside him, and Carter claimed the spot directly across from him.

Carter scooted her chair a bit closer to the table, gazed at the yogurt she had chosen to eat, doubt in her eyes. Her gaze slid to take in his glazed donut, the piece of chocolate cream cake on the tray before him, and the cup of 'coffee' sludge that sat at his elbow. “That's your breakfast, Sir?” she asked, indecision now coloring her voice.

Jack spared a moment from enjoying his breakfast in order to eye his food in sudden mistrust. “Yeah,” he answered in a hesitant tone. “Why - is there something wrong with it?” He huffed a sigh of irritation. “Have you heard something like the refrigerators are on the blink again, and I'm eating day old donuts because of it?” Honestly, if Carter had heard about a fridge malfunction before he had... again..!

Jack left his thought hanging in his mind as she emphatically shook her head. “No! Of course not.”

Jack breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that's good!”

Carter next pursed her lips and narrowed eyes full of doubt. “It's just that...”

When she didn't finish her comment, Jack prodded her. “What?”

Carter sent another look of supreme distaste towards him. “It's just that... all that sugar!"

Jack smiled at her in reaction. “Yeah, great, isn't it?”

She continued to dubiously eye his food even as she spooned up a glob of yogurt and thrust it into her mouth. She swallowed, looked at her chosen food, at his, then heaved the biggest, most regretful sigh that Jack had ever heard. “Yeah,” she capitulated, agreeing with him. “It is great.”

She sounded like her sense of 'want' was at war with her sense of 'need.' In order to help that fight of hers along, Jack held up his plate of cake and passed it right under her nose. “You want it, admit it!”

Carter's second sigh of resignation mixed with severe irritation, but she held fast. “I may want it, Sir, but I shouldn't...” Her voice trailed off, desire now in her voice.

She was caving! And already! Jack sat back, prepared to enjoy her surrender. “There's more,” he noted in a singsong voice. “You just gotta admit to yourself that you want it, and it's yours.”

Another sigh of regret. “I can't. Really.” Then she gazed straight at him in wonder. “And how do you know that it's mine for the taking?” She gave a small chuckle. “I might be too late already - if it's as great as you say it is, there might not be any pieces left,” she pointed out.

Jack just raised his brows at her. “Oh, ye of little faith,” he commented. “I'll get it for you.”

Now Carter shot him her 'I'm so annoyed with you' expression. “And why does that make a difference, Sir?” she dryly inquired.

Jack promptly replied, “I'm the General - I can do what I want... remember?”

Daniel arrived at the table as if his paraphrased words had drawn him there. He set his tray holding two donuts, a plate of waffles, and a cup of the industrial 'Dr. Jackson' version of the coffee beside his friends, pulled out the chair, and sat. He distastefully eyed Jack's 'breakfast,' and blurted, “Geez, Jack, need a sugar rush or something?” He didn't wait for Jack to respond, but turned to regard the others. “He must have a briefing with SG-13 this morning.”

All of SG-1 knew that a briefing with SG-13 meant several hours of tortuous boredom at the hands of Dr. Vanlow and his rocks. Everyone at the table except Jack laughed, and even Teal'c smiled. Jack eyed them all with a mock indignant look. “Alright, Dr. Jackson, I'll admit my selection of breakfast is a little high on the sugar end, but as long as I don't have to ascend, die, or marry anyone for it, I consider it a decidedly successful choice of breakfast! Besides, I already met with SG-13.”

Teal'c's sonorous voice washed over the table. “I hear that the donuts are quite nutritious, O'Neill.”

Jack replied by simply pointing at Teal'c while continuing to glare at Daniel. “There - you see? Right out of the mouth of...” He looked Teal'c over while trying to decide exactly what he should call him. Finally, he settled on, “The mouth of a First Prime.”

Teal'c bowed his head in agreement. “No one will ever accuse you of grasping anything but the obvious, O'Neill.”

Carter suppressed a snort as she took another spoonful of yogurt.

Jack turned to regard Teal'c in amazement. “Is that a joke, T?” he asked, astonished.

Teal'c bobbed his head a second time. “Indeed,” he simply said. His lips gave a twitch.

It was a gesture that Jack didn't miss. He playfully slapped the flat of his still-clean fork on the Jaffa's shoulder. “We might lose our minds if you joke too much, Teal'c.”

Carter took another bite of yogurt, made a face at it, then said, “Speak for yourself, Sir. I'm not losing my mind - my mental faculties are all revved up and ready to go.”

“Enjoying your yogurt, Carter?” Jack asked as a way of reply. “Is it all you hoped it would be?” He took his first bite of cake, then in a very exaggerated fashion, let a rapturous expression overtake his features. “Ah - sugar... true bliss,” he declared, delighted.

To which Carter sent him another baleful glare. “Don't gloat!”

Jack licked his fork clean of all the frosting he'd possibly missed, and speared his cake again. He lifted a bite, simultaneously saying, “Okay, Carter, you obviously want cake - why is it you chose yogurt?”

Carter sent another look of agony in the direction of her breakfast, but replied readily enough for someone who looked like she was about to enter death row. “Pete made a comment last night about people who eat whatever they want, and end up spending the rest of their lives as an obese health risk. I don't want his prediction to come true for me, so I thought I should make healthy food choices starting right now.”

Jack's expression soured as it did every time he heard any reference to 'the dweeb' she was planning to marry. “Carter, you're in as much danger of becoming obese as Walter is of growing hair.”

Daniel burst out laughing, spewing coffee all over Teal'c. He immediately mopped at his friend's face with his napkin as he apologized. “Sorry, Teal'c - I couldn't help laughing when I thought of Walter with an Afro!”

Another round of merriment accosted those at the table.

Still chuckling, Jack finished scraping up the last cake crumbs on his plate, preparing to slide the delectable final bite into his mouth, when a shadow abruptly passed over him. Jack looked up to see two pairs of eyes, one green, one hazel, accompanied by the most serious expressions he had ever seen on two SFs. The guards stood staring at him specifically, their hands wrapped officially around the weapons at their sides.

“Apologies, General O'Neill,” one proclaimed so loudly that every person in the Commissary heard, and paused to watch the scene unfold. “But you'll have to come with us.”

Jack didn't pretend ignorance of the reason why they had suddenly appeared to stand beside him. “Give me a minute, fellas,” he requested instead, then made fast work of the rest of his cake, followed by swig of coffee. His calm demeanor with what was basically his arrest put the two young SFs standing at attention a bit out of joint. They appeared not to know how to handle such patient acceptance as the General's.

Jack took a second swig of coffee, set his coffee mug aside, then pushed his chair back and stood. The other three eyed the security detachment with instant distrust.

Daniel broke the silence that had fallen over the group. “Uh... what's this, Jack?”

Jack stood beside the table, patting his pockets, as if to make sure they really were empty. “I assume it's my security escort, Daniel.”

Three mystified expressions met his gaze. “Why do you need an escort?” Carter asked. “Sir?” she added when one of the SFs sent a questioning look her way, giving the impression that he thought she was being fresh with the General by not properly addressing a person of such high rank. Which was rather amusing, given the fact that the two men were there to take that same General into custody in front of everyone currently in the Commissary.

But Jack seemed oblivious to the attention the group was garnering. He had eyes only for his friends, and now told them, “I was notified this morning - there's going to be some kind of investigation into my recent decisions, guys. I assume these... gentlemen... are here to show me to a holding cell.” His raised brows asked the SFs if he was right, and the men gave one curt nod each. “Yeah, like I said,” Jack noted to his former team. He turned back to the SFs. “Lead the way, boys.”

Carter chose that moment to push her chair back and jump to her feet. “But Sir!” she said in protest. “What..? Why..?”

Pleased with the way she automatically rushed to question the situation, Jack still sent a look of regret her way. “I'm being accused of breaking the frat regs,” he abruptly explained. “It's alright - I was expecting something like this would happen.”

“It's not alright!” Daniel burst out, jumping up as well, sloshing his coffee in the process. “You couldn't have broken the frat regs!” He desperately glanced between Jack and Sam. “I never... You... Sam...”

Daniel stumbled to a halt before articulating anything that made sense. But Jack was quick enough to catch his reference to Sam, and to know what the archaeologist wasn't saying. He could pretend that he didn't realize what his friend's comment meant, but instead just sent another look at Carter as she stood trembling in sudden fury beside the table. Fury not at what Daniel had inelegantly referred to, but at the fact that he was being detained at all. He supposed that he ought to be thrilled with her intense response to this scene, but the time for his being thrilled at any response he got out of Carter had disappeared the minute he'd heard that she'd said to some man other than him 'I'll marry you.'

He let his gaze wash over everyone at the table. Warmth and affection blazed out of his eyes like never before. “Yeah, well, the accusation about me and the frat regs is right,” he simply stated. “I did break them.”

Three mouths dropped open at the same time, and Jack would have laughed at their unified reaction if the situation hadn't been so grim. Instead, he gave one final grunt. “You guys are alive because of what I did.” Then he did a thoughtful double take. “Or didn't do.” His voice sounded momentarily confused, but it also showed more affection for them than he'd ever displayed before. He stared at each one of them in turn, his expression becoming one of peace. “Breaking those regs was worth it,” he firmly announced.

With that, he allowed the two SFs to lead him out of the Commissary, aware that every single person present solemnly watched his retreat.

Chapter Three

Holding Cell #1 - they had given him cell number one because of his rank, he guessed. Or because he was already proclaiming his guilt, a proclamation that was at least two days early.

Jack sighed again, his distress obvious. Two days. He had to sit within the four walls of this cell for two whole days before his investigation was scheduled to begin. His consternation mounted as he continued to stare. He briefly wondered what he could possibly do in order to not lose his sanity.

But it turned out that his sanity was assured - it was the busiest two days of his life as commander of the SGC.

The news of his arrest and consequent incarceration spread like a raging oil fire throughout the base. It was old news an hour after he'd been securely locked into his new 'home.' He suspected that the quiet immediately following his arrival was deceptive, and told himself not to get used to it too fast. It was good advice, it turned out - ninety minutes after being introduced to his cell, the first of his visitors showed up.

Teal'c appeared on the opposite side of the window in the cell's door, said something to the two guards standing in the corridor, and before Jack knew it, the cell door was pushed aside so that the Jaffa could enter.

“Teal'c,” Jack greeted, sounding skeptical of the man's sudden arrival, especially alone. Where were the other two members of SG-1? “What's up?” he asked the Jaffa.

Rather than answer the question right away, Teal'c stood just inside the cell door, gazing intently at his friend.

The quiet eventually unnerved Jack enough to prod him to repeat his question.

His answer was as sudden as Teal'c's arrival. “I hear that you refused legal counsel of any kind.”

Jack gave a dismissive shrug. “What's the point of getting counsel when it's so obvious that I'm guilty?”

Teal'c pulled out the cell's one other chair that Jack wasn't occupying and sat. “The fact that you broke regulations still remains to be seen,” the big man announced in a nonchalant voice.

Which surprised Jack - to him, it was an open and shut case. Confused, he argued, “You were part of what happened on Saturday - so you know what I did.”

“I do not,” Teal'c instantly replied, surprising Jack all over again. “Only DanielJackson and ColonelCarter are fully aware of what transpired on Osier's ship, O'Neill.”

“Oh,” Jack intoned, still unclear. “I assume that they'll be questioned then?”

Teal'c's lack of expression told Jack as much as his words. “DanielJackson and ColonelCarter are currently researching the events of Saturday,” Teal'c reported. “They both plan to stall this investigation until such time as their research is complete.”

Stall? Jack blew out a long-suffering breath, and at last instructed, “Tell them not to bother with their research, or with stalling.”

This comment puzzled Teal'c. “For what reason?”

Jack blew out another breath, cautiously considering his many possible answers before speaking. “Because I'm guilty, Teal'c,” he at last decided to say, going for the most simple approach, as usual. “I've been compromised.” He slouched in his own chair, and crossed his feet at the ankles, getting comfortable before continuing his explanation. “As a base commander, I have to show neutrality at all times, in every decision I make.” Jack fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair before going on, showing his disquiet with this idea. “Since it's obvious that I can't be impartial anymore where you guys are concerned, I can't stay in control of the base.” To Jack, it was as clear cut as this. “There, end of story.”

But to Teal'c, it was definitely not 'the end of the story.' His befuddlement grew. “I have never understood how impartiality and the fraternization regulations must necessarily be considered linked,” he confessed. “The Tau'ri encourage ties among family and friends, then punish those military personnel who attempt to fulfill that directive. This does not make sense.” His frustration over this issue that he had been wrestling with for years showed in his frown.

“It's simple, T,” Jack replied, his former hesitation gone. “The US needs to know that it's military members will act with neutrality in any situation. I never ordered Prometheus to fire on the Trust ship while you three were on board - effectively allowing the Trust to go free to deliver more symbiote poison to many worlds. I should have stopped them when I had the chance. It was my obvious duty.” He shrugged and shook his head. “Instead, I let my feelings for SG-1 interfere with that duty.” Jack grimaced, letting Teal'c know in Jack-speak how that concept unsettled him still, days after making the initial decision he was talking about. “So, because of me, thousands of innocent Jaffa will die.” He gazed in his own puzzlement at Teal'c. “I figured that you of all people would understand what that means.”

Teal'c clasped his hands together and leaned forward. “I do understand,” he replied in a voice filled with conviction.

His sure response took Jack aback for a moment. “Oh,” he grunted, not knowing what else to say. “Well.” He tried to gauge if the Jaffa had more to add. It didn't appear that he did, so Jack continued, “Then you see why I...”

“I see nothing,” Teal'c interrupted.

“But you just said that you understand,” Jack pointed out.

Teal'c shifted in his chair as well, letting his motions communicate how unsettled this made him without making a single comment about it. “I understand that many of my brothers will die,” Teal'c protested at last, then added, “But that is the Trust's doing, not yours.”

Jack finished for him, “And the Trust is still in operation because I wasn't able to destroy their ship with you and Daniel and Carter on board. You see?” he argued. “I couldn't do my obvious duty because you three were there.”

Another moment of silence passed as Teal'c considered Jack's recent pronouncement. “I still do not understand,” he insisted at last.

How had Daniel withstood years of Jaffa confusion? Jack drew a deep breath for patience. “Alright, Teal'c, I'll just lay it all on the line for ya.” He spent a moment organizing his thoughts, then began. “One of my duties as leader of the SGC is to eliminate the Trust. The fact that SG-1 was on board the Trust vessel at the time I needed to see to that elimination of the Trust caused me to decide not to order the Trust ship's destruction. And in the end, SG-1 had the time it needed to beam off the ship. So I saved you three, but the Trust and their ship simply jumped out of our solar system.” And he walked his fingers through the air, pantomiming how the ship had just 'walked away.' “You three lived,” he said, going on. “But the Trust got away. If I had ordered Prometheus to fire, I would have eliminated the Trust threat, true, but the shot would have killed all of you guys, and...” Jack's voice broke on the emotion that erupted inside his chest at just the thought of how close he'd been to ordering that final shot he was talking about. “The fact is,” he went on, forcing the words passed his tight throat. “I couldn't be the one to give that final order. The Trust lives just as well as you three do, but that isn't what should have happened.” He sucked in another deep breath, hoping it would help calm the shaking in his voice. “I was obviously at fault for letting my feelings for you three...” That breath he'd just taken hadn't help calm his voice at all. It still shook and stuttered when he spoke. “It... um...” Jack swallowed, then balefully gazed at Teal'c, hoping to cover his recent emotional upheaval. This time, it worked. “The Frat regs...”

Teal'c interrupted. “I was under the impression that the Fraternization Regulations concern relationships,” he flatly reported.

Jack closed his eyes, thinking about the one relationship that the frat regs had kept from forming that he would have really liked to have formed. “The regs are about... relationships,” Jack was finally able to tell him. But he had to remember that Teal'c was interpreting the frat regs in a basic manner. “The frat... They deal with many different kinds of relationships, Teal'c. Not just ones of a... romantic... nature.” He was proud of himself for even being able to say that much! “Intense friendships are also more or less discouraged.”

This really confused Teal'c! “But you and I are already friends,” the alien insisted. “We have never been celled for breaking the regulations before.” His comment was as flat as it was true. “Why do you suffer from this now?”

Jack swallowed again, and did his best to explain something to the Jaffa that he had struggled years to internalize. “The frat regs... This whole thing...” He gestured to his cell, taking in the situation he was in. “It's all about instructing every military member to avoid showing favoritism for other military members.” He stared at Teal'c, willing him to understand. “It's why we form no lasting relationship with anybody; already existing relationships... like the one you and I share... It gets in the way of that need for impartiality so that a military member can do his... or her... duty.” He sighed as Teal'c just looked confused again. “And I didn't do that... my duty.” Jack still tried hard not so show his discomfort at the idea that he wasn't able do do his duty - something that he'd taken very seriously throughout his career. “So, this is a clear case of dereliction of duty.” Wow! That was hard to say in connection to him, even when he'd been expecting to have to say it for days. “There - ya get it now?” Jack sent a hopeful look to his alien friend.

