Brain Power

by Linda Bindner

Part II

It was three days before Jack woke up again. Sam swung from feeling wildly despairing, to feeling the calm that she needed to feel for Jack. The irony of the situation was that, in spite of how important he had become to her in such a few short days, she wasn't even in the private Infirmary room that he had been moved to when he finally woke. It was Daniel sitting near his bed, quietly reading a book when Jack's eyes blinked open on the scene.

Daniel glanced up when he thought he caught the eye movement from where Jack was lying on his hospital bed, and he had to do a double-take when Jack didn't make any other sound or movement to speak of. Jack! Daniel cried in delight anyway as he snapped his book shut and stood. How are you? To Daniel he looked sort of dull-witted because of the flat expression in his eyes reflecting his blue medical pajamas. But then again, Jack had just lived through a very traumatic event. How did Daniel expect him to look?

The wire leads covering a great part of his body, connecting it to the many monitors surrounding his bed didn't help the fact that he looked like an accident victim, either. There was even a wire connected to an electrode attached to his temple to read his brain waves! All those wires, electrodes, and monitors rather ruined the image that a sometimes virulent Jack O'Neill was finally waking up from a long nap.

Jack opened his mouth... Good, he can do that much at least, Daniel thought... No sound came out of Jack's slightly open lips. Daniel could tell by the expression in his eyes that Jack was quickly growing worried, so he was quick to jump in and soothe, It's okay, Jack. Don't try to speak... I'd call Sam back down here right away... she'll be able to talk to you.., he said, though he didn't explain why he said it. But this is practically the first time she's left this room in the last two or three days. Dr. Brightman finally had to order her out to get some rest in her quarters before she agreed to leave at all. Dr. Brightman figured that a change of scenery would do great things for her mood, which has been steadily growing worse by the day.

Anyway, Daniel went on, smiling, setting his book on the side of Jack's bed nearest him, then stuffing his hands nervously in his pockets. He babbled, I suppose you'd like an update on what's been going on around here since you've been out of it. Actually, the look of fear and confusion growing in Jack's eyes should have given the linguist the impression that the fact he couldn't seem to immediately move or speak, and that Sam was absent, was beginning to cause panic to set into his mind, but Daniel wasn't paying attention to that. He was too involved in what he had to tell Jack. And you'll never guess what... Of course you won't guess... I'll just tell you... Sam's not engaged anymore. At the look of surprise and shock that met him, Daniel kept reciting events as if Jack could see into his mind as well as he saw into Sam's. It seems that Pete came here looking for her, since she refused to go home, even though she knew that he was there... She had called him a few times, but I guess that wasn't enough for him, even though the situation here at the SGC was just a bit extreme. When he heard that it was you that she was spending all this time with, he hit the roof. She tried to calm him down... they were arguing over the phone at the time... but I guess he said some pretty unpleasant things... Or at least, Captain Harrison said that Sam looked pretty horrible, and pretty angry when he happened to pass by Sam's lab when she was on the phone to Pete... Anyway, things came out, and they talked... Sam and Pete, I mean, not Sam and Captain Harrison... I guess Sam tried to keep things going with him... Pete... during the time that you were unconscious, and Pete did drop by that one time when they took that short walk up by the main gate to the complex, but Sam refused to go home with him when he asked, because that would mean leaving you here alone, and really, how could she do that when you need her to talk when you woke up? Daniel shrugged. And the next day I guess Sam and Pete talked, and Sam gave his ring back. She said she was all nice, and she said that it wasn't fair to him, her being gone off world all the time, but the end result is he's finito, finished, gone, nada, zapped, outta here... Sam doesn't look like she's too broken up about it. I'd have talked to her about the breakup and everything, but she's spent every waking minute in here with you since that day she and Pete talked, and... Daniel took a breath and shrugged again. Guess that's it then. She'll tell you more if you ask her to... I mean, if you think a question to her... Then he stared quizzically down at Jack. Just what can you do now, anyway? He gazed at Jack, missing the fear that shot though Jack's eyes when Daniel asked those words. Is there anything you want? Oh, I guess that'll have to wait for Sam, too, as I can hardly read your mind like she can.

Just then, Jack's heart monitor alarm went off, shrieking into the quiet in the room. Daniel looked concerned and confused at the same time. What is it? What's wrong? Did I..? The alarm just kept getting louder. Okaaaayyyy... Daniel listened to the wailing for a moment, saw Jack's breath seem to hitch in his chest, and knew instantly that something wasn't right about this scenario.

Jack's brain wave monitor went wild right along with the heart monitor. Daniel didn't have time to react, as the next thing either man heard was the page for Colonel Carter to report to the Infirmary at the same time that Dr. Brightman suddenly ran through the door, followed by three medical technicians, all of whom paid little attention to the man gasping for breath on the bed, and much more attention to his monitors spewing out his vital statistics.

Brightman never took her eyes off the monitor numbers as she distractedly explained the medical professionals' presence in Jack's room. The monitors are linked directly to the nurse's station in the Infirmary. We immediately know when something is wrong, and it's a good thing. Now if we can just get all this stabilized... Her voice trailed off as she moved to the bed and finally began speaking to Jack.

One minute later when Sam burst through the door, Daniel was pushing himself back against the wall, attempting to stay as out of the way as he could, Dr. Brightman and her crew were running in the chaos of alarms sounding near the General's bed, and Jack was sucking in air like he'd run a marathon with a band of Jaffa hot on his six.

Jack! Sam thought the second she rushed though the door.

Sam! Jack sent back his panicked reply the second he saw her. Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on here? Why the crap am I restrained? Why can't I say anything? What's going on?! He may have looked like he was quieter than he usually was, but there was nothing quiet about his mind. He had more questions to add to the string of inquiries that he had already thought at Sam, but her reply cut him off.

Okay, okay Sam replied in as soothing a thought as she could produce right after her run through the halls of the SGC. I'll tell you what I can, but...

What you can? Jack shot back at her. What is this, the damned classified award ceremony, or what? The sarcastic tone he'd chosen to use wasn't lost on Sam as she was hurrying forward, dodging medical personnel in order to reach his side. Talk, Major, and that's an order!

Sam erupted as well, putting her hands to her head at all the confusing noise when she was much more used to the calm quiet that had been prevalent in Jack's room when he had been unconscious. How dare you use that tone with me! she yelled through the chaos.

How dare I? Well, let's see... Jack mock argued with her. Perhaps because the last time I looked I was your Commanding Officer!

Okay, okay! Sam responded then, moving from anger to surrender in seconds. She had recalled the words that Dr. Brightman had uttered three days before in the unimpressive location of the girls' rest-room on level twenty-seven. But the pseudo-reprimand worked now, not to mention Jack's use of what he knew as Sam's military title. Sam instantly calmed. I'll tell what I know, but only if you calm down first, and stop ordering me around!

