Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did... darn. Will give them back when I'm done playing with them. Promise.
Author's Note: This story is an addition to the eighth season episode Full Alert.
And anything I include pertaining to the military, or its affiliates, is completely made up. I have never been part of any of the US military branches, therefore know few specific details about any of them. So if you are a member of one of the US military branches, please don't bite my head off for including a 'wrong' detail that I inserted into this story simply for the sake of this story.
Jack fell into rather than sat in his office chair, and groaned before covering his eyes with his hands. This day had been absolute hell so far, he noted to himself. The fact that he had been part of a successful effort to avert a disastrous war made little difference to him; he was still more tired than he had ever been, and felt like falling into a hole and staying there till morning. All he wanted now was dinner and bed.
He had just sighed in extreme aggravation when he heard his office door open. Damn, should have locked the thing, Jack thought as he heard, rather than saw, a person approach his desk.
Sir, if I can have a word with you...? asked a voice
that was able to only partially soothe O'Neill's battered soul on
this particular evening.
Carter, Jack realized, and didn't have to look at her
in order to make a positive identification. He'd recognize her
voice anywhere. Or her footsteps, come to think of it. The fact
that he hadn't realized who had come into his office before she
had spoken only told him that he was more than just a little
You can only talk to me right now if you have
good news to tell me. Otherwise, I just want to go to bed, and
wake up tomorrow on another planet. So, go on home.
Jack continued to stare into his hands, and didn't hear the door shut behind her on her way out. But that wasn't strange, as he immediately issued a sigh so loud and so long that even a Goa'uld who knew nothing of human physiology could have heard his exhaustion in the sound.
Carter. Just the thought of her brought unwanted images to his mind, and he could do nothing to stop them. The only reason that he wanted to put a halt to them on this day was because his brain was already so full of tactical strategies and battle plans that he didn't have the time or the room to indulge in thoughts about his relationship with Carter.
O'Neill chuckled a little bitterly behind his hand as that thought entered his head. What relationship? he asked himself. She was wearing another man's engagement ring, for crying out loud! She was making plans to move on with her life, away from the illicitness of their recently unspoken feelings for each other, and he had to do the same. At that thought, a new sense of determination, all that he could dredge up after the tense events of this day, entered his blood, and he dropped his hands as he leaned forward into his desk.
He was very suprised to see Carter, still sitting in one of the chairs across the desk from him, looking at him in expectant sympathy.
Jack realed back.
Whoa, there, Carter! he yelled and
tried to regain control of his pounding heart; she had scared the
daylights out of him.
Carter immediately spoke,
Sir, what I have to tell you
can't really wait...
Jack sighed again, cutting her off.
Out with it, Carter;
what's the problem?
She gazed at him in some concern.
You don't look so
well, Sir. She straightened, as if she had come to some sort
Come on, let me drive you home; we can talk on
O'Neill gave her a grimace of a smile, groaned, then slapped
his hands down on his desk.
Why not? he defiantly asked
of no one in particular.
It's been one hell of a day, and I
deserve a ride home every now and then, I suppose. But my
truck's in the parking lot here; I won't have any way to get to
work tomorrow. He sounded regretful now; a ride with only
Colonel Carter for company suited his bruised soul just then.
I'll come by early and take you in, she promised.
Then she smiled at him.
Come on, let's go. Things will seem
a lot better at your own house, she said.
From anybody else, Jack would have wondered what the speaker's ulterior agenda was, but with Carter, he knew he could trust her smile for the smile it was. In fact, he felt his tired heart melt the second she sent him the expression, but he knew that if he accepted her offer of a ride home, nothing would come of her overture... nothing ever could. And he had to be ready to believe that.
But he had always been a sucker for that smile of hers.
Jack felt himself giving in even against his better judgement.
All right. Let's go, he muttered as he stood up and
prepared to follow her out of his office.
Sam's smile widened, then softened into one of the few grins that she had always reserved just for him on the rare occasions that they found themselves alone and in a time that she could use it. Getting such a gesture now was slightly bitter sweet, as Jack knew that he could never respond to the gesture, especially while she was wearing another man's ring on her finger. But he wasn't choosy, either, and would take whatever tiny grains of affection that he could get.
They walked down the corridors together, entered and exited the elevators, and crossed the parking lot side by side without saying a word to each other. O'Neill was glad of the quiet; after the strife he had lived through on that day, he was glad for a bit of silence now that its end was drawing near. Carter fished her car keys out of her coat pocket, unlocked the driver's door, then pushed the button that unlocked the rest. Jack pulled the passenger door open, then slid into the front seat next to Carter. She started the engine as a stray thought entered his mind that he had better enjoy this little intimacy that this ride home represented to him. It was probably the closest he was going to get to her for days to come.
Which was rather pathetic for a man who was a General and in charge of the entire Stargate Program, he thought. Yet, he could do nothing to stear his emotions onto a safer course; Lord knows he had tried in the past and been highly unsuccessful. So, pathetic or not, Jack sat back and swung his head towards her, ready to enjoy the view.
A moment later, they had passed by the front checkpoint and
swung out onto the highway. Then, Carter sighed with obvious
Okay, now it's safe to talk, Sir, she said.
His eyebrow rose so high that even Teal'c would have been
proud of his effort.
'Safe?' he repeated.
Yes, she answered, then wriggled further into her
I have so much to tell you, and none of it will sound
very plausible for another few minutes, but you have to trust
The hairs on the back of O'Neill's neck prickled at her
What are you talking about? he asked,
while a new attack of butterflies pierced his stomach.
Bugs, Sir, Carter said.
O'Neill's second eyebrow rose to match his first.
the flying kind? he inquired.
No, she told him.
As in, the listening device
Ah, he said, as if he were understanding the
implications of what she was saying, but in truth, wasn't
comprehending much of anything.
This day keeps getting better
and better, he muttered to himself.
Carter ignored his sarcastic remark, as she had ignored many
I found one in my bedroom, my living room, my
car, and my lab this morning.
Jack gaped at her then.
You found them in your
house? he asked incredulously.
It's a good bet that your office has one,
too, so I knew that I had to get you out of there without making
it look like I was trying to get you out of there...
Jack groaned again.
It might have been nice if you'd
told me about this little problem this morning! he said,
emphasizing the time frame.
I didn't know which parts of the SGC are safe and which
aren't, and while I was trying to come up with a way to figure
out this 'little problem,' the much bigger problem of the
Russians and nuclear war took over my attention. I only thought
of it all again when I entered my lab this evening before going
home for the day. When I remembered our newest 'little problem,'
I turned around and went right to your office.
Jack groaned, sighed again, then rubbed dispiritedly at his
face. He could hardly blame her for behaving exactly as he would
have acted on this day.
You're sure the car is bug free?
he asked then, tentatively opening the glove compartment and
Carter smiled suddenly.
Well, I found a device of some
kind taped to the underside of the dash board. I took it off,
right away, of course.
Jack tried to sit as far from the dashboard in front of him
What did you do with it?
Carter's grin widened even further.
I waited until I was
quite a distance from home, then threw it out the window.
She looked at him.
I figured that I should let whoever put it
in my car listen to traffic noise for awhile before he or she
finally figured out that it wasn't my car's sounds that they were
Jack appreciatively cocked his head.
The devices I found in the living room, the bedroom, and
the lab, I flushed down the toilet.
Jack's appreciation moved up another notch.
day is getting better.
And I smashed the camera in the living room so that no
one could ever use it again.
Jack's gape was back on his face when she said those words.
Camera? he asked.
As in, security type camera? As in,
they could see everything you did in your own house?
Yes, Sir, that's what I mean, Carter answered.
Jack ran a hand through his hair, almost too scared to ask
the question that popped into his mind.
Did you find one in
your bedroom, too?
Carter smiled again at his muttered question.
No, Sir, I
got extremely lucky in that I only found a listening device in
That's bad enough, as she continued
to drive down the road.
That's what I thought, Carter divulged with another
sigh of her own.
Jack shifted in his seat again.
Who is this 'they' that
we keep talking about? Any theories?
Trust, she immediately announced.
only group that I know of who has the Asgaard beaming technology
necessary to get into my house, lab, and car, without being
seen. She glanced at him again.
It's the sneak-safe way
to get in, plant the necessary devices, and get out all in one
day, and all anonymously. And I've seen that beam at work. All
they would need is a marker to lock onto for them to beam in, do
their dirty work, then beam out again.
She made it sound so easy. But Jack looked at her in
When did they place those original markers?
he asked, then answered his own question the moment he voiced the
When they marked the Stargate, of course.
And the man who did that is already dead, Carter
Pretty handy way to spy, if you ask me.
I'm not, Jack said in a soft, low voice, but she
heard him anyway.
Carter gave an indulgent smile as she turned a corner to the
I know this isn't exactly what you want to hear
That's all right, Jack muttered apologetically.
Then, he grimaced.
They put one in your bedroom?
The implications of that were hard to reconcile; they
would have been privy to anything she, or anybody else, had been
doing while in her bedroom. Surreptitiously, his eyes edged
towards the ring around her finger.
Sam noticed his look, and her smile grew.
nothing you have to worry about, Sir, she said in a much
softer, less businesslike tone than she had used all evening.
I have it all under control.
At any rate, you won't want to be entertaining house
guests any time soon, Jack quipped, then sighed and rubbed
his hand over his face again. This really wasn't
something he wanted to deal with right now. Then, he looked up
at some trees passing by his window.
Where the hell are we,
Your house isn't safe to talk in right
now, even though we know about the threat of surveillance. I'm
taking you home the long way, around by Miller Park, so we can
talk in what I know is a listening-device-free
So I can say whatever I want to say? Jack
And you can feel totally sure that no one
is listening, and there won't be any dire consequences that you
don't have any control over.
Jack immediately said,
Then, even though I know nothing
can, or ever will, come of this, I want you to know that I...
I... still care... even though you plan to marry...
what'shisname, he ended, rather helplessly. It didn't bode
well that he could never remember Carter's fiancÚ's name.
that I want anything from you, or anything, I just... want you to
Where had that comment come from? he wondered. He noticed that he couldn't voice his fear that he might not ever have another chance to say it to her again, and he wanted to say those words at least once. Saying them now, and at all, must have been his subconscious instigation to say something to her in the first place, he decided.
Surprisingly, Carter smiled again, that soft, slow smile
that she had always reserved for him. She held out her left hand
and studied her ring, watching it sparkle as they drove under a
Well, she said, drawing the words out,
need to talk to you about that engagement you're referring to,
That surprised O'Neill a bit.
