Disclaimer: Sooooooo not mine. Soooooo no money. Sooooo hooked by the show anyway.

Dedication: To Don S. Davis, 1942-2008 - we'll miss you.

A/N: Character death/alternate reality story

I'm rather surprised at myself for writing this story. I'm generally not a fan of any story with (gasp!) character death in it, even in the mild/semi/pseudo way that this story is about character death. I mean, I've seen something like 100 Stargate, SG-1 character death fanfiction stories, and I've only read two of them.

I'm also not a fan of stories with alternate reality plotlines. For me to have written even a sort-of-character-death, alternate-reality-plotline story is amazing. For me to have made it into such a long story is nothing short of astonishing.

As to the extreme length of this story... This story always threatened to become an 'and then' story, right from the very beginning. (By 'and then,' I mean 'this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened, and then that happened...' Get it? An 'and then' story). To keep from letting it devolve into an 'and then' story, I had to 'milk it for all it's worth,' the solution to the 'and then' blues. It's the reason for the huuuuge amount of details I added, and for the story's length.

If you don't like character death, alternate reality, or long stories, you might try reading my shorter short stories Holding, Ba'al, As In Bocce, or Centerfold, just to name a few. If you don't care how long this story is, then sit back and be ready to experience one very weird ride ('weird' as in a ironic/funny, not 'weird' as in 'this is a waaaay strange story').

A/N2: As of now, this is one loooooong file. If it will take forever to download it, email me, tell me your computer woes, and I will email this story to you in parts through return email attachments unless you tell me you can't receive attachments. Then we'll powow on other email ideas. Perhaps try downloading from this link: sg98.htm.

A/N3: Takes place in fifth season.

Expect the Unexpected

by Linda Bindner

Part I

'Expect the unexpected' Colonel O'Neill always said.

Amend that... Always used to say.

* * *

'This is a nightmare within a nightmare,' Sam thought to herself as she stared at General Hammond across his desk, and fought the inclination to get sick. Uh.., she stuttered, forcing sound through her mouth when what she really wanted to do was throw up. Uh...

Hammond rested a gentle hand on her arm in order to stop her effort in voicing the response she was trying to make. If this is too much to ask of you, Major, then by all...

Can Daniel do the necessary talking at the Memorial Service, Sir? she asked in a quiet voice that was still able to interrupt him. I don't think I'll make it through the service if I have to speak. She wondered if she was going to make it through the Memorial Service even if she didn't speak, but that was another matter entirely for her to worry about.

Of course, General Hammond said while he patted her hand in what was supposed to be a comforting move. I'll ask him.

But didn't General Hammond know that there was no comfort that he could offer in this instance?

Sam wondered about that as she began to move off down the eerily silent corridor. Hadn't the General seen enough death, enough grief, enough heartache to know what was bound to happen with her now that Jack was gone?

Sam physically shivered when she had that thought.

* * *

It was supposed to have been a completely harmless mission. All of SG-1 was relaxed when it was clear that the villagers that they had run into meant them no harm. The planet's inhabitants were just curious about their weapons, their food, their hair, their clothes... about them.

Curiosity was natural, right? So the Colonel always said.

But he also always said that curiosity killed the cat.

He'd meant that as an example of a cliché, not literally.

And when that group of kids crowded around Teal'c, begging him to show them how his staff weapon worked, Jack O'Neill had shrugged his shoulders, and at last given a reluctant nod of agreement. After all, what harm could it do to show them what they might be up against if the Goa'uld were ever to come calling?

What harm? None of SG-1 could ever have predicted what true harm really looked like.

They'd always thought that death for any of them would come at the hands of a Goa'uld bent on their destruction, not from a bunch of curious kids.

Teal'c did everything right. He showed the kids how to power the weapon, and instructed them to always, always, always make sure a weapon of any kind was pointed at a target that was meant for destruction, not at people that the wielder of said weapon didn't wish to harm. Then he was asked to give a demonstration of the weapon's firepower. Wishing for the kids to fully understand what they might face if an army of Jaffa ever invaded their planet, Teal'c fired at a tree in the distance, instantly incinerating the tree trunk.

Now the kids were truly excited. The group moved away from the villagers when the kids asked if it was all right for them to try the staff weapon themselves. Colonel O'Neill was less than enthusiastic about this request, naturally, considering his personal experience with kids and weapons. But the soldier in him argued that in case the kids were ever in a situation where the kids needed to defend their planet, and staff weapons were the only weapons available at the time, then the kids would need to know how to use them. Having the knowledge how to use a weapon effectively was far less dangerous than using a weapon with no idea how it worked. Accidents happened that way.

And that was the intention. Teal'c moved away from the villagers who had already spoken at length to the off-worlders, the group of children tagging along. They were going to have a real shooting lesson - they were so excited!

And that, in the end, had been the problem. Excited kids were out of control kids.

The shooting lesson went as planned at first. There were no accidents, and the Jaffa was so careful that even the Colonel was impressed with the safety measures that he was taking. Teal'c always had one hand on the weapon, even when one of the group of kids was firing it. But in the end, even that wasn't enough.

Excited kids = so much energy. That energy exploded in the form of the individuals who were standing around, waiting for their turn to fire the weapon, beginning to goof off with each other. They teased. They swapped tall stories about their imagined prowess with energy weapons.

And they began suddenly scuffling a wrestling match where one boy shoved at a girl, who shoved him back, and three more kids entered the fray. In a matter of seconds, Teal'c couldn't stop the child who knocked into the current wielder of the staff weapon. The girl's arms jerked just slightly at the jarring, but it was enough to change the aim of her shot, which happened reflexively when she was bumped into. In the next instant, Jack was hurtling through the air from the force of the shot, slamming into a building, a smoking hole in his upper left chest.

He was alive when SG-1 and the adult villagers reached him, but only for a moment. He had time to grab onto the hands of the members of SG-1 as his warm blood pooled under him in the dirt. He looked at all of them, at Sam, whispered, God, I've always loved being on SG-1, which he would never have admitted if there had been the tiniest chance that he would have survived such a shot.

He looked once more at Sam. He gave her hand one last squeeze. And that was it. His breath rattled once. His muscles jerked. And he died.

The Universe crashed to a halt in that single moment for Sam.

She knew... without a shred of doubt... something she felt in her bones... that it should have been her.

But it hadn't been. He'd left her. She hadn't had the chance to tell him that she loved him, to say goodbye... Nothing.

If it had been her who'd died, she reminded herself that he would now be feeling this terrible hole yawning wide in his soul. Did she want him to be going through something like that?

Well, no.

But then, neither did she.

She wanted the impossible... she wanted him back.

But that wasn't going to happen, so Sam focused on more immediate problems. She also didn't want to talk at Jack's Memorial Service. She didn't think she could make her voice work without losing her dinner. Which if she did would only add supreme embarrassment to the bottomless pit already taking up residence in her soul.

In the end, Daniel talked. Then Teal'c talked. And Teal'c talked only when something needed to be said, so that confirmed for everyone that he felt responsible.

But Sam had no idea what they said. She stood between Daniel and Janet in the 'Gate Room, swaying, and concentrated on not getting sick. She was vaguely aware of the presence of the President standing on the other side of the room, of the way that Senator Kinsey was among the group of dignitaries surrounding the President, and thought how Jack would not have been happy about that man's presence at his own Memorial Service.

But the empty feeling in her gut distracted her right from the moment she even became aware of Kinsey.

God, this emptiness was horrible. She kept expecting Jack to lean into her personal space and whisper an inappropriate comment into her ear, something that would make her smile.

Sam felt like her reason to smile had died with the Colonel.

* * *

Time... everyone said that she would just need time.

Yeah, right. Like this horrible feeling inside would ever go away.

* * *

This is pathetic, Sam thought as she hung up the receiver of her phone two days later without leaving a message at the residence she had just called. She stood still like a statue in between her living room and house entry way, just staring at her phone for a moment. Then, without warning, her breath hitched in her throat, and a cold sob ripped from it.

Pathetic! she mentally screamed at herself. So pathetic! God, the Colonel would have loved this in a sick, twisted sort of way. She rubbed her hands into her forehead and scrubbed at her eyes. What the heck was she doing? Why couldn't she just get over this?

Was there a way to ever get over this? And did she really want to?

Still thinking about how pathetic she was being, Sam made a grab for the receiver once again anyway. Her fingers shaking, she dialed the seven digits on her phone, numbers she had branded on her memory five years earlier.

The phone on the other end picked up. Her breath sucked in again as she heard the familiar voice. This is your friendly neighborhood Colonel speaking, with the advice that you should always wear your safety helmet when riding your bike. And you should always wear a seat belt... in a car, not all the... His voice trailed away for a moment, then he seemed to reawaken. And make sure any weapons are off the premises. And sweep your floors, And dust. And in between times you're doing all that silly garbage, leave a message for Jack O'Neill before I call the cops on you and charge you with phone loitering. And if this is Carter, my Gameboy is acting up again. But I know you can fix it in two shakes of a rabbit's tail... if either of us had a rabbit. Anyway, if you take a look at it, I promise not to force feed you any steaks that I grill... But oven broiled steaks are fair game. Thanks... for the message... and everything. I'll get back to you later.

Only later would never happen.

Sam's heart shattered once again into a million tiny pieces as his answering machine kicked on, and she hung up the phone. She didn't leave a message... she wasn't that pathetic... this time.

* * *

The SGC was even worse than the deafening quiet of her home. If she'd spent her downtime expecting the Colonel to knock on her front door every other minute, then each corner of the SGC was a definite reminder to her of all that she had recently lost. SG-1 was supposed to all be on more downtime while General Hammond tried to decide who would be taking over for Colonel O'Neill. But the thought of staying at home, by herself, with no hope of a visit from the one person constantly on her mind, drove her to haunt the SGC corridors instead.

As if anyone can take over for him, Sam thought glumly as she sat in the glum Commissary and played with her glum food hours after her unexpected arrival on base. She pushed her food first one way, then the other. Then she got the wild idea to make a diagram of a plane in the gravy of her mashed potatoes. But the plane was lopsided. It looked as if it were headed for an imminent crash.

Maybe I can crash with it.

Sam, Janet said, eyeing her design with distaste from her place across the table. Are you going to eat your food, or play in it?

Sam dropped her spoon onto the table with a sad sigh. I'm not hungry, Janet, she said with a decided lack of spirit. But at least she wasn't crying... yet.

Janet gave a pained sigh, a sound half way between a groan of grief and a grunt of frustration. You have to eat something, she noted in her overly patient 'doctor voice.'

Sam could only give Janet a pretend glare. I said that I'm not hungry. Do you think I'm lying?

Janet huffed a breath. No. But the Colonel would never have wanted you to waste away to nothing like this. She leaned against the table and regarded her friend, who was losing weight at an alarming rate. When was the last time you ate? she softly demanded.

Sam tried to think. I don't know, she listlessly answered. Um... It must have been before that last mission. Sam stared quizzically at Doctor Fraiser. Sometime last week? she guessed.

Again Janet sighed. Sam! You're going to make yourself sick! she direly predicted. If you haven't already!

So, Sam thought to herself. Big deal.

Janet went on, unaware of what her friend was currently thinking. Don't you care what happens to you? she demanded to know. Don't you care if you're too weak to go on missions, and the Goa'uld win the war because of it?

That was it. Sam slammed her fork down to the table to rest beside her spoon. Anger sparked through her where only melancholy had been before. Actually, no, Janet. She glared at her friend, a real glare this time. The man I loved is lying in a coffin six feet under the ground, a hole in his chest because of this war. But you know what? I don't care anymore! she declared. I just don't bloody well care!

That was when Daniel showed up to stand beside the table, next to Janet. He gaped at Sam. Sam! he hissed. Everyone's listening!

Sam jerked her head around to stare at Daniel. I don't really care who listens anymore, she announced. I don't care about anything.

Daniel could only stare at her for a moment. You sound so depressed! he then admitted as he set his tray of food down on the table and joined them. Jack would never have wanted you to go off the deep end like this.

And how do you know what Jack would have wanted? Sam nastily entreated. Had she been more in control of her mental faculties, she would never have spoken to Daniel in that tone of voice. But, unable to stop herself, she continued, Do you have some psychic hotline now with the dead and buried that I don't know about?

Sam! Janet remonstrated at Sam's uncharacteristic outburst. This isn't like you! she retorted. This cursing, this verbally attacking your friends, this not eating... Well, actually, the not eating part is very like you, but the rest is almost like you're from an alternate reality, like that twin of yours who came through the mirror thingy a few years ago! Are you sure that you and she didn't recently trade places?

Do you mean the Quantum Mirror? Sam asked in a voice that was half irritated and half gloomy, and Janet nodded her head. Sam drearily glanced down at her inedible food again. Actually, going through the Mirror sounds great right about now. Maybe me and Daniel could go through and bring back another Colonel O'Neill. We can then all go back in time, and he can then convince himself not to let Teal'c teach staff lessons on P2Y-413.

You aren't blaming Teal'c for the accident, are you? Janet cut in knowingly.

Sam only sent her a scathing look. No, Dr. Fraiser, PhD in Psychology, I'm not! she sarcastically replied. Jack would have been proud of her tone if not of her words. But it doesn't matter anyway what we think might happen, because that Quantum Mirror that we had was destroyed years ago!

Daniel shoveled a pile of chicken and noodles into his mouth. No matter what happened or how bad things got, Daniel could always eat. No, it wasn't destroyed, he said around his food.

Sam jerked her head back to look at him. What? she asked as if she hadn't heard him right.

The Quantum Mirror, Daniel explained. I overheard Hammond one day when he was on the phone with some senator... Kinsey, probably... and he was arguing to have the Mirror destroyed while the other guy wanted to keep it so that it could be studied. I think the other guy won because the President called Hammond a few minutes later, and the General was saying a lot of things like 'I understand,' and stuff like that. You know, lying through his teeth. So I asked him about it... the Mirror, I mean. And he said that it was going to be shipped out to Nellis to be studied instead of being destroyed.

For a second, Sam was so surprised that she didn't know what to say. But General Hammond told us that it was destroyed, she protested at last.

Daniel shook his head around another mouthful of chicken and noodles. That's what he told us... and he told us what he knew at the time. The phone calls came the day after he told us. I remember, 'cause I needed a big place to set out some of my inscription notes or something I was working on at the time... I don't quite remember what it was... But I do remember using the Briefing Room table... Daniel peered off into the distance, trying to dredge up that particular memory in better detail. At last he had to shake his head in defeat. Still he insisted, But I do remember that phone conversation I overheard.

Sam sat back hard in her seat. For just a moment, she was once again so surprised that she forgot to think about Jack. That hadn't happened for five straight days. Huh. I wonder why General Hammond didn't inform us of the change in plans.

Daniel paused to chew and swallow before saying, He decided that us thinking the Mirror was destroyed was in everyone's best interest. It might be too tempting for us to try to go to a different reality in just this kind of a situation. He looked meaningfully at Sam and Janet. He said that it was too dangerous. That's why he wanted to destroy the Mirror in the first place.

Sam sat back, thinking. The General had been right... The first thing that crossed her mind upon hearing Daniel's news had been to make a headlong rush to Nellis and the apparently-not-destroyed Mirror. Her second thought was, The General can't really make that kind of decision for us, though. She proclaimed, He should have told us the truth right from the start.

Why? Daniel asked, his voice sounding more belligerent than thoughtful as he supported Hammond's decision. He only ever had our best interests in mind. And besides, it's not like we've been truthful ourselves. When Sam sent him a puzzled glance, silently asking him what he meant, he answered her, I mean that we've been real quiet about the whole Stargate Program since it began years ago. He grew more excited, warming to his subject. We're fighting a whole war here, and the people of Earth are totally oblivious to it. Is that right? he argued. Or is the panic and chaos that would come from a divulgence of the Program at this late date better, do you think? When again neither Sam nor Janet had any kind of a comeback to his question, he went on, If that's what would happen, there would be more deaths that Jack's on our heads. Don't ya think?

Sam sat frozen in her chair, considering. Finally, she decided that she didn't know how to answer him, and she had always found that if she didn't know how to answer a question, then it was time to redirect the conversation. So she noted, You sure don't seem very broken up about the Colonel.

The anger that shot through Daniel's eyes was as bright as it was swift. Oh, so just because I tell you a few things about the stupid Quantum Mirror, I don't care about Jack, is that it?

Sam tried to save herself from being flung into the proverbial hole that she'd dug herself with her earlier observation. Daniel, I didn't mean... But she didn't get any further than that.

Daniel roughly pushed his chair back and stood, still glaring at her. I lost one of my best friends! he shouted, unmindful of who might hear him in the fairly busy Commissary. Another of my best friends has barricaded himself in his quarters so that we won't see him crying. And another of those good friends of mine is whining because she claims to love Jack when she had years to do something about those feelings, but chose to sit on her butt instead.

Years, he repeated again, in case Sam hadn't heard him the first time. Then he barked a laugh, a sound lacking warmth as he sardonically flipped her napkin at her and went on. The really sad thing is that Jack would have been happy... overjoyed... to find a place for you in his life! But you were too damned stubborn to ever do anything about it. Honestly, Sam, the sight of you right now makes me sick! And he stormed out of the Commissary, leaving his food mostly untouched on the table for someone else to clean up.

Daniel had never left his food before, Janet realized. Wow, is he ever upset. He would have to be to forget to remove his own food.

Sam just heaved a huge sigh, pushed her own food away from her, and dropped her head into her arms on the table top. This is shit, she said to her fingers over her face. He's right, and I wish I could take back about four years, but now I can't, and this is just shit. Tears squeezed through her fingers, but she didn't make a sound as she cried.

Dr. Fraiser sat, forgotten, at the table as Sam quietly sobbed for the millionth time in five days.

No, Sam realized, the SGC was definitely not a better place to be than sitting at her home and staring at the wall, waiting for a man to show up who was never going to walk through her door again.

And now it looked like Daniel and Teal'c were joining him in boycotting a woman who never did anything, had never done anything. She might save the world on a weekly basis, but her life was actually so stagnate that she was beginning to rust in place. And they knew that.

This is awful Sam thought to herself. She didn't think she could stand this.

* * *

The day only got worse.

Twenty minutes later, Sam found herself staring across his desk into General Hammond's eyes. His 'request' to see her at 1300 that was waiting for her on her lab email account when she returned from lunch hadn't really come as much of a surprise. General Hammond now regarded Major Carter across his office space. She stood solemnly before him at attention, or the fairly sloppy drooped-shoulder position that passed for her attention these days.

Hammond uncomfortably began. Major, Dr. Fraiser has been telling me that you're behaving very depressed lately, and she told me that she can't clear you for active duty unless you begin seeing one of the base psychologists on a regular basis.

Sam gaped at him. Oh, thanks Janet! she sardonically thought. Why couldn't the doctor just keep her nose in her own damned Infirmary and stay out of her business? Do you mean..? Sam swallowed, and tried again. Does she mean that she thinks I need to talk to McKenzie? she asked. Do you both want me to see him? Her tone gave the impression that she didn't think she needed to see anyone.

Hammond gave a brief nod of his head. He's one of the phsychiatrists that we have on base. I know that the four of you on SG-1 don't hold the man in very high esteem...

McKenzie had been the person who first alerted the base personnel to the growing emotional attachment that Carter and O'Neill had always carried for one another. The reprimand that had followed began years worth of hiding, avoiding, and constantly worrying that someone would misconstrue something that either she or the Colonel said. So of course she and Jack didn't like McKenzie. The fact that McKenzie was an arrogant jerk had something to do with why Daniel and Teal'c also thought of the man as 'extraneous baggage.' The way McKenzie had viewed that initial affection between Carter and O'Neill as something that could someday develop into 'a possible danger to those on SG-1, as well as to Air Force regulations' had begun the life that she had felt she'd had no choice to lead, not if she wanted to protect the Colonel from herself.

In reaction to that memory, her voice dripped with the disdainful sarcasm she was feeling. No, I don't have a particularly good opinion of Dr. McKenzie. Her emphasis on how low she esteemed his psychological knowledge was unmistakable. I'd rather talk to someone else, since Janet can't see the obvious writing on the wall that I'm fine, and won't let me get back to work, which is what I need the most.

General Hammond was surprised by the amount of venom in the Major's voice. Major, he gently said, We all miss Colonel O'Neill a great deal, but this misplaced anger that you have is most definitely a danger to you and to the others on your team. I can't in all good conscience send you back into the field again when you're speaking in such a manner. I think that Dr. Fraiser made a sound medical judgment on this one.

Sam did her best to swallow the retort that she really wanted to make about her opinion on Janet's medical judgment. She sighed instead. Is this an order? she inquired.

Yes, Hammond barked, unable to hold back his own ire when her tone was so acerbic. You can consider this an order, Major. SG-1 is on permanent standown until you get your priorities straightened out.

Sam continued to stand up as tall as she could, her hands grasped behind her back, now in the 'at ease' position. But the cold expression in her eyes that even the simple thought of McKenzie caused gave her a hard-assed edge. Yes Sir! she barked back at him without further commentary, though she didn't have to voice any of her thoughts to make them perfectly plain to the General.

Hammond gave a sad sigh. You're sounding more and more like Colonel O'Neill all the time, he remarked under his breath.

Well, that was something, at least! Sam smiled at him in a gesture that more resembled a feral grin. Thank you, Sir. That's the nicest thing anybody has said to me all year.

Hammond gave another sigh. I'm not sure that it's such a compliment, he noted, but the sound of the off-world activation alarm cut off any further commentary on his or her parts.

For a split second, Sam found herself wildly hoping that the unknown traveler was Jack mysteriously coming back through the 'Gate. Then she remembered that he hadn't been stranded anywhere, but that he was dead, and would never walk through the Stargate again. Her ridiculous hopes took a dive for her toes at that point.

Sam ignored her wild emotion, and moved to follow the General out of his office and to the Control Room, but Hammond stopped her. No, Major, I want you to sign those forms so that you can begin that psychiatric review as soon as possible, he told her. The sooner we get started on this, the sooner we can get you all back out in the field, he explained.

Like I want to go back into the field, Sam thought. Then she stopped so fast at that thought, it was as if she'd walked into a wall. Did she truly think that way?

However, she wisely kept those traitorous thoughts to herself. All she said aloud was, Yes General. The recent events had not completely drowned out her natural military response. Her reaction was almost instinctual, and over before she could think about it.

As Hammond hurried out of the office, he gestured to the forms resting atop his desk. Sam sank down into his leather office chair and grabbed the pen he had left on the top form as he disappeared down the stairs to the Control Room. She sighed as she scooped up one of the pieces of paper to read before she signed it. The undersigned gives his or her consent to be evaluated by... She stopped reading there, wondering when she had been reduced to nothing more than someone else's opinion of the health of her mind.

She signed the first form, and moved on to the second. As she signed, Daniel's scathing words spoken at lunch in the Commissary rang in her ears in spite of her efforts to try to ignore them. But she found it harder and harder to not think about what he had said.

Did she really make him sick? She didn't wish to make anyone sick, least of all her friends. What he'd said did more to convince her of the correctness of Janet's concerns than anything that Hammond had just said, she conceded to herself. She was about to raise the pen a second time to sign her name beside the 'X' on the form when a subdued voice speaking from the empty Briefing Room stopped her.

Colonel Jack O'Neill, the voice scornfully intoned.

Sam looked up and peered to the side, out the open office door.

Senator Kinsey stood alone beside the Briefing Room window, staring down at the Stargate, and at the single wreath that had been put on constant display beside the Stargate ramp as a reminder of all that Jack had done for the Stargate Program. He had been the leader of SG-1, after all. The Program wouldn't even exist if it weren't for him. He, Daniel, and Lou Feretti were the only original members of the first mission to Abydos to still be assigned to the SGC. It was only right that a memorial and its banner reading 'The loss of a hero,' be erected to Jack in the 'Gate room.

But now, Kinsey sneered, his face twisting. 'Hero?' he asked himself in a quietly scathing voice. He's considered a 'hero?'

Sam realized that he must be gazing at the banner that accompanied the wreath making up the memorial as a whole. An 8 x 10 picture of Jack that Siler had unearthed from somewhere sat beside the wreath in a silent tableaux. She usually avoided the 'Gate room for the very reason that she couldn't stand to look at his picture right now, but that didn't mean that she would ever countenance a negative view of the man she loved from anybody else. Sam's eyes narrowed at the biting tone that Kinsey chose to use as he spoke of Jack O'Neill. But she didn't jump up at his words, as years of training had taught her not to react to something until she knew for certain that it was a threat.

So she waited to hear what Kinsey would say next.

She wasn't disappointed in deciding to wait.

Some 'hero!' Kinsey next proclaimed in a voice that was sarcastic and disdainful at the same time to no one in particular, as he stood alone at the window. He continued to bark a sardonic laugh, and mutter, It should say 'Good riddance!'

The moment she heard what he said, fire raced through Sam's veins. A fury so strong accosted her that it choked off any reply she might have made.

When she was more in control, Sam was about to react to his words with all the repressed anger that she felt coursing through her system, but Kinsey chose that exact moment to turn with a sense of satisfaction towards the Control Room stairs, and disappear in General Hammond's wake after one last sneer sent down to the 'Gate Room. That seemingly innocuous decision to leave saved his life.

For now, Sam thought. Saved his life for now.

A cold sweat broke out inside Sam as she stared at the empty Briefing Room through the office door. She breathed in, sucking in air out of a sense of desperation when she realized that she had been holding her breath from the moment she spied Kinsey in the Briefing Room.

He can't get away with saying that! she decided as she stared at the empty space where he'd been standing, still astonished at the Senator's words. Jack O'Neill was more than a hero! she silently screamed in the direction that the departed obtuse politician had taken. He saved your sorry butt more times than I can count! He's... he's more of a hero than you'll ever be!

Wrath still pounding through her veins in a furious swirl of emotion, Sam sat, breathing hard, trying to decide what to do about the man who had spoken the words she'd unwittingly overheard.

That he hadn't meant anyone to hear him was quite clear, she realized. Kinsey had been oddly alone, and he never seemed to go anywhere these days without a bevy of hangers-on and bodyguards in tow. So what was he doing alone at the SGC?

Sam didn't know. She realized in that moment that she didn't even know why the Senator was present in her workplace. Was he at the SGC for meetings? For some kind of ceremony? But she hadn't been informed for the need for her to wear her dress uniform and represent the Air Force in any kind of ceremony. Even if she hadn't been asked to participate in a ceremony out of respect for her inner pain about the Colonel, she would have heard something about a ceremony. The mountain base was a breeding ground for gossip of any kind. She knew that. Intimately.

So what was Kinsey doing here? And alone, no less?

Without allowing herself time to think things through, she grabbed the phone receiver, flipped through the roller of index cards that Hammond had placed on one side of his desk, quickly located Kinsey's office number at the Pentagon, and dialed. A woman answered the ringing phone, Kinsey's secretary, probably.

Senator Kinsey's Office, the woman blandly answered. She sounded like she had said this same thing so many times before that she could say the phrase in her sleep.

Hi, Sam instantly replied. This is Sally Field... no relation to the actress... I'm over in Paul Davis's office, and we were trying to coordinate Senator Kinsey's visit to the... Here, she hesitated. She couldn't say, 'The SGC,' as the SGC was a top secret facility. She finally chose to say, To his... his visit in Colorado Springs... with the time he plans to spend at the Academy.

He has no plans to spend time at any Academy, came the helpful voice over the line.

Really? Sam said, sounding surprised. We have meetings scheduled for today and tomorrow, followed by an Air Force Academy visit on the next day. That's not what you have written down?

No, came the reply again. We have meetings scheduled for the next two days with a General Hammond and a General Jumper. Then he has two meetings scheduled on the morning of the 10th, and plans on returning to DC on the afternoon or early evening of the 10th. Somehow you must have gotten our earlier itinerary, the one that wasn't revised.

