Disclaimer: You know the drill.

A/N I'm fully aware that Dr. Janet Fraiser was very suddenly, and unexpectedly, killed in seventh season. However, when I went back to watch all the episodes of the first few seasons, and saw Janet running around, armed with her clipboard and extra long needles, it was like seeing an old friend. I was too delighted at seeing her again not to let her live once more in this story, though I know very well that Jack was never a General while Janet was alive, more's the pity. But as this is fanfiction, and other stories I've read have authors who've resurrected good old Janet, I thought I would take the power of a writer, as well, and resurrect away... There's a lot of opportunity to change the universe that lays with fanfiction writers... I never understood until now what one can do when one can literally change the world... I better be careful here, or I'll start to sound like Jonas Hansen!

A/N So this is an AU of sorts.

K.I.A.

by Linda Bindner

The blaring klaxons of an unscheduled wormhole activation was a bit of a surprise, but did little to excite Jack's blood any longer. For two weeks, he had hung on to his job as Commanding General of the SGC, but by now he was only going through the motions. He knew it, the SGC personnel knew it, and so did the President. The only reason he hadn't been forced to retire, or been replaced, was that he was spending his life waiting, though with little hope at this point, and the SGC was the only place that he could wait. The Joint Chiefs were at least sympathetic to the pain he was feeling, pain of a life that was filtered through limbo. And while the 2IC, Colonel Reynolds, remained available, and able to run the base in his Commanding Officer's... absense of mind, for want of a better term... the Joint Chiefs were willing to let things stand... for now.

But the SGC was beginning to wilt right along with its General. Though Reynolds was fully capable of commanding that the iris be opened or closed, he didn't have the experience that Jack did with all their various alies. As a result, relations were beginning to show strain. But things were left alone for the time being as a show of deference to General O'Neill's inner torment.

Jack woke every day at his quarters on base, readied for work, went to his office, then sat and stared at the wall in a state of depressed melancholy until the time came to either stop pretending to work, or someone interrupted his thoughts with a problem of utmost importance. He was a man who was consumed by despair, just going through the motions of living, and everybody around him knew it.

It had been over two months at this point. Two long months since Lieutenant Colonel Sam Carter had walked blithely through the 'Gate on what had been a planned mission to fix the Tok'ra naqueda genarator. Since she was by far the biggest expert the SGC personnel or the Tok'ra knew on naqueda anything, she had chosen to accompany the Tok'ra Anise when the woman had explained their initial trouble with the generator. It powered their ships, their lights, their Stargate, their everything. It was imperative that they fix it, Anise said, and they had contacted their Tau'ri friends in a final act of despertion when their best scientists could find nothing wrong with it besides the fact that it didn't work. So Sam had traveled with Anise to the secret destination known as the Tok'ra homeworld. Things had gone according to plan, except that the Colonel had missed her first check-in at twenty-four hours into the mission. That was when Jack had begun to grow concerned. Not become overly worried, but concerned. Then Colonel Carter missed her next check in, too. General O'Neill's 'concern' officially became classed as 'worry' then. He became totally moody when Jacob was contacted, and didn't respond, either.

Six weeks of this went by. Sam's name was officially moved to the M.I.A. list, and it nearly killed Jack to see her name beside the names of those who had gone missing while serving their country in Vietnam, or Iraq. Two weeks later, two weeks of running down to the Control Room every time an unsheduled off world activation took place, the hope within him had nearly been snuffed out for good; he had finally been ordered to move Sam's name from Missing In Action over to Killed In Action, from M.I.A. status to K.I.A. That had nearly done him in. He stopped running to the Control Room, then, stopped eating, stopped sleeping, just... stopped. New lines of grief etched into his cheeks, and around his mouth. A haunted look appeared in his eyes. He was the most unapproachable Commanding Officer many of the SGC members had ever known. But still, nothing was done to replace him. His last ray of hope lay in the SGC, since the only way that Sam would ever come home was through the Stargate, whether it be walking down the ramp, or in a coffin. So, Jack spent his life waiting, now, and had become a dreary shadow of his formerly energetic self.

Dully, Jack looked out the window of the Briefing Room towards the newly activated Stargate. It had been nine weeks full of unsheduled activations. Jack knew that Colonel Reynolds would give the order to open the iris, and he wasn't disappointed in that, at least, as he saw the great slab of metal spin aside. A few seconds of nothing went by, and then two unknown men dressed in the familiar garb of Tok'ra brown walked through the opening as if there was nothing wrong with not communicating with their Tau'ri comrades for over two months. Jack expected, then, to see more Tok'ra members transporting a coffin through the 'Gate, and when Jacob suddenly appeared through the puddle of blue swirls, Jack wasn't particularly surprised to see him.

However, when a fourth person materialized beside Jacob, Jack was taken completely by surprise. He was so astonished, in fact, that he blinked his eyes just to make sure they were working correctly.

But it was no mistake. The blonde hair was a bit longer than she had been wearing it, but there was no way anyone who knew her could not see that, without fanfare or even a message that they should be expected, it was Sam Carter who walked beside her father through the 'Gate, both individuals surrounded by Jacob's Tok'ra companions. She paused on the metal ramp as she looked around the familiar 'Gate Room the second she materialized from the blue puddle of the Stargate.

Holy.., Jack whispered at seeing a sight that was completely unexpected at this late date. He blinked again, and shook his head in a sense of desperation, not wanting the many dreams he had indulged in of this moment to cloud his rational mind. But, when his vision had cleared, and his head shake was done, Sam was still standing on the ramp in the 'Gate Room, as large as life, grinning now, and hugging Daniel at the bottom of the steps leading to the alien device. Teal'c stood nearby, waiting for his turn to welcome her home, and keeping the multitude of well-wishers away from her so that she could breath.

Air, Jack thought in a daze. That would be a good thing about now. Breathe, O'Neill, told himself. Just breathe.

He managed to take two shallow breaths, though he still felt like someone had socked him in his stomach. Numbness stole over his limbs, and he couldn't move a muscle. Then, he dropped the file he was holding in his hands to the carpeted floor of the Briefing Room, and was sprinting for the stairs that led down to the 'Gate Room. Sg-12, who was seated around the Briefing Room table at the time, instantly reacted to O'Neill's strange behavior to the travelers, and rushed to the windows in time to see a totally flummoxed General O'Neill pause at the edge of the open door to the 'Gate Room as he stared in shock at Colonel Carter. She was currently engulfed in a hug from her team member, Teal'c, but the big Jaffa bellowed for the others to move aside as he set her down from his exuberant welcome the second he caught sight of O'Neill at the door.

As Teal'c and Daniel gestured towards the side of the 'Gate Room, Colonel Carter turned to look at this sudden new arrival, her smile at seeing her old friends again still on her face, so that she looked much fresher than she actually felt after hours spent debriefing with the Tok'ra on the covert mission that she and Jacob had been sent on. But the freshness of her expression was much more genuine when she caught sight of the General lurking in the doorway to the rest of the base.

Sam, Jack whispered, as if he were seeing a ghost. He corrected himself, as if he couldn't decide on what to call her. Car.. He shook his head a bit, dislodging the name from his mind in the same way he was trying to sever months worth of waiting, trauma, and guilt over her supposed death. Slowly, he walked towards her. Gingerly, she mimicked him, though she looked as if she half expected the floor to open up and swallow her at any moment.

Jack, she whispered back, not aware of what she was calling him either for their first meeting in many months.

Sam, Jack whispered again, the shock he was feeling registering on his face now. We thought you were dead.

Of course I'm not dead, Sam replied, still whispering, though her voice penetrated the room with ease. I'm sorry about being gone for so long, but the Tok'ra said they would explain...

She stopped talking, then; Jack was in front of her, and his own particular scent filled her nostrils. She could feel his rough hands on her cheeks as he touched what he'd never expected to see again.

Sam, Jack said for a third time in a voice filled with wonder, finally speaking above a whisper. He managed to choke out the word. You... You... Then, he broke, and pulled her harshly into his arms. Oh, God, Sam, you're alive! How..? But, he couldn't talk now. Instead, he buried his head in her shoulder, and squeezed. He felt his heart shiver, and threaten to burst at this unexpected windfall, but tried to remain steady.