What is it, Carter? he
asked, then couldn't resist his sarcastic comment,
Carter still smiled, though now her grin had fallen into one
more of affectionate tolerance.
I'll tell you all about it
when we reach your home, Sir, and make sure it's free of
surveillance of any kind. But my car has no heat right now...
the thermostat went out in it yesterday... and if we get into
that discussion here, we'll freeze before I can... um, she
... say what I need to say.
O'Neill watched her watching the road.
he said, and sighed again, and looked out the front windshield,
too., to watch the blurry scenery wizz by, but ttook in none of
it as his thoughts wandered. Did Carter wish to ask for time off
for the wedding? For planning the wedding? Did she - God forbid
- want him to be in the wedding? He didn't think he could
stomach doing that right now. He didn't really want to be on the
same planet when that wedding was scheduled to take place, let
alone be part of the actual event. He didn't think his battered
psyche could handle being that close to her, then watch her
promise to love and be true to someone else.
Although... She hadn't said anything remotely resembling afection for what'shisname. Which was odd, as she had definitely mentioned that she needed to speak to her Commanding General about her engagement. But Jack also dully noticed that Carter had not offered any reciprocation of his own feelings. He chose not to remark on his observation. His heart was thundering in his ears, as it was; he suspected that he would have had a difficult time hearing her, anyway. He simply couldn't believe what he'd said to her by using the one word that was, and always had been, some sort of unspoken taboo between them.
At least, he hadn't used the 'l' word. All of his dignity wasn't completely lost yet. Even if he'd actually said the 'l' word, and claimed that he knew nothing would ever come of his declaration, it had been her comment about not suffering any consequences that had encouraged him to open that can of worms his feelings represented in the first place. Geez, what a jerk I am, he thought, and gave in inner groan. She doesn't need that kind of pressure right now, or at any time, he told himself.
They were silent after that... Thank God, Jack
thought... until Carter turned the car into his own driveway.
She parked the car, they both climbed out, she locked the doors,
then pulled out something from her back pocket.
gloves, she explained then.
I don't have any proof that
these devices are in any way poisoned to Human DNA, but better to
be safe than dead.
Jack climbed up his outside steps, but was so tired that he couldn't quite make his hands work right with his keys. He dropped them twice to an area of ice on his front step, sighed in irritation at himself both times, before Carter picked them up for him and unlocked his door. She placed a finger cautiously to her lips to signal a need for silence, then pushed the door open.
It creaked slightly on hinges that needed oil, but she stopped O'Neill from turning on the hall lights by laying her gloved fingers momentarily over his on the light switch. He was still trying to grasp the fact that she recognized his house key, and what that could mean, when she moved into the living room while pulling a small flashlight from her other back pocket, and flashed it's tiny light around the living room and hall.
Carter moved with assuredness to his fireplace mantel, where she began shoving aside the picture frames he had displayed on it. She found what she was looking for when she moved aside the second frame, one showcasing his admittance into the Air Force. She pulled out a tiny, black... thing... which he would have never known was there.
Well done, he mouthed at her, but she was studying the framed certificate instead of looking at him. She smiled, rather shocked at something she had seen in the information it gave. Then, she turned abruptly to him and mouthed a surprised 1968? at him before replacing the frame to its original place on the mantel. She picked up the... thing.., then flashed her light at the ceiling of the room. There, in a corner, Jack could clearly make out the sight of a tiny black camera attatched to the ceiling. Yet, it was installed in such a place that if he didn't know to look for it, he would never have thought to peer into that particular corner of the room.
Carter indicated with her finger pointed at him that he should dispose of the camera attached to his ceiling while she went through the rest of his house to find the other planted listening devices. She knew where to look for the bugs that had been left behind in his house, and she knew what to do with them once she found them. Jack nodded, showing that he understood her assignment to him, and she disappeared down the hall, leaving him in the growing darkness in the living room.
Trying not to think of Carter being in his bedroom, Jack went to a lamp and purposefully flicked it on, thus giving almost a certain view of the room and its occupant to anybody manning the camera at its receiving end. Then he scooped up a book about Mars from the coffee table, climbed to the arm of an easy chair, and peered closely at the camera. Anybody on its other end would have to be getting such a close up of his face that they should have had no trouble seeing the grin he abruptly gave the machine. He waved, then took the book and smashed the camera clean off its ceiling attatchment.
Jack watched the glass shiver and tinkle across his floor for a moment. It was actually rather pretty, now that he didn't have to worry about what it was showing him doing. He would clean up the remains of the glass camera later, after Carter had said what she wanted to say. Slightly befuddled by that thought, O'Neill lowered his tired body back down to sit in the chair he'd been standing on. He didn't even remove his leather coat. He simply dropped the book on Mars that he was holding to the floor beside the chair.
A few moments later, he heard his toilet flush, and knew that Carter had found what she had been looking for in his bedroom. Jack groaned, but also knew that whoever had been listening to his bedroom sounds had been utterly disappointed in their quarry - Jack hadn't done anything of interest in his bedroom other than sleep for years. So, no matter how long the listening device had been in residence in his room, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he must have bored his listener almost to death. Still, he felt a twinge of violation when he thought that someone had been in his bedroom to hide the device in the first place. He couldn't say that he wanted anybody in his bedroom, except maybe for Carter, and that was never going to happen, he knew. So he chose not to dwell on the thought of someone else sneaking into his sacred sleeping domain.
Carter came bounding down the hall, her surgical gloves already removed and thrown in the trash. She then pulled the curtains at the two windows before she lit another lamp sitting on a side table. There was just enough light in the room for her to see O'Neill stand in her presence, and give a shiver and a scowl.
The idea of someone being in my bedroom...
Jack didn't finish his statement.
Ugh! Glad you had to find
that one and not me; I might have lost my lunch on a day like
today if I had.
Carter grinned again.
Sorry, Sir, she said, placing
her flashlight in an inside coat pocket.
I would never want
to be the cause of you losing your lunch, she teased.
He glared at her.
This is sass, he said.
sassing me, right?
I would never do such a thing, she declared, while
trying to school her mouth into a serious, straight line, and
Um, he grunted.
So, where did you find
On your bookcase, beside that display of the solar system
that you have. According to the amount of dust on that
particular model, you don't seem to pay much attention to it.
It's no wonder that they chose that site. She paused, then.
I also found the marker that they used in order to beam in -
it was behind the picture of Earth that you have on your
Jack laughed when she said that.
Talk about needing to
clean... that hasn't been moved for a long time.
After a moment, he went on.
Uh, sorry about the dust, he
I've been meaning to clean my room for quite a
while, but... he innefectually started to say.
No! Carter exclaimed. Then she seemed to recover
I mean, the dust told me right where to look,
she said a little self-consciously.
Jack cleared his throat, realizing that she and he were
alone in his house for the first time in a long time. That
thought was enough to discomfit him a bit, especially after what
he had said to her in the car on their way to his house. Instead
of voicing what was on his mind, he asked,
Now, what did you
want to talk to me about?
Carter appeared uncomfortable again, almost nervous,
something she had never been in his presence before. She slowly
lifted her left hand, and gazed at her engagement ring. Then,
she did something completely unexpected. She slipped the ring
off her finger, and placed it in the pocket of her jeans.
I... um... I... Her voice trailed off, and simply hung
there in the air.
O'Neill watched her pick at a hangnail on her thumb, wondering what the hell was going on, but knowing that he couldn't ask her after what he'd said to her in her car.
Taking a deep breath, Carter seemed to find the courage to
I'm sorry... This is much harder to say than I
thought it would be.
Now, he could ask.
What is it?
I'm not getting married, Sir, she said, then met his
eyes in the semi-gloom of early evening.
Ever? he blurted before he thought better of the
Carter smiled at the near-panic that overlayed the typical
warmth she knew was often in his eyes. It glowed through the
darkness at her, and the sensation encouraged her to go on.
No, I mean now. I can't... can't... um... get
O'Neill was silent for a minute, trying mightily to contain
the sense of jubilation he was feeling at her announcement. He
tried not to get too excited, as he instinctively knew that her
news changed absolutely nothing between them, but he couldn't
help the lifting in his heart.
Uh... Why are you telling me
this? Shouldn't you be telling... He halted awkwardly.
Carter lifted her hands until they were just at the edge of her pockets, then she stopped to hunch her shoulders. She had never seemed more insecure to O'Neill as she seemed in that moment, and the urge to draw her into the close comfort of his embrace was almost overwhelming. Stoically, Jack resisted the urge. He simply stood, rooted to his place on the floor.
At last, Carter spoke up.
I know that I should be
talking to Pete about this, and I plan to, this weekend when I
see him, but you're my Commanding Officer... You have a right to
know as well. She stopped to look at him standing in the
shadows of his living room.
I had already decided this
morning to break things off when I found the black bug in my room
as I was lying the ring on my dresser top. If I hadn't wanted to
lay it down... She shivered at the implications of
Then I knew I was under surveillance,
and if I was, you were, and Daniel and Teal'c, and maybe other
teams in the SGC... I had to replace the ring, or whoever was
watching us would get suspicious that something was suddenly
different. She sighed, then, and rubbed at her temples as if
she had a sudden headache.
I just wanted you to know.
Because..? Because he sort of had helped her decide to accept that ring in the first place, and therefore had a strange right to hear of her decision to un-accept it? Or because she had certain feelings for him that, while unvoiced, prompted her in this new decision of hers?
Okay, Jack finally managed to say.
telling me, and nice work on figuring out about the surveillance;
forewarned is forearmed, he said, then angrily scolded
himself that he had taken a personal moment, and one with Carter
to boot, and had turned it into something in which he was more
comfortable and familiar, one that he was accustomed to dealing
Nice job, he repeated, hoping that a repetition
would at least make her feel more complimented. Then, he added,
On the... ring thing... as well as the surveillance bit.
The ring thing? Oh, that was smooth, O'Neill! he
railed to himself, and groaned again.
But to Jack's credit, Carter didn't have any clue what was
passing through his mind at the time. She just grinned a tiny
grin, and said,
Thank you... Sir. She turned then, aiming
for his front door.
I just wanted to tell you... I'll let
myself out now that we're pretty sure your house is clean of all
Uh... Fine, he said.
You go ahead... I'll...
uh... see you tomorrow. Then she was gone, and Jack felt
colder with her absence, as if she had let in all the chilled,
desolate air in the world when she left.
