Disclaimer: Don't own them... Don't sue me.

A/N A scene extension of the 10th season episode 'The Road Not Taken.'

What if..?

by Linda Bindner

Sam sighed, the sound reverberating in the quiet lab. It was the first time that she had been alone for at least two days, and she was glad of the quiet. It soaked into her bones through her pores, relaxing her neck in the same way that only Jack's neck rubs usually had any effect. But Jack wasn't here at the moment, she reminded herself. Alone until she was able to return to her own reality, she tilted her head back, kneading her own knuckles into the tired muscles that she felt at the back of her neck.

The stray thought about Jack brought him prominently to her mind again. She hadn't seen him for over a week now, even in her own reality, and she was relatively certain that General Landry had probably informed him of her sudden disappearance, either through regular reports detailing the original incident, or a more personal, clandestine phone call to Jack's Washington office. Jack had always kept tabs on what was happening to his old team members at any given time, but she knew he kept especially close tabs on her. In spite of his obvious concern for her, she hadn't heard any more rumors than the normal ones regarding the two of them. She had certainly heard nothing to indicate the state of their relationship, nor, in particular, their year old marriage. It was still a safe secret from the personnel of the SGC.

Sam sighed again, noting with a frown that puckered her forehead how strange it was that she hadn't heard his name mentioned yet in the alternate version of her reality. Even though he was assigned to Washington D.C. now instead of the Stargate complex in Colorado Springs, barely a day went by when she didn't overhear a conversation about him in some capacity, usually in the Commissary, and usually concerning either his good looks, or the miracles he and his team had performed on past missions. The game of 'Name that Overheard Mission' was one of her old team's favorite pastimes while eating in the Commissary this past year.

But now, there was nothing, no mention of stories, no gossip, no mission reports being read aloud... nothing. It was as if Jack O'Neill didn't exist in this time period. For a second, Sam considered that possibility, but he had been so integral a part of her own reality that she had a tough time believing that he just didn't exist in this one.

So, suddenly determined to prove this new theory of hers wrong, she made up her mind to search for his name on the Internet, at least. She could do that without exciting too much interest in why she wanted to know his whereabouts. That had been the reason why she hadn't asked about him in the first place, but no one would keep tabs on where she surfed the Internet on her computer in her own lab.

With one eye trained on the security camera in the corner, attached to the ceiling, mindful of its ever present watching, she first called up the schematics of the Prometheus, making sure that her computer screen and keyboard were both visible to the camera. She pretended to get lost in the ship's schematics that came up, and several quiet moments passed. After what she deemed as an appropriate amount of time to grow uncomfortable, she began shifting on the stool she had drawn close to her lab table. She turned her computer at an angle that was even more towards the camera at one end of her lab. Then she turned the computer the other way. She played with her mouse, clicking the buttons on nothing, though it appeared to anyone else that she was looking something up on the schematics, or moving something... It didn't matter what she did, only that it looked to the general observer like she was hard at work on something. When she was sure that enough time had gone by, with her staring intently at what was an empty screen on her computer, but as it was turned so much away from the security camera, those watching her would have no idea what she was really doing, a second later, she had typed the name 'General Jonathan James O'Neill' and the term 'Air Force' into Google search, and sat back to wait for some results to appear.

There was no record of a General Jonathan O'Neill, period, Air Force officer or not. Stymied for a moment, Sam sat back and silently analyzed the problem to herself.

That was when she had the idea that since no one had mentioned him to her, it must have been several years, at least, since he and she had been connected to the same team, so she looked up 'Colonel Jonathan O'Neill' and 'Air Force' in the same search. This time, her search was much more rewarding... so to speak.

There he was, 'Colonel Jonathan O'Neill, Air Force,' on the first entry, dated June 8, 1994. She clicked on it, brought it up to find a short file filling her screen, the words 'top secret operative' at the top of his Air Force personnel file, right next to the word 'deceased' beside it.

With no warning, Sam felt intense cold shroud her heart for a moment. Holy Hannah... she thought. Oh God, he's dead. For a moment, her eyesight blurred, and tears threatened to slip from her lashes to run in streams down her cheeks, even though she knew that logically this event hadn't transpired in her own world. At the last minute, she remembered that she was supposed to be looking at the schematics of the Prometheus, and that nothing she would find there would make her cry. So, she blinked, pretended that she had gotten some dust in her right eye, and brushed the tears away.

But her heart was still thudding in her chest, no matter what she pretended to do. Pain swamped her, and for a scary moment, she couldn't breathe. She had to force a deep breath through her nose in order to remain calm enough to continue her search.

Still shaking, she forced herself to think about what she had uncovered. Jack had died in 1993... She and he had never even met... Which would explain why she had married Rodney McKay. If she had never met Jack, then she didn't know what it was really like to love somebody... She would have been rather enthralled by the scientific conversations she could have had with McKay, no matter how annoying she had originally found him to be.