And Teal'c certainly gave Jack the impression that he was trying his best to come to grips with this difficult Tau'ri concept. He spoke slowly, as if he was trying to untangle this in his mind. “To follow the regulations, those members of the military must avoid forming friendships... relationships,” he recited. “Is this not so?”

Jack considered his words, and at last said, “I could be friends with you three when I was a Colonel, and not responsible for the entire base. But as a base commander, I need to be impartial. And when push came to shove, I wasn't.” There - talking about this incident was getting easier all the time.

Teal'c still furrowed his brow at Jack. “But when you were still Colonel O'Neill, was not the mandate 'Leave no one behind' what directed SG-1 on many occasions?”

Jack raised his eyes to the ceiling, thinking. “Well... yeah, I guess you can say that.”

“And is it also the mandate for the SGC?”

Jack sure liked to think so. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

Teal'c sat back in his chair, as if to show that he finally grasped the meaning behind this regulation. “You were expected to form the necessary bonds to insure that the concept 'leave no one behind' was followed, then was expected to relinquish those bonds when you became base commander, because those bonds would impair your duty - correct?”

Jack's mind whirled with thoughts stirred up by Teal'c's words, the most he think he'd ever heard the Jaffa issue at one time in the many years that he had known the alien. “When you put it that way... well...” Jack stopped talking to regard Teal'c. “You know, all this talking stuff... it's really not my thing. Daniel could explain it all to you much better than I can.”

“But DanielJackson is not of the military,” Teal'c stubbornly pointed out.

Jack could hardly argue with that. “Well... no.... but he's just better with words... he'll explain it better than I can.”

Teal'c stared at Jack, his expression unreadable. After doing nothing but stare for a solid minute, Teal'c nodded his head. “I will ask DanielJackson for an explanation of the reason behind this investigation.”

“Good idea, T,” Jack enthused. Even as he gave his response, however, he knew that he was passing the buck to his linguist friend. A good commander would never try to do such a thing. It was one more way that Jack knew this investigation was onto more than just the obvious.

Teal'c wasn't finished, however. “I feel there is no need to speak further on this subject.”

Jack was surprised at that addition, and felt just a prickle of confusion enter his mind. No need? That sounded so... final. “Why is that?”

Teal'c rose and retreated to the door. Once there, he faced Jack again. “You have already answered my questions,” was all he would say before banging on the door to be let out of the cell, leaving a very puzzled O'Neill behind.

Chapter Four

Two hours later, Jack was eyeing Colonel Dixon and the man... what had Dixon said his name was?... ah yes, Major Simpson. How could he ever forget that? Simpson was a JAG from Petersen, and a personal friend of Dixon's. Just why the Colonel knew a JAG so well as to be a personal friend was something that Jack didn't know, and was sure that he didn't want to know!

“Anyway,” Dixon was saying after making the introductions. “I brought this for you.” He bashfully held out the General's favorite brand of yo-yo, still in its protective packaging.

“Alright!” Jack breathed, his first true smile in days taking over his face as he snatched the gift from the Colonel. “Thank you!”

Dixon gave another slightly bashful grin (which was amusing - seeing the father of four actually blush was nothing short of astonishing!). He said, “Yeah well, I've been in a cell a time or two, and I don't know how I didn't go crazy from the boredom. You must be even worse off than I've always been.” He gave the walls a thoroughly distasteful once over. “I mean, gray! Who in Gods' name decided to paint the walls gray?”

Jack looked up for a moment from where he'd already taken his yo-yo out of the package. “I did,” he succinctly said.

The Major gurgled a laugh while Dixon turned several shades of puce. “I'd shut up right now if I were you, Dave,” Simpson advised. “I don't want to be giving you legal advice in the next few days, too!”

“And speaking of the legal thing,” Jack drawled. “I won't be needing any advice, either legal or illegal, so...”

“Pardon me for saying, Sir,” Simpson diplomatically began. “But aren't you in a cell waiting for an investigation into your decision-making process?”

Jack tried hard to look like that idea offended him, but he wasn't in the habit of being offended by the truth. “Yeah, but...”

“Then you need legal counsel,” Simpson announced, as if being under the threat of investigation automatically necessitated counsel.

“But I'm guilty,” Jack announced back in an equally as matter of fact manner.

Simpson raised his finger to the ceiling, denoting a 'but.' “But... maybe other people who were also present on Saturday don't agree with that assessment of the situation. It's my job to ferret them out.”

It was all Jack could do not to snort. “You can 'ferret' all you want,” he began, a sarcastic edge to his voice. “But the fact of the matter is, I'm guilty. Anyone who says anything different is definitely on something.

“I say different,” Dave immediately piped up.

And Jack gestured at him the instant he stopped talking. “See? My point exactly.”

Dixon looked confused. “Hey... um...” He glanced back and forth between Jack and Simpson. “I think I've just been insulted.”

Simpson smiled, and insisted, “Don't worry about it, Dave. Your friend is just being particularly obtuse.”

“I warned you about that,” Dave replied. “One thing you can count on - Jacko and his stubbornness.”

But hadn't Simpson said 'obtuse?' Whatever... “Well, 'Jacko' thanks you for the yo-yo,” Jack politely said to Dixon. “But as to the legal stuff... not necessary.” And he shook his head, then gave a dismissive wave, as if to show that the conversation was over.

Simpson sighed in aggravation, thoroughly not dismissed. “Mind if I do a little investigating anyway, General?”

Jack ignored them by playing with his new toy instead of looking at them. “Investigate away,” he invited as he played. “But you won't find anything.”

“That remains to be seen,” Simpson argued.

“No it doesn't,” Jack insisted. “I'm guilty. Don't believe me? Then access the base audio archives.” His concentration was on successfully forcing the yo-yo to do a 'walk the dog,' but his string got all twisted, just like it always did. He never could figure out how to do that trick.

Dixon reached out and moved Jack's left fingers to grasp the string in a different position. When Jack tried the trick again, he did it successfully. “Thanks, Dave! I've been trying to do that trick for years!”

Dixon shrugged. “Yeah, well, four kids will also teach you the meaning of life if you let 'em.”

Simpson suddenly changed the angle of his argument the moment Dixon made that statement. “And speaking of family... Don't you want to get out of this so you can get back to your own family, General?”

But Jack continued to ignore him, intent on 'walking his dog.' “Don't have a family,” he gruffly reported.

“No wife - kids?” Simpson asked incredulously. “Everyone has someone,” he insisted.

“I'm not 'everyone,'” Jack bluntly stated in a deceptive voice of nonchalance.

Simpson snorted at that statement. “I'm sure that Dave has enough to share,” he suggested.

It was a comment that made Jack grin, if a bit grimly. The Dave under discussion moved to stand behind Simpson so that he could turn red in relative privacy.

“You keep them, Dave,” Jack suggested. “And bring any yo-yo knowledge my way when they teach you.”

“Will do.” Dixon was pulling his friend out of the cell as he spoke. “Let's go, Fred,” Dave said. Simpson looked as if he didn't understand his friend's urgency, but didn't protest when the Colonel pounded on the door when they got there. “We'll let you know how the investigation of the investigation is coming along,” Dixon promised Jack as the guards opened the door and let them out. “Later,” Dave nonchalantly told him.

And then they were gone.

Thank goodness, Jack thought to himself. One more comment from Simpson about family and everyone having someone, and he might have lost it. Stuff like that only made him think about Sara, and Charlie, and Carter, and how he definitely didn't have anybody who might care one way or the other how this whole thing turned out. After all this was over... He hoped... Maybe he would...

Jack didn't know what he hoped he would do. He just knew that even an investigation into how his friendships affected his command was better than dwelling on the idea that Carter was, for all intents and purposes, GONE. Sara was GONE. Charlie was most definitely GONE.

Yeah, anything was better than that.

Chapter Five

Daniel must have passed Dixon and Simpson in the hallway, he arrived so quickly after they departed Jack's cell. Jack didn't even have time to go to the bathroom.

“Uh...” Jack hesitated at the sight of the linguist. But then the call of nature became too insistent. “Just give me a minute.”

Jack darted into the room without a door that served as the cell's bathroom. He flushed after he finished, and washed his hands, two noisy endeavors, but even that noise didn't stall the linguist for long.

“Uh, Jack?” Daniel asked, facing into the room as he stood just outside the bathroom, giving the General a modicum of privacy. “Teal'c told me that you said no to legal counsel?”

Jack balked. What was this, rumor mill telephone?

“That's right,” Jack said, slowly drying his hands as he spoke through the opening to Daniel. “I don't need it.”

“Um... why?” Daniel asked next in his 'I'm a curious archaeologist' voice.

Jack sighed. When wasn't Daniel curious? He casually tossed the hand towel onto the edge of the sink before joining Daniel again. “I'm guilty,” he explained in a short tone. “There's no 'if's 'and's or 'but's about it. I've already explained it to Teal'c. I've told Dixon and his friend-the-JAG. I don't want legal anybody messin' with my brain - there's no point.”

“Of course there's a point,” Daniel insisted. “That...”

Jack was quickly losing his patience. “I broke the frat regs - that's the point.”

Daniel wrinkled his nose. “But how on Earth did you break the frat regs?” he asked in some astonishment. “You and Sam couldn't have...” he uncomfortably began. “I mean, she's engaged! How did you and her find the time to..?”

Jack's face darkened. It was clear that Daniel was choosing to inerpret the Fret Regs as only pertaining to ties of... Jack barely wanted to think it, but found that he had little choice now - Daniel thought the frat regs were only about romantic relationships, nothing else. Which was only one way to interpret the guiding principle that had cast a pall over the last several years of his military life.

But the truth was, the Frat Regs were about much more than just romantic relationships, as he'd already pointed out to Teal'c. Specifically, those regs cautioned about all kinds of shows of favoritism - it was a huge no-no. Yet he had most definitely showed favoritism. He had made one hell of a no-no. How clearer could it possibly be?

He responded to Daniel's rather narrow interpretation of the Frat Regs. “Who said anything about Carter?” Jack growled. “She didn't do anything!” He went on to bluster, “She was there, but that's it! She didn't..! She just..!” Finally, he gusted a huge sigh of exasperation into the cell. “Daniel! You were there! You know what she did - you saw it!”

Daniel sent Jack a completely puzzled expression. “You mean on the ship?”

Jack gave another sigh of exasperation. “Yes, Daniel, the ship. The Trust ship,” he specified.

But Daniel was still confused, as if he hadn't expected to hear this. “You mean Osiris's ship?”

Jack couldn't resist a sarcastic answer. “Unless there was another ship from another sneaky-ass snakehead - yes!”

Daniel gave a second start at what Jack's words brought to his mind. “But... you weren't even there!” he exclaimed impatiently. “How could you and Sam..?” Then he gazed assessingly at Jack. He didn't say anything, only stared. And stared. And stared. At last, he slowly spoke. “You're not talking about anything you and Sam did, are you?” he guessed at last.

“Kudos to you for finally figuring it out, Daniel,” Jack announced, his voice still slightly caustic. “Yes, Carter was there... and so were you... and I guess Teal'c showed up for the party at the last minute.”

Daniel still looked like he didn't get it. Jack was trying to tell him..? “So... what's this investigation for?” he slowly inquired.

Jack sighed once more. “Daniel, I suggest you read through those frat regs one more time,” he said. “They don't deal just with...” He paused. Was he actually going to have to say it? How could Daniel do this to him??!! Jack swallowed, then blurted, “...romantic... relationships...” He breathed a sigh. There! He had said it! Again! But the way he'd had to spell it out for Daniel... like he had for Teal'c... as if there was even a possibility of... which there wasn't. And he hadn't said anything specific... had he? Oh, he sooooo didn't want to talk about this right now... or ever!

As if Daniel could read his mind, he demanded, “Then what are you talking about?”

Which pissed Jack off - he was at the end of his patience with the curious archaeologist. “I'm talking friendships, Daniel! You, me, Carter, Teal'c... we're all friends! And favoritism! And how I couldn't do my duty... because we're friends. And my duty was to shoot you...”

“Shoot me?” Daniel yelped.

Jack growled at Daniel's apparent denseness. “Yes,” he bit out. “As in, you would be dead right now if I'd bothered to do my duty on Saturday like I should have done as base commander.” Then he couldn't help the snort that exploded out of his mouth. “That dead thing - it should be right up your alley.”

Daniel still looked puzzled - his glasses were even fogging up with his confusion. “So,” Daniel said, “If I get this right... You didn't blow us up, even though you should have... because we're your friends?” Jack nodded, but didn't speak. “And because of this, they want to... what?”

Jack gave a grunt of thought. “First, there's gonna be some kind of investigation, then... I don't know... maybe a court-martial... then, maybe a discharge? I'm guessin' here.”

Daniel gave an unpleasant shudder. “What?”

Jack grunted another sigh, sounding like he was giving up on something now. He slapped his hand onto Daniel's shoulder, then used that hand to steer his friend towards the door. “Oh, Teal'c's looking for you - he needs some 'splainin'... some kind of Tau'ri thing... I told him to talk to you.” He gave one sharp rap on the metal door. The guards silently obliged him by holding it in the open position as he pushed Daniel through. “See ya,” he said. Then he turned gratefully to the guards. “Thanks, boys.” Then he calmly walked back into his cell. The door shut firmly in Daniel's face.

Chapter Six

It was obvious that the members of SG-1 were visiting him separately for reasons of their own. Whatever those reasons may be, Jack figured that he had a few hours before he should expect a visit from Carter. So in the meantime, he guessed that he should talk to Walter, just to see how the base as a whole was faring. He gave his request to see his aid to the guards at his door, taking a moment to discover that their names were Sergeants Alan Tipping and Ralph 'Cooty' Billings. Thrilled that a prisoner who ranked as a General would take the time to find out their names, the two guards had Walter immediately paged. He arrived a few moments later with a stack of important looking folders in his hands. Jack met him at the door.

“Sir, there's been...” Walter began to say the second he reached Jack's cell, but Jack cut him off.

In a businesslike voice, almost as if he was still in his office, Jack quickly told his aid, “Walter, I don't want to take a lot of time right now, since the guards were good enough to call you for me, and...”

“Yes, Sir,” Walter said with a barely audible sigh of resignation that showed how frustrated he was at once again not getting to voice news about his most urgent projects. Instead, he simply inquired, “Your orders, Sir?”

Jack thought for a moment. Could he even give orders right now? Didn't being in a holding cell under arrest mean that any orders he might give would automatically be null and void?

He decided at last to put out a few feelers for news in general, and give some orders to the Sergeant anyway, just to see what happened. “Walter, I'm figuring that in a situation like this one, either another base commander is already in place - something you oughta like - or another commander is on his or her way.”

“Yes, Sir. General Hammond has been temporarily assigned to the SGC, and he'll be in charge for a week while your investigation paperwork goes through the system,” Walter told him. If he had any feelings about that scenario, he kept a tight lid on his emotions. If Walter was anything, he was good at keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself. He was getting as good as Jack was at it.

Sergeant Harriman quickly went on, still talking to Jack while the two guards stood quietly by the door, listening to everything the two said, but pretending not to hear any of it. “After he takes over, it depends on what happens with your situation as to who is put in charge of the SGC on a more permanent basis. Sir.” He gulped as he added his last 'Sir,' knowing that General O'Neill could fly off the handle at a moment's notice, and that moment could easily be right now.

But Walter was pleasantly surprised at Jack's following calmness. “Have Reynolds fill in for those 'in between' times,” Jack suggested. “I assume that I've been effectively taken out of commission?”

“For now,” Walter answered.

Jack sighed. “Well, I can't say that's not what I expected.” He sighed again, then added, “General Hammond is the best leader you can get, but you already know that.” Again came that same semi-regretful sigh. “He's a far sight better than I was, obviously. He'll do a good job for you guys over the next week.”

“Yes, Sir,” Walter said again. His voice held a slightly melancholy edge, though his features revealed none of his inner thoughts.

He's always the model soldier, Jack thought in wry observation to himself. He didn't bother to say anything aloud about his thoughts, but went on, “I don't know for sure how all this investigation stuff is going to pan out. I hope I haven't just consigned the SGC to years under the rule of some twerp like Bauer.” He thought that Walter might have made a partial smile at his reference to the horrible 'Bauer days.' But again Jack wasn't entirely sure of what he saw. So he thought it best not to comment on Walter's thoughts again, in case he was wrong. “I feel like I should apologize ahead of time, in case you get saddled with a guy... person... like him,” he admitted, his voice rueful. “Who's in charge now?”

Walter was quick to cover up his previous 'almost show' of thoughts with the reply, “Colonel Reynolds is in charge for now, Sir. General Hammond will arrive today at 1400.”

Jack's brows rose in thoughtful, silent commentary. “You could do worse than Reynolds,” he told his aid. “He at least knows what's at stake with for the SGC.”

“Yes, Sir,” Walter said again. “So far, things have been very quiet this morning.”

“Good,” Jack replied. “Has Siler gotten out of the Infirmary yet?”