All right, I promise, Jack reluctantly said. He tried to take a slow, calm breath. The heart monitor related the data that his heart had slowed. Seconds later, the brain wave monitor stopped wailing into the quiet room, and the heart monitor soon followed. The silence that then descended on them was almost loud in the following serenity.

Okay, Dr. Brightman said, and leaned back from Jack's bed. She looked to Colonel Carter, and smiled. I don't know what you said to him, but it seems to have done the trick. He's fine now, and out of any imminent danger. I think it's okay if we all leave now. She gave one last glance to the monitors. But if anything seems to be out of whack, don't hesitate to call us back in. Sam nodded once, then Brightman ushered everyone out of the room except for the members belonging to SG-1.

Daniel, Sam asked the minute the door had shut behind the medical staff. What did you say to him that set him off like that? Her tone was slightly accusatory, a voice that Jack had never head her use before on the archaeologist.

But Daniel seemed to not resent such a tone, as if he were used to it. He shrugged again, then spluttered in his defense. I didn't say anything, honest!

Nothing? Sam asked then, her hands on her hips.

Nothing! Daniel repeated, sounding like a kid who had done something wrong, but for the life of him couldn't figure out what it was.

Sam sighed. Well, that could be part of the problem.

Daniel gave a start. What? he barked. The fact that I didn't say something for once in my life still gets me in trouble?

Yes! came Jack's acerbic thought.

Yes, Sam repeated Jack, though Daniel couldn't know it. Now she just sounded tired. How would you feel if you woke up and suddenly..? She didn't finish her question, but Daniel understood what she wanted to say and wouldn't.

Oh. Daniel was contrite now. I didn't think of that.

Sam sighed, No, I suppose you didn't. She paused, glancing back and forth between Daniel, Jack, then back again. Look, why don't you go down to the Commissary... I know that you're craving some caffeine by now... I'll stay with Jack.

Sam! Jack caustically asked again. What the heck's going on? Why were you paged as 'Colonel' Carter? Why not 'Major?' His frustration with the situation was quickly mounting to dangerous levels again. Talk, damnit, or I'll...

Sam whirled on him before he could think another word. One more word out of you, Jack, and I'm not gonna say one damned thing, and I'll walk right out that door and not stop until I get back home, and you'll be stuck here with no clue as to what's going on!

Jack thought a sigh of surrender at her words. But he didn't have to act like he was happy about it! All right, all right, he thought with another sigh. I'll be good, or...

Daniel smiled slightly, not realizing he was interrupting Jack when he said, It's so weird to watch you guys talking like that when no one else can hear what you're saying. Are you guys talking dirty?

Daniel! Sam yelled. Go!

Daniel! Jack yelled at the same time that Sam yelled, but he followed his comment up with a question to Sam. Would you mind if I talked dirty to you?

If looks could kill, then Jack O'Neill would be one dead man.

Daniel retrieved his book from the edge of the bed, then walked with his head down to the door. Before leaving, he turned back to Sam and Jack, saying, I really didn't mean to make things so bad...

I know, Daniel, Sam quickly insisted, feeling contrite and apologetic now for her previous sharp tone. I'll see you later. And with that, he was gone, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Sam turned back towards Jack, and pulled the visitor's chair placed beside his bed even closer so that she could lean in next to him while they 'talked.' She noted that he seemed to be much calmer than he had been before, and she felt better about answering his queries. Okay, shoot... What questions do you have? she asked.

Jack lay there for a minute, his mind projecting only a blank, shrouding mist. Finally the fog began to break apart and he could think. So many questions... he thought brokenly at her. At last he settled on his first inquiry. Okay... I'll start. Why the heck did they call you 'Colonel' over he PA system? Did I miss something? How long was I out?

Sam straightened minutely, and took a deep breath of air to settle herself before answering. Because I am a Colonel, Jack. You promoted me a little over six months ago.

Jack looked at her in surprise. I promoted you? he asked in shock. Why didn't General Hammond do it? He glanced around uneasily, only his eyes moving inside his stationary head. Where is Hammond anyway? I would have thought this might concern him...

Again Sam's expelled rush of air split through the quiet in the room. Okay, she said in resignation. The doctor said this might happen, that you might 'forget' a few things. How much do you remember, Jack?

Jack looked at her in puzzlement. It was amazing, really, how expressive his eyes were. They admirably displayed exactly what he was feeling the instant he felt it. Now they just displayed confusion. What do you mean by that 'What do you remember?'

Sam patiently tried again. I mean... a lot's happened in the last three days... that's how long you've been unconscious... not to mention all that's happened during the last year... and I need to know where to begin telling you about things so I don't repeat something you already know. So..?

Jack gave his own rush of air. Okay, he agreed. That makes sense. He drew a breath in order to give him time to organize his thoughts before he began slowly thinking. I remember... He searched his mind. Oh yeah... how can I ever forget... You were stuck on board The Prometheus, and...

But that was as far in his recitation as he got. The Prometheus! she incredulously shouted.

Not so loud, Sam! Jack immediately commanded. He shut his eyes. I still have quite a headache... Have I been drinking or something?

Sorry, Sam contritely said. Okay... The Prometheus... And no, you haven't been drinking, not that I know of...

I got on the wrong side of a mission gone bad, then? Jack guessed.

With only a slightly irritated look at the interruption, Sam promised, I'll tell you everything, but you have to promise not to get upset, not to go haywire, not to...

Jack cut her off. Sam, Daniel said something about you being engaged. But how is that possible when we're already married? I don't get it.

Sam buried her head in her hands. Agh! How does this always happen to me?

Jack's worried call came to her immediately. Sam! I'm sorry! he insisted. I just want to know.

Sam did her best to pull herself back together again. All right, Jack, but promise to listen first, then go nuts.

Okay, Jack grumbled. I promise.

Sam issued another calming sigh into the room. Okay... You remember me being stuck on The Prometheus...

For four whole days! Jack accused as if her being stuck in space had been her fault. I was worried sick! Just don't do that to me again! Promise?

Promise, she readily thought, willing to say anything now to find out what he did remember and what he didn't. Now, I was on The Prometheus... I came back from that with only a concussion...

The concussion from Netu, Jack reminded her in a lighter tone.

Yeah, I remember. Sam gave a shudder.

Go on, Jack told her to get her mind off the obviously painful memory.

Sam took the second he had given her to collect her scattered thoughts again. I came back, then when I was better, I had a close encounter with one of Annubis' super soldiers at the old Alpha sight...

Old? Jack blurted.

Sam glared at him. You promised to stay quiet!