For her part, Sam was clutching him as tightly as he was squeezing her. She felt her feet lift clear of the floor, as his height overpowered her for a moment, but she was less then caring at this point. Nor did she heed the fact that this unprecedented display of emotion was right in plain view of her father. She ignored everything, everybody, and just felt the man in her arms.

Jack's voice mumured next to her ear. God, Sam, don't..! Don't..! He took a breath, and tried to sound coherent. Don't ever leave me like that again! Please...

I never left you, she placatingly insisted. Dad and I have been on a mission... She tried to explain, her voice coming out muffled by the side of his neck. The Tok'ra assured me that they would tell you that...

We haven't heard from the Tok'ra since you left, Jack said, interrupting her, his voice tragic, and simultaneously happy beyond belief. We had no idea where you were! I had no idea... I wanted to send out rescue teams, but I didn't know where to send them... God, Sam, I'm so sorry!

You have nothing to be sorry for, Sam whispered back in absolution. And I won't leave you again, not like this, not like...

Sam, marry me, Jack said then, his voice marginally louder yet, his arms still holding onto her so tightly that it was almost as if he feared that she might disappear again if he let go. We may never get another chance... Marry me... I can't stand to let you go again...

A marriage proposal was not something she had ever anticipated on her return. But, the regulations.., she started to protest.

Jack easily interrupted such weak objections. Do you think I care one whit about regulations at a time like this? he asked. I've been going crazy these last weeks. The hope of seeing you again is the only reason I haven't retired. So now, I resign, retire, whatever you need... Just please don't leave me again!

This was a changed man who was holding her so tightly, Sam realized, a much more despairing, desperate man. He was someone who had been pushed right up to the edge of sanity, had clung to the ledge hanging over his personal mental abyss longer than anyone else would have, and even he had teetered a bit. And she had the power to either pull him back or push him over the edge... It didn't take long for her to decide not to give that final mental shove to send him away. That wasn't what she wanted. She wanted to be his other half, his soul mate, his... She nodded, whispered, Yes! A thousand times yes!

She was aware rather than actually felt his lips land solidly, firmly, on the skin of her neck as he tasted her for the first time. Salty tears on her cheeks kept impeding any progress he would have made in a much calmer situation. It was only the voice of Janet Fraiser that penetrated his euphoria at seeing Sam alive again that called him to his senses, and made him realize he was standing in the 'Gate Room, near her father, who had heard every word he'd said, surrounded by more people than he could remember talking to in a long time.

Janet reached out for Sam's back without thinking about her intrusive action. Sam! she yelled, just as delighted as Jack to get her friend back, and get her back in one piece. Sam! she hollered again.

Janet was one of the few people Jack would release Sam for, and he had the pleasure of watching her turn to the doctor, tears still streaming down her face, enveloped in an embrace from the smaller woman, who held her as tightly as Jack had just done.

Jack wiped at the moisture on his cheeks as Janet hugged her friend for the first time in weeks. He would have normally been completely embarrassed by his overt display of emotion at any other time, but now he was beyond caring about such trivial matters, or who witnessed his inner struggle with his emotions.

Janet was talking again, muttering, Oh, Sam! over and over, as if the repetition helped her to believe that it really was her friend that she held in her arms. Finally, she took a step back to release the Colonel, wiped at her own cheeks in a far less nervous display of feelings than Jack had just done, and laughed. Sam! Jacob! We never thought to see either of you again!

Jacob couldn't help but chuckle with Janet as she hugged him tightly as well. But we've been incommunicado for much longer than this before, he pointed out.

But never with someone who was declared K.I.A! Janet told them. Then, to Sam, she gushed, Come on, let's get down to the Infirmary where I can check you and your father out, make sure nothing's wrong with either of you, so you can both meet your public, and...

Wait, Janet, Sam said, her smile slipping for the first time as the truth of the situation sank into her tired brain. She threw glances back and forth between Jack and Janet. K.I.A... What are you talking about?

Jack butted into the conversation then, interrupting their talk. Doc, you take her, do your thing, but don't let her out of your sight, not for one second... I have to call the President...

Sam turned back to Jack again, distracted by his haste. But you're coming to the Infirmary after you make that phone call, right? she asked. I don't want to miss a single minute of...

Domesticated equines.., Jack said, with a smile on his lips meant just for her, though everybody else gathered in the 'Gate Room saw it, too. He turned to Daniel and Teal'c, who were hovering in the background. After putting a hand on Sam's arms again, as if to help convice himself that she was real, and not a figment of his overwrought imagination, he asked, Guys, do you mind going with them? I'd feel better if...

Jacob joined them, too, saying that he was coming along, or else... I want to hear what's been going on, he said as his only explanation. Then, he turned to regard his two Tok'ra companions. You can head on home, if you want... There's no reason for you to remain here. Then, he turned back to Jack. Unless you have something to tell them, Jack? he asked, remembering the General at the last minute.

Jack shook his head. No, I can't think of anything. And we'll talk later, Jacob, he promised. As soon as things... He was going to say 'calm down,' but his voice broke off as Sam was suddenly in his arms again, one more time. He closed his eyes, and just smelled her presence, felt her pressed against him... Wonderful, he thought, and smiled. Go with the Doc while I make my phone call, he whispered in her ear. I'll be there right beside you before you know it. This was one phone call that he wasn't going to mind making!

Sam gave him one final squeeze, then released him, and went with Janet, her arm slung over the doctor's shoulders, as well as around Daniel's waist. Teal'c walked closely behind them, doing what could only be described as hovering. Jacob looked like the only sane person in the whole unorganized group. Even Daniel had tears oozing out of his eyes as he walked beside Sam, out of the 'Gate Room, grinning. Sam rested her head on Daniel's shoulder, smiled, and as they entered the corridor, said, This was a much better welcome home than I ever expected.

It was Janet who explained, It's nothing less than a miracle that you came back to us, Sam. We thought sure you were dead.

But, Sam objected in confusion as more corridors with the familiar beige walls of the SGC closed around them. But, the Tok'ra...

Teal'c interrupted this time. The Tok'ra have been less than helpful in this situation, he succinctly told them. No offense meant to you, General Carter, he added as an afterthought to Sam's father.

Jacob spoke up then. None taken, of course, Teal'c. But, Sam, do you mind telling me what the heck's going on? He barked a stuttered laugh. I mean, 'getting married?'

Sam looked guilty, then, and glanced once at Daniel. Daniel, she said softly rather than dealing with her father's inquiry. I know you have the video of mine and Jack's Za'tarc tests.., she tried to explain.

Daniel shrugged, and defended himself, Well, unless you wanted the whole damned world to see that...

I know... Sam smiled her softest smile. You were just protecting both of us by keeping that tape.

Sam, Jacob broke in again, finally losing his patience. What tape? What the hell is going on here? Are you really planning on marrying Jack? he asked in incredulity. Sam, have you gone nuts?! Aren't you already engaged to that Denver guy..?

Daniel stopped Jacob from asking any more questions by placing a hand on his arm. You need to come with me, Jacob, he gently said.

But Janet broke into the conversation then. Wait... I think there's something you need to see first, though it happened long after that Za'tarc testing thing...

Janet? Sam voiced, but Janet only beckoned the group into her Infirmary office. Once they were all inside the tiny, enclosed space, Janet shut the door. Then she went to a locked desk drawer, unlocked it, pulled it out, and held up a black, unoffending looking video tape. I snagged this from Security before anybody else had the chance to view it. Please, I'm trusting you all to say nothing about what you see here... Not a single word! she emphasized.

Janet, Sam stopped her friend again. Don't you think you're being a bit overdramatic?

Janet simply rolled her eyes at Sam. Just watch, she commanded. She went to the TV and VCR she kept in her office for viewing tapes of MRI images, and slid the security video into the VCR. She turned the TV on, and pushed the play button on the VCR.

The tape had no sound, of course, but it did have a picture, of who could only be General O'Neill sitting in his office, contemplating the red phone resting on the corner of his desk. Janet explained to those in her office, He just got a call from President Hayes, ordering Sam's status to be changed from M.I.A. to K.I.A. This was taken two weeks ago.

