Disclaimer: Don't own them. Made no money off of this story. Darn... a little money would be a good thing.

Note: The title means 'Ever the Same' in Latin. I named it this because 1) I found it totally by chance in the Thesaurus, 2) it seemed to fit the theme of the story, and 3) I liked it. Look at it this way: here's your chance to be more like Daniel Jackson and learn a little Latin!

Semper Eadem

by Linda Bindner

The phone rang on General Jack O'Neill's desk, and he had to shift aside several stacks of paper before he could even find the phone. Thus, he was distracted when he lifted the receiver. General O'Neill, he said.

*Jack?* came the questioning voice.

Daniel? Jack replied. Daniel hadn't called him since the reassignment to Washington D.C. had come through. Did his phone call mean something was wrong? A chill coursed over Jack's skin. But he refused to give in to his premonitions when he didn't know anything, yet. What's up? he asked.

There was a pause, a very telling silence. Then, Daniel finally stated, *You're not going to like this.*

The chill coursed through Jack's heart as it quickened its beat. He didn't know how he knew, but he had a preconceived notion that something had happened to Carter. Afraid that Daniel was going to tell him that she was dead, Jack painfully forced himself to swallow, and asked, Oh yeah? Why is that?

*Jack, cut the crap... I don't have time for it right now.*

Daniel rarely spoke so honestly to him. It gave Jack an immediate case of heeby jeebies. No crap, Jack promised. So, what is it that has you calling long distance like this?

Daniel didn't try to protect him. *Jack, it's Sam. She was in an accident.*

The legs of Jack's chair hit the ground with a thud. She what? he yelled, ignoring the noise from the chair. He immediately assumed that Daniel had meant to say that she'd been in a 'car' accident. But she's such a good driver! he protested loudly.

*This has nothing to with driving,* Daniel patiently explained. *She was hit by a car...* Finally, he settled on saying, *There's more to it than just being in an accident.*

What the heck's that supposed to mean? Jack demanded, getting incensed with Daniel's dramatic flare.

*I guess there was some kind of blood thing that Sam inherited from one of her parents, or something,* Daniel told him. *Even though Selmak cured whatever it was in Jacob, she naturally couldn't do anything for the same thing in Sam's blood. Sam bled a lot right after the accident because of her thin blood, or something. There was a hemorrhage of some kind... It caused some damage.*

Didn't Jolinar take care of stuff like thin blood? Jack asked.

*I guess she and Sam weren't blended long enough to make much of a difference, Jack,* Daniel said, the sound of a shrug in his voice. *They were both kind of busy at the time, anyway.*

Once again, Jack swallowed. Is she d..?

*No,* Daniel said quickly. At least, he was attuned enough to who he was talking to that he knew that he had to respond right away. *Her left side isn't... isn't responding, though,* he slowly said. *It's the end of 'Gate travel for her, anyway.*

Meaning..? Jack questioned.

Daniel sighed. *Meaning that her career's over, finite, done... that's what it means, Jack,* Daniel said in a brittle voice. *The doctors don't think she'll even be able to walk again, let alone face off an army of Jaffa.*

But she's okay, right? Jack non-too-gently asked. I mean, she's alive, she's breathing, right? His heart thundered in his chest.

Daniel reported, *She's breathing. There's been no call for a ventilator yet, thank God. But...* Daniel paused again, then admitted, *Jack, she doesn't have anybody here, and she needs help, whether she admits it or not.*

How so? Jack instantly demanded.

Daniel replied, *Well, Jacob's dead, Janet's dead, her mother is dead, her brother lives hundreds of miles away in San Diego... There's no one to deal with insurance for her, she can barely speak herself, and certainly not into a phone, and if the military sends her packing, she'll lose her benefits package, and then she'll have no help, period.*

Jack had risen in agitation, and paced behind his desk. The military would never do that.

*I know, you take care of your own, and all that,* Daniel said with a snort.

If you don't buy the military sell, then why are you telling me this, Daniel? But Jack had an inkling already niggling in his brain.

*Jack, if she even knew that I was calling you, she'd kill me... not that she's strong enough to do anything, right now,* Daniel amended. *But you get the idea.*

Jack sighed. Okay. Tell me exactly what happened, he ordered.

*Sam was walking in the SGC parking lot, just like always, reading reports as she walked... You know how she always is...*

A workaholic? Jack asked.

Daniel would have laughed at Jack's description of his former team member if the situation hadn't been so serious. *Yeah, that about sums it up. Anyway, she was walking, reading, not paying attention to where she was going... and this car started backing out of a parking space...*

Jack groaned. I know where this is going, he said, his voice filled with regret.

*The guy in the car swears he looked all around before he backed out, but says that he didn't see Sam at all. She must have been in his blind spot, or something... He backed right into her.*

Oh, God, Jack quietly swore.

Daniel went on. *That's not the worst of it. He didn't hit her very hard, but hard enough to knock her over, and then she hit her head on the concrete parking lot.* Daniel sighed sadly. *By the time he had called the Infirmary and they had gotten to her, the bleeding had already started. By the time she got an MRI, it was almost too late to give her... what's it called..? That same drug that has to be given in the first three hours of a stroke, or something like that?*

Jack was more familiar with what Daniel was talking about than he liked to admit. When he'd been twelve years old, his grandfather'd had a stroke, and the medical personnel had missed the three hour window that would have saved the man's life. Something with a lot of initials, Jack went on. He tried to remember. 'T' something?

*I thought it started with an 'r,'* Daniel protested. *Anyway,* he said, continuing, *The doctors gave her as much as... whatever it's called... as we have handy on the base... There was some, but let's face it, this type of an injury doesn't happen all that often... and the Infirmary's not a hospital Emergency Room... and they were only able to save part of her speech, and her right side, and break up all the blood clots that had formed in her brain, and... She sort of whispers now, but the first thing she said when she regained consciousness was that under no circumstances were we to tell you about what had happened.*

When was this? Jack asked accusingly.

*Two days ago,* Daniel reported.

What? Jack exploded out again. And I'm just hearing about this now? Why didn't you call me sooner? I'll be on the first flight I can get...

*That's why she didn't want us to tell you; she didn't want you to spend your time flying out here, as if you can do anything for her now.*

Of course I can do something for her! Jack yelled. If nothing else, I can sit with her, and...

*Just so you know what kind of reception you're going to get. But the first thing she thought of the minute she woke up was you.* Daniel paused, then added, *And I think we both know why.*

Jack didn't pretend that he didn't know what Daniel was referring to. Okaaaay... What does she need?

*She needs you, whether she knows it or not,* Daniel reported in a no-nonsense tone of voice. He was so tired of all the hiding that he'd had been forced to watch Sam and Jack do over the years, and he knew that now was not the right time to bow to rules and regulations, if it had ever been the right time. *She can barely do anything for herself anymore, and I, for one, know that you can help, and no matter what she says, I can't keep my mouth shut any longer. She needs you, Jack, and I'll be darned if I'm going to stay quiet just because she insists that... Look, I'll do whatever I can... It's the least I can do at this point.*

Okay, Jack said, thinking fast. I'll take a leave of absence, go home, pack, have my secretary call the airfield, see if there's a plane I can commandeer, and fly to Colorado Springs this afternoon. If you can pick me up at Peterson so I can avoid the usual entourage they give to a visiting General... I need to talk to you, and get more details, anyway... Then take me to the base, I'll be so grateful.

*Done,* Daniel said without having to think about what he was promising. *Anything. Just tell me what you need me to do.* He sounded grateful that someone else was willing to give him orders as to what to do, now, and he had started to repeat himself in earnest. *Keeping quiet even this long has cut off ten years of my life, I think. But, Sam insisted. You know how stubborn she can be.*

Okay, Jack said again. I'll need guest quarters, someplace to crash. She got any therapists, yet? You know, get her started on recovery or something?

*Speech and Physical therapy right now. The... Who works with arms?*

I can't quite remember...

*Well, whatever she's called, she's having trouble with clearance or something. But she starts tomorrow. Sam isn't looking forward to it, though. I think she's a bit embarrassed by all this fuss over her, or something. You can talk some sense into her; if anyone has earned this kind of treatment from the Air Force, it's her.*

Okay, Jack said again, as if it were the only word he could say. Just get me to base. That's all I ask; I'll take it from there.

*You're on,* Daniel told him.

I'll call you before we land at Peterson, Jack said.

*Thanks, Jack. I appreciate what you're doing,* Daniel said.

How could I possibly sit here on my butt and not help? Jack asked rhetorically. I'll see you. And thanks for... well, for everything.

Jack hung up the phone, stood in shock for a moment as a numbness stole across his body, denial of what he knew was the truth. Then, he was moving, leaving all his papers where they were on his desk, grabbing only his hat, and heading for his office door. Terry! he yelled at his secretary the moment the portal was open. I'm taking a leave of absence, going home to pack... Call the airfield and commandeer a plane for me... I don't care at this point what it is... 302, Troop Transport plane, supply run... anything headed out West... Just get me on a flight to Colorado Springs, pronto.

Instantly, Terry, Jack's secretary, picked up the receiver of his own phone. Any luggage?

One bag, Jack replied tersely. Nothing else.

Want me to arrange for a car to meet you in..? he inquired.

Jack paused on his way out of the office. No, Daniel Jackson is giving me a ride. I don't expect I'll be leaving the base in Colorado Springs once I get there, either, but I can re-evaluate later if I have to. Just get that flight, he ordered, then stepped into the elevator, and crammed his uniform hat on his head as the elevator doors slid shut and the car started to move. But it wasn't nearly fast enough for Jack's sense of urgency. However, even he knew that he was probably in for one of the most frustrating days of his life.

* * *

Daniel met Jack at Peterson Air Force Base, just like he said he would. Jack had been forced to take a supply transport out of Washington D.C., and after sitting for hours of flight across the country with the pilot, whom he'd never met before, and had little beyond the typical pleasantries to say to, was more than glad to see Daniel's familiar face when they landed at Peterson airfield.

The minute Jack disembarked from the plane and approached Daniel's car, Jack's former teammate didn't waste any time in telling him, Teal'c's sitting with Sam right now. He quirked a grimace. Though she's sleeping, or was when I left... I didn't think she should be alone right now.

Jack threw his old, beat-up green duffel bag into the back seat of Daniel's car as he talked. I appreciate that, Daniel. Now, just drive. I'll take care of the rest.

You don't have to do anything alone, you know, Jack. Teal'c and I want to help out in any way we can.

Come on! Jack said, This is Carter we're talking about. If I know her, she'll be up and about before either of us can say 'Chulak.'

Daniel eyed him warily. I don't know, Jack, he said doubtfully. Not this time.

Jack eyed him, just as wary, but didn't say any more.

Daniel pulled away from the landed plane, and steered his car into the stream of traffic around the airfield. At last, he said, This may be Sam that we're talking about, but don't kid yourself; she's not the same person we've always known her to be.

Jack felt his heart flip over. What do you mean? he asked. Her personality change or something?

She's different, was all Daniel said. Not spewing off technical jargon every five minutes. Quiet. Withdrawn.

Depressed? Jack asked quietly.

Daniel regarded Jack. I think so, but don't tell her I said that. She'll bite my head off.

I thought you said she can only whisper?

Daniel nodded, then objected, But she can still throw things just fine. After this, I'm thinking about wearing the protective padding from the gym whenever I go into the Infirmary to see her, he ruefully added.

Jack laughed. That's sort of sick, he noted.

But at least it shows that I still have a sense of humor, Daniel negated with a shake of his head.

The guards at the first checkpoint outside the gate near the Cheyenne Mountain Complex were as understanding and as helpful as they could be. But, even though Jack told them that he and Daniel were going to see Colonel Carter, Jack still had to wait for several minutes as the guards called the new base commander to explain the reason for his impromptu visit. A frustrating fifteen minutes went by as they were forced to stand by the gate. Then, Jack was finally cleared, but he and Daniel had to wait for roadwork, of all things, blocking the tunnel leading into the complex. Finally, Jack was forced to pull rank and convince the work crew to let Daniel's car through the roadblock. As if that in itself wasn't insulting enough, he was grilled again by the two officers set to guard the atrium at the change of elevators once inside the mountain. But Jack bore through it all, patiently telling people over and over again where he was going, how long he intended to stay, and that no, he didn't need an elite guard escort to welcome him, that he only wished to see Colonel Carter...

But, finally, Jack was issued a security card that would allow him into the guest quarters on base, and he and Daniel were shown to the second elevator. Once inside, Jack tossed his duffel onto the floor, and punched the correct number on the elevator's control panel. The car started to move. Jack could smell the odor of food as the car passed the floor where the Commissary was located, and briefly wondered how Carter's eating habits were faring. Then, suddenly, at five-thirty in the evening, Jack finally found himself facing the familiar beige blocks of the walls belonging to level twenty-eight. For good or ill, he was once again back in the SGC.

Jack grabbed his duffel stuffed full of enough clothing to allow him to remain on base indefinitely, and he followed Daniel down the hall towards the Infirmary.

Jack didn't have particularly fond memories of that room, and always associated it with needles, but crept closer to Daniel the nearer they got to it, hurrying now. Daniel stood aside and gestured towards the Infirmary. But he took one look at Teal'c sitting on the cold plastic chairs outside in the hall, and gave Jack what was supposed to be a look of entreaty, only to turn it into a look of sympathy at the last moment as Teal'c barely shook his head at both of them. In spite of that warning, they had no choice; they wandered near the door, and Jack entered. Thus, he found himself alone for the first time in several hours.

The Infirmary lights were on, but dimmed, according to the coming night. Two beds were occupied at the moment. But Jack noted that a man he didn't know was sitting up in the bed nearest the door, his leg obviously broken, according to the casted leg lying spread out on top of the blankets. He was eating a dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, stuffing down the food and reading reports at the same time. He was hardly Carter, Jack told himself as he quietly set his duffel bag onto the floor near the door of the Infirmary.

The second bed that was occupied was far from the door, so far removed from everything in the room that it was as if it made an unspoken comment that the occupant was infectious, which was ridiculous; no one could catch what had afflicted Carter. The precautions looked a bit like overkill to Jack as his shoes clicked on the floor in the quiet room. He still, even after all these years, expected to see Janet come tearing out of her office and accost him with a report of some medical negligence on his part. But Janet Fraiser was dead, and had been for several years. Instead, the hush that always clung to the Infirmary continued, and all remained shrouded in natural silence as he crept towards the second to last bed where Carter lay on her right side, her back toward the door. Her hands were balled under her cheek, and her good hand had wrapped around her bad wrist in an attempt to hold it steady. An empty chair was on either side of the bed, but Jack headed around the foot of the bed so that he would end facing Carter when he settled next to her.

He fell into the chair with a sigh, then he just stared. After a few minutes, Carter's oh-so-familiar blue eyes stared back.

Go away, she whispered slowly, and in gravelly, guttural tones as soon as she realized who had fallen into the chair next to her bed.

No, Jack replied, trying hard not to let his surprise at the sound of her low voice show on his face as he regarded her.

General.., she warned.

Jack didn't pay attention to the warning, either. How many times do I have to tell you to call me 'Jack?' he asked.

There was the ghost of a smile that flitted across Carter's cheeks. It was gone before Jack could be sure he had even seen it, though. I don't care what I should call you now...

I don't give a rat's ass if you care or not, Carter. But you're stuck with me, for a little while, at least.

Carter sighed a sad exhalation of breath. Damn it, if you don't go away...

You'll what? Jack asked. Throw me out of the Infirmary like you did Teal'c?

No, I'll throw my dinner at you, she threatened.

This coat looks better covered in mashed potatoes, anyway.

How's it look covered in meatloaf, Sir? she ascerbically continued.

Even better, Jack told her. Then, after a minute, he sighed. Come on, Carter, stop threatening me with your dinner and tell me what's eating you.

Okay, Jack, I'll tell you, Carter said. She raised herself up on her right elbow, then pursed her lips together. I can't walk, can barely talk, can't make my arm do anything... The emphasis was added more by loudness than actual emphasis, Jack noted, but Carter was going on, They won't even let me out of this bed on my own because I might fall out. Last night, I rolled onto my right side on accident, then couldn't get back on my own, and stayed there for five hours until someone found me... And I'm supposed to be thrilled by this? Supposed to be glad I didn't croak when I had the chance? Well, let me tell you, a Jaffa army has nothing on me, sounds pretty good right about now, so excuse me if I don't get all riled up just because I can still eat, okay?

Jack stared at her, fighting down the bile that seemed to be clogging the back of his throat. But in a voice as equally low as hers, asked, Done with the pity party, yet, Carter?

It's Sam! she yelled, though her voice came out like a loud whisper instead of a yell. And don't you guilt me into not feeling sorry for myself. Why the heck did you have to come, anyway?

She had let go of her wrist in her fervor, then she followed it as her arm slid back to the other side of the bed. Apparently, she had figured out how to navigate rolling over from her right side since the night she'd been stuck for hours, Jack noted.