Jack blinked at how quickly she was willing to remind him of what he had said before. It was good that she was so willing to not let him talk back. You're right, he thought to her, an apologetic look in his eyes. I promised.... So, go on.

Sam's glare receded. Anyway, I almost didn't get out of that one. You and Teal'c came to my rescue.

Of course we did, Jack thought back at her with an air of confidence. I will always come to the rescue of my best girl... that's what I promised when we got married, and that's a promise I intend to keep forever... not that I think you need rescuing on a daily basis or anything, but... You get the picture.

Sam studied him with an expression of bewilderment. Jack, she carefully asked next. Why do you think we're married?

Jack answered right away, Because we are! Best damn five years of my life, if you ask me. Hey, where's Grace and Jayson? Are they okay, or did something happen to them too, and you're not telling me for medical reasons?

Sam took in another calming breath, reminding herself of the need for patience. Jack.., she gently insisted. We aren't married. We never were. And who are Grace and Jayson?

Jack's eyes expressed his surprise at what she said. Sure we're married! he exclaimed, as if he thought something was wrong with her if she didn't remember. We have been for a long time! It's five years now! And Grace and Jayson are our kids... You mean to tell me that you don't remember our own kids?

Once more came the sigh of resignation from Sam. How old are they supposed to be? she asked next.

You know! Jack insisted. Five and four... and boy were you mad when you found out you were pregnant the second time so close to the first. You said that you had been stuck on-world enough already, he recalled. You got over that soon enough, if I remember right. But... He stopped thinking, and his eyes took on a pleased expression. You never stopped worrying about me when I had to go off-world without you, did ya? Though most guys would think that kind of attitude was silly and confining and dumb... I have to admit that I thought it was pretty nice, actually.

Nice?

Yeah, Jack again affirmed. What guy wouldn't like it when a beautiful woman worries about him?

Sam blushed when he called her 'beautiful,' and at how easily he had done it. But she had to end this line of thought, and quick. Okay... I'll just tell you... and this might come as a shock, but bear with me...

Sam?

Sam could hear the concern in his thought. Jack, you had a stroke, a bad one, but a mild one considering it was a bad stroke to have... She stopped thinking... she was rambling now like Daniel always did.

Jack's eyes now looked slightly horrified. Sam... what are you saying?

The panic came through loud and clear when he thought at her. Stay calm Jack, she reminded. It's important that you stay as calm as you can...

You stay calm! he proclaimed. Then he demanded to know, Are you lying to me for some reason?

Considering their experience with Hathor several years before when they'd been take prisoner and led to believe that almost a century of their time had passed in order to convince them to divulge classified information, Sam didn't blame him for asking if she were lying in this case, too. No, I'm not lying. The Prometheus thing that you're recalling happened over a year ago. You were promoted to General, and now run the entire SGC. The first thing you did as a General was promote me to Lieutenant Colonel.

You're not full bird? Jack asked right away, as if that mattered.

No, she said. Just a Lieutenant Colonel.

'Just' Jack added with an air of teasing. So, who leads SG-1 now? he asked, trying his best to take his mind off what she'd said about him having a stroke.

I do, she explained. I have for almost a year. And I like it, she divulged.

Well yeah, he said with a shrug in his voice. It's a lot of fun.

Can be, she agreed.

Okay, Jack said at last with an accompanying laugh of incredulity, as if he didn't quite believe anything she was saying. This is an alternate universe, isn't it? he finally demanded to know. You have me restrained for security reasons, or something like that. All this is a hoax. None of it's real.

Sam didn't bother to ask him to believe her. She simply raised his arm up, ordered, Try to hold it up. Then when she believed he'd had time to try to tense his arm muscles, dropped his arm back to the sheet it had been resting on.

The look in Jack's eyes the minute he realized that he wasn't restrained, and that he couldn't even command his arm muscles to hold his arm in the air was intense. Fear shot through both eyes an instant later. What the..?

Do you believe me now? Sam gently inquired. I'm sorry for the theatrics, but I don't know what else to do to convince you.

Jack lay on his back for a stricken moment while he desperately tried to process the information she was giving him.

But he just couldn't. His breathing, already on the shallow side, grew shallower yet. This is some trick of Ba'al's, right? he thought at her in his panic. I've been captured again and...

Then how was Daniel here when you woke up? Sam asked, her logic slicing through his panic in an instant. It doesn't make much sense that you were both captured. You would do everything in your power to make sure that didn't happen.

Maybe 'everything in my power' just wasn't enough, Jack then conjectured. Maybe...

Jack, Sam then gently said to capture his attention. She trapped his head between her two hands, and forced him to look at her. I can bring in Teal'c, Sergeant Harriman, Sergeant Siler, Lieutenant Tristan, Dr. Felger... people who never go off-world. How can they possibly get captured at the same time you were captured?

We thought the same thing when Hathor.., Jack started to argue with her assessment of the situation.

Sam didn't let him argue much. And when you were captured by Hathor, did you ever see Sergeant Harriman? Or Siler? Or Teal'c?

Well... no, he grudgingly admitted. Those people who caught us said they were from the future and everyone we ever knew was dead.

The people we know aren't dead yet, Sam told him. I can have them paged if you like.

No.... That's not necessary. But then, what's going on here? Jack turned bleak eyes on her, the only thing he could move. Then... Everything that you said is true? We're not married, and..? He couldn't even think the possibility that he really had had a stroke.

Sam sounded sad when she finally did answer him. I'm afraid so.

Jack turned his eyes away from her. He was clearly doing his best to assimilate the information she'd given him, but he was also clearly having trouble doing it. His mind was obviously stuck on one point. Sam assumed he was busy trying to get used to the idea of having had a stroke, and not being able to move or speak. But he didn't say anything to that effect, only tried to think, I'd... He swallowed uncomfortably. What Daniel said... about you being engaged... and what you thought about that stroke... that was all true?

Sam didn't say anything, only nodded.

Jack swallowed again, though it looked as if he was having trouble even doing that. I think... He looked stricken, and stumbled over his own raging thoughts. I think... In fact, he looked so stricken that he appeared like he'd rather not think at all, but he would feel as if he had to tell her something. I'd like to be alone now for awhile, if you don't mind. I'm getting kinda tired... all this information at once...

Sam just nodded, ignoring the sound the dropping thud her heart made in her own mind as it hit her toes. Sure, she said agreeably, attempting not to show how disappointed and... and just depressed... his reaction to her news made her feel. Though she hadn't known exactly what to expect from any of this, she was still connected enough to him to immediately predict the turmoil his emotions must be in at the moment.

Yet, nothing was written in stone now. She couldn't assume about the way he felt... about anything. And the sudden loss of being able to even make a guess as to his state of mind left her unexpectedly reeling.