Sam breathed a sigh of faked relief over the line, hoping that she sounded convincingly understanding at hearing this 'new information.' That must be it, she said into the phone. Someone must have written this info down, then forgotten to erase it as new info came in. She brightened, making her voice sound light and airy. I'll write the correct things down now. Thanks for your help!

No problem, came the reply. Call anytime. The line then went dead as the woman hung up the phone.

Sam softly replaced the receiver into its cradle.

Hmm. Kinsey was going to be in town until the 10th. That only left two days for her to have the freedom to do something to Kinsey if she was going to do anything.

And just what are you going to do? she asked herself. Nothing? Was this going to be another one of those times where she sat on her butt and did nothing, just like Daniel had claimed was typical of her?

She could do nothing. Or she could do something... but what? Daniel's words rang in her mind again as she contemplated her options.

If she were really honest with herself, she had always disliked Senator Kinsey as deeply as the Colonel had. She had just been more circumspect about showing her emotions than he had been.

If she were really honest with herself, she had to mentally admit to herself that she had indulged in one or two past fantasies about 'accidentally' shooting the aggravating politician... with a Zat, of course. And only shooting him once, although shooting him twice carried a certain level of appeal to her. But Sam was no murderer. She may not like Kinsey, but she didn't want to kill him, even now, though he had done nothing but cause past trouble for those she loved, and he had seemed to have enjoyed doing it, too.

'Accidentally?' Just what was she considering here? It sounded like she was considering shooting the Senator. With a Zat, of course.

'Good riddance' were the words that coursed through her mind at the thought of shooting Kinsey. Her words were a repetition of Kinsey's earlier arrogant comment that he had made about Jack. Again, fury ripped through her as those words echoed in her mind.

Am I truly considering shooting that irritating little termite? she asked herself. Am I nuts?

Sam shot a glance at the phsychological evaluation request forms that she had been signing, and let out a slow hiss of a breath as she stared.

Maybe she was a bit nuts at that.

Part II

Hey Sam, Daniel called into her lab an hour later. When her head jerked up from staring at her computer screen to stare instead at him, he hesitantly went on. I... uh.. He nervously cleared his throat then blurted, I'msorryforwhatIsaidearliertoday. He ducked his head down in order to stare at the floor. I... uh... wasn't quite myself at the time. I guess, he added as he stuck his hands in the pockets of his trousers.

The ghost of a smile flitted across Sam's face. That's all right, I knew you were just... She didn't finish what she was going to say. Instead she took a deep breath and told him in a voice as low as a whisper, You were right, you know. She looked down at the floor as well. What you said about me and... and Jack. She looked up again, but wouldn't meet his eyes. A look of pure sorrow washed across her own eyes. I... We... didn't do anything, she miserably admitted. And now it's too late. And... Again her voice trailed away to nothing. Finally she could only whisper, You were right.

Daniel shuffled his right foot along the floor, the sole of his combat boot squeaking loud in the quiet. He spoke low as well. Uh... That... that doesn't mean... I should have said what I said... in the way I said it. He sucked in an apologetic breath, then he went on, Or that I should have said it at all. He was silent for a moment, then continued, confessing, Jack always complained that I can't keep my mouth shut for anything. He looked at her then. Maybe he was right.

Sam shook her head. No. Then she realized how what she'd said must have sounded to him, for she added, I mean 'yes.' Again she shook her head. I mean... She paused to sigh in heavy defeat. He was right... but so were you. She glanced up at him as well. I didn't do anything about me and... and the Colonel, she said, forging on. And maybe I should have.

Daniel gave a disarming shrug. But you couldn't, he excused.

I could have if I'd wanted to, she insisted. She looked down once more. I... didn't... so it looked like I... must not have wanted to.

Daniel shuffled some more. Well... The hands came out of his pockets, then were thrust back in. He was nervous enough that he reminded Sam of how the Colonel had often behaved when he had something to tell her that was of a personal nature. Sam almost laughed at the comparison now. I... um... just wanted to apologize...

Apology accepted, Sam graciously said with a tiny tilt of her head. But it's not necessary.

How you doing with all of this? Daniel suddenly asked, and quizzically peered at her.

Sam responded by returning her eyes to her computer screen so that she wouldn't have to look directly at him. I try not to think about it too often, she replied over her left shoulder. Then she gave a very unladylike snort. But I can't seem to help thinking about it.

I miss him, Daniel suddenly blurted.

Sam instantly teared up. She made a valiant effort not to let her tears fall. Stop it, Daniel, she immediately warned. She tilted her head in her effort to remain in control of her emotions. I'll start crying again if you say much more.

Daniel waited silently for a moment while Sam struggled to regain control of her emotions. Sucks, doesn't it? he quietly noted at last.

She gave another almost smile. It does at that, she answered out of her tight throat.

Daniel heaved a sad, gushing sigh. Apart from popular opinion, I didn't come here to make you sad... sadder, he stated. I just came by to say I'm sorry... and... and to say that if you ever want to talk, I won't gossip... much.

Sam did smile when he said that. Though her grin was brief, it was the first real smile she had given since the accident. Thanks, she told him after a moment when she was able to speak without embarrassing herself by breaking down right there in front of him. I'll remember that.

You do that, Daniel said as a way to bid her goodbye. Then he was gone.

* * *

Sam didn't see Daniel for the rest of that day. She didn't see anybody... which was okay with her, as she had a great deal of thinking to do.

Sam quickly decided that she wanted two things... well, three things, actually, but the third was a tad impossible, so... She wanted to scare Kinsey (scare him... not permanently hurt him), enough to leave the Stargate Program, the SGC, and all those involved with any of it the hell alone. Kinsey was naturally such a stubborn, obtuse man that the only way to scare him... really scare him... as in scare him enough to wet his pants kind of scare... was to shoot him once with a Zat gun, then be sure to send a note to him promising a second Zat blast if her desires that he leave the SGC alone weren't met.

The second thing she wanted was to see Jack one more time, just to finally let him know what was in her heart, even if she realized that she would never have enough time to do anything about it. Any Jack would do. In order to actually see him and speak to him, and have him respond to her, she would have to go through the Quantum Mirror to find another reality's Jack now that he was dead in this reality. At least that was now an option, where before lunch today, it hadn't been. But thanks to Daniel, his eavesdropping abilities, as well as his propensity to gossip, this crazy idea of hers was now possible.

The third thing she wanted was to see her Jack again. But as it wasn't likely that he was going to mysteriously raise from the dead somehow, she would have to content herself with seeing and speaking to an alternate reality version of Jack.

Sam set about thinking her three problems through, solving them a little at a time. In fact, she thought so much that she didn't get any more work done that day.

First things first, she reminded herself. Break down the three problems into smaller problems that are more manageable. The military had always taught her to look at problems in one or two increments at a time until the whole problem was solved. It was a bit ironic that it was what she had learned in the military that she was now using to infiltrate a military base so that she could get close enough to Kinsey to really scare him by shooting him once with a Zat, rendering him painfully unconscious, but not killing or even permanently maiming him. Once more, she felt the conviction run through her that even though she was considering the termite Kinsey had always been to those at the SGC, she was not a murderer. She would shoot in order to render the Senator unconscious, but she wouldn't kill him.

However, even in order to render Kinsey unconscious, she first needed a Zat gun. She could find Zat guns in the Armory. But she couldn't just walk in and grab a gun without signing it out, plus there was a guard assigned to see to the weapons at all times. So, she would have to somehow distract the guard in order to sneak in to the Armory to take a Zat gun. And she was pretty certain that a Zat gun used to shoot the Senator would be immediately taken away from her. If she did go to Nellis to go through the Quantum Mirror (and that was a big if right now) she was definitely not traveling across open country without a weapon. So she had better steal two Zat guns while she was in the Armory. 'If you can get one' she recalled the Colonel saying, 'It never hurts to have two.' So she would take two, just to be on the safe side.

But, how would she distract the Armory guard in order to sneak into the Armory and steal two Zat guns? She could somehow get him into the corridor, she supposed. Then he would at least be out of the room. But how did she do that?

Sam racked her brain for a few seconds, coming up with nothing. Then an idea hit her so hard, it was like slamming a rock into the side of her head.

A smoke bomb?

But someone would have to stand in the corridor outside the Armory and throw a smoke bomb, possibly being seen, and she wanted to avoid detection for as long as possible. Could she be fast enough to throw the smoke bomb from the supply closet next to the Armory, then slip into the Armory while chaos reigned in the corridor to grab the Zats, stuff the weapons into her belt under her BDU jacket, then appear as the solicitous helper in the corridor, so that she could be seen as 'helping' with the 'problem?' (Would it help to say that she had been returning from... the Commissary... wasn't the Commissary on the same floor as the Armory? That might work.) Would it help to say she was on her way back to her lab from the Commissary, saw the corridor commotion, then stopped to offer her assistance?

But she would have to be fast, and she would have to be quiet.

And did she even have a smoke bomb in her possession? A quick look through her deepest three desk drawers revealed one unused smoke bomb in case of a secret attack by the Goa'uld on the SGC someday. That attack hadn't yet transpired, but the bomb was ready and waiting to be used in case it needed to be.

Okay, then... Sam now turned her attention to the getting-close-to-Kinsey part of her 'problem.' She was surprised how easy that part of the problem seemed seconds later. She could pretend that she had something to show him or to ask him. Showing him something in a file would automatically give her reason to walk right up next to him. That would work, and she had more than enough files to choose from in her lab. Yeah, that would work.

So, then, on to the next problem. The Quantum Mirror. The Mirror was being stored at Nellis in Nevada. How was she planning on getting to Nellis? She couldn't possibly Zat Senator Kinsey, and expect to do so and get away with her freedom intact. So, she could expect to get captured, expect it so much that she would make things go more smoothly in not getting shot as an assassin herself by immediately turning herself in to the SFs that would undoubtedly appear the second she fired the Zat gun.

So... What was likely to happen to her next? The only way she could possibly then get to Nellis and the Mirror is if she were free to move around, and how could she possibly be free if she were immediately apprehended and thrown into... what? She could expect to be immediately thrown into an SGC Holding cell. (The SGC had first used more typical jail cells, but those had been converted into Holding Cells relatively early on in her SGC tenure.) She would be confined to the single room the Holding Cell offered.

Except... One of the ways that Colonel O'Neill and then-Captain-Carter had gotten to know each other way back at the inception of SG-1 had been to create impossible scenarios, come up with solutions to them in spite of their impossibilities, then regroup the next day and discuss the ideas they had come up with in order to get out of those 'impossible' situations. One of those 'impossible situations' had been 'How do we travel through and get out of the SGC in case of an attack where the place is crawling with enemy soldiers? How do you remain undetected in such an instance, yet still stay free enough to move around and to sabotage the enemy's efforts at taking over the base?'

These military strategy puzzles had in the end caused a lot of laughter, some really interesting solutions to the problems, and a lot of insight into the SGC that a person would overlook on a regular reconnaissance basis.

For instance, one of the Colonel's solutions involved using the air duct system for hiding in and moving undetected around the SGC. She had learned that looking up at the ceiling in your daily environment was usually not wasted effort if one was determined to escape a 'captivating' situation. She recalled how astonished she had been with his idea of hiding in the ventilation system. In a house, a ventilation system would never be big enough to accommodate an adult body. But in a facility like the SGC, where the ventilation system had to be big enough to filtrate the air meant for hundreds of individuals, an adult could potentially squeeze through the vents and have the run of the ceilings of the SGC, and be totally hidden from prying eyes and the security cameras as well.

Would the ceiling... a drop ceiling affair that was typical of office complexes... be able to support an adult's weight? Carter had back then taken the time to prove that theory correct by opening the vent in her lab ceiling... a metal latticed piece of ceiling tile that simply rested in its edgings without being bolted or screwed in place... and crawling through the vents one day and up to the Colonel's office, just to see if she could do it. Her slight disbelief with his theoretical answer to his posed problem was proven in about half an hour of dusty crawling around on her part.

And did each Holding Cell come with it's own vent in the ceiling? She would have to look... surreptitiously, of course.

A trip down to the Control Room on a bogus errand by way of the Holding Cells gave her the answer she was looking for. Each room came equipped with its own vent in the ceiling. In some of the Holding Cell rooms, the vents were even in the bathrooms that while didn't have a closable door, at least afforded some privacy from the constant filming of the security cameras. She could have a Zat and other supplies ready and waiting in the ventilation system for her trip out of the SGC and on to Nellis.

In order to remain completely undetected, as if she just disappeared into thin air, before she was captured and thrown into a Holding Cell, she would have to have her supplies waiting for her in the ceiling. In order to do that, she would have to shut off or somehow disable the security cameras in her lab so there was no proof of her stowing her supplies away ahead of time. Since she wished to use the ceiling vents in her lab in order to put in place the second Zat she planned to steal as well as the gathered supplies that she projected that she would need, she would have to plan for her eventual capture ahead of time, too.

And how would she disable her lab's camera? Easy. Wear two pair of socks, remove one pair while in a secure (private) bathroom stall, then place one of the 'extra' socks over the lens of the security camera.

But those cameras were often in a corner of the ceiling of each room. She wasn't tall enough to reach the ceiling. How could she reach the camera to place the sock on it to begin with?

Sam thought about that for a moment. Then, it was as if another rock hit her in the head. She just knew. Each lab came equipped with its own ladder, so that lab workers could reach devices stored on the higher shelves. Sam now moved her own ladder in her own lab over to her own security camera, and was pleased to quickly be at eye level with the camera in her lab.

So, covering the camera would be a simple enough matter. If she didn't want anyone to see what she was doing, she would just close and lock the door of her lab and cover her security camera, then crawl through the ceiling vents to leave her supplies where she would later find them.

Okay... It was getting scary that she could so quickly think of solutions to the problem of how to get out of the SGC undetected. Maybe she was of more use on SG-1 than just as the scientist that saved the team's collective butts on a weekly basis by coming up with creative, but scientific, solutions to the problems they frequently faced off-world.

That brought her to a sort of sub-problem of the whole 'Kinsey' problem, then the going-to-Nellis problem... What would she need to take with her to Nellis? Obviously, the extra Zat, and her lock picking kit as well. She could never predict what locked doors she might need to unlock while on her way to Nellis, and it was better to be prepared with picks than to be left out in the cold because of a locked door.

Not that it was cold out right now... She hadn't considered the weather, but she guessed that she should be grateful it was a relatively warm season of the year right now, so that being outside and traveling to Nevada wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. Winter would not be so kind to a traveling Major.

This highlighted another situation for her, something that she had to think about, no matter how much she preferred to ignore it: When dealing with going through the Quantum Mirror and the alternate realities she would reach, she also had to deal with the eventuality of entropic cascade failure. She gave herself about 48 hours in another reality before entropic cascade failure would surely overtake her. Eventually she would die in an alternate reality, no matter how much she wanted to spend time with an alternate Jack, if he even existed in any alternate reality she chose to travel to. Entropic cascade failure was a certainty, and certain to catch up with her sooner rather than later, so she would have to find the alternate version of Jack O'Neill quickly, explain the situation quickly, and say what she wished to say to him almost as soon as she ran into him. Delay would be something that she could not afford. If she didn't find Jack, or if he was dead in the alternate reality she chose to visit, she would have to find a way back to the Quantum Mirror and try another reality. But she had little to look forward to except her eventual death in something close to a week after her initial arrival in an alternate reality.

Did she have a problem with dying if she decided to go ahead and do this? Well... not really. There was little left to live for in this reality without Jack, and the idea of staying in her own reality was not much of a draw. Sam realized that she was depressed right now, and that her future seemed particularly bleak because of her mood. But she didn't see how the future would improve, either. She would always be in love with Jack, and Jack would always be dead. Nothing would ever change.

Though she had to concede that she couldn't see into the future. Something might happen to renew her interest in her own life. But as of now she couldn't imagine what that might be. True, she hated to make her Dad, Mark, Daniel, Janet, Teal'c, Cassie, and General Hammond suffer even more grief at her possible 'disappearance,' but she couldn't tell them what she was thinking about doing, either. If she wanted to completely vanish without a trace, then she had to keep her mouth shut about any plans she might make, as much as she hated the need for secrecy like this.

At any rate, it looked like she wouldn't be coming back to this reality no matter what, or she could look forward to spending the rest of her life... or a great chunk of it... in jail, so she needed to make sure that she was all right with the idea that she would not be returning to her old life.

But that 'old life' was gone already. Sam found that she didn't much care for this new version of her 'old life' anyway.

So the planning continued. If she was determined to go, then she would also need money. In fact, since she planned to go through the Quantum Mirror and see Jack, who she had named the beneficiary of her estate in her will, and who would now never be able to collect any of her savings, she might as well close down her money accounts, or reroute those accounts. How much money did she have, anyway? And who should she give it to? Should she take some of it with her? Could she?

Those questions were answered by quick perusals on-line at her private financial database, which she had created early on in her adult career, and kept updated since joining the SGC. She had a dangerous job, and in the event of her sudden death, wanted her estate to go as easily as possible to the individuals of her choice. So now, who were those individuals of choice, and how much money was she really dealing with?

Sam did some fast calculating, and realized that she had amassed more money than she realized while working at the SGC. The total balance wasn't something that she paid much attention to, as long as she had enough income to cover her bills. And when her Dad had become a Tok'ra, she had inherited his entire estate, becoming part of a sizable amount in her many different accounts.

She decided to carry $100,000 with her... it might come in use to any Jack she happened to run into in an alternate reality. She could carry money in the small oblong check boxes, couldn't she? Wouldn't the bank have empty check boxes that she could use? Isn't that what banks did... have a lot of empty check boxes available for new checking accounts? And then she could carry the filled check boxes in her backpack for safe keeping. A backpack she could carry on her back. It would free up both her hands, as she was certain to need them at one time or another on this trip.

Thinking about money in such concrete terms made her decide to name alternate beneficiaries in her will. She had started college funds for Mark's two kids, Steve and Hallie, when they'd been born, and then again for Cassie when Janet had adopted the alien girl that SG-1 had discovered on Hanka. Now she evened out the balance in the accounts, and while on-line, added $10,000 to each account. The accounts would never pay for a college tuition on their own, but the money would help. Then she wrote a letter as soon as she reached her home that evening adding Daniel, Janet, Cassie, and Mark as beneficiaries to her estate. To Teal'c she willed her TV, DVD player, and DVD collection, knowing that he would enjoy them more than he would enjoy extra money.

Then came the problem of how to travel to Nellis from the SGC, assuming that she made it undetected all the way out of the top secret facility. Her car? No, she quickly decided. Taking her car would simply alert authorities that she was missing. Any advantage she might get in her escape from the SGC would be lost if she took her car.

Her bike? But wouldn't a missing bike give her away as much as a missing car would? No, she would have to leave both behind. Or will them to the others. Or something.

No car or motorcycle meant that she would have to steal a vehicle, unless she thought of an alternate way to travel the distance to Nellis. But she had to be able to travel light and quickly across the country.

Could Thor help? Maybe. But she didn't want to rely on a third party at this point, and she also didn't want to involve someone else in her schemes. No. This was something that she had to do alone.

So that left stealing... Sam preferred to think of it as 'borrowing'... some kind of transportation. But what? What kind of transportation did she prefer? Not being able to answer that question to her satisfaction, she decided to leave that detail until she had to think about it. Something else might present itself in the meantime.

Okay... Did she really want to do this? Was this something that the Colonel wouldn't castigate her for? Was it something that she could in all good conscience do?

Sam spent the evening before going to bed in staring at her wall, unseeing, trying to recall all the details of her plan, and deciding if she wanted to carry out that plan to begin with.

It was a long night of a lot of soul searching for Major Carter.

* * *

Sam awoke the following morning from a sleep that was once again peppered with nightmares, both about Jack's accidental demise as well as the future that she now had to look forward to, a future without Jack in it. And without a doubt, she knew that every bit of what she had planned the day before was her last hope.

Knowing what she had to do, Sam threw back the covers of her bed and determinedly began a new phase in her life.

* * *

It was all much easier to accomplish than she thought it would be. The details of the many facets of her plan fell together with startling, almost unnatural, ease.

Practically before she knew it, she was facing a disgruntled Senator Kinsey in the corridor outside the Control Room right before his scheduled departure from the SGC. They were surrounded by his usual aides, but no one was closer than several feet away. His closest adviser was obliviously looking through some report anyway, so she was relatively safe for now. When she calmly asked the Senator to glance through 'this one file' that she was holding, and after he had glared at her for daring to interrupt his progress in the corridor, she watched his eyes read through the short note that she had written to go into the bogus file she was holding over one of her 'borrowed' Zat guns.

Kinsey,

I heard every word you said while you were alone in the Briefing Room yesterday. Jack O'Neill had more heroism in his little finger than you do in your entire body.

She'd left her note unsigned, but when she was certain that he was finished reading it by the way his eyes met her gaze, she smiled a sick smile, said, Good riddance, and shot him with one blue arc of the Zat she was hiding under the file. There had been no one near enough to stop her. Kinsey dropped to the floor like a rock in desperate need of a diet, and she instantly held her hands up in surrender as armed SFs surrounded her seconds later. The chaos that reigned for a moment settled as soon as General Hammond was finished lecturing her about the duties of a good Air Force officer, and had her sent to a convenient SGC Holding Cell.

Now for phase two of her plan... Sam realized that she needed to wait. Several people wanted to visit her in Holding, to try to 'talk sense into her,' and she needed to be available for that. A recovered Kinsey surrounded by guards armed to the teeth even appeared in her Holding Cell after an hour or two. Kinsey railed at her, but Sam wouldn't say anything or do more than smile enigmatically at him. She knew that such a gesture would frustrate him even further, and took an amount of satisfaction out of pissing him off even more than he was already pissed. But she knew that the letter she'd written to him, threatening him with a second Zat blast unless he stayed far away from anything SGC related had been duly sent to his DC office the day before. She would be gone by the time he eventually received it, but if he were smart, he would be spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for her invisible, but promised, retribution. The thought of that kept her smiling well into her first night spent as a prisoner of the SGC.

Then, by morning, she was gone, vanished into the night without a trace. She left only small notes meant for Janet, Cassie, her dad, Mark, Teal'c, and General Hammond on her bed in her house. In the notes, discovered many days after her disappearance, she detailed how important each person was to her, but gave no hint as to where she was going. If they then figured it out in time to stop her... well, that was life. If they didn't, fine. At any rate, she was long gone before anyone discovered that she was missing in the first place.

Part III

Sam used the Quantum Mirror remote sitting on a convenient table kept close to the Mirror at Nellis to 'dial' another reality. She'd had to peer through several ceiling vent tiles at the top secret storage rooms at Nellis in order to find the Mirror at all. But those storage rooms possibly containing the Mirror were all right next to each other, and on the whole, the people who wanted to study the Quantum Mirror all those years ago had made it relatively simple for her to find the alien device. She didn't know who had last seen the Mirror, but couldn't believe how they had left it, unguarded and totally available to be used in a potential Goa'uld attack on Earth. But she wasn't exactly complaining at their ineptitude, either. She stood next to the available Quantum Mirror, replaced the vent tile in the ceiling she had dropped from to look as if she'd never disturbed it, and instantly found the remote that accompanied the Mirror. The entire situation was just as Daniel had initially described it in the Commissary at the SGC.

When she was finished using the remote, she placed it in her pack so that no one could 'dial' the Mirror later and follow her. She hoped that this reality that she was staring at in the Mirror wasn't the reality where Dr. Carter and Kowalski had materialized from. After all, that reality's Jack O'Neill was dead. She certainly didn't want to go there!

Now, she took a deep breath in preparation for going through the Mirror. She reasoned that the reality currently showing in the Mirror looked nothing like the previous reality belonging to those individuals who had visited the SGC. That reality had led to an SGC corridor that was battle scarred and haggard due to the fight with the Goa'uld that had earlier occurred there. She realized that so many years had passed since then that the corridor could have been cleaned and painted to disguise its 'war wounds,' but that the Mirror now showed a dirty, dank-looking basement type room with a furnace in view, and what she saw was nothing like what she had seen in the previous reality.

So Sam took a breath, squeezed her eyes shut tight, realized that she was playing with fire, but didn't know what else she could do, then touched the surface of the Mirror with her hand.

She was instantly transported to the dirty room she had seen in the Mirror. She turned to stare back through the Quantum Mirror, and saw the clean, darkened room at Nellis that she had come from. But she had the remote to the Mirror stored in her pack. Even if the Mirror showed the dirty cellar room that Sam had transported to, the Mirror itself was useless without the remote to control it. After first marking where the remote currently was situated, so that she would know that she had tried this reality already in case she needed to try another, she grabbed the remote of the Mirror in her current reality, then dialed the Mirror again to display a reality other than her own. Now, unless she told someone, or the information was tortured out of her, no one would be able to easily find her reality in order to send her back through the Mirror. Then she stuffed her reality's remote into her backpack again, this time under a pile of her own clothes, and looked around the room she had traveled to.

There was the furnace-type structure that she had originally seen in the Mirror, and several crates and storage boxes pushed back against the walls as well. Three more alien-looking devices rested in various positions in the room, but that was all.

It seemed that she had landed in some kind of a storage facility, one that wasn't as well kept as the top secret storage rooms at Nellis. Upon a closer look around, and with the assistance of the flashlight that she carried in her pack, she noticed a well concealed door behind some of the boxes stacked against the walls. She pushed and tugged her way to the door, turned the knob, and was relieved to find the heavy metal structure unlocked. She pushed it open, and peered out.

It looked like she had materialized in a basement of some kind. She'd been right about the dampness of the air when she had first peered into the Mirror at Nellis. The chill of the wet air quickly seeped through her clothes, and she set about finding a fast way out of the damp confines of the basement. When she turned again, a way out was quickly presented in the form of a set of stairs leading up to a second closed door at the top.

Sam climbed the stairs, which creaked, but alerted no one of her position, and eased open the door at the top of the flight of stairs. What she saw surprised her, but the delight that eventually came was close on the heals of her initial surprise itself.

The glance that she'd snuck through the door showed a bunch of young looking Human individuals, all dressed in olive green or blue BDUs, all going about their business, carrying backpacks, carrying books, slipping in and out of rooms, eating lunches... Sam blinked. She was clearly staring at a group of students at some kind of military college or institution. From the conversations that the students who walked by her opening in the doorway, they seemed to be speaking English, too. The clothes and the language pointed to some kind of an institution of higher education. She could only begin to name the number of institutions such as the one she was currently at in many places across her own country.

What really pleased her was that her drab olive green BDUs would make her blend right into the students of this world. Distracted by the stream of people marching by, Sam vaguely wondered exactly where she was.

Then some kind of a bell rang in a deep sonorous gong, and the students seemed to begin walking faster. The ones sitting around, eating a meal quickly cleaned up their remains, finished their conversations, then moved towards rooms with open doors. A minute later, another gong sounded, and the halls suddenly emptied, the doors closed, and Sam found herself peering into an empty hallway.

It was weird how quickly the corridor had cleared and the students had scrambled away. It reminded Sam of her days spent at the...

Drawing in a quick breath, Sam suddenly stared at the artifacts put on display in cases in the corridor. She stared at a collection of what looked like medals, next to pictures, juxtaposed with tiny models of what looked like... Sam squinted at the nearest case. Were those airplanes?

The construction of the whatever-they-were at least had two wings. But Sam was too far away from the case to make a positive identification. She would have to leave her hiding place here on the stairs if she wanted to take a closer look at the... whatever-they-were.

When five minutes went by and no new students had walked by her basement hideyhole, Sam shrugged off her backpack, then reached into one of the outside pockets and pulled out a tiny square of mirror. That mirror had come in handy on many occasions when she had stood in a storage room and wanted to see if the corridor outside the storage room was empty without giving herself away by poking her head out of an opening. Now, she slipped the mirror out of a crack in the door, and stared into it as she pointed it to reflect what was down the corridor. She had no trouble seeing up the hallway. She was thrilled when she didn't detect anything beyond other display cases, and more empty corridor.