* * *
A week and a half later, when all bugs had been promptly removed from any place relegated to SG-1, and the threat of constant observation was becoming more innuring than upsetting, Jack arrived at work after a fairly relaxing weekend filled with hockey games seen on the television to find a single, large, yellow envelope in his in-box tray on his desk. Which was odd; he rarely got anything in yellow envelopes, and his in-box tray had been empty when he'd gone home on Friday, as he had stayed late catching up on writing reports.
Must have been sent over after the late shift started, Jack thought. He reached hesitantly for the envelope on his desk.
One minute later, he was on the phone to Daniel Jackson,
asking him if he'd heard anything about a retirement request to
General O'Neill due to his gradually escalating age. Daniel was
as surprised as Jack was, and said,
No, I haven't heard a
thing, before inquiring,
Who sent you that request
Uh, Jack answered, and grabbed at the piece of paper
lying on his desk.
There's a Defense Committee? Daniel asked in
Never heard of them.
Yeah, Jack answered, fully aware that as a
nonmilitary friend, he was bound to see anything suspicious about
the letter simply by not knowing what was a right question to
ask, and what was a wrong question to ask; he simply inquired
Part of the uppers... the Joint Chiefs.
It's full of ten or so Generals of all ranks... They deal with
laws... personnel problems... promotions... things like
So, your own promotion to General came from them?
Yeah, Jack answered, wondering where this line of
questioning was going.
He got his answer sooner than he expected.
who's on this 'committee?' Daniel asked.
Uh... O'Neill scrabbled for another paper on his
I have a list somewhere...
Daniel's voice was slightly irritated as he responded.
Well, when you find it, why don't you fax it to me, and give
me the phone numbers of some of those 'uppers'? Then we can
check up on this request. I mean, it's downright weird that this
thing sort of came out of the blue, you know what I mean?
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, rubbed them with his
fingertips, and tried to ignore the building sense of dread in
his stomach as Daniel spoke. But it was hard.
I'll get back
to you, he promised, hung up the phone, then bent on finding
that list he'd been talking about.
Thirty minutes later, he'd found the list, found the phone numbers of everyone on the list, and had sent a runner to Daniel's office. At the last minute, he realized that a fax machine left a phone number. He didn't want anybody tracing his phone calls concerning his retirement issue. Daniel sent the runner back ten minutes later with a note saying that he, Daniel, would handle calling the top five candidates on the list if O'Neill would call the last five. Then, they would get together and compare notes.
Two hours later, they met over coffee and sandwiches in the Commmisary, as innocent a place for a meeting as they could get in a top secret military installation, and compared notes.
Uh, Daniel said, flipping through the yellow legal
pad that seemed attached to his right hand when he was at the
I got... three 'never heard of anything about young
O'Neill retiring' calls, one 'I'll have him call you back later
when he's out of his meeting,' and one 'she's on vacation in the
Virgin Islands. Can I have her call General O'Neill again in a
week?' He glanced up at Jack.
What did you find
Same thing - That about sums up my morning, Jack
said over his sandwich.
And considering the surveillance
stuff we found among our personal items last week, it's highly
suspicious that no one's ever heard of such a retirement
You think it's The Trust again? Daniel asked
Well, it had crossed my mind, Jack divulged, but was
cut off from saying anything more as Carter suddenly appeared at
his elbow, a lunch tray in hand.
Hi, guys, she said.
Mind if I sit with you for
No, not at all, Jack said, proud of his casual tone
Take a seat. We're just... He sighed then,
going with his instinct to decide that he should play along with
the directives of the letter he had received, at least for the
time being. He scooped up the letter and handed it to her.
was going to say that we were grabbing an early lunch, but that's
not entirely the truth. Look what I found in my in-box this
Carter set her tray on the table, pulled out a chair next to O'Neill, and perused the letter. Then, all the blood literally drained towards her toes, leaving her face as pale as her hair.
Sam, are you okay? Daniel asked, alarmed by her
Uh.., she spluttered.
Yeah, yeah, I'm fine,
Sam stated, her denial sounding almost automatic.
surprised, she ended.
Aren't we all? Jack asked, sitting back in his chair.
Then he added,
But we all knew it was coming sometime
Did they do this to General Hammond, too? Carter
Jack loved that tenacity of hers, her inner force that
caused her to question everything, even if her habit of giving
everything the third degree could ultimately make things trickier
for him. Following an inner sense of what could possibly become
secret information, O'Neill went on,
It's new orders from a
bunch of old guys... I think they're a little overzealous in
their duties, but they didn't ask me about what I thought
first, he groused. Then, while Sam was going over the letter
one more time, he quickly scribbled on the top page of Daniel's
legal pad, Not a word!
Daniel read the quickly written message, and his brow
furrowed, but slowly he nodded once, then rubbed his neck, as if
it had become stiff with his duties of the morning.
long bent over those new artifacts, I think. My neck is
Carter looked up and tried a smile, but even Jack could see
that it was forced.
What did you find written on those
artifacts, Daniel? she asked, but the usual sparkle was not
in the question as she asked it. However, O'Neill was fairly
certain that he was the only one who noticed the lack of vibrancy
in her voice.
Daniel started rambling on about Goa'uld dialects and Ancient Egyptian Heiroglyphics... Jack soon grew so confused that his mood was moving quickly into the realm of intense boredom. A second later, he excused himself, shamelessly using the justification of having to finish with the reports on his desk in order to get out of the Commissary. A minute later, he was gone, but he felt Carter's eyes glued to his back the entire time.
* * *
By late that afternoon, O'Neill looked up to the sound of
strident knocking on his office door, and he called,
in, once again too distracted by his paperwork duties to
glance up right away - even if it was Carter on the other side of
the door, he wanted to finish writing his sentence first.
But the mysterious caller wasn't Carter. Another blast from Jack's past surprised him into complete speechlessness when he looked up at last.
General O'Neill... Son, how are things? asked the man
who stood on the balls of his feet on the other side of Jack's
Jack gathered his brow down in a frown.
Hammond? A minute passed while they just stared at each
other, then Jack's face split into a grin.
Hey, you old
dog! he greeted jovially, coming around his desk to give a
hug to his one-time Commanding Officer and friend. No simple
handshake would ever represent the relationship Jack had once
shared with the older man.
There was a light chuckle, and Hammond embraced him back.
Well, who did you expect, the tooth fairy?
That question made Jack smile even more.
haven't you heard? She's Goa'uld, has been for years...
Hammond laughed as well.
Good one, Jack. I see that you
haven't lost your sense of humor yet.
That will never happen, Sir, Jack answered, still
At least, we can count on something! Hammond
exclaimed, his own amusement evident in his voice.
What can I do for you, General? Jack asked next.
There was a pause, and Jack had to repeat his question before Hammond did anything more. What he did do made Jack cringe slightly at the unspoken commentary the General was making on Jack's more relaxed command style. Jack knew that Hammond had been totally professional, and Jack preferred things to be much more comfortable for everyone in the SGC, as evident by the BDUs he always wore compared to Hammond's previous use of the traditional military uniform.
Hammond quickly opened his briefcase, and ran a scan of the room with the small hand device he had extracted from its bowels. He found what he was looking for almost immediately. After donning a surgical glove on his right hand, he pulled a listening device from between two of O'Neill's books on the bookcase behind his desk.
Jack opened his mouth to say something about the fact that
he'd thought Carter had found all those devices just the week
before, but Hammond put a fingr to his lips to indicate the need
for silence. Then the major General made a quick trip to the
nearest restroom to flush the listening device he'd found down
the toilet. When he returned, Jack was seated again behind his
desk, a scowl etched on his forehead. Wordlessly, Hammond handed
Jack the scanner.
I think you might have a bigger need of
this than I do, he grimly stated.
Besides, we can get
more where that came from.
Jack stared at him.
I won't even ask, he said.
Smart idea, Hammond answered.
Well, Jack said, with a disappearing scowl and only a
small sigh in his voice as he took the device that Hammond
offered to him.
At least, now we know that The Trust can beam
in and out of anywhere they want to at will, without any markers
set in place ahead of time. Then, he explained,
found the original marker in here, too.
Hammond nodded his approval.
She probably knew right
where to look.
Jack remembered her comment about his dusty solar system
Yeah, sort of, he agreed.
Hammond peered at Jack, and continued in a much more serious
tone of voice,
How much do you know about all this spying and
Spying? Was that what was going on? That was stating it
bluntly. The same sense of dread churned in Jack's stomach.
Is that what we're calling it, Sir?
Might as well call a spade a spade,
Son. He paused, still clearly assessing his replacement. He
must have come to some positive decision, for he said,
course, you know that anything I say now will have to be
considered top secret, and should never leave this
Jack straightened minutely at the words 'top secret.'
course, Sir. What's up?
Hammond sighed, and muttered, asking himself,
should I start?
O'Neill couldn't resist answering that challenge.
beginning, Sir? he suggested.
General Hammond smiled.
I see that you haven't changed a
bit... still as sarcastic as ever.
Yes, Jack said, straightening his stapler a tad
Daniel keeps telling me I need to cut back
And how is Dr. Jackson? Hammond inquired with a
Jack grinned as well, now.
Oh, you know Danny boy...
He's fine as long as he has some new writing symbol to try to
decipher. Carter and Teal'c are doing their best to supply him
with enough to keep even him interested.
Hammond's smile widened.
I take it Colonel Carter and
Teal'c are well?
Jack tried to respond quickly, as even the most basic
reference to Carter had the tendency to fog his eyes over in
dreams that he shouldn't ever indulge in.
They're fine... A
little concerned about this 'spying' situation we have going on
here in the SGC.
And I can't say that I blame them, Hammond said.
Then he pulled a file out of his briefcase and handed it to
Jack rifled through the manila file folder, and found it
full of pictures. Some were even of his house, he was
disconcerted to note.
That's what we've managed to snag from feeds from the
secret security cameras that were installed. And you apparently
know all about what I'm speaking of.
Carter found one in her house, and one in
mine just last week.
We only discovered the trail of photos last week as
well, Hammond explained.
Suddenly, Jack's brow wrinkled.
This is fascinating,
really, he said, then thought that the picture of Carter
sitting in her living room, reading a book, was especially
fascinating, but only in a voyeuristic sense. He went on,
What's this got to do with me?
I'm getting to that: have patience, Hammond
Jack smiled again.
I think I left any patience that I'd
been born with behind on Abydos, Sir.
Hammond smiled back.
Good thing: the people there
probably have more need of it than you do.
Oh, I don't know, Jack answered.
With the kind of
time the Russians gave me the other day, I need all the patience
I can get.