Sam tried to cover it all from him, forgetting that as long as they were 'united as one,' she would never be totally successful in keeping anything from him. But she forgot about that. Now, instead, she tried to think in nonchalant tones when she agreed with his request for time alone. I've been on base for days anyway, she thought. I need to go home, run a few errands... And this room... she glanced at the walls... It's been lead sealed, she thought at him. After Hathor the first time... You won't hear my thoughts, so I guess I'll leave you alone then...

I understand, Jack thought. He watched her start to leave as if he didn't want to watch her go, but that he couldn't help himself.

At the same time Sam was thinking her previous thoughts at Jack, she realized again how silly it was for her to even try to hide her feelings from him. He could read her like a book, she reminded herself, and if he were still fooled, all he'd have to do was take a look inside her mind to uncover her true thoughts.

As ridiculous as it seemed, Sam still couldn't help feeling just a tad hurt that he had chosen to suffer through the internalizing of her information alone. She knew that he was simply trying to come to grips with all the information she had given to him, and he would be better able to that if she was out of the room. But it still hurt.

She quietly left without another word.

* * *

Don't think about it, Sam reminded herself. But she couldn't help but think about what she had just unwittingly done to what in essence was the most important man in her entire world. The other important man to her, her father, was off with the Tok'ra and she didn't know when, if ever, she was going to see him again.

Back to Jack... Her thoughts didn't stray far from him even for a few minutes. It was no wonder that Pete had seen him as a threat these last few days, finally giving her that ultimatum to come home with him that she couldn't fulfill. She had argued that she was the only person who could understand what Jack was thinking at any given time, since she knew him so well, and if he woke she would be needed on base. She couldn't tell Pete the full extent of the situation, as her and Jack's shared mental link had been due to coming in simultaneous contact with a device from another planet, and Pete was not cleared to know about such foreign devices, or what they did. The bottom line of the situation was that if she wanted to stay to help Jack, she had to remain constantly available.

Pete had been less than understanding about his fiancÚ needing to be there for another man, even in such an extreme medical situation. Harsh words then led to even harsher arguments, until Sam found she really had no choice but to break things off with Pete. She kept telling herself that the end of her relationship with Pete wasn't her fault, that the ultimatum for her to come home 'where she belonged' hadn't been given by her, but she still felt a tiny bit bad about the fact that she'd been forced to make something like a choice between Pete and Jack.

Again, her thoughts strayed to Jack, as they had been doing with strange regularity of late. Or maybe it wasn't so strange, she admitted to herself. She hadn't used Pete to make Jack feel jealous... Actually, she hadn't intended to use Pete to make Jack jealous. Jack being jealous of her relationship with Pete these last few months had been an unexpected side effect of the whole engagement scenario.

When she dissected the recent months, then the recent years, she found that had never really been certain of Jack's feelings for her, at least not before her engagement to Pete. Sure, there had been the confessions of the Za'tarc tests, but those truths had been uttered many years earlier. She could argue that a lot of time had elapsed since those admissions, and that his feelings could easily have changed in the interim and she would never have known, as he didn't tell her about his feelings at any other time. What was she supposed to do? Wait for an affirmation of feelings from Jack that might never come because those feelings no longer existed?

But after she'd accepted Pete's proposal, the depth of Jack's feelings for her became so obvious to her that she was amazed that no one else had ever seen the emotions that were written in plain view all over his face. Or perhaps every one else was just a good actor, taking the burden of having to deny that some sort of attachment might be taking place between General O'Neill and his former second in command.

Sam didn't know. The only thing she did know was that General O'Neill... Jack... hadn't said anything to her about how he felt towards her, and he'd had ample opportunities to pour his heart out to her in the past. She conveniently ignored the fact that she'd also had those past opportunities to explain how she felt about him. It was a mess no matter how she considered the situation.

To do, or to do nothing. That is the question, she partially quoted to herself in a mocking tone as she made her way down the hallway, intent on reaching her private quarters for a good cry and maybe a nap before she had to drive to her house to collect a few things. She was basically living on base these days, but she found that she needed clean clothes every now and then, and she couldn't find them anywhere but in her own closet, in her own house.

Sam paused at the elevator to run her card through the card reader, then ended up spending several minutes waiting for a car to arrive to carry her to her quarters on the next level. But if that car didn't come soon to take her there, she was going to dissolve into an exhausted bundle of tears right there in the corridor, and then the entire base personnel would assume the worst if they saw her crying just outside the Infirmary.

Feeling like the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders, she impatiently tapped her fingernails on the metal of the card reader as Sergeant Siler suddenly joined her at the elevator door. Colonel Carter, he politely acknowledged her.

Sergeant Siler, she was able to say back. She cleared her throat, then in an attempt to allay any suspicions that he might have as to just how emotional she had become in the last few minutes, she asked, How's the 'Gate been doing lately?

Siler smiled. She's fine, Colonel. Nothing to be concerned about... at least, nothing's happened to it so far today.

Sam gave a small chuckle at the addendum he'd added to his original statement. If you ever need any help with anything, just let me know, I may be otherwise occupied right now, but that doesn't mean that you should ever feel like you're interrupting anything if need the help. She was aware that the fact that she had been the first and last choice to help the General through his recent trauma was noted and filed away for future reference. Always aware of the base gossip about her and Jack, even over these last few months when she had been publicly engaged to another man, she was still aware of the rumors that linked her and Jack together. And though she'd thought that his reaction to her engagement, to pretend that it hadn't touched him at all when the opposite was obviously true, hadn't helped either of them in the long run. Even though she had been engaged, the rumors had run like wildfire throughout the base, stronger even than before her engagement, strangely enough.

So she spoke to Siler about the issue, skirting the topic of her time spent with Jack now, and affirming that she was available in the future even when she was with the General.

Siler was a good sport about being this receptacle of her latest attempt to thwart the gossip mill. How is the General, Colonel? he genially asked. Any change from last time?

Actually, Sam noted. He's awake, finally. I didn't think he was ever going to come back to consciousness.

That is good news! Siler enthused. Can he..? Is he..?

Sam knew what he was trying to ask, but she had long since lost patience with this particular subject, enough to no longer give anybody any leeway on this topic. Is he what, Sergeant? she asked, more testy than she meant to sound. But she had been asked this very question so many times over the last few days that she was beyond caring how she sounded now.

Siler acted like he wasn't aware of her tone at all. He smiled at her, and said, I was going to ask what the General finds that he can still do, but I know that you've been over and over the same subject with everyone on base numerous times. So I'll just be glad that's he's finally awake and alive, and leave it at that. Then he turned to regard the Colonel. How are you doing, Colonel Carter? I was sorry to hear that your engagement's over. How you doing with that?