Sam decided to take a chance, replaced her mirror in her pack, and the pack on her back before slipping out through the door. She glanced into the corridor, saw how it still remained empty, then wandered in what looked to be a direction leading to a lobby of some sort. She paused beside one of the cases, and realized that she had definitely been looking at model planes beforehand.

Her gaze then turned to one of the pictures beside its accompanying airplane, and a moment later stilled in utter shock. Holding her breath again, she leaned forward to stare at a picture that was several decades old, of a group of people... a company of cadets, it looked like... standing beside a group of life-sized planes somewhere outside. The plaque under the photo claimed that she was gazing at a group of cadets who had successfully completed a class on parachute training and safely jumping out of moving vehicles of all kinds. And in the third row, two from the right, stood a very young, very smiling Jack O'Neill.

Sam's heart skipped a beat. She had found him. And so quickly.

Wait! she screamed at herself. She had found the man who was once Jack O'Neill. It didn't prove that he was still alive. According to the faces of the men and women in the picture, this photo had been taken many years before. Or at least, it had been taken many years before the time she had known Jack O'Neill. She squinted at the list of names, and saw that he had been a first Lieutenant then. That rank was nowhere near the rank of Colonel, or at least nowhere hear the rank that she had always known. She admitted to herself that she really didn't know what rank was near any other rank, at least, not here.

She didn't even know where she was yet. Where had the Colonel received his parachute training? Had he even told her? Sam couldn't remember now. But she continued walking, and suddenly found herself at a set of doors that swished open at her approach to the outside world.

What appeared to be a warm, sunny day greeted her. She faced a triangle of... blue?... grass?... where more students dressed in clothes just like hers lounged beside backpacks just like hers and studied books or pamphlets spread on their laps. A few of the more rowdy groups of students were goofing off and running around, but even their rowdiness seemed subdued.

Then Sam got a good look at the buildings that surrounded the one she had just exited.

She was definitely at this reality's version of the Air Force Academy!

Her mouth hanging open, Sam stared in awe at the familiar buildings and roads that were before her. As she stared, a long narrow, triple decked vehicle of some kind wove up to where another group of students seemed to be waiting, and they all entered the vehicle after flashing some kind of card at the vehicle's operator. Then the vehicle moved away on what appeared to be some kind of air flotation system.

Buses? Was she staring at buses?

Was she really in this reality's equivalent of Colorado Springs?

Only one way to find out. Sam walked as casually as she could over to where the group of students that she had just seen move onto the... 'bus' for want of a better term. When she got to the now empty enclosure, she peered inside, and quickly read the sign affixed to the back. 'Springs Public Transportation' the sign said.

'Springs?'

Wow! Was that ever close to the name 'Colorado Springs!' Too close to be nothinig but a coincidence.

Sam walked around some more, then suddenly found herself staring at another sign. Right beside what looked like an old path that had almost been worn into the blue grass, the sign read 'Learners... Stay off the grass if you don't wish to see the Head of Learning.' And it was signed 'General Kerrigan, Forces of the States.'

Wow! General Kerrigan was head of the entire Academy? He wasn't simply a professor here?

Did that mean she was really at this reality's equivalent of the Air Force Academy? Was she only a few miles from Cheyenne Mountain? From Jack's home?

Her heart beating in double time, Sam ducked into the next bus shelter that she came across. This shelter wasn't empty, like the other one had been, but the other 'learners' ignored her for the most part. A few glanced in her direction, but then went back to doing whatever it was that they were doing.

Sam stared at another sign on one of the side walls that she hadn't seen before. After spending a few moments studying the information on the sign, Sam had deduced that she was standing in a shelter relegated to the 'blue' bus line. The green, purple, white, and yellow lines had a list of stopping places that she found vastly interesting. She recognized so many of the names that she had a hard time remaining silent as she read. Sure enough, Cheyenne Mountain was listed as being part of the 'white' line.

But Sam didn't want to go to Cheyenne Mountain. She had just escaped from there a few days earlier. Instead, she wanted to see if Jack was still alive and living at his same address in this reality as in hers.

And how would she do that?

Sam peered around, then saw some 'learners' heading for what appeared to be tiny outdoor kiosks with some kind of electronic insides. She watched as one 'learner' slipped another of those same cards into a slot, then spoke to the machine.

Curious, Sam approached the young woman. Excuse me, she said.

The 'learner' looked up at her while holding a button down on the side of the kiosk to pause the machine. Yes?

Sam didn't quite know what to say. Um... I noticed you using a... card? A tiny square thing?

My access card? the 'learner' questioned.

Yes! Sam exclaimed. I'm new here... Can I ask where you got that?

The 'learner' instantly flipped into 'the helpful citizen' mode. I guess you are new here if you don't know about the access cards! she said. But you can still purchase them at the book vault building, the repository, and I think even in the Dry Room in the Administration building. You should be able to find one just about anywhere.

Sam had no idea what the 'learner' was talking about, but she was willing to try anything at this point. And do they... cost... anything.

The girl shrugged her shoulders under her BDUs. Five quince. But they get you everything, so in my opinion, it's totally worth it.

Sam grinned. Thank you. She looked around at the buildings before her. And the book vault would be..?

That one. The girl pointed at a nearby building, an answering smile on her face.

Thanks, Sam said, and cheerily turned in the direction of 'the book vault,' waved at the girl, then started off.

Ten minutes later, Sam had an access card in her hands.

Ten minutes after that, she was staring at the address to 'Second Colonel Jack O'Neill, retired.' He lived at the same address as he lived at in her reality.

Now all she would have to do is figure out the bus system, exactly how much it cost, if anything, and go there.

Simple!

* * *

Sam knocked on Jack's front door for the tenth time in as many minutes. But no one was answering.

That was funny. She turned again to look at his... his truck, his vehicle, his chosen mode of transportation... There was some kind of vehicle parked near his house. He didn't have a driveway of sorts, but there was a certain area marked by a walkway that cornered a huge square of more of that blue grass. He should be home, as his truck was there, hovering. But if he was home, then why wasn't he answering his door?

Sam sighed, and turned back to the door. It's bland brown color stared back at her. Maybe she should peek through a window since he wasn't answering? Normally, she would never have peaked into anyone's house, but this was a special set of circumstances. She didn't have the luxury to be hesitant and polite now.

So Sam found herself on his side deck, facing what had to be his living room/den. And there was Jack O'Neill, stretched out on what looked like a sofa or long chair, sound asleep. She knew that he was breathing, because she could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest, but otherwise, he was dead to the world.

Sam grimaced at her thoughtless expression meant to portray Jack. It had been an instinctual wording to describe his sleeping state, not that he was literally dead, as he was in her reality. Before she could stop it, her heart painfully skipped a beat upon seeing him. It had been so long since she had seen him, and he looked so... alive!

But now that she had seen Jack, and could see why he wasn't answering her knocks, she knew what she had to do. Ignoring the relief that flooded through her system, she tried the handle on the outside of the deck door, but found the door locked, as she had expected it to be. Without hesitation, she dove into another outside pocket in her backpack, and pulled out her lock picking kit. Normally, she would never use it to pick a person's locked door when that person was in view, only sleeping. But again, she didn't have the luxury of waiting for him to wake up on his own, either.

She maneuvered a chair beside her to obscure what she was doing from curious passersby, then set to work. She only hoped that locks worked the same in this reality as they did in hers. She needn't have worried about that; in five minutes flat, she had the door clicking open.

Sam grabbed her backpack, then quietly entered the darker house. She shut and locked the door behind her, then turned to face the man she had come to see. Would he know her? Would he have no idea who she was? Would he call the police on her and claim that she was breaking and entering? Well, she had done the entering part, but she hadn't broken anything. Yet.

Sam crept right up next to the sofa thing and Jack. Sir, she said, standing there staring at him. He didn't move. She sat down on what appeared to be a coffee table in front of the sofa, but she doubted it was called a 'coffee table' in this reality. It didn't matter. It got her closer to his ear, anyway.

Sir, she said in a louder, firmer voice.

He still didn't stir. Sam leaned in even closer. Jack.

He snuffled once, but that was all. He returned to sleep as Sam studied him.

He still sported the short military haircut that he'd always had as far as she knew, but now his hair was mostly silver, with a few locks of brown shooting through it. Her Jack O'Neill had been completely silver and dark gray, but this one hadn't quite reached that point yet. He probably would in another year or two. He was also dressed in rumpled civvies, as if he didn't change clothes all that often. Shoes of some kind rested under the table she was sitting on. Actually, they were more like boots than shoes, but who was quibbling at this point?

Knowing what she did about him, Sam was surprised that Jack was so deeply asleep, but there was no way she was going to try to shake him awake. His mind still clouded by sleep, he might wake and think she was one of his enemies, and attack her without further thought. She didn't want to be on the receiving end of an 'O'Neill attack' if she could help it.

So she spoke again. At an almost regular auditory level, she firmly said, Jack, wake up.

Jack snorted this time, so Sam continued talking to him. Teal'c was right... You are hard to wake up from naps.

Jack rolled over this time, but continued sleeping. Jack! she practically yelled. Wake up, damn it! I've got to talk to you, and I don't have that much time!

Jack snorted again, and this time his eyes opened a slit. Oh, you again, he said to her, sleep heavy in his voice. What is this, a haunting or something? he inquired. Can't you just go away? Or better yet, go haunt Daniel! he ordered, then promptly went back to sleep.

This was beginning to get annoying. Jack, Sam firmly stated. Wake up! This is not a haunting, and I don't have time to haunt Daniel anyway! I need to talk to you.

Jack raised his hands up to his eyes and rubbed. Geez, Carter, you're dead, he said in a hollow, dispassionate voice that made him sound like he didn't care about what he was saying, or about her, but instead, because he was sounding so nonchalant, told her how much he really did care about what he was saying rather than that he didn't care at all. If he truly didn't care about her apparent death, then he wouldn't even have bothered sounding hollow. He wouldn't have said anything at all.

Now he went on, I saw you die just last week, so I know this isn't you. But if you're going to bother me all the time like this, can't you wait until I wake up? You bother me all the time at night... Now my naps, too? Don't you ever get enough?

Sam gave a start. Sam Carter was really dead in this reality? Jack wasn't having one of his notorious nightmares? It was real? This was something she hadn't expected.

But she couldn't go with him on what he'd just asked. She couldn't leave, then come back later that day. She had to talk to him. This isn't a haunting, Jack, no matter what you think.

Then why are you calling me 'Jack?' he asked quietly. You never called me that in...

Sir, Sam immediately said. I need for you to wake up all the way. She was having a hard time by this point in keeping her hands to herself. She wanted to grab him and hug him so hard! The sensation of delight at seeing him again was almost overwhelming. But she ignored her feelings. Again.

Jack just groaned, rolled over, then noted, I see that you switched to 'Sir.' He glared at her through tiny slits in his eyelids. That's more like you, but I think I liked 'Jack' a lot better. More Casual, he announced. More in line with our last conversation... whatever it was.

Sam ignored how this dialogue was quickly moving into the very comfortable range, and launched into her story instead of commenting on what he had said. Jack... or Sir... or whatever I should call you... Colonel...

Retired, Jack said on a rush of air as he continued to rub his face. Because I can't stand the SGO without having you there. You're there, but you're not. Can't stand thinking you're just around the next corner. You know that.

He felt about her being dead the same way she felt about him being dead? Curious.

Sam shook her head. She didn't have time to dwell on her presence in the... the SGO? Whatever. Jack, I came through the Quantum Mirror that the... the Force... keeps at the Academy. I come from another reality, where we work... worked... at the SGC, where we keep the Stargate, where we're on a team with Daniel Jackson and Teal'c, where Janet Fraiser fixes us up after all our bad missions off-world, except on this last mission, where you... you died... the Colonel died... She had to choke back her feelings on those words in order to go on. You died before we could even get you to Janet, or General Hammond, or anybody. Please listen to me... I'm not joking here, or haunting you, or a figment of your imagination, or...

Wait a minute, Jack demanded as he sat up. He was fully awake now, and he looked confused. He blinked at her. You're not fading away like you did all those other times.

Other times? Had she visited him before? Well, not her, but the other her, the her from this alternate reality. Then she shook her head; this could get confusing if she weren't careful. Aloud, she told him, That's because I'm as real as this table I'm sitting on. Haven't you been listening to..?

The look on Jack's face turned stricken. But you're dead, he loudly argued. His breath hitched in his throat as he looked even more stricken. I saw you die. He gazed at her as she leaned towards the couch/sofa thing. She was so close to him that she saw him nervously swallow. But you say that you're real? he slowly asked.

Sam nodded. I'm real. From another reality. I just now came through...

As sudden as a car wreck, the situation changed, and Jack laughed in her face. It was a reaction that she had never anticipated he might make.

Okay, said the still chuckling Jack. Ohhhh, he groaned, then to himself. I'm talking to hallucinations. Hallucinations with a history, he corrected. Then he vigorously rubbed his face again. Doc said this might happen if I chose retirement over seeing that shrink, McMenzie. I guess I deserve this. When he was finished muttering to his hands, he sat the rest of the way up by swinging his legs over the side of the sofa/big chair/easy recliner piece of furniture and then regarded Sam sitting directly in front of him. What the hell do you want this time? he demanded to know.

Sam stared at him as confusion gradually wormed its way across her face. What do I..? she began to repeat.

Why won't you just give it up? he asked then, his voice all innocent until it turned hard as he went on, Because I saw you die. I was there. You're blood ran all over my hands, and I forgot to wipe it off in the state of shock I was in and went back to the SGO with my hands covered in blood. He snorted. It was a nice trick to try to explain to General West how I was covered in your blood.

General West? Sam asked, now thoroughly puzzled.

Yeah, Jack said. As if you don't know. He is the guy we've worked for for six years, after all. He had me in his office, grilling me up one side and down the other till I had to blurt out the full story about how I thought you had died... just to get him off my back. He somehow managed to get a case of negligence from what I had told him. Then he gave me a choice... either court-martial or retirement. He continued to glare at her, but with a sigh, clearly recalling how awful those few days after the accident must have been. But you already know that, don't you? His now bitterly harsh voice seemed like a slap in the face to her. You know, that death of yours was the worst thing that happened to me since Tyler died. But I guess that's what I should expect from falling for a scientist.

There was the proverbial slap on her other cheek.

This scene wasn't going at all like she expected. Wait, she said, desperate to instill some logic back into their conversation. Who's Tyler?

Jack's eyes washed from hard to pained in an instant. You know who he was! he insisted. Then he pointed behind her to a picture on the fireplace mantel. Don't play dumb with me. That was my wonderful twelve year old son until some idiot friend of his decided it would be cool to play with his father's gun collection. Why the father thought it was okay to lock his loaded weapons in a stupid little gun cabinet was beyond me, but then, hey, I'm just some dumbass military commando guy, not a real gun official or nothing! I...

But Sam had followed his pointing finger to his mantel, where a picture of a boy that she had never seen before smiled out at her. That was Jack's son? A son named not 'Charlie,' but 'Tyler?' Who hadn't shot himself with Jack's gun, but shot himself with a friend's father's gun? Was she going nuts here, or what?

Wait! she commanded with her hand to her forehead. She turned back around in a flurry, then dove for her backpack. Out of another front pocket, she yanked a folded photograph. She jerked the photo apart, showing Jack kneeling down by an eleven-year-old Charlie O'Neill, his arm around the boy. They were both grinning like idiots. Thank God she had thought to run to his house and grab that photo the day before she shot Kinsey!

She shook the picture at Jack now. This was your son! she told him in a voice that was quiet, intense, and close to tears. His name was 'Charlie,' and he was yours and Sara's. He died after shooting himself with your personal handgun, and you have been blaming yourself for that, and for the eventual divorce from Sara, since before I even met you.

Jack stared at her, just now letting some of what she was claiming to know to sink into his brain. But what he said next surprised her again. Noooo, he slowly drawled. My ex-wife's name is Debbie, and we were separated, not divorced, when I met you. The shooting was part of the reason why we got divorced. You were the other reason.

Nothing could have shocked Sam more. Me?!? she gasped. What did I have to do with it? What..?

Jack continued to stare at her, and his eyes got bigger as he grew quieter. He had completely stopped laughing by then. He slowly said, We weren't having an affair, if that's what you think. He nodded once in a sort of shrug. That's what she thought, right up through the divorce, until you started dating that Craig guy. I never liked him, by the way, Jack said to her under his breath. Even Daniel didn't like him, and Daniel likes everybody. He kept staring at Sam, and looking completely bamboozled, added, Debbie doesn't think that anymore, or at least, doesn't care anymore. He gave her a sort of grimace, then said, The whole 'getting married to some other poor schlep who's waiting just to be nagged to death' sort of took the focus off you. He stared some more. But you know all that, don't you?

Sam was only able to stare not at Jack then, but at the back of the photo. She reached out and turned it in his hand. She watched him read the words 'Jack and Charlie, June, 1992.' A second note said, 'Three months before the accident, nine before the divorce.'

Jack did some fast calculating. Nooo, he said again. Me and Debbie got divorced in 1998. And this isn't her handwriting. He stared again at the written words.

Sam sighed. That's because it's probably Sara's handwriting. She blinked, then returned her gaze to his face. And where's Teal'c?

Jack's forehead wrinkled. Who?

Sam regarded him for a silent moment. Either you really do know him, and you're lying to me, or the team never ran into Teal'c on Chulak, he never helped us escape from there, he never joined SG-1...

Jack snorted again when she mentioned the name of her team. SG-1, hmmpf. That always was West's baby, as you know, and Kowalski got it. We were on SG-2. You know, SG-2... me, you, Daniel, geek central! I was a leader of a team of scientists! He sighed again in something like utter defeat. Until that day on Abydos. But you know all that!

Now it was Sam's turn to wrinkle her forehead. Abydos?

Jack carefully regarded her. Yeah, he finally said, and heaved another sad sigh. You know, the planet where my 'negligence' got you killed? His tone was bitter even if his words were not. As if I could ever be 'negligent' around you, he muttered. He raised his saddened eyes to her. But you know all that, too. Sam's wrinkled forehead wrinkled deeper yet. Exasperated, Jack put his elbows on his knees and gestured at her with his hands. Come on... Abydos. You remember. Especially if all of this is just an elaborate hallucination, a product of my own warped mind. Those silly kids, scared by one of those bellowing dino things of theirs. Someone shot you while you were talking to Daniel and that leader fella? Ring any bells here?

When she still acted like the events didn't seem as familiar to her as he thought they should be, Jack gave a sigh of his own, ran his hand through his graying hair, then leaned in closer to her. You said... He gusted another breath of air, and looked her straight in the eye. I reached you half a minute before Daniel did, and you stopped me from trying to treat your wound with a field dressing, then told me that you... He swallowed nervously once again, but whispered, That you... love me. He refused to meet her eyes after repeating Sam Carter's dying words. Then, just like that, you jerked once, and died. He looked at his hand. Right here... You were lying in my arms, and crap, but you should know all this if this is me remembering again! His voice had risen until it was five decibels higher than it had been when he started. And who the hell is this Teal'c character that you keep talking about?

Instead of answering, Sam reached into the same pocket of her pack and pulled out a second photo. This was my team, SG-1, taken two years ago. Teal'c is the big fella on the end holding the staff weapon.

She handed the picture on to Jack after giving it an affectionate once over.

Jack took this picture from her, too, but said, Wrong, I was the one who always carried the staff weapon, since I was the only one who could work the damned thing. But you should know that. Then he pointed at the photo he held in his hands. And that's me, you, and Daniel, but I have no idea who the big guy is. I've never seen him before.

Sam gaped at him. You've never seen Teal'c? she incredulously demanded to know. How could anyone not know and love Teal'c? But when Jack shook his head, she went on, You know, your Ping pong buddy? This time Jack shrugged. The guy from Chulak? she again prodded.

Where's Chulak? Jack inquired. Is that a city I'm supposed to know? And how do you know cities that I don't know if you're a figment of my imagination?

Sam was wholly exasperated by now. Because Chulak is not a city! It's a planet! she huffed. And I am not a figment of your imagination!

Jack just stared at her for a silent moment, too stunned to speak. At last he asked, his forehead full of the wrinkles of puzzlement, You're not from my imagination? You sure?

Sam then reached into her backpack, shifted her clothing aside, pulled out the false bottom that had saved her from discovery at that bar in South Dakota, then pulled out a check box in each hand. She hoped that money was used and was the same in this reality, or showing him what she had brought with her would be useless. Taking a chance, she demanded, And why would you imagine this? She yanked off both box lids, uncovering the money she had packed into the boxes.

Holy..! Jack began to say. He took one of the boxes from her, and dumped it onto his 'coffee' table. What did you do, rob a bank? he asked.

So you believe me now? she entreated instead of answering his question. That what I say is true? That I'm from an alternate reality, that I'm not one of your hallucinations?

Jack considered her words. Well... He ran his hand through his hair again in a charmingly familiar gesture of unease. He kept staring at the money, then her, then the money, then her again. Finally he divulged, You aren't acting like those other Sam Carter's I've seen, I admit.

At least my name is the same, she thought. But she said nothing aloud, only reached into her backpack and pulled out the rest of the money she had brought with her. She upended each check box onto the top of the 'coffee' table.

Holy... crap, Jack whispered as he stared at all the bills before him. How much is there?

Give or take... Sam tried to remember how much she had kept in her pocket. It's about $99,900.00, she told him. I had to use some of it for one of those access cards at the Academy. And to eat while I traveled to Nellis in order to get to the Mirror in my reality. At his continued look of astonishment, Sam misinterpreted his thoughts, and shrugged. What? she asked, then defended her actions, All I had with me were one hundred dollar bills. Even when I bought my access card, I only had a fifty and a one on me. The fifty really raised a few eyebrows at that book vault I bought my card in! Sam gave a slight laugh at the memory, then realized that she hadn't laughed in days. The sound was weird to her.

Crap, Jack appreciatively breathed again. In a soft voice, he went on, But you're right, he next told her in a thoughtful voice. You have to be real. I could never concoct this kind of a detail.

You believe me then? Sam asked for what felt like the millionth time. That I'm as real as you are?

Jack stared at her in fierceness. You're real?

Sam sighed. Finally! I came through the Quantum Mirror, like I told you. I'm from another reality.

Jack poked at her with his index finger, a disbelieving, stunned look on his face. You're real? he asked again. You're not dead?

Sam was careful with her answer. You're dead in my reality, too, she mournfully told him.

But Jack didn't seem to have heard her. Or he didn't internalize her words. He just kept staring at her. You're... you're... alive? Sam nodded. She opened her mouth to say more, but he stopped her by suddenly throwing himself at her, cradling her in his arms. Carter! he yelled and squeezed tighter. You're alive!

Sam smiled at his natural exuberance and hugged him back, his form familiar yet unfamiliar to her. You are, too, she said in quiet joy now that she had finally convinced him of her sanity.

Jack kept squeezing. Sam! Sam! S...

That's not what you used to call me, she interrupted him to say.

One more squeeze and he whispered, Carter, in her ear.

And she smiled, squeezing him as hard as he had squeezed her. Such a simple word, and so wonderful to hear again!

The knock on Jack's front door that came next did nothing to stop their hug. Daniel, they announced together. They drew back, grinning like morons on Ecstasy. Then they burst out laughing together. Then without taking his shining eyes off Sam, Jack called to his visitor, I'll be right there!

Sam hurried to ask before Jack left to answer the door, I know this is weird timing and all, but can I use your rest-room before I meet the man with the worst timing in all the realities? I'd love to change out of these BDUs, she further explained. I've been in them for three days.

Sure. Jack pointed towards the bedrooms. Use my room, he offered. You'll be the first female it's seen in...

Don't tell me, Sam cut him off. Then, still smiling, she grabbed her clothes out of her pack, grabbed her personal travel kit that she'd used on missions and that she had removed from the SGC prior to shooting Kinsey, and headed for the bathroom. Think I'll take a shower, too, especially if I keep hugging all these good looking guys, she teased. It was her way to relieve the emotion she was feeling. Even though she knew that this wasn't her Colonel, she wanted so badly to hug him again!

Knock yourself out, Jack lightly invited as he followed her to a standing position.

Sam, disappeared down the hall, and could feel Jack's gaze on her back the entire time she was in his sight. The intensity of his gaze was a tiny bit unnerving, but only because it was new and so open. Her Colonel O'Neill was so shut off from the emotional world around him that he would never have gazed at her so appreciatively, nor so freely.

Sam thought about the already obvious differences between the two men as she quickly showered in Jack's bathroom. One was very reserved, which was good in a way, because it had always kept them both out of trouble with the military they worked for. The other was reserved on the surface. Behind his reserve, he was actually... well, so far... more open than her own Colonel O'Neill. One discouraged any form of personal attachment between the two simply by pretending that such an attachment didn't already exist. The other knew that it definitely existed, and he wasn't afraid to let it show that he knew about it.

And that surprised Sam. It seemed that for some reason that she didn't know about yet, there was so much more at stake for Carter and her Jack O'Neill than in Sam's own reality. Yet still Jack was already willing to show her that he cared for her, or at least, cared for his Carter, and her by extension.

And if Sam were honest with herself, she would have to admit that she really liked the ways that he had so far chosen to show that he cared for her... er, for his Carter.

Now if she could just get him to show some kind of genuine affection for her...

* * *

Shower done, dressed in the one set of clean clothes that she had brought with her, five minutes later Sam was walking back down the hall towards the den, fully expecting to replace her private things, but she was halted by the sound of Jack's and Daniel's voices coming in soft lilts from the kitchen. They sounded like they were talking about...

Jack's retirement had been forced? What was that all about? Feeling like a heel, Sam stood still, listening with all her might. She didn't like the idea of listening in on one of Jack O'Neill's conversations, but there was so much about the events in this reality that she still didn't understand! She had learned when she was still very young that in order to find out anything, one shouldn't ask questions that could be denied an answer, but one should listen in to other's conversations as often as possible. It was the best way, if not the most honest way, to find out anything important.

Jack couldn't see Sam, so she didn't know for sure if he knew she was standing in the hallway or not. Sam also peaked in on the two men in the kitchen, and Jack seemed to want his friend and team mate to focus the discussion on another topic altogether than what they had been discussing. After all, Jack really didn't know the kind of person that Sam was in her reality, if she was trustworthy or not. But Daniel was again being stubborn... or purposefully dense... Sam had never really been sure about Daniel. But at least it was nice to know that he was the same in both realities.

Daniel must have heard Jack's tone and seen the wave of his hand, but ignored them both to continue on. If only the General wasn't being so...

Hard-assed about this? Jack rhetorically asked.

Sam saw Daniel look down, then take another drink of the soda in his hand. Yeah.. Wonder who shoved that stick up his butt? Jack just shrugged. Daniel continued, I tried to talk to him after we got back and you were set to retire, but he just kept telling me that his hands were tied on this one.

You want to know what I'm thinking? Jack quietly asked as he played with the label of his beer.

Some things, like that familiar fiddling with his beer label, were the same in both realities, Sam said to herself as she noted the men's drinks and behavior.

Daniel finished for him. Someone wanted you out of the SGO and found a way to get you to go without a fuss... that's what you think.

Got it in one, Jack nonchalantly replied.

Who do you think it was who's behind all this? Daniel asked.

Jack sighed and admitted, I don't know, but I have lots of free time to figure it out. And besides, Jack said, continuing, Now I have a little help in figuring all this out.

Jack was talking about her. Sam tried not to react to Jack's words as she continued to listen and watch.

Daniel's brows rose. 'Help?' He gazed at Jack. Jack looked innocent, but Daniel wasn't fooled by his 'disinterested' routine. You know someone, don't you? he accused. Someone I don't know.

You don't know her, Jack agreed. But you've met her. Then he hemmed, Sort of.

Sort of? Daniel peered at his friend. Are you sure that you're okay with all this Sam stuff? 'Cause you seem different than you have for days... More cheerful.

Jack was clearly thinking something, but kept his thoughts to himself. Aloud, he assured, Yeah, I am. Then he added, At least, I'm as good as I can be. I'll probably never be totally good about it.