Well, the trials of the position aside,
has... whoever... done anything more to you than bug your
office? It was obvious he was trying to be diplomatic and
assume nothing. But according to the expression on his face, it
was hard not to assume. He went on,
Have they sent you
anything or made contact in some other way?
Jack rifled through some papers on his desk.
As a matter
of fact, they have. He pulled the retirement plea from his
desk and handed it to Hammond.
What do you make of
Hammond took it, then smiled, grim once more. It was a
reaction that O'Neill hadn't expected.
I was afraid of
that, he said.
Jack gazed at him in some confusion, then prompted,
Hammond went on,
You know that I'm on the Defense
Hammond's sigh split through the air in the tiny office.
This request didn't come from us. It has, however, generated
more talk among the members of the Committee than the debate on
the use of nuclear submarines in World War II.
Jack laughed, in spite of the serious issue being discussed.
Hammond went on as he handed the letter back to O'Neill.
We want you to play along with this farce for now.
I already was, just in case, Jack told him.
Good. We want you to pretend that this is a real letter
from the Defense Committee, asking for your retirement... which
would never happen, incidentally. You retire when you're good
and ready to retire, not when we tell you to retire.
I thought this didn't sound like the
Committee. He gestured with his hand holding the letter,
indicating that he was speaking of it with his comment.
do I need to do?
Go along with it, for now, Hammond said.
as it requests that you do. Have a party or two, drink some
champagne... Then, we'll send you to Florida, or the Bahamas, or
someplace warm where you can enjoy yourself. Meantime, we keep
you as a covert Air Force officer, and wait and see what...
whoever... is really up to. At least, that's the plan for now.
Things may change, depending on what we discover.
Jack considered Hammond's request, but there was no reason
for him to argue with the General. No known reason,
anyway. Jack briefly wondered how Carter would take the news of
his leaving, if the way her face had grown so pasty in the
Commissary today was any indication as to how she would feel.
But he tried not to dwell on that point.
It'll be strange
being paid by the Air Force, but not be employed by them anymore,
at least, not officially.
Hammond grimmaced a bit.
That's part of the sacrifice
you'll have to make for this. The Air Force will, of course,
reimburse you for any backpay and expenses that you may
The dread in Jack's stomach tightened and whirled.
But we can't outright pay you anything right now... a pay
stub leaves a paper trail that can be followed.
Jack stared at Hammond in irritation.
Oh, of course I'll
get reimbursed... in a year or two, he growled.
That's the best we can offer, and our gratitude,
Naturally, Jack echoed.
I know how deals like
this are supposed to work, he semi threatened. He sighed
What kind of time frame are we talking about
No idea, Hammond said with a shake of his head.
Just that we need to know what's going to happen before it
happens. Then he looked meaningfully at O'Neill.
Russians will be the least of your concerns.
* * *
It happened so fast, it made even Jack's head whirl to remember the chain of events. One minute, he was buried in paperwork at the SGC, the next he had announced that due to the stress highlighted by the Russian alert situation, he was retiring.
Unofficially. Officially, he was supposed to ferret out what information he could while he was 'retired,' but that was difficult, as his security clearance had been revoked along with his position. He used Daniel as an intermediary to the information he knew the Defense Committee sought, always using a pseudonym, and always using a different computer terminal. But his access was severely limited compared to what he was used to, and that was frustrating.
The fact that he had avoided the 'warm' option the military had offered him, and advocated the 'free' choice to travel to his cabin in Minnesota, where there was no phone, further frustrated his attempts at prying into the affairs of whoever had tagged him. He had to rely on the two letters he had received from Daniel and simple word-of-mouth. It was a far cry from the technological gadgetry that he was more used to.
A General Brooks had replaced him, he knew, and Daniel reported that the man was far more of a hard-liner than O'Neill had been. Of course, Jack considered, that wouldn't be too difficult. Brooks had the off-world teams on such a tight schedule that even Daniel was beginning to complain about the workload being heaped on his shoulders.
And that was where the complaints went from being based in reality to becoming hypotheses that were based in theory. It was Daniel's theory that The Trust, through Brooks, meant to run them all so haggard that eventually they would all make mistakes and be killed. Jack laughed aloud at that guess, but didn't comment and offer to come back out of retirement for a fourth time to save Dr. Jackson's behind.
The cabin was under surveillance, Jack knew from the second day he spent at the lake, and because he had few... well, actually, no... visitors to give any sensitive information away to, he just left the listening devices in place, figuring that ignorance and overconfidence might prove to do more for his case against... whoever... than any other effort on his part.
Then, almost one month to the day of his 'retirement' from the SGC, he received a letter from Teal'c that changed everything in an instant.
The letter was sent through three different forwarding agencies... proof of the Joint Chief's paranoia at the possibility of someone who wasn't supposed to be finding Jack discovering his whereabouts. At first Jack didn't recognize the name of the sender at all. As far as he knew, he had never met the Murray Fraiser of the letter's return address, but finally he connected the two disparate names to the man who'd been on his team for years, and the late doctor's borrowed last name. It was true that 'Murray' was a bit of an SG-1 code name, and thus, too hard to forget, but the man Jack knew didn't have a last name, and the presence of a full name was, at first, quite confusing, though Janet would have been undeniably proud that Teal'c had chosen to use her name. Otherwise, the letter was brief, terse, and to the point:
I hope this letter finds you well.
That is not the case here, unfortunately. You must seek out Colonel Carter as soon as possible, and convince her that she is clearly not healthy. When asked about her fitness level, she insists that she is 'fine.' But I no longer believe her, and maintain that she needs to be examined in our medical facility. Yet she refuses to listen to me.
However, I am sure that she will listen to you.
Ten minutes later, Jack was gone.
* * *
Jack pulled into his driveway, intending to take a shower, put on clothes that weren't travel stained, and drive over to Carter's house as soon as he could. Except George Hammond got to him first, just as he was about to go back out the front door.
Jack did get to Carter's house... eventually.
* * *
Hours later, Jack was finally staring at Carter's wooden back door, debating about whether or not he should knock. How would it look, really, for an officer's ex-CO to be knocking on that officer's personal back door on a Saturday afternoon? Too desperate? Too pathetic? He never wanted to appear to be pathetic in front of Carter. But then, was he already being pathetic by standing outside her house and not knocking? Wasn't it already pathetic to even be worrying so much about something so stupid?
Of course, just the fact that he was staring at her back door showed how apprehensive he had become when he had spoken to General Hammond. He had also taken a taxi to within several blocks of her house after entering that taxi from several blocks of his own house. He had left his truck in his driveway, and then darted on foot through both his and her neighborhoods, a perfect illustration of his anxiety. His nervous state of mind was especially understandable considering the surveillance he had fallen under lately. So being pathetic, too, was practically expected.
Oh, for crying out loud! he thought to himself. Just knock and don't be so concerned about seeming so pathetic! So, heart racing, he knocked.
Carter, wearing sweats and a t-shirt that hung on her frame promptly answered the back door, as if she had been in the kitchen when he knocked. The second she opened the door, Jack knew what Teal'c had been referring to in his letter. Carter was now so thin, that a stiff wind would blow her away.
Practically rendered speechless by suprise, Jack mentally asked himself, How can this happen in a month?
Hi, he said... croaked, actually. Jack could only
say that one word, and stare at her, his brows raised in shock.
Teal'c hadn't been kidding that something was obviously wrong
Carter, what the hell have you done to
yourself? Jack blurted his astonishment.
But Carter's hand had flown to her mouth when she had thrown
open the door, clearly just as surprised to see O'Neill as
O'Neill was to see her, especially at her back door. Her eyes
grew as wide as the proverbial saucers. She whispered in a
Oh my God, where have you been? I didn't
think I would ever see you again! Then, to Jack's
everlasting astonishment, she started to cry, right there in the
doorway. She flung her arms around his neck in as tight an
embrace as she could give.
Jack was surprised, but not that surprised. He hugged her back, hard, and treasured the feel of her in his arms for the first time in years. But this wasn't real, he told himself, couldn't be real. At any moment she would pull back and they would just be friends again...
How he hated that phrase, 'just friends.' He could never be just a friend to Carter, and she knew that, had to know that...
I've missed you so much, she whispered.
all I see at work, you're everywhere, in everything. I just...
I just... She paused, overcome again by emotion, or
something that made it almost impossible for her to talk.
so sorry, I shouldn't bother you with what's on my mind, but
Jack held up a finger to help enforce her silence for just a
little while longer; he knew that it wasn't safe to talk, not
Sh, I'm sorry, he whispered. He led her inside
and helped her to sit on the sofa.
continued to speak softly into her ear. Then, before she could
react to his presence in her house one way or another, he pulled
from his coat pocket the scanner that General Hammond had given
him a month ago. While she sniffed, then turned on the TV to add
a cover of noise once she had figured out what he was planning to
do, she sat still on the sofa and watched as he waved the scanner
over her furniture, searching for those little black objects that
meant her personal space had been violated again. Jack hoped he
didn't find anything, but knew that she would probably not be so
Jack found the first device inside a candle sitting atop her TV. The dust gathered on the candle also indicated that she lit it about as often as he noticed his model of the solar system. He slipped on the surgical glove that Hammond had just given him, then carefully dumped the tiny, black listening device into his waiting palm before he took a quick trip into her bathroom and tossed it unceremoniously into the toilet. Her bedroom turned up a device on her dresser, and he found one in her kitchen, between the flour and sugar canisters on one of the counters.
Jack took them all into her bathroom, one at a time, then flushed the entire entourage into the city sewer system before going back into the living room, and looking towards her ceiling, intent on finding the tiny security camera that had to have been installed. But, for a change, the camera that he expected to find wasn't there; someone, probably Carter herself, must have surprised the person installing the devices before a camera could be mounted on her ceiling. Jack shuddered at the thought of Carter almost catching the person red handed while he or she did his or her dirty work.
The scanner no longer registered any anamolous devices,
listening or otherwise.
That should do it, Jack
announced, then took of his surgical glove and used the remote to
turn off the TV.
Nothing else registers on my scanner, so I
think we can talk in relative safety...
'Relative safety?' she repeated with her nose
all screwed up in disbelief.
Safety, he insisted.
Complete safety, Jack
Not that it really matters much, anyway.
They've known since January that we're on to them.
Again, his speech was interrupted by her standing up only to
throw herself into his arms.
I'm so sorry, Sir, and I know
I'm being disloyal to our new base commander, but... I...
care.., too, and you should especially know how things are now
that you're retired, and please don't...