Slowly, like someone much older than he was, the General turned to the bookcase behind his desk, pulled out a file drawer, and riffled through it. But, his mind was clearly in a fog. He seemed to search futilely through some forms kept on hand in the drawer until he finally found what he was looking for. He pulled out a sheef of paper, then very slowly, grabbed a pen from his desktop, and filled in Sam's name at the top of the form. Then, he started filling out the questionnaire from memory. He didn't have to check in his computer's personnel files once for Sam's personal details. He already knew how tall she was, and what color her eyes were. A moment later, he pulled out the top drawer of his desk. The camera couldn't take in what he sat for fifteen minutes, staring at, but finally, he swallowed, his throat obviously tight, even from the elevated view of the camera mounted on the ceiling tiles in his office. Slowly, as if he were dreading what he had to do next, he gently pulled out a stamp, and the stamping pad full of ink. He carefully inked the stamp, then, very deliberately, pressed the stamped letters to the top of the sheef of paper. The ink on the stamp made the letters K.I.A. perfectly visible to the camera lens, and to whomever was watching the procedure, even though the form was already titled K.I.A.

The group of people gathered around the TV could see O'Neill sigh into the empty air of his office, though they couldn't hear a thing on the tape. He leaned foreward then, resting his head on his hands, rubbing the bridge of his nose for a moment, as if he were Daniel, and needed to appease the marks of his nosepieces from his glasses. But his hands paused, then, until his fingers covered his entire face. Slowly, his head sank to rest on the top of his desk where his bent arms cradled his head. His shoulders shook, caught in horrible, intimate detail by the Security camera. It was obvious that he was crying. Without warning, Walter Harriman suddenly appeared in the office. O'Neill lifted his head, and the look of utter despair etched into his features seemed infinite as he handed the single sheet of paper on to Walter, to add to the pile of papers the aid was already carrying. Then, not a second later, Walter left, his face falling into dejected lines as well, also caught by the camera, before Janet reached forward and turned off the tape. Static greeted them from the television set they had been watching.

Wow, Sam said, breaking the silence with her whisper. I had no idea that he was so...

Janet interrupted her. That was one defeated man, she told them. He gave up hope that day. His change in attitude made sense when I saw this video tape, but few saw it at all, though it was part of the video feeds in the Security office. It took me three hours to track down this tape before anybody else saw it, she told them. But I didn't want anyone to know what had caused him to... change... so suddenly. It kept everyone from looking at him with sympathy written all over their faces, on top of everything else.

Jack would have hated sympathy, Daniel noted from his place in the corner of the office.

But, that's why he behaved the way he did in the 'Gate Room, Jacob, and what prompted him to... to cling so tightly to Sam, Janet went on.

And that also explains such an unusual proposal of marriage, Teal'c pointed out. O'Neill is not typically so emotional.

Janet nodded her ascent to his first comment, and said No, he's not, to respond to his second statement.

Jacob waved them all silent then. My heart goes out to Jack, really it does... I mean, this reminds me of when Sam and Mark's mother died... But, what's it got to do with Sam and her future, if you don't mind me asking? He stared at the others in the office in belligerent silence.

Daniel, Janet piped up. Now might be a good time to show Jacob the tape of those Za'tarc tests. She moved forward, rewound the tape to the preordained settings, took the video from the VCR, returned it to its box, then on to the drawer she'd taken it from. With a snap, she shut the drawer, locked it, then beckoned. Okay, Sam, I think we have an exam to do before the General gets down here. Something tells me that I won't get him out once he gets into the Infirmary.

Sam grinned at the reference to Jack's persistent mannerisms, something that she had seen at countless times, and benefited directly from on more than one occasion, herself.

Teal'c sat on a chair near the Infirmary door, patiently waiting for either Dr. Fraiser to complete her examination, or General O'Neill to arrive in the Infirmary. Janet and Colonel Carter disappeared behind the medical curtains she had drawn around one of the Infirmary beds.

Okay Sam.., the doctor began. Let's drop the pants first, while we have the chance, she went on as she pulled a particularly long syringe off her tray of instruments resting beside the bed.

Sam grumbled good naturedly, and muttered, Now, this I didn't miss.

* * *

Daniel led Jacob into his own personal office, and closed the door behind them. What I'm going to show you... You can't tell anybody about this, Jacob. If you do, and some military dogooder gets ahold of this information, it could mean the end of both Sam and Jack's careers. He paused, then amended, Actually, I'm not sure that Jack would care, anymore. Then, he returned his gaze to the Tok'ra standing beside him. But, you get the right idea.

Yeah, yeah, tell no one, Jacob said. I was in the Air Force for years, after all. I know the drill.

This is top top top top secret, you know, Daniel cautioned. Only Janet and Teal'c were even in the room during these Za'tarc tests.

Jacob's forehead crinkled. 'Za'tarc...' That sounds like the Tok'ra test...

It is, Daniel told him right away. You were out on a mission at the time, or I'm sure you would have been here to help. But Anise was determined to test everybody herself. She was sure Sam and Jack were Za'tarc's, and the President was to be their intended target...

What does this have to do with my daughter? Jacob asked, his hands on his hips. Then, he amended, I mean to say 'my daughter's life right now?'

Anise was certain both she and Jack were Za'tarcs, Daniel reminded. They were both incarcerated in Holding Cells, and Janet planned to sedate them to keep them from becomming violent during the President's visit over the following few days. Jack chose to have his memory played with, instead, in hopes that it would help Sam in some way, and Janet was sedating Sam when she admitted that both she and Jack had lied on the original tests... Sam spoke to Jack, and they were both retested. I'll show you the original tests, as well as the retests. You have to remember that these tests happened four years ago. His voice took on a serious quality the more he explained.

Four years! Jacob said incredulously. I had no idea that Za'tarc testing was used in the SGC that long ago.

Daniel continued, I've been holding onto this tape ever since then, protecting it, like Janet was doing with her tape of Jack in his office.

That was more recent, right? Jacob ascertained.

Yeah, two weeks compared to four years ago, Daniel reminded him. Then, he opened a cabinet on his shelves, pulled out a video tape, then put it in his VCR.

A bare room appeared on the TV screen. Silently, Jacob and Daniel watched Jack's and Sam's original tests. Neither commented on either of them, as both tests appeared to be perfectly normal. The only 'unnormal' thing about them was that the machine declared that both subjects were lying when it was all over. Then, the image flipped, and the retests began. Anise's voice echoed through the space from somewhere off camera. The camera moved, and Jack, as the first of the pair to be retested, appeared strapped to the Za'tarc machine's chair. He answered all of Anise's questions, including many details of his team's visit to a new space ship being built by Apophis, the Goa'uld who simply would not die. His description of a force shield separating him and Sam led to his blunt confession of 'caring more than he should' for one of his subordinate officers, a severe no-no, as far as Jacob understood the rules and regulations of the Air Force to claim. However, despite the rules and what they proclaimed, Jack's confession was heartwrendingly warm as much as it was honest.

Then, Sam's voice came on the tape. She also described her team's visit to the new ship being made by Apophis. Obviously this was before he was killed, Jacob commented quietly. Killed the last time, he amended with the beginnings of a grin showing on his face.

Daniel nodded. I remember the armbands that Anise gave to us, using us as her own experimental lab rats... That was the start of all this...

Sh! Jacob demanded, intent on the testing records on the TV screen. Sam had reached the part in her monologue where she mentioned being separated from the Colonel by being caught on the wrong side of the force shield, cutting her off from her escape route. She instantly stated that she began begging the Colonel to leave before he too was caught and killed, or used as a Goa'uld host...

Sam, as the second to be retested, just repeated her CO's story, when the machine let her, though it didn't allow much repetition when all was said and done. Jack, Jacob guessed, had positioned himself behind the machine, out of the camera's viewing range, from the beginning, but his voice carried throughout the room, much as Anise's questions did. He said in a quiet voice, You're doin' good, Carter... Stay calm...

Anise spoke then, and continued by asking, Major Carter, once you were inside the ship, and set the C4 to blow up the power source... then what happened?

Sam answered, The armbands that you had given to us stopped working. Mine fell off just as I ran into a force shield, which stopped me from joining the Colonel on the other side. I collapsed, fell to the floor, and went unconscious for a few seconds as the armband fell off my arm. The Colonel tried to wake me by yelling my name, but then his armband fell off, too, and he fell unconscious as well. When I woke a few seconds later, I called out to him, and he woke again.

What happened then? Anise's disembodied voice blandly asked. The force shield was erected between the two of you... What did you do?