She read the entire file that actually detailed very little about Jack's death, besides noting that he had died on a secret mission that was still considered classified by the Air Force, was buried in the Owens Cemetery in Colorado Springs, CO, and that he had been survived by his wife, Sara, and ten year old son, Charles O'Neill.

Sam gave a start on her chair. Charlie was alive in this timeline? It wasn't something she had considered when she started this search. Quickly, she copied the cemetery information down on a post-it note that came from a stack next to her computer, and stuffed the note in the pocket of her BDUs before she cleared the screen, and started another search for 'Charles O'Neill, Colorado.'

First up was what had been a newspaper article titled 'Three Teens Die in One-car Accident.' Her heart stopped again as she called up the information with two fast clicks of her mouse.

She quickly read through the article that appeared on her screen, and within reading four lines, she knew that Charlie had been sitting in the rear seat of a vehicle driven by eighteen-year-old Brady Carlisle when the car had spun out of control on a country road in winter, and run into a ditch, that Charlie hadn't been wearing his seat belt at the time, and that he'd been seventeen years old when he died.

Oh, Jack, were the sorrowful words that spun through Sam's mind. I'm so sorry. Jack was listed as a predeceased relative, and Charlie's place of internment was beside his parent in the Owens Cemetery in Colorado Springs. Sam spent five minutes doing nothing but staring at the boy's picture, what had obviously been a high school photo taken the year before, next to pictures of the two other boys who had died that snowy day in November.

Sam gazed in morbid interest at Charlie's picture. He had been the spitting image of Jack, right down to the mussed hair that Sam had always loved on the father. Spots of acne showed on Charlie's cheeks, and nothing had marred the father's skin, but other than that, he could have been Jack O'Neill, thirty years ago.

With shaking fingers, Sam asked the computer to print a copy of the article, then she made it easy to see that she had folded the pieces of paper, and stuffed them next to the note in the pocket of her BDUs. Then she grabbed her lab's phone book of greater Colorado Springs, looked up and copied down the address of the Owens Cemetery, dialed a cab, and had left the confines of her mountain complex laboratory, after wiping all traces of her search from the computer, and shutting down the entire system. A quick side trip later to Daniel's office to grab several sheets of rubbing paper, pencils, and instructions in one of his old notebooks on how best to go about making an impression of a stone meant for later study, she headed to the outside of the mountain.

With barely held breath, she started the elevator towards the surface, noting in her peripheral vision that she was of an uncommon interest to an unknown airman in the atrium, and of another once she had reached the surface. Cautious, she gave the address for a mall she was familiar with to the cab driver, got out once she had arrived at her chosen destination, and called another cab from a different company fifteen minutes later from the other side of the mall. Her precautionary moves paid off, as the car that had followed the first cab that she had taken to the mall had remained in the mall parking lot, where its occupants were trying to unobtrusively wait for her to return through the same mall entrance on her way out. What they never thought would happen was that she had made her way to a different entrance than the one she had used before, and the cab she requested was a different color than the one she had previously used as well. She gave the address for the Owens Cemetery, and had the satisfaction of driving right by the parked car and its two occupants, their eyes trained uselessly on the mall entrance, waiting for her when she was on their other side, watching them watch for her. She grinned, in spite of the unpleasant mission she was undertaking.

The wind scuttled dead leaves across the cemetery grounds when the cab she had hired arrived, and deposited her at the cemetery entrance ten minutes later. She asked the cab's driver to wait for her, no matter how long it took for her to locate the place she was looking for. She needn't have worried about time, as she found the gravestones without any trouble over the first hill she trudged down.

There they were, the name 'O'Neill' emblazoned in large letters at the top of both headstones. Sam stared at Charlie's grave first, doing her best to imprint a picture of his final resting place in her mind. She noted the color of the gray headstone, the way the grass seemed to grow a bit shabbier the closer to the stone she walked, and the wilted flowers that must have been placed there by Sara some time ago, looking lifeless in their previous purple splendor. She traced the name 'Charles Jack O'Neill Born May 27 1984, Died Jan 6 2001' with her fingertip, and reverently touched the rough top of the stone as she leaned down to read 'Beloved son of Jonathan and Sara O'Neill' followed by 'May He Be At Peace.'

Carefully, Sam made the rubbing that she wanted to use to remember the words carved on the headstone, then pulled the two folded papers out of her trouser pocket, and slipped all the papers inside her sock in her combat boot, so that there was no possibility of anyone finding them, should she be searched upon her return. Only then did she turn her attention to the second, older grave beside Charlie's.