But Jack was peering at her in an unflinching, piercing way.
Just... Just 'care?' he asked in a fierce whisper.
Carter looked a bit surprised, as she had repeated exactly the word he himself had used a few months before. But he could also see the hesitation that swiftly crossed over her eyes before it disappeared. Slowly, a frozen look of absolute terror on her face, she shook her head.
The half confession rocked Jack to his toes, even while it
sent a thrill of giddy relief coursing through him. Good,
he thought. Even as he had the thought, he whispered it aloud.
Good, he breathed.
Carter stared at him, indecision blanketing her eyes, mixing
with a tentative desire to be honest with him, at last.
Sir, she choked.
Jack, she changed his name at the
Carter, Jack whispered back before he thought to
amend his comment to,
She looked at him in extreme uncertainty, her expression now
growing into one more of intense desperation.
Jack, she sobbed as he tightened his arms around her.
I'm not, he managed to get out before he couldn't say
another word as Carter covered his lips with her own in a kiss
that was as fierce as it was sweet.
Jack would have instantly thought he was just dreaming again, but the touch of her skin was so feverish and frightening that it had to be real. He could never make up so much emotion that she poured over him as they stood, clutching each other in her living room.
Tears were sreaming down her cheeks when she reluctantly
drew back from him. She looked like she wanted to make no
movement of the kind, but was forcing herself to comply to some
I'm sorry, she choked again. She
I don't care if you don't feel the same, but I need
to tell you, just once...
God, I love you, Jack tragically told her in a low
voice. The divulgence sounded almost wrung out of him.
never be able to say it again, but...
She cut him off this time by swooping in closer to him and kissing him resoundingly on his mouth. The sense of desperation was back, heightening his emotional response until he almost burst into flames and rocketed from the house.
Don't leave me, don't.., Carter was in the middle of
begging... an uncharacteristic action coming from her.
I can't, Jack declared, his eyes shut tight.
I tried, too, she added.
Didn't... didn't work... not too well, Jack admitted
in a confession that was as heartfelt as it was broken.
Carter giggled then.
No, she burst out on a gust of
For me neither. Iloveyou, she blurted, still
crying into the side of his neck.
Sh, he commanded.
I know, I know, he told
I'm sorry! she blurted next.
So sorry, for
everything. She drew in a shaky breath.
I know that
you're retired and gone and...
Jack set her back on the floor in front of him where she wiped away the last of the tears from her cheeks.
Which was almost a pity. Jack had liked they way they
sparkled against her skin. He took a deep breath to clear his
mind; he had a job that he needed to discuss now.
he softly said, and took her hands in order to lead her back
towards the sofa. In spite of his intentions to be professional
and detached right now, he couldn't help the whiff he caught of
her skin just then. God, she smelled good, and it took all his
concentration not to give in to his more compelling emotions that
told him to kiss her again as hard and as long as he could. But
she would want to know about his recent actions.
She stopped just before she resumed her seat, so she was
frozen in a half standing, half sitting stance.
what? she blurted.
This disregarding of his emotions was going to be harder than even Jack thought it already was. He swallowed painfully. Boy, she sure looked cute with several tear drops on her cheeks in spite of her recent administrations, there to seemingly do nothing but reflect the afternoon light pouring in through her living room windows. He tore himself away from her long enough to cross to each window, and pull the curtain over the two portals, keeping out any potential prying eyes with the motion. A strange, unearthly twilight bathed the room as he took a seat on her coffee table fronting where she sat on her sofa. He pulled her hands into his once more and leaned forward a little so that their knees bumped. The thrill of that contact ignited his blood, and encouraged it to pound in his ears like a teenager's.
This heightened emotion that he had to contend with didn't
bode well for calmly explaining his mission, but Jack refused to
move, even if his life depended on it. However, he couldn't
quite keep himself from continuing to whisper,
retired, but I am under cover. He went on,
have something for you.
He reached into the confines of the jacket he was wearing,
and pulled out a long, white, envelope.
I just recently had a
visit from General Hammond, who...
Carter gasped in surprise.
He came to see me on behalf of the Defense Committee of
the Joint Chiefs. Jack pulled a letter, one of many, from
the envelope that he had pulled from his pocket, then handed it
Today is the first day that I've refused a direct
order given to me by a superior officer. Then he amitted,
Well, not the first, but... you understand.
Carter gasped again.
Then you should know that refusing
a direct order is a court-martiable offense, she protested.
I don't want anything to happen to you.
He grinned at what she had said.
Nothing bad's gonna
happen, he insisted.
Hammond told me The Committee wants
me to 'acquire a girlfriend' to make it look more like I'm moving
on in my life, to help with my under cover image. Then, he
shook his head in obvious disgust.
A bunch of old men with
not enough to do... He looked at her with an extreme sense
of honesty burning in his eyes.
I couldn't do it, Sam,
couldn't do that to you. Even the thought of finding someone
else for the sake of the country... I couldn't.
Gen... she started to protest, then changed her mind
Jack, she said, the beginnings of a silly little
grin lifting the corners of her mouth.
Sam, he answered, also grinning like he couldn't help
himself. Then he pulled a paper sized picture, folded several
times, out of his back pocket, and, a bit guiltily, handed it to
I'm sorry, but I've had this for a long time.
Curious, Sam took the paper that had been folded so many
times that she had difficulty laying it out flat on her thin leg.
She drew a quick, deep breath when she realized what it was. It
was the laser printout of her, reading a book while sitting in
her living room.
This.., she stuttered, bewildered.
This... It's a picture of...
You, O'Neill unapologetically finished for her. He
may have been less than sorry for his actions, yet he still
appeared to be slightly uncomfortable. With trepidation, he took
the picture from her hand.
I... um... got this from...
General Hammond when he... um... came by to see me over a month
ago, and... um... showed it to... um... me to...
Sam stared at him in incomprehension.
You carried a
picture of me in your pocket?
Which wasn't too much of leap of in her disbelief as he had
just revealed the depths of his feelings for her, but Jack was
willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in this situation.
He gave her a goofy grin, one he tried to hide as he ducked his
head into his leather jacket collar.
I.. . um... well...
yeah, he finally admitted.
That's kinda stupid, I know,
to carry proof of... on me... and... Geez... just don't tell
It's not stupid... I think it's kind of
Sweet? Then she wasn't angry? Jack tried to discern her mood by looking into her eyes.
Sam was going on, though, and Jack only got the briefest of
flashes of her ability to forgive and forget before she was in
her more typical problem-solving mode.
But it's a good bet
that General Hammond realized that you were stealing that picture
from him when you did... he's not an idiot, you know... He can
figure something like that out in a heartbeat.
My heartbeat, whispered Jack as he stared at her.
He'd been so careful in the past not to be this close to her,
ever. The bones of her ribs might have shown through her
t-shirt, but she had never smelled so good. Jack fancied he
could even smell the fragrance of the soap she used on her skin.
As dumb as this sounds, my heart only beats for you.
Jack, Sam protested again, her voice an agonized
Please... She closed her eyes against the pain
that what he had said caused her. She swallowed, and made the
motion look just as aching as anythinig he had done while in her
house had aopeared. For the last month, she had been living
under the impression that he had retired, and was, therefore,
free. Now, she had just found out that he wasn't retired, but
working undercover. She was naturally torn by her desire to
follow the regulations, as she and he always had since they'd
met, and her desire to continue to think of him as available.
Tears threatened to spill from her eyes once more, but she felt
she had to warn,
You'll get yourself court-martialed at the
least if you don't stop... my hands... She glanced down at
the way he was firmly and openly holding onto her hands. But,
determined, she went on,
I can't stand the thought of
No, I won't, Jack insisted back.
I won't face a
court-martial. He bent to pick up the envelope that he had
pulled out of his coat pocket. Now he gestured again to the
letter that she still held in her hand.
Have you looked at
Sam seemed surprised that he could be interested in what
looked to her like official military business at a moment like
Well, no, there wasn't time.
Read, Jack commanded, and she read, with a brow
puckered in doubt. Then she looked up at him in open-mouthed
Jack, this... She stopped again to stare at
the letter that she held.
The Air Force just doesn't
do things like this. She looked up again, completely
And I should know... daughter of a General, and all
that. Then, the threatening tears began to leak out from
behind her protective lashes again to mix with the stunned
expression on her face.
I thought you might find this interesting.
I have a copy at home, one in my safe deposit box at my bank, and
one in a completely different bank altogether. I would keep
copies in several different places, if I were you... In case of
fire, or any other catastrophe... That is, if you care
But Sam's abrupt explosion of sobs stopped whatever more he
had to say. Her sudden movement off the couch halted him, too.
Still sobbing, she wrapped her arms around him to hold him tight.
I don't believe this... This is too good... I'm dreaming,
and I'm going to wake up in a minute.
If this is a dream, then this is a really good dream,
Jack said, that goofy grin of his back again to light up his
Sam, I'm not good with words... You know that I'm
not... I'll say the wrong thing... I always do... Finally,
he confessed in a whisper,
I don't know what to say in this
type of situation...
Sh, Sam said.
Just read that letter to me... I'm
too busy stupidly crying to see.
Jack peered at the paper over her shoulder, and, one arm
still wrapped tightly around her waist, read aloud,
will be no punishment whatsoever taken towards General Jack
O'Neill and Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter if they choose to
appear involved in a previously unauthorized relationship that
is, and has been, strictly prohibited by the current Air Force
fraternization policy.' And it's signed 'General George Hammond,
C/O Miltary Joint Chiefs Personnel Defense Committee, Washington
D.C., April 2, 2005.' Then, in a softer voice, he continued,
That way I can seem to be complying with The Committee's order
to become involved while I remain under cover for that Committee,
and I still can become involved with you...
Suddenly, Sam sat up straighter on the couch cushion as a
new idea occurred to her.
Hammond knew, she announced as
she tried to gather her emotions together.
What? Jack asked, confused.
This is a plot.., Sam began to say, clearly thinking,
according to the bemused expression on her features.
this on purpose...
What do you mean? Jack queried, his voice still
Even you mentioned that you thought this new order to
find a girlfriend was stupid... Don't you see, now, though?
Hammond orchestrated the entire thing.
Jack sat back, thinking hard. Analyzing had never been his
strongest suit. He preferred to blow something away rather than
to contemplate any particular consequences of said item to the
Do you think so?
Who did you get this picture from? she asked.
Hamm.., Jack started to say, then stopped himself as
the truth slapped across his mind.
Damn.., he whispered
in appreciative amazement.
Sam stared at him.