But Jack didn't have time to remark on this change of knowledge before Carter had situated herself onto her back to stare gloomily at the ceiling tiles. Just leave me alone, she ordered.

I can't do that, Jack stated back.

And why not? Sam demanded to know. What is it that's so damned important, anyway?

Language, Carter, Jack reminded her.

Sam grimaced. Like I care any more! No one can hear what I have to say, so it doesn't make any difference what I say or what I do from now on, anyway. Like it ever really mattered, as long as I saved the stupid planet with one more miraculous brain fart that left everyone happy. That's all I ever did, and it's...

Phooey, Jack announced. You were the best 2IC I ever had watch my six, and don't think I didn't know how much you enjoyed every minute of watching it!

Well, you don't have to worry about that ever happening again, because...

Then, as if all the fear he'd suffered caused by this 'wake-up call' that Sam's accident had come to represent, and that he'd managed to suppress until right this minute, abruptly coalesced into sudden comprehension that life was too short to be restricted by something as unimportant as loyalty to rules or regulations. More emotionally honest and open than he'd ever been before, Jack blurted an interruption in a whisper of his own, Thank God you're just angry, Carter, and didn't die. 'Cause I don't know what I would do without you in my life in some capacity, and you're about the smartest, sexiest woman on the planet, even with a side that doesn't work quite right at the moment, so don't you go getting all pissy at me, because, damn, if that's not the hottest thing you can do to a poor guy in uniform right now, and so help me, if you say one word about any of this to the rest of the Air Force, I'll flatly deny everything, and say you hit your head on the bed rail, or somethin.' Jack leaned forward even further in his chair. Take pity on an old CO and stop lookin' so damned cute in that hospital gown, or I'll go crazy just sittin' here, lookin' at you, and are you gonna eat those potatoes, or what? 'Cause the smell is also driving me insane, and I'm already insane enough... I don't need any help... Just ask General Hammond... He saved my butt more times than even I want to admit, and...

Jack! Sam whispered, the loudest yell she could produce at the moment. What are you saying here? I thought we both agreed to just leave it in the room, but you have to shoot your mouth off with the security cameras in here and everything...

No, I never agreed to anything like that, Jack protested.

You nodded your head and said 'Youbetcha' when I asked if you would leave it alone after that Za'tarc test thing... see, now you've got me saying words like 'thing...'

No, I said the 'Youbetcha' after you asked if I had lied on the original test, not in agreement to anything else, and the security cameras just show an image, but no one watching has any idea what I'm saying, here, and even with one side hanging so still that it would scare me to death if I didn't know better, you look so good, I could just kiss you right about now, and even Daniel knows about that, and...

Jack, my career in the military is over, and don't think I don't know it. The only reason I don't resign right here and now is because I need the insurance deal that comes with the job, but don't go thinking that you're the only one who's affected by you being here, because my heart hasn't stopped racing since the minute you walked in, and I don't want you seeing me like this, and...

She would have gone on, but Jack interrupted. Thank God, or Sokar, or Anubis, or whoever, that I get to see you again, 'cause it might just kill me if I wasn't able to, and so help me, I'm gonna eat your meatloaf if you don't eat it first...

I'd rather eat you, Sam declared, realizing that it really no longer mattered if she stuck to the Regulations or not. Even the threat of a possible court-martial didn't carry much weight with her anymore. What was a court-martial review board going to do to her, anyway, that hadn't already been done? And who in their right mind would try to attack an accident survivor, besides? There was a certain amount of freedom and power that went with her new position in the world, Sam realized for the first time. She glanced up at the security camera in the corner of the room, and stuck her tongue out at it in derision, then rebelliously placed her right hand squarely on top of O'Neill's hand lying on the covers on the bed, where he grabbed at her fingers and pushed his unhesitatingly through hers. But his body still hid the sight from those people potentially watching in the security office, just to be on the safe side. My father would kill me if he saw this, Sam whispered.

He... or your Mom... has already tried, O'Neill reminded her, and squeezed her fingers with his hand. I'm just as glad that they failed,

There was silence for a minute, then Sam's new voice uttered the sounds, Me too.

For all the world, it looked like a reunion scene between two old friends to the security camera in the corner, but to Carter and O'Neill, it meant so much more when he lifted her good hand up to his forehead, and pressed it there, beyond grateful that he could still do that and still get caught at it. In fact, he wanted to turn and mouth to the camera, Bring 'em on, but he was tactful enough not to want to put the new base commander in that position on his first day back at his old stomping grounds.

Nice of him, wasn't it? He thought so.

* * *

Two days later, Sam had gotten fully dressed for the first time since the accident, and was sitting on the bed in jeans and a sweater, reading. A nurse or intern or noncommissioned soldier... Jack wasn't certain... approached Sam's bed, and Sam smiled as she saw what the... person... held in her hands. She immediately set aside her book, and reached for the computer in its case that the woman was carrying.

The nurse/doctor/intern/soldier/whatever handed the computer case over with a smile. Now that you have something to do, maybe, you'll stay in bed, huh? she half asked, half reprimanded.

Sam grinned... sort of... as she lifted the laptop computer from its case and slithered the chord from her bed to Jack, who was sitting near her bedside, also reading a book. He gave in to the inevitable and plugged the computer into a wall socket on his side of her bed. Maybe I will be good, Sam said behind her half grin, some of her mischievous humor finally showing through her actions. But don't count on it. Her grin... half grin... widened as she looked fondly at the computer keyboard under her fingers. She still could only lift the right side of her mouth, but the left side twitched upwards... Jack saw it move.

The woman... nurse/doctor/intern/person-in-a-white-coat-and-armed-with-long-needles turned to face Jack. General O'Neill, you have a phone call, she told him.

Jack looked up, met Sam's puzzled glance, then nodded. Fine. Thanks... The office maybe? he suggested to Sam. Won't be long.

But Sam was already lost in surfing the Internet on some strange and unpronounceable topic. She didn't even fully notice when he slipped from his chair to cross over to the wall phone receiver, which had been left resting on a pile of white sheets.

O'Neill, he said into the handset, and idly watched Sam across the fairly empty room.

General? asked a soldier, It's one of the guards at checkpoint Alpha... He continued, We have a visitor for Colonel Carter. He needs 'escorted' into the facility.

An outside visitor? Jack was confused as to who the heck it could be. As with himself, he realized that Sam knew no one outside of the SGC, much as it had been for him when he'd commanded SG-1. Perhaps it was a relative? Should I come get... whomever?

Please... I have a Mr.... Shanahan... here...

God. Chills crept over Jack's body until a sour feeling of unrest settled in his stomach. He managed to say, I'll be topside when I get there, before hanging up the phone.

He stood by the wall for a moment, thinking. What could that man possibly want? he asked himself. His vision centered on Sam as she typed one handed on her computer, and he felt his jaw harden. If that man... Pete... declared he wanted to get back together with Sam, he had a little surprise coming this time. There was no way that he, Jack O'Neill, was ever going to let Sam Carter go without a fight. Not now.

He was grim-faced and tight lipped when he recrossed his steps to Sam's bedside.

Who was it? Sam asked... actually, got louder rather than asked, but who was quibbling at this point?

It's Pete Shanahan, Jack told her without mincing words.

Sam stopped typing in the middle of a phrase and looked at him. She swallowed, coughed, then tried to give him a comforting smile. What did he want?

Jack shrugged to show that he truly didn't know. I have to run topside and 'escort' him down here to see you.

He doesn't have clearance now.., Sam started to explain.

I know, Jack said, and he did know. It had been one of the happiest moments in his life when he'd filled out the paperwork that denied security clearance to Pete Shanahan after Sam had officially announced the breaking of their engagement. He patted her once on her leg, and said, I should get going, then. Want me to stick around while he's here, or would you like some privacy?

Um... Sam seemed unsure. Privacy? she finally suggested, asking it as a question, as if she were being quizzed over the final answer.

With a heavy, thudding heart, Jack turned to leave after tersely nodding his head once, but she caught hold of the edge of his shirt with her right hand. But don't go too far? she asked, making Jack grin a huge grin.

Youbetcha, he said, and his heart eased just a bit with his return gesture. I'll be right outside the door... nervously chewing my fingernails. He gave her a smile of reassurance, then drifted away, out of the Infirmary.

Jack squinted against the sunlight as he left the mountain, and walked across the parking lot toward the checkpoint.

Three men... soldiers, according to the M-19s they were carrying... stood at the entrance to the underground base, and a fourth man leaned against the hood of a green car. That man straightened when he saw the three men leap to attention; the General had obviously arrived.

Pete turned to regard Jack, while Jack continued to squint in the strong light.

I'll take over from here, boys, O'Neill said, and the three soldiers visibly relaxed. Then, he pointed towards the first available visitor's parking space, and Pete got into his car without a word of hello or thanks, and moved his car into the space. Jack walked alone towards the entrance into the mountain base, his hands fisted inside his pockets, and not caring if his fists showed for once. In fact, he hoped they did.

Pete exited his vehicle, and said, Thanks for this, General, I really app...

Jack interrupted him with a face looking as cold as if it had been carved from the rock of the mountain itself, What do you want, Shergan?

Pete audibly sighed. It's Shanahan.

I know that, Jack answered shortly.

Pete sighed again, and propped his hands on his hips. You know, I hate it when you do that.

Jack smirked, his gesture more a feral grin than a charming smile. I know, he said. I repeat, what do you want, Shanahan?

Pete sighed for a third time, as if that was all he could do. I came to see Sam, see how she's doing...

She's fine, she'll live, Jack replied.

Relax, General, I'm married, Pete informed.

Jack was so surprised, he practically choked on the word as he repeated, Married?

Pete grinned disarmingly. With a baby girl on the way in just a little over two more months. So, you see, Sam is perfectly safe with me. Sandy would have a few words to say to Sam if she gave any indication that she wanted to get back together again...

She won't, Jack said so fast that he made Pete laugh.

A little quick on the uptake, aren't you? Pete asked. Pretty sure of yourself, there.

You know, Jack lazily answered. I never did like you.

Pete looked at him assessingly for a moment. Then why did you give me such good clearance? he asked.

Clearance that you obviously no longer have, Jack pointed out, but Pete merely glared at him, and finally raised a brow. For Sam, Jack eventually responded. So she wouldn't have to make up some outlandish story, or lie to her boyfriend.

Pete continued to stare. Fair enough, he said at last. Then he stared again. I'm not really all that surprised to see you here, he said. Although the guys at the gate said you aren't the head honcho around here anymore.

But I'm still Sam's indirect CO, and I take care of my people, Jack threatened.

Pete only laughed in response. Some more than others, he noted.

Sam's a member of my old team, Jack tersely reminded him, and as such, she gets...

The General's concerned treatment? Pete interjected. Look, General O'Neill, I'm not here to cause trouble or nothing.

Then why are you here, Shanahan? Jack inquired.

Pete shrugged, and put his hands in his coat pockets. To see Sam, let her know I'm still there for her, even though things have changed between us.

As long as they stay changed, Jack said.

Pete laughed again. Will you relax, already? Geez, Sam and I were once engaged... she dumped me. I got over it. I just want to see how she's doing for myself before heading back to Denver.

That's all? O'Neill inquired again.

That's all, Pete repeated.

Jack gazed at the younger man with both eyes still squinting, though no sunshine penetrated the covered parking lot. Make sure that's all.

As I told you, Sandy would clobber me as hard as a rotund stomach will allow her to clobber me if I say anything of a romantic nature to Sam.

Jack continued to stare for a minute, then said, Cause we got this big guy named...

Teal'c... Yeah, I remember him... Not a very welcoming kind of guy.

Teal'c's got an acquired sense of humor, Jack told him.

Is that what it is? Pete asked.

Jack nodded. Yeah.

And I thought it was just because he didn't like me.

He didn't... doesn't, Jack told him brusquely. At least, he didn't, as he told me... on repeated occasions, if I remember correctly.

Pete laughed again, which was not at all the reaction Jack had anticipated that he make. You people sure are a close-knit bunch, he said. I never could compete with that.

Jack felt his solid stance relax a bit at this comment. We were part of a team, and...

You're all important... yeah, yeah, I know, Pete interrupted. But some are more important than others, eh?

Jack stared assessingly one more time. Could be, he answered slowly.

Pete laughed again, a light sound that was at odds with the words they were saying to each other. Well, at least you didn't lie to me.

I figured there was no point in that, Jack said.

Then Pete blurted, I could never compete with the team, or with you, and I always knew it.

I didn't realize we were in a competition, Jack noted.

Pete sized him up. Oooohhh, we were, and you won, hands down,

It wasn't anything I ever did to.., Jack began to protest.

Pete cut him off. Oh, I know that now, and knew that then, he said. I was... He thought for a moment. I was... just a little slow on the uptake, he finally decided on. Sam set me straight.

She's that way, Jack hesitantly said. Is this guy for real? he wondered, not for the first time.

How is Sam, anyway? Shanahan asked.

Jack stared at him, and finally answered, Her left side wants to curl up, he told Pete. She wears all kinds of splints at night to...

Thinking that I'm thinking I had a close call, right? Pete asked.

Noooo, O'Neill admitted. I figure I can cut you some slack.

About time, Pete said. I know some criminals who aren't as hard assed as you are.

Jack grinned. Thank you... that's probably the nicest thing you've ever said to me.

That's not saying much, Pete said next.

Jack moved off at long last towards the elevators leading down into the mountain. Then, he gave a gesture that meant for Pete to follow him. Just as long as we understand each other.

Pete laughed one more time. I know that you hate me...

I hardly know you, Jack corrected.

Pete said, Yeah, whatever... But just as long as you get me into this monkey house so that I can see Sam, I'm grateful.

You can talk to her alone, Jack told him.

You're not going to be there? Pete was surprised, according to the sound of his voice as he fell into step with Jack.

I'll be right outside the door, Jack told him.

Still don't trust me?

At Sam's request.

You mean to tell me that she doesn't trust me?

You'd have to ask her that, Jack said.

Pete gave a thin smile. Maybe I will.

* * *

Jack sat just outside the Infirmary in the hallway while Sam was talking to Pete Shanahan. He was a bit too worried about what could happen if he went too far afield, so he tried his best to get comfortable in the chairs outside the Infirmary, chairs that had been made more for affordability than comfort. He didn't know how Teal'c had even managed to squeeze into one on that day Daniel had picked him up from the Peterson Airfield.

And thinking of Daniel seemed to bring the man right to him. Jack had been seated in the chairs for only a few worry-infested moments before Dr. Jackson rounded the corner at a half jog, his arms so full of file folders and reports that it was a wonder he could even see where he was going. In fact, if Jack hadn't said, Hi, Daniel, as he hurried by, he probably wouldn't have noticed the General sitting outside the Infirmary, looking a little lost.

Daniel stopped in the hallway, peered at the Infirmary doorway, looked at Jack sitting on the chair, then asked, What she do... Throw you out?

Jack chuckled. Good one, he said, then answered, No, Pete Shanahan's inside at the moment. I'm giving him and Sam a little privacy.

Privacy? barked Daniel, as the surprise at the visitor's name nearly made him drop all his files. Are you crazy?

I am, I admit, Jack told him. But not as crazy as you're going to be when you have to pick all those files up from where they fall on the floor. Come on, Daniel, why don't you give half those folders to me, sit down, and keep me company for awhile?

Daniel appeared confused. Why? he asked. Is there something you want to talk about?

Jack gave a quick sigh of exasperation. No, it just makes the time go by faster if I have you here to talk to... and I like to talk to you... though I can only understand about a third of what you have to say.

Daniel smiled. Yeah, I'm kind of like Sam is in that... How is Sam, by the way?

Jack answered, Spewing technological garbage every other minute.

About back to normal, you mean? Daniel asked.

Jack smiled. As normal as normal can get right now.

Daniel sat heavily in the chair next to Jack, then gave him half the pile of file folders in his arms. Well, I have to say that I wouldn't have believed it was possible, but then, I should have remembered that if anybody could get her out of this... funk... that she's in, it would be you. I guess that's why I called you in the first place.

I'm glad that you took the initiative, then, Jack said as he squirmed and tried to get comfortable. You know, I think they made these chairs for ten-year-olds instead of... He tried to remain judicious, ... over forty-year-olds.

Over forty? Daniel spluttered. I thought you were over fifty.

Jack tried to give Daniel his best poker face. Whoever told you that, I'll be sure to kick his ass the next time I see him.

You told me that, Daniel remarked.

Oh... Well, I'll try to kick my own ass, but it'll be hard... Might be a sight worth seeing.

Daniel laughed as he propped his arm on the top of the pile of folders in his lap, then held up his head with his hand. If Sam could kick your ass... Now that I might like to see.

Don't be such a doomsayer, Jack responded. She might do that yet.

I won't hold my breath, though, if you don't mind.

Jack glared at him. You are a doomsayer. The problem with you is that you see Sam every day just when she's getting done with therapy. Have you ever been to a therapy session? he asked.