Sam's eyebrows rose to her hairline, but the head restriction she was wearing covered the action. I wanted the Colonel to leave me, but he refused to go.

Refused? Anise asked for clarification.

Sam gave her what she was looking for. He forced open the control panel for the shield, but didn't know how the controls worked to shut down the system. I begged him to leave, but he wouldn't go.

Anise asked, Why do you think he wouldn't leave?

We never leave a man behind, Sam proudly repeated the mantra of the SGC.

Is that the only reason? Anise requested.

Sam sat quiet for a moment, then said, He didn't want me to become captured and killed. We could both hear the footsteps of Jaffa approaching my position from behind me. I'm sure that he didn't want any part of his team being compromised in any way.

And you? Anise asked. How did you feel about the fact that he refused to leave you behind?

Sam swallowed, but answered the question, her voice slowly divulging, I... um... I couldn't stand the thought of him becoming a host... or being executed... because of me. Her voice trailed off. Sam swallowed again, but forced herself to continue, I... I just wanted him to go, but he refused.

Anise asked again, And how were you feeling then, as you stared at Colonel O'Neill, and he was unable to help you?

Sam's eyes flicked to the right for just a second, as she glanced at something beyond the camera's range. Then she replied, I just wanted him to go, and to leave me behind.

But Anise was relentless. Why?

Sam's eyes flicked to the right again, and she quietly tried to admit, Because... I... I... She struggled a bit against the bonds holding her hands to the chair she was sitting in, until she had wriggled into a more comfortable looking position, though that position seemed to do little to ease the anxiety she was obviously feeling. Her cloudy, worry infested gaze kept flicking aside, and the expression on her face grew more and more unnaturally neutral as time went on. She cast her gaze onto the floor, then tried answering a second time, Because...

When Sam's voice trailed off again, Anise mercilessly prompted, Why were you so desperate that he leave?

Sam's gaze rose again. I... I.., she spluttered. I... She sighed loud in the suddenly quiet room, and closed her eyes in regret to hide the pain she had to be causing the occupants in the room. God, this is so embarrassing! She looked beseechingly to the right a second time. Finally, her eyes cast down, she admitted, I care about him on a personal level way too much to watch him become a host because of me.

But Anise hesitated behind the machine. Are you sure you're not leaving something out? she queried.

Sam looked incredulous, and blurted, Does that darned machine still think I'm not telling the truth?

Anise didn't say anything, lest she somehow influence her test subject into revealing something in particular. But her silence clearly requested that the Major continue her confession.

It was Jack who replied to Sam's question. Yeah, it's looking for something more, Carter, he said a bit disdainfully, and Jacob could just envision the look of scorn adorning the Colonel's features. Jack had always felt distrustful of anything of Tok'ra design, and this Za'tarc incident hadn't done much to encourage a change in his opinion.

Sam rolled her eyes, the most emotion she could display of her growing disgust of the situation. But that's almost the exact same thing the Colonel said a few minutes ago! she protested.

The machine has adapted to the situation, Anise explained.

Carter's gaze was even more disbelieving. Machines aren't capable of 'adapting.'

All Za'tarc machines of good design are capable of adapting to a given situation, Anise patiently explained. It's a design enhancement made to keep subjects from repeatedly lying to save themselves perceived future unpleasantness. Her explanation sounded like she could sense that she was losing control of the procedure. She pulled everyone's attention back to the scene being dscribed by repeating, Why did you wish Colonel O'Neill to leave?

Sam sighed, and a look of dusgruntlement crossed her face. Because... She paused again. Her eyes flicked to the right once more, and this time, her face softened. Her expression continued to grow more and more gentle, and her eyes sparkled for a second. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, then blurted, I wanted him to go so badly because I'm... She cut herself off again. It was clear that what she wanted to say was difficult to voice, as well as it totally unnerved her. Her eyes closed even tighter, squinching shut against the bright lights in the room. She took one more deep breath. Okay, okay.., she harshly conceded in severe irritation. Because I'm in love with him, and the idea of him becomming a host is so horrible that... There were tears in the corners of her eyes, now. Dammit! she cursed. I can't stand by while he goes through something like that because of me! Not while I can do something to stop him, save him from his own good intentions!

Jacob was surprised at the emotion he saw roiling across his daughter's face before she studied the bland ceiling tiles above her, and was able to calm herself again. Then, she went on as if nothing had just happened. The blast that destroyed the force shield's power source disrupted the force shield enough to scatter the Jaffa coming down the corridor. The shield disappeared, and we were able to escape as we had intended. I tried lifting the pack that the naqueda was left in off the floor, and the Colonel instructed me to leave it there. Teal'c and Daniel joined us in running for the 'Gate, minus Daniel's armband. Teal'c cleared the way for us, dialed the 'Gate, and here we are.

Anise paused as she apparently studied the machine she was manning, took a breath, then declared, You are also not a Za'tarc.

There was the sound of some commotion off screen, then the Colonel came into view, hurrying forward to release Sam from her chair restraints, and the picture froze, then cleared as someone's hand flipped the camera to 'off.'

Daniel pushed the stop button on the VCR, hit rewind, then ejected the tape to return it to his shelf.

Jacob sighed, and rubbed his hand over his balding head. You're right, he told the younger Daniel. I can't say a word about this to anyone, but it does shed some light on the scene in the 'Gate Room. And it really didn't tell me anything that I didn't already suspect, anyway, I admit. He sighed once more, peering at Daniel. But I thank you for showing that to me.

Things make better sense, don't they? Daniel inquired as he returned the video tape to its shelf.

Uh, Jacob grunted. He joined Daniel as they prepared to return to the Infirmary. So, in your opinion, has Jack ever jeopardized Sam's career in any way? he asked. Has he ever done anything, or said anything, or...

Absolutey not, Daniel was able to emphatically deny. Jack's never said or done anything... before today, he admitted. Actually, the fact that he hasn't said anything to her, or anybody else, and she hasn't said anything to him, has caused quite a lot of problems lately.

Her engagement to this Shanahan fellow, Jacob said, and nodded in understanding.

Daniel didn't say anything, but his brows rose as if he completely agreed with what Jacob wasn't saying.

* * *

While Daniel was showing the Za'tarc tape to Jacob, there came a call to Sam through the curtain pulled around her bed in the Infirmary.

Hey, can I come in? asked Jack's voice. Are you decent in there?

Sam grinned, looked at the doctor, and couldn't resist saying, Janet's doing a striptease on top of the bed... You're missing it.

I've got to see this, Jack said, chuckling. Hey, Doc, you better get your clothes on; I'm coming in. He pushed the green curtain aside so that Sam's bed was open to the view of anybody who wanted to look. He studied Sam, then turned toward Janet. She check out all right, Doc? No weird space viruses, or alien bacteria growing under her fingernails?

Janet laughed in a small show of humor. None that I can see, General.

We're done then, Janet? Sam inquired, propping herself up on the bed with her hands, and looking eagerly at the doctor.

Well, Janet said, and clutched her ever-present clipboard as she studied Sam's test results displayed on it. I'd feel better if you explained... Instead of voicing her concerns herself, she reached up to the back of her friend's neck, and riffled aside the blonde hair. Take a look at this, Sir.

Jack's stomach clenched the minute she said that in conjunction with where she was feeling around on Sam's neck. With extreme trepidation, Jack slowly turned Sam's head so that the Goa'uld scar on the back of her neck was clearly visible. Jack drew in a breath. Doc?

Stay calm, Janet immediately instructed in a soothing voice. I've already done an MRI, and there's no evidence of any remains of a symbiote in Sam's system, she soothed.

Then... How..? Jack asked, his eyes piercing into Sam's blue gaze.

I can explain, Sam insisted.

Go ahead, Jack invited. And please don't tell me what I think you're going to tell me.

Sam sighed. I'm afraid... Sam guiltily glanced at Jack, at Janet, then sighed again in defeat. I'm afraid I'm going to tell you exactly what you don't want to hear, she admitted.

What happened, Sam? Janet asked, but Jack remained frighteningly silent.