Maybe he's as crafty as those guys in
Jack laughed for a minute.
And he had some help from the Tok'ra... or a certan
That supposition made Jack laugh even harder.
What? Sam asked.
Speaking of the Tok'ra... Anise.., Jack
What about her?
She's going to crack a seam, he predicted.
dad may have done us more favors with this than even he
knows about, Jack said.
Sam grinned at him with a tiny pucker of puzzlement on her
Is there something I should know? she
Still laughing, Jack shook his head.
Not a thing, he
told her, and shook his head again as he caught his breath.
Not a thing, he repeated.
Yet he barely had enough time to recover before Sam trailed
her fingers down the sides of his face.
Jack, I've wanted to
do this for years... She moved off the couch and slid into
his lap in order to be closer to him. She whispered,
want to touch you. The thrill of skimming her fingers
lightly along his chin was way too enticing for her own good.
Her eyes flicked back and forth between her hand and his lips,
which she kissed ever so lightly.
Jack's heart did a backflip inside his chest. He kissed her
hand as it rested against his mouth; he simply couldn't resist.
But he made a Herculean effort to remember his particular
Don't get me wrong.., he said, furiously
blinking his eyes to get rid of his own haze.
This isn't why
I'm here... but I need your help, Sam.
My help? Sam asked in the fog of desire that had
swamped her the second she had come in contact with his skin.
Sam... Jack had to pause and kiss her only seconds
after she had first lightly kissed him. Before he was aware of
it, he only knew that he wanted more of her. He peered into her
eyes, and saw that chord of connection between them again. His
sweet desire swirled delectably in his stomach, twisting it into
a hot ring of passion.
Jack, Sam whispered, and answered his suddenly more
Do you still l..?
Yes, he said emphatically.
Do you still feel the
same way I always thought you did?
Yes, she interrupted, and as their third... or was it
fourth?... kiss ended when she spoke, wrapped him again in an
embrace that was as adamant as it was soft as velvet; she was
sure it felt right to have him finally in her arms.
O'Neill smiled over her shoulder. He held on to her so tightly.
Are those tears I hear in everything you say? she
asked, then, in astonishment.
Don't you dare tell anyone about it...
Not even Daniel and Teal'c?
Especially not Daniel and Teal'c, he said.
They're letters were helpful, I admit, but... they'd never let
me live this down.
Sam ignored the end of his statement.
They sent you
letters? she asked.
Two from Daniel, and one from Teal'c. Hey, why didn't
you write to me?
I did, so many times!
Jack shook his head.
I never got those
She stared at him guiltily now.
That's because I didn't
Didn't send them? he asked in surprise.
She glared at him defensively.
I was afraid of bothering
you in your retirement, and then I couldn't find you, and when I
got worried, I did some research, and found out you had gone to
your cabin in Minnesota... But then I realized your cabin
doesn't have a phone, and... Teal'c's the only one who's been to
your cabin, but the town you had your mail sent to was a
different town than the one that Teal'c recognized as being the
location of your cabin...
No Post Office in Dunlop, Jack explained.
Sam went on,
And Teal'c didn't remember precisely where
your cabin was located for sure...
Actually, I got a letter from him about you, and came
back because of it. He handed her the sloppily folded
He was worried about you, and that made me
She unfolded the envelope he had handed to her, and pulled
out the letter inside. Throughout the entire process of reading
the letter, she rested her head serenely on his shoulder. She
chose not to read the letter aloud, but stared at it in
Teal'c's not a very talkative guy, answered
You drove all the way up here because of this?
She held out the letter in disbelief.
You bet, he told her. There wasn't
even a hint of hesitation in his voice.
Sam hugged him once more for good measure.
that you're such a worriwart.
O'Neill reared back so that he could see her entire face.
Who told you that?
Sam looked at him in truthful irritation.
figured it out on my own. So many years together will do that to
Jack smiled then, and said with a proud note in his voice.
You're so smart... Just one of the many reasons why I love
I can think of many more, Sam fliratatiously said,
and grinned into his eyes. She kissed him once again before more
Now, you said something about wanting my
Jack had the decency to look slightly mortified.
may not be the most appropriate time...
What is it? she asked, sounding patient.
Jack didn't beat around the bush, as someone perhaps more
polite would have done.
I need to find out what's going on,
what The Trust has in mind for the SGC... I couldn't find out
anything from the remote access of my cabin, so I think it's time
to go right to the source...
The Embarkation Room, she predicted.
It makes sense... But my clearance will be denied...
Can you request to see the tapes from the security cameras in the
SGC Embarkation Room?
I'll request the most recent ones tomorrow.
What are you looking for? she inquired.
Jack shook his head.
I'm hoping that I know it when I
* * *
The instant Jack popped the most recent tape into her VCR,
he knew right away that something, at least, was very wrong.
The SGC personnel! They're all so... so... skinny!
he exclaimed in a voice of amazement as the teams left on the
ramp leading to and from the Stargate.
Sam, sitting beside him on the couch, relaxing on her Sunday
off, leaned forward, trying to see what he saw. But her eyes had
grown too accustomed to the sight of her fellow SGC colleagues to
discern anything beyond their uniforms.
Are they? she
asked, squinting towards the TV.
Not them. Jack brushed away at the staff helping the
team as they were heading out through the 'Gate.
them. He pointed to the team members themselves. With a
confused glare, he eyed the TV remote in his hands.
thing have a fast forward?
Sam indicated the appropriate button.
Why? What's the
I want to see what happened when SG-11 got back, Jack
explained absently, concentrating on forwarding the scratchy
picture. He paused as the team descended the ramp again, and met
a medical team at the bottom of the currogated metal.
like they needed help, he noted softly, then continued to
watch. He paused the tape again when the head of the medical
team inserted an I.V. into a wounded man's arm.
Jack said, and winced.
That had to hurt.
It's nothing more than always happens after a
mission, Sam said with a sigh.
We always get poked more
than we want.
Yeah? Jack said with a smile now, recalling fond
Remember how Doc Fraiser always was... That woman
had a thing for needles, is how Daniel always described
Sam scratched her chin, not entirely comfortable with the
way the conversation was heading.
Yeah, I think I spend more
time in the infirmary than I do on an entire mission, she
Jack rewound the tape back to its beginning, and started
Hope you have something to work on.., he
said with a lilt in his voice.
This could be very
Two hours later, Jack rubbed wearily at his eyes.
did you say? he asked.
Nothing, Sam said with a shrug.
You're the one
who says that everyone is so thin, not me.
Well, everyone is thin! Jack insisted.
Take you, for example. You're so thin, a stiff wind would
blow you away. How you survive on missions is beyond me.
Well, Sam admitted sheapishly.
I haven't been
particularly interested in food lately. I've been a little
Suddenly Jack sat up a bit straighter.
What did you just
I was kind of missing a certain General.., Sam said.
I was a bit depressed.
No, that bit you said about surviving missions? Jack
You made the comment about wondering how I survive
missions, not me, Sam told him, then returned her attention
to the report she was manually correcting on her lap.
'I don't know how you survive your missions,' Jack
thoughtfully repeated himself. He turned to peruse her entire
She widened her eyes in puzzlement.
What? What is
Jack stared at her again.
As much as I always appreciat
how you look... fat or thin... Here, he pulled out her arm
and gazed at it assessingly.
But I think you're too
thin, now. Why?
I told you, Sam said, and nervously cleared her
I've just not been too interested in food
A situation we'll rectify tonight, O'Neill promised.
With a steak... or French Fries...
I can't eat French Fries... All those
Calories that you need, Jack confirmed with
What, we're going out to eat right now? Sam
questioned in slight incredulity.
No time like the present, Jack said, and smiled.
Sam set her report on the coffee table beside O'Neill's
Ready when you are, she said, though she
wasn't particularly hungry. But as it promised to be time she
would spend with him, she was more than willing to eat.
Is that what you're wearing? Jack asked, and gestured
at the sweats and t-shirt she had on.
Sam looked uncomfortable again.
Well, my jeans are too
big, now, and... So you think I'll need a sweatshirt?
We have to figure out why everyone's so thin, Jack
stated, and held out his hand for her to take.
cold... you'll definitely need a sweatshirt. He was teasing
her again about the way she always seemed cold, even when it was
seventy degrees outside.
She slipped her fingers into his, again marvelling at the
feel of his skin touching hers.
What if we see someone who
Then we'll smile at them, and wave, Jack suggested,
squeezing her waist and nuzzling her neck with his nose.
Then, hopefully, we'll come home and have a repeat performance
of last night.
Sam smiled, and kissed his cheek, thinking how much she
enjoyed his smell. How had she resisted it for so long?
can be arranged, she told him.
* * *
Later that night, his belly full of hamburger, French Fries, and a shake, Jack was once more staring at the image on the TV screen, wondering what he was missing. The last mission with SG-11 was up again, and he watched them come back through the Stargate, only to be met on the ramp by the medical team. He watched the I.V. slip into the injured man's arm once more, wondering what the heck was bugging him about that needle he kept staring at. With a sigh, he rewound the tape and started at the beginning again.
After each mission, whether completed successfully or not, the team was debriefed at the bottom of the ramp before Brooks, the new commanding General, sent the entire team to the infirmary for a checkup, standard post mission operating procedure... nothing too interesting about that.
As O'Neill watched, he peripherally noted how many people left, and how many came back. The number of returnees was beginning to dwindle.
Hey, he called to Sam, who was currently in the
kitchen, heating up water in the microwave for tea.
anything strange happened to you guys on a mission?
What do you mean by 'strange?' she called back,
O'Neill blushed before admitting,
What a question! Sam exclaimed as she carefully
carried two full mugs through the door, and into the living room.
She crossed to the couch.
Here, let me get that for you.., O'Neill said, and
took the two mugs, lowering them down to the coasters he had
already placed on the coffee table. He looked up then, right
into Sam's eyes, level with his own. Their gazes locked, and it
was just like his daydreams of her back from when he was at the
SGC... only this time, his daydream ended with a very real kiss
on her lips.
Jack sighed, his eyes closed to better savor the sensations
swirling around inside him.
This is exactly what I always
wanted, he whispered.
Every time I was doing paperwork,
on a mission off-world, standing in your lab, being poked in the
butt with a needle in the infirmary... He paused, arrested
by that vision of the needle he was having. He sat up, thinking
What do you do every time after a mission? he
asked then as the image of SG-11 and the wounded man being
pierced by that needle filled his head.
Sam sat back onto the couch cushions, and took a sip of her
steaming tea. It tasted good after the cold air outside her
We all go to the infirmary, she promptly said.