Daniel thought for a minute. Not that I can think of.

Jack snorted. Well, they're hard, let me tell you that. It's a wonder Sam doesn't collapse after each session with her Physical Therapist. I know that I would.

So you're saying that she's a lot further along than I can predict when I see her? Daniel inquired.

She's already standing on her own, Jack said. I never knew that she had such good balance. I mean, I could have guessed, but...

Don't count her out just yet? Daniel asked, to make sure.

Jack shook his head. Nope, you shouldn't count her out yet.

Well, that is good news to hear. I'll have to tell Teal'c about this... He's been asking about her, you know, but didn't want to come out and really ask about her...

For crying out loud, why not? Jack inquired, aggravated.

Daniel shrugged. You know how Teal'c is... Doesn't want to show that he's too concerned, or anything. Might give the wrong impression, you know.

Jack's brows darkened. You tell him that it's much better to ask his questions, and to just be concerned, than it is to wonder all the time. Then Jack turned to regard Daniel. Say, he's not working for the Insurance Company on the sly, is he?

Daniel pursed his lips and shook his head. Not that I know of. Why? You having trouble with them?

Trouble is they're middle name, Jack responded dryly. I was just thinking that I could get Teal'c to yell 'Cree!' or something over the phone to them. Might bring them around a bit faster, he added.

Daniel grinned. I'll mention it to him. Who knows? It might be the best way that he can help with this mess. And it is a mess, no matter you look at it.

It's not over, yet, Daniel, just remember that, Jack told him, then leaned back so that his head rested against the wall behind them. Sam's got more fortitude than either of us ever realized. And I'm not just saying that, either. I would have been a suicidal mess by now, not the cheery, popular workaholic that she is.

Maybe, Daniel half agreed with him. Just you remember that it's because you're here that she's as far along as she is.

Jack squinched his eyes shut in suspicion. Oh, I don't know about that. She would have dragged herself out of her mood on her own... eventually, he added.

Daniel smiled. But she didn't have to, and that's a damned good thing.

That's what friends are for, Jack firmly replied.

Daniel gazed at him. Is that the reason you're gonna go with, even now? he asked in incredulity. That you and Sam are just friends?

Jack was a bit taken aback by Daniel's chastising tone. Yeah, why?

Daniel sputtered, Because that's a load of bull... He hesitated. ... bullhockey... and you know it!

Daniel, Jack argued. I'm her superior officer... sort of... so, for God's sake..!

You're also in superior denial, Daniel finished for him. Come on, Jack, at least admit it to me... I'm part of the old team, remember? And what's the Air Force going to do to her, anyway? Court-martial her?

You never know, Jack said in a warning tone.

Yeah, right, Daniel said, as if he didn't quite believe what Jack was intimating. When pig's carry symbiotes...

When domesticated equines prevail during the day.., Jack said.

When we win this war... again... and defeat the Ori once and for all.., Daniel responded.

Jack halted playing the game that he and Daniel had going for a minute as a new thought struck him. He finally asked, Hey, Daniel, can you hang out here for awhile and 'escort' Shanahan back to the surface for me?

Daniel considered. Yeah, I suppose so, but what's..?

Jack didn't let him finish. Good. I've got something I need to think about for awhile, and this might be the only chance I get to be completely on my own, if you know what I mean.

Anything I can help you with? Daniel asked, like a good friend would.

Jack shook his head. No, but I might need your car to run a few errands later, and I need you to see that Shanahan makes it topside, and leaves.

Daniel shrugged halfheartedly, clearly not quite understanding, but willing to help in whatever way he could. All right, you just tell me what you need, and I'll get it for you. In the meantime, you... think, he ended lamely, knowing that Jack had never been a great thinker. Asking for some quiet time to do something he wasn't known for was quite an anomaly. You're not exactly the thinking type, you know, Jack.

Adversely, Jack smiled at his comment. Now you sound like Carter... always a little skeptical. Jack leaned towards Daniel and whispered, Actually, I think all the time, but don't tell anyone; it might ruin my reputation.

Daniel looked surprised for a moment. Well... uh... sure. But if you think so much in reality, how does having a reputation that you're not a thinker change things?

Jack leaned over even further. If people don't expect me to think much, then I pleasantly surprise them when I do.

Suddenly, Daniel smiled. Oh, I get it... low expectations, and all that.


Still smiling, Daniel went on, You have my word that no one will hear it from me.

Jack grinned back at him. Thanks, buddy, he said, then settled even further into his chair near the wall. This could potentially do more for Sam than you know.

Whatever you say, Daniel said, and then Jack was gone, even though his body remained in the cold plastic chair. His face took on the slack appearance of someone bored out of his skull, but his eyes remainedalert to any alterations that went on in the near vicinity. There was no doubt he was thinking, hard, about something in particular, but if you didn't know it, then you would never have guessed the truth.

Daniel also settled more firmly into his chair beside Jack's slumped form, and waited for Sam to be done visiting with Pete Shanahan.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, Pete appeared at the door to the Infirmary, his eyes lighting on Daniel as he stood and juggled the file folders in his arms for a moment before setting them all on the chair he'd just vacated. Dr Jackson, it's good to see you again! Pete greeted.

Daniel answered, Likewise, but I'm a little pressed for time right now, so if you're all finished talking to Sam, we can be on our way to the surface.

Pete appeared surprised. What, General O'Neill's not showing me out?

I've got some things I need to take care of, Jack interjected before Daniel could say anything more. So I'm leaving you in Daniel's capable hands. Don't worry, you'll be fine... Probably better off than with me. He, too, rose, and deposited the pile of folders onto his chair as the two men started off down the corridor. Jack watched them go, disappearing into the elevator that ultimately led to the surface, then he moseyed slowly back into the Infirmary to see if Sam wanted him to do anything for her before he left the SGC.

So, what did Shergan have to say? Jack asked Sam as he approached her bed.

Shanahan, she automatically corrected him.

Right, I knew that, Jack said.

She grinned at Jack's attempt at humor. Pete didn't want much, she told him. Did you know that he's married and has a baby girl on the way?

Jack nodded. Yeah, he told me. Jack now carefully regarded her for a minute. Does that bother you?

Sam seemed genuinely surprised by the question. Me? she asked, then said, No. And then she glanced down at the covers on her bed. Actually, I'm kind of relieved.

Jack furrowed his brow a little. Relieved? he questioned.

Sam continued to glance down, looking embarrassed, but finally admitted, Yeah. I mean, that was a close call I had! I'm lucky that I woke up to reality when I did.

This clearly astonished Jack, but it was a nice astonishment. Close call, huh?

Sam shivered. That could have been me... married... to Pete... no thanks!

Rather save the world, and all that stuff, huh? Jack asked.

Sam visibly brightened. Well, yeah, she admitted. I know that most people will think that I'm finished for good... I mean, what's an accident victim able to do, anyway, right?

Oh, I wouldn't quite count you out just yet, O'Neill said with a determined expression on his face.

Sam smiled her lopsided smile. Pete seems to think that I should be put out to pasture, and let the younger, more agile, kids take over. That my day is done.

Jack grimaced. Then, forgive me for saying this, but Pete's an idiot.

Sam smiled again. Yeah, I know. It's so frustrating to hear that kind of defeatist talk, too. I feel like I'm beating my head against a wall, trying to get people to give me another chance.

Speaking of chances, Jack said hastily. I have some errands that I need to run, and now's as good a time as any to do it. He regarded her. Will you be all right here alone for awhile?

Sam seemed a bit flummoxed at the quick change in topic, but she did her best to keep up with the flow of the conversation. Oh, sure, I'll be just fine on my own. She looked around the area near her bed. In fact, I might take the opportunity to sleep for awhile... trying to talk so much to Pete really wore me out.

I thought so, Jack told her. You look a little under the weather to me.

Sam grinned as she straightened the covers on her bed, then climbed under them with Jack's help. That shows how well you can read the expressions on my face... I am a bit under the weather right now. I could have lived perfectly happily if that conversation with Pete had been about fifteen minutes shorter, but Pete just had a lot to say, I guess.

I guess. Jack grimaced again, which left no doubt as to what he thought of Pete Shanahan. He moved to leave, still grimacing. But, he asked her, Do you need anything before I go?

Still sitting up, Sam gestured to the curtain resting on its track around her hospital bed. If you can draw the curtain for me... Thanks. That will make it a little darker around my bed. I might actually sleep, then.

Jack shrugged; Sam had never wanted the curtain drawn before, but he was willing to try something new if she wanted it. Gamely, he drew the curtain from wall to wall, effectively cutting her completely off from the sight of the others in the medical bay. Anything else?

Sam crooked the finger of her right hand. Yeah... come here a minute.

Though it nearly killed him to retain enough control of his emotions to get that close to Carter, he complied. Yeah, what do you need? he asked, then he grinned. You got a wrinkle in the blankets, or something that you want me to fix?

Sort of, Sam answered vaguely, and tilted her head.

Where? O'Neill asked.

Um... Sam paused, looking at him in indecision for a moment. That look changed to one of an unusual sense of determination as she replied in a whisper, Here. With an expression of controlled trepidation and fright, she reached out with her right hand and tenderly traced his lips with her index finger.

Jack barely allowed himself to breath for fear of breaking the fragile spell of boldness that had stolen around her. Then, her finger roamed from his lip to his cheek, and back again, right before she gave into the temptation he saw stealing across her features, and tentatively kissed him full on his lips.

Jack melted quickly from surprise to fullhearted acceptance of her actions. He felt his skin tighten at first in shock, then relax under her touch. Trembling, he responded to her feathery caress with a lightness of his own that nearly drove her to distraction.

Jack, please.., Sam quietly muttered as his fingers rose to gingerly cup her cheek, just as she had done, and then splay into the ends of her hair.

Please what? he whispered. He was kissing her temple, now, sliding his lips to her ear. Sam actually groaned aloud under his actions. Please stop? Or please don't stop?

Sam hitched a breath, and tilted her head back to allow him the best access as possible. However, it was getting hard to breathe normally as she panted, Don't stop. Plllleeeaaassee don't! She placed her good right hand on his waist, then let it travel slowly up, under his shirt.

That feels too good to be part of a dream, Jack breathed in her ear, and kissed her again, harder, more firmly, more demanding. Sam answered his need with light passes of her own. His vision blurred, and whirled with each touch she gave him. In another second, he was kissing her again, and Jack thought he would explode at the carnal sensations that flooded through him.

What's left of my mind likes this quite a lot, Sam declared, and, throwing off her remaining natural restraint, slid her hand from his waist to his behind, exploring the strange, new feeling.

What little restraint Jack possessed at this point disappeared as he touched her with the most freedom he'd ever illustrated. But he had to retain a fraction of control of this situation before it spiraled totally out of his control. The security camera couldn't detect what they were doing behind the curtain, but he and Sam were still in the Infirmary, for crying out loud! So, he continued whispering, You still have more left of your mind than anyone else has to begin with. His argument was as mixed up as his insides were changed to goo with each one of her caresses. He was sure he was going to explode right there in the Infirmary. But he was too busy brushing his lips across her skin to think too heavily on the meaning of his thoughts at the moment.

Are you sure this isn't one of the many thousands of fantasies that I've played over the years? he went on, still in a whisper, asking his question of her, and teasing himself as well.

No, no dream, no fantasy.., she denied.

Then, Jack was too busy paying attention to the smell, the feel, of the essence that made her 'Carter' to pay so much attention to her words. You do smell almost too good to be real, he whispered to her.

Sam kissed him one last time, slowly, seductively, promising much more with the action. Then she drew back several inches so that she could look his dreamy expression. I think that I know what I want, she said in a low voice that no one else in the medical facility could possibly hear. And right now, what I want is you.

Jack grinned at the taste of her skin still on his lips. He purposefully licked his own lips in a slow show of enjoyment as he said, Good thing that I want the same thing then, or you would probably have to...

...kick your ass! Sam quietly finished for him, and grinned.

Jack grinned back, but reluctantly stood away from the bed. The immediate lack of contact between them left a cold feeling of wrongness under his skin, like an itch that he just couldn't scratch. He did his best to ignore it, and looked at her in appreciation. I gotta go, he said then, or I'm not gonna make it out of here, ever.

Still grinning, Sam snuggled down to lie on her bed. Just wanted you to know everything before I lost the nerve to show...

You build up that nerve whenever you like! he whispered. Jack leaned down once to kiss her cheek, but didn't dare kiss her lips if he ever wanted to get out of the Infirmary in the near future. Anything I can get for you while I'm out?

Nope, Sam said with a shake of her head. I have everything I want right here.

Jack pulled up the blankets a little tighter under her chin, then stood back to stare at her. Even with a disability to your left side, you're still beautiful, he said.

Sam smiled... sort of. I've been so busy the last few years being a soldier that I forgot how important it is just to be me... thanks. It's an especially good thing to hear coming from you, she shyly admitted.

Jack grinned down at her. You can be Sam Carter, the woman, for me at any time you want.

You aren't too bad yourself for a man who's over...

Have you been talking to Daniel? he asked, interrupting her.

Of course, she answered slyly. With you gone, who else did I have to pester?

The less said on that subject, the better, Jack told her.

Sam grinned up at him. I like my men well seasoned, she stated.

Jack actually laughed, then. Good thing, cause that's what you got.

Sam kissed his hand resting on the sheets beside her face. You better leave now, or you'll never get out of here, because I'll never let you go... and I'll never get any sleep, she suggested.

Who needs sleep? Jack asked, but he kissed her once more on the cheek, then headed slowly through the break in the curtain by the wall.

Sam grinned even after he was long gone.

* * *

The second Jack left the Infirmary, he collapsed back against the first available set of cinder-blocks that would support him. Smiling sappily at nothing, and sighing, he melted against the wall behind him. Had what he thought just happened actually just happened? he asked himself, not quite able to believe his luck. Had one of his biggest daydreams just come true? And did he have Pete Shanahan, of all people, to thank for it?

Jack still had his attention drawn inward when Daniel appeared around the corner, coming from the elevators after showing Pete Shanahan to the surface. He stopped, looked up and down the hallway, expecting to see some utterly beautiful sight, according to the expression of total bliss on Jack's face, then, when he didn't see anything unusual, asked, Uh... Jack? Is there anything wrong?

Jack visibly shook his head to bring himself out of the pleasant trance he was in. Wrong? he echoed. No, what could be wrong?

Daniel went on, Well, you looked like you saw...

Jack cut him off. I didn't see anything. When Daniel continued to look confused, he added, Ah, hell... I'll tell you all about it when you're older. In the meantime, can I borrow your car?

Daniel's confusion was growing. You want my car?

Yes. Jack nodded. I have some errands I need to run while Carter's sleeping...

Daniel hesitantly fished in the pocket of his BDUs until he was able to pull out his keyring and hand it to Jack. Just be careful with my car, he warned. It's leaking oil.

I'll return it in better condition than it's in right now, Jack promised as he grabbed the keys from Daniel. Thanks, buddy. This helps out a lot, he went on, then continued down the hall as if he had no concerns in the world. He disappeared into the elevator that carried him towards the lowest level and the way to the new base commander's office before it could be instructed to carry him to the surface.

* * *

An hour later, Jack returned to the Cheyenne Mountain Infirmary to find that Sam was still asleep. But her right eye popped open when he tried to back carefully out through the curtain and leave her to her nap.

Jack stopped. You winked... I didn't know you could do that, he accused in a whisper.

Sam sleepily yawned and rolled over. I didn't know for sure that I could do it at all. I've never tried doing it before now.

Jack grinned at her, but could think of little other than the feel of her soft, delectable lips. You're not stuck on your side, I see. Since you don't need any help rolling out of a tight spot, I'll just go and put these things in my quarters... Then he noticed the romance novel resting on the table between her bed and the next bed over. He picked it up for a closer examination. I thought you read romances only on your palm pilot so that other people won't know what's going on... what are you doing with this?

Sam groaned. Oh, that. Pete gave it to me... Said his wife reads them all the time and that this author is particularly good. I thought I'd try it. It seemed that some light reading might be a good thing every now and then.

Jack grinned, then reached into the plastic bag he was carrying in his left hand. Then you won't mind that I got this for you as good light reading when you need some. He pulled out a new book.

Sam took his offering. 'What to Wear to a Seduction?' she read off the front cover.

Jack was quick to tell her. I got it as a way to tease you because of the title.

Sam laughed at the words on the front cover, and at him. Good tease.., she declared, then stared at the book. I don't know... What does one wear to a seduction?

O'Neill leaned in close to her on the bed. Nothing, he whispered, and grinned, and quickly grew excited just thinking about touching her.

Sam giggled... Can Sam Carter actually giggle? Jack idly wondered... and arched her right eyebrow while her left didn't move at all. Sounds... relaxing, she agreed in a low voice.

The clerk of the book store assured me that it was so relaxing that... Grinning, and half laughing, Jack leaned over Sam's bed rail, and kissed her straight on her mouth while he allowed his hand to slowly meander across her deliciously smooth skin. It amazes me how much I love you, he whispered against her cheek.