You still dreaming about her? Daniel queried.

Jack regarded his friend and team mate. Sometimes she seems as real as I am, he answered.

Sam squelched her desire to giggle at what Jack had just said.

But you know that those dreams aren't real, Daniel protested. Right?

My dreams aren't real, Jack said like a dutiful parakeet.

Daniel wasn't fooled this time either; Jack was hiding something; he could tell. Fine, keep your secrets, he said with a shake of his head.

I've got a secret that I'll share with you as long as you promise not to tell anybody. Jack regarded his friend again.

Could Daniel really not tell about something as monumental as Sam's presence in this reality? If so, then Daniel was more circumspect in this reality than in her own. She had always known that Daniel had bad timing as well as liked to talk about things. So if she told him something, she had to be prepared that it would be discussed by everyone throughout the base by the end of the day.

But maybe Daniel was quieter here? He must be more selective about what he said to others, or the Jack O'Neill that Sam knew would never have opened up to Daniel like he was.

Again Sam was reminded that she wasn't listening to her own Colonel O'Neill. And that idea again sent a rather thrilling little tingle all through her system.

Sam watched as Daniel did nothing, only regarded Jack as Jack regarded him. I can keep a secret, Daniel assured.

And Jack raised his brows, smirked, then added, When it's important.

Daniel's expression darkened. Jack..! he warned, then saw that Jack was kidding. He then saucily replied, Its always important.

Jack gave a half grin. Sam could tell from his expression of enjoyment that he was thinking that he did so love baiting Daniel! Then come into the den for a moment, Jack said. He led the way back to his living room where he had met Carter... Sam.

Sam breathed a bit in relief... she hated eavesdropping! But she didn't understand everything yet, and with the new information that she had learned, coupled with what she had discovered herself in the shower, she was convinced that something had to be going on here that she didn't know about. Jack's forced 'retirement' would explain the actions leading up to this moment.

Sam watched as Jack waved a hand at the small table in front of his sofa/couch piece of furniture. Daniel balked when the archaeologist saw the money and check boxes. Jack... Your morning table. It's covered in... Daniel squinted then at the morning table. Jack, what the hell is this? Daniel finally asked as he must have realized that he was staring at money. Have you been robbing banks or something?

Noooo, Jack said, then he went on, It's Sam's.

Daniel looked at the money again all spread out on the table. Do you mean her estate finally came through?

Noooo, Jack said once more. I mean it's Sam's. So is the backpack.

Daniel clearly didn't believe him even though he was staring at the items Jack had mentioned. Jack, don't you think you're taking this dream reality of yours a bit far?

Jack actually wagged a finger at Daniel. You've been talking to McMenzie again, haven't you?

Daniel shrugged. Can I help it if he walked by me in the hallway, muttering about dreams under his breath?

And that was Sam's cue to show herself. She appeared and started down the steps into the den. Jack, I yelled to you about the towel I used, but I guess you didn't hear me. I hope you don't mind if I borrowed one.

That was when a completely flustered Daniel and his soda hit the floor.

That was an unexpected reaction. Crap! both Sam and Jack yelled at once.

Jack bent down to start feeling for Daniel's pulse, and Sam finished her jog down the stairs by taking the last three steps at once. She knelt next to Daniel, and immediately righted the soda can before too much of the beverage had the chance to spill. Is he all right? she screeched as she leaned over Daniel. I didn't mean to scare him like that! She had only listened in order to get information, not to suddenly reveal herself only to freak out her friend!

To their combined relief, Daniel was already coming around. He moaned, and his right hand reached up to rub his forehead. He blinked, found Sam hovering over him in a pose of worry, and scooted back on the floor in a blind panic.

Whoa! Jack called, grabbing hold of Daniel's shoulders. You know the drill - No moving, or Doc will kill me!

But Daniel wasn't listening. He stared intently at Sam instead. I'm dreaming, he whispered. I'm having a nightmare, was his next statement. I'm having a really vivid hallucination.

But Sam was there, already shaking her head. Easy, Daniel, I know this is a shock...

Daniel gaped at her. She speaks! he blurted.

Sam gazed at him in amusement and confusion mixed together. Of course I speak. Or maybe you want me to speak another language?

A dead language, Jack helpfully chimed in as he assisted Daniel in sitting up. You know, dead language - dead person? he continued on, then in afterthought said, There's a certain amount of symmetry to that, even if the joke was really bad.

Daniel gaped at Jack now, his features awash in terror. You're talking to her! he yelled in incredulity.

Jack paused to stare at his friend. Would you rather that I didn't? he flippantly inquired.

Yes! No! Uh...

Daniel didn't seem to know what to say, so Sam put an end to his misery. Daniel, it's okay, it's okay. She took a deep breath. I'm not dead. Then she amended, Well, you're Sam Carter's dead, but... Then she was reminded of something, for she turned to Jack and informed, Oh, that reminds me... I thought of a few things about your Sam Carter while I was in the shower... about the other Sam, she corrected herself.

Jack filled in for her, You mean 'Carter.'

Yeah, Sam agreed with him on a choked laugh.

But before Sam could voice anything more, Daniel asked a question of his own, making sure that the situation at least was not forgotten. But who are you? he warily asked Sam with a grimace on his face.

Sam gave him a ghost of a smile. I'm Sam, Sam instantly answered, her gaze still on Jack instead of on Daniel, who was asking his questions while he grew whiter and whiter with every word.

But she hadn't anticipated that this Daniel might not be as easy to distract as her Daniel was. Yeah, but who are you? He asked again.

Sam sent him another thin smile. That's a rather long story, she admitted on a breath of air.

Daniel poked at her with his fingers, his expression still disbelieving. It... uh... It appears that I have all the time in the world, he cajoled anyway.

Right, Sam muttered. Was it her new lot in life to constantly explain herself to people who were unlikely to believe her?

Sam only gave another sigh, but repeated her story. Daniel asked questions as fast as she could answer them, and Jack added his comments when he thought it was appropriate... or inappropriate.

Daniel stared in Sam in puzzlement when she finished her explanation, but his sense of wariness had greatly diminished. You're really from an alternate reality? he asked in an amazed voice.

Sam sighed. Where I come from, the grass is green, she reported in a slightly desperate note.

Daniel gave a start. Green? he repeated, as if he was still having a hard time believing her.

Sam sighed once more. Look, Daniel, I know that you're having a hard time with this, but there's something I really need to talk about before I get distracted and forget about again.

I didn't do it! Jack immediately blurted.

Sam regarded him. Actually, she said. I don't think that you did.

Pleased to hear that, Jack grinned. See, someone believes me.

Daniel gave another start and blurted, Jack, that's the first time I've seen you smile since... Here, he abruptly stopped himself.

Jack finished for him. Since the accident, he firmly stated. Since I became known as the man who kills his own team mates.

Daniel levered himself closer to Jack in order to put a comforting hand on his friend's knee, and started to say, It was an accident, Jack. Don't beat yourself up ab...

Sam cut him off. Actually, I don't think it was an accident, and I don't think Jack did it.

Her statement seemed to thud into their minds. They both stared blankly at her for a moment, then seemed to re-energize at the same time. What? they simultaneously blurted.

They still didn't understand her? She had thought she'd put it all into terms that were easy to understand. She sighed, then calmly repeated, I don't think you could have done it, Jack... Sir... uh, Jack. When he and Daniel continued to stare blankly at her, she explained, You know... When Jack killed... me... us, Sam... uh, Carter.

Again Jack blurted a, What? When Sam didn't give a quick reply, he clarified, I killed Carter! I'm retired because of it! I deserve a lot worse!

Daniel turned to look at Jack. You really think that? he asked, amazed. You've never mentioned that before.

Sam sent Jack a look of tolerant understanding. I'm not surprised that you think that...

I'm surprised! Daniel retorted.

Sam went on as if Daniel hadn't spoken. Jack, you couldn't have killed her, she said in as sympathetic a voice as she could muster.

But Jack was adamant. Of course I did! he insisted.

No, that's not possible, Sam gently told him. She continued, You told me that you came back through the 'Gate from Abydos, where I... where Sam Carter had been killed...

Right, Jack agreed with her story so far.

But Sam kept explaining. You said that your hands were covered in blood. That there was blood everywhere.

Yeah. Jack motioned her to hurry her explanation along. His face was already white, and she suspected that he was fighting the urge not to throw up.

So Sam hurried to vocalize her thought. Staff blasts are so hot that they immediately cauterize a wound, she pointed out. If Sam... If Carter was killed by a staff blast, there should have been no blood.

Jack opened his mouth as if to argue more fully with her point, then closed it with a snap, not saying anything. After a second, he managed to concede, Good point.

Daniel piped up, Where did the blood come from then?

Sam shrugged. Bullets make a person bleed. Do your weapons shoot bullets, and was she shot with your weapon, Daniel?

Daniel swiftly negated that idea. Yes, our weapons shoot bullets, but my weapon never left where it was hooked on my vest, I swear.

Your side arm? she next asked of him.

It didn't leave my holster, Daniel quickly negated.

Hers? Sam inquired.

Daniel wrinkled his brow. That would be impossible, unless she shot herself. But from the position we were standing in, I would have seen her messing with a weapon... with any of them, he amended.

Sam turned to Jack. How about any of your weapons, Jack?

Despite his rather pasty face, and the beads of sweat on his brow, Jack managed to shake his head. No. All of my weapons were accounted for. Jack squeezed his eyes shut then in regret. Knowing something like that doesn't really do any good... though it does go with my theory that my retirement was for some reason forced. But you already know that I think that way, he slightly accused.

Sam gave a start of her head. You knew I was standing in the hall, listening, she half accused back.

Jack gave a grimace but was too pained at what they were ultimately talking about to say anything.

Remembering how she had thought while in the shower that this Jack was more open about his feelings, and how she had actually liked that... quite a lot... Sam was suddenly determined to wipe that morose look from Jack's eyes. So, she thoughtfully went on in a light tone that was faked for Jack's benefit. Unless she somehow shot herself, and I'd say that neither you or Daniel did anything, then a third party must have shot and killed Samantha Carter.

Jack blinked his heavy eyelids. You're talking murder, he slowly accused.

Sam turned abruptly serious eyes on him. I am, she admitted. Only because it doesn't all add up, she pensively told them. The blood, the kind of shot that makes a bloody wound... And I bet if Janet kept pictures of the wound, I have a suspicion that the angle will be all wrong for you to have shot her, Jack.

But she was shot at the exact same time that my weapon jerked towards her, Jack protested. That's what I said when I talked to General West!

I talked to him, too! Daniel protested as well. But it didn't do any good, he added.

Sam said, Of course it didn't.

Jack's eyes narrowed. Meaning?

Meaning.., Sam began to say.

Quick to add every detail together, Daniel interrupted her, Meaning that you also think Jack was set up. He went on to inquire, Then who do you think did it?

Sam shrugged. I don't know. We need to either look at pictures of the original wound, or...

Daniel finished for her with a start. You're talking about exhuming the body!

No! Jack immediately retorted. That I won't allow!

But Sam was already putting a calming hand on Jack's arm. She shivered slightly at the contact with his skin, but did her best to ignore the sensation. No, she said, saying her head. That's not what I'm talking about. She eyed both men, finally settling her gaze on one of them. Jack, she gently began. I think this is an elaborate set up. We need to find out what really happened.

You said that you think this is a setup yourself, Jack, Daniel reminded him. The least we can do is ask if Dr. Blaizer took some pictures.

Sam grinned. 'Blaizer' huh?

Daniel stared at her as if she'd grown a second nose. Yeah, Dr. Janet Blaizer... You know.... You're friend?

Sam giggled then. In my world she's called Dr. Janet Fraiser. Sam turned to Jack. Why didn't you say something when I called her 'Fraiser' earlier today?

Jack's answer was vague at best. I didn't notice... I'm still thinking about who would do something like this...

Sam interrupted him. Do you have any enemies?

Daniel snorted. Who isn't his enemy?

Sam sighed, then rephrased her last question. I meant to say, any enemies that might want to do this to you? Get rid of you without it looking like they're getting rid of you?

Daniel looked at Jack, and Jack looked at Daniel. Without missing a beat they both announced, President Kinsey.

President Kinsey, Sam squeaked at them both.

Part IV

Jack and Daniel's comment was so astonishing that the three of them couldn't even discuss it. Instead, ignoring it and its implications, the three sat up till the wee hours of the morning, playing games and talking about other things, internally trying to decide how best to deal with the situation if Sam Carter's death had been machinated by someone as high up as the President.

Sam went from feeling wildly optimistic about the entire situation to being depressed enough to cry. She did her best to hide her feelings from her two old?... new?... from her friends... more than friends?... She was fairly certain that Jack at least saw through her subterfuge in an instant. Yet he didn't say anything as the evening wore on.

Eventually, the night had to come to an end, and Daniel left to go home. It had been decided that Daniel would discreetly ask questions around the SGO the next day, especially to find out if Janet had kept any physical pictures of Carter's dead body. They decided that this would be Daniel's job because Jack, as a retired military Colonel, had lost much of his clearance, most notably a visit to base without an invitation, and Carter... who Sam looked exactly like... was supposed to be dead. So that left only Daniel with even a sliver of the necessary security clearance in order to do the job that needed to be done. Sam wondered what kind of military institution simply removed all security from its retired personnel rather than allowing them the choice to become civilian consultants, but kept her curiosity to herself.

After Daniel left, Sam and Jack went about getting ready for bed, the hour being late... or early. We... um... sold all your things, Jack told her as they prepared to leave the den and go to bed. Most notably, Jack wanted to get all of Sam's money put away in the safe he kept in his office before retiring for the night.

Does that include selling my house? Sam asked.

Jack's nose grew wrinkled as he gazed at her. Your apartment, you mean, he corrected. You lived in an apartment.

Sam groaned as she looked in despair at the ceiling above her in the living room. She dropped the backpack she had picked up to say, Things are so different here!

Jack gave a half grin. Well, that stands to reason, he added. There's bound to be some differences.

But I didn't expect to be dead! Sam retorted. She immediately felt bad for her thoughtless remark when Jack quickly grew pale the moment she spoke. Sam stared at him and noted his more somber mood, a mood that was quickly disintegrating into complete gloom. You need a distraction, she muttered. And I have just the thing.

Jack sounded tired now even as he responded to her comment. What is it?

Sam led him over to the sofa/long chair/recliner thing and sat down, pulling him down beside her. I was also thinking...

About? Jack prompted her when she didn't answer. It looks like you're still thinking, he remarked as he settled more firmly beside her. Of course, if I remember right, when is any version of Sam Carter not thinking?

Instead of responding to him, she asked, Did you people ever encounter... someone... Sam pondered how best to phrase her query. Someone... like me... someone from an alternate reality?

Jack gazed at her in befuddlement. You mean that you have?

Sam nodded her head. Once. Kowalski... our Kowalski was already dead... Anyway, he came through the Quantum Mirror a few years ago, along with another version of Samantha Carter.

Jack's eyes bulged. Another military Carter?

Sam corrected him. She was a Dr. Carter.

Jack continued to look amazed for a moment, but admitted, I still don't quite understand why you're telling me this.

I'm getting to that, Sam answered a bit testily at Jack's lack of comprehension. Dr. Carter and I worked together very well...

Jack smiled this time. I bet it was nice to work with someone who completely understands everything you say.

Sam smiled as well. That was a nice side effect.

For a minute, neither Sam nor Jack said anything, until Jack prompted, But? When she gazed at him, unable to fathom how he had guessed that she had more to say, he added, There's always a 'but' to these stories.

But.., Sam dutifully said. Dr. Carter hadn't been at the SGC for two days before she began suffering from entropic cascade failure.

Jack sighed, a long breath of resignation. Oh, here we go... enough technotalk to fill ten conversations. Despite his words, his voice rang with subtle affection.

Sam smiled in understanding about his resigned attitude. I'll restrain myself and only use words of one or two syllables, I promise, she said, then went on, Because there were two of us taking up space in one reality, Dr. Carter's life started to crumble in on itself less than 48 hours after she arrived. She would have been dead within a week if we hadn't figured out how to solve her reality's problems with the Goa'uld.

Jack was listening to her better than she thought, and his quick, analytical mind was not far behind hers. Only a moment had passed before he asked, And you knew that this... failure thing... was going to happen to you, too, if you came here? Sam nodded. But you came anyway? Sam nodded again. Jack's mind leapt to the next step in the equation. But as there's only one of you 'taking up space' in this reality... He swallowed at such a casual reference to his Carter's death, but plowed on anyway. You won't suffer from this... failure thing? Sam shook her head this time, an enigmatic smile lighting her face. You're not going to... Swallow, shudder... To... die?

At least not from entropic cascade failure, Sam noted, the lightness of her voice belying the seriousness of the topic of their conversation. I might die from something else, she noted. But when I started off for this reality... for any reality where Jack O'Neill was still alive... I had no idea that... She didn't put voice to the events of his recent past. Anyway, I thought I had five days to live, a week at most. Then I would be dead.

Jack sat silent for a moment as his brain digested her latest bit of technobabble. So.., he started to say. So, you came here even knowing that you would probably die, he announced.

Sam looked down at her hands now, slightly mortified at her actions that stemmed from an intent that had seemed so clear earlier, but now seemed muddy at best. She was only able to nod.

Jack whistled. You must have been in a really horrible reality.

Sam gave him the answer that her mind came up with a split second later. You have no idea. She paused, and when he didn't say anything, added, Actually, you probably do. You're probably the only person in the entire universe who does know.

Jack was silent again as he thought. Finally he slowly asked, So it was better to come to this reality, and for me to go through your death twice, than to stay in your own reality?

Sam's features twisted in grief at his words. No! she protested loudly. That's not what I intended at all! She adamantly continued, After I shot Kinsey, and was captured because of it, I...

Jack perked up at this news. You shot Kinsey? he asked in an appreciative voice.

Sam merely nodded her head. With a Zat... Oh, that's right, Teal'c told us about Zat guns, and you haven't run into Teal'c, so you don't know what I'm talking about. She took a deep breath, then explained, One shot from a Zat gun stuns, two kills, and three shots disintegrates. I shot Kinsey once. But my Kinsey is just a Senator, not the President.

Jack snorted. Still... That took guts!

Nerve, Sam corrected his unusual use of a cliché. And it wasn't very hard... the easier part of this whole thing, if you want the truth.

But this time it was Jack's turn to look down at his hands cradled firmly in his lap. And you decided to come here because..?

Sam also glanced down. It wasn't a true decision, she quietly told him. I didn't know if you were alive in this reality or not, after all. She cast a glance his way out of eyes that speared his in a second, but slipped back down almost immediately. Dr. Carter was married to her Jack O'Neill, but...

A smile split Jack's features. Yeah? They were married?

Sam did look at him now. You use the same word for it? At his nod, she said, I didn't know. Another look down. Anyway, they had been married for a year... she wasn't in the military, so the Frat Regs didn't apply to them.

Jack's forehead wrinkled now. The what?

Didn't he automatically know what the Frat Regs were? According to the look of bemusement on his face, he didn't.

That's amazing, Sam thought to herself. Aloud, she explained, The Frat Regs. It's a policy that keeps people in military chain of command situations from growing too familiar with each other. At his continued look of incomprehension, she went on, It stops favoritism before it begins. If two people decide to ignore the Frat Regs and are caught, it can lead to a court-martial that can then lead to a dishonorable discharge from the service, being thrown in jail... It can get very bad very fast. She glanced down again. I never wanted that to happen to the Colonel, so...

So... You and he were never..?

Sam blushed and shook her head. Um... No. She stared at her linked fingers with such determination that she appeared to be in danger of burning a hole through her own hands. I... I cared about him too... too much... to put him through that, she went on in a strained whisper.

But Jack continued to question her no matter how she sounded. So he died not knowing how..?

He knew, Sam corrected again, now thinking of Za'tarc tests, and isolation rooms, and the Tok'ra in general. We just... never spoke of it, she lamely ended.

Jack breathed quietly beside her. And... here?

Sam was quick to answer that comment. I didn't know she... I didn't know.

Jack sighed again. You must have come here for a reason, though, he quietly pointed out. It sounds like you went through a lot just to get here.

I didn't even know that going through the Mirror was a possibility till three or four days ago, Sam admitted.

Jack heaved a breath. Why did you come?

Sam heaved a breath as well. She turned to stare up at him as she uneasily replied, I'm not certain that it really matters anymore. As she gazed at his weathered face, she realized that she knew about and had acknowledged her love for her own Jack O'Neill, but her feelings for this Jack O'Neill weren't so clear cut. I was going to tell you that... She swallowed this time. She went on, whispering, That I lo... Sam had to pause and screw up her courage before she could force herself to blurt, That I love you... him... I never told him in those exact words. But...

But..? Jack sounded slightly breathless, but only prompted her without commenting on her confession.

Sam closed her eyes so that she wouldn't have to look at him. But you're not my... my Colonel. She chanced a look at him once more. Are you?

Jack sat beside her, not saying a word. He could smell her skin next to his, and if he closed his eyes, he wouldn't be able to distinguish a difference between his Carter and the Sam who rested beside him. But Sam wasn't Carter. And he wasn't her Colonel. No, he said in a low voice, sounding sad as he said it. I'm not. He heaved a pained gust of air. I want to be, he quietly admitted. Then his face twisted up in a semblance of his inner turmoil. But in my bones, I can feel that I'm not, and no matter how much I want it to be the same, I can't change the laws of physics. A grin slipped through on his features. Maybe you can, but I'm just an old military guy.

Sam couldn't help but smile back at him. You're more than that, and you know it, she decidedly said. If you were just a normal guy, this Kinsey of yours wouldn't be so determined to get you out of the SGC... if we find out that it is him.

The SGO, Jack corrected her. Out of the SGO.

Whatever, Sam answered, sounding a lot more like her own Colonel when she said it. But you know that I'm right.

Jack shrugged. If this theory of yours is right, anyway...

And it might not be, she warned him.

But it might be, he said. When she just shrugged to acknowledge his comment, he went on again with a question of his own. How are you doing with all of this... alternate stuff? he asked next, catching her completely by surprise with his change in topic.

Sam's smile slipped as she again latched onto her hands with her gaze. It's a little weird, she admitted. Then she grinned, but didn't look up. Kind of like being a fish in your pond, she said. Before Jack had the chance to question what she meant by that comment, she went on, But I'm...

We're not ignoring this, he insisted quietly but firmly. Not this time.

Sam instinctively knew what he'd meant by his use of the word 'this.' He was talking about their feelings for the other, their attraction to each other... for their own reality's Colonel O'Neill and Carter... that they had always fought no matter which reality they had lived in.

Jack went on almost before Sam was ready for him to go on. I know that saying that so... clearly... probably makes you feel uncomfortable, but... He sighed and looked at her. I heard Carter admit to her feelings for me for the first time right before she died, he reminded. Not that I expect anything to ever happen between... us... me and you... but I want it to be an option, he admitted. I lost her once... and now I can't ever get her back. He blinked, then seriously continued, And now I'm finding that... He met her eyes with his gaze. I know that you're not her... And I don't expect you to be... He didn't blink, showing his sincerity. But I want that option, he softly said. Even if nothing ever comes of it, I want it.

Sam couldn't look back at him the way he was piercing her with his gaze. I... How did she say this? She chewed her lower lip, thinking. I... do too, she finally admitted. All of that. I... I just want... that option... too.

Now that you're going to be here for awhile, Jack added.

Sam did look up then. Yeah. She was able to gaze back at him. Maybe nothing will come from it...

And maybe it will, Jack finished for her.

Sam shrugged. Maybe, she softly noted.

Jack hissed one last sigh as he continued thinking.

And the best place to think, he had learned, was... Let's go to bed.

Her eyes widened.

Separately! Jack rushed to correct. Me in my bedroom, and... I have a guest room, he then suggested. You don't have an apartment... nowhere to sleep. He glanced at the darkened square the windows had become. And unless you want to bunk outside...

Sam grinned. I don't have a great urge to do that, no.

Well then... Jack shrugged a grin one last time. You're welcome to stay here. As a final incentive, he added, I could use the company.

Sam chanced an indelicate shove into his shoulder with hers. Okay, she agreed.

Jack smiled, inordinately pleased with her acquiescence.

* * *

Sunlight streamed through the kitchen window the following morning, highlighting Jack as he stood with his back to the counter, a bowl of cereal at his side, and a spoon in his hands. He was busy shoveling the cereal into his mouth and filling in the daily paper's crossword puzzle at the same time. Sam joined him in the kitchen a moment later.

Sorry, Jack said as he continued to peruse the paper in his hand not holding his spoon. All I have for breakfast is Froot Loops. If I'd known that I was going to have company, I would have...

It's all right, Sam assured as she pulled down a bowl for her breakfast. I happen to like Froot Loops. She considered for a second. Which is a good thing, I suppose, as I know that it's been practically the only thing you...

Jack interrupted, You should probably just call him 'the Colonel,' and me 'Jack,' and I'll call Carter 'Carter' and you 'Sam,' or we're both going to go nuts before we know it.

Okaaaay, Sam slowly said in agreement. Anyway, The Colonel always gave us Froot Loops for breakfast after our team nights. Did you have team nights, too? she asked, curious.

Jack thought again. If you call the wild parties that we had every month...

Jack! Sam admonished in a fake-shocked voice.

Jack softly chuckled. Yeah, of course we had team nights. I barely spent a Friday night alone... until now. That statement sobered Jack right down. He dispiritedly set his cereal bowl aside, his breakfast only half eaten.

Did you have any dreams last night? Sam queried in a subdued, serious voice. I didn't hear any noises, but...

I heard you crying, Jack suddenly announced. I had woken up... Sam noticed that he didn't say what had woken him in the middle of the night. Anyway, I was awake... for quite a long time... and when I went back to bed around 0400, I had to walk by your room, and... He didn't bother to say 'the rest was history,' though he implied it. Actually, I did hear something... You yelped 'Sir,' he divulged. Then cried for a good hour.

Sam looked uncomfortable. You heard, she gently accused. All of it, I'm guessing.

Jack shrugged. A good portion of it...

Sam shrugged, too. I should have expected that bit about me becoming a watering tree, and warned you of the possibility. It's happened the same way every night since... She stopped herself from saying anything more, and instead abruptly asked, Can you draw a diagram of the accident exactly as you remember it happening, so that I know what you saw?

Jack hissed a breath, instantly uneasy at her request, but still able to be impressed by her change of topic. Unfortunately, her request wasn't one he could fulfill. I think.., he began to say. He sounded regretful as he told her, I think that's one thing that I can't do right now. And without another word, or even a glance in her direction, he walked out of the kitchen. A moment later, Sam heard the front door shut softly behind him as he left the house.

Half an hour later, Sam found Jack sitting alone on his front step when she opened the door to see if his floating truck was still in front of his house. Jack was sitting on the hard brick step, his back to the door, smoking a cigarette. You smoke?!? Sam half accused, half asked in a blunt manner. Then she wanted to smack herself in the forehead for being stupid. Of course you smoke, she muttered. You never met Skaara on Abydos, who in turn never got you to quit...

I met Skaara, Jack immediately protested.

Sam gazed at him in surprise. But he didn't get you to stop smoking, did he?

Jack shook his head. No, he didn't.

Well then... Sam didn't finish her comment, only sat down between him and a well-used red ashtray full of cigarette butts. She held out her hand for her own cigarette. I used to smoke too. The night after I finished writing my dissertation, I had five empty cigarette boxes surrounding me. They said that I was sound asleep at my computer, the printer was printing away, and I stunk to high heaven, but I had a smile on my face the entire time.

And what do you say now? Jack inquired in a quiet voice, sounding interested in spite of himself.

I don't know, Sam flatly stated. I don't remember any of it, but when my dissertation was done printing, my roomie read that I had dedicated my book on Quasars to Camel Lite for making me write the book in the first place.