Sam studied Jack's eyes, knowing how much he despised any evidence of a Goa'uld symbiote. Serious, Sam began talking in a quiet voice. I'll be as brief as I can, so that I don't keep you in suspense... The short version of the story: The Tok'ra lied to us about me needing to fix their naqueda generator. They simply knew that I couldn't resist looking at a naqueda anything... Actually, they needed me to volunteer for a secret mission that they couldn't risk telling even the SGC about. They needed a father/daughter team to infiltrate a village named Kam on the planet Thul, in Ba'al's domain. I look too much like my dad to ignore any of my possible contributions to this mission. We were to feret out, and try to stop, a Goa'uld host trade that was thriving on our equivilant of the black market... Long story short, after a month, we were captured by the same trading individuals we had been sent to uncover, and were sold to Ba'al, who then took great delight in turning me into a host.

Jack winced when she reached this part of her story, even though he tried to cover his reaction for her sake. It wasn't her fault that she had become a host, after all. The monotone voice she was using to recite these events told him without her having to tell him that the events she was relating were hard enough to recite already; he didn't need to make it any harder for her. Still, his instant dislike for all things Goa'uld was difficult to hide, especially when the description of events had been perpetrated on her.

My symbiot's name was T'lash, and he was the meanest bastard that I've ever had the misfortune to know. Sorry for my rather 'colorful' description, Sir, Sam apologized then, addressing him more formalyy to hide her revulsion at the event she was describing. She looked Jack straight in his eye, cleared her throat, then went on. But neither Dad nor I knew that the other had explosives strapped to their waist, which my Dad then used to destroy the engines of Ba'al's ship, which also created enough of a distraction for him to escape discovery. I also didn't know that he had some sedative strapped to his thigh right beside the hidden explosives, in case I was 'compromised,' and escape proved to be difficult. He shot me full of drugs, put me to sleep, much to my symbiote's arrogant distress, and dragged me back to the Tok'ra through a series of Stargates that was meant to, and did, confuse the hell out of anybody following us. Then, the Tok'ra removed my symbiote, let me recover for few days, debriefed us both, then sent me home. She looked at Jack and Janet. And here I am.

No symbiote? Jack asked, to make sure.

Sam sighed, but agreed, Nope, no symbiote. Only memories... as if I didn't have enough memories to contend with already. Sam's melancholy sigh sounded sad in the otherwise quiet of the Infirmary. But that's why I have an entry scar on the back of my neck.

Neither Jack nor Janet said anything immediately after Sam finished with her story. Janet was busy fighting back feelings of sympathy and pity for her friend, and Jack was too busy fighting a sudden wash of fury to say anything... fury at both Ba'al, and at the Tok'ra. Eventually, his mouth working back and forth to keep his more menacing tone at bay, Jack asked, So, you were sent on this mission because..?

Sam sighed again. To expose the host trade, and destroy it's leading agents, which we did when Dad blew up the engines of Ba'al's ship. We were able to escape through the ship's Stargate during the distraction of the exploding engines. Sam added, Those same trade agents were on board the ship at the same time. To Jack's and Janet's inquiring expressions, Sam then said, But even if those agents didn't go free in time to avoid the explosion, Ba'al escaped, I'm sad to say.

Jack asked another question. And what did the Tok'ra expect to happen if both you and Jacob were taken as hosts?

This was the question Sam had been afraid that he would ask, but she realized that he deserved to hear the truth from her. That, the Council admitted, was always a possibility, Sir. She again fell back on military habit, and called him by his more ceremonial name the second she had started making a formal report. She watched his eyes grow cloudier and cloudier with anger, and went on as a way to hopefuly distract him. That's why we were both equipped with enough explosive to take out a galaxy of ships. But because neither of us knew about the explosives the other was carrying, we couldn't be forced to divulge such information if we were taken over by symbiotes. That's why Dad was able to take out the ship's engines without my knowledge being infiltrated by T'lash. She stared straight at Jack's gaze. That precaution is why Dad was able to complete the mission, kill the head of the illegal trade, and save our skins.

What if he hadn't been able to do that? Jack asked next.

Sam sighed once more, her sound regretful now. I found out after we left that we might be taken over as hosts, and... We were both to be considered acceptable losses if that happened, Sir, Sam reported, knowing full well that this news wouldn't go over well with Jack.

She wasn't disappointed. Even as Sam watched, a look of steel seemed to penetrate Jack's gaze. And though he said nothing, Sam could tell by his rapid breathing that many words were struggling to reach passed his tight control. He flinched when she reached out to touch his arm, and at her shocked expression, said, Sorry... It's not you I'm mad at... It's not even your symbiote... With only those words that he was able to mutter, Jack stopped talking, took a breath, then as calmly as he could, walked over to the phone on the wall, and dialed the extension for the Control Room. Walter? he asked when the sergeant had picked up the ringing phone. Is Colonel Reynolds still in the Control Room? He received an affirmative reply, because he next asked to speak with his 2IC. His tone very tightly controlled, Jack then said, Reynolds, I'm turning over any future contact we might have with the Tok'ra to you. I don't trust myself not to blow any future treaty we make with them clear to Hell and back if I remain in charge of it, and that possible treaty's too beneficial to the rest of the world for me to screw things up now by saying something to them that I'll probably regret. The rest of the world's inhabitants don't need me to mess things up for them, and we so often need the Tok'ra's help with things. Jack paused as Reynolds spoke into the phone. Jack grimly smiled at whatever the man had said. Don't do anything about that... I'll call the President, and inform him of the change of plans, and why we mixed everything around. Anyway, I'll talk to you again after I calm down, so that I won't say anything stupid... Jack then hung up the phone, but continued to stare at the wall for a minute.

Jack's silence was so unnerving to Sam that she called over to him, Jack, please don't be angry at me for having to take on a symbiote, or...

Jack whipped around to pierce her gaze. I don't blame you at all.

I tried to think of you every time T'lash gave an order to anybody, Sam quietly confessed, then. I even managed to regain control of my body for a few seconds right at first... Apparently, the blending wasn't as complete as Ba'al thought. That was why the Tok'ra were so successful in removing T'lash in the end. Sam slipped to the floor, and crossed over to him. Jack, they did save my life.., she quietly pointed out then. We should be grateful to them for that, at least.

But Jack interrupted her. Yeah, but they only saved it after they had already decided to sacrifice you without your original knowledge or agreement... And I can't forget that...

It was only through their secrecy of the mission's details that it was successful at all, Sam halfheartedly pointed out. In truth, however, she agreed with Jack on his interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the covert mission.

But Jack wouldn't hear even her half hearted defenses. The Tok'ra purposefully allowed me to think that you were dead, when they knew perfectly well where you were. Jacob I'll continue to talk to, but even Selmak's pushing me at this point. Don't you try to defend them, too.

It was at this unfortunate moment that Daniel and Jacob entered the Infirmary, laughing at a joke that Daniel had just imparted. The sound of their merriment was particularly jarring after Sam's confession. However, their laughter died into strangled silence when they took in Jack's furious, but controlled, expression.

Daniel looked from Jack, to Sam, to Janet, and back again. What's going on here? he asked.

Before anyone could explain or say one more word, Jack was heading out of the Infirmary, calling over his shoulder, I have to call the President again. Daniel, Teal'c, if you lose sight of Sam, or don't know where she is by the time I get back, I'll probably do something to you that even Doc can't fix. Jacob, it's always good to see you, at least. I'll be in my office... With that, he was gone, swallowed up by the bustling personnel already in the corridor.

Jacob narrowed his eyes. What was that all about? he inquired.

Sam mimicked her father's worried expression, and answered, Dad, I told him about the mission...

Comprehension dawned across Jacob's face. Oh, he said, instantly understanding Jack's apparent problem.

He wasn't too happy about it, Janet added, clutching her clipboard again as if it were a weapon, or a shield set to defend herself against more unexpected wrath. And I don't exactly blame him.

Daniel's confusion was mounting. Janet, what do you know? What mission is Sam talking about?

Sam turned to her friend. Get comfortable, why don't you, Daniel, she suggested, an eye still turned to the Infirmary door. I'll tell you everything, but this could take awhile.