Sam was surprised at his questions about her, and immediately felt contrite. She had been less than sympathetic a moment before, and in return, Siler was behaving like she was his best friend come home after a long absence. She instantly felt ashamed of herself for her earlier behavior. I'm doing fine, actually. Thanks for asking, Sergeant.

You know how all of us on base are; we're all so in this entire war thing together that everything hits everybody, doesn't it?

What goes around, comes around, Sam thought to herself. She smiled at Siler, knowing that he meant even more than what the saying was claiming. You're right, Siler. I'm sorry about what I said... you have as much right as anybody to ask about the General. He's your CO too, after all.

Siler shrugged just as the car arrived and the doors opened for them. He gestured Sam ahead of him, and she accepted his offer to enter the car first. I've been just as worried about you as I have been the General lately, he divulged as they began moving towards the elevator to enter.

Sam was surprised again. You have? she blurted in incredulity.

Siler suddenly grinned. Of course, I also worry about the 'Gate in the same way.

Sam smiled. I've been compared to the Stargate... I'm flattered, Siler, she teased in a flat tone.

Siler laughed. I just... But he paused, cutting himself off as his face took on a puzzled expression. He stared at the back of Sam's black BDU t-shirt. What's that? he asked with the same amount of concern and confusion in his voice as he'd had just a minute ago.

What's what? Sam asked in curiosity.

Turn around, Siler commanded, unaware of the austerity of his voice.

Sam instantly did she she was told. What is it?

I don't know, Siler said as he concentrated on tearing something off the back of her t-shirt.

Sam turned around when it was apparent that he was done with whatever he was ripping off. They both stared in puzzled incomprehension at what Siler now held in the palm of his large hand.

What looked like a tiny black device affixed to a shiny piece of Scotch tape winked back at them in the fluorescent light in the elevator.

What is it? Sam asked again as Siler took hold of the edge of the tape with his fingers and turned the whole item around for their inspection.

It looks like... Siler turned it around again. Then he softly commented. Well, to be honest... He went on to admit, My brother-in-law's a cop in Chicago. He was showing me all their new gadgets one day last summer when me and the wife visited, and...

Sam didn't quite understand why he was telling her this story. Okaaaaayyyy, she interrupted.

Siler heard the confusion in her voice. He smiled at her reaction, but continued, Alan showed me something that looks exactly like this that day we visited. I remember that he commented on the fact that these things keep getting smaller and smaller every year.

But what is it? Sam asked, exasperation now in her voice.

It's a transmitter of some kind, Siler managed to say. At least, that's my guess.

A transmitter? Sam questioned.

Yeah, Siler confirmed. As in, a transmitter locator beacon thingy... Then he glanced at Sam. Do you know of anybody trying to keep tabs on you? Siler asked. You know, track your whereabouts?

Sam scratched her chin in a thoughtful pose. No, there's been no contact with the Rogue NID lately, or The Trust, at least none that I can think of.

Did you come in contact with anybody else lately who has it in for you? Siler next queried. I know how you guys on SG-1 are... always finding trouble.

Noooooo, Sam hesitantly said. I've been sitting with the General for three whole days... Suddenly, her eyes lit up as she remembered something else she had done in the recent past. Except that time that I spent with Pete...

Yeah, I hear that you and him had it out up by the main gates, Siler conversationally said.

Siler didn't behave like he knew just what his innocent comment started. One thought quickly set up a cascading reaction to other thoughts for Sam.

She drew in a deep breath. Pete hugged me! she exclaimed. Two days ago... At the start of that conversation that we had by the main Gate! After we had argued over the phone..! She stuttered her words as she stared at the innocent looking device in her fingers after carefully taking it from Siler. Her puzzlement grew as she stared. The fact that this... this transmitter, as you call it... that it's stuck to tape, which was then stuck to my shirt...

Stuck on your shirt on your lower back, as if whoever put it there wanted it to be hidden by your waistline or BDU overshirt, Siler reminded, troubleshooting with her.

Sam nodded. I didn't take the time to put on my overshirt this last time I went to see the General, she told him. Anyway, all this information indicates that whoever did this didn't want this transmitter-thing... if that's what it is... They didn't want this thing to be discovered for several hours at least, if not for several days, if that person knows my habits, and knew that I wouldn't change uniforms for several days. She continued to stare thoughtfully into space. I've only seen Pete, and General O'Neill, and SG-1, and those other personnel on base. The time I saw Pete was after he and I got into that fight over the phone... A fight about where the heck I suddenly was all the time.., Sam continued, And I couldn't tell Pete anything about the 429 device because he only has conditional clearance to know anything about what we do here... And he didn't believe me when I said that I had to stay here in case the General woke up... Could it have been Pete?

Siler shrugged. Sounds like it's a possibility to me. He had the opportunity, at least. You say he's a cop, too? he asked then, and Sam nodded, looking suddenly shell-shocked. Well, Siler went on. It's possible. He had the opportunity, and the transmitter is available to him, as he's with the police. But don't jump to any conclusions, he cautioned.

Oh, Sam said in distraction. I wouldn't dream of it. She continued to study the tiny device in her hands as she and Siler traveled up a level. She didn't remember pushing the floor button, and assumed that Siler had remembered it. How did you even see this thing on my shirt anyway? she asked. They're both black as midnight.

Siler gestured to the light above their heads. I saw the light glint off the tape, or I would have missed it too. He regarded her again. So, have any ideas yet on what it is? Then he amended, I mean, any concrete ideas?

The elevator stopped on Sam's lab's floor. The door opened just as she said, I don't know yet, but I'll tell you after I've done some research on this little bugger. She moved off the elevator, forgetting that she had been on her way to her quarters before she ran into Siler. Now, with the daze of a new puzzle clouding her mind, she walked distractedly to her lab and the computer she had there that could help her analyze the device in her hands.

* * *

A transmitter all right, Sam muttered to herself fifteen minutes later in her lab. She looked first at the black device resting on her desk, then at the picture she had found on the Internet in Wikepedia after avidly reading the description, including who used it and why. Used by police and other security agencies, she mumbled, reading right off her computer monitor. Someone had been tracking her, and she had a very good idea who that someone was. But she was keeping Siler's advice not to jump to conclusions in her mind as she continued to stare. It was hard not to do that mental jumping, but she was trying.

Well, let's see if Mr. Shanahan did any other type of surveillance work on me, she next mumbled to herself. After thinking for a minute, she brought up the CIA database and continued reading.

Thirty minutes later, she stared at a background check in the FBI database that recorded that a check had been performed on her several months before. She didn't recognize the name of the person who had done the background check, but she bet if she could just double-check that name with one of the names in Pete's police employee profile...