Jack laughed, a soft tinkle of sound that rippled out into the morning as he handed her a cigarette and lighter. Sam bent her hand against the wind, then once her cigarette was lit, took a deep puff. Then she practically turned green.

Ah God! she yelled, looking at the cigarette in her hand like it was a time bomb from an alien reality. Now I remember why I quit! She screwed her expression up to look as if she was in the middle of eating a lime... or a lemon. The taste sucks!

Jack carefully regarded his lit cigarette in his hand. Hmmm, he hummed. I don't know what this 'sucks' means, but I get the idea that it's not good. He reached a hand over to Sam for the ashtray. She passed it to him after snuffing out her own nasty tasting cigarette. The taste does suck, Jack declared and snuffed his own cigarette. There's better things that I can do with my time, anyway, he said. Like bite my fingernails. Then he glanced wickedly at her. However, one of my fantasies has always been to smoke with you... Carter... on my front steps, he lilted.

Sam coughed, wishing she had something to drink to get rid of the awful taste in her mouth. I just did smoke with you on your front step, she reminded. And I at least look like Carter...

All true, Jack noted. Then he went on, Though I didn't visualize Carter... you... saying that smoking sucks.

Sam laughed at his comment. No, I don't suppose that was part of your fantasy.

They were silent for a moment until Jack confessed, I didn't expect to ever see that smoking fantasy of mine happen, you know. He shot a look at the ashtray sitting on Sam's other side on the step. Tyler made that ashtray for me at camp the summer he was eight. I've managed to fill it four times just since Carter... the accident.

Sam didn't know what to say that would make him feel better after such a confession. I'm sorry, she at last settled on.

Jack sighed. You don't have to be, he began.

Good, I won't, Sam sneakily shot back at him without missing a beat.

Jack grinned at her well timed joke. Well, now that smoking ourselves to death is not part of our futures...

Past attempts notwithstanding, Sam broke in to say.

Jack acknowledged her statement with a lift of his shoulder. Then I suggest that we spend the day shopping.

That comment did surprise Sam. Shopping?

Ah yes, and I can hear the 'Sir' you added in your head, Jack accused.

But I didn't say it out loud, you notice, Sam felt as if she should point out.

Jack lifted his shoulder in another shrug. Anyway, in all seriousness... West had some SFs clean out your... her... apartment last weekend. He was so organized about it, it was almost as if he knew it was coming.

Do you think he did? Sam asked.

Jack heaved a deep sigh. I don't know. All I know is that at the time, I didn't care about anything except how drunk I was compared to how drunk I wanted to be.

Sam regarded him as a stiff breeze blew her hair across her eyes. She held it back with her hand. Did the drinking help?

Jack heaved another sigh. Not really, he divulged.

Darn, Sam said in a dry tone of voice. I was hoping that you had stumbled onto something.

Jack chuckled again. A huge hangover, that's what I stumbled onto, he answered. Anyway, if I'd been sober, I would have stopped what West had those SFs doing. But I was... Jack considered, then judiciously said, I was a bit preoccupied. They put most of your... her... things into storage for that brother and sister of yours... hers... whom I've never met. It's for them to deal with. Then General West had the SFs donate her clothes and furniture to good will. The entire affair only took a few hours.

Sam's eyebrows rose on her forehead. Either those SFs were very efficient, or my counterpart didn't have much in the way of private effects.

She basically lived in her lab at the SGO, Jack told her in an offhand way. She only went to her apartment when I kicked her out of her lab. One time I even locked it so that she couldn't get in. Jack grinned at the memory. Boy, was she furious at that one!

Sam giggled, and in her head, immediately heard the echo of the Colonel's words, 'No giggling, Carter' run through her mind. She would have instantly sobered, except that Jack sitting beside her also leaned over and said in a low voice, No giggling, Sam.

This of course only made her giggle harder.

* * *

1730 hours that night:

This was already becoming dangerous.

Actually, Sam thought, it wasn't dangerous dangerous. This wasn't life or limb espionage or anything, with no one's head on the line. This was ten times more subtle than that, and ten times more appealing because of those thrillingly subtle undertones. Hence, the danger.

The danger lay elsewhere, too, Sam admitted to herself as she set her new clothes she and Jack had bought that day in her temporary room at Jack's house. Jack might appeal to her too much. After all, he was retired. Sam... Carter... was (gulp) dead... and she was from another reality.

In essence, Sam didn't exist in this reality. There were no longer any official rules that had to be adhered to between her and this reality's Jack that would keep them apart or punish them in some way if they didn't stay apart and above suspicion of doing anything else. On second thought, the regulations hadn't existed in this reality, either, so that little bit didn't actually apply at all.

And throughout the day, Sam felt more and more drawn to Jack. She wanted to be with him... actually enjoyed being with him... on a friendly level... or on a level that was more than friendly... She had to admit to herself that her emotions went waaaaay beyond the friendly level. At odd moments, she wanted to run her fingers through his hair. As the day had worn on, she found that she had to fight the urge to wrap her arm around his waist as they had shopped for clothes for her. She wanted to show him her growing affection for him, even the stray touch, almost all the time, and she didn't know if she could do that in this reality, and that was why the situation was quickly growing dangerous.

Sam hadn't meant for the situation to become dangerous at all, to say nothing of things growing so thick between them so quickly. Thinking of her regs, and his... whatever had kept him and his Carter apart... Any rules that had been written in this reality... if they had been written in this reality... were in trouble of being broken. She found herself quickly growing even more comfortable with this new, domestic Jack (whom she didn't know very well) than she had been even with Colonel O'Neill, and she had been pretty darned comfortable with him. She had worked with Colonel O'Neill for years. In fact, she still missed that person so much that it practically took her breath away at unguarded and surprising moments.

But far more often she found that same breath being stolen by innocuous moments with domestic Jack, the Jack of this reality whom she didn't know nearly as well, but was quickly developing (redeveloping?)(transferring?) feelings to... These new emotions made her feel soft, happy, tingly, open to any kind of behavior...

That, in the end, was her problem. Sam feared that she was simply moving her emotions of affection from her Jack O'Neill to this new, unknown Jack O'Neill. And it scared her so bad that...

It just scared her. The lack of Regulations that she had always used to control her emotions was where the danger really lay. That lack was too appealing to her, Jack was too appealing to her. And they were a far more dangerous combination than she had ever expected them to be.

Sam considered what she could do as she placed her bags of clothes on the carpet near her bed. She was amazed at how fast the transfer of emotions had happened, if that's really what had happened. She refused to believe that what she was feeling was any kind of new emotion that had as yet to be explored.

Well... Just because she refused to believe those emotions existed didn't necessarily mean that they didn't, she admitted.

She could ignore the yearnings her heart were beginning to become consumed with, she supposed. She could return through the Quantum Mirror to her own reality and avoid these growing affections altogether. But then she would have to live in a reality where the work Jack O'Neill was dead, and there was no domestic Jack O'Neill to take his place in her heart. She would have to live without a Jack of any kind. She didn't want to do that. One of the reasons she had even come to this reality was to get away from a future without Jack in it. Such a future was still too bleak for her to even contemplate.

Or (and this option scared her so much that she almost couldn't see) she could embrace these new emotions that she had been feeling for her friend all day and accept the domestic Jack O'Neill completely into her heart.

Shopping with Jack had proved to be far more enjoyable than she had thought it would be. He had been charming, understanding to a fault, patient, flirtatious, teasing, and a delight to be around. Sam had enjoyed every moment of the day so far. She just didn't know what to do with these sensations of hers.

Still puzzling, Sam slowly sauntered back down the hall, deep in thought. She drifted down the stairs into Jack's sunken den, consumed by the options that she was able to see for her to take. She was just thinking that if she planned to return to her own reality, no matter how unlikely that eventuality was, she had better do it soon, as her feelings were threatening to grow too big for her to easily turn away from Jack. She decided that it had better be sooner rather than later if she was going to move at all.

Thus she didn't see Jack sitting just at the bottom of the steps on the sofa thing (she would have to remember to ask Jack what that thing was called) bent pensively over an open notebook as he industriously drew on the yellow page it was opened to. He finished adding the dashed line that he was in the process of including when she arrived.

Jack glanced up at her. Hey, you might want to take a look at this, he noted in a deceptively light tone of voice. I don't know if this is what you're after, or if it'll even help, but... He held the notebook aloft for her to take. I hope it's what you're looking for.

Sam was wrenched out of her thoughts, and she took the notebook from him with a furrowed brow. What's this? she asked, then grinned down at him. She couldn't help but tease, Is this an eviction notice already? Can't wait to get rid of me?

Jack threw his pencil onto the morning table fronting the mystery piece of furniture. Just take a look, he said, then sighed. I'm going to... He didn't finish his comment, but did gesture towards the kitchen. Want a beer or anything? he asked so nonchalantly that it would have fooled anybody but her.

Sam chose not to comment about his tone as her attention was already piqued by the drawing in the notebook that he had given to her. Yeah, a beer would be great, she said in distraction. She didn't even note that there was beer in this reality, too. Instead, she squinted at the sheet before her.

Jack had just retrieved two beers from the refrigerator when he was stopped from returning to his den by a knock on his front door. I got it! he called, but then doubted if Sam had even heard him, she was so buried in studying what he had drawn for her. Trying to paste a more pleasant expression on his face (the drawing and its accompanying thoughts had dredged up some really unpleasant memories!) he reached for the door while attempting to hold both beer bottles in his left hand.

Yeah? he asked, swinging the door wide, then beamed a far more genuine smile. Doc! he exclaimed. Daniel!

Colonel, Dr. Blaizer said, a smile beginning to light the face of the woman standing on his front step. Daniel told me that you might need my expertise on the... She stopped talking, just like everybody stopped talking just short of referring to Carter's recent death. She cleared her throat, then went on, Well... I brought pictures, she said, and indicated the medical file she was holding. Care to take a look?

Jack was just flummoxed enough by what he had recently forced himself to draw that his speech was disjointed. Uh... Sure... Uh... He gestured for them to enter, and he closed the door behind them, waving them both to the den.

Daniel chastised as they walked. Jack, don't look so surprised by this visit, he suggested. Some strange kind of alternate reality bug might fly into your mouth next. If you choke to death now, Sam might...

But Daniel was cut off by Sam's voice floating out from the den, Hey Jack, this is great, but I wonder if you can tell me..?

Dr. Blaizer had reached the bottom step into the living room/den/living space by then and her reaction had almost become typical to both men. She took one look at Sam, gasped, and with eyes that bugged out of a suddenly ashen face, dropped the file she was holding to the floor. She would have followed the splatting sound it made with a less pleasant noise of her own by landing next to it if Jack and Daniel hadn't automatically reached for her elbows to support her.

Easy, Doc! Jack instantly soothed. She's not real! Then he shook his head and corrected himself. I mean, yeah, she's real, but from another reality! No, you're not hallucinating, you're... Then he turned to Daniel with a scowl. Didn't you say anything to warn the Doc? he asked in a bark that was all too familiar to his team members from their mission days.

Well, I..! Daniel began, but was interrupted by Sam, who had risen from her perch on the arm of the... whatever... to hold out her hand for Dr. Blaizer to shake. Hi, she said, smiling. You must be Dr. Blaizer. Jack and Daniel have mentioned you.

That's funny, the doctor said, sounding very vague and distracted while looking closely at her. They never mentioned you. Then she narrowed her eyes even more and regarded Sam with a disbelieving stare. Just who are you?

Sam gave a tiny, nervous laugh through her nose. She glanced at the men standing nearby. Jack handed her a beer when he was certain that the doctor wasn't going to 'pull a Daniel' and faint in his living room. Here's that beer you asked for.

Sam took it when the doctor didn't immediately shake the hand she still held out. Thanks, she mumbled, but kept her eyes glued to Dr. Blaizer. She took a drink, realizing that she might very soon need something a whole lot stronger to drink than beer.

Dr. Blaizer gazed at Sam out of eyes that were still big as dinner plates. This is incredible, she breathed. You look just like her!

Sam's nervous smile deepened. I don't know if I should be flattered or...

Jack cut her off. He waved a hand at the notebook that Sam had dropped onto the morning table when she stood. I hope that drawing's helpful. I don't exactly know what you were looking for.

His comment seemed to snap Sam out of the stupor that she had fallen into. Oh! She reached for the notebook and its drawing. I wanted to say that this is great. Exactly what I was looking for.

That's no surprise, Daniel said under his breath.

Sam sent him a sharp glance, wondering what he meant by his comment. Could he have meant what she thought he meant? Instead of asking him, scared of what he would tell her, she turned to Jack. I thought... She sighed and wrinkled her forehead in puzzlement. This morning you said that you couldn't do something like this yet.

Jack shrugged. I thought about it all day, and around lunchtime, I decided that I was as ready as I was ever going to be, and that I might as well give the darn thing a try. He shrugged again in a disarming movement of his shoulders. I thought I'd try, anyway.

This is perfect! Sam enthused. You did great.

Curious now, Daniel leaned closer to the notebook in Sam's hands and looked at the drawing that Sam and Jack were talking about. Hey, he exclaimed after a silent moment of study. This is a drawing of the day that...

Yeah, Jack said before Daniel could finish. It is.

Dr. Blaizer looked intrigued by what they were discussing. She forgot her natural awe of seeing Sam for the first time, and instead looked at the notebook. What is it? She drew closer to them for a look of her own at the drawing.

It's a drawing of the accident, Daniel flatly announced.

Dr. Blaizer gently pulled the notebook out of Sam's hand for a closer look. I read the report of what happened that day, but the Colonel was gone before I could ask him what really happened. She studied the illustration in much the same way Daniel had. This is very interesting, she noted after a few minutes, still studying the drawing.

What is? Jack asked.

The doctor retrieved the file she had dropped to the floor and rifled through it for a moment. This is, she announced, and pulled a few photos from the file.

Photos, Sam thought. Obviously photos in this reality looked just like the ones she was used to seeing in her own reality, she thought, remembering the 'photo' of Jack's parachute training that she had seen at the Academy.

Dr. Blaizer showed all of them the pictures she held in her hands, but Jack blanched three shades whiter the second he saw them.

Sam instinctively reached a supporting hand out to Jack's arm. Jack!

He quickly squeezed his eyes shut. I'm all right, he assured. He put a hand to his forehead, and Sam heard his hard swallow that accompanied the movement. I just need a minute. I won't crack up on you, I promise.

But Sam was already searching the room with her gaze, and ended up staring at Jack's book shelf in the corner. Daniel, can you pass me that book on the bottom shelf? she asked, pointing at the one she wanted.

He pulled out a thin, small book. This one?

No, the really big one on its side.

Daniel was then able to yank out the tome that Sam said she needed, and passed it to her without further comment. Sam then gently lifted the pictures from Dr. Blaizer and inserted them backwards into the book, each picture caught by a different page. Then she flipped the entire book over, adjusting the top photo so that the shot was easily seen, but the head of the victim was obscured by the closed book.

Clever, Daniel remarked in a quiet voice.

Sam smiled her thanks, then let the doctor point out what she had been speaking of.

Here, Dr. Blaizer said, and drew a circle over the wound that showed and they could all look at now with her finger. This is what I was talking about.

Sam squinted at the picture of the wound, then her brows shot up. That's way too small a wound to be from a staff weapon.

That's what I was thinking, Blaizer said. And the original shot would have to be at a close range to propel the... her... back like it did. She hefted the notebook drawing again, studying it. If this drawing's accurate, Jack was standing at the wrong angle to make her move the way she did after she was shot. I hadn't realized she moved so far, or I would have said something about this sooner.

And the angle of that wound is all wrong for Jack to have shot her, too, Sam next noted in a thoughtful voice. She glanced at the drawing, then looked at the picture before her, then back at the drawing. If Jack was standing here, even if his staff weapon had moved when it fired...

Daniel went on, There should be a hole in whatever he hit about... here then. He pointed to a spot on Jack's drawing that was farther away from where Carter had landed after the shooting. I didn't notice a hole like that because we were leaning down to see to Sam, and the natives surrounded us almost right away so that we couldn't see anything at all except feet. He glanced up at his three companions. There's no way we could have seen something like a hole in the town's wall. Not in all that chaos.

We weren't looking for it, anyway, Jack said, recovered now from his earlier 'illness.'

You okay? Sam inquired of him, glad to see that his face was a lot less ashen now.

Jack nodded. I'm fine, he stated. When Sam still shot him a disbelieving stare, protested, Really.

Okay. Sam sounded like she still didn't quite believe him, but moved on to the next picture without making a comment. This was a close-up shot of the wound, which only confirmed her original suppositions. Yeah, that's way too near the left side of her chest than it should be if Jack really had shot her. And according to where he had been standing, he would have hit her on her right side or shoulder, not her left. The next picture was obviously of the victim not long after the team had reached the SGO. There was blood all over Carter's torn clothing that she had been wearing, and it was even in the tiny amount of blonde hair that had made it into the photo. Sam jerked the book around so that it was facing down again. Okaaaay! she exclaimed, trying to cover her revulsion at seeing the photo by using a cheerful tone. Even I don't want to look at that! She dropped the book and pictures to the table below. Well, now that we've decided from the photos that there's no possible way that Jack could have been responsible for this... atrocity... What do we intend to do about it?

Daniel shrugged this time. It's obvious, isn't it? he asked.

Jack rolled his eyes. So I don't have to think about what we just saw, maybe Daniel can clue us in to what he's thinking instead.

Daniel gave a start. Oh... It's plain... We need to go back to Abydos, obviously.

Oh, obviously, Jack sarcastically echoed.

Sam noted Jack's acerbic tone, and silently commented to herself that it was nice that she could count on some things not changing, such as Jack's famous sarcasm. Jack's sarcasm hadn't been revealed before, and it was ironically good to hear it now.

Daniel went on. We need to go back to the planet to recreate the incident.

But how do we do that? Blaizer asked, pulling Sam's attention away from Jack, and Daniel's attention away from them all.

Misunderstanding her question, Daniel started to explain, Well, I can stand with Sam while we...

Dr Blaizer grinned. No, I mean how are we going to get to Abydos? Daniel stared blankly at her. The doctor continued, And am I going to go with you? She added her file to the pile on the morning table. I don't feel quite right sending you smack dab into a murder site without medical aid coming along for the ride.

She's right, Daniel said. This isn't something we can just do without careful planning. We have to take some precautions.

Okay, Jack said as he dropped to a seat on the couch... chair thing... First thing's first: How do we get through the 'Gate when General West controls the thing? When they all stared at him as if they hadn't considered this problem, protested, Well? Don't tell me you hadn't thought of that. He went on to point out, We know that West had to have been in on this from the start... he practically held the door to the SGO open for me on my way out. Jack looked at his companions. Or at least West had to have known about all of it beforehand even if he wasn't in on it.

True, Daniel slowly conceded. Then he thoughtfully asked, Is there any other way we can get to Abydos?

Ship, Sam instantly blurted. Abydos is the planet that's closest to 'Earth,' and surely the Free Jaffa or the Tok'ra have...

The who? Dr. Blaizer interrupted to ask.

Sam gazed at them while they all stared at her as if she'd gone crazy. The Tok'ra, she said again. You know, the race we met after Jolinar...

Jack looked confused enough for three people now. Whoinar?

Sam dumbly gazed at them again while they looked inquiringly at her. Then it dawned on her. You mean your Sam Carter was never taken over by a Goa'uld who turned out to be one of the good guys?

Jack snorted. There's no such thing as a good Goa'uld! he protested.

Sam thought, Oh no, and gave a weak sort of smile.

Blaizer inquired, Do you mean that you once actually were one of those..? Then she gaped. And you survived? How..?

They were Tok'ra, Sam assured again, as if claiming that Jolinar had belonged to the Tok'ra explained everything. That's how we found out about their race in the first place.

And just who are the..? Jack couldn't be bothered to recall the correct name. These guys? he decided on calling them at last.

Another thing that's the same, Jack... the Colonel... could never remember the names of things, Sam noted to herself, then said, The Tok'ra. They're one of our allies. They've been fighting the Goa'uld for thousands of years.

Jack snorted again. And they haven't beaten them yet?

The look Sam sent him then was less than a positive one. They do their best with what they've been doing from the beginning... using infiltration. We've been saved by the Tok'ra on several occasions.

Suddenly Daniel blurted, Of course! 'Of Ra'... Resistance... Tok'ra.

That's what you said in my world, too, Sam noted. Sort of.

Wherever they seem to come from, Jack then commented, I'm not sure I want to trust any of those snakes.

Sam quickly retorted, Hey, my father's one of those snakes!

Jack gazed at her with raised brows. I was under the impression that your father died of cancer several years ago.

He did? Well, if they didn't know the Tok'ra... Sam momentarily experienced sudden pain at finding out her father was deceased in this reality, but the doctor immediately distracted her.

You... Our Sam Carter, Blaizer corrected herself. Our Carter was quite depressed for awhile after he died.

Sam imagined that Carter had been. She gently rolled her eyes in resignation at the idea that these people had never heard of the Tok'ra. It was something that she took so for granted that she hadn't even thought about it for a long time. Oh boy, she whispered wondering how the Tok'ra of this reality could be found without Jolinar's memories of where they might be hiding, or how the Humans and the Tok'ra could set up much of alliance without Jacob to run interference between the two groups. Oh boy, she said again, just for good measure.

So what you're saying is that there are a whole slew of allies for the taking out there. Jack spoke slowly now, as if he wasn't quite certain of what he wanted to assume that she was implying.

Sam nodded. Basically.

Dr. Blaizer asked next, And this other group you mentioned... Who are they?

Sam tried to recall what she had said. Oh, the Free Jaffa. Then she sort of shrugged. Well, you ought to know who Jaffa are.

Of course we do, Jack commented. Are you telling us that there's a group of free Jaffa, as in not-serving-the-Goa'uld Jaffa, not-always-trying-to-kill-us Jaffa? He swung his arms in the air for emphasis. The bad goons with body armor? Some of them are on our side?

Sam grimaced. It's not always easy to tell, she cautioned. And without Teal'c to be a go between, I don't know how reliable any friendship would be that you strike up with them.

The doctor wrinkled her forehead. Who were you just talking about?

That's right... they hadn't met Teal'c. Again Sam could only say, Oh boy. She was trying to imagine how she could describe her meeting with Teal'c in a way they could all understand, but Jack saved her when he brought them back on topic.

I hate to break up this little trip down memory lane thing, but we have a tiny problem about how to get to Abydos. I remind you that we haven't solved that one yet.

But what can we do? Daniel asked. We've thought about taking a ship, if we had one, which we don't, and I want to mention there's always the possibility of hijacking the Stargate for a few hours...

Jack immediately chimed in with a question. But how do we go through the 'Gate without alerting the Powers That Be that we're using the Stargate? They would know that someone was using it just from us dialing. The computer system automatically records each dialing sequence.

True, Daniel dispiritedly agreed.

They stared at each other, each one of them thinking furiously. The doctor piped up with an opinion. The hijacking of the 'Gate is a good idea, but the Colonel's right... they would know that someone was using the 'Gate even if I sedated everyone in the Control Room.

Sam was thinking that the words that they used for the Control Room were at least the same in the two realities, and she was busy wondering what else was the same when she abruptly had a germ of a new idea. What about if we use the second 'Gate? she asked quietly. No one had mentioned a second 'Gate so far, and it wasn't until that moment that she began questioning if they even knew about it.

There's a second 'Gate? Daniel asked in amazement, quickly answering Sam's mental question without knowing that he had.

Sam nodded again in response to his incredulous inquiry.

You're kidding, Daniel flatly stated. Where is it? he asked. Is it on this planet? But where would a second 'Gate be so that it's still a secret even after for all these years? He was really intrigued now. I mean...

Jack cut off Daniel's rambling. Are you sure about a second 'Gate? he asked Sam in a hushed voice full of expectation.

Sam visualized in her mind where she and her Colonel O'Neill had found the second 'Gate and how she would find it again. Colonel O'Neill and I sort of happened on it by accident on one mission...

By accident? repeated the doctor in confusion.

Sam grimaced once more. Yeah, we... uh... almost froze to death that time, she told them.

'Froze to death?' echoed Jack with brows raised in question. Care to explain?

So Sam filled them in. If you have a second 'Gate, and if it's in the same place as we found ours, it'll be in Antarctica, about fifty miles from McMurdo.

Ah, Jack grunted in understanding. That place would be a bit chilly.

How do we prove a second 'Gate really exists or not, though? Dr. Blaizer asked. I don't have the right kind of skills for a project like that to find it by computer.

Neither do I, Daniel said next. Jack, do you? he asked, then added, Assuming that you still had computer access, that is.

Jack cradled a small round pillow in his hands. And that could be a problem even if I knew how to find this second 'Gate, which I don't think I do.

I do, Sam then quietly said in the calm that followed.

All eyes turned towards her. But you're dead, Dr. Blaizer blurted. You can't just walk around the SGO. You'll be apprehended for sure.

Is there another way into the SG... SGO? Sam asked. A secret, back way?

You mean that there's a back door where you come from? Daniel was asking.

Jack stopped his questioning with a sharp look of his own in Sam's direction. Do you already know about that back door, or are you just asking based on experience in your own reality?

Sam felt like she had suddenly become a bug in a microscope, a project of intense study. Uh... There's a way out of the SGC... or into the SGC... that we kept as a last resort in case we were ever under attack. She continued to gaze at them; why was Jack so unnerved by her knowledge? We all knew about it, she persuasively added. Don't you all know the same thing?

Slowly Jack shook his head. No, only the General knows about it, and me, and Feretti, and Makepeace.

It was Sam's turn to do a double take. Makepeace? she asked in incredulity. As in Colonel Makepeace, the traitor?

Jack scowled. Makepeace has had the best interests of the SGO at heart for years, he argued. He heads SG-3.

Sam had to concede to his argument. Things might be different here, she admitted. So much is.

I take it your Colonel Makepeace turned out to be on the shady side? Daniel asked her.

He was found guilty of treason several years ago for helping a rogue element of the NID. Sam turned to Jack. It was Colonel O'Neill who caught him.

Jack grinned. Good ole' Jack once again saves the day, he quipped.

Sam made a face at the memories that particular mission dredged up. It wasn't all so great, she said. It was an undercover op, and Jack had been ordered to keep the rest of his team out of the loop, so we thought...

Jack cut in to succinctly announce, You thought he had gone dark side.

Sam further explained, He said that he hated that entire mission. She was pensive as she remembered. But it was a long time before the rest of us on SG-1 completely trusted him again. Even me.

Crapola, Jack muttered. I bet he did hate that, he went on to mumble in appreciation. I would have hated that.

They were silent then, until minutes later the doctor brought them back on topic again. Anyway... the second 'Gate.

Daniel chimed in with his question of Sam, You know of a way to get into the SGO in order to search for a second 'Gate?

Yeah. Sam nodded, glad that they were talking about something else again. She shot the doctor a grateful look even as she answered Daniel. I can get in, then hide in the ceiling air vents when I'm not using the computer. But I'll need your access code, Daniel, in order to get into the computer system so that I can use it to pinpoint the exact location of a second 'Gate.

But Jack was still stuck on the point of the air vents. You use the ventilation system? He suddenly burst out laughing, making Sam smile. Clever!

You... Colonel O'Neill... thought of it, Sam excused. That's how I got here in one piece after I shot Kinsey...

You shot Kinsey? Daniel squeaked.

Oh boy, Sam thought to herself. Maybe she shouldn't have brought up that whole shooting thing.

Rather than explain her actions again for quite possibly the millionth time, Sam rerouted everyone's attention once more. Doesn't matter what I did, she told them. We need to concentrate on finding that second 'Gate. If I can't locate it, then we'll have to think of a way to use the main Stargate.

Daniel considered. Well, the best way to go about using the computers for an operation like that is to use the computers in the Control Room. And the best time to be in the Control Room would be to get in there when the fewest people are around to be in the Control Room. He glanced up. That would be during the night shift.

How many people are we talking about having to deal with? Sam asked.

Daniel answered, Two technicians, one to watch the 'Gate, and one to watch the computers.