Walter checked one of the files he was carrying, and reported, “Sergeant Siler is scheduled for release at 1300 today, Sir. The doctors expect his broken arm to mend nicely.”

“No pins to hold his bones together this time?” Jack noted. “That's good. Any missions coming up today?”

Again Walter checked his files. “SG-12 has a recon scheduled for this morning, SG-13 has a mission set for later today at 1600, and SG-2 is due back from PCC-234 at 1500, Sir.” Then he glanced up. “Shall I give you tomorrow's schedule, as well?” He glanced between Jack and the two guards. “Or should I just come back tomorrow to give you the schedule then?”

“I don't know,” Jack told him. He turned to his guards. “How about it?” he asked them. “Tomorrow?”

Sergeant Billings grinned. “We might be able to work something out, Sir,” he noted, an eye cast towards his counterpart. It was obvious that he was already willing to do most anything that Jack requested, just because the General had bothered to learn his name.

“For good behavior, of course,” Tipping added with a smirk. It was equally as obvious that he shared Billings' opinion.

Jack gestured with an outstretched hand. “Save it till tomorrow, I guess, Walter,” he told the man.

“Yes, Sir.”

Jack was just beginning to wonder if all Walter knew how to say was 'Yes Sir' when his aid turned to say, “If that's all, Sir?”

“Uh, yes. Dismissed,” Jack automatically added, then wondered if he still had the authority to dismiss anyone any longer.

Walter didn't seem like he was wondering the same - he instantly nodded instead, then turned to head down the corridor. But he suddenly faced the General again. “Sir?”

Jack looked up from the where he was studying the floor. “What else have you got, Walter?”

Sergeant Harriman looked nervous for a moment, then blurted, “We all think you got a bum rap... Sir. Just wanted you to know that.”

Jack appeared surprised, not for what Walter had said, but that he had thought to mention it in the first place. “Thanks for telling me, Walter. I'll remember that.”

Walter nodded, left off his usual 'Yes, Sir,' and walked away just as silently as he'd arrived. The Goa'uld had nothing on Walter where stealth was concerned.

Jack turned back to his cell after thanking the two guards for their help with calling Sergeant Harriman. He should now expect to see Carter in a few hours, and he better get ready to talk to her. He didn't think that he would be able to face her unless he gave himself as much time as possible to prepare, and that preparation might take several hours, at least. It was a pity, then, that she came to see him barely fifteen minutes after Walter left.

Jack had just sat down when he heard a pounding on his cell door. When he looked up, there was Carter standing in the door to his cell, much sooner than he'd expected.

His heart gave an annoying spasmodic jump as soon as he saw her, and he had to take several deep breaths in order to bring his heartbeat back under control again. He tried not to put too much into the fact that he was seeing her so soon, but it was hard.

“Carter,” he cheerfully called to her in the door. “Fancy seeing you in a dive like this.”

His reaction to her had been as light and jovial as he could make it, giving the impression that his 'dive' wasn't so bad after all. She, on the other hand, looked like she was going to start crying at any minute.

She just stood in the door, staring at him, making the guards wait for her to move out of the way so that they could shut the door, giving her and Jack as much privacy as a prisoner was ever likely to get. “Carter?” Jack finally asked. “Whatchadoin'?”

Prodded, Carter was at last able to shake her head in mournful contemplation. “You shouldn't be in here,” she stated, tears in her voice.

It was an odd way for Carter to react to anything. Jack figured that she hadn't visited with him until now because she was busy pulling her usual last minute miracles out of her butt, trying to get him reinstated. If anyone could do that, she could. She was always so strong... Jack often forgot that there was a living, breathing, feeling human behind her rank. It was an oversight that he would have to fix in the near future.

But for now, Jack had to soothe the Carter he'd gotten instead of the Carter he'd expected to see. “Ah, it's not so bad,” he insisted, still talking about his cell rather than his reason for being in the cell. “I get to do what I want this way,” he pointed out. “And there's none of that dumb paperwork.”

A ghost of a smile flitted across Carter's lips at his mention of paperwork, and Jack figured that he had struck gold with his flippant attitude. “How can you be so calm, Sir?” she asked, finally moving from the door to join him at the one table the room had to offer. The guards shut the cell door behind her the instant she moved.

Jack watched her cross the room, and as she sat, considered giving her a sarcastic answer to her recent question, just to show her how 'calm' he really was, but something that he saw in her eyes made him pause and speak honestly for a change. “If I seem calm, it's because there's nothing for me to worry about in here,” he softly told her. “There's no life-or-death situations, there's no demands of 'General, do this!' or 'General, do that!' There's no decisions to be made.” He blinked as he suddenly realized something. “In fact, this is the most relaxed I've felt all year!”

Carter's smile was bigger this time, yet there was still that fear in her eyes. “But you can be court-martialed, Sir!” she protested.

Jack considered her words for a second. “Yes, yes I can.”

She practically glared at him over the expanse of table between them. “And doesn't that bother you?” she demanded to know. “Doesn't that make you so mad that..?” Her voice trailed off, and she ducked her head so that he couldn't see the expression in her eyes any longer.

Not that it mattered. Jack had always been adept at reading more into the tone of her voice than she said with her words, anyway. He briefly wondered if that guy of hers was just as good at reading her as he was, but only replied, “Actually, no, it doesn't make me so mad.” Thinking about his predicament, he at last confessed, “It's a relief, if you want to know the truth.”

“A relief?!” she parroted in an incredulous voice. “How is this a relief to you? How..?'

That was when Jack moved to take the fingers that she'd rested on the table into his own hands. It was a move that he'd shied away from ever making in the past, but the threat of an investigation pending court-martial gave him courage where it had been sadly lacking for years. “Carter,” he began, and gave her hand a squeeze. “I'm not mad because this is something that...” He took a deep breath, then let it all come out. “I've been worried that it would come to something like this ever since I took command of the SGC.”

“'Something like this?'” she echoed, warily studying him, as if she no longer fully trusted him. “What do you mean, Sir?”

Jack's sigh of regret sounded throughout the room as he explained, “I mean...” But he made the mistake of looking into her eyes again - the parts that he could see - and... Hell, he was just going to have to lay it all out for her. He couldn't dress this up all nice and pretty, no matter how much he wanted to. “I had to choose between doing what was expected of me for the sake of the country, or saving the lives of those on SG-1. Your life,” he added, in case he still wasn't being specific enough for her.

She growled a rebuttal. “But you would do the same thing for any team!” she insisted. “Why do you think that..?”

She was being dense. It wasn't the first time he'd heard her react like that - he should have seen it coming. “But you're not 'any team,' not to me,” he explained, being very straightforward, using small words, being honest. “And pretending that you three are the same as anybody else under my command is ludicrous at this point.”

“You would have done the same for anybody!” she kept insisting. “'No one gets left behind!'” she repeated, her teeth clenched in rage now. “You're always saying that! And SG-1 is the same as...”

But Jack was shaking his head. “I would have tried for the same outcome with other teams, true, but with you three...” He shook his head. “I'm guilty,” he flatly stated. “And there's no way to pretend my way around that.”

“You're not guilty!” she growled, surprising him with the amount of rancor she put into her voice.

Jack's face took on a look of regret. “I am, Carter,” he flatly stated again. “You're my friends, and there is no way that I could ever be responsible for ending your lives, not after these last seven years, not after you and that...” He trailed off, not being more specific than that. He was loathe to give voice to the event that he was remembering. 'The Entity Incident,' Daniel called it. That had always seemed a much too soft description to him to call such a tempestuous time in his life, the worst moment he'd spent besides watching helplessly while Charlie died. Yet, having to actively take part in killing Carter at the time had been far worse even than Charlie dying. To him, 'The Entity Incident' was the time that he'd almost been guilty of ending Carter's life, and he had sworn right then that he would never put himself through such an awful experience again if there was any other possible outcome he could at all achieve.

Now, that situation was here. He simply chose to stare in slight regret at Carter, but remained firm in his interpretation of what he'd done. “I broke the regs. My friends' lives were more important to me than doing my duty to the country. And there's no use denying that.”

She tried to instantly deny it, anyway. “There were extenuating circumstances, Sir!” she snarled. “There was no way you could have known that any of us..!”

“Carter,” Jack gently cut her off. “It's like I told Teal'c a few hours ago - I had a choice between duty to my country, and duty to my friends. I chose my friends.” She didn't say anything to this semi-speech, but her eyes continued to shimmer with the tears that she had so far refused to shed. Jack went on in her silence. “I chose you. You're military - you know what that means.”

Understanding what he was alluding to, she nodded once. “It means...” She drew in a shivery breath, but forged on. “You think you've been compromised.”

Jack had to grin at her words. “I don't 'think,' Carter,” he argued. “I know I have.”

Her defense of him after that small break in her ranting was as sudden as it was swift. “There was nothing...”

Jack interrupted that insistent defense of hers. “Let it go, Carter,” he softly advised. “It doesn't matter if I 'could never have known,' or 'if only things had been different.'” His sigh again washed through the room. “The fact is that... well, you know the facts.”

“This goes beyond 'the facts!'” she fiercely protested.

Jack pensively pursed his lips. “Maybe,” he said. “But to the Air Force, the facts are the facts. I had a choice, and I chose wrongly, according to them.”

Carter balked in her chair, yanking her hand out from under his soothing touch. “So 'the fact' is that I shouldn't even be here, is that what you're saying, Sir?!”

Where did all her anger come from? He'd expected her to be buried in the data of the incident by now, not expressing her emotions by so openly raging at him. Mystified, he simply chose to respond to her question, no matter how it had been uttered. “You know that's what I'm saying.” Jack sat back in his chair. “You shouldn't be here, as in, shouldn't be alive, Daniel shouldn't, Teal'c shouldn't.” He looked at her in pain at his words, and joy that what he was proclaiming wasn't what had actually transpired. “If I had done what I should have done, you'd all be dead.” He gave a shudder. “Fortunately, that didn't happen. But there's always a price to pay for...”

The fierceness was back in her voice. “You aren't the one who has to pay that price, though!” And the way she said it, Jack almost believed it.

Almost. “Then who should pay?” he asked as soon as he had gathered himself together again. “Should it be your head on the chopping block right now? Or Teal'c's, or Daniel's? Are you saying that there was something more that you should have done on that ship that could have made things turn out better than they did? Or that Daniel should have? Or Teal'c?”

Suddenly, her tactics changed. “Are you playing the martyr again, Sir?” she demanded to know.

Jack took on a puzzled look, and slowly spoke. “The martyr? I don't...”

“So you can take the heat, just like you always do!” she growled.

Wow. Whatever Carter was talking about had certainly made her mad, and fast. Jack wanted to run away from the words she was hurling at him with abandon, but there was no where for him to run.

Carter continued, “Admit it, you think that as long as you keep this whole situation about you and what you did or didn't do, then no one will look at what we didn't do, at the way we...” She didn't finish her explanation, but jumped up to glare down at him. “I won't let you do that again, General!” she yelled. “I won't..!”

“Carter!” he called to stop her, then more softly added, “Sam.” Jack stood so that he could retain his lock on her gaze. “I'm not trying to martyr myself here.”

“You could have fooled me!”

Jack didn't even try to talk her out of her beliefs this time. “Be that as it may, this is the way it's gonna go down.”

She glared at Jack. Her eyes glittered behind her thatch of blonde bangs hanging untidily on her forehead. She looked exhausted. Jack thought to wonder when she'd last slept.

Not that sleeping mattered much in the end. The silence between them continued until it seemed to cloak them both, smothering any attempts to either further explain his manner of thinking in this situation, or her anger at his reactions thus far. Finally, after that silence had worn on for what felt like hours, she spoke in a much quieter voice than she'd previously used. It was so calm that prickles instantly formed on Jack's arms; it freaked him out, to be honest. “Have you just given up, Sir?” she wanted to know.

Jack almost preferred to have her yelling at him. He did his best to ignore what she was not so subtly implying in order to say, “You're alive because I didn't do what I should have done on Saturday. Because of that, I'm under investigation for dereliction of duty.” He stopped talking to just watch her. She flinched when he said the word 'dereliction,' but didn't react much beyond that. She was too good at hiding what she was thinking to react. So he made the most open comment as to his feelings for his former team that he'd ever made, just to see her respond. “As far as I'm concerned, it's more than a fair trade.”

But she didn't respond. She remained still, and the silence grew bigger between them, yawning until it filled the entire cell. It was almost a living thing by this time, causing so much discomfort due to the level of intimacy that this interview with her had devolved into that his prickles had prickles on them. Neither of them could speak after his confession.

Then, so quietly that Jack had to strain to hear it, she whispered, “As far as I'm concerned, it's not a fair trade at all.” Then she whirled around, banged on the door, and left without a backward glance.

Chapter Seven

Over the course of the next day, Jack talked to Colonel Reynolds twice about the base, once about his personal situation and how Reynolds was dealing with it; twice to Daniel; Teal'c came to stare at him once; Walter talked at him three times; General Hammond came once in between briefings; and Siler came once (the guards felt that they had to search his sling before letting him into the cell - Jack cracked jokes about invisible files hiding in slings for several hours). The rest of the time he either played with his yo-yo, or stood at the door and played stud poker with Tipping and Billings. But not once did Carter reappear to talk to him. She didn't even come to tell him what she had discovered so far as to how her bid to get him out this situation was going. He assumed that she was still working at getting him out, anyway. But as she never stopped by to tell him anything, he didn't know for sure. And Daniel could only report what he had accomplished so far, and didn't really know any specifics about what Carter was doing.

It bothered Jack like hell to not know what was taking up all her time. He tried to pretend that he hadn't even noticed her absence, but the truth was, she was never far from his thoughts. Even when he was playing poker with the guys at the cell door, he wondered how Carter would play this hand or that hand, what she was doing, how she was, and why she had decided to stay away.

He also couldn't help it when he thought that if Carter didn't have time to waste on helping him out of his predicament, then she didn't have time to waste on simple card games. She had a boyfriend now. She was getting married. He wished it wasn't so, but it was, and all this 'cell' time gave him plenty of opportunity to think about that. Thus, he played cards with the guards as much as he possibly could so that he might avoid thinking about that at all.

In fact, he was standing at the open door, trying to decide which to go for, a pair of threes or the straight that he might finish with his next draw when General Hammond showed up with Simpson and a man he didn't know behind him.

“General,” Jack greeted.

“General,” Hammond said back.

General Hammond rarely called Jack by his rank, so he knew immediately that this was an official visit, and the rank greeting had been simply for the unknown man's benefit. Jack nodded at the two men trailing behind Hammond. “Who you got with you, Sir?”

Hammond gestured to the two men. “You already know Major Simpson, Jack, and this is Colonel Waller, the spokesman for the OSI. He's here to give you the interview as to last Saturday.”

“General O'Neill,” began the Colonel in an officious voice. “It's an honor to meet you, Sir.”

Jack's attention was riveted to the cards in his hands, but he addressed Waller. “I don't know if 'honor' is the word I would give it, Colonel.” Jack finally met the man's eyes over his cards. “But it is nice to meet you... is spite of the circumstances.”

Waller's face reddened at Jack's reference to the circumstances. “About that, Sir, I...”

Jack lowered his cards enough for his voice to carry to the men surrounding him. “There's no need for that interview, you know.” Then he lowered the cards all the way to make certain everyone heard him when he said, “I'll even make it easy for you - I'm guilty.”

The blunt confession shook the officiousness out of the Colonel. He spluttered, “Um... what? Sir?”

Jack fought back a sigh. “Guilty. As in Ggggguuuuiiilllttyyyy,” he said in a slow, drawn out way. “Your bosses say I broke the regs last Saturday. They're right - I did. End of story.” Jack's nose wrinkled as he again brought his cards up so that he could stare at them. “Can we go back to our game now? I'm winnin'.”

Simpson stuttered, “Uh... Don't... don't you want to... at least... confer... before you start confessing?” His voice had risen to a squeak by the time he reached the end of his question.

On the contrary, Jack's voice was as steady as it had always been even on stressful missions off world. “Nothing to confer about,” he insisted, not looking at Simpson, who probably thought conferring was the least he should be doing right now. Instead, Jack just reiterated, “I'm guilty.” Then he glanced at the JAG friend of Dixon's. “I told you I wasn't going to need your services, and I don't,” he said in finality. Then he turned to Waller. “But if you're thinking of moving me to other accommodations, can I request that I be transferred to somewhere like Offut rather than Peterson?”

Waller looked like he didn't quite know if he should be hearing a request about a guilty man's future incarceration. “Um... why?” he hazarded to ask.

Jack gave a disarming shrug. “They don't know me there - no one to interrupt. We might actually get an entire card game in that way.” What he was referring to was obvious. He considered this visit from these men to be an interruption, nothing more important than that.

Ignoring Jack's reference, Hammond gestured at Tipping and Billings, his eyes narrowed in that 'use your common sense' expression of his. “They work for the SGC, Jack - they're not transferring with you.”