Sam smiled... he could feel her make the gesture. I love you more, she declared. Sometimes I feel like I've always loved you... Her words trailed off as she kissed him once more in the quiet of the Infirmary.

In seconds, Jack was lost to the sensations she was wreaking in his stomach, that went zinging through his groin... With no warning, he suddenly felt the twisting sensation turn to the familiar, sweet, tight feeling of pleasure as it enveloped him in a flash of emotional fire that swept around his heart, and left him trembling as he rested, leaning against her shoulder.

Sam giggled again... Giggling twice in one day?... and said, I'll take that as a compliment.

Jack had to laugh with her low rumbles of humor. Please do, he told her. God, that hasn't happened since high school!

Wonderful, Sam sarcastically said, and grinned. I can comfort myself with knowing that I make you feel...

And act, Jack interjected.

... like a teenager, Sam finished.

Oh, Jack negated, and shook his head back and forth, rubbing against her neck. God, that feels good! Age is just a number, anyway. His words drifted off as Sam laughed again. Then he carefully straightened, thinking how embarrassed, humiliated, totally marvelous he felt at his recent actions. Then he shrugged out of his coat, and hung it from his arms in front of him to hide the wet spot marring the front of his trousers. He hefted the shopping bag that he was carrying in his other hand. Think I'll just take these to my quarters... and change clothes, he told her.

Sam laughed one more time. You've always made me smile... even if I can only do it with half of me right now...

Jack smiled back at her, and kissed her quickly on the lips so that he wouldn't have time to get lost in the sensation of feeling her again. But he said, I'd rather have only half of you than anything else in the universe right now.

He left her with that thought hanging in the air between them, and slipped through the curtain and out of the room.

* * *

About a week later, Jack had everything pretty well sized up, he figured. At least, he knew everything there was to know about Sam Carter's rehabilitation. Some things, Sam probably wished he didn't know, but that was neither here nor there; Jack was learning more medical terminology than he'd ever needed before, or wanted to know, but in the long run, it had to be a good thing. Right? He fervently hoped so.

For example, he knew that Sam's accident had attacked the back, right side of her brain, the part that handled motor functions, and that was why her left side was the only part of her that had been afflicted, as the right side of her brain controlled the left side of her body. She had retained her memories, her knowledge, her personality... It was like being with a half normal, half limp replica of the old Sam Carter, who was now more temperamental than her old self, but was still speaking in technical terms that flummoxed Jack and always had. Though, she spoke, and he heard, each word with new, outwardly illustrated, affection.

When he wasn't helping Sam through the therapy sessions that her three therapists had concocted for her personal torture, Jack was delivering messages between her old team and Sam, or talking to doctors, or fighting with Insurance Companies, or... He was so busy, he barely had time to stumble wearily into his bed each night. When he thought about how much trouble he'd originally had attaining clearance for the dark, cave-like dwelling called the 'guest quarters' on base, he had to laugh, so that he wouldn't cry. He figured that, like Daniel, at least his sense of humor was still intact.

The current team visited Sam most days during the evening hours, when they didn't have other, pressing obligations, and it was then that Jack told Daniel that 'the arm person' was called an Occupational therapist (Jack had a hard time wrapping his mouth around that particular phrase), and that Sam's recovery was going much faster than anticipated. Of course, according to Sam, things were far slower than she wanted them to be. But she was making enough progress that after only about six weeks, the doctors were already talking about sending her home.

The team was excruciatingly careful about not mentioning going off-world to Sam, as Jack had asked them to refrain from mentioning things that she would miss, and they also didn't say a word when a new resident brain was assigned as lead scientist to the base. Daniel managed to fill up the remaining time with lighthearted chatter about his newest translation problems, Teal'c looked on stoically, and Cam and Vala, two people Jack really didn't know, were supportive about Sam and her therapy. Cam took particular interest in her therapy, and Jack remembered that Sam's new team leader knew better than the others what life in therapy was like.

Still, Sam was hardly mollified by the team's secretiveness, and downright morose when she got to talking about her projects that weren't hers any longer in a lab that wasn't hers any longer, either. That laptop computer of hers was more lifesaving than anything that the team did, though, for all their good intentions.

Hey, Sam, Jack asked one night, as he propped his feet on the end of her bed and made himself comfortable. What's a three letter word for... He looked again at the copy of the crossword puzzle of the week sitting in his lap. For 'kaleidoscope?'

'Ass,' Sam answered vaguely, more interested in what was showing up on her laptop screen than in the puzzle that Jack was currently doing. Then Sam looked at him, stunned. I can't believe I just said that. She paused, and blinked. You must be rubbing off on me, she said.

Oh, very funny, Jack said, scowling. Methinks you have something a little screwed up, there, Carter, he intoned sarcastically.

Sam scanned the screen in front of her, redirecting her attention back to her computer. Then, she had to scan what was on the monitor screen again before she truly understood what was before her. Then look in the Thesaurus if you don't believe me, Sam said, gesturing at the end of her bed where a pocket sized paperback book rested on the covers.

I already did that, and it wasn't in there, Jack told her.

Well, start thinking, then, Sam suggested.

That doesn't help me much, Jack told her.

Sam grinned, telling herself that Jack O'Neill was more of a thinker than he wanted to admit. But she couldn't let him know that!

I can't do it for you. Sam paged down once again, using her left hand for the command. It was at all of her therapists' insistence that she use her left hand as often as possible for the mundane tasks in life. That way, she strengthened her arm without having to consciously try to strengthen her arm. It was very advantageous for her, but it made many things simultaneously very awkward, and she dropped things more often than she used to, which led to frustration, which brought out more of the Carter temper than Jack had ever witnessed before.

You know, Jack said as Sam accidentally hit the wrong key on the keyboard, erased everything that she had spent half an hour typing, then slammed her right fist into her mattress before she regained her self-control enough to sigh and rub at her head, as if it hurt, and was interfering with her typing. She snapped her computer shut and placed it on her bedside table behind Jack with her right hand. She may be partially walking now (as long as she could hold on to somebody or something), and her left hand may have been muscular enough to type, but even she wasn't dumb enough to try to pick up a computer with her left hand; computer's were heavy, and God forbid she should ever drop it!

Jack continued, I think I like this new temper you've tapped into; it makes you more Human, especially when you're throwing things around the Infirmary with that right hand of yours. I didn't believe it was possible, but I think your aim is actually improving. No one would have ever guessed that would happen a month or so ago.

Maybe it's just luck, Sam suggested, still sounding vague in her whispery, flat tones. Her speech was definitely improving, but her voice was still only a shadow of what it had once been.

Suddenly, Jack laughed.

What's so funny? Sam asked, looking up.

Jack locked his fingers behind his head and leaned back. I was just thinking that your voice is nothing but a shadow of what it used to be.

And you find that funny? Sam tried to ask, and failed in raising her voice at the end of the question. Jack had to figure out her inquiry by the question's context, instead.

He answered what he thought her query had been. Well, you're voice is so much softer, now, that it's just a shadow... not quite what it was before... a shadow... Get it?

Sam smiled in amusement... sort of. She lifted the right corner of her mouth, and the left side twitched. Oh, good one, she sarcastically said, then blinked her eyes, and peered at her jeans as her legs were still on the blankets and sheets on her bed. She was still fully dressed, and was just sitting on top of, instead of under, her blankets. She had one eye open and one eye shut. This double vision that I still have is going to drive me insane, she commented.

So, wear that patch thing the doctors gave you, Jack suggested back.

I don't really fancy looking like a pirate, she said, and that's what I'll look like if I wear that thing. Then she rubbed at her temples with the fingers of her right hand.

Ah, ah, ah! Jack said, stopping her from using her right hand. He watched as she sighed in aggravation, then switched to rubbing her left temple, instead. At least, looking like a pirate doesn't give you a headache, Jack noted, then rose to rub at her head with his own fingers.

Sam arched into the head rub, closing her eyes for a second. God, that feels good, she commented. You'll do more for my headache than my medicine will. One thing besides her temper that had changed was the fact that now Sam suffered more headaches than before, but she got more head rubs because of it, so she figured that the situation was a balanced trade off.

She also took more medicine than before, and her bills reflected the change, unfortunately. The Insurance Company currently refused to honor the prescription drug plan that had been promised, and more than once, Jack had been forced to yell at the Company's representative in what he called his 'General bark.' Though it was loud, the raise in his voice always worked, and he at least got a little agreement out of them... until the next time he was forced into battle over something equally as mundane. The System Lords had obviously taken lessons from most Insurance Company representatives, he decided. He was truly considering having Teal'c stand by when he next called the Insurance Company, just in case he needed the Jaffa to make more convincing threats than he could.

Sam arched her neck, making tingles tighten across Jack's fingers, encouraging him to keep rubbing. You should start your own massage business, Sam told him, and arched the other way, causing more than tingles in Jack.

He cleared his throat, tried to keep control of his emotions, and went for a nonchalant tone. You know, Sam, I've been thinking.

Never a good sign, she teased. Several quiet moments went by as they both paused, deep in thought. Finally, Sam asked, And? What were you thinking about?

Jack swallowed, but went on in spite of a case of nerves that caused his stomach to twist and jump. Shouldn't have eaten that extra slice of pizza, he thought then.

Go on, Sam prompted once more. You were saying?

I've been thinking, Jack stated again. You're slated to go home next week, right?

And it won't come soon enough for me, Sam said, once again with her lopsided smile that Jack secretly found incredibly endearing. But he would never tell her that. The information might go to her head, and then where would he be? He answered his own mental question; stuck in an Infirmary with an arrogant head patient, and no where to run. Although, he conceded to himself, he wasn't sure that he exactly wanted to run, either.

Anyway, Jack said, after the protracted silence. You're going home, and at the same time you're getting a medical discharge from the Air Force...

You mean, they're washing their hands of me, Sam stated with an ironic twist to her lips.

Jack hated it when she got so self-disparaging, but continued, ignoring her interruption. Anyway...

You've already said that.

Carter, will you shut up? Jack said then, losing his hold on his own temper. I'm trying to get to a point, here.

Well, hurry up, and then you can rub my feet, too.

Any other orders for your slave? Jack teased.

Sam shrugged, or rather, gave half a shrug. I'll think about it, then let you know.

Anyway, Jack continued with his head rub, As I was saying before you so rudely interrupted me... You're going home next week, taking the medical discharge from the Air Force that they're offering, and because of that, you'll lose all your insurance coverage, such as it is.

Sam's expression fell. I have to think on what to do about that, yet.

I was thinking myself... Suppose I retire at the same time? Jack quietly inquired.

Sam gazed at him in slight astonishment. Retire? she questioned in amazement.

Jack set her a half grimace. I... uh... sort of... sent in the paperwork several weeks ago, he finished his confession in a quick rush of words.

Sam pulled her head away from his electric fingers so that she could stare at him. What do you mean? She peered at him. You did what?

Jack loved the way she looked at him with her two eyes, but seemed to gaze beyond him with pupils that were not quite moving at the same time. He shook his head to clear it of Sam's semi-magnetic gaze. He made certain that he had moved to stand in front of the security camera's view so that no one could eavesdrop, or lip-read, as the case may be, on their quiet conversation. It means exactly what it sounds like, Jack explained his wish to retire, and shrugged his own shoulders. You're going home. But you're not really in any condition to be all by yourself...

I'll manage, Sam said immediately.

I'm not sure that I want you just to 'manage' Jack echoed.

I'll be fine, Sam repeated, her voice sounding determined.

Jack whispered, then, for her ears only, Have I ever told you how much I love your stubborn streak?

Sam... sort of... smiled. Several times, she whispered back.

In a voice that was so low it was almost continuing his whisper, he said, Anyway, what I was thinking was... And here, Jack knew he had to be careful of that very stubborn streak which he claimed to love. What if..? What if..?

Sam sighed. Jack, what?

He stood closer yet to her bed, and lowered his voice even more. Okay... You, medical discharge. You, home all by yourself. Me, maybe retiring, with lots of free time on my hands. Me, maybe retiring, bored out of my skull while alone, and thinking about you and your 'managing,' wishing with my whole heart that I was with you all the time, instead. Me, hoping that rather than letting me be bored to death, you'll save me with your excellent company by letting me hang around so that you don't have to 'manage' all by yourself. Then, he shrugged again, And... hoping... that... maybe... you might want me to hang around because... because you want me to... hang around, he softly finished.

Sam stared at him, puzzled. What, exactly, are you saying here, Jack?

Jack sighed, grimaced, then sighed again. At last, he spoke. I'm trying to ask, though not very well, apparently, what you think about promising to save me from a retirement full of... What I want to ask is... He looked at her, then, his affection warring with his sense of trepidation, both showing so clearly in his eyes. He touched her fingers with his, just briefly, and whispered, Sam, do you think you could... maybe... be my... wife? He reached into his front trouser pocket and pulled out a ring that had already been removed from its deep blue velvet box. The diamond ring that he'd bought twinkled among the other debris in his pocket, and he made sure that he still stood in front of the security camera, so no one could see what he was doing. Hopefully, his action seemed as if he were showing her something he had found and simply stuffed in his pocket for safe keeping.

Sam's mouth fell open. Then it snapped closed... never a good sign. But, Jack, Sam protested right away. I'm... Well.., And she gave him a look of part hope, part agony, and nervously said, I'm... Well, I'm damaged, she finally got out. Who would want me, now, anyway?

Me? Jack hazarded to guess. I'm damaged, too, though my damage is on the inside, and yours is on the outside.

But.., Sam protested again, The doctors say it's dangerous for me to try to have any children. She paused, again, then softly confessed, They're so afraid of what the hormones will do if I ever become pregnant that I voluntarily had a tubal ligation the day after I woke up.

Thank goodness, Jack responded, though he was secretly horrified that anyone trying to help his Sam would let her undergo such a procedure for a future that was tentative at best. But, he kept up his original pretense so that she wouldn't think he was horrified at her, instead. I'm too old for children, anyway.

You're not too old, Sam scoffed, but sat, staring at the offered ring in spite of her protests. Eventually, she gave an incredulous bark of laughter... sort of... and met his gaze with her own.

Lightening that only they could see ignited something between them. Sam blinked after another star-struck, buzzing moment, then asked in a whisper, Then... why? as if she suspected his reasoning, hoped, but was afraid to admit that she wholly understood.

Jack sighed dramatically, and he was reminded of Daniel's love of drama. Because of a million different reasons, he softly said.

Sam's brows raised questioningly... sort of.

What..? Do I have to spell it out for you? Jack incredulously inquired, trying to look injured when he really wasn't.

I guess I'm just dense, Sam declared, bringing up another one of their favorite, shared, jokes.

It was Jack's turn to scowl, this time. You're not dense... You just take great pleasure in acting like you're dense.

Well, then, enlighten me, Sam half challenged. half flirted.

God, Sam! Jack suddenly ran an agitated hand through his own hair, messing up the silver strands to make it hang in an untidy heap on his forehead. He grabbed onto her fingers again, and preceded to quietly and emphatically hiss, Because I love you! Not a day goes by when I don't find myself wanting desperately to kiss every inch of your body, even the damaged side! He ended with, And if I don't finally ask, I'm going to be as certifiable as you are!

Sam shrewdly peered at him. I'm trying hard not to get swept away in the moment, here...

Go ahead, get swept away, Jack instructed.

Sam suddenly widened her eyes and stared at him with genuine surprise on her face, and abruptly changed the line of her argument. You're serious.

Jack stared straight into her eyes. As serious as I've ever been about anything, he sincerely answered.

Sam stared at him again, then her mouth fell open.

Close your mouth before you start drooling, Jack told her. Though I like it when you drool, you might not.

Sam suddenly smiled at him. Do I get to drool over you? she asked then, having fun with the double meaning in her words; it was common knowledge that it was perfectly acceptable to drool over a good looking person, but someone suffering from an accident like hers might seem to drool for no apparent reason whatsoever. Sam preferred to drool with good reason... She knew she was staring at a perfectly good reason right in that instance.

Jack squinted, pretending to think. He was as aware as she was as to the double meaning in her question. You get to drool... occasionally.

Sam smiled again, as big a smile as she could at the time. The emotion she was feeling reached all the way into her blue eyes, which lit up. You're on.

Is that a 'yes?' Jack wanted to know.

Sam smiled again. God, I hope so, she forcefully said.

Jack's heart thundered in his ears, and the sigh of relief he blew out echoed in the quiet room. He grinned and squeezed Sam's hand, the most he could do in front of the security camera. But he squeezed extra tight, and his smile was so big that it threatened to crack his own face in two. Good, was all he said, but it was enough.

Sam carefully took the ring he was offering to her out of his palm, then looked at it, hidden from security's view by his bulk. It rested where she placed it on the sheets, twinkling again, but Sam didn't dare raise it any nearer to her eyes for a closer inspection. Her breathing was shallower than it had been before, and she couldn't help the smile that seemed stuck fast to her face. She glanced at Jack, and he was grinning back at her, too. Emotion swirled and swelled in her heart, and she had to whisper to him, I can't wait to get out of here to show you how much I love you.