Jack had to ask, What are they making sure the 'Gate doesn't do?

But it was Sam who replied, They make sure that we can't do what we're gonna do anyway.

Jack turned to face her. And that is..?

Sam gave him a positively evil grin. We're going to steal information, of course.

Jack threw up his hands in an 'I give up' gesture. 'Of course,' he echoed her.

Part V

Tonight then? Daniel questioned as the group of five began to slowly split up for the day. Daniel and Dr. Blaizer were aiming for the door, and Sam bent to retrieve the now empty beer bottles belonging to her and Jack prior to returning them to the kitchen. Jack moved to help her, but she shook her head telling him, I've got them.

Jack shrugged, then turned to catch Daniel before he left. Hey, Danny, I've got a few questions for ya before you leave.

Daniel stopped. Yeah Jack? he asked, and made way for Sam to pass him on the steps leading into the kitchen.

Need any help? Dr. Blaizer asked Sam at the front door, where she was waiting for Daniel.

Sam shook her head again and told her the same thing she had just said to Jack. No, thanks, I've got them. But... She paused by the door, thinking.

Is there something I can help you with? the doctor formally inquired. Her tone was cool enough that it was as if she had never met Sam before that afternoon rather than was her best girlfriend, and had been for years.

But actually, Dr. Blaizer hadn't met Sam before. Sure, she had known Sam's counterpart... Sam didn't even know what rank the woman had been when she'd been... when she'd died.

So Sam asked. Actually, I'm curious about a few things.

Yes?

Sam continued on to the kitchen and Dr. Blaizer followed as Sam asked, What rank was the Sam Carter who was killed on Abydos?

Captain, Blaizer immediately responded.

That surprised Sam. Really? she blurted. Another difference, she muttered at Blaizer's nod.

Why? Blaizer asked as she followed Sam to the kitchen. Are you something else?

I'm a Major, Sam replied. That's the rank above 'Captain' where I come from.

It was Blaizer's turn to incredulously ask, Really? At Sam's nod of confirmation, she said, We have 'Captain,' then 'Corporal,' then 'Major.

Then 'First Colonel?' Sam inquired.

Yeah, Blaizer replied. How did you know?

Sam grinned. When I was at the Academy the day that I came to this reality, I learned that Jack is a 'Second Colonel,' she explained.

And you came right here? Blaizer asked. To this house? she clarified. At Sam's nod, she added, From your own reality to here? Sam nodded again, unsure of where the doctor was headed with this line of questioning.

But Blaizer only sighed with a slightly sappy look on her face that Sam recognized as enjoyment of a romantic interlude while she was drunk as a skunk on girls night in. That's so romantic, Blaizer said with another sigh.

Sam gave a snort through her nose, and said, Not really.

The snort caught Blaizer's attention. Then you and he aren't..?

Sam's eyes narrowed in bafflement. What? she asked. Do you mean here? Do you mean them? Or me and my own Jack O'Neill? Or me and this Jack O'Neill?

Yes, Blaizer cryptically replied. All of them? Were you and your..?

Sam cut her off. No. Then she amended her story. Unless you mean were we in..? She didn't say what state it was she thought they'd been in, but it was fairly obvious what she was referring to according to the deep crimson blush shading her cheeks.

Blaizer's brows rose to her dark hairline. So you were?

Sam didn't answer, but asked, And Carter and Jack..?

Blaizer sighed again in a sad woosh of air. They were, but they chose to never do anything about it. She leaned against the counter and crossed her arms, clearly remembering now. Of course, the 'Rule' might have had something to do with that.

Sam's brows screwed closer in confusion. The 'Rule?'

Blaizer nodded. I figured that the Colonel would have told you about that already.

Sam shrugged. Well, he did say something about them not... because... Her eyes narrowed even further. Something about his ex-wife... who was named Debbie, not Sara, like in my reality, and he met his Carter before their divorce was finalized... Or something like that.

Blaizer sighed once more. Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter... Their situation was the most tragic thing I've ever seen.

Sam didn't get it. Why? Did something happen, or..?

I never met the ex-wife, Blaizer was saying before Sam could finish. So I don't know for certain. I only know what Sam... Captain Carter... told me.

And that was..?

That Debbie didn't like her... actually, that Carter and Debbie didn't like each other at all, Blaizer said then. Carter and Debbie O'Neill, I mean.

Why? Sam inquired, wondering who wouldn't have instantly liked the Carter that she had recently been learning so much about. The way Jack and Daniel talk about Carter, she was almost a saint. Who wouldn't like her? Did she do something, or..?

Again Blaizer cut Sam off to tell her, Captain Carter and the Colonel fell wildly in love with each other, and Debbie O'Neill couldn't stand it. That's why.

Oh, Sam dully replied.

But Blaizer wasn't finished. From the way I heard it, Debbie took one look at them the first time she saw them together, and she knew, although Daniel, who was there at the time, too, said that Carter and Colonel O'Neill hadn't done anything special besides him giving her an order, and she saying, 'Yes Sir.'

Sam frowned. I admit that doesn't sound too bad. So what was Debbie's problem?

Blaizer considered. Oh... I think that she didn't like the idea that the man she'd been married to for so long was finding more to hang on to away from the marriage than when he had been fully married to her, if you know what I mean.

But Jack and Debbie were married, Sam pointed out, as if she needed to. He must have at least liked her to begin with if he married her.

You'd think so, Blaizer noted. Finally, she admitted, Look, I wasn't there for any of it, but it's a bit odd if you ask me that if they were so all fired happy together, then why did he take so many assignments and postings that were so far away? Hr eyebrows rose interrogatively.

Sam admitted, I'd be lying if I told you that the same thing hadn't crossed my mind.

Blaizer went on, If I had a guy who's as dishy as the Colonel is...

Sam gasped in surprise and blurted, Janet! Then she colored. Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't presume... The first name, she further tried to explain. Then she sighed in defeat. It's just that my Jan and I were really good friends, and you look and act just like her, and...

I don't mind at all, Janet reported. In fact, I would rather that you did call me 'Janet.' That's what... Captain Carter... always called me, and it's weird having someone who looks just like her calling me 'Dr.'

Sam giggled. I bet it is weird.

Janet's brows rose again, and Sam was beginning to wonder if she knew any other gestures. So... You... and Jack..? Janet asked, leaving more out as a hint as to what she meant.

Sam knew what she meant even with all the words left out. Well, no, nothing's happened... and nothing happened in my reality either. But just because nothing happened there doesn't mean nothing will happen here, she added at the last moment.

Janet slowly smiled. Really? Is this going to make a good story to tell back in the Hospital Room?

Sam's incredulous grin again burst forth. Janet! she gasped. You know that you can't say anything about me being here! After all, your Carter is dead!

Janet grimaced. Believe me, I know, and I know that if I 'out you,' it will end up causing all sorts of suspicious questions about Jack...

Who already has plenty of suspicion aimed at him as it is, Sam remarked a bit firmly. He's already been forced to retire. What next?

Janet gave another tragic sigh. And...

Sam waited for Janet to continue, but Janet didn't, so Sam carefully prodded, And what?

Okay, Janet admitted at last. I'm only supposing here, but... She cut herself off, and peered at Sam, as if gauging her ability to keep a secret. Then she said in a quieter voice, This has been the most awful thing to watch. The idea that the Colonel could have ever been negligent where Samantha Carter was concerned... It's totally ludicrous.

Sam's forehead wrinkled. What do you mean?

Janet gave a gust of air that was meant to convey her irritation with the matter. There was never two people more in love, and the General knew it, she declared, then added, Even if they never did anything about their feelings. Janet gazed meaningfully at Sam, as if to prove as undeniable fact what she was next going to say. The fact that the General's been screaming 'negligence' about Jack from the beginning of this situation is a clue that something else entirely is going on here.

Sam protested, But if they... they had such feelings for each other, then how come they never..?

Janet interrupted. The 'Rule.' I told you that before.

'The Rule,' Sam repeated, puzzled. I still don't know what that means.

Janet snorted. Then count yourself lucky, she said. The 'Rule' is what any branch of the military uses to keep its soldiers in line and able to serve together without having to worry about any entanglements between any of the soldiers. I mean, entanglements of the romantic sort.

Sam was still confused. Meaning..?

Meaning that if Sam... Captain Carter... and Jack... Colonel O'Neill... had ever showed even the slightest interest in each other, they would have been branded as unfit for duty, then expelled and/or executed.

Sam's eyes widened. Executed! That was a bit much to believe, Sam instantly decided. However, it was clear from Janet's grim expression that she believed it, but... Sam stared at Janet, judging, assessing. At last she gave a rather sick, disbelieving smile. You're joking, she declared.

Janet shrugged a shoulder. I wish I were. But what do you expect from a country under martial law? she rhetorically asked.

Martial law?

Sam's eyes widened some more. So that was it! Martial law would certainly explain why those 'learners' that she'd seen at the Force Academy had been so subdued even in their roughhousing play the day she had transported to this reality, she mused. Then she took her musings one step further, So if Jack...

Janet shook her head, making her hair toss across her back. Not one word, she said. I've never seen two people so ecstatic just to be in each other's company, and so despondent about it at the same time.

General West wouldn't really have had them..? Sam studied Janet's knowing expression. Would he?

Janet only said, He did to other couples at the SGO. Though I admit that those couples were gone before we ever saw any executions. But still, the threat was there. And Captain Carter and Colonel O'Neill would never have done anything to make West believe that...

Well, obviously someone believes something, Sam blurted out. Or we all wouldn't be here, planning to infiltrate a top secret military installation tonight.

Janet conceded that she had a point. Though I don't think that the romance angle had anything to do with this retirement of Jack's, she at last told Sam. There's more going on here than we know about.

Sam very quietly said, I overheard Daniel and Jack talking yesterday, and they said something about Jack being set up, forced to retire. Do you think that could have happened?

Janet at last admitted, I think that this retirement of Jack's came around awfully suddenly, and it was way too close to Carter's death not to have something to do with it, and that he would never be so sloppy as to be... 'Negligent' my butt, if you ask me. She nodded knowingly again. Someone wanted him gone, period.

Sam's forehead furrowed even deeper. But why?

Janet shrugged again. You got me. Politics, I'm guessing.

But what connection can politics have with General West? Sam inquired almost to herself.

Janet responded anyway. I don't know, but there's a connection or I'm not the co-CMO of the base.

But that didn't sound right. You're co-CMO? Sam incredulously asked. Is that..?

She was interrupted this time by Daniel and Jack sauntering into the kitchen. You girls up to no good, or what? Jack lazily inquired as he leaned on the counter next to Janet.

Girl talk, Janet responded. You know, gossip and everything.

Are you already corrupting her? Jack playfully demanded to know of Janet.

Sam answered before Janet had the chance to. I'm already corrupt, as you know, and it had nothing to do with Janet.

Daniel teasingly replied, Oh, so that was the problem all along then?

Jack cackled a laugh. He's got ya there! he said.

Sam had to admit that Daniel had made him look innocent while she seemed to be as guilty as anything. Be careful, she warned Daniel then in an equally teasing tone. While I'm stuck hiding in the ceiling vents tonight, I might just rewire the vent controls from 'ventilate' to 'blow dust all over Dr. Jackson's office!'

Jack laughed again. Never mess with a scientist, I always say... it can be dangerous!

Daniel laughed now too. I feel a return to some of SG-2's practical jokes. To Sam, he said, You might find the wheels of your motorcycle welded tight the next time you go to ride it, he warned as well.

You play mean! Sam retorted back, all the while thinking, It's so cool that I own a motorcycle in this reality, too!

But Daniel didn't retort back. Instead he cajoled, Come on Janet... We better go before they send out search parties for us.

Janet moved forward, following Daniel and Jack out of the kitchen. Search parties would be a bad thing, she noted with some asperity.

But Sam held her back with a hand placed on her arm. One last thing, she whispered.

Janet seemed to have caught her need for secrecy. Yes? she asked in a low voice that was covered up by the noise the guys were making by saying goodbye.

Janet... Sam sighed, not quite knowing what to say. I need your fast opinion... In my reality, I had a thing for the Colonel, and he had a thing for me, and now... Me and your Jack... How did she phrase it?!?

Janet saved her from having to phrase it at all. You're worried about emotion transference?

Sam wilted in grateful relief. Yes! she blurted. I want to do or say something, but I'm not sure... I don't want to mess anything up! He's been through so much already!

You care about him? Janet quickly asked.

Yes! Sam emphatically said. Maybe too much too soon... That's what I'm worried about!

Janet suddenly grinned. Sam! she said, calling Sam by her first name for the first time that day. Captain Carter is dead... and boy am I gonna miss her!... And the Colonel is now retired. You waited until you or he will be out of the military in your reality too?

Sam nodded.

Then Janet's grin turned decidedly wicked. Well, the wait is over, my friend.

But is it? Sam asked in quiet desperation, a tone full of worry.

There's no transference in the looks I saw today, Janet told her.

Looks? But I didn't send any looks to Jack. Don't you think I would have known it if I had?

And the answer is that you didn't even know, Janet said in a sing song sort of voice. See you tonight, she said.

Third shift starts at 2400?

Janet nodded.

Sam continued, So I'll see you and Daniel at 2300, right before shift changes, when everyone's tired and more apt to miss things?

Things like soldiers they've never seen before? Janet asked, smiling wickedly again. She nodded a second time, then was gone, giving Sam a lot to think about.

* * *

The infiltration of the base that night was far easier than they all thought it would be. Dr. Blaizer persuaded one of the technicians on Control Room duty to assist her in the Hospital Room for a moment, lifting something heavy, and that left just one person for Daniel and Sam to deal with so they could have the room to themselves. But without Sam's Zat gun (she had to tell them all about Zats anyway), they could never have done it so easily. Daniel offered coffee to the one remaining technician and the man walked to the rear of the room to collect his drink, and when his back was turned away from his computer for a second, Sam Zatted him as Daniel reached out to catch the falling man.

Together they propped the man in a part of the room that could not be seen from the corridor below or from the Control Room security camera. Then, leaving Daniel to watch over the poor soldier, Sam adjusted the cap covering the wig of brown hair on her head to hide her face, and keeping her head down, crawled over to the computer terminals.

She crouched on her hands and knees so that no one walking through the 'Gate Room below would be able to see her through the security window. As the technician had remained logged into his computer while he went to retrieve his drink from Daniel a second before Sam had Zatted him, she didn't even need Daniel's security account number to get into the computer system. She simply moved the thing attached to the side of the computer that she guessed was a mouse, hit what she thought was the 'Enter' key several times, and it was easy from there on in.

Sam called up the last seven times the 'Gate had been dialed, then compared that with any seismic activity in the Antarctic region, and all seven times came up positive in exactly the same position near the station called McMurdo. At least that's the same, too, Sam thought as she printed the page out detailing all seven points of vibration, then returned the computer screen to where it had been displaying the activity in the 'Gate Room before grabbing the paper off the printer. She folded it, stuffed it in her front BDU trouser pocket, then crawled back over to rendezvous with Daniel. The entire thing only took about fifteen minutes.

Getting out of the SGO took a little longer than fifteen minutes. The barking of dogs alerted Daniel that he needed to quickly get Sam into the ceiling vents in the storage closet housing the secret escape door before the SFs and their dogs paid him an unscheduled visit. He had just managed to ferret Sam away, turn the light to the storage closet back on, and look like he had been consumed by trying to find some supplies when the SFs came in to question him.

It was five hours later that Sam was able to creep up to where she and Jack had earlier planned to meet again in the woods outside the base perimeter.

Jack was busy waiting for her behind a tree, uncharacteristically biting his fingernails down short instead of smoking in his case of tense nerves. Relief so strong that he couldn't hide the emotion bloomed all over his face at the sight of her.

Sam had expected some lessening of his anxiety about the way she was attempting this mission in an unfamiliar environment alone, but she hadn't fully anticipated the huge amount of relief to flash across his face at the sight of her return, safe and sound.

Sam didn't quite understand his high, and highly obvious, ease at the sight of her. She hoped that it meant that he cared about her personally, and wasn't confusing her with the newly-deceased Captain Carter, but she wasn't exactly expecting it, either. After all, her inner voice argued, he had known that it might take her awhile to get back to him... didn't he? They had talked about that very thing just that evening when she and he had been out buying supplies for both her mission inside the SGO and his and her cover story of a husband and wife camping in the woods.

Though the idea of playing at being married had made her uncomfortable at first, his argument that any authority figures looking for him as a possible suspect for breaking into the SGO (he was one of the few people who knew about the 'back door,' after all) would be searching for an unmarried Jack O'Neill, not a married camper and his wife.

Jack and Sam only hoped that any SF who happened to have known the true Captain Carter wouldn't stumble on them in the woods surrounding the SGO as they prepared for the mission, or prepared on its end when it was over. To help ending thaat mission along, Sam planned to lose the baseball cap she had worn into the SGO, as well as the brown wig, exchanging the brown-haired disguise for a longer, lighter look. It was a precaution that was probably unnecessary, but the short hair that Captain Carter had always worn was too easily recognizable, and it was also easy to disguise the short hair with a wig of long locks. Besides, Sam rather liked the way she would be able to play with the hair hanging over her shoulders for a change, as she hadn't had long hair since her mother died.

It was a small comfort, but was distracting enough as a topic of thought as she lay for several hours in the ceiling vents of the level twenty-eight storage room where the entrance to the 'back door' was concealed. If she didn't think about her hair, or other mundane things, she ran the risk of thinking too much about this reality's Jack, and she was already thinking about him too much as it was. Her conversation that afternoon with Janet Blaizer was an example of her high interest level in Jack right now! She needed distractions like hair instead of thoughts of Jack!

And speaking of Jack, he said nothing now as she approached their rendezvous site, only rose from his hiding spot behind a tree and did something else that was uncharacteristic of the emotionally reserved man that Sam knew as Jack O'Neill. Yet she had momentarily forgotten that this wasn't her Jack O'Neill. So considering what he had been through in the previous week, it was no surprise at all that he said no words, only threw his shivering arms around her and held her in as tight a hug as he had given to her the previous day just before Daniel had first appeared at his house.

But he didn't stop with just a friendly sort of hug. His gesture was ten times more affectionate, more heartstoppingly loving, than any mere friendly hug of relieved comfort would ever be. He wrapped his long arms around her and held her warm and tight, teased his hand through the short blonde hair she had just freed from its wig, clutched with just an edge of desperation in his movements that Sam wondered again if he was confusing her with his Captain Carter.

As for Sam, she didn't much care if he was confused or not. She relished this contact with this reality's Jack O'Neill as much if not more than she would have relished the same contact with her own Colonel O'Neill. She amended her thought to say that she would have relished such a gesture from her Colonel O'Neill, but she never would have gotten it. He hadn't even confessed his true feelings for her at the moment of his death, though his feelings had been in his eyes. At least Jack's Captain Carter had told him that she loved him in her last moment.

It seemed that the people of this slightly harder, less trusting, martial-lawed world was more likely to admit to emotion than those in her lighter, happier, easier-going reality was. The backwardness of this thought was rather surprising to her, but she wasn't going to turn it away when it smacked her in the face this way, either.

You're all right, you're all right, Jack whispered into the top of her head, holding tighter yet to her back and head.

You and I decided that it would take awhile for me to get back out of the SGO, Sam semi-argued back to him. It was inevitable that they find the technician in the Control Room that I Zatted before I could get out. As it was, I barely made it into the ceiling vent in the storage room in time. If I had gone to open the doorway to the exit ladder, I never would have made such a quiet escape. And you never told me that the guards have dogs! she mildly accused him as she pulled back to see his face without thinking of what she was doing.

But Jack said something so inane next that it took her by surprise a second time. Sam, you're shivering, he stated.

Spending five hours hiding in a cold air vent is enough to make anybody shiver! she retorted, noting that he had built a fake fire nearby, but not lit it, leaving it ready to help add to their cover as a regular couple on a camping trip.

Thinking of them as a 'couple' made Sam remember the way he had taken his entire set of wedding rings out of his home safe just that evening. Special Forces required Jack O'Neill to travel undercover at a rate that must have been high for Jack to own his own set of something he called 'feigned' rings. Sam likened the word that she didn't understand to the 'plastic' of her reality, and left it at that. When she had slipped the 'feigned' ring onto the fourth finger of her left hand, he had gently laughed, then pulled off the ring and slipped it onto the fourth finger of her right hand. And for some reason, Sam felt more married with that very good 'feigned' ring on her right hand than when she had worn it for a minute on her left. She smiled at him, and met his gaze with hers. She even felt as if it wasn't a prohibited moment between them.

Now however, she had more to think about than a plastic... feigned... ring on her hand. Jack, I need to get into my civvies before anyone happens to find us.

Jack gave her one final squeeze of his strong arms, and she squeezed him back, still not knowing if she cared whether or not he was confusing her with Carter, then reluctantly released him, though that release had been instigated by her in the first place.

Jack bent, retrieved that backpack he'd dropped to the ground when he saw her, opened it, and pulled out all the 'camping garbage' they had included over the false bottom she had wanted to use to hide her clothes. Now she stripped, not terribly shy about it either, and shrugged into jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and the blonde long-haired wig. Last, Jack tossed her one of his flannel shirts, and she sent him a grateful, You were really thinking tonight when we packed!

Jack tried to downplay his participation in the surprise by saying, I just figured that you might get cold if you had to lay around the SGO for very long, waiting to escape. I know that I would have been tired and cold in those circumstances.

While Sam had changed, Jack had folded her BDUs, put them away under the fake bottom replaced in the backpack, stored the camping supplies over the bottom, then lit the small fire. When he had a decently warming blaze going, he tossed ash on it to put it back out again. But now it's warm wood, Jack pointed out when she made to complain at the sudden loss of the warmth that was starting to feel nice. We can pretend that we're leaving because you're too cold to camp any longer, and would rather be home in a nice, warm bed than out on the cold ground.

Well, Sam said as she pulled on one of her combat boots and began lacing it up. I am cold, so it's not far from the truth. She shivered again, and was about to tell Jack about how she had found the second Stargate when suddenly two soldiers stepped out from the trees, a dog between them, both carrying powerful flashlights that they now shown over Sam and Jack and the camp that they appeared to have been ready to abandon.

Sam abruptly stopped what she was doing with an indrawn hiss, and only the fact that the dog was on a short leash kept it from mauling her, as she was sitting on the ground to put her boots back on.

But Jack was cool and as calm as a consumate actor. As if he were on a stage and in a performance, he asked, Is there something I can do for you folks?

We're from the Force base nearby, one of the soldiers answered.

Jack cut him off to say Fort Paterson?

Yes, the second soldier stated. And we're out looking in these woods for a young woman who broke into the base earlier this evening and stole some government equipment that we would like to get back. Have either of you seen anything suspicious tonight?

Before Jack could reply, the first soldier barked, Why is it that you're out here in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, anyway? And with one of you putting on combat boots, besides?

Sam giggled a laugh that sounded shy at the same time she sounded ready to help the two men. We're just out camping. And these old boots? she rhetorically asked. I got these... She turned to Jack. Where were we again that I bought these boots?

We were in Tanisford, Jack replied just as glibly as you please.

That's right! Sam agreeably said, At the thrift store in Tanisford. She scratched her chin. That store was going out of business, and I just couldn't pass up the bargain that was for these boots... and I'm so glad that I didn't. I'd keep your boots if you can, fellas, as they're so comfortable for things like hiking... You guys march around all the time, after all... Right? She gestured to their feet, where they were wearing their own sets of boots. I know mine are a lot older model than yours must be, but you can't beat old Army stuff...

Force stuff, one of the soldiers corrected her.

Sam continued as if she hadn't been interrupted. I mean, old Force stuff for comfort. I love these boots and have had 'em for years. Which was sort of true. She'd had these boots for three years when she had come back from a planet where liquid mud that she had stepped into had hardened into a substance as heavy and solid as concrete, and she'd had to get new boots. But the soldier fellas didn't need to know that.

How come you're fire's out and you're looking like you're getting ready to leave if you're camping? the suspicious soldier inquired.

Again before either Sam or Jack could explain, the second soldier said, Geez, Budkins, you're sure a suspicious sort. It's obvious these people aren't the one we're lookin' for. For one thing, that Colonel fella's not married, and these two are wearing rings and all.

We don't mind saying, Jack quickly stated. Karen here, and he pointed at Sam, She said she's cold enough to freeze a Popsicle, and that I better get her home if I wanted to live another day. He grinned charmingly at the two soldiers while the dog the men held still tugged manically at its leash. I figure I better do what she wants rather than fight the good fight and lose. My life will be a whole lot more pleasant this way. He turned his grin into a look of interest. I just put out my fire, but it's still warm... You can check it if you like.

The first soldier, Budkins, felt over the fire with his naked hand. Yep, just like he said... still warm.

The second man stared at Jack. You sure you put it all the way out? he asked then.

Jack smiled disarmingly. I don't want to start a forest fire... so yeah, I put ash on it pretty darn good. He threw his hand out towards the fire that was now covered in ash. I hear that overkill is a bad thing, but I say that you can't be too careful when you're talking forest fires.

Smart guy, the second soldier then approved. He stepped back, gesturing to his companion to follow him. Well, you two see anything suspicious, you call the guards at Fort Paterson, and ask for Captain Briggard. He'll listen to your story for sure.

No problem, Jack said then as Sam hurried to finish putting her boots back on her feet. But it's been quiet out here so far, so I don't know what help we'll be.

That's all right, second soldier fella said. Have a good rest of the night, and I sure hope you and your boots get warm again, ma'am. With that, they were gone.

Sam breathed a sigh of relief. She willed her heart to stop pounding a frantic beat against her chest.

Jack reached down to give her a hand up. Let's go, Karen. You heard the men... We have to get you warm.

Sam giggled at being called 'Karen.' Yes... She wondered what she was supposed to call him besides 'Jack,' but didn't ask, as asking might blow their cover, even though no one appeared to be near enough to hear them. But one never knew when the trees had ears.

They made it back to where Jack had earlier parked ... hovered... the truck, and they climbed into the vehicle without saying a word. The less they said, the better. There was less of a chance for one of them to inadvertently reveal their cover story if they remained mute.

The next thing Sam knew, they were pulled into Jack's yard, where he again set his vehicle to hovering, then led the way into his house.

Once in, Sam removed the wig of long blonde hair, and wearily started to pad to her room. Jack followed her beginning movements, so close that she almost tripped on him. Jack, you...

Shhh, he cautioned, then motioned that she go on to his 'guest' room... her room.

Bewildered, Sam led the way to her bed, and when she sat, Jack simply bent to remove her boots, then pulled off his tennis shoes before throwing back the covers of the bed, whereupon she climbed under the covers he held wide for her, and then he climbed in after her, fully dressed though he was.

When Sam was settled beside Jack on her side, he slipped up close to her and settled his arm around her and pulled her close to his body, which was radiating an amazing amount of heat. Sam understood then what he was doing for her, and pushed back into him closer yet. You're like my own little space heater, she remarked.

Whatever that is, Jack whispered into her ear. Now go to sleep.

Don't you even want to know if I found a second 'Gate? Sam inquired.

Jack tilted his head up a bit. Did you? he asked in curiosity.

Sam nodded as much as she could with the duvet tucked so firmly under her chin. Yeah. It's in Antarctica, just where I thought it would be.

Without missing a beat, Jack replied, We'll decide what we're going to do with this information in the morning. For now, sleep. He yawned and snuggled closer to Sam. Night Sam.

Sam grinned as his fingers closed around hers. It all felt so cozy... so harmless... She didn't care in which reality he thought she belonged. Night Jack.

* * *

Five hours later, after what had been a wonderful if too brief sleep, Sam found herself facing Jack instead of spooned around him, and Jack's hands curled enticingly around her still cold fingers. His warm breath washed over them with each word he spoke. Okay, he said, opening the dialogue they needed to have, but didn't call for rising from the cozy bed in order to have that conversation. We know that there's a second 'Gate now, right?