“Really?” Jack asked, taken aback by this news. “You mean they can't..?”

Waller broke in on Jack's query. “You seem to think this is a game, General, that a few days in a holding cell is some kind of grand vacation. I assure you that it's not a game, and this is no vacation.”

Jack glared at him. “I'm very aware of how serious this is, Colonel,” he said, emphasizing the man's rank to show how that rank was lower than his. “And I don't think of this as a vacation.” He couldn't help but add, “Though having no pressing paperwork to do is sort of a vacation.”

“Jack!” Hammond said in a fierce growl. “You are going to get a dishonorable discharge if you don't start paying attention!”

Jack's face darkened. “I am paying attention, Sir!” he assured. “It's just that no one is listening to me!” He gulped in a deep breath, the card game with the guards forgotten. “The OSI say that I showed favoritism last Saturday. And they're right!”

General Hammond looked at him in complete befuddlement. “Son!” he exclaimed. “You're not going to make even an attempt at a defense of some kind? These charges are very serious, and...”

“I'm aware of how serious this is!” Jack insisted yet again, trying to keep his words civil, but finding it frustrating even while speaking to someone he admired as much as he did General Hammond. “Like I told Carter, I chose my friends on SG-1 over the importance of duty to the country. I should have killed them last Saturday - I didn't! I thank God that I couldn't do what had to be done!”

And with that, he stomped back into his cell, slamming the door behind him.

Chapter Eight

Half an hour later, Daniel was banging on Jack's cell door. The guards let him in lest he break down the door.

“Jack, what the hell do you think you're doing?” Daniel demanded the second he breached the cell opening. He didn't give the General time to reply before launching into another statement. “General Hammond is furious with you, you know! He spent ten minutes talking to me in my office!” And he did finger quotes in the air when he said the word 'talking,' as if to say instead that General Hammond had done more yelling than talking, but Daniel was trying to stay polite.

Jack scowled at him from his position on one of the cell's two chairs, where he'd been calmly sitting and doing tricks with his yo-yo. He'd been rather surprised when Daniel burst into his cell, but quickly grew more angry than surprised. Instantly responding to Daniel's belligerent tone, Jack jumped up from his seat. “What is this, Daniel?” he sarcastically asked instead of answering Daniel's question. “Is this 'Beat the crap out of Jack day?'” His glare intensified. “'Cause you gotta know that I can take you down in...”

But Daniel was uncharacteristically focused for him, not to mention that he wasn't the least intimidated by Jack's blustering. He never had been sufficiently controlled by a simple show of temper before, and now wasn't any different. “Jack, shut up for a minute.” Daniel plopped down in the chair Jack had been using to casually prop his feet on, then gestured to the chair opposite. “Have a seat, Jack, before I knock you into it.” He critically eyed his friend. “Maybe I should just get it over with, and beat some sense into you.”

As if! Daniel couldn't beat a fly.

But Jack decided to accept Daniel's invitation to sit, anyway, though he used his 'intimidate the hell out of them' scowl to show his displeasure. Jack pulled the chair around so that he faced its back, then thumped into it as inelegantly as Daniel had sat seconds before. “Forget it Daniel,” he cautioned, resting his forearms on the chair back. “This brain of mine already holds as much sense as it possibly can, so beating me won't solve a thing as far as sense goes.” He intently studied the man across from him. “So, Hammond's pissed. Is that what you came all this way to tell me?”

Pissed himself, Daniel frowned. “Stop it, Jack! This isn't one of your mission fake-outs - this is real life!”

Jack glared. “I haven't been on a mission for months, as you well know! And what if this is real life? I've got a few...”

But Daniel ignored him to say, “Hammond's about ready to pull out any hair he has left, and Walter...”

“I'm sorry to be causing such grief,” Jack interrupted to blurt, not really sounding sorry at all. “Tell Walter to forget about dealing with me and deal with the person in charge from now on instead. And why is Hammond so up in arms?”

Daniel crossed his own arms, his belligerence only growing. “He's not the only one. Major Simpson is also on the war path.”

“I told Simpson that I didn't need to hear him spouting his legalese at me, and I meant it!” Jack's scowl deepened. He crossed his arms to mirror Daniel's irritated posture. “It's not my fault he's still hanging around to go all freaky on us. So don't go blamin' me for...”

Suddenly Daniel jumped to his feet. “Oh, of course we wouldn't want to blame the great General Jack O'Neill for selling himself down the river, and making the great sacrifice to the Air Force regulation book, or for..!”

Jack too leapt to his feet as soon as Daniel did. “What's this really about, Daniel?” he growled, his fury plain in his unfriendly tone.

Daniel didn't waste any time now that Jack had broached his real reason for visiting the cell. “What did you say to Sam?”

Which was a question that flummoxed Jack. “I don't...” He thought over the one interview that he'd had with Samantha Carter, and could recall little beyond the angry words she'd flung at him. “Nothing!” he assured. “This isn't about Carter, anyway!” Then he corrected, “Well, it is, but she has a life now, not with any of us, not with...”

“You mean 'not with you!'” Daniel cried.

It was a statement that rankled Jack further, but not for the reason that Daniel likely expected. “No, that's not what I mean!” Jack indignantly told him. “I mean 'not with any of us,' just like I said! She's part of this because she heads SG-1, not because she's with shrub boy and not me!”

The instant the ill-thought words flew out of his mouth, Jack regretted saying them. It was more personal than he had gotten with anyone, Daniel included... ever. Yet, those words were true, too. And at the same time, it didn't matter in the least. He and Daniel were here, in a holding cell, because of other things that took precedence right at the moment.

Jack took a calming breath and better modulated his voice. “I haven't even seen Carter since yesterday. I have no idea what she's doing, where she is, who she's doing it with, and right now, it doesn't concern me.”

Daniel glared at him, still not pacified by Jack's attempt to keep a lid on his emotions. “She's been in a rage all day. She really hit the roof when I told her that you had requested a brig transfer to another base.”

“I didn't 'request' a brig transfer!” Jack contemptuously denied. “What with all the people coming in here to tell me off at all times of the day and night, I...”

“Again, I ask you, what's this really about, Jack?” Daniel interjected, so angry that now he bit off his own words until his tone was blunt and choppy.

Jack slapped a hand to his forehead in a dramatic display of frustration. “It's about what I already told you it's about,” Jack patiently if angrily insisted. “That I should have killed you all on Saturday when I had the chance. I didn't, thus showing favoritism, thus being guilty of breaking Air Force regulations, and ignoring my duty. How much plainer can I say it than that?”

Daniel gave Jack a venomous stare. At last, he just softly said, “Whatever reason you've got up your ass, I hope it's worth it.” He turned away to exit the cell.

But Jack didn't let him go that easily. “Right now, I'm not sure even the reason that I'm telling you is worth it.”

Daniel whirled. “So you admit that there's something else behind this stupid stunt of yours, whatever it is?”

Jack's forehead creased in consternation. “No, Daniel, for cryin' out loud!”

“Is that what you want me to tell Sam the next time I see her?” Daniel guessed. “Should I tell Teal'c, too?” he added, as if he wanted to stop Jack from saying anything, thus making this situation even worse. “Should I basically tell them that you don't care about them anymore?” His gaze was so intense that it pinned Jack to where he was standing. “Is that what I should tell Sam?”

In answer, Jack sighed. “No,” he finally confessed, and tiredly scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Tell her... tell them...” He sighed again, regret filling the sound. “I didn't mean it - you guys are worth anything.” And he sat down in his vacated seat, and took up his yo-yo again as if he and Daniel hadn't spoken.

Daniel watched him practicing the movements for another trick for a moment, then heaved his own sigh of regret, and walked to the door. A second later, he was gone.

Chapter Nine

Jack's 'chat' with Daniel should have warned him that Carter was bound to come and give him a piece of her mind like the archaeologist had, but his critical thinking skills had been highly compromised by what Daniel had said, and Jack was too busy reviewing his friend's commentary to pay much attention to what else might happen. Thus, Carter's sudden appearance completely blindsided him.

Carter barely allowed Sergeant Tipping to shove his card through the card reader before she threw his door aside and marched straight up to him into his cell not ten minutes after Daniel had left. It was quite clear that she had been crying - was crying still, as a matter of fact. Tears that she tried hard to control oozed down her cheeks.

She leaned over him, fury and fear and horror warring with each other in her blue eyes. So it was another surprise when her voice came out quite soft and contained. “You're going?”

Jack didn't quite know how to react to an upset Carter who was so close to him. However, he didn't really have time to react one way or another, as she was already going on. “Just like that? You got the brig transfer that you requested, and you're leaving?”

Jack was caught so off guard by even this simple question that he couldn't focus his mind enough to make a coherent reply. “Uh.... um... Yeah. I got one, as far as...”

“Do you know where you're going?” Her question was a demand more than an inquiry.

“Uh... Daniel must have told you.”

Carter seethed, her nostrils flaring. It was the angriest he had ever seen her. “Yes or no?”

“Uhhhhhhh... no.”

The features on her face froze the second he said that, then fell in on themselves in a kind of scrunched up version of agony. The tears streamed down some more, but she ignored them to ask, “How can we keep tabs on you if we don't know where you are?”

They wanted to keep tabs on him? She wanted..? That surprised Jack. He had let himself believe that she didn't care one way or the other about anything that he did. He blinked at her request, made in such a heartrending tone that for the first time, he actually questioned if his interpretation of the events on Saturday were correct. He knew they were, or he wouldn't be in a holding cell in the first place, but there was just a flash of wonder if his interpretations were right or not.

When he didn't say anything, she continued, “General, this is about us - you keep saying that. But there will be no 'us' if you're gone, if...” Her voice trailed away, and the look of agony was back. She did nothing but stare at him, a miserable expression on her face.

Her misery compounded, as did his confusion. Did she mean 'us' as in SG-1, or 'us' as in Jack and Sam? But there had never been a Jack and Sam, he argued with himself, and there never will be now - she'd made certain of that. She was engaged - to that shrub, that...

But Jack wasn't sure exactly what she meant. He'd lost all hope in the recent weeks that things would ever be different between them. And in the end, it hadn't mattered. Saturday's events had dealt with all of them. He'd always thought if he broke the frat regs, it was because of... well, because of Sam... and him... but now...

Since Jack wasn't sure what she was referring to with her unclear words, he didn't know how to respond. Therefore, he said what immediately come to mind, a flippant comment that wasn't worthy of her, or of the dire situation. “But I'll always be with you, in your thoughts, right? That's what they say. That I'll be in yours, just like you'll be in mine.” It was a trite comment. It was common. Yet he kept talking, even though he knew he should just shut up. “But you know that.”

Carter stared at him, distress and anguish flowing out of her every muscle. Her face twisted in a show of grief that far surpassed the loss of the mere presence of a friend. Finally, her face still scrunched, her woeful unhappiness more than apparent, she just whispered, “It's not enough.”

Then she turned and left with not another word.

The SG-1 Part of the Story

Chapter Ten

Two days later, everything about the SGC was the same except for its commanding General. Yet at the same time, everything, even down to the SGC commanding General, was different.

General O'Neill disappeared. Where he had gone was anybody's guess. And the fact that he'd been ordered to stay away from those on SG-1 became a roadblock to any useful information as to his whereabouts, for SG-1 in particular. Hence, with no news filtering to them through standard means, SG-1 had to resort to unusual tactics. Sam ordered Daniel to watch the Internet for any mention of him or where he was. She ordered Teal'c to watch the multiple TV channels in his spare time for any news of Jack's whereabouts. Yet, it was Sam herself who got their first lead as to the General's location, and that was through a completely surprising source. Having to rely on word-of-mouth and heresay as to the General's location was nothing less than thoroughly galling to the Colonel. Even her typical Air Force sources were not forthcoming in this instance. It was like Jack had fallen off the face of the planet. Which, given their work circumstances, wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

Yet it was General Hammond who let it slip where he was, and it was in a mundane team leader's meeting that the slip happened. And Sam almost missed the whole thing because she wasn't paying much attention.

General Hammond was talking to Colonel Dixon after the team leader's meeting had dismissed for the time being. Dixon stood with his back to the Stargate, asking Hammond if he'd been in contact with his friend Major Simpson lately, as he hadn't heard from him for quite some time, and the Major's wife Laura had asked him to do some digging on her behalf.

“Funny you should mention the major, Son,” Hammond replied as the meeting broke up.

Sam pretended to get ready to stand as well, but had overheard the conversation going on behind her, interspersed with the other conversations at the break of any meeting. Instead of leaving with the others, she gathered her papers into a neat stack before rising, the conversation between Dixon and Hammond catching her attention as the others left the Briefing Room. Still, she was so used to not paying attention to matters that didn't concern her, it was only Dixon's mention of the name 'Simpson' that caught her attention.

It wasn't immediately clear that the two men were discussing the Major Simpson who had been tentatively assigned to General O'Neill as his JAG officer, or that they were talking about another Major Simpson altogether. Either way, Sam figured that she didn't have anything to lose by sticking around to hear the rest of the conversation. She pretended to drop half her pages under the table in order to remain in her seat for a few precious seconds more.

“You've heard something, Sir?” Dixon was saying to Hammond as Sam unashamedly listened from her spot under the table.

Hammond responded in a lowered voice, “He just contacted me to keep me apprised of the situation. They're at Offut, just like was requested, but for how long, he didn't know.”

“Thanks, General,” Dixon said, also in a low voice. “Laura will appreciate it, and if she knows something about him, then my wife can get off my back about making me dig around to find out what's been going on.”

The two men moved away at that point, and Sam finished grabbing the loose leaf papers strewn under the table, focusing on not appearing as if she had just eves dropped the way she had. She hadn't heard much, but she'd heard enough.

“He's at Offut for now,” Sam reported to Teal'c and Daniel when they met fifteen minutes later in Daniel's office. “Or at least, I think he is.”

“How do you know?” Daniel inquired. “Did someone tell you something?”

Sam gave a grimace. “I overheard something I shouldn't have,” she told them.

Teal'c instantly told her, “It may be sick-gotten news, but any news is worthy of mention at this point, no matter how it is gleaned.”

Daniel sighed in resignation. “That's 'ill-gotten,' Teal'c, not 'sick-gotten.'”

The Jaffa's eyebrows rose. “I am aware, DanielJackson.”

Puzzlement crept over Daniel's face. “Then why..?”

Teal'c gave his almost-smile. “To 'tick you off,' as O'Neill would have said.” He tucked his hands behind his back. “Given the subject of our discourse, I thought it most appropriate.”

Sam gave a snort of laughter at what was basically a Jaffa joke, played at Daniel's expense.

The subject of the joke looked pained. “I might have known,” he grumbled. “The man's here even when he's not.” But he didn't say anything more about it. Instead, he said, “I'll give the head honcho at Offut a call. After all, he's surely never heard of me. I'm just some dumb civilian, and you're in the Air Force, Sam - your name's too recognizable,” he told her. “But the person at Offut won't have any idea about why I'm poking around.” He grinned and predicted, “They won't know what hit them.”

* * *

The phone call started out deceptively easygoing.

“Hello, Offut Air Force Base, General Kagan speaking - how may I help you?”

“General?” Daniel said in the friendliest tone that he could produce. “Hi, this is Daniel Jackson, and I'm calling from...”

The dial tone bit into his ear the second Daniel mentioned his name.

They wouldn't even talk to him? Daniel shook his head: that just wasn't possible.

So Daniel again dialed the number he'd been given for the person in charge of Offut Air Force Base.

On the second ring, the linguist heard the same voice intone the same message, “Hello, Offut Air Force Base, General Kagan speaking - how may I help you?”

Daniel rushed to say, “General, please don't hang up! I know that you know who I am!”

A tired sounding, resigned sigh filtered over the line. “Dr. Jackson, officially, I can't tell you anything.”

“Please, I'd just like it be confirmed that...”

Click. General Kagan had hung up on him.

Clearly, those people at Offut knew exactly what had recently hit them.

* * *

In the meantime, since Sam already knew where General O'Neill had been transferred to, she decided to find out how far she could push those in control of the SGC when she had to search for the General's location. She would ask General Hammond. That way, she would know if she could count on him for information in the future, or count on him for feeding her to the dogs.

“General Hammond!” she called across the Briefing Room as Hammond was heading for the stairs leading down to the Control Room. “If I may have a word?”

Hammond paused, his hand on the stair rail. “I have a moment, Colonel - what do you need?”

Carter boldly stated, “I was wondering if you can tell me where General O'Neill was taken.”

Hammond's friendly, open demeanor instantly closed to her. She would have been offended if not for the cryptic response that he gave which left Sam completely befuddled. “General O'Neill has become part of an official investigation, and as such, I can't officially tell you anything official like that, Colonel, and officially I'd prefer that you never officially ask me that question again.” Then he jogged down the stairs and away from her at the fastest clip he could manage without falling on his face.

Carter just gazed after him. Officially, that was the strangest thing she'd ever heard Hammond mutter in her life.

* * *

While Daniel was striking out with the Offut connection, and Colonel Carter was dealing with General Hammond, Teal'c spoke to Walter Harriman.