Jack smiled even more at that thought. You just told me... That has to count for something.

Sam continued in a low voice, I'd rather throw my arms around you, and kiss you senseless, than whisper it to you in the Infirmary.

Now that sounds very promising, Jack said back, his low voice not reaching much beyond the end of her bed in the quiet room.

Sam still grinned as she reached for her new ring, and shoved it in the pocket of her jeans in order to keep its presence a secret awhile longer, yet.

Their voices must have been nothing but a light murmur in the military room, though they were too busy smiling at each other to say much. Sam slid her fingers across his, and that simple touch sizzled more, and went straight to her heart with her new knowledge of their situation enhancing her emotions.

It was quiet in the Infirmary as Sam smiled and touched Jack's hand, but they were so lost in each other's gaze that the distant sound of weapons fire barely penetrated their subconscious minds. It was the added noise of the occasional staff blast that finally stirred their foggy brains.

The smile slid off Jack's face as he listened intently for just a second, and Sam, always attuned to what Jack was doing more than she wished to admit, listened also. The noise was quickly coming closer to them in the Infirmary.

That sounds like.., Sam started to say with her brow furrowed in frown lines of concentration.

Jack finished her comment in a habitual whisper. ... staff weapons. Then, stunned, he looked at her. Goa'uld! blazed across his brain, followed by more words and concepts that came too fast for him to sort into real sentences. Infiltration! Base! Hide!

Quick as a flash, Jack had grabbed Sam around her waist and pulled her off the bed to land on top of him in a heap of arms and legs on the floor.



Two scoots later, they were both carefully concealed under the bed, and Jack's hand was over Sam's mouth as his other arm squeezed her waist. Sam breathed hard, pulling his hand down as she better understood his intentions. But, understanding aside, she was still so surprised and frightened that she squeezed his hand ever tighter as they tried their best to become invisible while hiding under the bed.

That comprehension came none too soon as the sound of armored boots clanked eerily down the hall and into the room. There was more noise: staff blasts, weapons fire, screams, groans, mindless confusion... It all coalesced into the scariest sound that Jack ever thought he would hear while in the SGC.

It was the deep, tinny, reverberating sounds of someone infected with a Goa'uld symbiote. They will make excellent hosts; take them to the holding room near the Stargate and Lord Ahmen. You, you, and you; stay behind while I make a final sweep of the room.

There was the sound of retreating Jaffa armor and more cries and groans as the medical personnel were herded towards the door. Jack pulled Sam even closer to his chest and prayed that the alien soldiers wouldn't think to look under the beds.

Barely breathing enough to make an arresting sound, Jack and Sam lay, curled up together as the Jaffa walked further into the room. The one who had spoken before must have glanced cursorily around the medical bay, before he spoke again, I see no one left alive. Inform Lord Ahmen that these facilities are under our command. Then stay with the prisoners... Go!

There was once more the sound of clanking Jaffa armor on the tile flooring of the Infirmary, then all was quiet for several moments. Finally, Jack motioned with his hands that he wanted Sam to stay where she was while he wriggled out from their hiding place and peeked around the end of the bed next to hers in order to see what was going on.

Barely daring to breath, Jack slid his head around the bed and peeked up. There was nothing out of the ordinary to meet his gaze. So he carefully slid some more across the tiles until he was even with the end of the bed next to Sam's. What I wouldn't do for one of those spying telescope things right about now, he thought, and had to grimace at the SGC's, and his, general lack of preparedness for a Foothold situation.

And speaking of Foothold situations... Lord Ahmen must be an unknown System Lord. The Jaffa that Jack had heard spoke of a Lord Ahmen like he was a well-known threat... but Jack didn't think he had ever heard of a Lord Ahmen before.

But, not one to let his circumstances overly bother him, knowing how quickly the tides of battle could turn to favor one side or the other, Jack snapped his attention back to the present predicament, then slowly inched forward, and snuck a glance around the end of the bed, keeping his head low to the floor.

Jack didn't observe any of the Jaffa feet that he secretly dreaded seeing, and he pulled his head back to sneak a look over the top of the bed. His knees were screaming at the pressure he was forcing them through as he continued to kneel on the hard tile floor, but he ignored the sensation as he slowly raised his head and peered into the room.

Empty. The room was empty.

Well, the room was empty of anyone else alive, Jack amended to himself. He glanced around at the bodies of a few medical staff, some Jaffa warriors, and one or two American soldiers lying at odd angles on the floor and across computer chairs near the walls. Even the guy.., the patient with the broken leg... What was his name..? Stephen..? lay back on his bed, looking as if he were resting except for the presence of the large, ugly, staff wound in his chest. It leaked blood, which ran onto the sheets under him, staining everything a bizarre shade of purplish maroon. A nurse or doctor lay over his arm, also clearly dead.

Jack reached back under Carter's bed, touched her shoulder to get her attention, then motioned the 'stay' command one more time before he slid out again, then made his way slowly up the room, using the beds as cover to hide behind and conceal his form from anyone who happened to glance into the dimly lighted room. Another minute later, Jack had eased the Infirmary door closed and turned out the lights.

Jack! Sam urgently whispered into the gloom, risking her position under the bed in her anxiety over his well-being.

Almost got it..! Jack stage whispered back. There! A second later, the lights came back on, filtering even under the bed, now.

Unable to roll out on her own, Sam did her best to slide against the tiles until she felt the comforting familiarity of Jack's hands helping her to slide into the open, where he helped her to sit up and lean against the bed opposite their position on the floor.

The second Sam was sitting up, Jack pulled her into him and held on tightly to her. God, I've never been so scared that we would be found! he said into her hair by her ear. The thought of you being killed or forced to be a host... He clutched her tighter as he became slowly aware of the solid feel of her hands on his back in their first, fully shared embrace in years.

Sam was the first to pull back, but she held onto his arms for balance as well as to give him her support. What happened? Were those Jaffa I thought I heard? Here? In the SGC?

Jack sat back to look her in the eye. I don't know what's going on. But, yeah, those must have been Jaffa. There are a few who are dead up by the door. The security camera has been blasted away, so it's a good bet that these guys know what they're doing, what to aim for, how to stay undetected until it's too late... I closed the door to the Infirmary and shoved a sheet under it to keep the light from leaking into the hallway in case anyone walks by. He pulled her close again, and slid his hand down her hair. I can only think that they've landed on the mountain somehow... that's their typical MO... then they must have taken over the base or something...

We're on our own here? Sam asked, her voice muffled by his shoulder.

Looks that way... No one knows we're alive in here, and with the door shut, it will stay that way. No one will ever pay attention to a closed, locked, door.

Sam pushed back from him again. We have to do something, fight, or...

How? came Jack's harsh reply. There are two of us against an entire army!

Think... think.., Sam told herself. She looked sideways, as if she were mentally going through their options, until her features suddenly lit up. Armory! she whispered. We can sneak into the Armory!

And what good will that do? Jack asked. We can't blow them all up, there has to be more than one ship out there, and you can barely lift a P-90 and keep it up for very long. Plus, we have no rings, and no Stargate now... Just what do you suggest that we do?

Sam shrugged her half shrug again, bit her bottom lip, a characteristic habit of hers that showed she was deep in thought, then her eyes landed on her closed laptop computer. A virus, she announced.

A what? Jack asked. A virus means taking out the entire Jaffa Army that's down here, and it will take so long to infect their bodies that we'll probably all be dead before then...

No, Sam interrupted. Not a medical virus... a computer virus... you know... Jack shook his head. She went on to further explain, Teal'c told us about it... It's something that can communicate to the other ships on the same frequency that runs between their ships and tell them remotely to shut off all power... Better yet, to blow up the ships... Kind of like the Goa'uld version of the Internet... I'm sure that I can write a virus to give commands like that to all the ships in this Lord Ahmen's fleet at once.

Jack looked at Sam, considering her suggestion. But... Can you write something like the virus that you're telling me about?

Sam considered as well. I think I can. Then she added, I know I could have six months ago, and probably now, though I'll type out the program a lot slower than I used to be able to.

That's not what I asked, Jack whispered. Don't get sidetracked, here. Then, he repeated, Can you do something like this?

Sam regarded him with the eyes of a soldier staring at her General. At last, she nodded. Give me enough time, and I'll write it.

Then we need to sneak onto that ship they must have with them... through the Stargate, since I doubt you're up to walking to where the ring site must be located outside their ship...

And that means we have to take over the Embarkation Room, and every Goa'uld that I know of has used the Embarkation Room as a sort of headquarters...

Yeah, talk about walking from the frying pan into the fire, O'Neill muttered.

We're still going to need the things kept in the Armory, then, especially if we plan to try to infiltrate a Goa'uld mother ship.

They both remained quiet for a minute, thinking fast. Then Jack held up a finger for her attention. What if.., he started, then paused, thinking again. He went on, What if I dress up in one of those warrior outfits of theirs, and you pretend to be my prisoner? We can get into the Embarkation Room that way. He paused to stare hopefully at her. We shouldn't excite any interest if we look the part of conqueror and conquered.

What about clearance? Sam asked immediately, hating to dampen his idea, but more determined to ask the questions that needed to be considered, and shed some doubt where she thought it needed to be shed. My clearance was changed not long after the enlisted personnel thought... well... they all thought I would never need clearance again. And you didn't have clearance to begin with.

Jack thought on her words, then looked at the sight of Stephen and the doctor, or nurse, or whatever she was, lying over him. He stood, walked over to them both, then, grimacing, went through each of their pockets until he held two identi-cards in his hands. Then, he jogged back towards her.

Here, sudden clearance has been granted to you... Major Hathaway, he said, reading a name off the card before him. Then he shoved it at her as he placed the other card in his back pocket. Congratulations, he intoned sardonically.

Sam took the card, using her right hand (it suddenly didn't seem very important to use only her left hand), shoved it into the back pocket of her jeans that she was, thankfully, still wearing, and stared at him. Have I ever told you that I love that sarcastic commentary that you give?

Jack smiled. No, but I kind of wondered... You always used to smile whenever I said something sarcastic... I used to do it just to see that smile of yours...

Sam laughed, snorted, then whispered, That's rather sneaky of you...

Youbetcha, Jack said, smiled, then asked, Are you sure you can walk as far as the Armory, then the Embarkation Room?

If you hold onto my arm so that I don't fall, I think I'll be all right. Sam considered again. With any luck, my natural tendency to trip will only enhance your image as the evil Jaffa guard on duty with a prisoner.

Jack kind of grunted, and grimaced again. Yeah, with any luck.., he said.

* * *

Many hours later, Jack peered into the little room set aside as the doctor's office just off the main Infirmary room. Janet had used this room as her personal retreat, and he always thought of her whenever he saw it. But, most importantly, it had electrical outlets and a desk with a matching, fairly comfortable desk chair. Currently, Sam Carter was seated in that chair, trying her best to be careful while typing on the keyboard of her laptop computer, which was set up on the desk. She was currently staring at the computer screen, reading through what she had just written.

Sam, Jack whispered at her as he peered through the office door at her seated in the CMO's chair. How much longer will this take? he hissed.

Sam glanced at him. You're not going to like hearing this...

Tell me anyway, O'Neill demanded.

Sam sighed tiredly, and wiped at the sweat on her forehead. Well, I've finished writing the virus, but I really think I should take a few minutes off first, then check over my work, make sure I didn't make a mistake, save it all to these disks... She held up two red plastic three and a half inch disks that she had found in the desk drawer. Then, I need to get my medication, in case this entire operation takes longer than we think it will, just to be on the safe side, and then I'll be ready to go.

Jack gazed at her. That long, huh? he deadpanned. Well, let's get your medicine...

I need to take it now, anyway. I can tell; I'm starting to get tight again.

Jack went on, Okay, we'll get it all at once, right now, then go. I'll take the first watch while you rest for a few minutes. He tiredly gazed at her. I'm used to watching, he told her.

General, Sam said with a tired smile of her own. Are you trying to tell me that on missions off-world, you used to watch me while you had guard duty, and I slept?

Jack shrugged, and defensively held out his hands. Hey, I couldn't help it, exactly. Did you know that when you're the deepest asleep, you snore?

Sam grinned. I do not.

Jack grinned back at her. Yes, you do. I've seen it. Then he amended, Or heard it, rather.

Sam was quick to whisper back to him, And, if you're gonna play dirty, why, then, did you always pretend to be less smart than you are? She rose from her chair, and he offered his arm so that she could hang on to him while they made their way over to the medication cart. I've always wondered about that, she added.

Pretending that I didn't understand something.., Jack started to explain as Sam rifled through the drawers, pulling out bottles of pills. Well, Jack admitted, blushing a little. Who would be the natural person at explaining things to me, then? he asked.

Sam paused in her rifling and gaped at him. You always pretended that, Jack? Just to get me to explain things to you? His blush deepened. She shook her head. And to think, I explained so many concepts to you over the years.

Yeah, Jack agreed. It worked really well. No one ever suspected the truth... they just thought I was the dumb Colonel.

Sam suddenly smiled with extreme satisfaction. I knew, though, she said, surprising him.

You knew what I was doing? Jack did some gaping of his own.

Sam gave an even bigger sort of smile. Of course I knew, and I always thought it was deviously clever of you, and so cute... But I knew that you couldn't possibly just be the 'dumb Colonel' that everyone thought you were. She dumped a handful of pills onto the cart, and from there, shoved them into the left front pocket of her jeans. Then, she moved on to the next bottle of pills on the list of medications written beside her name on the medical chart. Finally, she said, There, got them all. Now, to take what I need for tonight... She held on to the edge of the cart, and from there, wriggled over to the Infirmary sink. This used to be so much easier.., she muttered. Then, she filled a plastic glass kept in a pile by the sink, and swallowed her medication. Good thing my swallow muscle has always been fine, or this could have gotten really interesting, she sarcastically noted.

Don't go all cynical on me, Jack warned. That's my job. Then he quickly kissed her. No security camera, Jack explained when she glanced questioningly at him. He shrugged again. Well, I had to do something while you worked, so I looked around the room... tried to see what's here that we can use....

Sam continued to stare, then she smiled. So, what'd you find?

Jack grimaced. Not much, really. But I did get to thinking that we don't need to go to the Armory... We can use what we have right here! And suddenly he lifted a Zat gun to hand to her. And I found one of these. Easier for you to control than a staff weapon.

Grateful at the thoughtfulness of his gesture, Sam said, I have to admit that the thought of creeping into the Armory like a pair of thieves didn't thrill me.

I cooouuulldd demonstrate to you what might thrill me, he suggested then, yet played at looking at her with supreme reluctance.

Sam glanced up at him, but was far busier concentrating on standing on her own than she was on looking at him. Oh, and what's that? she asked vaguely, still trying to divide her concentration between standing, and what he was saying, and having little luck. It was difficult for her to multitask so much now. Listening to somebody speak while she tried to do something else completely separate usually meant that whatever the speaking person said didn't truly enter her conscious mind.

Thus, she was taken completely by surprise when Jack tapped her on the arm and turned her towards him. He whispered, Sam, I've been thinking...

Again? she teased.

He glared at her, then went on to explain his thoughts. Very funny. But actually, what I want to suggest is that we don't go into the Embarkation Room at all, but shoot like hell as fast as we can from the outer doorways on both sides of the room. No one will be expecting it, first of all, and it will cause total confusion, secondly. Plus, the Jaffa inside the room will have to shoot at us through the doors, making their aim haphazard at best, while we can shoot at them in the open room.

We're much more likely to hit them that way? Sam queried.

Jack the military strategist nodded.

Sam nodded back. Sounds like a plan to me. I'm all for shorter walks all around.

I thought you would be, Jack said, and grimaced again. He led her back to the CMO's office once more, and the chair it provided. Wait here, then, while I dress in one of those Jaffa armor uniforms of their's.

Sam's call made him pause. Don't put on the top half until you have my computer case slung around your neck...

Jack did come to a halt by the office door. Good thinking, he said, then disappeared into the room beyond.

During the wait, Sam took the opportunity to read through her program one last time, finding several mistakes in the process. Oh, good thing I caught that before going onto a mother ship, she thought to herself, and decided not to point out to Jack her mistake in telling the ships to begin the firing process instead of the self-destruct process, and locking that self destruct process out of the main computer to avoid any future tampering. Wincing, she continued reading until the end, made the adjustments to it that she needed to make, saved the entire program, then packed up her computer.

By this time, Jack was finished donning the lower half of the armor belonging to one of the Jaffa guards who had died in the original battle for the Infirmary. He hid a P-90 on his torso, and included the computer that Sam had confined inside the carrying case that had been hidden under her bed, at the head, next to the wall.

Careful with that, Sam cautioned, but O'Neill didn't have time to show concern for what was, in technicality, a piece of equipment. He was far more concerned in getting Sam through the coming ordeal alive and fairly healthy. He finished dressing, but wasn't too concerned by how he gave Sam shivers of dread when he slid the headpiece of the armor shut.