Yep, there it was. 'Close friend to: Samantha Carter, David Whistler, Steve Yandisteller, David Farrity, and Kevin Yarin.

Sam closed her eyes in distress. She was lucky, really, that the police required that these type of records even be kept. They weren't for typical public perusal, but then, she wasn't the typical public hacker, either. She had more available options of keeping track of people open to her than even most criminals did. Which was why security clearance was so closely guarded. Not just anybody could receive clearance. Even her own dad had been denied security clearance several times until he had become a Tok'ra years before.

But she wasn't thinking about clearance just then. She was far too angry. The date on the background check had coincided with the burgeoning relationship she'd been having with Pete up to that point.

She wouldn't be so angry... after all, Pete was a cop, and had a cop's natural sense of curiosity... except that she recalled how Pete had railed at her about trusting him at the time that corresponded with when his friend had performed the background check on her. She had no proof at this point that Pete had ordered the check, of course, but it was mighty suspicious that a friend of his had been the one to request such a check in the first place.

Again Siler's caution to her not to leap to conclusions entered her mind, and it attempted to penetrate the haze of anger clouding her reason. She reminded herself that this could all be a huge coincidence, but she didn't know who else would have reasons to keep tabs on her whereabouts, either. Dr. Brightman's attitude indicated that she didn't appear to hold anything against her. And as Sam had already thought, she had only seen those others connected to either SG-1, the base personnel, or General O'Neill for the last three days. Besides seeing Pete at the main gate that day of their walk, she had spent all her time with the General, and he had been unconscious. Before that, she had showered and changed her uniform, so any device would have either had to have been reapplied, or stuck onto her shirt after her shower. The only people who fit such specific time dilineations were Pete, an unconscious General O'Neill, Daniel, Teal'c, and Dr. Brightman, whom she had already discounted.

Sam doubted that Daniel or Teal'c had any reasons to want to keep track of her. And the fact that one of Pete's friends had performed the check on her was just too... Sam sighed into the quiet of the lab. This entire scenario was fast becoming more and more damning the longer she considered that the check had indeed been requested by Pete.

Just on the off chance that she might find more evidence, she also ran a scan of the names 'Daniel Jackson,' 'Teal'c' and 'Jack O'Neill' through her computer. It was then that she found the background check that had also been performed on Jack, months after the one that had been performed on her.

Sam did her best to try to recall what had happened in or around that date that was indicated on Jack's own background check. She even went to her calendar, and flipped back through scribbling that she had done on the days surrounding the particular date of Jack's background check. The only thing she came across was that she had gone on an overnight recon mission the day before the date of the check on Jack that had been performed.

She thought back again to that day. Then she had it. She and Pete had had one of their rare arguments of their relationship on that day after she had returned from the mission. He had asked where she had been the night before, and she had told him that all she could say was that she had been on a 'trip with SG-1' the night before, as she had told him before she left on the 'trip.' She knew he wasn't cleared to learn that she and SG-1 had 'Gated to PSR-341 that day. She didn't recall mentioning the General in her recount of the mission. She did recall, however, that Pete had brought up the General's name several times in the discussion that had followed.

She had laughed off all Pete's concerns at the time, but now she knew she couldn't, and shouldn't, laugh about any of this.

At that point, Sam found herself jumping to those conclusions that had been in the back of her mind all along. I can't believe he would do something like this, and to me, she muttered to herself. She reminded herself one more time that she still didn't have any actual proof, only suppositions, but she found that she was far more willing to believe the worst when she was staring at Jack O'Neill's background check than she was when she had been staring at her own.

Still angry, but doing her best to control the emotion, she powered down her computer and stood. She needed to think now, and she may as well get something constructive done while she was pondering.

It was almost an hour after she had left Jack's room to head for home that she actually managed to reach her car.

* * *

Sam had another surprise when she unlocked and opened the front door of her house half an hour later. She stood in another daze, and stared in speechless amazement at the mess that greeted her eyes.

Well, it wasn't actually a 'mess,' but Sam was so used to keeping her house quite tidy when she planned to leave it for long periods of time, that the sight of the stack of four pizza boxes on the edge of the living room coffee table was the first thing to draw her attention and to tip her off that something was wrong.

The second thing to proclaim 'that something in her house was wrong' was the evidence of the mud tracing the large Oriental rug that she had purchased a few months before and spread on her living room floor. A few DVDs and CDs were strewn about near the television set, and a few empty DVD cases were scattered under one of the two windows in the room.

The presence of an easily recognizable jacket thrown negligently on one of the dining room chairs also caught her eye. The jacket was Pete's.

That you, Steve? then came a sound that was unmistakably Pete's voice out of the kitchen area. I left the door unlocked for you, so bring that food in and set it wherever! he further invited.

A wave of fury so strong that it made her shake accosted Sam.

She swung the front door shut so hard that it made the china in the cabinets in the dining area rattle. No, Pete, it's me, Sam, and I'm demanding that you get the hell out of my house!

Sam! yelped the voice, and Pete appeared from the kitchen.

Oh, the evidence is indeed growing more and more damning by the second, Sam admitted to herself.

The books Sam was carrying slammed to the floor of her entryway as she dropped them. They made a satisfying thud as they connected with the floor near her door. I don't believe this! she yelled. How dare you..? Her voice trailed away as her shock increased.

Pete gaped at her, red faced as well. His own surprise quickly gave ground to a building anger. 'How dare I?' he echoed in a voice of amazed incredulity. Think, Sam! I moved my entire life from Denver to Colorado Springs because of you! Do I need to remind you that I still have no place of my own to live in Colorado Springs? Where else was I supposed to go? Your place is the only place!

Equally as red-faced as Pete, Sam hollered, And should I remind you that I didn't ask you to move to Colorado Springs, you volunteered, and we broke up yesterday! You should be nowhere near my house, especially not when I'm not in it!

And why is it that you're not here? Pete accused. You can't expect me to believe that you've been at the bedside of a sick 'friend' all this time, do you? he sneered.

The way he said the word 'friend' made her association with Jack O'Neill sound far more dirty than it was. Sam instinctively reacted to a potential smear against Jack. And I suppose you've never seen this, either! she quickly accused, holding up the tiny device that Siler had found earlier that day taped to the back of her shirt, and that she had stuffed in her pocket after she had analyzed it in her lab. You know damned well where I've been these last few days!

Pete was fast to respond even to that accusation. You know that I would never use that kind of surveillance device!

Sam gave a start, then cried, And how do you know that this is used for surveillance? She breathed through her nose, trying to remain calm enough to think, but all the extra oxygen did was add fuel to her burning anger. And how dare one of your friends do a background check on Jack!