With hands linked together behind his back to make him look friendlier, Teal'c strolled, seemingly unconcerned, into the Control Room. “SergeantHarriman,” he greeted the moment he spied the man. “May I converse with you?”

It was obvious right from the start of Teal'c's request that Walter was nervous. He kept darting glances at the stairs behind him that General Hammond might hurry down at any moment. “Uh... is there a problem with SG-1, Sir?”

Teal'c gave a tiny lifting of his lips - Sergeant Harriman was the only military person to still call Teal'c 'Sir' even after seven years. O'Neill was correct in the way that he'd often considered this man to be a model soldier. In fact, O'Neill had frequently compared Walter to ColonelCarter. “I am wondering if perhaps you can inform me of the whereabouts of General O'Neill, as you have been his aid for these past months, and might be aware of information that I am not.”

Walter's darting gaze seemed to dart even more at Teal'c's words, but General Hammond didn't appear from his office. So Walter kept his voice low when he stated, “I'm aware of his new location, yes, Sir, but I've been ordered not to tell you.”

Ordered? This was a strangely personal subject to issue orders about. “Ordered by whom, Sergeant?” Teal'c rumbled, sounding dangerous now, even if he wasn't yet angered.

In response to Teal'c's dangerous sounding tone, Walter squeezed his eyes shut, and squinched his face. “ByGeneralO'Neillbeforeheleftpleasedon'thurtme!” came out his reply in one long desperate squeal.

Just then General Hammond appeared rushing down the stairs at the fastest possible clip he could control. He and Walter exchanged a glance that Teal'c interpreted as saying, 'I didn't tell her/him anything!'

Aloud, Walter continued speaking to Teal'c, “I'm sorry, Sir, but I can't help you.” Then he turned his back on the Jaffa (a daring move worthy of any SG team on the entire base) and began typing commands into his computer so quickly that he had to correct every other word for several typos.

The General himself continued to walk past Teal'c without acknowledging him (an odd motion that bespoke a silent message all by itself), and called over his shoulder, “Walter, I'll be in the Commissary.”

Sergeant Harriman crisply responded, “Very good, Sir,” and that was that.

General Hammond was moving so rapidly by the time he reached the second set of stairs leading down to the elevator atrium of level 28 that Teal'c really did make sure that he navigated them without falling.

Why would the General glance at the Sergeant as if they both knew something, a secret, but couldn't tell Teal'c what they knew? And why move at such a fast pace when only going to the Commissary? To guard the food?

Puzzled, Teal'c said to Walter, “Thank you for your assistance.” And then he left to puzzle over his fellow SGC personnel's odd behavior.

* * *

Daniel gave Sam and Teal'c a grimace when the three met again in his office half an hour later. “Offut was a surprising no-go,” he reported.

Sam had to add her sigh to Daniel's grimace. “And General Hammond gave me the weirdest answer that he's given to any of my questions to date. He kept saying the word 'official' as if he officially was saying one thing, and unofficially telling me something completely different, such as General O'Neill's location.”

Teal'c was the next to report. “Sergeant Harriman was also not forthcoming.”

“Hmmmmmm,” Daniel thoughtfully intoned.

* * *

In the next hour while standing in line in the Commissary, Teal'c overheard Sergeant Harriman telling Airman Wells that his brother was a television news reporter in Omaha, Nebraska.

The same place where Offut Air Force Base happened to be located.

Interesting.

* * *

Sam happened to be walking down corridor C3 behind General Hammond and Dr. Brightman from the Infirmary right after Teal'c overheard his tidbit of information in the Commissary. She also overheard an interesting piece of news: the General told the doctor that he'd looked over the files she'd given to him, and everything appeared to be in proper medical order. General O'Neill had clearly undergone the typical transfer physical just prior to leaving Offut Air Force Base and traveling to South Dakota, and that her report had been very thorough.

Sam stopped walking, stunned. Another transfer? He had undergone another transfer before he'd even been at Offut for more than two days?

And he had gone to South Dakota?

Hmmmmmm, Sam thought, still pausing. Ellsworth Air Force Base was in South Dakota. Did that mean..?

* * *

Sam was watching the movie 'Die Hard' yet again with Pete that night when she got the call.

“Sam, it's Daniel,” he told her in a rush. “Stop whatever you're doing and turn on channel 2. Jack's gonna be on TV.”

Sam unquestioningly grabbed the remote control, stopped the movie in mid explosion, then rerouted her TV to the channel 2 NBC Nightly News.

“Hey!” Pete instantly objected. “I was right in the middle of that!”

“Sh!” Sam instantly hushed him, not paying attention to his complaints enough to respond to them, or to even explain what she was doing with her phone glued to one ear, and the other glued to the TV.

“What..?” Pete began to say, and Sam quickly shushed him again just as the news show returned from a commercial break.

A newsroom appeared on camera, and a female anchorperson smiled. In a show of professional calm, she looked straight into the camera and said, “And now for our next installment: the human interest exposé. We take you to James Harriman, who's interviewing General Jack O'Neill at Offut Air Force Base in Omaha. James?”

The picture flipped to show a man wearing jeans and a sweater, yet still managing to have the generic look of a typical reporter even in his unusual attire. He also looked eerily like Walter Harriman.

The Walter look-alike quickly began his report. “Thanks, Connie. This is James Harriman...”

A new voice interrupted, one that Sam would recognize even surrounded by pitch blackness - Jack O'Neill. The camera zoomed in on him standing patiently next to the Walter look-alike. Only, this was a shackled Jack O'Neill.

A fast thought zipped through Sam's mind: They shackle prisoners just for breaking the Frat Regs? Wasn't that a bit of overkill?

Except for the shackles, which seemed more and more to Sam like going beyond overkill just for a simple regulation infraction, Jack looked good. He seemed fit, well fed, and strangely relaxed. As a matter of fact, he was so calm that Sam almost didn't recognize him as him. She knew how he hated cameras as well as the thought of becoming an unofficial spokesman for the military on such short notice that she expected him to look intense now, and anything but calm!

But before Sam could puzzle through this information any further, Jack interrupted James Harriman, sounding thoroughly astonished, “You're James Harriman - as in, you're a relative of Sergeant Walter Harriman?”

James gave a light expression resembling a smile. “Um, yes, Walter is my little brother.”

Jack canted his head to the side in a pensive pose. “It's hard to think of Walter as a LITTLE anything.”

James spurted an unprofessional gurgle of laughter, sounding almost derisive now. “Yes, well...”

Jack said in defense of his aid, “No offense intended to the Sergeant. He was my aid, and really ran my military base, though he didn't realize it. If you wanted to know something, you asked Walter first, and me second.”

James Harriman grinned. “I'll tell him you said that the next time I see him.”

Jack's face fell a bit. “Maybe you shouldn't tell him I was the one who said that, though.”

James sounded like he was thoroughly enjoying himself at his brother's expense. “Why - will he blush?”

It was Jack who gave the derisive laugh this time. “No. He won't believe you.”

James sent a grin straight at the camera. “Walter, your name is famous.”

Jack gave a guffaw at the statement, and said, “I'll just say a 'Yes Sir,' because I know that's what you would have said anyway, Walter.”

Then James Harriman, once again the businesslike reporter, continued after clearing his throat. “I'm James Harriman, Walter's BIG brother, standing just outside the perimeter of Offut Air Force Base with General Jack O'Neill, who as you can see is being prepared to be transferred to a base other than Offut pending allegations that he broke with Air Force regulations while base commander in Colorado just last week. The interesting thing about the case facing General O'Neill is that he's accused of breaking the famous military Fraternization Regulation, but not for conducting the expected 'romantic relationship behind superior's backs.'”

Jack smirked at those words. “I am the superior,” he dryly commented. “It would be difficult to conduct an affair behind my own back and not know about it.”

The sound of general laughter erupted from the Airmen meant to guard the prisoner, and the already slightly laid back mood fell another notch to become positively jovial.

Amidst the chuckling, Harriman continued reporting, though with a smile now on his face. “He claims to have not 'conducted an affair behind his own back,' but to have stuck up in a tense moment for good personal friends he's made over the many years while in command of a team of soldiers...”

Jack broke in to explain, “They're called 'Airmen' in the Air Force.... get it? Airmen in the Air Force?” Then Jack instantly shook his head as if he regretted his sarcastic remark the second it had left his mouth. “That tone was out of line - my apologies. I've just been poked and prodded within an inch of my life, and I'm still a bit put out at the enthusiasm of the Offut doctor. Just ignore me.

Daniel broke in through the phone still connected to Sam's ear. “Did I hear that right? Did Jack just apologize?"

Sam gaped, her expression just as incredulous as Daniel's voice. “I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't just heard it,” she muttered, but was easily overpowered by Harriman's official sounding reporter's voice.

“General, why don't you explain in your own words what happened last Saturday when all this began?” the reporter suggested.

Jack sent a ghost of a smile to the camera at the words that had come from the reporter's mouth. “Where all this began,” he repeated, his voice somewhat nostalgic. His smile increased a tiny increment, and he shook his wrists for a minute, making his shackles jangle. “In order to understand the magnitude of what happened last Saturday, you gotta understand the time before that. Without going into too many details... it's classified for security reasons...” Giving the impression that the story he was about to impart was important without saying anything specific (Sam had always wondered how he was able to convey that kind of a message without saying anything), Jack went on, still giving that same endearing cockeyed smile. “This all actually began eight years ago when I was still a Colonel, and met this really annoying archaeologist...”

Sam avidly listened as Jack described his meeting with Daniel, then with her in the Briefing Room, how 'Murray Teal'c' had become the fourth member of his unorthodox team, and how they had successfully become fast and intense friends while dueling 'the bad guys of the world.' “The kinds of friendships you make in life and death situations like that...” His voice artfully trailed off, and he gave a head shake that was meant to denote awe. “They become like members of your own family,” he went on to say. “They know all about my life - I know all about theirs. I would die for them, they would die for me, for each other...” He gave an artful shrug this time. “It's very liberating, and intense at the same time.”

Then came another transitory shrug. “Anyway, that was what it was like for the past seven-eight years when I was a Colonel. Things were good, great even. Then the higher-ups promoted me... and it was the right decision, absolutely the right one. They gave command of my team to Major Samantha Carter, after I promoted her to lieutenant colonel.” He grinned again. “One of the reasons I even took this job,” he quietly imparted.

“I didn't know that,” Sam burst out into the phone to Daniel just as Pete demanded to know from his position beside her on the couch, “He promoted you? I thought you got that promotion from Hammond... or whatever the name was of your first General.” Then he gave a brief wince. “But not from that O'Neill guy.”

“Sh!” Sam shushed beside her, unthinking of who she was shushing. When she realized what she had just done, she felt a brief stab of remorse shoot through her as she suddenly heard the word, “Indeed,” come across the phone line in Teal'c's unmistakable tones.

“Teal'c, is that you?” she incredulously asked into the receiver.

His dry reply filtered into her ear. “Indeed.”

Daniel was the one to shush them this time just as Jack reached the part of the story that retold 'my version of Saturday.' “I was in charge of the entire base. I had ordered my old team to investigate some bad guys with really high connections in the government. They trapped the bad guys, took them out, did what they had to do, and did an excellent job under very bad conditions... and in the end, I waited to give another group of Airmen the order to blow up these bad guys, including my team. I waited so long for my old team members to reach safety that I waited too long to give the other Airmen the order. At the same time, some of the bad guys got away.” His voice illustrated his feelings of regret at that development. “I'm sorry about the few bad guys who got away, but I couldn't give the order to blow up that stronghold while my old team members were still in there.” He shrugged again. “I've been living on pins and needles ever since I got promoted to General, waiting for that moment to get here - 'cause I knew it had to come eventually; I would have to choose between being commander of my base, and the lives of my friends.” Jack raised his eyebrows and wrinkled his forehead. “And when that time came, I couldn't kill them. And because of that, the bad guys - all one or two that was left - got away. But the reality of the situation is that when push came to shove, I played favorites with my old team mates - they're alive because of what I did... or didn't do, as the case may be. But I broke the Fraternization Regulations by showing favoritism. I'm guilty. It's as simple as that.”

Harriman spoke hesitantly into the microphone for the first time in several moments. “Um... what do you think the Air Force is going to do to you for breaking regulations?”

The question seemed to momentarily surprise Jack, though it should have been the one subject that was paramount in his mind. “Do?” he skeptically inquired. “I'm guilty.” He shrugged. “I broke the regs. I suppose they'll do what they've done before to Airmen who have broken regulations.”

“Um...” Harriman hesitated again. “Didn't they throw those people out?”

Jack seemed to consider. “I guess they did... after their courts-martial.” Then he looked quizzically at James. “Or did they go to jail?” He continued to stare with the same expression on his face. “Or was it both?”

James furrowed his brow. “So you're aiming for court-martial?”

Jack sighed. A court-martial wouldn't be as familiar a mode of justice to this news show's viewers as a common trial, but the phrase was easily recognizable as meaning 'military trial.' At any rate, it would get the same picture across - a picture that had 'BAD' written all over it. “I suppose so, though I haven't been told that. I was ordered to cease any relations with my friends, and I refused. For that, I don't see how I can avoid a court-martial.”

“But you haven't been informed of one happening in your future?” Harriman prompted.

“Not yet,” Jack glibly replied. “I'll let you know if I do.”

Harriman turned back to the camera. “And our viewers will get the same chance to find out what will happen next to General Jack O'Neill. The Air Force administration has so far been unwilling to take any firm stand regarding the matter as to General O'Neill's future conditions. Watch our continuing coverage of the fate of the man who declared that his friends come first.”

“'Leave no one behind,'” Jack quoted. “That's been my motto since day one in the Air Force, and I've never broken it. It's just that this time the consequences are a bit steep.”

And Harriman took what the General had just stated and used it to transition the news show back to its original format. “Watch those consequences unfurl in our next installment of 'Jack Watch' here on Channel 2 news. Connie - back to you.”

The scene again flipped back to the newsroom anchor. “Thank you, James.” She turned to regard her other female anchor and commented, “A relaxing story from an affable man.”

The second woman smiled at her professional counterpart and said, “Makes me have second thoughts about joining the military.”

“I know what you mean,” Connie agreed. Then smiling, she added “We wish him luck,” She turned to a third camera, and said, “We'll be back after this commercial break.”

A local used car dealership began a familiar jingle, which Sam ignored. She was too busy gaping at the TV to take in anything that was actually on the TV. Had she interpreted the last comments between the two women anchors correctly? That these two women had cause to rethink their decisions on joining the military because (and here Sam thought she might be wrong)... because Jack... a powerful general in his own right... that he was... handsome? Were they hoping to conduct a light flirtation... through the camera?

Sam might think he was handsome, but she sure didn't want anyone else to think so!

“'Jack Watch?'” Daniel questioned, his voice sounding like Sam's thoughts - sarcastic.

But Sam wasn't entirely attuned to Daniel's voice. She was still too stunned: They thought he was handsome? Surely I heard that wrong!

In order not to draw attention to what might be... probably was... an erroneous interpretation on her part, Sam said the first thing that came to mind. “I didn't know that Walter had a brother! He...”

Daniel's voice again spilled into the conversation, cutting her off. “And didn't Jack seem awfully... I don't know....”

“O'Neill was very relaxed,” Teal'c informed them, as if daring them to contradict him.

“Relaxed,” Sam repeated. “Yeah, he was so relaxed, he'll be dead next.”

“Where was our hard-assed commander?” Daniel then asked, sounding completely confused.

“Gone fishing?” Sam hazarded to guess. “Gone out to lunch? Doing paperwork?” Then she paused as if struck by a thought. “That's it! No more paperwork while this investigation is ongoing must be the reason that General O'Neill is so completely relaxed.”

Daniel snorted into the phone, and Teal'c announced, “It suits him.”

Sam broke in to say, “I could send him my paperwork just to give him something to do.”

Daniel snorted again. “You might interrupt his yo-yo play, and we wouldn't want you to do that.”

“I miss him,” Sam suddenly blurted into the three way conversation.

“You what?” Pete incredulously exclaimed from beside her.

Sam turned to placate him, but suspected that she wore an expression more stunned then placating, as if she had forgotten he was even there, and the reminder was traumatic. “I mean 'miss him professionally,'” she corrected. “It's just not the same to get back to base and find General Hammond waiting there, and not General O'Neill.”

Daniel spoke up. “Yeah, you'd think it would be like going home, but Jack isn't out there with us in the field, and he's not waiting for us back at base anymore, either.” The shrug came through in his voice. “It doesn't feel right.”

“I know what you mean, DanielJackson,” Teal'c concurred. “I have no one to 'watch my six' anymore.”

Sam sighed. “You haven't had that for a long time, Teal'c,” she said into the phone.

Daniel answered, “Yeah, but he had someone to watch his six on base, and now even that's gone.”

Sam tsked. “He doesn't need someone to watch his anything while on base.”