Now, stay low, Jack instructed through the armor, his voice muffled, and aim high. The prisoners will be forced to kneel before their god, and all that crap, but the guards and Lord Ahmen will be standing up, so shooting them will be fairly simple when they're that high up. Being low to the ground will also act as a cover for you in a place where there really isn't much cover, so go low and stay there. He paused for breath.

Anything else? she asked in a businesslike tone of voice.

Jack recognized her tone as one often used on the missions they had shared... businesslike and brisk. Yes, he said, grateful that the accident hadn't affected her memory at all. He could count on her to keep in mind all his instructions, and to logically deduce what she couldn't recall. I need to leave you alone for about a minute as I sneak to the other door into the Embarkation Room. Don't worry, he soothed automatically when he noticed her disturbed expression. You'll have a Zat gun, and the element of surprise. And if you hold on to the card reader stuck to the outside wall, you should be fine. We'll synchronize our watches so that we'll open the doors at the same time... He showed her his watch hidden inside his left fist. I didn't know you were such a worrier, Carter, he commented, falling back on their habitual terms of address in a military situation.

I didn't normally have to face on army of Jaffa, she sardonically told him.

Would I lead you into a dangerous situation? he asked, then amended his question when she looked at him accusingly, One that's too dangerous?

Sam was forced to shake her head as she stood up in preparation to leave the doctor's office in the Infirmary.

You got your ID card? Jack asked.

Sam pulled the card from her jeans pocket before shoving it right back into its hiding place.

Good, Jack said, and lifted his staff weapon from the chair he'd laid it on. Just be sure to open your door at the right time... At exactly 10:31.

Sam set her watch to coincide with his.

Oh, added Jack in the tinny voice of a Jaffa guard. Don't hit me by mistake - I'll be the one left standing up at the end, he said. At her nod, he took her arm and said, Okay... let's go. At a gentle tug on her sleeve, he moved them both towards the Infirmary door.

Together, they moved down the corridor, Jack clanking at a slightly slower pace so that she could keep up with him without too much trouble. Still, about every third step, Sam lurched as she lost her balance, but Jack dared not help her too much. Her stumblings really did appear as if he were half dragging her to the Embarkation Room.

They reached the door in their goal corridor, and Sam took her ID card out of her pocket, then grabbed a firm hold onto the card reader with her left hand.

Okay... I'll leave you... now! Jack whispered urgently, and Sam pressed the timer on the side of her watch as Jack disappeared around the bend in the corridor, aiming for the blast door on the other side of the Embarkation Room. This was the first truly dangerous point in their mission, as Jack couldn't open the door on the other side, and protect her at the same time.

Nervously, Sam hung on to the card, the Zat gun, and the card identifier with all her might, and simultaneously tried to keep her eyes peeled for enemy soldiers. She thought she heard the sound of approaching footsteps a dozen times, but each alarm proved to be the product of her overwrought imagination, a hallucination brought on by her medication, or both.

But when she was swinging her head back around to gaze up the corridor towards her lab, disaster struck in a form that neither she nor Jack had anticipated. As her chin swung around, it knocked askew the ID card that she was clutching in her left hand, and she clumsily dropped it to the floor as a result.

Shit! she whispered, frantically wondering how on Earth she was going to lift the valuable piece of plastic from the floor in time to run it through the reader in order to start firing at the enemy Jaffa without leaving Jack to fight the same army alone.

She peered down at the card lying innocently on the tiles, then swallowed. She had no choice but to retrieve it from the floor. But once she got down far enough to pick it up, she didn't know how she was going to get back up again to run her card through the reader affixed to the wall.

She would cross that bridge when she came to it, she decided. One thing at a time. Break the job down to manageable pieces, she reminded herself. Her therapists had given the same advice to her over and over again, and they said that, if she faithfully followed those directions, she would be guaranteed to solve almost any problem. But, somehow, she doubted that her therapists had had this particular kind of dilemma in mind when they first advised her with this distinctive brand of action.

Carefully, Sam grabbed onto the edge of the blast door's frame that stuck out from the wall, remembered to force her knees to bend, and sort of slithered down to the floor just as the familiar clank of enemy warriors filled the corridor. When a group of Jaffa showed themselves as they walked around the corner, Sam was ready for them. Staying low, Zat gun aimed high, she fired indiscriminately into their ranks, pumping energy shots into the group over and over again.

The second the final soldier fell, stunned, to the floor, Sam rolled over, grabbed the card, and purposefully ended upright on hands and knees, leaning with her back against the wall. She then used the wall as leverage, and pushed, hard, against the cinder blocks behind her. The first few beeps from the alarm inside her watch sounded as, teeth gritted in concentration, she pushed herself up just high enough to shove the card through the reader. Then, gasping, she dropped back to the floor as the blast door slid open on the command she had given to it. She could only hope that Jack had been able to open the opposite door at the same time.

The situation inside the Embarkation Room was exactly as Jack had predicted. Jaffa warriors stood inside the room, near the prisoners, and a person in gold armor was standing, totally exposed, at the middle point of the room. Sam figured he must be Lord Ahmen. She was glad for once of the Goa'uld penchant for arrogantly standing out in the open. She dropped back down to lay on the tile floor, pretending to be dead, Zat gun curled up under her second arm.

The minute the door was completely open, she jerked her arm around, and yelled as loudly as she could, Hit the deck! Though her voice wasn't exactly loud enough to reach the far end of the room, enough of the kneeling prisoners heard and understood her command, for they fell forward in one swift motion, leaving Sam free to fire her weapon in short, fast blasts of zinging, violent, blue energy.

She remembered to aim high, swinging her arm wildly to create as much confusion as possible as she pumped blast after blast into the room. She didn't even look to see if the other door was open first. She just kept commanding her muscles to fire her gun, knowing that her reflexes weren't as quick as they used to be, so she mentally acknowledged that she had to fire more often rather than less often to bring down the same amount of enemy soldiers.

When she heard the clank of an approaching enemy patrol she didn't stop her assault to deal with them. Rather, she rolled sideways into the room, using the open door as cover, and continued firing, barely missing a beat. Several seconds later, she swung her gun around and fired it out the door, felling one soldier after another with little regard to what she was doing.

Suddenly, before she could swing the Zat gun back into the room, she felt a hand on her shoulder. The clank of lowering head gear entered into her consciousness, and the yell, Carter! Stop! It's me! in her ear brought her finger to a halt.

It was Jack. She would recognize his voice anywhere, and halted her assault only after he told her to stop. He placed his staff weapon beside him on the floor, then leaned down to clear away the hair that had fallen into her eyes. He pulled the gun from her hand, deactivated it, then left his hand on her shoulder as they surveyed the room, trying to ascertain whether or not they had accomplished their goal.

Smoke, dust, and other debris marked the Embarkation Room from one side to its other. Even the blast windows showed the scars of battle, but the Stargate stood, untouched, at the end of its ramp of corrugated metal. And all around the room lay the stunned or dead bodies of the enemy Jaffa.

Sam wearily dropped her head onto her curled arms, and tried to concentrate on breathing as her heart thundered on an adrenaline rush that made her fingers and toes tingle. She felt the urge to keep firing into the crowd in the Embarkation room, and fought the urge as she sucked in air from her place on the floor.

Sam was so busy trying to breathe that she missed, but felt, the brush of colder air stream by her as someone vaulted around her body and out of the room. Half a second later, she could hear that same person jumping up the stairs and into the Control Room, where three fast blasts of another Zat gun turned the entire room a hazy shade of blue. A second later, that same someone came back into the Embarkation Room, stepping over her spread eagled legs.

Daniel! Sam heard Jack yell. Good shooting, and fast thinking. Here, keep watch while I get out of this blasted suit! And lock those blast doors! The last thing we need now is more Jaffa to cope with in here.

The blast doors slid shut with a reverberating clang, then locked, as several curses shot through Sam's mind when she realized that neither she nor Jack had remembered to watch the 'Gate Control Room, but glad that Daniel had been able to keep his wits about him, and handle the problem in his own way. She felt Jack's hand leave the back of her shoulder for a second, replaced by a hand belonging to someone else, and she rolled onto her back to see what was happening in the Embarkation Room.

Sam first realized that it was Teal'c, not Daniel, who awkwardly patted her shoulder in somewhat comforting movements as he tried his best to soothe her. Jack was stripping off the many pieces of the armor that was simply getting in his way now that his and Sam's initial attack was over. There were more men in Jaffa armor lying on the floor than she had first counted, and at the head of the room lay a being clothed in gold, near the stairs leading to the Stargate ramp.

The minute Jack was free of his camouflage, he pulled the Zat gun into his hand again, and quickly fired three successive bursts of blue lightening into the form of Lord Ahmen lying in a crumpled heap at the front of the room. The Goa'uld first died, then disintegrated as Jack shot at him.

Was that entirely necessary? Sam heard Daniel ask Jack as the smoke from his blasts cleared out of the air.

Jack instantly responded, Yes, that was soooo necessary... Now, no one can use a sarcophagus on him, and bring him back from the dead to fight another day, or anything like that.

Good point, Daniel muttered, but Sam heard every word he said, as he spoke quietly to the floor.

Teal'c, help me sit up, please, Sam requested next, grabbed onto Teal'c's outstretched hands, and levered herself into a sitting position. The momentum of the movement made her dizzy for a minute, but the sensation quickly passed as she curled her legs into a crossed position on the floor. Thanks. I can take things from here, she said, and with nothing more than a head nod, Teal'c strode several feet away to stand next to Jack, one of the discarded staff weapons firmly planted in his hand.

Who's in charge here? Jack asked Daniel and Teal'c. Jack gazed at them questioningly. And what the heck are you two doing here?

Us? Daniel responded, bemused now that all the excitement was over. What are you doing here? We heard that the Infirmary was under Jaffa control, so we had counted the both of you as lost to the enemy.

Jack answered simply, We hid. he looked at Daniel and Teal'c. And what have you been up to?

Daniel was quick to comply with his answer. Well, we know that General Landry's dead... He was one of the first people they all shot... no leader to rally around, you know.

Damn, Jack regretfully said in a low voice.

Daniel went on, That makes you the senior officer, I guess. And 'what are we doing here?' he reiterated Jack's original question back to him. We were trying to repel the Jaffa army when they surrounded me and Teal'c, and captured us. That was fifteen minutes or so ago. He gazed at Jack over the top rims of his glasses. The question is, what the hell are you and Sam doing here? Really?

Jack grunted, Rescuing you, looks like. Then, he relented and told him, Carter's got an idea for taking out Ahmen's entire fleet... We came here to secure the Stargate before 'Gating over to the mother ship that's gotta be on top of this mountain.

Daniel nodded to affirm Jack's suspicion about the presence of a mother ship parked on top of Cheyenne Mountain, but went on to stare blankly at him for a moment, and said, Excuse me... I thought you just told me that you plan to 'Gate to a Goa'uld mother ship through an impervious Jaffa Army with nothing but yourself and a person who can't even walk, let alone defeat a bunch of trained enemy soldiers.

Jack took the time to glare at his team member. Daniel, when are you going to figure out that Carter should never be discounted in an equation?

Now you're beginning to sound like her, Daniel accused, not letting him finish his comment. You're using words that are longer than two syllables... Then, he blinked, and harshly continued, Are you sure you're feeling all right? He lifted up a hand to feel Jack's forehead for signs of fever, and Jack swatted his hand away.

Will you cut that out! Jack fiercely demanded. Look, Carter wrote a computer virus that should infect that ship on our mountain, then instruct the rest of the fleet currently sitting in orbit somewhere near Mars to explode in a huge fireball... If we first find the right frequency they're so that we can send our virus... Come on Teal'c, tell him, or I'm gonna have to knock his block off.

The ex-Jaffa warrior gazed at Daniel as blandly as Jack was staring at him. O'Neill is correct, he told his friend in his dry voice. A computer virus will essentially render the Goa'uld ships useless in space and on this mountain. Then he sighed. It is a wonder that none of us thought of this before.

Daniel gaped for a second before visibly shaking his head. And you said that Sam wrote this virus? he asked. Then he grunted. Sounds like a movie we all once saw...

Sam had listened to enough of the conversation that now she simply had to intrude on it, as she knew more about what she and Jack planned to do than her two friends. Where do you think I got the idea? she rhetorically asked Daniel with a twinkle in her eyes. Then she went on to try to explain, A computer virus should be able to travel among the ships to their network hub, after I synchronize my own machine with the oscillating Goa'uld network frequency... She let her voice drift away into silence as their blank looks at her technological words only increased the more she talked. Think of it as the Goa'uld version of the Internet, she suggested then. All the ships are linked together, and should be penetrable without much trouble. All we have to do is tell them to explode, and poof...

Big fireball in the sky, Jack said, finishing for her.

Sam continued, more hesitantly when it was clear that Daniel didn't believe her capable of doing any of what she was describing. Still, she had to make one last attempt at defending herself, and her idea. It should work just fine, she meekly said. In... theory... anyway.

Daniel glanced at them both, still skeptical. In theory? he asked disbelievingly. And Sam wrote this little computer virus... thing?

Jack glared at him again. Do you know of any other computer expert currently on base? he scathingly asked. Then, he dismissed Daniel's skepticism for more pressing concerns, Now, I need you and Teal'c to suit up in vests... Steal them off someone, or something... just get them. And get some weapons, too. He glanced at the two men standing at his side, wearing confused expressions on their faces. I need you two to come with us so you can watch our backs, he explained. Then, almost as an afterthought, he asked, Oh, yeah... Since Carter can't climb stairs yet... Do either of you know how to dial the 'Gate?

Teal'c answered immediately. ColonelCarter recently instructed me on the dialing protocol, he said. I am more than proficient at the task you seek to accomplish.

Fine, Jack said, already distracted from Teal'c's response. He walked over to a Jaffa warrior who was just beginning to stir, and asked him, I suppose such a ship that's as advanced as the one sitting on top of our mountain right now has a Stargate?

The anonymous Jaffa soldier grunted an answer that Jack understood, but Sam was too far away to completely detect as intelligible conversation beyond the sneering, Of course.., that the Jaffa warrior said.

Good enough, Jack answered him, then demanded, What's the address?

The enemy warrior glared back at Jack. I will never reveal the secrets of Lord Ahmen.

Fine, have it your way, Jack said, then pulled the trigger of the Zat gun, and was looking around the room for another soldier to harass as the first victim fell back to the floor.

Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. Don't you think that's being a little harsh, Jack?

Harsh? Jack echoed. Tell Landry that I'm being too harsh, and then put me on report... I don't exactly care, anymore. It's the same kind of treatment we could expect from them.

Thaaaaat's... another good point, Daniel told him, conceding to Jack's argument, then moved to finally assist the General by finding the next victim writhing on the floor. All the other Jaffa warriors were still unconscious.

Jack pulled the soldier up to face him. The Stargate address on your ship... what is it?

This man only laughed right in Jack's face, and the General grunted once before shooting the soldier with his Zat gun, and moving on to a third soldier. Got what I need, or do you want to join your friends here?

This third Jaffa warrior glanced at his comrades. Then he whispered, I am an undercover Tok'ra agent... Please... I will tell you what you seek, but do not say anything...

Jack grinned. Gotta love you Tok'ra, he sarcastically said under his breath, then glanced at Daniel as the one person that he knew was most likely to have a pencil and paper in his pocket. Daniel, you got something to write on?

Sure. Daniel handed over a small spiral notebook and a pencil stub. Then, at Teal'c's expression of curiosity at the fact that his team member was able to produce the revealed items, shrugged, and defended himself, You never know when you're going to need to write something down.

That is most wise, DanielJackson, Teal'c declared. I, too, must acquire one of these...

Notebooks, Teal'c, Jack filled in for him. Teal'c nodded just as the Jaffa soldier finished scribbling the 'Gate address on the tiny piece of paper. He handed it to Jack, who delivered it to Teal'c's waiting hand. Run, Jack suggested, and saw Teal'c weave his way to the door prior to arriving in the Control Room. Jack turned back to the soldier dressed in his Jaffa armor. Since I don't want to be known as the guy who uncovered an undercover agent... He shot the Jaffa before he had the chance to finish his statement. Then he disengaged the Zat gun, and tossed it in Sam's direction. Hey, Carter, use this...

Sam caught the undeployed weapon, then dropped it to the floor. Her sigh of aggravation sounded throughout the room. Why do I have to be so darn clumsy? she grumbled rhetorically to no one in particular as she drew out a knife, then, very carefully, proceeded to cut off the lower hem of a BDU tunic from one of the dead SGC personnel. Once she had a long strip of free material, she tied each end of the piece of cloth to the hand grip and barrel of the Zat gun. Then she slung the loop of free material over her head and shoulders. That way, she could still fire the Zat gun at an enemy, but she wouldn't have to constantly support the weapon's weight with her arms.