Flowers graced this grave, too, and they were also dead, like the gray day that seemed to wrap around her in perpetual gloom. Sam stared at the name before her, reading 'Jonathan (Jack) O'Neill, born Oct. 2, 1950, died June 2, 1994, An Honor To His Country.' Her fingers traced the letters belonging to his name much more solemnly than the name of the boy she had never known situated next to Jack's grave. She paused on the word 'Jack' for just a moment, and tears that she logically knew were superfluous swam again in her eyes. This time, she let them slide down her cold cheeks, and blur her eyesight so that she had trouble even reading the words on the headstone any longer. A sob tore through her chest, and she fought to tamp down the sound as she rested her hand on his headstone for one, brief minute. Then, she gathered her scrambled emotions together, and made a second rubbing of the words on the stone, filing the paper inside her other sock encased on her foot surrounded by her combat boot. Then, after one last look at the graves, turned to walk sedately back to the car, her mind already churning with ideas about how to return to her own reality. That's where Jack really was, not in this cold and dreary cemetery, and where she had to go if she wanted to ever see him again. Resolute, Sam climbed into the cab, and returned to the SGC.

* * *

Two weeks and two days later:

Sam used her key to open the office door at the deserted Pentagon complex. At 2030 hours, the office corridors had been empty for so long that they permanently echoed when her shoes clicked on the scuffed linoleum tiles in the hallway. However, the office wasn't so empty as the halls, for the second she inserted her key, and opened the door. she was bodily pulled through the small opening she made, and into the waiting, warm, and thankful arms of her husband, who had been purposefully working late while waiting for her to arrive in Washington.

Sam! Jack whispered, as he worshipfully kissed her hair, her cheek, her ear... whatever he could reach without having to release her. His hold on her tightened as he drew her against his chest. I was so worried about you, until Hank called yesterday to tell me what was going on, and to say that you were back without a scratch. He sighed. I'm getting too old for this kind of stress, he quietly told Sam.

It's not like I traveled to that reality on purpose, Sam muttered, holding him just as desperately to her as he was holding her to him. She buried her face in his wrinkled shirt, and just breathed in the scent of the man, right before she embarrassingly started to cry.

Hey, hey, hey, no crying, Jack gently said to her. You'll get my shirt all wet, and this is the only shirt I have left; all my others are in my laundry.

Sam chuckled in spite of her turbulent emotions, and felt Jack's hand move to wrap itself in her hair. The familiar move felt so good that she sighed this time, and her tears calmed enough for her to draw back to stare at him.

His face was only two inches from hers, and her fingers were on his skin in a heart beat, feeling, probing, remembering, as she just touched him. His dark brown eyes looked at her in a puzzled manner, and though he kissed her right fingers as they passed over his lips, he couldn't stop the concern that flicked in his eyes. What's wrong? he asked, knowing instinctively that all was not kosher in his wife's tiny corner of the universe.

Sam sighed yet again. Then, she pulled several sheets of paper out of the pocket of her jacket. You need to sit down before I tell you about some of this.

Something happen on your way to the airport? Jack asked, joking in an attempt to lighten the dark mood that seemed to be clinging to her.

Listen to my story... Then you can decide if I should be upset or not, she told him, and after leading him to the couch that graced his large office, told him what she had learned in the last two weeks.

When she was done, Jack sat beside her, too stunned to move as he held the article detailing his son's traffic death, and the rubbing from his headstone that rested beside him on the couch cushions.

I debated for a long time before I decided to show any of this to you, Sam explained to him. I wasn't sure if knowing what could happen would do anything positive for you.

Jack tried to breathe normally, but he was having a hard time just keeping his hands holding the article from trembling uncontrollably. My... He paused, and just breathed. Then he quietly said, Do you know what this means, Sam?

Sam looked as if someone had just run over her pet cat, and killed it. Remorse shaded her blue eyes to near opaque. It means that Charlie never knew the man his father had become... That you never divorced Sara, and that we never...

Jack cut her off. No, not that, he said. I mean, Charlie lived to be a teenager. He never found my gun that day in my bedroom, and never shot himself, but he died anyway, even if it was a few years later.

Sam studied his earnest expression for another moment. I, um, don't quite see why this is...

Jack cut her off again. He died anyway, he firmly said. In all this time, I'd never considered the idea that he might have died no matter what I did with that gun of mine.

For a second, Sam simply stared at him, too flummoxed to say anything. At last, she whispered, I never thought of that, either. She slowly breathed in the cool air of the office, just as he was doing.

Jack's sigh washed over the room in its dark solitude. This is the first indication I've ever had that it wasn't my fault. That... He paused, and Sam noted that he had closed his eyes as he tried to sort through his jagged emotions. Finally, he lifted his eyelids, and regarded her. Thank you, Sam. You don't know what this does for me.

I'm beginning to understand, though, she said into his left ear as she leaned in close to it. Sam entered Jack's waiting embrace, laying her head on his shoulder.

Wow, Jack reverently whispered, his mind completely blown away by this latest revelation. Wow, he repeated. This is... This is great, he said at last, then added, So to speak... With the paper still encased tightly in his fist, he pulled Sam closer yet, and just held her on the small couch in his office in the deserted Pentagon. Thank you, Sam, he whispered into her hair.

The two just sat together in the quiet of Jack's office, contemplating all that they had learned, and let the silence soak into their bones. The quiet was almost a living thing surrounding them, holding them, and keeping them safe.

The End


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