Sam reached into the pocket of the jeans she still wore and pulled out the piece of paper she had printed in the SGO Control Room the night before and had transferred to her jeans pocket after they'd met the two soldiers in the woods. It's right here. She unfolded the paper, then handed it to Jack so that he could take a look at their prize. The 'Gate's in Antarctica, just like I thought it would be.

Jack dislodged one of his hands from hers, and the other hand tightened around her freed fingers in reflex. He held up the paper and perused the information on it. After several minutes, he inquired, What am I lookin' at?

Sam grinned, and pointed at the paper. This dot is McMurdo... and she couldn't resist adding, Represented by the dot here that's labeled 'McMurdo'...

Smart-ass, Jack muttered under his breath. Louder, he went on, And these circles are..?

Sam replied, Those represent the seven times I cross-checked my information. I ran a program that checks for seismic activity anywhere in the world that coincides with every time the SGO dials the Stargate.

We have something that will do that? Jack then queried, a tad stunned.

Sam sort of swallowed, then shrugged a shoulder in a charming move that barely wiggled though the blankets covering them. Um... yeah... Your Captain Carter probably wrote it.

Oh, Jack said with a roll of his eyes. Probably.

Anyway, Sam said, going on, That program linked the times of the seismic activity and the 'Gate dials, and each link points to right there... Second 'Gate. Then she heaved a short sigh. Of course, to be absolutely certain it's there, we have to actually do a visual confirmation, but... I would say that there's a 95 or 96% chance that I'm right.

Good enough for me, Jack stated. Okay... So, next problem...

How do we get out there, Sam knowingly responded. Yeah... I've been thinking about that all night.

Jack couldn't help but query, Even when you were asleep? How do you do that?

Sam grimaced at him. Very funny. I was thinking that people don't just go to Antarctica any more than they do in my reality. Do you have any ideas on how to get us out there? she challenged.

Jack blew a breath thoughtfully out between pursed lips as he considered her question. We fly, he stated after a moment.

Sam rolled her eyes. And just where do we get a transport out there? she queried next.

Oh ye of little faith. Jack gazed at her. I work for the Force after all, he pointed out. We should be able to charter a set of wings, no problem.

Sam was quick to douse his enthusiasm. But you're retired, she said next. How is it that you plan to procure this 'set of wings?' She went on to ask, And how are you going to do this without General West finding out about it?

Looking stymied, Jack heaved a sigh. You're such a realist, he said, then sighed again and admitted, I guess you're right.

Do you know of any other... Any generals not associated with the SGO?

Jack considered. Well, there's the aids to the President... Then he killed his own suggestion before the idea could gain his usual momentum. But as they're connected to President Kinsey, who I think has some kind of link to my rather forced retirement, so knowing them won't do us much good.

Sam prodded, Is there a second in command, in case something happens to the main guy, the President?

There's the pro... vice... whatever that guy's called, Jack pensively stated. We can talk to his guys.

Sam tried not to get impatient with him when he neglected to name 'those guys.' And they are?

Oh, Jack said, thinking hard. What are they're names? he asked himself.

Sam sighed as Jack furiously thought. If only General Hammond was one of 'those guys.' We could ask him without a doubt.

Jack's forehead crinkled in confused familiarity. 'Hammond.' That sounds sort of familiar. Why, do you know this guy?

Sam snorted. I should know him, she retorted. He's my Godfather!

Jack's brows wrinkled with his forehead. You're what? he demanded to know. If this has anything to do with snakes...

Sam jumped in to soothe, No! No snakes! 'God' as in religion, not 'God' as in System Lords who dress bad.

Religion? Jack queried.

Sam sighed. The reason why the country was founded, but don't let that bother you.

The country? Jack inquired. The country was a penal colony, that's how it got its start.

Sam gazed at him in curiosity. It did? she asked, and Jack nodded. Then she shook her head. Geography lesson aside... we'll save that for later... General Hammond is responsible for me... and Mark... and probably for that sister that you say I have...

Well, you do, Jack protested.

Sam didn't want to argue the point with him at the moment. The General was to get custody of me and Mark... and what'shername... if something horrible ever happened to my parents before the two of us... three of us... turned eighteen.

Jack raised his brows in question this time. Eighteen... cycles? he asked. Eighteen rotations?

Eighteen years, she replied. It's how we number how old we are. She looked at him in puzzlement. Why? How old are you? How many cycles... or rotations?

I'm 45 turns of the planet, Jack readily replied. Why? How many turns are you?

Sam gawked. You're only 45? My Jack... Colonel O'Neill was 48!

Really? Jack seemed as stunned at this news as Sam. Maybe turns of the planet doesn't mean the same thing as the number of your years.

Maybe, Sam reluctantly agreed. But how could you both not be the same age? she mumbled.

Jack shrugged. Dunno, he answered. But it means that you and I are nearer to the same... He stopped and colored pink. Doesn't matter, he next said.

Sam stared at him in a hard manner. I'm 37 years... turns.. rotations... whatever. She squeezed his fingers meaningfully in hers. It means that you and I are a bit closer in age, but... She stared at him, thinking hard. Finally she cautiously asked, Jack, has that age... years... turns... has that difference between you and Captain Carter... Did that bother you a lot?

Jack disarmingly shrugged again. I wouldn't say that it bothered me, no, he replied. But...

But? she prompted.

Jack sighed. But... It means that... He shrugged again, then did something that Sam had rarely seen her Colonel do: he blushed. Nothin.'

It's not nothing, Sam again prodded. What are you thinking?

Jack remained silent for so long that she thought she was going to have to repeat her question, then he bluntly asked, Sam, do you think that this whole thing between the two of us is just emotion transference, or me pushing things onto you that used to belong to Carter, or..? He stared at her in confused misery. Am I making any sense here?

Sam stared back at him. He's a lot more in touch with his feelings than the Colonel was, she reminded herself. She pensively wrinkled her nose. That doesn't seem what it's like to me, she confessed at last.

Jack took the acknowledgment of some kind of connection to him that she was admitting to a little further. Then, you..?

Sam was blushing now. I don't know what I think, she said. She looked at him. I know I like you. I'm attracted to you. But I was to the Colonel, too, and he didn't say anything to me when he... um... passed on. She lifted her shoulders in a shrug that sent the blankets askew. Aren't you worried that what we're experiencing is just... what we felt for the other one of us, and not the 'us' who's right here, right now? Even as she asked that question, she recalled the conversation she'd had with Janet the day before, and blurted, Janet said that we kept looking at each other yesterday.

Well, Jack drawled. I was looking at you... of course. We were all talking about a second 'Gate.

Sam smiled... she couldn't help it. No. I mean looking looking...

Jack blushed again. Well, he mumbled, then sputtered, I mean... you were.... I was... Yeah, he finally outright admitted. I was looking. But you're one fine lady, he argued. Who wouldn't look? I mean, I'm not dead... yet.

You were looking again last night when I came back from the SGO, Sam noted.

Jack's fingers tightened on hers. Don't ever do that to me again, he fervently said. The entreaty continued, I hated that waiting, but I hate it even more with you going... What with Carter... just last week, he lamely ended. Finally he sighed. Yeah, I know Carter... last week... and I'll always feel a lot for her... But you're not her, he pointed out. And this... I mean to say... He sputtered once more. I mean, I... you...

Sam saved him by simply leaning closer to him and kissing him on the corner of his mouth and cheek. That way, either of them could later claim that she had kissed him on his mouth or his cheek, as they preferred.

What Jack preferred was quickly obvious. He showered her face with a rain of kisses then. His hands moved to cradle her cheeks, and he moaned, This is no transference. That's not what twisted through me last night when I saw you again. I was so worried, and there was nothing I could do for you. And it was driving me nuts. Once more he kissed here lips.

Sam quivered, and her heart raced like thunder on her ribs. It was amazing that he didn't hear it. She felt hard, stiffened, and gooey soft all at once. Is this what melting is like? she wondered. Was she melting?

Yep. Melting right into him. Melting into his soul, his being, his everything...

I know it's not supposed to happen so fast, Jack mumbled just before he returned his kisses to her mouth. And I know that I should be worried that I've just moved my feelings for her to feelings for you... He kissed her firmly on her mouth, then rubbed her head with his fingers pressed through her hair. But this just feels so different, he went on arguing. I don't see...

Jack, I can't kiss you when you're talking, Sam announced, then fervently kissed him in a far more passionate display than either had given the other so far. Jack answered her immediately.

They parted and looked at each other, a bit stunned that things had gone so far so fast. Weren't they supposed to continue to get to know each other first? Weren't they supposed to just have fun with no strings attached? Weren't they just supposed to enjoy each other's company without any pressure of furthering a relationship?

At the same time, this was darn fun!

No pressure, Jack reminded her.

No promises, Sam whispered back to him.

Jack then confessed, I feel like I've come home.

Sam murmured back to him, Don't stay away so long next time. She brushed her hand lovingly across his cheek.

Jack leaned into her palm and kissed it. How 'bout if I don't leave at all next time?

Do you care about the whole transference of emotion thing? she asked without any segueway into the new topic of conversation.

No, Jack told her right away. That's what this could be, but I don't think it is.

We can wait a few more days, just to be sure, Sam suggested.

Jack instantly responded with the addendum, Kissing is not off limits, even if we wait. I plan to kiss you as often as I can.

Sam grinned. I hope so.

* * *

Later that afternoon, Daniel came across Jack and Sam sitting out on his deck, their eyes plastered to each other's sappy expressions as they shared a Dairy King malt. I think I'm going to be sick, he commented quietly as he watched his two friends.

No, Sam quickly rejoined, as she had heard what he'd said anyway. You're just jealous, she noted.

Yep, Daniel admitted with a self-effacing shrug.

Just wait till we get to Abydos, Sam next commented.

Why? Daniel inquired then. Is there something special there?

Ever heard of a woman named 'Sha're?'

Daniel screwed up his face in thought. No, he finally replied. Why? Should I have?

Not necessarily, Sam said, then took a sip of malt while Jack was sure not to take his eyes off her. But you will.

She sounded so confident on this point that Daniel believed her, even though he wasn't able to look into her eyes at that point. Her gaze was still glued on Jack's face. Okaaaaay, he said. Then he focused more on the problem at hand that he had dropped by to see them about. So... any news? he asked. A second 'Gate? When they didn't answer, prodded, Or not?

Second 'Gate, Sam nonchalantly replied, completely negating any excitement or anticipation she felt at finding it after only a few minutes of searching when this world's professionals had spent years looking for a second 'Gate. We have to fly up to DC before we go to Antarctica and see a General about a lift to there, Sam told him, her voice still blasé. I'll let you know how it goes.

You do that, Daniel said as Sam smiled and Jack grinned back. Jack, Daniel called. Don't fall off your chair or anything. If you swoon now, I'll laugh so hard that...

Jack cut him off. Will do, Daniel. He didn't even look at his friend. He had eyes only for Sam.

Daniel stood in Jack's yard and rolled his own eyes in resignation. You two are impossible, he announced.

Glad we could help ya, Jack then said as he leaned over farther to kiss Sam's lips frozen from the ice cream in the malt.

Daniel waved his hand at them. Don't mind me, he said and turned back towards the front of the house. I'll show myself out.

But neither Sam nor Jack were listening to him at this point.

Part VI

DC. It was raining. It had been raining all day, a cold penetrating rain that no one wanted to be caught in.

General George S. Hammond, aid to Vice President Henry Hayes, paid no attention to his car or its driver when he climbed inside it after another weary day spent signing forms at his Pentagon office. He had often said that he really hated all the paperwork that came with his job.

The car started forward, and the General kept reading whatever form currently had captured his attention. He didn't notice the passenger sitting slouched down in her seat on the other side of the car until she quietly said, That must be a fascinating form.

General Hammond jerked his head up to stare at her, his surprise at finding another passenger in his car in his expression. Do I know you? he asked, then scowled. Wait a minute! he barked, finally recognizing her as Jacob Carter's second daughter. What's going..?

Hi, Uncle George, Sam then declared. And I really hope you know me, or at least remember me. I really don't want to go in to the whole story again.

Hammond gave a start, and his scowl deepened as the file in his hand file down to his briefcase. Uncle George? he echoed.

Sam scooted up so that she was sitting like normal in her seat, and tightened her lap seat belt across her middle. She didn't want to be in too precarious a position now, after all, not when she and Jack...

Sam grinned at the thought. She couldn't stop herself.

General Hammond's scowl deepened yet again. Now listen here! That isn't funny, young lady...

I think that's the first time I've been called 'young lady' in over twenty years, Sam commented in some surprise.

That was when General Hammond lost his patience. I demand to know what's going on! he roared.

Jack piped up then from the driver's seat in front. Has he been taking deportment lessons from General West?

West? Hammond asked in confusion. But that's SGO business if you want West!

Actually, Sam noted, knowing how suggestive her next comment would sound, but she figured that Hammond would forgive her. She wasn't sure if Jack would. I need you.

Me?!? Hammond muttered at the same time that Jack quoted, 'Think again, Sweetheart!'

Sam grimaced, then she ignored Jack to ask Hammond, Do you know a General Jacob Carter?

Hammond eyed Sam for a suspicious moment before grudgingly saying, Yes, but he died a few years back of Cancer.

So I hear, Sam quipped. Then you must know a Samantha Carter?

Hammond blanched this time. She died last week in a horrible accident, and this has ceased to be...

I'm her, said Sam before Hammond had the chance to change the subject. And I'm not her. She watched as Hammond's folded umbrella steadily dripped water onto the seat between them.

General, Jack stated. Without a hint of the bomb he was about to drop. He said, We know about the Stargate.

To his credit, Hammond only paused a second. The what? he asked in a flat voice.

No time to play games, Jack insisted. I'm Major Henry Bagotelli, retired, based out of Cheyenne Mountain in The Springs, Arkansas.

So that's where Cheyenne Mountain is, Sam inappropriately thought. She retrained her attention on the scene happening around her.

It seemed best for Jack to use an alias in case Hammond refused to believe either him or Sam, as it appeared he was doing. Sam had already introduced herself by her real name... it seemed silly to change her strategy now. Besides, she didn't exist anymore... West had made sure of that. This is Major... not Captain... Sam Carter, Jack went on. She came through the Quantum Mirror that I know you know about, and she's from another reality. Does any of this sound remotely familiar to you? Jack inquired with an interrogative tilt of his head. And no pretending that the Stargate Program doesn't exist. Until last Tuesday, Carter and I both worked for Major General W. Owen West. He took a breath as Hammond continued to gape at Jack and Sam. Carter was shot and killed on another planet, and I'm being blamed for shooting her. Sam here... the alternate Sam... has found a way for us to get to... planet-not-to-be-named... But we need your help in reaching the Stargate so that we can reach this unnamed planet. He risked a fast glance back at the two in the rear seat of the car he was 'driving.' Follow? Then he turned back to watch the road.

Hammond gazed at Jack and Sam as if they had both gone crazy. His face finally screwed up in disbelief. Just what the heck are you talking about?

Jack suddenly floated the car into a parking lot of a grocery store at an alarming speed. He shoved the car into its 'hover' mode, then turned around to face Hammond, a furious look on his face.

Henry.., Sam warned, using his alias, but her voice hung on deaf ears.

Look, Jack spat at the General. I'm doing my darndest to hang onto my temper here, but I'm about two seconds away from firing Sam's Zat gun at you, and the gun's set on the 'disintegrate' setting! Now, one woman is dead, I've been framed for murdering her, which is totally dumb, and unless you want to play yet another part in this farce that will ruin not one, but three people's careers in the Force, or its equivalent, you'll start talking straight to us, and besides, Sam found a second Stargate!

That caught Hammond's attention before he could hide his interest. Still, his eyes only flickered for a nanosecond before he covered up that interest of his with a bland expression. Second 'Gate? he spluttered. What second 'Gate?

At least you're acknowledging the first one, Jack grumbled from the front seat. Sort of.

But Sam stopped them both. The second 'Gate is, I believe, about fifty or sixty miles south/southwest of... somewhere also unnamed.

Hammond stared again, then blurted, What?

But Sam was off and running with hers and Jack's explanation. She pulled out her SGO paper that clearly had 'SGO Cheyenne Mountain' on it as its header. She made sure her thumb was covering the name 'McMurdo' on the paper then showed it to Hammond. It's right here. She pointed. We just need a lift out to this site to confirm a second 'Gate.

Hammond grimaced a third time. The silence was longer, but Sam thought he was convinced of their seriousness until he asked, Just who are you people?

Jack lost no time in piping up, We're going to be your executioners in one second flat if you don't drop this dumb act and start...

Okay, Hammond said when he gazed at the Zat gun that Jack had pointed at him and hidden under his coat draped over his arm.

Henry! Sam screeched, calling Jack by his assumed name. Where did you get that?

I thought we'd better bring along some insurance in case the General got difficult, Jack explained. I wasn't military all my life for nothing.

General Hammond again nodded. Okay... What is this, NID, CIA, SAO...

SAO? Jack blurted. Haven't heard about them yet.

'Strategic Anomoly Organization, Hammond supplied to them. And be glad that you don't know them yet.

What the Hell's a Strategic Anomaly? Sam barked in a disbelieving voice. Does that even exist? She didn't specify if she was talking about anomalies in general or the particular organization that Hammond had mentioned.

Well, this is Major Samantha Carter of the SGC of Earth, Jack again introduced, ignoring Sam's outburst to speak to Hammond. In case you need any more abbreviations to impress your superiors with tomorrow.

Even Thor of the Asgard likes me, Sam said then. You just need to give me a chance. She refused to think about how she had told her Colonel O'Neill the same basic thing the first time they'd gone together through the Stargate. She would not get nolstalgic now!

Hammond narrowed his eyes at her. How do you know about Thor?

I know about lots of things, Sam protested. Like Thor's the supreme commander of their entire fleet, and Henry used to call him 'Little Buddy.' She glanced slyly at Jack in the front seat. Of course, lots of people did that. He also claimed that he saved Thor's 'little gray butt' more times than he can count.

Hammond passed a weary hand over his face. Okay, he mumbled. Just don't do anything rash, don't fire that...

You gonna believe us and do something about the Stargate? Jack immediately asked. That's all we want, or I just may get trigger happy here. He looked at Sam then. This thing does have a trigger, doesn't it?

Sam was busy sighing in resignation, and reaching into the bag she carried on her right side. Yeah, it has sort of a trigger...

That was as far as she got when suddenly Hammond muttered, You two are nuts, and lunged for Sam as the nearest victim he could reach in the car.

As quick as anything, Jack fired the Zat he held in his hand. Sam slowly shoved the heavier Hammond off her to rest on his side of the back seat of the car. Jack went on. Good thing we already know where he lives, he quipped as he stared at Hammond's stilled body. I somehow don't think he'll be able to tell us now.

Not unless we want to wait several minutes so that he can talk again, Sam commented as she pushed the flopping bald head of the General off her lap again. She had always wondered how much a bald head would weigh, and now she knew. She decided that she'd been better off not knowing. We better get him home.

Jack didn't comment, but 'floated' out of the parking lot and turned in the correct direction of the General's house.

* * *

Between the two of them, they managed to move Hammond through the torrential downpour and into his formal living room, where they laid him out on the sofa/lounge chair/recliner piece of furniture that he also used in his living room, just as Jack did. Perhaps it was a common item in this reality, Sam deduced.

Sam sat on the morning table facing the other sofa in the room and gazed at General Hammond as he slept. He looks so peaceful, Sam commented on the man a few minutes later. Like he has nothing to worry about. Sam remained silent again as she continued to stare, tilting her head first one way, then the other as she looked. He always seemed to me to be just a little bent over.

'Bent over?' Jack questioned as he looked instead around the rest of the room. Nice place, he stated, eyeing the knickknacks that the General had collected and was displaying on the room's many shelves. But what do you mean by the 'bent over' comment? he asked Sam. I myself have never met the man, so I don't have an opinion of him yet.

Sam sighed, and tried to explain. This man was my commanding General, CO of the entire base, for years... but he always seemed to be just a little bowed down to me... as if he had a lot to carry on his shoulders, she managed at last. And now he's asleep...

Thanks to us, Jack butted into her conversation.

Sam had to move her head a bit in agreement with him. Anyway, he's asleep for now, and has no cares in the world till he wakes up. It's kind of nice to see him this way, she admitted with a small smile. It's refreshing.

Jack shrugged. Well, from what you've said so far, he has General West's job in your reality. I wouldn't want that job for anything in the Universe, mine or yours! he huffed. It would be waaaay too stressful for me! Then he considered what he'd just said, and amended his statement to comment, Heck, I'm probably the one who made it the most stressful for him. This thing I have for authority figures is most likely what cost me the command of SG-1.

Yeah, Sam muttered, thinking of the possibility of him commanding this reality's SG-1. He wouldn't have been Carter's CO then, and things would have been so different! At the same time that the situation has its appeal, I can't imagine not having you as my CO!

Jack smiled when he heard her words and tone. I'll take that having me as your CO was a good thing... until now.

Sam rolled her eyes, then emphatically said, You were... are... the best! And you didn't kill her, Jack. We're here to set in motion events that will hopefully prove that.

Yeah, Jack listlessly said. Maybe...

Sam sighed, hating the way he was likely to fall victim to his more morose thoughts. She'd noticed that the closer they got to possibly 'Gating to Abydos, the more dejected and quiet he had grown. She quickly decided that he needed a distraction again, and she said, You and Daniel have mentioned the President as wanting you out of the SGO. Is there anyone else that you can think of who might benefit from you being gone?

Jack turned his thoughts to answering Sam's query, as she knew he would. Well, he pensively said, There's Maybourne.

Sam wrinkled her nose. 'Maybourne' as in Colonel Maybourne?

Jack shook his head. 'Maybourne' as in General Maybourne, he told her.

Sam instantly recoiled as if she had smelled something bad. General!?! Who decided to make him a General?

Jack couldn't help but grin at her. I take it he's not a General if your reality?

No, I hope not! Sam emphatically responded. He's on the run from the law, I heard, she reported. Scared of you. Actually, scared of what you'll do to him.

Jack snorted. Not my Maybourne. My Maybourne would be pleased as anything to see me out of the SGO.

Sam considered Jack's suggestion. Hmm... Anybody else?

Jack thought again. Sam noted that he had forgotten his morose thoughts as he concentrated on the problem at hand, and she was glad of the distraction, if not the reason for that distraction. Finally Jack had to shake his head. I can't think of anyone else who would go to so much trouble to get me out of the SGO.

And what do Maybourne or Kinsey want? Sam asked almost to herself. What's the ultimate prize here?

Jack considered for another moment. There is that crazy governmental group that wants the Stargate for themselves so they can do what they want with it. He shrugged. Maybe they're both, or one of them, is somehow connected with that group?

Governmental group? That sounded good! What does this group want to do with the Stargate? Sam eagerly asked, then added, Something that you either want to stop, or have stopped in the past?

They want to worship it, Jack told her, and at her incredulous expression, reminded, I did once say that they were a bit on the insane side. He also conceded, And I might... might have said that this whole worship thing was a crazy idea. I mean, who wants to worship the Goa'uld, the only Gods who have ever come through the Stargate?! he inquired in a shocked, defensive tone.

Actually, many of the civilizations we've encountered worship the Stargate as a religious icon of sorts, Sam argued. So that wouldn't really be too insane of them.

Jack leaned in closer to her. They want to bow down to it and scrape the floor it rests on, he said in a whisper. That's 'insane' if you ask me.

Sam almost laughed at the vision he was painting with his words, but she swallowed her laugh at the last minute. Religion and its icons, no matter what form they took, were usually no laughing matter, she reminded herself.

Just then General Hammond stirred on his 'sofa,' and he raised a shaky hand to what was obviously an aching head. What hit me? he mumbled to no one in particular.

Jack answered him anyway. He held up Sam's Zat gun, and activated it with a snap. This is what hit you. He drew closer to Hammond lying on the sofa and said, And remember, two blasts from this thing kills someone. I wouldn't want to provoke a second blast if I were you.

Hammond cagily eyed Jack and the weapon he carried as if he weren't scared of what he was suggesting. Are you threatening me? he demanded to know. He looked beyond Jack to Sam still sitting near the room's other 'sofa.' Who are you people?

Sam reacted to his voice before she could stop herself. Allow me to apologize, Sir, she immediately said. We've come to ask for your help, and the only way that we could think of to get you alone for a few moments to convince you to at least give us a hearing was to kidnap you and drag you away from where you usually work. Again, we apologize for this inconvenience.

Sam! Jack hissed at her. You sound like you want to take a stroll in the park or somethin'!

Sam winced. No stroll through the park for us. This is far too serious.

Hammond eyed her suspiciously, but she could tell that the typical twinkle was beginning to light up his eyes. You apologized... It's unlikely that you have something evil in mind if you're saying that you're 'sorry' to inconvenience me.

Sam shot a glance towards Jack at Hammond's confession. See? she asked as if she wanted to prove a point. It never hurts to be polite.

Whatever, Jack shot back at her. He turned to face Hammond. We have a request, Sir, and it's a big one, and we only trust you to help us with this. Or at least Sam trusts you. I've never met you before, but I trust what Sam thinks, and her judgment is good enough for me.

Sam grinned: that was high praise indeed coming from Jack O'Neill!

Jack went on, And we know we can't trust my base Commander with this information, and maybe not even the President and his aides. We're pretty sure of the Vice President, though, and as his aide, you're the lucky one we're willing to spill our guts to. He hefted the Zat more firmly into his hand. Please don't make me feel like an idiot for trusting you.

Hammond scowled. Whether or not you're an idiot remains to be seen.

Oh, I'm a idiot, Jack insisted. Or at least, I can act very idiotic, and often have in the past, enough to kill Carter...

No you didn't! Sam instantly snarled at him. Then she turned to regard Hammond. And we can prove it, but we need you to listen to our story first, Sir! We won't harm you, we promise, we only want you to hear our side of this story!

Hammond gazed at them both for a moment, silently gauging their tenacity in making him listen to them as he stared. Finally, he said, Okay, I'll listen. Start by telling me who you are, he commanded. Then he pointed at Sam. I already know who you are. That question you asked me about Jacob Carter made me recognize you, though it's been years since I've seen you, and aren't you supposed to be dead? His nose wrinkled for a thoughtful minute. Or was what I heard about Samantha Carter just a rumor? And who is this? He gestured at Jack. And what is that? He gestured at the Zat gun. Start talking!

Sam drew a deep, shivery breath. This was it. Sam tried to still her quaking nerves. There's a lot to tell, Sir. First of all, do you admit that there is such a thing as the Stargate, and that there's a secret program centering around it meant to explore the many planets the 'Gate network leads to?

Hammond sighed, then stared at her and Jack. That's a top secret military maneuver that started during the Cold War...

Not Project Stargate! Jack snapped. We mean the Stargate Program currently being run in Cheyenne Mountain! Don't try to bluff us again! I worked there until last week! You can't tell me that the Vice President and his military advisers don't know about the existence of the Stargate!?!

Hammond sighed again. Is this a ransom situation? he asked, making Jack hurl a few choice mutterings in his direction. Without saying a warning or anything, Jack suddenly turned, fired off three short blasts from the Zat at a lamp sitting in the corner of the room. On the third shot, the lamp disappeared as if it had never been there, leaving only a dent in the carpet. Then he turned back to regard a stunned General Hammond. Now, that's gonna be you in short order if you don't...

Yes, Hammond croaked. Stargate... Program... General West... We know...

Jack didn't let him continue his sputtering, opting instead to put him out of his misery. It's good that you admit to it, he said. Now we can start doing business.

And Sam began telling her story. Quantum Mirrors, other realities, forced retirements, real names... Everything went into her quiet mutterings as she left no detail out. She was able to again use the piece of paper that she had swiped from the SGO Control Room to help convince General Hammond that they were willing to use the location of the second Stargate as leverage for the murder investigation they wanted to conduct.