When she was finished with modifying her weapon, she replaced her knife, and then dug through the pockets of her vest, and drew out an energy bar. But before she could open the prepackaged meal, she dropped it to the floor. Fully irritated at herself now for being so klutzy, she growled and hit the floor with the flat of her right hand before regaining control of the anger she was feeling that had been directed at herself. She sighed, then calmly retrieved the energy bar, and continued in opening its sealed packaging.

Don't you just love that new temper of hers? Jack flippantly commented to Daniel with a hint of a grin on his face before turning back to the job at hand. Mitchell! he yelled over the noise and confusion in the Embarkation Room. You in here?

Cam Mitchell wove through the crowd of soldiers, SGC staff, and medical personnel as he drew closer to Jack. I'm here, General... Just tell me what you need, and I'm there.

Jack turned fully around to gaze at the man who had replaced him and Colonel Carter as leader of SG-1. More enthusiasm than he had ever witnessed before met his eyes. The fact that Jack himself had personally chosen Mitchell as team leader meant that he was confident in the man's leadership abilities... But he'd never seen anyone look so much like... like a child at Christmas before. Sort of reminded him of himself...

Jack didn't waste any time on salutations. I need you to stay here on the mountain, gather a rebel faction, so to speak, and reclaim the base. That means, use whatever means you deem necessary... capture the Jaffa alive and hold them, or...

Teal'c's voice filtered down to them from his place in the Control Room near the computer bank. A Jaffa soldier will die for his god before he will willingly surrender. You must keep that in mind, and show them no mercy if you are to retake the base. Amplified by the microphone leading into the Embarkation Room, Teal'c's voice snapped with authority.

It snapped with volume, as well. Jack wriggled a finger around in his ear a few times as he slowly said, You heard the man, our resident expert on all things Goa'uld.

You want me to stay behind? Mitchell clarified, then at Jack's nod, embarked on his own argument. With all due respect, General, I think it's a bit too dangerous for you to be wandering onto a mother ship with nothing but a few weapons, a computer virus, an archaeologist, and a...

Jack interrupted him before Mitchell was able to voice his reservations about Sam's presence on this mission. What have you got against Daniel?

Mitchell sighed dramatically, and Jack had to think that the man was more like Daniel than he realized. I have nothing against Daniel, Mitchell told him. But there's no one on this base who can argue that, while Daniel and Teal'c are an addition to any team, they're not military, and...

And you are, therefore, you should be the one going with me? Jack asked quietly, and Mitchell nodded. Then, Jack leaned forward, closer to Mitchell's ear. He lowered his voice. The truth is that I need to know that the base is in hands that belong to a man used to command... You.

Me? Mitchell ascertained in some surprise.

Jack continued to speak quietly, Look, after being together as a team for so many years, I know exactly how Daniel and Teal'c are going to respond in any given situation. I know a lot less about you, but, like them, I trust you with the well-being of the base.

YYYYYeeeaaahhh... Mitchell pseudo agreed, all the while, encouraging Jack to continue with a wave of his arm.

So, the General added the last bit of incentive that he could think of on such short notice. Mitchell, most of the Jaffa are down here... Those Goa'uld'll have a skeleton crew, at most, on board the ship where we're going.

Mitchell drew himself to attention now that he had a definite enemy to fight against. I'll have the base reclaimed by the time you get back from your mission on board the mother ship. I won't let you down, General, you can be sure of that. He drew in a deep, encouraging breath.

Good, Jack said with a nod, a blink, and a slight smile. I know I can count on you. With that last bit of solace, Jack patted Mitchell on his shoulder before the current leader of SG-1 left the General's side and disappeared into the crowd. In the next second, Mitchell was organizing the distribution of captured weapons, armor, and personnel like a General himself.

Jack grinned in satisfaction.

Sam quietly called him closer to her.

Jack lost his smile when he knelt down beside her and whispered, Have you ever noticed that when a person says 'With all due respect,' it really means that they have no respect whatsoever for what that person is trying to say?

Sam grinned and nodded, but in a low voice, inquired, Did you see the way Colonel Mitchell kept glancing in my direction, as if he had a question that he wanted to ask about me, but was determined not to ask it?

Jack nodded. I kinda got the impression that he's not entirely convinced of the fact that we need to bring you along with us on this little jaunt of ours. That he knows something we don't.

Sam rolled her eyes. As if an accident victim who can't walk on her own yet has no business even considering tagging along with you guys on this mission, she added. Then, she sighed in obvious aggravation. I get so tired of that attitude...

Patience, Jack suggested. Let the world come around to the truth of the situation in its own time. He comfortingly patted her on the shoulder. Instead of a comforting caress, the action came off looking like a move that was awkward as hell, which perfectly suited his and Sam's need to hide their relationship from prying eyes. He continued to encourage, It'll happen... sooner or later.

Sam sighed again, then, in an attempt to distract herself from her disquieting thoughts, asked him, Do you really know about the mother ship only having a skeleton crew to man it?

Jack pursed his lips. Then, he shook his head with such a tiny amount of movement, one had to look close to even see it. No idea, he whispered to her.

Sam silently laughed. Just being the General, then?

Jack nodded. With the right incentive, you can get a person to do just about anything that needs to be done.

Sam laughed again. I'll remember that, and be suitably doubtful of all your future orders.

I would never use that kind of emotional manipulation on you, he bluntly whispered to her. But when she looked at him with a raised eyebrow that made him wonder if she'd been taking lessons from Teal'c, decided that now was the appropriate time to address another, fairly touchy, subject before they left through the Stargate. Look, there's something I want you to know... He sighed, peered at the floor under his boots, then whispered, I think it's a bit... safer... for you... if I continue to call you 'Carter' while we're on this mission... this job, save-the-world stint, whatever you call it... and you should keep calling me 'General.' I don't want to cause you any trouble at the last minute, or anything, after all.

Sam was touched by his thoughtfulness on the subject. I had already decided that what people don't know about how I feel about you won't hurt them, she said, speaking in metaphor about the emotions she and O'Neill had recently shared with each other. She took another bite of the energy bar, swallowed, then declared, General... and I'll keep calling you that... count me into this little scheme of yours.

I thought this was your baby, O'Neill negated. You wrote that computer virus. Just as long as it works, and tells the ships on the mountain and in orbit of the planet to explode, you'll have Earth's eternal gratitude.

And if I made a mistake while writing that virus, and nothing happens to the ships in orbit? she queried out of curiosity.

Jack glanced at her. I have every confidence in you, he told her.

Sam grimaced. Thanks, she said in sarcastic self-desparagement. I know that wasn't a compliment. She took a third bite of the energy bar in her hand, chewed, swallowed, then regarded it while she made a face of dislike. I had forgotten how awful these things are... Who decided to use these, anyway? Even I can make better tasting bars than this!

The Stargate then started to make a noisy circle of locking chevrons, and O'Neill helped Sam to her feet in preparation for leaving the SGC as she stuffed the last of the energy bar into her mouth. If she had something else to eat, she would eat that, but she didn't, so... Air Force rations beat starving any day of the week, according to Sam.

With little fanfare, and even less notice, Jack, holding Sam up by a supportive hand on her arm once again, stood at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the 'Gate, with Daniel beside them. They waited for the familiar swoosh of energy and matter to fill the already noisy room with more noise, and then sent a MALP that Sam had noticed hiding behind the Stargate through the event horizon as the noisy confusion in the room began to sort itself into a semblance of order, all converging around Colonel Mitchell as he stood in the center of a crowd of people, and barked orders, reminding the three of a younger version of General O'Neill.

When the MALP sent back to the SGC the images that denoted a completely deserted room on a Goa'uld vessel, Teal'c joined them to tell them that a party of Jaffa did not await their arrival on the other side.

Jack grinned at Teal'c's news. An empty room meant that they were not expected, which in turn meant that it was a good bet that they were so unexpected that they should have little trouble reaching the ship's bridge, where Sam assured them that the computer interface that she needed to send the virus among Lord Ahmen's fleet was bound to be located. As missions meant to save the world went, this particular one was starting out on the right foot, Jack decided, trying hard not to let the more cynical side of his personality creep through his subconscious, and into the foreground of his mind.

They moved up the ramp, and slowly disappeared through the Stargate... only to re-emerge seconds later in the Embarkation Room on the Goa'uld ship. Jack could tell that they had arrived on board the ship by the red coloring of the walls, and the dim lighting. Why do Goa'ulds like the color red so much? he silently asked himself as they descended into the room, and Daniel and Teal'c moved stealthily to the door while he and Sam hung back, but with weapons held up, and ready to use if necessary. Fortunately, that need never arose, as the corridor outside the room was as eerily deserted as the room itself had been.

Where is everybody? Carter whispered into his ear as she stared up and down the corridor at the emptiness.

Maybe on a picnic? Jack suggested with his usual amount of bravado coloring his voice.

A picnic with cakes and tea, Carter said under her breath, just as Teal'c gestured at them with his staff weapon.

This way, O'Neill, he quietly instructed.

But the quiet of his voice was entirely unnecessary as the corridor continued to remain empty. This is weird, Jack commented in a whisper.

It's almost as if they didn't expect our coming over here, so they didn't bother to guard what they didn't think would get attacked, Daniel said as he stared in puzzlement at the emptiness of the halls.

Typical Goa'uld arrogance, Jack stated in derision.

Continue on through this corridor, Teal'c instructed them. In spite of the apparent desertion of the corridor, he maintained a battle readiness with his weapon.

He paused outside another door that led into the hall they were currently hiding in, then gestured inside. The bridge, he said.

The door opened, they all filed through into the room beyond, then the door shut them all in. Jack turned to the ex-Jaffa, and, in his regular voice, told him, Teal'c, some day I'm going to have to learn that sense of stoicness from you, that way of being quiet in the face of danger...

Don't pretend to accomplish something that will never be, O'Neill, Teal'c advised with a straight face.

Don't think I can do that? Jack asked. Can't teach an old dog new tricks, and all that?

Teal'c simply stared at his CO. No, he answered honestly. I don't think you have the ability for the calmness necessary to be a Jaffa warrior. You are much better at making noise to confuse your enemy than in using stealth, O'Neill.

Jack appeared confused. Thanks, I think, he replied with a shake of his head. He wondered where his black ops training fit into the Jaffa warrior legend, but decided for once in his life to keep his mouth shut on his thoughts.

Now what? Daniel asked, ignoring Jack and Teal'c's conversation in order to bring their attentions back to the matter at hand. After all, they were still on a Goa'uld vessel, in a very dangerous situation... It didn't really matter if their lives were being threatened at the moment or not.

Jack lowered Sam to the shiny floor near a panel under a control board. We wait, he suggested. He unslung the laptop computer carrying case from around his shoulder, handed the entire contraption to her, then took up a defensive position near the door.

Daniel queried, Wait? That's all?

Sam had already unzipped the computer case, and was lifting her laptop from its Velcro straps. It will only take me a few minutes to find the right Goa'uld frequency. As long as I have no trouble matching it, I just send the virus. Then, she added, It's not a big operation this time.

Daniel ascertained, No blowing anything up, then? No stealing death gliders at the last minute? No daring exploits or objectives?

Jack looked at him in exasperation. Just guard the door and make sure nobody enters, Daniel. That's all you have to do. Carter will do the rest.

Got it! Carter said, as if confirming Jack's comment about her 'doing the rest.' Now, for uploading the virus.., she muttered, then opened the appropriate program and continued to work.

Jack said, Now, if we just had a way back to the Embarkation Room on board so that we wouldn't be noticed leaving here, our jobs would be even that much easier.

Teal'c said to him, then, This is the bridge of a Goa'uld ship, O'Neill. It comes equipped with rings in case of a necessary evacuation.

Jack looked at him in surprise. There are rings here?

Indeed, Teal'c intoned.

Jack glared. Why didn't you say so in the first place? Then he nodded, and answered his own question. I know, I know... I didn't ask.

You did not, Teal'c defensively told him.

Yeah, yeah, Jack said impatiently. So... where are they? Where's the controls, I mean?

They are here, Teal'c said, then pointed at a panel at the front of the ship.

Jack stared through the front windshield at the trees he saw showing through the canopy window before glancing at the ring controls. Can you work them?

Teal'c nodded. Now that I know the coordinates of the Embarkation Room, I can send us there, or anywhere inside the ship, or the SGC.

Sweet, Jack said appreciatively.

They are only two man rings, so I can only send two of us at a time, Teal'c explained.

Not a problem, Jack said. Just as long as we get to the Embarkation Room...

That's it! Sam told them then in an excited whisper.

That's it? Daniel asked in incredulity. That fast?

Too easy, huh? Jack told him, and helped Sam gather up her technological paraphernalia, and stuff it inside the pockets in her computer carrying case. But this was never a huge operation or anything.

Geez, me and Teal'c could have done this.., Daniel grunted.

Know anything about computers, Daniel? Jack asked over his shoulder. Sam was the one who wrote this virus that she sent. It was on her computer... It was her idea...

Okay, okay, I get the picture, Daniel said with a nervous shove on his glasses. They slid up his nose in a habitual action.

Then shut up, Jack told him. Count your blessings.

I know... Stop being such a doomsayer, Daniel said, then grinned. Gotcha.

Okay, Jack intoned, taking command of the small group once again. Daniel, you and Carter go first. I don't want her here in case we have some trouble at the last minute, and we know the Embarkation Room on this ship is empty. Teal'c and I will follow before you can take a deep breath.

Got it, Daniel said, and for once didn't question Jack's orders as he pulled Sam to her feet and wrapped a supportive arm around her waist. He grinned at her, and asked, How ya holding up?

Actually, Sam told him, Now that the virus is sent and all the excitement is down to waiting for the next hour to go by to see if it all works like it's supposed to... I'm kind of tired, she admitted.

Daniel grimaced. Well, at least you have an excuse.., he said. But then the energy of the lowering rings cut off his voice as he and Sam were suddenly whisked away in a stream of coalescing matter and light.

Now, it's our turn, O'Neill quipped. He stood in the center of the bridge, and Teal'c pushed some buttons on the panel before hurrying to join him in the center of the floor as the rings descended again. Then, in a blaze of light that would never be able to penetrate the tightly sealed bridge door, the two disappeared, only to reappear a second later in the ship's Embarkation Room.

Jack looked around at the deserted space. Well, that was easy, he muttered, then turned around to prop up Sam. Daniel, dial us home. Now, if we only knew for sure that we weren't walking into a Jaffa trap...

Sam gestured then at the strap of her computer carrying case once again slung around Jack's shoulder. MALP, she incoherently muttered. Computer... send it through first...

Jack glanced at her, his irritation showing through in his gaze in spite of his effort to hide the emotion. I can't read your mind, Carter. Spit it out, he ordered.

Sam complied. I can interface my computer with the MALP, create an imaging program on the screen, and we can send the MALP through the 'Gate first to make sure if friends or enemies are waiting for us on the other side, she explained after she had taken a cleansing breath.

Jack looked back at his other two companions. See, told you she's spewing technical... um... words. He held onto her with one hand, and unslung the computer pack with the other. He lowered it and Sam to the floor near the MALP. Okay, go to it.

Sam scooted to her computer, and began unpacking the machine one last time. Jack didn't even pretend to understand what she was doing. Hope this works, he said under his breath.

One eye trained on her monitor, Sam held out her hand in a commanding gesture of her own. Remote control, she demanded. Daniel handed the controls to her, and she made the MALP swivel on the ramp and crawl back towards the activated Stargate.

Oh, look, Jack said, More doohickeys...

Be glad for those doohickeys, for once, Sam muttered in distraction. They've saved your butt...

Daniel finished for her. And what a cute butt that is, Jack, he teased.

Oh, shut up, Jack growled.

Daniel knew he had touched a nerve, but didn't have time to follow up with another comment, as Sam informed them all that the room in the SGC seemed to be clear of Jaffa. Only military personnel were milling about. She packed up the computer again, then held up a hand to be yanked to her feet unceremoniously by Jack.

Sorry, he said, as she bobbled against him, but he sounded far less apologetic than his words indicated. If Daniel didn't know better, he would have assumed that Jack just wanted to pull Sam into his waiting embrace. He stared at them in a shrewdness that wasn't highly habitual to him, but knew at the same time that they didn't need to send an IDC code through first, as no one was available to watch the code computer programs installed in the Control Room. This must especially be the case, particularly since the MALP had already successfully gone through the 'Gate. At least, he hoped that was the case, and grimaced.

With as little fanfare as when they had left the SGC, the four friends entered the Stargate, and a second later were deposited back on the familiar ramp in the even more familiar Embarkation Room. They walked down to the waiting steps that led to the floor.

Someone, close the Iris! Sam called over the noise, and wondered if anyone would actually hear her in the cacophony in the Embarkation Room, but the Iris had soon slid closed after her sort of yelled command. Ooookay, she next told them. I think I need to sit down now before I fall down.

Is that not a movie quote? Teal'c asked as he tried to help Sam to sit on the bottom step of the ramp.