“Oh, I see,” Daniel said, thinking, yet sounding sardonic. “So that time that we were all taken over by that bad guy a few months ago - Teal'c didn't need anybody then. Or that time he got stuck... you know, with that game thing - he didn't need anybody then.” The archaeologist gave a pensive pause that was as artful as Jack had been in his news interview. “Wasn't it Jack who figured out what to do in both those cases?”

Sam growled, “He had help.”

“Sam?” Pete interjected. “Aren't we going to watch the rest of the movie?”

Before Sam could answer him, Daniel asked, “What are you guys watching? Something good?” It was clear that he'd just heard Pete asking Sam his previous question.

“It is 'Star Wars,'” Teal'c announced in his best 'don't screw around with me - I'm a Jaffa' voice.

Sam groaned. “It's not 'Star Wars,' but I've seen it probably just as often.”

Daniel gave a groan as well. “It must be 'Die Hard.'”

Sam had to smile at the long-suffering tone in his voice. “How did you guess?”

Daniel quickly said, “We don't want to keep you from any of the nifty explosions.” His voice gave the indication that the explosions that he had seen during his tenure on SG-1 were a lot niftiest.

Sam gave a dramatic sigh, thinking that she used to like watching explosions, but that these Hollywood fireballs were less than spectacular. Maybe this was just the wrong movie.

She continued thinking without a pause, Or this is the wrong g... Don't think like that! she had to harshly order herself in mid thought.

The sound of Daniel's voice was a better distraction from her thoughts than her order to ignore herself. “Why don't you come over to my place to watch 'Jack Watch' with me and Teal'c tomorrow. Then we can talk about what we learn.”

“Alright,” Sam agreed. “I'll see you tomorrow. Bye.”

“Bye.”

“Farewell.” The three hung up together.

Pete started the movie again right where she'd stopped it. A fake looking explosion ripped across the screen. It's showing too much yellow, Sam complained to herself, letting the complaining act as a strange soothing to her suddenly overwrought nerves. Seeing the General again, and so unexpectedly, had rattled her more than she let on. Seeing him on Daniel's TV tomorrow would be better.

Yet, instead of feeling soothed at the prospect of more 'Jack Watch' in a place and time that SG-1 could speak more freely with each other than over an insecure phone line, Sam was left with the nagging feeling that she should have just undergone a four-way conversation rather than a three way, and that Jack should have been the one to hang up at the same time as they did.

Crap - nothing is as it should be anymore.

Tomorrow's news couldn't come soon enough.

Chapter 11

“I have something to tell you,” Daniel said the moment that Sam and Teal'c got comfortable in his living room the following night. “I didn't want to say anything while we were in the SGC, and can be overheard, or censored.” Daniel's words indicated how important this bit of information was to him. He went on when his guests had better arranged themselves around his wide screen TV. “Just as I was crossing the Briefing Room this morning, I overheard a phone conversation that General Hammond was having with The President.” His audience didn't convey the idea that overhearing a phone call was a particularly weird state of affairs, so he continued. “It was about how Jack was being sent to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, just like he'd said to Dr. Brightman in the corridor.”

Teal'c and Sam still didn't show more than a bit of interest, and Sam even berated Daniel for not getting to the point quickly enough for her. “Just what are you trying to tell us, Daniel?” she asked on a slight growl.

Daniel said, “General Hammond was telling the President how Jack was actually transferring to a secret base hidden under Ellsworth Air Force Base, not just being transferred to Ellsworth.”

The reaction he got was immediate, and one of general disbelief. “That's impossible, Daniel,” Sam immediately scoffed. “I was stationed at Ellsworth for a year right after I graduated the Academy and before I started my graduate work in astrophysics - I never heard nor saw anything to indicate a secret base while I was there!”

Instead of cowering under Sam's clearly more experienced information, Daniel stood up to her negative attitude. “That's right,” he said, seeming to agree with Sam, but then contradicted, “And before we all became involved in the Stargate Program, we certainly knew about a secret base that happens to be located directly under NORAD, didn't we?”

The slightly sarcastic sway of his voice was an effective argument tool. “You're right,” Sam noted, feeling chastised.

“You are correct, DanielJackson,” Teal'c also agreed. “If I did not already know of the SGC's location, I would not guess as to its concealment.”

Daniel shrugged his shoulders. “I just wanted to give you guys the heads up when we watch the show tonight. It may look like Jack's at Ellsworth, and he is, but that's not the entire story.”

And true to Daniel's prediction, that night's edition of 'Jack Watch' took place outside Ellsworth Air Force Base. Seemingly oblivious to the slightly strange conditions of their locale, Jack talked a great deal of the time allotted to him about the regulations. He knew a surprising amount about the Fraternization Regulations, and came across as an intelligent, knowledgeable person who also happened to have the rank of a Brigadier General. Thus, the entire show was more focused on the actual regulations that the General claimed to have broken than on the past history of SG-1.

“This form of favoritism mentioned in the Fraternization Regulations is...” General O'Neill began explaining. “It's a rather unusual interpretation of the regulations,” Jack went on to further tell Harriman as well as the show's viewers. “These regulations are more widely known to pertain to what you said before - to discourage the conducting of illicit relationships between airmen in command situations.” James gave an understanding nod as Jack continued, “But the Fraternization Regulations were first included in the UCMJ - uh, the Uniform Code of Military Justice - to discourage any kind of favoritism displayed in the field. And since my old team members were undeniably in the field last week...” Jack gave a sort of grin that denoted being incontrovertibly guilty now that he had mentioned a bit more about the regulation's rules as to favoritism. “It's a pretty open and shut case - I'm guilty of favoritism, and I'm guilty of not following the order to voluntarily cease relationships with my friends under my command.” His shrug gave the indication of his 'eh' attitude. “I don't see that I've given the Air Force administration much choice.”

“Court-martial?” James Harriman asked, his voice an auditory protest to what he seemingly feared would be the outcome for his interviewee.

“Eventually,” Jack responded, his tone matter-of-fact. And then he stopped speaking, as if he refused to add more information that might raise false hope in those viewers who were holding out for a different result for his case.

However, James Harriman still showed instant confusion. “But if all you have to do is end these friendships..?”

Jack cut him off, his voice firm. “There's no choice in that, either. I can't simply stop caring about my friends just because I'm ordered to. My feelings aren't like a faucet - I can't turn them on and off at will - and it's a bit ridiculous to think I can.”

Stupefied, Sam sat, stunned again by this emotionally open stranger who had suddenly begun to inhabit the familiar body of Jack O'Neill. Because that was the only logical reason behind all that he had said thus far. The Jack O'Neill who she knew would never admit to having affection for his friends that he couldn't turn off just because he'd been ordered to. He may harbor those kinds of feelings, but would rarely if ever admit to them. This was the first time Jack had actually spoken about his emotions concerning his three friends still on SG-1... Sam then rolled her eyes; just like him and his natural desire to give as dramatic an outcome as possible, he had waited to do his disclosing on national television!

Sam had to again gape at the TV screen like a guppy ripped unmercifully from its fish bowl. The only thing that alleviated some of her amazed disbelief was the fact that beside her, Daniel's face was showing the same stunned incredulity as hers was. It didn't, however, make her feel any less... awed. Where was this touchy-feely General O'Neill coming from? Had he suddenly decided that there was no point in hiding his true feelings for his friends any longer, and therefore he wasn't? Had the order to cease and desist his relationships with his SG-1 comrades made his brain go soft? Had he secretly undergone a personality wipe due to a rare space virus?

It was a mystery. The only thing that came off as certain in this entire mess was that the Jack on the TV screen believed wholeheartedly in his friends, and in his guilt. Yet, in spite of the dire circumstances that the General now found himself in, Sam had to admit that finally hearing about such affection as his towards his friends was... nice. What he'd said acted as an affirmation to her. It wasn't that Sam didn't already know that such affection as Jack's existed, it was just pleasant to hear of it. At last.

The backdrop for this human exposé was what was clearly a military base of some kind, as people wearing BDUs kept scurrying past the camera, and every now and then, someone in a full Air Force dress uniform strolled by, looking hurried, but not harried. James Harriman gave no other information about his and Jack's location other than to introduce the segment as taking place outside Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. There was no mention of the secret base that Daniel was insisting existed. And this segment of the news show was conducted outside the confines of the base, so also gave no information at all.

But all this sort of made sense - as a civilian such as himself, a man without security clearance of any kind, James Harriman would not be allowed in to the holding cell area of the high security brig of the Ellsworth top secret base just to shoot his television show. To that end, Jack had again been shackled and was heavily guarded, then led to the outside world. The mountain had come to Mohammed, so to speak. But he was so closely watched that it was almost as if he was expected to make a break for it at any moment.

And the airmen set to guard him seemed to be taking their orders seriously. They stood at attention, their hands on the butts of scary-looking weapons during the entire segment. Seeing the man she still considered her CO so obviously distrusted like he was any old criminal rankled Sam's heart, though she didn't say anything about how she felt to her companions.

This human interest story was a bit shorter than the segment from the day before had been, and Sam decided that too made sense. The history behind the story had already been delivered, as had the dilemma currently facing Jack. They had all been discussed, though not thoroughly, and she expected her background to be more closely perused before this 'Jack Watch' televised special had gone on for many more days.

The minute Harriman-the-reporter returned the news show back to the infamous Connie still waiting in the newsroom, Daniel flipped his TV off before Sam had the chance to hear any of Connie's reactionary comments.

“I wanted to hear...” Sam began to protest, and Daniel turned his TV back on as if she really had argued with his action. Connie was smiling at something her coworker had said, and she made the comment that Sam had been waiting for.

“Word is that the commander of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs has been deluged by emails from around the country, supporting General O'Neill's position. I thought about sending an email myself, but didn't know where to send it.”

The second anchorwoman looked puzzled. “Why Peterson Air Force Base?” she asked.

Connie gave a shrug. “Yesterday, the General mentioned that he'd worked at a base in Colorado. Peterson is in Colorado Springs, if I'm not mistaken.”

“But I figure that he worked at NORAD, or the Air Force Academy, or...” The co-anchorwoman paused, thinking. “I can't remember the name of those other bases in Colorado.” She didn't look as if she was the least bit annoyed at herself for not recalling information while on the air like she was. Sam had to give this news team credit - they came across as two very real women, not the smooth never-do-anything-wrong anchormen of the past. The anchorwoman was therefore timid sounding as she asked, “Is one of them called Buckles... or something?”

“Buckley and Schriever Air Force Bases,” Connie announced authoritatively. “I researched all the bases in Colorado after hearing yesterday's interview with the General.”

The familiarity with how the woman said 'the General' made Sam's skin crawl. She got the irritated feeling that Connie already thought of him as her General. But Sam unreasonably felt that the woman shouldn't be getting so familiar sounding when referring to a man who could snap her neck at a moment's notice.

Sam violently shook her head. What am I thinking?

Connie went on. “Since we don't know for sure what base the General is in command of, and we can't suggest where to send any emails our viewers would like to send to him, we've set up an account here at the KMDZ station to handle all emails and massages meant for General O'Neill. We'll send them to James Harriman, who is assigned to televise news of the General for the indeterminate future. He'll pass on any mail and emails for our viewers. Just send any letters to:

KMDZ Att: General Jack O'Neill

461 State ST.

Omaha, NE 68197

or

generaloneill@@yahoo.com.”

Connie smiled her same friendly smile from the day before, a gesture that actually made Sam's skin crawl with shivers of great proportions. “And now on to the promised commercial break that I'm sure you've all been waiting for.”

The same used car jingle that had played the day before after the human interest segment of the news immediately started up again. Daniel then used his remote control to shut off his TV.

A silence hung over the three gathered teammates like an unexpected cloak. The only sound to break through that quiet was the sound of the clock on the kitchen wall, and three synchronized breathing patterns.

“Well,” Daniel broke the quiet at last. “He certainly seems to be staying fit, at least.”

Teal'c followed Daniel's comment with an observation of his own. “O'Neill appears extremely relaxed considering the possible circumstances.” He growled, as if this 'relaxed Jack' didn't please him at all. “It is disconcerting to watch.”

Sam instantly agreed with him. “Thank you, Teal'c! I thought I was the only one who was having a problem with this persona the General apparently wants to feed to the American public, but I guess that you see it too.”

Teal'c gave a formal bow of his head. “As you say... I see it too, ColonelCarter,” he assured.

Suddenly Daniel grinned. “Maybe we should throw Kinsey at Jack the next time he interviews, and we can sit back and watch the sparks fly.”

Sam snorted. Daniel's suggestion had a certain appeal to it. “If we need something to trigger the real O'Neill, that would do it,” she agreed.

Daniel made another comment as Sam continued to chuckle at the image of Kinsey circling Jack like they were prizefighters. “But did you guys also get the idea that Walter was kind of feeling a little bad about not being able to talk to Teal'c the other day, and called his brother and told him about this weird angle behind Jack's story?” He continued to stare back and forth between them. “And that's why this 'Jack Watch' even exists?”

Sam finally caught his gaze. “I have to admit that thought had occurred to me.”

“To me as well, DanielJackson,” Teal'c admitted.

Sam went on in the same vein. “Then I have to mention how it seems like General Hammond and James Harriman keep feeding us information that's about what's happening to General O'Neill right now.” Both Daniel and Teal'c glanced at her, confused. “Doesn't it seem strange to you that General Hammond just happened to be speaking to the President right at the exact time that Daniel is crossing the Briefing Room, and can hear everything he says?” She sat with raised eyebrows. “The General would have to have left his office doors open for Daniel to overhear a phone call like that.” She noted, “General Hammond never leaves his office doors open while speaking to the President. Or, at least, he never used to.”

“You're right,” Daniel agreed with her, thinking on her words. “I hadn't thought about it like that before.”

Sam wrinkled her forehead. “Don't you think it's strange?”

Teal'c concurred. “And it is strange that GeneralHammond mentions within hearing distance of ColonelCarter that O'Neill will be transferred again, and where he is going.”

Sam nodded. “It's like he said that just on the off chance that I or someone I know was listening.” Again came the nose wrinkle. “But a show called 'Jack Watch?'”

Daniel admitted, “It is kind of a silly name for a show.”

Again, the silence fell over the three as they digested this information. “They can't officially tell us anything,” Daniel pensively said. “But unofficially...”

“We really do have a Jack Watch,” Sam commented.

The silence fell for a third time.

At last Teal'c noted, “We must not let the efforts of these people be in vain.” The formal tone of his voice was almost frigid.

Another silence. This is going to take all our communication skills, Sam ruminated. But she figured that SG-1 (both past and present) was more than up to the task.

“So,” Daniel brightly said, breaking the moment. “Tomorrow, same time, same place.”

“Yep,” Sam immediately said.

“Agreed,” Teal'c instantly seconded.

“'Jack Watch,' here we come,” Daniel said, and slapped his knees, as if some great agreement had been reached. And perhaps it had been. It was 'Jack Watch, SG-1 style.'

It should have been called 'Watch Out.'

Chapter 12

'Jack Watch' continued every night. And every day, one of the members of SG-1 was the recipient of overheard information, or little tidbits of news was past their way through means most unorthodox. One time, someone who none of them even knew was able to pass them a written note about Jack's recent second interview by hiding the note in the middle of the hockey section of a newspaper kept in the Commissary. They received news in medical reports that the Infirmary doctors 'accidentally' left in the Briefing Room. Underlined words used to make up messages appeared in the science department's preliminary studies that went straight to Colonel Carter for analysis was almost a weekly occurrence by this point. The thing that the team needed to do was pay attention when these strange communications took place. In Daniel's case especially, this was a challenge. But the way they habitually discussed while off world any odd activity or strange occurrences assisted in keeping even Daniel up to date.

General Steve Evans replaced Hammond when he left the SGC for his job as head of Homeworld Security in DC. This new General was much more circumspect about what type of news he would pass on to SG-1, and the three team members had to bend quite a few of the regulations themselves in order to stay abreast of the developing situation concerning General O'Neill. It would have been simple to lose track of him as he was bounced from base to base, depending on, of all things, the amount of chaos he managed to cause at each separate base he was moved to. If not for 'Jack Watch,' they would have found it a hopeless business to follow his case in any way, in spite of all the secret communiques they received.

Two more investigators were assigned at different times to handle the O'Neill case, but as Jack continually insisted on his incontestable guilt in the matter, the investigations they conducted were reduced to the point of redundancy. Court-martial loomed ever nearer each time he proved these investigations to be the useless attempts at containing the problem that they were. Before any of the members of SG-1 had predicted it, the call for a court-martial went out, if just to shut the General up.

Public opinion solidly backed Jack, who, as they say, was just a man who was being punished for acting in his friends' best interests, and for simply telling an unpopular truth about himself and his foibles. That those foibles were in direct conflict with Air Force regulation seemed unimportant to the American public. Most of his appeal was that he had been endearing himself to the public from day one by showing them the emotionally open officer he had become. The people liked the idea of an American military member who was accepting of his own emotions. And he was the self admitted underdog in this case. Spokespeople for the public often claimed that if those people in administrative positions continued to try to castrate a man for sticking up for his friends in dire circumstances, well then, what was the military coming to? Perhaps it was time to change the regulations of this UCMJ that O'Neill kept referring to. It was obvious that what had worked in the past wasn't working any longer if a man was persecuted simply for saving lives, no matter whose they were.