Oh, it's 'Jack' now, is it? Pete scornfully asked. And anyway, you have no proof that I had anything to do with that check that Dave did, and you know it!

Oh yeah?!? Sam screeched back at him. If that's so, how do you know that someone named 'David' did the checks in the first place? She breathed deeply again, adding to her fire of rage. You talked several times during our relationship about me not being able to trust you... I really think the shoe should be worn on the other foot!

Are you saying that I don't trust you? Pete asked in astonishment. I'm not the one who goes off for days on end on secret missions with God knows who, and you expect me to..?

A calm fell over Sam then. And after I was more than nice to you when we broke up, this is how you choose to repay that politeness. By staying in my house without my express permission, or even my knowledge. What a waste of time being nice to you was. She glared at Pete. Get out, she demanded. You have one day. After that I'm calling the police and getting a restraining order put out on you. And clean up this place before you go! She bent to retrieve the books she had dropped to the floor in her initial surprise, and that two second interval was all Pete needed to give her his own rebuttal to her ultimatum.

You want the police to put out a restraining order on me? he rhetorically asked. Ha! I am the police, Sam! he reminded her. My friends will never act against one of their own, and you know it!

We'll see what a group of really pissed Air Force SFs have to say about that! Sam threatened in response. You're sounding more and more like a very controling Jonas Hansen the more we talk. Besides, all us officers know about ten different ways to 'convince' someone to vacate certain premises!

Pete pointed a finger at Sam. Don't you threaten me!

Or what? Sam yelled. You'll do a background check on me? Then she mock glared at the ceiling. Oh, that's right - You've already done that!

You can't tie me to those checks any more than you can tie me to...

Get out! she yelled back. You have one day! With that, she yanked her front door open again and disappeared, slamming the door shut behind her.

* * *

Still furious several minutes later, Sam made her way into the bunker leading into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. She realized that she hadn't taken the time to gather any clothes from her bedroom, but she admitted to herself that she had been a bit distracted while she was home. She punched the button to call the SGC elevator, still stewing about the confrontation she'd just had with her former fiancÚ.

Six minutes later, a still irate Samantha Carter dropped into the seat at the Commissary table with Cassie Fraiser and the rest of SG-1. Just at that minute, she was simply ecstatic that she still had friends whom she knew that she could trust.

Daniel looked up from his dinner at Sam's sudden arrival. He opened his mouth to start to ask, What..?

Cassie spoke up then, rudely cutting him off. She glared at Sam. What the heck did you say to Uncle Jack? she accused, holding her fork above her own dinner while she did her inquiring.

The accusation surprised Sam so much that she forgot her anger long enough to reply, Nothing! Why?

Cassie's expression still registered severe condemnation when she continued, Because I went into his room just half an hour ago, and he was in tears! And there were old tear tracks on his cheeks, so he had been crying for a good long time when I got there!

What? Daniel blurted in surprise. Jack was crying?

Teal'c broke in before Cassie had the chance to respond. You must be mistaken, CassandraFraiser, he announced. O'Neill does not cry.

He does now! Cassie pointedly objected as she turned her glare on Teal'c and Daniel at their interruptions. I don't know what's going on, as Uncle Jack can't tell me right now, but...

Daniel interrupted again, ignoring Cassie's second glare to reiterate, All I said when he woke up was that bit about Pete and Sam breaking up, and I wasn't around to hear what Sam said next to him. And why was he crying? he asked them all. Then his eyes centered on the teenager. You never told us, Cassie.

But it was Sam who answered. That crying is probably because of the emotional lability that Dr. Brightman warned us that Jack might have. When Cassie gazed at her in confusion, Sam further explained, Think of it as how I am when I'm feeling Jolinar's memories. Sam stared at them all with a serious expression. Jolinar's leftover feelings were practically uncontrolable, especialy at first. Then she went on, And Jack trying to control his feelings must be a whole lot worse. Then she faced the others at the table in order to defend herself. All I said to him was to explain about the stroke. She shrugged. We didn't even get into anything about what he can do now. He only said that he thought I was still a Major, and that we were somehow married, though he never explained just how it was that we got around the frat regs on that one.

You must have said something more, Cassie went on accusatorily. Uncle Jack wasn't crying... I mean sobbing like any other normal person... but there were tears just streaming out of his eyes, even when I tried to get him to stop.

That is most unlike O'Neill, Teal'c declared. He turned towards Sam, as if he expected her to agree with him, but he was surprised to see that somewhere in the conversation, Sam had suddenly become thoughtful and withdrawn. ColonelCarter, what are you considering?

Sam jerked upright to stare in consternation at Teal'c. Jack thought we were married. Daniel said... Then I said... Oh God! she thought. Daniel told him about me breaking off an engagement, which means that I had been engaged to someone else, and Jack told me that he'd thought we were married and had kids, and I said that we had never been married. Only I didn't think how that comment might make him feel. And I bet he feels terrible right now! He's mourning something... a family... something he thought he had, then found out he never had... She didn't even take the time to finish her thoughts, but leapt out of her chair and ran full tilt at the Commissary door.

Where's she going? asked Daniel, his question floating along behind her to follow her into the corridor. But she ran on, ignoring Daniel's question.

Around the corner, she literally careened into Siler, who was in the midst of carrying a few tools while he asked, Hey, Colonel, did you find out anything about the..? That was as far as he got before she ran into him and he crashed to the floor.

Sam didn't pause except to dodge around him. Sorry about that, Siler! she called behind her. Then she was at the elevator, but didn't take the time to swipe her card and wait for a car to stop and collect her. She threw open the door to the emergency stairway, hurtling down the stairs two and three at a time.

She managed to stop herself from bursting through the door leading to the Infirmary level, but only just kept it from slamming into the soldiers who happened to be much more sedately walking in the corridor outside. She slipped through the small opening she had made for herself, then was tearing down the hallway, evading personnel as she went.

Sam skidded by the door to Jack's room, then corrected her headlong sprint only to yank that door open, too, and run into the room. She jerked to a halt next to Jack's bed, breathing hard.

Jack was alone in the room. One look at him made her realize that everything Cassie had said was true. Jack wasn't making a single sound, but tears oozed periodically out of the corners of his closed eyes and slipped down his temples to the pillow under his head.

I'm so sorry! she immediately exclaimed inside her head. If I had only been thinking about how you must feel..! It was no secret to her that Jack had deeply regretted every minute of her engagement to Pete, but because he had refused to say anything to keep that engagement from happening, she had convinced herself that he must no longer care for her, not that he was staying quiet simply because he wanted her to find that life outside the mountain he insisted that she find.

Now that Sam was staring Jack in the face, tear streaks not withstanding, she didn't quite know how to proceed. She only knew the overwhelming sorrow she felt running rampant through her heart.