You know that as well as I do. Why?
Jack stayed where he was, awkwardly bent, as he was half way
on the couch, and half off.
The infirmary, he whispered.
Yeah, what about them? Sam asked.
something about Janet, and her love for needles... If she were
alive right now, I don't think she'd ever live to forget that
saying. I'd heard that about her and needles before.
That's it, Jack dumbly reported as he sat back down
beside her on the couch.
What is? she queried.
Needles, Jack said, clearly only half listening to
Now Sam was getting irriated; she hated not
What about them?
Jack turned to face her.
Can't you see? he
He wondered how she couldn't see what was right in front of
her nose. But then, the fact that it was right in front
of her nose might be part of the problem, he conceded.
are too thin, as if it were being caused by something.
Not a coincidence, like we thought?
You've thought this before, and never mentioned it to
I figured it wasn't important. And I did tell you
that I was depressed...
You do usually think too much, Jack commented
affectionately, and rubbed her cheek with his thumb.
why you were so depressed. See, too much thinking isn't good for
a person. And this one time when I need you to think too much,
you're not thinking enough.
Sam looked irritated again.
What should I be thinking
Jack turned back to the image of the I.V. he had paused on
Maybe.., he absently said.
Jack, you're not making sense, Sam complained.
He held up his first finger in a clear message that he
needed her to be quiet.
I have to think...
There's a first, she said accusingly.
Oh, ha, ha, very funny, he groused.
I try to be, she said.
Again went up the finger.
Big word, she noted dispassionately.
He grinned at her.
You taught it to me.
Sam took another sip of her tea, noting that it wasn't so
What are you hypothesizing?
After every mission, you go to the infirmary, Jack
Where you are stuck with a bazillion needles, all in
unmentionable places, Sam went on for him.
And before you get a shot from a needle...
You're rubbed down with a cotten swab moistened with
alcohol, she finished for him.
Jack looked at her.
They could never control all the
needles used in the infirmary. It's gotta be in the alcohol,
What does? Now she was really getting
Jack's brow furrowed.
How should I know. Whatever's
making you all so... He gestured at her.
We're not all so much thinner.
Jack reared back again.
I've seen this tape from
beginning to end a dozzen times; you're thin. You're all
thin. Teal'c's even lost weight. Daniel's a skinny archeologist
Sam smiled at his comment.
Is it that
Only to an eye that hasn't been staring at your beautiful
form for a month, Jack answered with a shake of his head.
So... what have they put in the alcohol? Sam asked
A virus, Jack said firmly.
A bacteria. One hell
of a weight loss program... I don't know, he told her.
That's why I keep you around, to figure this stuff out in that
lab of yours.
That's the only reason? Sam questioned, enjoying the
razzing she was giving him.
Jack grinned appreciatively.
For a girl in sweats,
you're awfully cool, he said, and wrapped his arms around
her, astounded once again at his good fortune.
* * *
The following morning, Sam went to work as if it was any other normal day at the SGC, but had instructions to lift the bottles of alcohol being currently used in the Infirmary, and replace them with alcohol bottles she and Jack had bought from a medical supply store located far away from her house and from the SGC. At least, she was to lift the curent alcohol bottles as long as she could replace those bottles surreptitiously. Once she did that, she and Jack needed to take a blood sample from her, compare it to the same thing drawn from him, and then compare both to a few drops of the alcohol being used in the Infirmary. For that, they would need the microscope in Sam's lab at the SGC. Jack hadn't quite reached the point where he was concerned about how he was going to get down to that level in a top secret military compound, but he wasn't worried; he was sure something would come to him before the need was upon him.
In the meantime, he needed a shower, a shave, and a change of clothes. To get those things, he had to go back to his place.
Ten minutes later, he was hiding among the bushes in his own neighborhood, staring in the direction of his house.
Ten astonished seconds after that, he was backing carefully through his own neighborhood, and was on his cell phone, calling Sam on her cell phone. Thankfully, she picked it up on the first ring.
*Carter,* she answered nonchalantly.
Sam, it's me, Jack whispered.
I want you to do
something for me, he urgently continued to whisper.
*What?* Sam asked quietly.
You at the SGC? Jack inquired.
*Just walking toward my lab,* Sam replied. *Why?*
Jack went on whispering.
I want you to go to Daniel...
casually... and tell him to take Teal'c and go visit his
long lost Grandma in Albuquerque or somewhere... anywhere... just
get away from the SGC, and tell him not to tell anyone where he
and Teal'c plan to go, not even me!
*Anything else?* Sam asked without requesting an explanation, caught by the urgency in his tone.
Jack instructed her,
Go to the Infirmary... lift all the
alcohol... carefully! And stay away from General Brooks if you
can! Don't do anything to arouse suspician. Then meet me at the
food court in the mall on 32nd street in half an hour. And make
sure you're not followed. But above all, get out.
And don't go home... I'll meet you, if all goes well, and I'll
explain everything then. Go!
Sam flipped the connection off, then strolled down another corridor on her way to see her friend as soon as she had arrived in the SGC. One person she trusted enough to follow his orders without explanation was Jack O'Neill, and follow them she would.
* * *
Twenty-five minutes later, Sam slowly navigated the heavy entrance door at the mall on 32nd street. The bustle of the food court was considerably less than what she was used to, as it was before any of the stores opened. She found Jack right away, seated at a tiny table for two, glancing at his watch, tapping his knees, then looking relieved as she approched his position.
Oh, thank God! Jack blurted.
And I don't mean the
fake kind. He stood, and wrapped his arms around Sam for a
Did you miss me? Sam asked, a bit surprised at his
show of emotion, and that his show was so extreme.
You have no idea, Jack said.
I think I'm still
shaking from the fear.
Fear? Sam questioned as she hugged him in return.
God, Sam, they burned down my house, and yours is
crawling with agents right now.
She gaped at him.
They burned down your
To the ground, Jack repeated.
It's too much of a
coincidence that it happened to burn down last night, of all
nights. It's only luck that you left your own house early this
morning. Another five minutes, and we both would have been
toast. Jack shivered at the thought, and clung to her all
Look, I need to make a phone call, and ask for
some help. He turned briefly to Sam.
Did you get the
Sam grinned and pulled one of the bottles out of the pocket
of her coat.
Teal'c and Daniel are carrying more, she
said, though she was still a bit off balance from the news about
his house. He'd left his truck there, she knew, so The Trust
must have suspected that he had spent the night at home. The
burning of his house must have been an attempt to kill him, and
make it look like an accident...
The horror of such a discovery was just infiltrating her
thoughts when O'Neill went on,
Did anyone see you?
Sam shook her head in the negative.
I don't think so.
When I was followed after leaving the SGC, I got on the
interstate, and lost whoever was behind me in the crowd of fast
cars full of people who were heading to work.
Smmmaaaarrtt, Jack said admiringly.
I never would
have thought of that. He kissed Sam on her forehead, not
caring who saw such an act of affection. Then, he yanked his
cell phone from the pocket of the leather jacket he always wore.
He also pulled a piece of paper from the same pocket, stared at
the phone number he had written on it, then punched the numbers
into his cell phone.
Hammond, he requested brusquely,
then must have been patched through to the appropriate office,
for he said,
General? No, don't say my name. Remember...
bugs in your office. Go to a pay phone and call me back in ten
minutes. Then he hung up the phone.
Five minutes later, Jack's cell phone rang as it lay
innocently on the table. Jack answered it immediately.
*Jack?* Hammond asked in response.
*Yes. I'm two blocks away from my office building, and one block over, at the courthouse. Now, what's going on?*
General, I have Sam with me, and we need help, big
*I would think you would want to handle this one on your own,* Hammond commented.
We were alone, then The Trust upped the price a
bit. We need some help with this one.
Hammond's voice grew concerned. *Is there reason to worry?*
Oh, yeah, Jack emphatically told him.
*What do you need?* Hammond asked, cutting to the point of this phone call.
A microscope, vials, syringes to draw blood...
*Can't you find those in the SGC?*
Compromised, Jack told him briefly.
let any of SG-1 within a mile of the SGC right now. But we've
lost all our resources with it.
Hammond sighed loudly over the phone. *So they know you're investigating them?*
You could put it that way.
*Okay. I'm in Washington right now, but I'll fly out...*
Bring money, lots of it, Jack said.
I have the
feeling we're going to need some.
Hammond paused. *This is the second time I've loaned you
money,* he said, his tone moving more into the realm of resigned
Do I get to charge interest this time, too? he
jokingly asked at last.
Jack ignored the joshing tone of General Hammond's voice,
and went on,
If we make it out of this, I promise to pay you
Hammond sounded surprised when he noted,
Jack's tone was perfectly serious when he said,
no idea how bad. Then he quickly took the conversation back
to his and Sam's immediate concerns.
Sam and I should be
fine until you get here. I have my credit cards... Sam has
hers... He turned to regard Sam quietly standing beside him
while he spoke to General Hammond on the phone.
You do have
them, right? he asked her, just to make sure.
She patted a pocket in her sweatpants.
I always carry
money... you never know...
Wow, Jack commented as he slowly returned his
attention to his phone.
I taught you well...
Yep, Sam quipped, marvelling that she could still
think in joking terms.
You can rest quiet, knowing that your
team is now as paranoid as you are.
Jack scowled at her, but had to concede that what she said
had a grain of truth in it.
Better to be paranoid than
dead, he told her, then went back to his phone call as if
he'd never left it.
Jack, call me 'George.' Hammond said on a sigh.
When a person borrows money from me... twice... he gets the
pleasure of using my first name.
Guess I earned it, eh, George? Jack teased back.
Something like that.
Okay... Can you arrange a lab for us to use?
Sam piped up,
I have friends at the Academy in the
Science Department... they'll have what we need.
Jack instantly incorporated what she'd said into a report
Never mind... Sam has it covered. It appears
she has friends in high places over at the Academy...
She trusts them? Hammond queried.
Jack quickly pulled the phone away from his mouth, then
quietly asked Sam,
Do you trust your Acadamy friends?
Almost as much as I trust you, Sam immediately
Her sincere answer made him grin at her and take her hand
with his free one. He said to Hammond,
She's good, Sir... uh,
All right, he answered.
Set up what you
We need to shop first before we do any tests. We'll meet
you in... He glanced at his watch.
At 1500 this
I can make it by then, Hammond promised.
And remember to bring lots of cash. No one can trace
cash, Jack explained.
Will do, Hammond responded.