* * *

Jack sat, and tried hard not to stare at the red phone on the corner of his desk, but his eyes kept returning to check that it was still there no matter what event he concocted as an attempt to occupy his mind. His favorite distraction, of course, was Carter's return through the 'Gate. He loved the way she had walked so nonchalanty down the ramp, as of she'd just been on an extended vacation, and was saying 'Hi' to all her old friends once more. In reliving that particular scene, he experienced over and over again his initial shock at seeing her strolling form from the Briefing Room window. He thrilled once more at the way his heart had seemed to skip several beats when he had reached the door to the 'Gate Room, only to stand there, staring at Sam in disbelief. The relief he'd felt course through him shored up his belief in himself that his resignation and/or retirement had been the right promise to make, in spite of its hasty suggestion. Even if he'd had hours to think on it, he still would have reached the same conclusion; in order for him to be with Sam... and there was no WAY he was going to accept anything less at this point... he had to leave the military. Now, all he had to do was convince the President and the Joint Chiefs that it was the correct course of action for him to take.

But the President was busy at the moment, meeting with his passel of advisors on some crisis or other brewing in the Middle East, or South America, or somewhere, and he had not been free to take Jack's second phone call that day. So, Jack waited, relatively impatiently, and stared at the phone he was wishing to be talking on. He would much rather be ensconced with Carter at his side in the Infirmary, but that phone call to the President was important enough for him to leave her momentarily in Janet's care once again. He considered calling the Infirmary, letting them know what was taking him so long, and he gave in to that impulse a second later, dialing the Infirmary extension from his memory, illustrating how often he'd had need to call the Infirmary over the years.

Jack spoke to Janet, naturally, and not Sam herself, but even the association to Sam gave him some comfort. Doc, hi, it's the General... I know she's fine, and all that, but... Hey, now, don't get cocky... Jack scowled, then. I am not calling to check up on the two of you, either! You sound like I don't trust you or something. Jack's scowl deepened as he could hear what had to be sounds of laughter coming over the handset. Oh, ha, ha, very funny... I am not... Look, Doc, I just called to say that this phone call to the President might take longer than I expected, and I think it would be a good idea for Carter and her Dad to come on up to my office after you're done with her in the Infirmary. He listened intently for a second, then grimaced. You tell Daniel that I'm not going to 'let myself go haywire,' and... Jack listened again, then he visibly brightened. She did? A third bout of listening occurred. You are? He paused a fourth time. Well, send them up, why don't ya? With this last bout of listening, Jack's scowl returned. No, I'm not going to lose my temper, I promise! Well, then, tell her to bring him up here, and listen to what I have to say if he doesn't trust me! He paused, then said his goodbyes, Yep, later, Doc. After a second, the phone call ended.

Jack was in the middle of filling out the forms that would return Colonel Carter to work in the Science Department, though he wasn't quite ready to put her back on the mission rotation just yet. She needed time to get used to a Human work schedule again, or so he told himself. Actually, he simply wanted to keep Carter on base now that she was here. In fact, he expected to discuss her future duties sometime in the next few moments. He anticipated that she would want to get back into the swing of things as quickly as possible, but he didn't think that he was ready for that just yet.

It was only a few minutes later that Jack heard a slight tap on the doorframe leading into the Briefing Room. He motioned through the window of the starfield to the three standing in the Briefing Room that he was free, and accompanied the wave with a call to, Come in already, Daniel!

True to Jack's prediction, Daniel was the first person of three to enter his office. Jack.., Daniel said in greeting.

Daniel.., Jack answered, and nodded his head. But he turned that polite, but emotionally restrained greeting into a smile wide enough to rival the Grand Canyon in size when Sam entered his office right behind the archeologist.

In response to the obvious regard on Jack's face, Daniel rolled his eyes, and retorted, Well, we know who you like...

Jack couldn't quite regain the scowl he'd had a moment before. Oh, I like you just fine, Daniel, he said as he rose from behind his desk to walk around the piece of furniture. He didn't give Sam the chance to do much of anything besides follow Daniel into his office before he enveloped her in a big hug. Wow! he said into her shoulder. I still can't quite believe that you're here, after all this time. He sighed, a slightly sad sound. I keep expecting this to all be dream, and you'll disappear again when I blink, or something.

Sam also couldn't stop the grin that erupted across her features at Jack's uncharacteristic overture of affection. You can blink... I'm not going anywhere.

Jack did pull back when she said that. Actually, that's what I kind of wanted to talk to you about while I'm waiting for the President to call back.

Well, sighed Daniel. This sounds intriguing... Mind if I wait with you, and listen in on what's sure to become good base gossip?

Jack grimaced at Daniel's mention of gossip. But he was used to being the center of more tall tales than the typical Goa'uld... not that there were many of those particular aliens left in the galaxy. Of the few left, Ba'al knew a great many of them, and, naturally, Sam had come in contact with of those that Ba'al knew. Jack sighed as well, shaking his head in regret that any of this had happened to Sam in the first place, then retraced his steps to practically fall into his chair.

Sam gave one glance toward Jack, then reached for the black phone sitting on his desk's right corner. Commisary.., she instructed after she had dialed an operating extension. Then, she crisply ordered, Please send a dozen donuts up to General O'Neill's office... Thanks. She hung up the phone as Jack looked on in faint astonishment. What? she finally asked as she returned the handset to its cradle.

A dozen? he questioned.

She shrugged. Well, when was the last time you ate? she rhetorically asked. And you know how Daniel eats when he gets excited, and starts talking about...

Hey! Daniel interrupted in an aggrieved tone of voice. I'm not going to get excited, and..!

Daniel, Jack wearily pointed out, You always get excited.

Daniel considered Jack's comment. Well... True, I guess.

Jacob broke into the conversation as Daniel leaned against the doorjamb while he listened. Jack... Daniel... Sam...

Daniel's face suddenly split into a wide grin. Hey, Jack, I never realized how our names sound like 'Jack Daniels' brand of whiskey when they're both run together...

Jacob sighed, aggravated. Cute, he said in a voice that indicated that what Daniel had just said wasn't funny at all. As much as I would not like to talk about alcoholic beverages... We have to decide what's going to happen to Sam now that she's here, and...

I don't want to go off world anymore, Sam cut in on her father's commentary before he even had the chance to finish.

Jack's eyebrows rose. It was, admittedly, what he would have preferred that she do, but he didn't want to encourage such a decision, either. You don't? he asked, to be sure of what she was saying.

Sam was firmly shaking her head. I've had enough.

But, Sam, Jacob softly said. What about your career, which direction you want it to go, and...

Sam cut him off. I've thought about it... Not just in the Infirmary, Dad! she protested before he could even voice an objection. I've been thinking about this for a long time, and... She turned to stare at Jack. I know how unhappy you've been the last few months. She raised her own brow. Janet mentioned it, too, she explained, then went on, not giving anyone a chance to interrupt her a second time, and talk her out of this new decision. SG-1 will be on downtime for awhile, anyway, and...

SgG-1 was officially disbanded a month ago, Jack told her, cutting her off.

Sam glanced at him in surprise, but it was Jacob who barked, What?

Jack sighed, regretful again. You two should try to understand what it's been like here while you were gone.

Jacob immediately, and dangerously, said, I'm beginning to see the whole picture...

See, now there you go, Jacob, Jack said as he leaned back in his chair. You don't have the entire picture at all.

Jacob tried to bark a laugh. We were only gone for two months! he declared. There have been dozens of missions where you've been gone longer, he began to argue.

Jack broke in, Yeah, true, but we had no idea that you were even on a mission for the damned... He stopped himself from saying the name 'Tok'ra' just in time. He swallowed his words, then in a softer tone, continued, We pronounced that Sam was dead, okay, Jacob? We had a memorial service, the whole shebang.

Daniel shrugged, The service was nice, he noted in a dispassionate voice. Jack cried.

Jack turned to scowl at his friend. So did you. What's your point? he harshly asked, embarrassed to let the others know how deep his feelings ran on this particular subject, and his tone was brusque because of it.

Daniel shrugged again. Nothing, nothing, he said, then invited, Go on...

Thank you, Jack retorted. Now, as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted... He turned back to face the two family members seated before him. SG-1 was disbanded right before the memorial service, and...

I want to work in my lab, if it's still there, and still mine, Sam said, interrupting him, not really wanting to hear about her own memorial service. Is it?

Jack grunted once. Is it still what? I mean, which? he inquired in order to clear up his sudden confusion.

Mine, Sam answered in a small voice that was growing smaller by the second. The longer Jack took to answer her question, the more concerned she became.

Jack sighed. We put all your stuff in storage, just in case...