And if changing the UCMJ had been what was behind O'Neill's unwavering policy of 'I'm guilty' from the very beginning, then even the members of SG-1 had to admire the way he seemed to be achieving his goals. Those goals may have made life much harder for SG-1, and certainly more frustrating, but it sure made life interesting at the same time.

While the facts of the case led a court-martial closer and closer to Jack, the public's outcry was more along the lines of 'cut the guy some slack.' 'Jack Watch' continued to be the sole property of NBC, but any kind of background material that could be possibly linked to General O'Neill and any of his friends was exploited by every other media source as much as it could be. The classified status of those friends' jobs didn't seem to faze any other media franchise, either. They simply used what information they could legally gather, and offered Yahoo forums for fans to get together to theorize as to the classified details of the jobs belonging to O'Neill and the now infamous SG-1.

Unsurprisingly, after refusing four separate orders to cease the platonic relationships he had cultivated with his friends, and after three more useless investigations were conducted, the call for a court-martial that he finally received was inevitable. As he had been in charge of a classified installation when he'd originally committed his offense, it was decided that Bolling Air Force Base in Washington DC would be the most official and simultaneously neutral site for what constituted a military trial. KMDZ revealed that he would appear before a single judge who had been appointed to hear his case. Whether that was a good thing for him or a bad thing was yet to be seen.

Ordered to testify as character witnesses, the members of SG-1 were flown to DC. They stood now at the end of the corridor at Bolling, Sam in her dress blues, Teal'c and Daniel in suits. Teal'c's incongruous hat meant to conceal his First Prime symbol tilted dangerously to the side for a moment as they huddled together, all of them anxious for Jack's sake, but pretending hard not to look it. He caught the tilt at the last moment, and righted his own head covering before more was revealed to the world than the world was ready to witness.

Oblivious to Teal'c's acrobatics, Daniel spoke as they waited. “What do you think they'll ask us?”

“Use your brain, Daniel,” Sam snapped, so anxious about the part she was expected to play in General O'Neill's fate that her temper was noticeably shorter than normal. “They'll ask us about whether or not we saw any favoritism on his part before he became a General, as well as after.”

Daniel gave an inelegant snort, the explosion of air showing that he wasn't in the least bit fazed by his team leader's reduced patience level. “I for one never saw any favoritism - I saw a ticked-off-Jack often enough - a Colonel who was more than willing to yell at me every time I managed to get us into hot water... which was every other day,” he ruefully admitted. “But favoritism? Uh-uh.”

“Nor I,” Teal'c seconded.

Still agitated, dancing unprofessionally from foot to foot, Sam now whispered, “We should synchronize our stories, though, just like Major Simpson told us to do, in case they ask each of us the same question. We don't want to simply say the same things over and over again. That would be pointless.”

Teal'c instantly spoke up. “I will explain how O'Neill recruited me, and how he offered to let me 'stay at his place.'”

Not commenting on the quote that Teal'c had utilized, Daniel added, “I can mention the decided lack of favoritism Jack showed to us, especially where I was concerned. And Sam?” He stared at his team leader as she in turn stared at a group of dignitaries approaching from down the long hall. “Sam?” he again prompted. “What do you plan to say?”

But Sam had moved beyond Daniel's attention getting skills by this point. She had eyes for only one person in the corridor.

The group that Jack was part of was fast approaching them.

Surrounded by General Hammond, Colonels Reynolds and Dixon, and a bevy of people she didn't know, Jack looked calm and collected. He was being trailed by Major Simpson, who was detailing a planned defense that Jack loudly proclaimed he wouldn't utilize due to his obvious guilt.

The entire group drew steadily closer to SG-1. No one noticed the SG team among the other extraneous personnel in the corridor, and James Harriman provided another distraction to the approaching O'Neill. Noticeably intimidated by the grim looking officers all wearing dress blues closing in on him, the reporter swallowed, but didn't back down from reaching the side of the man he was assigned to interview, either.

The moment Harriman fell into step beside O'Neill, he thrust a microphone between him and Jack and inquired, “General O'Neill, what do you see as the outcome of this court-martial?”

Sam watched as Jack shrugged and continued walking straight towards the room that reportedly held the judge meant to decide his fate in the Air Force. For a man walking a tightrope between regulations and policy interpretation, he looked cool and confident. Yet his rapid blinking showed otherwise.

Still, he faced James with a smoothness definitely lacking panic, and replied, “I have no idea what'll happen on the other side of that door, but I can tell you right now that I'm not 100% sure that I want to be part of an organization that first encourages friendships that help guarantee success, then discourages those same friendships when it's inconvenient to have them. I can understand the need for a proper chain of command, but to expect someone to turn friendship on or off depending on promotion is unrealistic.”

Sam gave a start. Had she heard correctly? There was still quite a bit of distance between her and the crowd of officers. It would be a simple matter to mishear what was being said. Yet Sam wasn't sure herself that she could use the excuse of mishearing the words Jack had just said to the reporter. And if it was true, then no matter what was decided in the hearing today, the Air Force may be down an officer if he just quit on the spot.

But he can't quit! Sam quailed at the thought. The idea of never serving beside Jack O'Neill again made dread wash over her from head to toe. He simply had to stay in the Air Force! What would she do without him? Even though she didn't see him very often any longer, she needed his calming presence when she did. The possible assignments that she had to look forward to seemed empty and dim without the promise of his calm presence at the assignment's end.

It was also useless for her to pretend that a larger Air Force without a Jack O'Neill in it held any appeal for her. Jack was the light that had been a guiding influence for her for the last seven and a half years. To her, he was the Air Force.

As Sam contemplated the man she hadn't seen for two months, she had no problem at all hearing the advice that was given to Jack after his comment on the military.

Major Simpson spoke up, his voice easily carrying up to Harriman's microphone. “I advise you to remain silent at this point, General.”

Jack glanced over his shoulder, and narrowed his eyes just slightly in response. “Simpson?” he said as if suddenly waking to find him part of his entourage. “Didn't I tell you that I don't need legal counsel?”

“Repeatedly, General,” Simpson dryly replied.

Jack's eyes narrowed even more, this time in obvious puzzlement. “Then why are you still here?”

Simpson continued to glance through the file he was carrying, but glibly responded, “I stay because I know that if I don't, Dave will tar and feather me, right before castrating me.” He didn't so much as trip as he spoke on the controversial topic. “I have no desire to become a eunuch.” General laughter met that comment. “So with all due respect, General,” Simpson went on. “Feel free to look on putting up with me as saving yet another life from the evil clutches of Colonel Dixon.”

“Gee, thanks, Fred,” Dixon said, his voice just as dry as his friend's.

“Any time, Dave, any time,” Simpson replied. “Besides, General,” the JAG went on. “Colonel Carter threatened to feed my intestines to me - backwards - if I stopped representing you.” Now he did look up to see the microphone and TV camera documenting everything he said for posterity. A look of panic invaded his eyes, but he beat it back to add, “I decided not to push my luck.”

Reynolds smiled when he heard that. “Yeah,” he laconically agreed. “That sounds like Carter; protective.”

“And smart,” Jack added.

Dixon joined Jack in enthusiastically nodding. Jack went on to add, “I've always wondered how someone can be so smart, so good looking, and yet so lethal at the same time.”

Forget the smart and lethal comments - Jack thought she was good looking? Not asking herself why this was such an important point to her, Sam instantly blushed a hot red, then fought to get her reaction under control as the group continued to approach. He never said! she internally argued with herself. Yet, there were no attempts at curtailing her thoughts this time. She was too amazed to even try.

Jack looked around from his perusal of Simpson to suddenly catch her eye for the first time in weeks. He seemed just as stunned to see her there as she was to see him, though he shouldn't have been surprised at all.

His gaze slid from hers before the camera could pan onto the item or person that he was staring so fixedly at, but the camera operator was able to catch the grin that erupted on his face the second he caught sight of SG-1. “Hey, guys! Long time no see!”

“Jack!” Daniel greeted, just as eagerly. “You look good!” He straightened his suit jacket one last time as Jack reached his side.

“O'Neill!” Teal'c boomed, an almost smile gracing his features.

“T!” Jack exclaimed right back before tugging the big warrior in for a close hug. “I see you're keeping Daniel out of trouble!”

Teal'c sent a long-suffering glance in Daniel's direction. “Yes, though on some days, it is more a trial than on others.”

Jack laughed with more good nature than the group of friends had heard him exhibit... ever. Still laughing, his gaze turned to Sam again, and instantly a look of pure affection stole across his eyes for all to see. “Carter,” he exclaimed, making this meeting sound like it was easy for him, when she was quaking like a leaf. “I hear that you've been threatening to play with Simpson's intestines again.”

Sam gave a small smile that was only meant for him, but ended up making her look far more approachable than lethal. “I only threatened, Sir,” she reminded.

Jack grinned, clearly at ease. “Your threats saved our butts more times than I can say - I can't count that high.” The subsequent twinkle in his eye was mischievous as much as it was affectionate. “Simpson's intestines need rearranging, anyway.”

Sam would have gaped at this obvious display of warmth, but Jack went on before she could show her astonishment. “Daniel and T have been making sure that you eat, I see.”

“Yes Sir,” she replied, so entranced at seeing him that she was unaware of what she had agreed with. It was purely amazing that her voice came out sounding so self-assured. “Though what they sometimes bring to my lab for me to eat isn't nearly as good as what you've brought in the past.” To her amazement, she felt her own mischievous spark light up her insides, and couldn't resist adding, “The company isn't nearly as good, either.”

Where had that comment come from? She was usually so reserved when men were present, and especially around a TV camera. But when Jack was smiling at her so warmly, she found that she just couldn't deny the natural draw she felt for him.

A draw that was captured for everyone to see on national TV. The immediate instinct that followed her thought was that she didn't even care!

Jack smiled a slow, drawn out smile that was just for her. “C'mere,” he said, still grinning. He pulled her into a hug that was the embodiment of the affection that he held for all his team. “It's good to see you - all of you.”

She hugged Jack like she hadn't seen him for a long time - which she hadn't. “It's good to see you, too, Sir.” Cheekily, she added, “And I promise not to do anything too wonky to your intestines.”

Jack laughed again. His laughter was a sound that she had become so unaccustomed to hearing in the past months that it threw her for a moment. At the same time, she was too preoccupied with being in his arms once more to pay much attention to how incredible his laugh was. She was being reminded of more than just his special sound - she had forgotten how good he felt as well.

That was when an airman had the temerity to interrupt the SG-1 reunion to tap Jack on his shoulder. When Jack looked up, the smile from hugging Sam still evident on his face, the young man uncomfortably cleared his throat and gestured to the room on the corridor's left. “Sir, the preliminaries are about to start - if you can come this way?”

“Ah.” Jack gave one final glance in SG-1's direction. “Duty calls.” And he smirked before he and the group of officers walked away with the airman.

James Harriman and crew remained where they were standing, filming the reaction of the team members as they watched Jack O'Neill disappear into a room labeled 'Briefing Room #1.' The second he vanished, James called, “Cut!” then approached them, hesitant again, but clearly still willing to voice his concerns. “Excuse me,” he began, his timidity coming out as him being the ultra polite TV reporter. “I know that we've never actually met before now, but...”

Teal'c's rumbling voice cut him off. “You are JamesHarriman, brother of SergeantWalterHarriman. We are aware of your name, though you are correct in that we have not officially met.”

Daniel gave a lopsided smile and broke in before James had the chance to reply to Teal'c's rather abrupt comment. “He means that we've seen you on TV so often that we feel we know you already.” And he smiled in an obvious attempt to soften his friend's rumblings as well as to help make the reporter feel more at ease with them.

James appeared a bit taken aback by Teal'c's brusque comment, but visibly attempted to recover by responding to what Daniel had said. “Yes, well, that's kind of what I wanted to ask you about.” He made certain that he had SG-1's undivided attention before continuing. “I know that we just filmed that reunion between you and General O'Neill...”

“Do you plan to air it?” Sam asked, the concern she was feeling at the idea clear in her voice: she wasn't sure she wanted what had already become her special time shared with Jack to be shown to everybody on TV.

James continued, “That's the point - I'd like to air that piece - with your permission of course (the viewers love a good reunion scene). And I would like to continue to film you as this court-martial gets underway.” He gave a dismissive shrug. “I'm afraid that neither I nor our viewers know much about court-martials...”

“Courts-martial,” Sam intervened to correct before she could stop herself.

“See?” James said, pointing to her. “I don't even know the right form of the words to use in this case, but obviously you do. I wonder if my crew and I might shoot a sort of home movie of your reactions to this... courts...” He stopped when Sam shook her head. “Court..?” he tried again. This time, she nodded. Smiling, he went on, “For this court-martial. We aren't being allowed into the actual court-martial room...”

Daniel interjected a second time. “You don't have clearance, do you?”

James blushed a slight shade of red. “Even if I did, the country's general population doesn't.” He gave another of his shrugs, as if to indicate that as these were the perameters that he had to work with, he would make the best of it. “To that end, we're going to the room with the other witnesses to wait for the sentencing.”

Sam gave a shudder. The way he said that seemed so... cold... so final. She had to remember that this court-martial wasn't just the side show that Jack had viewed it as these last months, but something that was far more important. This could be the last day that she ever saw Jack as a fellow Air Force officer. Just that thought made Sam shudder again.

But James was talking once more, and Sam had to force herself to listen to his request. “Could we, perhaps, film you while we wait, and I can ask questions for a short segment on how courts-martial work, so that our viewers won't be completely lost?”

The three looked at each other, hesitant. At last, as team leader, Sam spoke for them all. “Um... sure, we guess that's alright.”

Daniel broke in to add, “I bet that Sam is already thinking that she needs to be as unintellectual as possible.” He grinned a disarming grin. “I'll just yell 'Carter!' right in the middle of any explanation she makes, and it will be like Jack's here in spirit.”

Sam snorted, and even Teal'c gave a ghost of a grin. James simply sent them a puzzled expression.

The second that Daniel saw James's expression, he explained, “Jack never let poor Sam finish any of her sentences... for seven years. He always cut her off by yelling 'Carter!'” He looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. His voice pensive now, he slowly drawled, “I'm wondering how that constitutes as favoritism.” Again smiles met him on all sides. Emboldened by the support he was seeing, Daniel continued. “And that part you just filmed... I have no objections to you showing it.” He looked at the others, who looked back with agreement in their eyes. “Though we might have to explain Sam's 'wonky' comment...”

James laughed in good humor. “Thank you. Since this is a 'need to know' court-martial, and we don't deed to know anything, this is definitely better than sending an empty data stream back to the studio for tonight's news cast.” His gesture of 'follow me' given to his crew and SG-1 was unmistakable. As he and his crew proceeded to the room set aside for witnesses on the right side of the corridor, directly across from Briefing Room #1, he added his further thanks. “We really appreciate this.”

He and his crew entered the room ahead of SG-1 in order to set up their equipment, leaving the team members alone in the corridor for a moment. Teal'c took that time to lean down to his teammates and whisper, “Clearly this man has not yet met MrBregman - this JamesHarrimean is not nearly as shovey.”

Again Sam snorted her nervous laughter out in one loud bark that she tried to cover up with a coughing fit just as Daniel said to Teal'c, “That's 'pushey,' not 'shovey,'”

Teal'c's eyes sparkled with mischief for a moment. “I am aware, DanielJackson,” he said, to which Daniel only growled his animosity at once again being the butt of Teal'c's jokes as they crossed into the room.

James Harriman's contribution

James's countenance filled the shot on the camera. “This is James Harriman reporting to you from Bolling Air Force Base where General Jack O'Neill is even now embroiled in the court-martial that could exonerate him from charges of dereliction of duty and disobeying a direct order, or abruptly end his long and distinguished career in the military.”

He paused for a breath, then went on. “As this court-martial is classified, we're not allowed inside the room to film the proceedings. But I have with me now the members of SG-1, whom this court-martial is all about. They've consented to share with us their more intimate knowledge of General O'Neill, as well as how court... s... martial work, and about this one in particular.”

Daniel's voice echoed from the background. “I'm not sure how much 'intimate' knowledge we have of Jack... and maybe that's to your benefit...”

Daniel's voice trailed away as the camera focused on him. James's off-camera voice prodded, “Perhaps Dr. Jackson, you can fill us in on this un-intimate knowledge you all have of General O'Neill?”

“Um...” Daniel's nervousness transferred to the camera as he quickly decided on what to say. “Uh... I only know that Jack spent the last seven years telling me to not touch anything, then yelling at me when I did.” He looked quizzically to James. “I don't know - is that favoritism?”

The crew laughed, Sam and James laughed, Teal'c rumbled in humor, and Daniel looked like he didn't know what he had said that had been so funny. He smiled a tiny smile. “Uh... That was the honest truth...”