We'll be waiting at the food court in the 32nd street
Fine. I'll find you there.
Come alone, and don't let anyone see you, Jack
1500, Hammond repeated, then hung up.
Jack snapped his own cell phone shut.
Time to shop,
he said as he returned the phone to the pocket of his jacket.
Sam couldn't help but sport a grin.
Even a girl who
likes to shoot bad guys while wearing BDUs is glad to hear those
Jack smiled down at her, even if his expression was a bit
* * *
1425 came... and went... and Jack moved Sam from the Target store they were currently checking out, to the corridor beside the food court marked 'Personnel only.' It made a nice hiding place for them both. They huddled in the semi-secrecy of the tiny corridor as Jack and Sam watched a family of four nonchalantly enter the mall. The parents looked around, then they all wandered in the direction of the Chinese restaurant in the court. They passed right by Jack's and Sam's hiding place in the hallway and never saw them.
Sam hefted her shopping bag in her hand a little higher as
she noted that the family wasn't the General she was currently
Where is he?
I was talking in code on the phone before, Jack
answered as a way of explanation.
George knew that in a
possibly compromised situation, there's always that chance that
my cell line will be tapped. We agreed years ago that if either
one of us mentions a time to meet, the other should instantly
take thirty minutes off that time. Hammond should be here...
Just then, the large double doors opened to reveal the DC General
dressed in civilian clothes, looking around at all the shoppers
currently in the food court.
A code? Sam asked in some puzzlement.
And he went
along with this paranoia of yours?
Jack grimaced at her, but said,
This 'paranoia' of mine
may be a bit extreme, but it's kept us alive so far. He
frowned even deeper.
And paranoia may be in order this time.
You don't now have a smoking hole instead of a house.
Good point, she whispered back to him, and gave his
hand a comforting squeeze. He queezed back.
When Jack was certain that General Hammond hadn't been
followed by overzealous Trust members who were as paranoid as he
was, he allowed Sam to lead him from their place of concealment
and join Hammond.
Did you bring cash? Jack immediately
inquired in a low voice.
Nice to see you, too, General, Hammond sarastically
Yeah, yeah, Jack said, his voice still just as low.
Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes, and I'm not
kidding, he continued as he glanced surreptitiously at the
people in the food court.
I've never been so glad to see you
in my life, he added for Hammond's benefit.
Now, did you
bring some cash?
Hammond chuckled as he reached into a front coat pocket.
Same old Jack I see...
Minus a house, Jack grimly told him.
barely made it out of hers before the agents moved in. Now, can
we please dispense with the pleasantries, and get down to the
business of an emergency fund?
Hammond didn't seemed phased by the words that were coming
from his former second in command. But he did look a bit
disappointed that his friend was right to be so worried.
it, he said.
Right here. He patted his coat pocket.
And a car...
Not provided by the military, right? Jack asked.
Hammond sighed, but said,
Borrowed from my daughter's
coworker. No trace possible...
Good, Jack said before turning back to Sam.
you think of any other lab besides those at the Academy that we
Sam appeared flabbergasted by his request, but she answered,
Uh, yeah, there's Captain Boils... She went to work in the
private sector a few years back. I didn't know her all that
well, but I know that she went to work for Gentech after she had
Sounds good, Jack quickly said.
Call her from a
pay phone... Your cell is probably being monitered, too. We
shouldn't take any chances.
Okay, Sam said as she tagged after Hammond and
O'Neill, feeling slightly like leftover baggage. It was apparent
that she was too trusting of other people and their motives, she
thought to herself. She was sure, however, that life with Jack
O'Neill would cure her of any automatic overly zealous
friendliness on her part, she ruminated. It was just too bad
that his paranoia was so often correct.
* * *
Thanks for this help, Patricia, Sam was saying as the
three entered Patricia Boils' lab at Gentech in downtown Colorado
Springs an hour later.
I know that it's been several years
since you were at the SGC...
No problem, Major... uh... Colonel Carter, Patricia
Boils was saying as she held the door aside for them.
the Colonel... She sighed in aggravation, and the sound
filled the room.
I mean, the General... She glanced once
between Jack and Hammond, then cleared her throat and corrected
General O'Neill to thank for saving the base
that time that alien entity was trying to take it over. By
saving the base, he saved my life. Helping now is the least I
can do. She smiled, and nervously played with the lank brown
hair that was hanging over her shoulder. She was a bit
overwhelmed at being in the presence of not one, but two Air
Force Generals, as well as a Lieutenant Colonel. Her nervousness
showed when she began tying the several strands of her long hair
into knots. She went on, rambling,
Though I have to say that
I was a bit surprised when I got your phone...
Hammond interrupted her to gently suggest,
can show us where you keep your microscopic equipment?
Spurred into action then, Patricia Boils led them to a
corner beside two windows that lit up a work area with natural
Right here. There's vials, test tubes, petrie
dishes.... Use what you need, she invited.
Thank you, Sam said with a lilt in her voice as she
automatically moved toward the familiar equipment.
more than generous of you.
Blood first, Carter? asked Jack, falling back into
his familiar form of address in the accustomed situation. Seeing
Sam in a science lab was bringing back some very nice memories.
He tried to keep his mind on the situation at hand as he
unbuttoned the long sleeves of his shirt, but as he began rolling
the left sleeve up, Sam stopped him.
I was thinking, Si... She stopped herself before she
could complete the dreaded title. She began again.
thinking, Jack, that I don't have to take blood samples from the
two of us. I mean, it's pretty obvious that something's been
added to the something that's making me so thin... something that
you're not taking in. Instead, alcohol samples, one tainted, and
one not, when compared to each other, should show us what we need
to see. Before anybody could comment, Sam reached for two
Petrie dishes, and pulled them towards her along the counter.
She carefully pulled the bottle of alcolhol that she had lifted
from the SGC Infirmary from her coat pocket, and poured some of
the liquid into the glass dish. She then looked around the lab,
found a bottle of alcohol on the far counter, then poured some of
that into the second receptacle. She slid one sample onto the
tray of the microscope by the window, studied it for a minute,
then replaced it with the second, careful to keep the two samples
She studied the second sample, replaced it with the first, then the second again, then wrinkled her forehead.
A wrinkled forehead rang the warning bells in Jack's mind.
What is it, Sam? he asked.
What do you see?
Sam's forehead wrinkled even more. She stood staring off into space, a puzzled expression on her face.
Jack shook her shoulder.
Sam? he inquired.
Sam did a double take.
What is it? Jack asked, suspicion loud in his voice.
Are you succumbing to weird alien alcolhol fumes, or
Sam gazed at him as if she didn't know what he was talking
Hammond broke in on the conversation now to say,
thinking... I think.
Sam caught sight of a clear cannister of cotton swabs
resting on the counter near a sink.
thoughtfully drawled before returning her wandering attention
back to the microscope.
These samples are exactly the
same, she reported, sounding disheartened.
What? Jack's voice was as disbelieving as his
Are you sure you're testing them right?
I'm sure I'm doing things in the correct order, Sam
absently answered. Still staring off into space, thinking, she
I thought sure it was something in the
Jack continued, asking,
You're sure you're looking at
Sam waved a hand at the microscope and the two Petrie
Take a look yourself if you don't believe me.
Jack did his own hand wave then.
No, that's all right...
You said they're the same... That's enough for me.
But Sam wasn't listening to him, even though he'd given voice to a rare vocal compliment of sorts in her hearing. Though he'd often given roundabout compliments about her while he was the comanding General of the SGC, he didn't often give those compliments directly to her. It was ironic that she wasn't even listening to him when he said his words, but was instead lost in the 'thinking haze' that he often complained that she spent a great portion of her time in. If she was thinking, then she wasn't paying any attention to Jack, as the current situation perfectly illustrated.
Jack gave a grimace in Sam's general direction, but she
missed his expression, too. She continued to stare instead at
the jar of cotton swabs resting on the counter beside the lab's
sink. Still lost in her own little world of 'What if..?' and
'Maybe..,' her brain was chugging away at perplexing scenarios
that no one but she was even aware of. It was only when Jack
barked the word,
Carter! that she even glanced up to find
the few people in the room staring at her in abject befuddlement.
Care to share with us simpletons what's going on in that
complexly wired brain of yours?
Sam seemed to give a start by shaking her head.
sorry, she apologized.
I was just thinking...
Of course you were, Jack said interrupting her. Then
he went on to ask,
You were thinking about..?
She finished the question for him.
I was asking myself
the question of how it's possible that both sets of alcolhol
could possibly be the same?
Jack continued with an inviting wave of his hand,
answered yourself... how?
Sam turned back to regard the cotton balls again. Following
an inner urge that was telling her that she was onto something
important, she reached out her hands to grasp the container in
Cotton, she declared, as if that explained
everything. The look of inquiry on Jack's face prompted her to
If I mix a few strands of the cotton swabs with the
alcohol samples... She crossed back to the windows and the
microscope set up beside those windows.
We're not accounting
for all the variables in this experiment, she told them.
Huh? Too many large words. Jack's face wrinkled
with his confusion.
Sam plunked the jar down on the counter.
began, her voice sounding irritated now that he didn't
Just trust me, she told them.
know what I'm doing.
We don't doubt that, Colonel, Hammond told her.
Sam sent him a brief flash of a small, grateful smile as she used a pair of tweezers to pull a few strands off the cotten ball she had snagged between fingers. The latex gloves she had put on made the cotton slippery, but she gave a slight tug with both hands until she had dropped a few cotton strands in each of the petrie dishes filled with alcolhol.
First, Sam slid the dish holding the lab's alcohol that she was using as a comparison for the Infirmary based alcohol under the microscope. After peering at it for several seconds, she then pushed out that particular speciman, and replaced it with the lifted alcohol sample. Her reaction was instantaneous.
Whoa, she breathed.
Jack was now so irritatedly excited by the meticulousness of
the scientific approach to problems that he was dancing from one
foot to the other. He hated the 'roteness' of science, he
reminded himself with a frown. But Sam's exclamation halted even
Sam straightened up and invited,
Take a look for
yourself. She moved aside so that Jack could take her place.
This is the sample from the alcolhol from the Infirmary,
she told him as he peered into the scope, and adjusted the focus
a tiny bit.
And this is the lab's alcolhol, she told him
at last, handing him the Peetrie dish full of liquid.
Careful, she warned.
Don't mix them up.
Jack swapped the dishes, looked at the lab sample, then
traded them once more. He then replaced the secnd sample again
with the Infirmary sample. Finally he said,
I don't think we
have to worry about us mixing them up.
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