Damn, Sam whispered, and sat back to lean into her chair, tears swimming in her bright blue eyes.

I'm sorry, Jack whispered back. Then he shook his head, fighting his own surge of teary emotions with the action. It didn't matter how embarrassed he got... A distressed Sam always brought out the deepest emotions inside him, and always would. Jack decided that it was entirely the Tok'ra's fault that both he and Sam had become such saps over the course of the day. But you don't know how awful it's been here, not knowing.., he started to point out.

I'm beginning to realize how awful it was for you, Sam said a little louder as she cleared her throat of the feelings clogging her wind pipe, and blinked back her tears. She was doing her best to be brave for Jack's sake.

Sam... Jack crossed in front of his desk to wrap his arms around her again, and to gently say, I am sorry, but...

No, that's all right, Sam was saying as she returned his hug without even thinking about how such an action would look on the security camera in his office when Jacob again interrupted.

That's the first time I've ever heard you call her 'Sam,' he announced to Jack, sounding slightly astonished. Except for in the 'Gate Room...

And it won't be the last, Jack firmly stated as he just knelt in front of Sam's chair, and held her.

Sam sniffed. But, she started, What about..? Why's Teal'c still here, then, if SG-1 is gone?

Yeah, Daniel said with a furrow carved into his forehead. Why is that, Jack? I would have thought he would have returned to Chulak by now to keep fighting for the Jaffa. I never did understand what he was doing...

A guilty expression crept like a shadow across Jack's face. I... um... might have asked him to stay on for awhile, he admitted then. Just a few weeks... or months, he corrected, and leaned back, but didn't take his hands away from clenching Sam's fingers in his own.

Daniel jerked in surprise. A few months? he asked to doublecheck that he had heard right.

Jack shrugged this time. I thought I had lost Sam; I couldn't stand the thought of losing Teal'c, too, he said.

Jacob glared at Jack. Don't you think that was a bit selfish of you? he inquired.

Jack glared back from his place in front of Sam's chair. He harshly regarded Jacob. Of course it was selfish of me! he snarled. But what would you have had me do instead? he asked. Teal'c's presence was one of the few things that kept me sane enough to even pretend to do my job these last few weeks, he divulged. If he had left, and Daniel had chosen to become a member of another team...

I didn't know I had that option, Daniel softly announced.

Jack regarded him. Would that have made any difference to you? he asked.

Daniel thought about his answer before he gave it. Noooo, he slowly said. I wanted to stay here, so that I could be close, in case... He paused with a troubled look thrown in Sam's direction. When she gazed at him, clearly waiting for him to finish, he suddenly exclaimed, Well, it's one thing to think you've lost someone because of... Well, because of who knows what! Then he sighed regretfully. It's something else to actually ask to leave.

Jack sighed again. He turned back to look at Sam, and said once more, I'm sorry about your lab.

Sam sighed as well. You didn't know.., she started to say. She heaved another sad sigh. If only the Tok'ra had told you what was really going on...

Jacob informed, The Council felt that secrecy was more important than...

Sam whipped her head in her dad's direction, and in a stealy voice, claimed, There is no excuse for what they did! Secrecy is a bad reason for letting Jack think... She managed to stop herself when she drew in a sudden, deep breath of air. Dad, I know this puts you in a rather awkward position, but I have to question the decision about us made by the Council...

Jacob turned to glare at Jack. See what you've done? he rhetorically inquired, incensed. She never second guessed what we had to do to get our jobs done until you...

Sam grimaced. I second guessed the Tok'ra all the time, she divulged. At Jacob's surprised expression, added, I just never said anything about it before now.

Jacob replied, That may be, but... He sighed again, finally gving in to his emotional frustration and sense of reluctance to discuss this topic any further. All right, let's leave this alone for now. We're too emotionally charged on this subject, I think...

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of the requested box of donuts, and for a few minutes, there was a bigger debate about who wanted to eat a glazed donut versus a frosted one from Jack and Jacob. So another topic was smoothly introduced by the Tok'ra agent. Sam... or Jack, I guess... what are you planning to do about this Pete character who Sam was going to marry until about three hours ago?

Sam answered first. I made the decision not to marry him much longer ago than three hours, Dad.

Jacob turned to regard her out of wary eyes. You did?

Hesitant now, Sam divulged, Yeah. Then she took a deep breath and explained, At least a month ago, I decided to end it if we ever got back. He's not the right person for me to... She swiveled her vision to stare at Jack, and swallowed uncomfortably. I mean, it wouldn't be fair to... At last, she capitulated to her own emotions. Dad, it just wasn't going to work out.

Jacob sighed a breath of obvious relief then. Thank goodness you realized that before it was too late!

Sam gaped at her father. If that's what you really thought, then why didn't you tell me?

Jacob riposted by making his own statement, Probably for the same reason why Jack didn't say something, either to me, or to you.

Jack's eyes regarded Sam across the donut and cup of coffee in his hands. Well, he said, not totally able to deny his internal misgivings about discussing this topic. I decided early on that it was always up to Sam as to who she should marry, and who could make her happy.

Daniel gave a quiet snort of disgust, but didn't say anything.

Sam studied the floor for a moment, pensive. Finally, she admitted, I guess I need to run up to Denver sometime today or tomorrow...

Jack interrupted her this time. I'll go with you.

At his announcement, Sam immediately negated the need for his magnanimous move. You don't have to go...

Jack stopped her comments. This has nothing to do with me being jealous, or anything. Daniel softly gave another snort from his corner by the door. Jack ignored him, and continued talking to Sam. If you think I'm going to let you drive all the way to Denver without me, think again, he said. I don't care what's the reason behind this trip...

Jack, Sam said again, trying to dissuade him. Please, this can only be unpleasant for you, and...

I don't care, Jack instantly told her. I'm going. End of story.

Sam sent a grateful glance at him, then. If you don't think it will bother you...

Of course it will bother me, Jack said then. But letting you out of my sight for an entire day will bother me more.

Sam looked grateful again, and Jacob looked amazed. Trying to play the Devil's Advocate, though, he asked Sam, Aren't you just a little distressed about this... um... forced companionship... for want of a better phrase? He wiped his mouth and fingers on a provided napkin. I mean, you've always been so independant, and...

Dad, Sam patiently began. I have been independant in the past, she agreed. But I'm tired, she reported. Tired of always being alone, tired of being expected to be...

But that's what this marriage was supposed to end, Jacob pointed out, still arguing the other side of the issue. Not that I want to see you marry Pete over Jack, or anything... I just want you to be happy... But I also just want to point out that you have other options, here.

Sam once more stared at the carpet under her boots. Thanks, she said in a low voice. I guess I should be glad about that. But... Here, she lifted her head to gaze at Jack. She heaved a tired sigh again. I've done nothing but make a really big mess out of all this... She swallowed, not meeting any of their gazes. And I want to apologize before I say anything more. She had to work around the lump in her throat when she swallowed again. But...

That's when the red phone rang on the corner of Jack's desk.

Saved by the bell, Daniel quietly said.

Jack scowled at him again, but rose, and walked back to his desk to lean nonchalantly on its edge, cross his ankles, then lift the receiver, and say, O'Neill, while still keeping a firm hold on Sam's fingers. He stared at the far wall without seeing anything before suddenly saying, I don't think you know how serious that rumor is, Mr. President... Yeah... No, he continued. That won't work. I have another engagement tomorrow...

Daniel rolled his eyes, and couldn't help but quietly say, In a manner of speaking...

Sam kicked the toe of his right boot to shut him up.

Jack went on, not listening to his friend. How about Wednesday? He paused again, then repeated, 10:30... He glanced at Sam, as if telling her by some unspoken method that she needed to help him remember the time of their future appointment with the President. You're sure that works for you? he asked. Okay... 10:30, Washington, Wednesday... We'll be there... Thank for for meeting with us on such short notice. See you then. Jack hung up. Before he'd even had the chance to remove his hand from the receiver, he grimaced and shook his head. Forgot to mention the Tok'ra thing... Or the retirement thing... Damn.

It'll give you something to talk about on Wednesday, Daniel immediately commented.

Jack glanced at Sam. Hope you're up to flying to Washington on Wednesday to meet with the President.

Sam tried to look nonchalant, as if she met with the President every day. Oh, sure, she said. Do that all the time.

Daniel joked, You're always jetting off to Washington...