She deduced that the sensation of tragedy must be what Jack was feeling at the moment, and she instinctively took hold of his hand nearest her side of the bed. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, she kept mentally repeating even while she fought the tidal wave that was Jack's feelings on the subject of her, those feelings that he had gone to such great lengths to hide from her for over seven long years. Now, just the presence of an unconscious dream, a dream that Brightman had warned her may occur in his unconscious state, was enough to tear down the walls she and he had so painstakingly erected over the course of years.

Well, Jack thought at her as she used a tissue to wipe at the tears still running out of his eyes. There's not much doubt as to what I'm feeling now, is there? He tried for his typical sarcastic tone that he always used to invoke humor in order to camouflage his emotions about her, but he missed 'sarcastic' by a mile, and went straight to a sense of utter sorrow. The sensation smashed into Sam, much as Jolinar's sense of anguish at Martouf's death had hit her all those years before.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Sam kept mentally wailing as her own tears began to worm down her cheeks. I've been so wrapped up in my own worries these last few days that I never considered that you... that we... She wasn't able to even think the last words at him. Crap!

Oddly enough, her use of the expletive that she had learned specifically from him made him give her a weak, watery laugh as she spoke/thought at him while tears ran down her face. Without consciously thinking about what she was doing, she gave his hand encased in hers a comforting squeeze as she lifted his fingers to rub against her cheek.

Her own desires to comfort him, mixed with feelings that ran much deeper, washed out from her to him as they came in sudden contact with each other. Sam sniffed and closed her eyes to try to hold in the feeling assailing her, but it was too late. That feeling was flowing into Jack in a second, equally strong wave, the same as when his emotions had first washed into her.

Jack drew in a shivery breath, and let the air slowly exhale through his lips and into the room. He made a monumental effort to contain his emotions, and even in the state he was currently in, did a descent job at restraint. When he had somewhat harnessed his feelings of loss, keeping them in tight control, he was able to think at her again.

Now... you know... everything, he woodenly thought. This is so embarrassing, he quietly announced.

Sam sniffed again, then asked, Embarrassing that I know now, or embarrassing because of why and how I know?

Both, Jack swiftly answered.

Sam was just as quick in her reply, This is partly because of that inability to control your own emotions that Dr. Brightman warned me might happen. Don't worry, Jack, I won't tell anybody about today.

Just, Jack started to implore, then paused and drew in another shuddering breath. He sounded like it was taking everything in him to keep intact that tight reign on his feelings that he was employing. Only after several silent moments was he able to beseech her, Just don't... He stopped, then tried again, his thoughts scattered and broken in spite of his control. Don't leave, he said. I can't stand it right now...

Wanting to remind him that he was the one who had told her to leave him, she instead simply squeezed his hand in hers one more time. I won't leave again like that, I promise.

They remained connected, holding hands, for several silent moments as more waves of pain and despondency tormented them both. At last, calm again... or at least, calmer... Sam again thought an apology, I'm sorry.

Jack did his best to pull himself back together. It was all so real, he tried to explain to her. It was like having you for just a few days, then losing you in one instant. He took his own hissing breath. God... That was awful... He squeezed her own fingers in his.

I know, and I'm so sorry... I can't say that enough... That was when it suddenly struck her, slowly seeping into her consciousness. Jack, you just squeezed my hand.

Did not, Jack distractedly answered. His battle with his emotions was still going on, and most of his concentration was too centered on controling his reaction to those emotions to spend much of it on her.

Sam reared back, sniffed, and looked at his fingers encased in hers. Did too, she gently argued.

Did not, Jack automatically told her. At least, I wasn't thinking about doing it. I was too busy... He paused once again, and desperately clutched at her as another wave of grief poured over him. Don't go! he shouted to her. The beep of the heart monitor began speeding up.

Jack, Jack! Sam frantically called. She released his hand only to cradle his cheeks, forcing him to stare her right in her blue eyes. Don't you dare leave me, either, you hear? She was crying much more openly than Jack was. I'll crack if you die now, she sobbed.

Jack's blinked. Though he'd been aware of the fact that she had been softly crying already for some time, seeing the earnest tears on her face surprised him enough to halt his own tears and emotions so he could say, Hey, I'm all right, I'm all right! Stop crying!

Sam gave him her own watery smile at his statement. You say you're all right when you're crying, I say the same thing while I'm sobbing my heart out... If I didn't know better, I'd say that we were watching a bad comedy on the old movie channel, she dryly commented.

Jack heaved in air. Sam sighed a breath as well.

Jack? she timidly began. Can we start over, please? I've messed up so many things lately, and... She begged him with the saddest expression she had ever turned on him in her blue eyes. She rubbed his cheek with her thumb as an extra incentive. Please?

It was as if the idea of Sam in distress pre-emptively put an end to his own despondency. That sadness of his didn't disappear entirely. But it did seem to be... derailed. The breath in Jack's chest gave one last hitch at his remembered pain of a moment before, but he ignored the sensations that was still occasionally running through him to say, Okay. But you have to promise that you won't say anything about reproductive organs this time.

Sam's laugh was stronger. I promise, she said on a chuckle, recalling their rather volatile meeting, and how she had said something about organs and reproduction, and how stupid she had felt immediately afterwards. It had been a testament to the fact that Jack was an amazingly understanding man that he hadn't taken the typical macho approach to her after that comment of hers in the Briefing Room at their initial meeting.

Now, she was just glad that her stupidity hadn't ended yet another of her attempts at having a relationship with him, no matter the state of the relationship. It didn't slip by her, and she assumed the same about him, that neither of them had mentioned their feelings for the other in their recent conversation, but she also felt a strange sense that they had reached some kind of conclusion about them, too.

I'm not going anywhere, she firmly stated so as if to reassure him.

Neither am I, Jack affirmed as well, then added, You probably already guessed that.

His allusion to how the stroke had left him more or less tied to his bed for now made Sam give a bark of laughter again. She sniffed, and smiled at him. You're way to important to me to just let you go now, Jack O'Neill, she said, her soft mental voice washing over the part of his mind that had been left unaffected by his recent brain trauma. It was like talking to the old Jack, but this new Jack couldn't move much of anything while the old Jack did that talking. It was weird.

Jack looked straight at her blue eyes, as if he could look anywhere else, even if he'd had the choice to do so. He was so consumed by her eyes... always had been... that to glance away was impossible. Sam, I.., he began to say. Then he simply told her, Thank you, in the sincerest tone he could muster at the moment.

Sam smiled at him, this time sending him a blazing gesture of solid joy. Any day, she said, and didn't even sound as if she felt at all uncomfortable.

Go to Part III


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