James recovered from his laughter with professional aplomb. “Of course, Dr. Jackson...”

“Dr Jackson was my father,” Daniel interrupted. “Please, call me 'Daniel.'”

This request surprised James, as if he wasn't used to dealing with such informal interviewees, but recovered with lightening speed. “Daniel, as part of the reason behind this court-martial, and as a civilian having worked with a military organization for several years, how do you see this court-martial turning out?”

Daniel blew air from his pursed lips, clearly a move that covered the fact that he was thinking. “Um... as a civilian...” His sheepish smile graced the camera screen. “I've learned through working with the military how important that chain of command really is - I know that Jack's being accused of playing loose with the base's overall chain of command. At the same time, what Jack's accused of doing was a decision that spared my life.” He glanced straight into James's eyes. “That sort of colors my perception a bit, doesn't it?”

James didn't respond to Daniel's rhetorical question, but only nodded once, then moved on to Sam. “Now that we've heard from a civilian, we'll hear from General O'Neill's military colleague - Colonel Carter, what's your prediction as to this court-martial's outcome?”

Sam immediately colored at being on camera, but collected herself with alacrity. “I admit that I was as surprised about what's happening to the General as anybody - and I fully understand the importance of chain of command, like Daniel said - and though that's a necessary...” She abruptly stopped herself in mid thought. “Sorry - I tend to ramble...” Her voice trailed off just as Daniel's had earlier. She paused so that she could collect her thoughts. “I was the General's second in command for years before being named team leader after his promotion - and not once in all the years that I worked with General O'Neill did I get the feeling that I was benefiting from favoritism. Which can be seen as unusual circumstances for a female in the military, especially one on a front line defensive team.” She shrugged. “I can't say that we always followed orders to the letter... but things always turned out better than they would have if we had followed those orders.” She quickly corrected herself, “Not that disobeying orders is ever taken lightly... or should be...” Then she squared her shoulders, and her chin jutted out for a moment in her 'I'm gonna suggest something totally irrational' pose. “In this case, I have to say that I'm glad the General played the situation by instinct instead of protocol and orders. I wouldn't be standing here saying this if he hadn't.”

“You'd all be dead,” James flatly commented into the microphone.

Sam gave a small smile when he said that. “And I bet that you wouldn't be very thrilled interviewing a corpse.”

The crew laughed again, and James grinned at her comment, then went on to point out, “But the General is being accused of dereliction of duty as well as disobeying orders. Besides, I thought that order he was disobeying was that he should cease all relations with you three, and that he refused.”

Teal'c broke in to say, “And we are gratified by what O'Neill chose to do.”

Daniel added, “Life wouldn't be as... interesting... without Jack's friendship.”

Sam went on to respond to James's earlier commentary. “However, that aside, we have to remember that as far as the Air Force goes, this is a case of disobedience of a decorated officer, as well as one who refused orders.” She shrugged again. “From that standpoint, militarily, General O'Neill faces some tough charges in this court-martial.”

James turned to face his crew to immediately instruct, “And... fade.” Then he turned back to SG-1. “That was great, excellent... We'll just take a few more shots here and there as interesting things develop...” He drew closer to speak to his crew, leaving SG-1 to sit on the sofas and chairs that had been provided for the witness's comfort.

Though 'comfort' was a loose description. “I think these sofas were purchased during the Cold War,” Daniel commented as he promptly sank into a hole under the sofa's cushions. He moved a foot to the right, closer to where Sam had chosen to sit. He promptly sank into another hole. “Well, standing now...” And he rose to approach the coffee pot in the room's corner. “Anybody want coffee?”

Sam shook her head, and Teal'c said, “I do not require caffeine at this time, DanielJackson.”

And the wait began. People came and went, Daniel got more coffee, then had to be shown to the nearest rest-room. He returned, and a moment later, James Harriman joined them in their waiting.

It was odd to be so close to someone each team member knew, but didn't know personally. They all found themselves staring intermittently at James, as if they wanted to assure themselves that he wasn't the good friend they thought he was. Finally, after thirty minutes of tiny peaks (and in Teal'c's case, open stares), he asked them if something was afoot that he didn't know about, but should.

Daniel-the-benevolent was the one to immediately respond. “No, nothing's wrong, nothing...” And then he was staring again without realizing he was doing it.

“There!” James pointed out. “That's the look you three keep giving me. Have I done something awful to your dogs?”

Teal'c sent him a puzzled glance. “We do not own any dogs - how could you do something awful to what we do not have?”

Daniel gave a soft snort. “Don't mind him,” he instructed. “He's very literal.” And still he stared. At last he seemed to wake up. “I'm sorry,” Daniel instantly apologized for his rude behavior. “I don't mean to stare... but we've all been watching you interview Jack for weeks. Seeing you in person is almost like seeing an old friend.”

It was a comment that caused Teal'c to add, “Though we have just met you, JamesHarriman.”

Harriman gave a nod and a smile. The gesture was more tentative in Teal'c's case. “I have to say that it's rather odd meeting you three at long last, too.”

But the members of SG-1 hadn't done anything... that Daniel knew of. “Why's that?” he uncertainly asked.

James paused to give a polite cough. “I've heard so much about you, but I never expected to meet you.”

That prospect made Daniel smile in return. “Well, here we are, SG-1 in the flesh.” His tone was light and a bit sarcastic. “For what it's worth,” he added, sounding even more sardonic now.

Sam broke in suddenly, bringing up a completely new topic. “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like your brother?”

Daniel turned quickly to Sam. “I was thinking the same thing, but I didn't want to say anything.” He regarded Teal'c. “It's almost like they're twins...” He turned back to stare at Harriman. “But you can't be... you said a long time ago that Walter's your little brother.”

James regarded the three as well, an equally serious expression on his face. “He is my little brother,” he insisted. Then he relented and told them, “I'm seven minutes older than he is.”

SG-1 all stared at him in shock. Sam was the first to find her voice. “Twins?” she incredulously asked. James nodded.

“You're joking,” Daniel flatly stated. “Walter never told us he has a twin brother.”

James snorted. “I'm not surprised,” he said. “He always did hate the way whenever anyone found out we're twins, they would instantly hit one of us, and ask if the other could feel it - Walter was usually the one who got hit, since he's just a bit stockier than I am, and people think he can take getting slugged on the shoulder a time or two better than I can.”

Sam laughed in amazement into the cup of coffee that she had just gotten. “The perfect Sergeant Harriman - routinely slugged on the shoulder.”

Teal'c promised, “I will 'slug him a good one,' as O'Neill would say.”

“And speaking of O'Neill...” James tried to peer through the open door and into the corridor, where several airmen were still rushing about. “I wonder if something's going on in that court-martial thing.” He again peered at the empty door. “Is it supposed to take this long?” He owlishly blinked at the three from behind his glasses. “I was under the impression that things wouldn't take very long, since the General keeps insisting that he's guilty.”

Daniel's gaze turned to Sam. “You're the military person here, Sam. What's up?”

They all immediately looked to her. Sam instantly realized that she didn't much care for being the center of attention like this. It wasn't her way to call the focus of anything to herself, but she gamely replied, “No, there's nothing wrong that I can figure. It just must be taking longer to get through all the evidence against the General than I first thought.”

That statement made Daniel balk. “Evidence against Jack?”

“Sure,” Sam said, as if this was common knowledge, and that Daniel should already know all about how courts-martial worked, as he worked at a military base, and had for years. “And we're not the only character witnesses, either - didn't you see Colonel Pendergast waiting in the corridor?”

Daniel gave a puzzled look. “Yeah, but is he here to be a character witness, or is he going to just point out where Jack made his big mistake by letting us live?” His sarcasm was soft, but made his voice have an edge to it that was hard to miss.

In answer, Sam gave a sigh. “I don't know, Daniel,” she said, but was far more worried than she let on. For a few precious moments, she had forgotten the reason behind why they were there, at Bolling, at Jack's court-martial, sitting beside Sergeant Harriman's brother. By all accounts, she should be sitting here dead. They all should. It was strange to be at a court-martial where punishment would ultimately be doled out to a man who had decided in a 'weak' moment to let them live.

The evidence for the case for the Air Force began to quickly mount after that. More and more names of people they didn't know were called, most of them high ranking airmen, officers, and retired Generals. SG-1 were all surprised that Jack even knew so many high ranking officers. But then Teal'c pointed out the obvious to them. “It is reasonable for a man of such advanced rank as O'Neill to be acquainted with people who have reached a rank equal to his.”

Daniel immediately protested, “You give the impression that since Jack's rank is high, he's getting old - Jack's not getting old! How can you say that, T - Murray?”

Teal'c simply shot him a glance and pointedly argued, “For the Ta... humans, he is reaching advancing years.”

It was a comment that made James give a light chuckle. “You say that like you're not human yourself.” And he eyed Teal'c. “But that's just ridiculous.” His tone sounded like he was suddenly not so certain that his first assumption about Teal'c was the right one.

Before Sam or Daniel could intercede on his behalf, Teal'c intoned, “Indeed.”

From that point on, conversation slowed until it reached an almost complete stop. Sam was too worried about Jack to initiate any deep conversations. Daniel was busy drinking cup after cup of coffee, then going to the rest-room. Teal'c kept staring at the others in the room, being intimidating without trying to intimidate. The three members of SG-1 were reduced to making grunts and monosyllabic answers to simple questions such as 'Are they planning to feed us lunch?' to 'Can I get anyone some more coffee?' and to an occasional comment like 'The nearest rest-room appears to be out of order.'

At an hour recess, they were led out of the room to lunch in the Bolling Commissary where they didn't see Jack, though they each craned their necks in all directions in case he appeared. Sam didn't ask herself why she wanted to see him again, or even why it seemed so important. She had just gone two months without seeing him, and hadn't thought anything of it. But she couldn't deny the fact that now she was suffering under a feeling that she wouldn't see him again after this day, and that feeling was growing in urgency the longer she waited with her team members to testify.

They all filed back to the same room with the chairs and sofas to continue waiting. But barely half an hour had elapsed before things began to happen so fast that Sam felt like she needed to pause for a breath while she had the chance.

'Dr. Daniel Jackson's assistance is requested' sang out an airman standing in the open door. The startled members of SG-1 all looked up as one, and Daniel spilled his half full cup of coffee all over his hand in the process.

“Crap!” Daniel uncharacteristically swore, and waved his hand through the air in an attempt to remove as much of the liquid as possible, and cool his hand at the same time. He whipped out a handkerchief from his back pocket and wrapped his hand as he stood facing the door. “Well, wish me luck, guys,” he said, all the time wondering how his 'assistance' was required if his testimony wasn't.

Ten minutes later he was back, smiling ruefully over his bandaged and burned hand. The others pierced him with their questioning gazes the second he strolled through the door. “You'll never believe this...”

Sam gave the prompt that she knew Daniel was waiting for. “What?”

Daniel grinned as he slid into his seat. “It was Cassie.”

“Cassie?” Sam was confused, and sounding it.

Daniel smiled again. “Who knew that she can speak...” Then his glance slid to James - a civilian without clearance - and amended his comment. “She can speak a foreign language that I have particular knowledge in - I had to translate something she said.”

“But I haven't seen Cassie here at all today,” Sam argued. “How can she be here?”

Daniel replied, “There's more than one room for us 'testifiers.' There's three. And Cassie was in one of the other rooms. So it's no wonder we didn't see her. Anyway,” Daniel said, going on, “They're on the character witness part of the court-martial, she was called... I guess she was in there for a long time, and...”

Sam growled. “Daniel! Spill it!”

Daniel jumped this time when she spoke so sharply, but glibly answered. “I guess that Cass got frustrated with all the stupid questions from the prosecutors. She started yelling at them all in... you know... I had to tell them what she said.”

Sam was astonished. “Cassie? She knows..?”

Daniel's eyes glinted. “Oh, yeah. I've never read about someone cussing in...”

“DanielJackson,” Teal'c interrupted, cutting him off before he could say anything that was too damaging. “Does CassandraFrasier require assistance?”

Daniel grinned again. “I wouldn't quite say that... Murray. She told them what she thought about Jack, told them what she thought about them, then she left in a rage and slammed the door on her way out.”

“My God,” Sam noted in anxiety. “What did Jack... the General do?”

Daniel couldn't stop grinning at this point. “By the way he was laughing, I'd say he was alright with what she did.”

James chose that moment to pipe up. “And who is Cassie?”

Before any of them could think to issue the normal cover story that had been concocted to explain Cassie, Sam's name rang across the room.

Sam gulped, but finally was able to force her legs to work correctly. She stood, minutely straightened her uniform, closed her eyes for just a second so that she could gather her wits together... and opened them to find herself staring at her father.

“Dad!” she yelped instead of heading towards the door. “What..?”

Jacob reported, “George said something about a court-martial and Jack?” He gave a puzzled frown. “Has he gone and done something again?” His voice was world weary now.

“Or something,” Sam grimly replied.

Daniel added, “He saved our lives.”

Jacob still looked confused. “And?”

Daniel tilted his head a bit. “And I guess someone took offense at that.”

Still confused almost beyond endurance, Jacob squinched his eyes. “He saved your lives? What's wrong with that?”

But again came the call, “Colonel Samantha Carter!”

Sam hastily murmured, “Daniel will explain - I gotta go!” She headed for the airman and the door to the room, her heart thundering against her ribs. Her hands were sweating, but she had nothing to wipe them on except her skirt. She quickly swiped them on her legs as the airman led her from the room.

* * *

A day and a half later, Sam was sitting numbly on her own sofa, avidly watching the tape she had made of the broadcast that James Harriman had included for his part of the KMDZ news show. She watched with only half of her attention focused on what was showing on her TV. The other half of her mind was paralyzed, able only to keep repeating over and over, 'I can't believe he's gone, I can't believe he's gone.'

The tape showed how James had again interviewed Daniel, Teal'c and her father until each was subsequently called on to add their character testimony to the evidence the military had acquired. Sam was now certain that the prosecutors had brought up every time that General O'Neill had ever disobeyed orders before, every time he'd ever been reprimanded, no matter how small the reprimand had been, and revealed his checkered past for all to see. Even the more classified exploits must have been discussed. For even with the character witnesses that Major Simpson had brought together for their testimony, it hadn't been enough.

Sam watched with a tear tracing down her cheek as James Harriman's somber face filled the camera. “Sentence has just been passed by the one judge that General O'Neill chose to hear his case. And after what's akin to a plea bargain in a regular court, O'Neill's main defense lawyer convinced that judge, who shall remain nameless due to security purposes, to only discharge General O'Neill from the military branch that he has spent a lifetime serving. He is not to spend time in jail, often a sentence for dishonorably discharged service people, but will receive part of his pension that was earned over his lifetime serving his country, due in great part to an excellent last-minute saving speech from the General's JAG, the person who amounts to his lawyer. Apparently, General O'Neill had requested in the past that his attorney do what he could to keep O'Neill out of prison, and with that in mind, this was a successful outcome for this court-martial. However, the news has created more a state of sadness than a show of success.”

And the camera quickly zoomed in to the equally somber faces of SG-1 as they stood off to one side as General O'Neill was led passed them surrounded by a security detachment. He paused for a heartbeat, staring at them huddled together against the corridor wall. The second they caught sight of him watching them, they did what they could as a show of honoring him. They all knew that the the security detail would not let them get close enough to him to give him the familiar hug that friends often shared with one another. But Teal'c solemnly bowed his head in Jack's direction, while Daniel added a small wave to his friend's head motion. And Sam had immediately shot to attention and saluted him with a crisp hand movement raised to her forehead.

They didn't say anything. There was really nothing to say, anyway. But their intense grief at the conclusion of this court-martial was evident in their drawn, white, unhappy expressions. But despite that, General O'Neill's returning salute given in their direction was somehow a mix of the emotions roiling around inside all of them, as well as a firm show of support and affection.

As the security detachment continued on its way down the corridor, the three relaxed again, though Sam was obviously going to great effort to hold back her tears, and even Daniel's eyes were suspiciously damp.

But the most surprising thing of all happened when the security force arrived at a bend in the corridor. SG-1 had all gone back to staring at each other in shock, whispering among themselves. They didn't see how Jack paused a second time in order to glance back at them for one final look, but the scene was indelibly caught on camera for everyone to see.

Briefly, as Jack stared at SG-1 gathered together, his rarely seen smile blazed across his face, encompassed his eyes, and lent a sense of extreme satisfaction to his being led away. And finally, that look of his settled intimately on Sam, and his smile only intensified, sparking out of eyes gone bright with warmth. Again nothing was said; nothing had to be. But Jack's smile didn't fade as he was led around the corner to disappear from sight. The picture from the news show, however, faded away to a commercial break as if it was somehow linked to the disappearing form of the General charged with disobedience and dereliction of duty. But there was still the sense from that General's final expression that all the sacrifices and uncertainty, all the anger and disbelief, all the rage and frustration over the past few months since he had saved their lives by choosing to do nothing had definitely been more than worth it.

The End


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