He serves the best donuts, Jack told them.

Daniel waved a hand towards Jack as if to say that settled everything. Well, there you go, eat breakfast and talk to the President all at the same time...

Jack chose that moment to say, Daniel, Jacob, do you mind waiting outside for a minute? I really need some free time to talk to Sam alone. The serious tone of his voice let them know that his question was really a command more than a suggestion.

And so it starts, Daniel commented. But he rose to put all his weight on his feet. Fancy a cup of coffee in the Commissary, Jacob? he asked.

The Tok'ra stood as well. Don't mind if I do, he answered. Besides, I want another one of those glazed donuts... They disappeared out into the corridor.

Jack now looked straight at Sam in the silent office. He didn't exactly hide how the quiet that followed in the wake of the two men suited him. He breathed a sigh of relief. I don't know how long it's been since we've been alone.

Sam fidgeted in her chair. It's never been a good idea for us to be alone together, she pointed out.

Sam, we need to talk, Jack said without a prelude to lead into the subject.

Sam stared down at her hand encased in his. We've never been very good at talking, either.

But this was the one time that Jack didn't plan to back down, or circumvent the topic he'd brought up. Striking the subject right on the nose, he asked, You sure this is what you want to do about Shanahan?

Jack! Sam exclaimed, but her voice was only slightly raised.

Well? Jack prodded.

Are you sure that you want to come with me? she asked instead of answering his question. Because you sure don't have to if...

Sam, there is no way that I'm letting you go all the way up to Denver by yourself.

Sam smiled at him, just a hint of a challenge in her gesture. Don't trust me?

No, that's not it.

Don't trust Pete not to get angry? she asked next.

Jack sighed, and he granted, That's how I would react if I lost you, I admit... Actually, that's how I did react... His voice trailed off. No, not that, either, he said then. I just...

What?

Jack sighed again, and also studied the carpet under his feet. At last, he explained, I just can't let you out of my sight yet. He said, It's not you I don't trust, or even that Pete fella... In this case, anyway... As much as I hate to say it... He paused and gathered his thoughts together. I just don't trust in fate, that's all, he finally admitted. I keep thinking that you'll disappear again. I mean, you only got back a few hours ago! You've been gone for over two months!

Sam continued to direct her gaze at the floor. She quickly said, I'm so sorry for that, Jack, and...

Sam, Jack stopped her. He cradled her arms in his hands, and stared at her. God, I missed you, he whispered in a wrenching voice.

Sam did stare at him this time. I thought about you a lot over these last two months, she divulged. Then she looked down again to guiltily admit, That was why I decided to end things with... She heaved a deep breath, then confessed, I couldn't marry one person when I spent all my time thinking about someone else. She sounded completely miserable when she voiced her thoughts.

Sam, Jack interrupted again, his voice low, whispery, cajoling, but intense. You don't have to feel like you need to marry me, then, just to...

She interrupted him as well. But that's just it, she said in a quiet voice. I want to marry you. She stopped, blinked, and grimaced. Even if I know that wanting such a thing is really inconvenient in the long run. I mean...

Sam...

She cut him off. Will you shut up for half a second, here, she ordered, her eyes still firmly closed.

Sam, Jack said anyway, hauling her into his waiting embrace for a third time that hour. You don't have to say anything you don't want to say.

Sam was crying now, and it was so unusual for Sam to cry that the action captured Jack's complete attention without her even trying. That's just it... You... She took another breath. I'm trying to tell you that I still love you, and I... But she couldn't go on, as her tears and wrenching sobs kept getting in the way of her voicing a declaration of any kind, but especially an emotional kind.

Sam, don't, Jack whispered in her ear, his hold on her growing even tighter. You don't have to feel like...

Are you being dense on purpose? she asked then into the shoulder of his BDUs.

I don't think so, Jack responded, as she made a soggy mess out of his uniform. Then he changed his mind about telling her the truth as to what he was feeling. Maybe I am being dense. He closed his own eyes. And maybe I'm being that way on purpose. He looked down at her belligerant, tear streaked face and had to smile sofly at the incongruity of it all. He said, Maybe now would be a good time to stop being so dense...

I wish you would.., Sam whispered next to him.

But Jack continued, trying to explain his actions to her. He gave a sigh of frustration, then said, I just have this horrible feeling that you'll go away again. He sniffed, and her special scent filled his senses. I have to be honest, and admit that I never thought I'd see you again, smell you, talk to you... And that was driving me insane!

Sam recalled the video that she had seen in Janet's office earlier that day. I know, and I'm sorry, she whispered.

Don't be sorry about that, Jack began. It's not your fault.

Sam sniffed back her tears, and continued to whisper, If it weren't for the security camera, and the idea of getting you into trouble by giving guys like Kinsey exactly what they've been waiting for all these years, I'd kiss you right now. I don't care anymore about rules, and regulations, and...

Jack grinned down at her hair. He smoothed it aside while saying, I don't care about them, either. It seems pretty silly to care about rules when you've been gone for so long. It was then that he just couldn't restrain himself a second longer, and kissed her on her upraised forehead, moving slowly down to her cheek, and finally on to her lips.

The kiss was one illustrating more affection than desire, but Sam indulged in her feelings for him, anyway. Still, the gesture was short enough to be over in another second, even as Jack's hands gently cupped her tear-streaked cheeks, holding her close as he bent his head to seal his lips over hers for a second time in his own sense of emotional upheaval, and...

That was when a knock on the door interrupted both their shared display of affection and their talk. But Jack didn't jerk away from Sam as if he'd been caught doing something wrong. He leisurely pulled back, kissing Sam for as long as he could reach her. Yet, even at the insistent knock that sounded again on his office door leading into the corridor, he smiled lazily at Sam, cradled her tightly in his arms, and whispered, I love you. Only then did he call out to the intruder, Come in, and Walter, this had better be good!

The door to the hallway swung open to reveal Teal'c standing framed in the door. It is not Sergeant Harriman, O'Neill, but I can leave if you are busy discussing recent events with ColonelCarter. He stood in an easy stance in the doorway, even though he had wallked in on a potentially embarrassing scenario brewing in the office.

Jack wrapped his arms more firmly around Sam, and Sam did the same with her arms around his waist. Despite the situation they had been undeniably caught in, neither of them appeared to be chagrined about the proceedings in any way. No... Don't feel like you're interrupting anything, Jack quickly said. He went on, Did you need something, Teal'c?

Teal'c graciously bowed his head, and gave an enigmatic Jaffa smile. DanielJackson said in the Commissary that the two of you were up here 'talking,' and that I might want to make sure that ColonelCarter is still in good medical condition... Dr. Fraiser was showing some concern earlier...

Sam cut him off. She grinned, and said, You can tell Janet that I couldn't be better. She shot Jack a look of appreciation, then gave him an obvious hug with her arms still wrapped around his torso. There was little guesswork necessary as to her reason why she was feeling so good.

Teal'c bowed his head once again. I will tell her so. He smiled a small smile, turned to leave, but Jack stopped him.

Hey, T... I don't suppose you can do me a favor?

Teal'c paused, and faced them again. I will endeavor to be of service in whatever way, O'Neill.

Jack grinned. You don't have to be so formal, T. It's not like you caught us doing a striptease together on the desk, or anything... I was wondering if you can tell Walter for me that I need to clear the next few day's appointments off my calendar. Something urgent has come up, and I need to fly to Washington D.C. tomorrow. Well, it was the truth... He was flying to Washington tomorrow... technically. But that I want to leave Colonel Reynolds in charge while I'm gone.

Teal'c started to bow his head for a third time, then remembered his friend's earlier caution against too much formality, and instead said, As you wish, O'Neill. I will tell him immediately.

Thanks, T, Jack said as the big Jaffa backed out the door. And that I'll call him after we see The President the next day to tell him what's been decided, and what's going to happen next. His raised voice followed Teal'c's form out into the hall. And tell him that I love the donuts here! And did I mention that I think it's great that we got Sam and Jacob back? But Teal'c had already closed the door behind him.

Sam smiled ruefully at him. Thinking of Jack's precipitous marriage proposal in the 'Gate Room only a few hours before, in front of about everyone on the base, she said in sarcastic affection, I think everyone knows that you're glad about us being back, Jack... have no fear about that!

Go on to Part II


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