It's a night for movies.., Daniel said, then went on at Teal'c's show of obvious confusion. Doesn't matter, he said.

Jack unslung the computer again and laid it down next to Sam. You okay? he asked, trying hard to mask the concern in his voice. You going to faint on us or something?

God, that would be embarrassing, Sam thought, and with determination, shook her head. No, but I think this is as far as I can go in one night. She slid down until she was leaning against the ramp, closed her eyes, then appeared to be doing exactly what she had sworn she wouldn't do.

Damn! Jack swore. Medic! he yelled. We need a medic up here, STAT!

Teal'c lay a calming hand on his leader's arm. I think she is merely asleep, O'Neill, he cautioned the older man. There is no need for this alarm.

Jack barely heard him as he leaned over Sam. Carter... Wake up...

Already? Sam muttered as her eyes fluttered up. Is it morning already? She glanced in incomprehension at the three men staring down at her, concern written all over their features. Don't wanna get up yet. She pushed at Jack's hand, then shut her eyes, and put out her hands to catch herself just in time as she dived towards the ramp.

Daniel caught her flailing figure, and eased her the rest of the way down. Yep, she's gone, he said, then fended off the two medics who rushed over to them. She's asleep, he told them. No worries, just Jack overreacting, as usual. Thanks, guys, he said as the two men drifted away after ascertaining that Sam was only asleep, not mortally wounded, or dying, as Jack's tone of voice had indicated. Then he turned to Jack. You're going to have to stop being so... dramatic, he said.

Oh, shut up, Jack told him, and glared. I learned everything from you, he accused then. He lifted a sleeping Sam gently into his arms. Okay... the Control Room, he said. I wanna know the second those things blow.

Teal'c followed, but had an expression of bemusement on his face. They have been told to explode, not 'blow,' he informed Jack. Not like the Earth custom of blowing bubbles in a bath, for example...

* * *

Hours later, Sam was aware that someone was leaning over her. She felt the hard metal flooring of the Control Room leaving marks on her side, but seemed unable to get away from it when she rolled over onto her back. What? she asked, squeezing her eyes shut against he glare of light that filtered through her lashes. Was she dreaming? What the heck was she doing in the Control Room? Is it morning?

Jack's voice broke through the roaring sound in her ears. Sam... you gotta wake up...

Go away! Sam demanded, then rolled over onto her right side. Too tired, for crying out loud...

She heard someone chuckle, then felt another annoying shove on her arm.

Geez! she said when the... whatever it was... wouldn't go away.

Jack caught her arms before she could completely club him in the head. Whoa there! Sam, wake up!

Sam blinked her eyes open. The Control Room at the SGC slowly came into focus. Huh? she asked. Shouldn't I be in the Infirmary?

Sam? Jack said again, and leaned down even further so he could be at eye level with her. Sam, I've got something to show you.

Sam glanced at her watch, and she noted that it said 0220. Suddenly, she sat up and drew in a sharp breath. Did it work? she demanded to know. Did the virus work? Did the ships blow up?

Jack reached out for her to hold her steady so that she wouldn't fall sideways into the wall behind her. Easy, he said. Breathe... just breathe.

Jack! she yelled... sort of.

Yeah, it worked, Jack told her then. At exactly sixteen hundred minutes and thirty seconds, the biggest pair of meteors ever to strike each other in space collided together... officially. But I don't think anybody's buying it this time. The President called, and said to tell you 'Congratulations.'

Sam hung her head, as if she had another one of her headaches. Oh, God, I feel awful... like I have the worst hangover...

But you can't even drink alcohol, not with the medicine that you have to take, Jack pointed out to her.

Sam appeared to be highly annoyed. I know that! My head hurts, that's all.

Jack grimaced. All the effects of a hangover without any of the fun.., he muttered.

Now, what is it that you wanted to show me? Sam asked, trying to redirect his wandering attention.


Sam appeared to be even more annoyed. You woke me up to tell me that the President called? Couldn't that have waited for awhile?

Jack gave a start. Oh, no! That wasn't it... He held up a white envelope in his hand. I talked to General Hammond while I had The White House on the phone...

Did they invite you over for a party or something?

Jack grinned. You're so cute in the morning if you haven't had enough sleep...


Okay, okay... He showed her a letter that he took from inside the envelope. Look what Daniel found in his in-box.

Sam stared. A letter... How quaint.

Not just any letter, O'Neill corrected. This is the letter. It's been just sitting in Daniel's box for what must have been several weeks, addressed to me in care of him...

What is it? Sam inquired as she took the letter, then squinted sleepily at it. What's it say?

That I should kill Daniel, O'Neill commented. At Sam's look of horror, Jack smiled. No, I won't, I promise... Well, he amended, I really do want to kill him for not looking more often in his in-box... but you should read the letter, Sam.

So Sam squinted even harder at the letter. She had difficulty, as her fingers kept grabbing at the wrong part of the piece of paper, and covering the words typed on the page. She scowled; she was so uncoordinated when she was tired! It's signed by a General, Sam noted. General Ivan Flint. She glanced up at Jack. I don't know a General Flint.

He's Hammond's... What should the man be called? Hammond's partner, for want of a better word. Jack appeared irritated with his need to explain something when he was obviously very excited. The point is... Read the first paragraph, he ordered.

Sam did. Then she dropped the letter. Oh, wow!

Jack grinned as he saw that she got it. I'm retired! he announced loudly, not caring who overheard him. I have been for a half a month, and didn't even know it!

Does that mean..? Sam couldn't put words to her thoughts. They were zipping through her mind too quickly, and she was too tired to latch on to any thought in particular.

So O'Neill had to lean down and whisper in her ear, Put on your ring... It doesn't matter who sees it, now.

Sam grabbed hold of his sleeve, then pulled herself onto her knees. Trying to balance when she didn't have the energy to do anything but sleep was interesting. She fell over twice when she tried to stick her hand into her jeans pocket.

Jack smiled mischievously at her. Need any help?

Sam eyed him, her look practically spelling out the danger he was in. He ignored the threatening expression on her face, and smiled instead of heeding her look. At last she managed to wriggle her fingers into her jeans on her own and stay upright at the same time. Got it! she muttered. Then, concentrating hard, she pulled her fingers out of her pocket, holding the engagement ring he had given to her between the end of her index finger and the material of the pocket. He carefully reached forward, grabbed it, and slipped it out.

There! Then he looked at her. Marry me?

Are you kidding? Sam asked, scaring O'Neill half to death with what he thought was her immediately negative answer. Then, she soothed his jangling nerves by adding, You better marry me, or I might have to do something really sad to you for interrupting my sleep like this!

Jack laughed in relief. Here, this is yours, I think. He slipped the diamond ring onto her finger.

Now, take me to bed, please? Sam demanded. I'm falling asleep again here on the floor.

That's not very flattering to me, Jack commented as he lifted her, and aimed for the stairs leading down from the Control Room. Hey, Walter, I'll be right back... hold the fort for me!

Sam peered over Jack's shoulder. Does that guy ever go to bed? she asked.

No! Jack told her, and tightened his grip. Now, stop wriggling so much. I wouldn't want to drop you here on the stairs, he told her. That would hurt.

Huh, Sam grunted. She closed her eyes, and snuggled in closer to him. You just wanted a good reason to get me into your arms.

Is it working?

Sam couldn't help but grin at his tone, and nod. It's working very well, she said. Too well. I may not want to leave.

Jack cocked his head. That wouldn't be so bad.

When do you want to get married? Sam suddenly inquired.

She felt Jack shrug his shoulder. I don't know... When are you getting released from the Infirmary?

Next Thursday, Sam replied sleepily.

Then how's this weekend for you? Jack asked.

This weekend!?

Jack shrugged again. I don't want to wait.

Apparently you don't, Sam commented. She wriggled around a bit again as they moved into another corridor leading towards the Infirmary. I won't be able to find a dress that fast, you know.

I don't care of you come to the wedding wearing jeans and a T-shirt, Jack told her. Just so long as I marry you.

Jeans and a T-shirt.., Sam muttered as Jack turned into the Infirmary. Sounds interesting...

And comfortable. Jack lowered her to her bed and began removing her shoes prior to throwing the covers over her.

Jeans and a T-shirt... But Sam was already asleep.

Jack grinned. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the cheek. And he didn't have to draw the curtain first in order to do it. My kind of wedding, he said, and his grin grew even wider. Then he walked back out of the Infirmary, carefully dodging the nurses and doctors Mitchell had assigned to duty as he went.

* * *

Epilogue - Three Years Later

Jack spun around in the line at the local Starbuck's coffee house when someone called his name.

The crowd of milling people waiting to pay parted to let a woman through to the front counter. Jack O'Neill? Is that really you?

Jack stared at the woman again, and he found himself focusing on short blonde hair. He squinted. God! he said. Sara?

Sara wound her way around all the waiting customers until she was in front of Jack. I haven't seen you in...

Oh, man, it's been ages! Jack said, just as the teenaged boy behind the counter told him, Five thirty one, please.

Jack passed over a ten dollar bill to pay for the two coffees he had resting on the counter, then stuffed the change he received into his front pants pocket before picking up his two cups of coffee. He saw Sara gaze at the two to-go cups in curiosity, and he smiled. Oh, no, they're not both for me! Well, one of them is. The other one's for my wife. God, he loved saying that! Even after all the intervening years, it still hadn't grown old.

Yeah, I heard that you had gotten married again, she noted.

Um... yeah, Jack told her. Sara didn't appear to be upset by this news, but one never knew. Someone I used to work with.

That tall woman? Sara inquired then. What was her name?

Another voice suddenly dropped into the conversation. Sam Carter?

Sara nodded her head once. That's it! I met her very briefly that night at the hospital all those years ago...

But Jack wasn't entirely listening to her. He found himself staring into the eyes of Pete Shanahan as he materialized from out of the crowd. He stood and stared at them over Sara's shoulder. What is this... old home week? Jack sarcastically asked as he gazed at Pete.

Pete laughed at the couple in front of him. Um, no, just down here doing some shopping with...

Yeah, Jack interrupted. What was your wife's name..? I'm terrible with names.

No you're not, Sara contradicted. You've got a great memory... or has something changed?

Jack sighed: caught, and by his ex-wife. He did a double-take before answering her question; had he really ever been married to her? he wondered. Those years seemed more like a dream to him than anything else. Sandy, he told them both with a sense of finality to his voice.

Pete laughed again. Yeah, that's right... Sandy.

Sara turned to him. Not Sandy Shanahan? She works at Softees in Denver?

Yes! Pete said with enthusiasm in his voice. Do you know her?

Know her!? Sara exclaimed. She's my best friend's sister!

Pete suddenly snapped his fingers. You're Sara?

Wow, Jack grunted. This is weird.

Sara shook Pete's extended hand. I'm Sara Johnson...

Jack's eyebrows reached for his hairline. It's not O'Neill any longer?

Sara glanced at him. Um... no, she answered, looking ill-at-ease. I've been remarried for five years now.

Again Jack's brows rose. Five years, huh?

Pete gestured back and forth between Jack and Sara. I take it you two know each other?

Jack gave a weak smile. This could get a little awkward, he said as Sara blushed.

Wait, Pete said while giving them both a quick run down with his eyes. 'O'Neill?' Are you two related or something?

Jack cleared his throat while Sara softly explained for Pete's benefit, We used to be married a long time ago.

God, I'm sorry! Pete blustered, and stuffed his hands in his pants packets. Um, I mean... sorry that I didn't understand right away, not...

That's perfectly all right, Sara was saying to Pete with a slight smile on her face. An expression of curiosity added itself to her gesture. I've never met Sandy's husband before. I didn't know that you knew Jack.

Pete gave her a tiny grin as he rocked onto the balls of his feet. Oh, yeah, me and the General go way back.

That's one way of putting it, Jack couldn't help muttering under his breath.

'General?' Sara asked of Jack, then. I had no idea!

Retired, Jack stated immediately, to keep her from getting the wrong idea.

Sara's eyebrows rose in appreciation this time. Retired again? she asked with a friendly nod of her head. I thought you and the Air Force were going to go on forever this time!

Jack hedged, Well, not exactly.

What did they do... toss you out on your ear? Sara joked.

Jack was more than uncomfortable now.

No, Pete answered before Jack could explain. He turned to regard the General, then. You got married, didn't you?

I retired first, Jack was sure to say in defense of his actions.

Sara grinned in a show of tolerant understanding. She teased, The Air Force doesn't allow for married officers now?

Um.., Jack hedged. Finally, he explained, She was my second in command, and still in my indirect chain of command.

Understanding lit Sara's eyes. I see!

Cynically, and with some amusement, Jack whispered, I bet you do.

But Sara caught Jack's attention with her next innocent question. Where does Mr. Shanahan fit into all this? she asked. I mean, I know you, Jack, and it's clear that Mr. Shanahan does, too, but that doesn't explain how..?

Pete answered her before Jack could say something that would soften the truth a bit. Sam... Jack's wife now... was once my fianceť, he told her. Then he indicated Jack. The General here was always my... He turned to accusingly ask Jack, What were you, anyway?

Jack couldn't help but think Your competition? But he didn't say that aloud. Sam broke off that engagement long before we were married, though.

According to the half smile on her face, Sara sensed the slight amount of natural animosity between Jack and Pete, but before she could say more than, Jack's right; this is awkward! the crowd parted again, and they were joined by a fourth person.

Hey, Jack, did you get one for... Sam's voice stopped as she stared at her husband standing beside two people. Then, her gaze settled on Pete Shanahan. Oh! Pete! Hi! Wow, what a long time it's been!

Jack handed the coffee in his right hand to Sam. Careful, he warned then. It's pretty hot.

Pete was staring at Sam. Sam! he said. You look great!

Sam smiled, though the gesture didn't reach all the way to her eyes, Jack noticed. But she was too busy thinking that Pete was probably looking for signs of her earlier accident to see her husband's expression. Thanks! she said to Pete's statement. An afternoon off from work really does wonders for you, I guess. She turned to Jack. I'm glad you talked me into it, Jack.

Sam, Jack said then. This is Sara... I don't think you've officially met her before.

Sam grinned, and held out her hand for Sara to shake. Nice to... Then, the smile fell from her face, to be replaced by an expression of sudden comprehension. O'Neill? she asked. Sara O'Neill?

Well, Johnson now, Sara told her. She and Sam slowly shook hands.

Pete stared at them in curiosity. I would think you two would have met before now.

No, Sam said with a shake of her head. My work doesn't let me get out much.

Pete asked, You still in the Air Force, then?

Sam shook her head. No, I own a small computer company, now... a programming firm.

Yeah, Jack piped up. She has six employees at last count.

Pete grinned. Six! Who would have thought!

Jack continued, And makes meals for the Air Force in her spare time.

Well, Sam said with a forced smile in order to change the subject, and stop the obvious boasting her husband was doing to her benefit. We do have something of a schedule today, Jack... we better get going. Sam slid her fingers into Jack's free hand. It was nice to see you again Pete... and it was nice to finally meet you, Sara.

Pete smiled at them both. Yeah, nice seeing you again, Sam... Jack... Sara. Then the tiny group broke up as Jack and Sam drifted towards the door.

Sam smiled as she led her coffee drinking husband away. When they had moved out of the store, Sam leaned in and noted, He was going to bring up that whole accident business, I could tell!

Jack also spoke to her. But that was so long ago. Things are so different now.

Not all things, Sam said as she blew on her coffee before drinking, and grinned at Jack.

No, Jack grinned back from behind his cup. Daniel's still as absentminded as ever.

And as big a doomsayer as he ever was, Sam filled in. Just like Pete, actually.

Little does Pete know what he's really missing, Jack said then, his face split by an even wider grin. His free arm snaked around Sam's waist.

Sam returned the gesture, this time letting the smile light up her eyes for him as she squeezed him a bit with her arm. Oh, I hope he knows, she commented. Just a little bit...

Jack chuckled at what she said. You're evil.

Sam just grinned at him as they walked down the sidewalk to where they had left Jack's truck. Yeah, she finally said. Youbetcha.

* * *


Three years later, Sam read in the newspaper society page that Pete and Sandy Shanahan had divorced after eighteen years of marriage. They had two kids surviving the relationship, an eighteen-year-old daughter named Ellen, and a sixteen-year-old son named Michael.

Two years after that, eighteen-year-old Michael Shanahan moved to Colorado Springs, and became Sam's twenty-third employee. She just grinned when she heard his name, but Jack laughed outright when she told him.

And it was all because she had written a virus twenty years before, and saved the world.

Nope, it never got old to think that, Jack decided, and grinned again, watched Sam as she tried to program her computer, and read the newspaper at the same time, and was once again glad that she had thought to write that computer virus in the first place.

Yep, Jack thought with a contented smile, thinking of Sam's accident... the blooming of their relationship... the Goa'uld invasion attempt... his and Sam's last days at the SGC...

Jack sighed again, and smiled. You just never knew what life would try to throw at you next.


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