Get us a way to the location of the second 'Gate, and supplies, and we'll take it from there, Sam promised. We'll even leave you this paper as proof that a second 'Gate exists so you know to at least look for it. That is, I'll trade the location of the second 'Gate for any copy you might have of a list of SGO personnel.

Hammond gazed at Sam for an assessing minute then flicked his eyes towards the briefcase he had been carrying home from his office that evening. Top panel, pocket... There's a personnel printout that's as recent as last week. It's updated ever few months by General West himself. The SGO turnover is at such a high rate that we would never be able to remember who all's assigned there without a printout to remind us.

Sam grinned as she removed the printout that he was giving to her. She flipped through several pages, read swiftly through the SG-1, SG-2, and SG-3 personnel to make certain that she had found the correct data that she wanted, then said, Thanks. This will go a long way in helping us figure out who could be the possible murderer of Captain Carter.

You're welcome, Hammond formally said. Just be careful with that list... if it falls into the wrong hands Carter may not be the only one who's life ends up being endangered. Hammond glared at her for a time in order to cement his point in her mind, then went on to ask, But I'm curious myself... how do you know a second 'Gate even works? he argued. It had to have been abandoned for a reason, he argued.

Sam had to admit to herself that she was worried about that possibility as well. It worked just fine in my own reality, she argued. It spit us out in... She'd almost said 'Antarctica,' but stopped herself just in time. Finding it is how my people found me and Colonel O'Neill in time to save our lives, she said. I can only trust that it will be the same case here.

So what's it gonna be, General? Jack asked. A chopper and supplies for the bargain price of a second Stargate? Or do I hit the 'little red button' three times on this gun in my hand?

Abruptly, Hammond chuckled. I think I like you, he noted with a smile aimed at Jack. That sarcasm of yours has caused you many a problem in the past, I bet.

Jack said nothing, only raised his eyebrows to his graying hairline and gestured with his Zat.

Hammond understood Jack's unspoken comment anyway. Okay, he said. Give me a day or so to arrange this. Even the military doesn't have choppers just sitting around in hangars, you know. And you're sure a plane won't do?

Has to be a chopper, Jack insisted. So it can land on uncertain ground.

A chopper, Hammond said almost to himself.

Please, Sir, Sam begged. She was not above begging at this point. We just need your help with this one thing.

Hammond heaved a sigh, but then slapped his legs as he made to agree with their demands. Fine, a chopper for you, and a second Stargate for us.

Sam smiled. You won't regret this Sir, she insisted. Then using a black pen, inked out the name 'McMurdo' from her map, as well as the longitude and latitude markings for where to find the second 'Gate. The rest she left intact. When she was done, she handed the paper over to Hammond. When we get back to Arkansas, you'll get a phone call from us with more specific information. Her smile widened. And if we don't come back from the place not-to-be-named, it won't be too hard for your scientists to figure out what I already figured out.

Hammond gave her a nod. I'll have a chopper and supplies waiting for you at Fort Paterson, like I said, he promised.

Number's on the paper, Sam said.

Give me a day to make the arrangements, the General requested again.

We need a day to get back and collect our own things for the trip, Jack said. But remember, General, if you don't come through for us, or blow us sky high with your 'rigged' chopper, we'll come looking for you. We'll even come back to haunt you. You don't want me as your enemy. He stroked the gun against his right cheek as he spoke.

Uncowed, Hammond's eyes glittered. You don't want me for an enemy, either, he said.

Good, Jack noted, standing and walking towards the front door. We understand each other then. He gestured for Sam to follow. Come on Sam, we have a long trip to make. As the door closed behind them, shutting out Hammond and keeping the man from overhearing him, muttered into Sam's ear, That paper that you gave him was our way to find the second 'Gate, ya know, Sam.

With a smile on her lips, Sam reached out and took Jack's hand as they made a dash for the car through the rain that still continued. Once they were both inside the vehicle, Sam explained, That wasn't our only link. I had Daniel make ten copies of the paper while I was sitting in the ceiling of the SGO. Don't sweat it... we're covered.

Jack had to give her an admiring grin. You thought of everything.

Sam grinned back. Yep, I did, she said.

* * *

When they reached the truck in the rental car lot, they traded vehicles to Jack's truck. And that was the last thing that Sam remembered until Jack was leaning over her many hours later from the operator's seat in the truck, insistently saying her name over and over again, as if he had spent the last several minutes trying to wake her.

But it wasn't Jack's insistent calling that eventually woke her. Sam jerked upright in her seat, completely disoriented, a terrified expression on her face, and the cry, Jack! on her lips.

Jack just missed being clobbered in the head by her flailing elbow. Hey! he cried himself. Easy! I just wanted to wake you and tell you that we're here.

Sam blearily stared beyond him and out the window. An unfamiliar landing field met her sight, as did a strange car that was already ejecting Daniel and Janet as she watched. Her confusion mounting, she croaked, Where are we?

Jack patted her on her arm before reaching into the rear of the truck to retrieve a bag, several weapons, and a strange oblong shaped case that turned out to hold the video camera he wished to take along. Hammond's already come through with his end of the deal. We're at Fort Paterson Airfield right now, and my guess is that's our chopper waiting for us right now.

He pointed, and Sam squinted against the rising sun at a chopper resting on the tarmac of the airfield. Janet gestured to it as well, then waved first at their truck hovering on the side of the field relegated to visitor's vehicles, then back to the chopper again. Next, she and Daniel spoke to a young soldier on the field, then carried bags and medical supplies to the waiting chopper.

We're here already? Sam muttered. Wha..?

You fell asleep and I didn't want to wake you, so.., Jack explained.

But that means that you 'drove' all the way from DC! Sam expostulated. I was supposed to 'drive' some of it! She shook her head, trying to rid herself of her recent dream as she spoke.

Jack sighed, then calmly demanded, You were dreaming about him again, weren't you? When Sam didn't answer, he specified by adding, Colonel O'Neill. Then he didn't give her a chance to reply before going on. You must miss him a lot.

No! Sam burst out. Then she changed her comment to say, I mean, yes, I miss him... probably always will. But that's not what I was dreaming. Again Sam shuddered at the memories. It was you this time. You died on that planet. And there was nothing I could do... I couldn't save you, either. Tears loomed close to the surface for Sam, and she fought them by attempting to take a deep breath, but the action turned into a sob before she could stop it. Crap! she exclaimed.

Jack was instantly sympathetic and concerned. Hey, it's all right, he said in a hushed voice. I'm right here. And besides, that happened in another reality altogether. I'm right here, you're right here, and there's not a staff weapon in sight, and no one named Leak is here to to fire it at me.

His name mangling made Sam laugh even as she cried into his shoulder. His name's Teal'c, not Leak.

I know that, Jack told her as he ran a hand down her hair. But it made you laugh, and that's a good reason for looking dumb in my book.

Sam laughed once more, more of a content chuckle that eventually trailed off into deeper breaths as her crying came to an inevitable end. Then there was silence for a moment, and then Sam said, This must be awful for you... having to go back to the same place that... that it happened.

Jack was caught off guard by her words. I hadn't really thought of it that way before, he noted. To me, it's just an investigation site.

Liar, Sam remarked without hesitation. But I suppose that you have your reasons to lie.

Would you rather I say that I'm shaking like a page of newsprint in the wind?

Well, you're not pretending anymore, Sam commented as she dried her eyes one last time, then pushed the truck door open. At least that's something.

* * *

Jack took the controls for the first leg North. He had promised to teach Sam which dial on the control panel did what so that she could take over from him in an hour and he could rest. But choppers were finicky, he said, and he felt better if he handled the takeoff. Not that he didn't trust her, he insisted...

That was when Sam smiled, called him 'my little control freak,' and joined Janet in the back of the chopper, once again going through their supplies. Daniel was happily engrossed in a book that was so thick that Sam was afraid that if she startled him and he dropped the book on his foot, it might break a bone. So she avoided disturbing him when she didn't absolutely have to. Still, she wondered if he'd had any trouble getting leave for this mission with a retired Colonel and a woman who didn't exist.

You don't exist, Sam thought to herself. That's a disturbing idea. She did her best to ignore her mental ramblings, a fairly easy task given the overwhelming noise of the chopper, and instead settled in the seat next to Janet. Looking for something? she yelled to be heard above the noise.

Janet shook her head. Just making sure everything's here. You never know - I might need to lance a boil or something. Gotta have the right tools for the job, Janet cheerfully called over the whirring of the blades outside the metal skin of the chopper.

Sam smiled. I think Jack has a spot on his foot that might be a boil, she suggested.

Janet grinned wickedly back at her. I promise to take a goooood look at it later!

Sam continued to smile. I'm sure that will thrill him to death! She moved her right hand through her hair as she spoke. Her hair was getting greasy...

That was when the outside natural light glinted off the metal band she was wearing, but had honestly forgotten to remove.

Janet grabbed her right hand to inspect the ring, but didn't touch it without Sam's permission. Well, this is a new development, Janet yelled with delight evident in her tone.

Sam rolled her eyes, but couldn't stop herself from grinning in enjoyment even as she automatically tried to hide that enjoyment. Don't get too excited, Jan, she counseled. You might break out in hives again.

Hives? Janet asked back, puzzled now.

Sam regarded her. You're not allergic to practically everything in this world? Janet shook her head no. Oh... well... Sam didn't know what to say. Lucky you, she finally settled on.

But Janet wasn't buying a bit of this distraction. Ok, stop talking nonsense about allergies when you know what I want to hear about. So... Spill, she loudly ordered.

Sam rolled her eyes again. It was rather nice to find out that the two Janets were similar in both her reality and this one, she noted,allergies notwithstanding. She could always count on the doctor's curiosity. It's a fake ring, Janet, she announced, bursting the other woman's romantic bubble. It's... What do you guys call it here?... Not 'plastic'... right... feigned, that's it.

Janet looked like she still didn't understand. Feigned?

Yeah, Sam told her with no hesitation. You know... For our cover the other night.

Janet's eyebrows shot high enough to disappear into her hairline. And who is 'ours?' she inquired.

Mine and Jack's, Sam readily replied. You know... the other night when I broke into the SGO? Nervous now, Sam went on. You know, you helped me and Daniel with that? she prompted when Janet didn't answer.

The doctor peered at Sam as if she wanted to ask a question, but then her eyes grew to a much more calculating expression. If it was for the other night, then why didn't you take it off? she innocently asked.

Good question. Sam was momentarily stumped, but she soon thought to say, I forgot all about the fact that I was wearing it, what with the DC trip and all.

Aaaaaaah, Janet skeptically said.

Janet sounded like she didn't believe a word that Sam was saying. Sam didn't like the gleam that she was seeing enter Janet's eyes, either. It's not like that, Janet, she insisted. When Janet continued to stare knowingly at her, she insisted in exasperation, There was no proposal, no judge, no honeymoon, no wedding! She pulled the ring off her hand, realizing as she did so that she hadn't taken that ring off her finger for several days. Now she handed it to Janet. Jack has a whole stash of these things in the wall safe in his home office. It's right next to the money that I brought with me from Colorado. Then she corrected, My Colorado. Then she wondered for the first time if the United States was the same in both realities. Your United States does have the state of Colorado, doesn't it??

Janet ignored her question, just pensively twisted the ring in her fingers as she studied it. Damn good imitation if you ask me, she noted at last.

I'm not, Sam bluntly said, and put her hand out to take the ring back. It felt suddenly weird not to have it on her finger.

Again Janet smiled that same smug smile from before.

Sam just swatted her shoulder. Janet, will you cut that out! she ordered. It's not like that, and you know it!

Janet shrugged. Riiiiight, she intoned, clearly not believing what she was hearing. And why don't you tell me again why it is that you're still wearing it? I know that you told me, but I have a rotten memory.

For the millionth time, Sam rolled her eyes. Janet, you're impossible! she yelled.

Janet just grinned. I know, she replied.

Sam's smile softened as she glanced down at her ring again, aware of it now that it had been called to her attention. She laughed outright.

What's so funny? Janet asked. She had gone back to delving through her supplies once more, but looked up as she spoke.

Sam grinned, then shrugged. Nothing, really, she insisted, but her grin simply would not go away. At last, she relented and informed, It's stupid.

I'm into stupid, Janet insisted.

Sam blushed. Well... Okay... When Jack let me look at these rings and told me to put one on, I didn't know your customs yet, and put the ring on my left hand instead of my right...

You wear wedding rings on your left hand? Janet blurted. How weird! she proclaimed.

Sam shot back, And why is it that I haven't heard a single comment here about religion? she asked. Don't you people have a religion at all?

Janet just continued to eye her. Don't change the subject, she retorted.

Sam conceded, Yes, we wear wedding rings on the left hand.

And what did the Colonel... Jack... do when he saw that? Janet suggestively asked.

Sam glared at the ceiling of the chopper. Why did Janet seem determined to make more of this event than was already in place? Janet, she lowly growled. N.O.T.H.I.N.G happened. She tilted her head. What do I have to say to convince you?

Suddenly Daniel cleared his throat from a seat across the aisle in front of them. Give it up, Sam, he advised without bothering to take his eyes off the page he was reading. He nonchalantly went on, We know that you and Jack have a 'thing.' He glanced up, gave her a quick grin, and pushed his glasses further up his nose before burying it again in his book. So don't even bother telling us you don't, he suggested in a singsong voice.

As clearly as she could with so much noise in the background, Sam rose as she teased, I'm gonna make you eat your words when you meet Sha're, Dr. Jackson.

Where ya goin? Daniel then inquired with a grin.

Sam responded, I'm going up front where I'm more appreciated.

Sam walked up the aisle, but just barely heard Janet tell Daniel, I just bet she's more appreciated there.

Daniel snorted his laughter, then added, I wonder who this Sha're character is?

Sam just giggled, but didn't answer him as she moved forward. She pulled aside the curtain that separated the cockpit from the chopper's seating area. (Honestly! Choppers with closed off cockpits? This General Hammond must be some guy to command such luxury!)

Jack glanced up as she walked in. He had the wild-eyed look of someone who'd been startled out of deep thoughts. But now he grinned at her as she sat down in the copilot's seat beside him.

Sam slipped on the extra headphones that had been set aside by the last person to use them. She pulled the speaker system over her mouth, adjusted it so that it actually fit her smaller size, then grinned back at Jack. So, how goes it up here? she blithely requested.

Jack stunned her by seriously responding, IliedwhenIjustcalleditamurderinvestigation.

And what was she supposed to say to such a confession? Almost too surprised to utter a sound, Sam slowly said, Okaaaaaay. Where did that come from?

Actually, Jack stated as if Sam hadn't asked a question at all. I'm nervous as all get out. I don't exactly know how to act in this situation.

Well, Sam tried to suggest, focusing on his issue. Why don't you just..?

But Jack seemed determined not to let her finish a sentence. I mean, here I am, trying to go to the planet where Carter... He had to painfully swallow the lump that had lodged in his throat. But he went on, And I'm going with you...

Jack, she interrupted, her eyes now shadowed with regret. I can stay behind and let you three go if you want, she suggested.

But Jack was instantly shaking his head. No way, he emphatically said. You're the neutral party of this whole operation, the only logically-minded set of eyes and ears that we have, the brains... He regarded her. You're the only one who's likely to keep her head when the rest of us fall into emotional ruin. In fact, I'm more worried that we'll be a liability to you than how you'll be to us.

Sam just shrugged, not knowing how to respond to that prediction either. This is going to be so hard on all of you, she stated. It's a miracle any of you want to go.

Sam saw Jack hiss a breath between his pursed lips. That's just the problem, he divulged over the intercom resting on Sam's ears. How do I treat you when we're trying to figure out how someone who looked just like you but isn't you died? He gazed at her. It's a bit confusing.

Sam didn't wonder that he was confused. She was confused! At the same time, she was able to marvel at Jack's willingness to confess his secret thoughts. Talking to the Colonel about anything as remotely personal as this had been like pulling teeth! She wasn't very practiced at responding to such openness yet. I guess you could just ignore me, she suggested again.

No way, Jack again stated.

Do you feel guilty? Sam then asked when Jack fell silent. She added, I know that I would be.

Guilty for this thing that I have with you? he inquired.

Sam nodded. It must be an odd feeling to be investigating Carter's death while simultaneously... But she didn't complete her thought.

Jack sat in silence for a moment, then without looking at her confessed, Actually, no, and that's what's making me feel so guilty.

Sam grinned in spite of how she thought she should react.

Jack peered at her. And on that happy note...

All I came up here for was a flying lesson, not Confession 101.

Jack leaned closer to her and pushed his and her mics aside before giving her a quick kiss on her lips. He moved his mic back in front of his mouth. Sorry for this unloading on you, he said in her ear over the mic connecting them. I only meant to give you that flying lesson.

Sam snorted. Go ahead... I won't stop you.

Good. And Jack stuck his foot around the stick on the floor so that the chopper would stay more or less on course, moved their mics aside again, leaned over, then kissed her as deeply as he ever had.

The curtain abruptly swished aside and Sam dimly heard Janet say, Sam, I wanted to ask about..? She stopped herself. Clearly catching sight of them, added, No, it can wait. See you. She slipped back into the seating area of the chopper, closing the curtain behind her.

Sam felt her insides melt as she simultaneously realized that they were veering a bit to the right. She cracked an eye open even as she kissed Jack for all she was worth.

Jack pulled back, grinned lazily at her, then made the correction on their course without turning to glance at the navigation controls. He placed their mics back in position for the second time. Okay, he said without looking away from her. Here's our altitude, here's our course, here's our fuel consumption... Just don't run into anything, and call me when we get there. I'm going to sleep now.

Pleasant dreams, Sam said after the briefest flying lesson she had ever had.

Jack grinned as he rose. I think you just made certain of that, he told her, then completely removed his headphones and disappeared into the rear compartment.

Sam sighed, but couldn't wipe the silly grin off her face. There were definitely some advantages to this reality! she decided.

Part VII

Hours later, a newly awakened Jack landed the chopper near a familiar looking cleft in the ice covering a wasteland exactly 52.7 miles South/Southwest of McMurdo Station located South of New Zealand. Sam kept craning her neck, looking for points that she might recognize, all the while saying, I never thought I'd be back here again. Then she giggled. Not that I've ever actually been here before.

Jack powered down the chopper's engines, making the blades move slower and slower. He watched Sam carefully. Anything look on the familiar side? he cautiously asked.

Sam instantly pointed to the icy cleft ten feet from the landed chopper. That should lead down a very slippery slope... I'd be careful with the delicate equipment if I were you. Anyway, it goes down this slick tunnel to a huge cavern where the Stargate should be.

Jack clapped his hands together in a show of enthusiasm. Okay, campers, I'll grab the two equipment bags, Doc, you take down the medical supplies, Daniel, grab the packs, and since Sam sort of knows what to expect on this trip down 'the slippery slope,' she'll carry the camera and video equipment. We should make it with all the supplies in one trip if we're careful. Okay, lead on, oh... leader, he hesitantly ended as he turned to Sam and swiped his hand towards the ice.

After donning parkas that would hopefully protect them from a biting wind that was sweeping across the white countryside at the moment, Sam led the team of two men and one female doctor towards the sliver in the ice. If she blinked, she might walk right past it, not knowing it to be a gateway to other worlds. Ironic Sam thought. If I didn't know this was here, I wouldn't know this was here. She slithered carefully down the tunnel towards the cavern, careful not to bang the camera case too hard on the side wall that she was sliding past.

At last, the four of them stood inside a large cavern, flashlights blazing, staring at the awesome sight that the Stargate made at the far end of the cavern.

Crap, Jack softly, appreciatively whispered as they gazed at it. Just where you said it would be.

Sam turned to him as he spoke. You doubted that we would find it? she asked, a note of triumph barely concealed in her voice.

No, no, Jack assured as he continued to stare. It's just weird to think that this has been on our planet for thousands of years, just sittin' here, and what's basically an alien had to tell us it was in our own backyard.

Wow, Daniel said, still staring. Then he screwed his eyes up to squint at the structure towering over them in its base. What's with all the ice chips surrounding it, though? And he pointed at the blocks of ice littering the Stargate steps and the surrounding area.

If I can make a guess, Sam slowly and thoughtfully answered, I'd say that it was encased in ice, just like the DHD probably still is, and when you activated your Stargate for the first time all those years ago, the 'Gate here started to quake. That quaking cracked off the ice covering the second Stargate, and the ice fell wherever it happened to land. The quaking of all those Stargate activations in the years that you've kept the Program going has kept this Stargate from forming any new icy covering.

Huh, Janet suddenly barked in humor as she stood next to Sam. It had it's own natural iris.

Sam giggled. So it did.

Anyway, good guess, Sam, Jack was saying, clearing his throat so that he could speak. Well, I'm gettin' cold just standing here, gawking like a kid. Let's find that DHD and start digging it out, see if this thing actually works.

Sam pointed to the left side of the cavern. That's where I remember the DHD being in my reality. But that doesn't mean it's in this same place here, or even that there is one.

Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, Jack calmly stated, making Sam giggle again as she suddenly remembered Master Bra'tac taking Jack seriously when her Colonel O'Neill had mentioned crossing bridges on SG-1's first meeting with the Jaffa Master. But this Jack didn't blink at Sam's giggling noise, only took control of the team by long standing habit. Doc, you and Daniel look over to the right for a chunk of ice that could be the DHD, and Carter... Sam... and I will look to the left.

Sam didn't comment on Jack's slip of the tongue, but she kept a close eye on him as they first set up a generator and hung several high powered work lights, then searched the cavern that they could now see. He didn't act like he was awash in unpleasant memories of the deceased Captain Carter, but he was a master at hiding his emotions, Sam knew.

Sam was half gazing at Jack and half gazing at the icy cave when Daniel's yell caught her complete attention. Found it! he called almost right away, and he and Janet began scraping at the ice on their side of the cavern.

Jack hurried over to stand at Daniel's side. He looked at a chunk of ice under the Doc's gloved hand. Yep, he announced. This looks like it could be hiding a DHD, or I've already forgotten what a DHD looks like. Break out the ice picks - it's time to start digging.

Filled with excitement, Daniel pulled four hand picks out of the pack he was carrying.

Ice picks, Sam softly commented. What me and the Colonel wouldn't have done to have had these just sitting by our sides last time. She slammed the point of her pick down into the ice, causing sharpened chips of frozen water to fly in every direction. I'll try using this pick at an angle next time, she promised.

Soon, Janet and Jack had joined Daniel and Sam at quickly removing the chunks of ice that they safely could while they all worked at uncovering the hidden DHD. After a few moments of what was work that was enough to build up a sweat, Jack quietly grunted under his breath, Sam, can I talk to you for a minute?

Sam stopped the rhythmic movements of her ice pick in order to glance up at Jack. Sure, she said, surprised, and set her pick alongside the one Jack had also just set aside. She noticed that Daniel shot Jack a fast look that was mostly a warning expression that told the older man to 'be careful,' but Sam didn't have time to make a comment about what Daniel thought that Jack should be careful about before the man himself had steered her to the other side of the cavern.

What's up, Jack? she inquired, and quickly assured, I'm pretty certain this ice is hiding the DHD, if that's what you're worried about.

But Jack was already shaking his head. The ruff of fur along his shoulders that was attached to the parka's hood as it rested on his back shook as he shook. No, I have total confidence in you. If you say that's where the DHD is hiding, then I believe you. I want to talk about something else.

Sam did a double take. Oh? she asked. What's wrong?

Sam, Jack tentatively began. She watched him nervously stuff his hands in his parka's pockets, then take them back out again. He hissed out a puff of breath that misted in the cold air of the cavern. Finally, he bluntly stated, West told me not to say a word about this to you, but even if I get in trouble for saying something, I just don't feel right about keeping you in the dark about this any longer.

This speech puzzled Sam. Jack, what's wrong? she cajoled. And I thought you were done talking to General West.

Jack simply stared at her, judging for a moment. Then he blurted something that Sam never in a million years expected him to say. Sam, I'm not retired from the Force.

Sam stared at him, her brain whirring for a second, trying to keep up with the information that he was imparting. Finally she was able to blink her surprise, and softly ask, What do you mean that you're not retired?

Jack heaved a sad sigh. I mean that I'm on an undercover assignment.

This stunned Sam even more. You're... you're what? she stumbled to say.

Another sad sigh issued out of Jack's mouth to puff in the air. I mean... He ran his hand through his hair in agitation. Okay, I'll start at the beginning, he finally promised, And if you hate me by the end, just know that I never meant to hurt your feelings if that's what I'm doing, and I hated every second of keeping you in the dark, but I was under orders from West... am breaking those orders now by even speaking to you about this.

Sam just gaped at him, feeling the cold air brush past her cheeks. It was odd how she was aware of such an unimportant detail as cold air at a time when Jack was spewing words out of his mouth that was nothing less than utterly stunning.

Jack sighed in regret this time, but began a quiet narration. It all started years ago... We have a mole in the SGO... or two moles. We don't know for sure. We tried to catch him or her or them three years ago, but he or she or them... the mole(s)... were too slippery. Then one night not long ago, around twenty hundred, General West showed up on my doorstep, and he told me about this secret assignment meant to flush out this mole, or moles, once and for all. He said that he had just sent a team to a planet called 'Abydos,' and that SG-2 was assigned as the follow-up for first contact, and that he was pretty sure that something was going to go down on this planet. It was a Goa'uld friendly planet with a backwards society that wasn't as technologically advanced as ours... It's a good place to hide some kind of a scheme, on a planet where the natives have no technology capable of discovering what the Mole(s) are up to.

Jack went on in the monotone voice he had been using. Like I said, West was pretty sure that something was gonna happen on Abydos, and he wanted to use us to see if we could capture this mole(s)...

He wanted to use the team as bait, Sam commented, the militaristic portion of her mind coming alive even as the personal side of her mind was still too stunned to begin thinking again.

Jack nodded. I said that we would be the bait to try to bring down the mole(s) as long as I could tell the rest of my team what was going on, and to give them the choice to decline this assignment if they wanted to. It was dangerous, after all. But Daniel and Carter both agreed to go to Abydos with me. Then he shook his head, regret showing plain on his features. None of us would ever have gone if we knew that it was not us who was really the bait, but Carter. He was more than regretful now. He shuffled his feet and angrily kicked at a slice of ice on the cavern floor with the toe of his boot. When... He swallowed, but forged on. When Carter got hit, I... we... He stopped talking to hang his head to try to hide the play of emotions running across his face.

But Jack forgot that Sam was just a few inches shorter than he was, and she could still see every feeling he was experiencing as he experienced it. Grief won out as the chief emotion for him, and he raised a hand to rub dispiritedly at his temple. When... He had to stop again to gather his ragged emotions. Then he went on, Carter... there was so much blood... and... He had to pause again, clearly distressed by what he had to say.

Jack tried again. This time he simply blurted, West and I took the opportunity that presented itself after she... she died... to fake my retirement from the Force over a plea of 'negligence,' and I've been gathering what information that I can through Daniel still at the SGO.

Jack went on, But when you sort of fell out of the sky that day, I didn't know what to do, if I should involve you in all this mess, or keep you out of it. I was on my way back to bed that first night after fielding a call with West in my den when I heard you cry out. The distress was plainly etched in his expression now as he went on speaking softly. West advised that we say nothing to you... after all, neither I nor Daniel really knew anything about you. For all we knew, you could have turned out to be 'Evil Carter Incarnate.'

Sam couldn't help but grin at Jack's words of alliteration even as what he was saying completely unhinged her mind.

Jack quietly went on, I fought for your involvement right from the very beginning, but West ordered me to keep my mouth shut. He said that I was way too involved in this mess to show proper judgment about this whole thing, and maybe he was right. Seeing you standing in my den that way... Jack shook his head. It was nothing short of every dream of mine come true right in one minute... which is why I didn't believe it at first. I've come to realize that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Sam painfully swallowed the lump growing in her throat. So what you're saying is... She had to pause herself and take a deep breath to keep the tears that already and embarrassingly pricked at the back of her eyes at bay. So... That 'us...' What's between us... You faked it?

Jack's expression moved from one showing grief to pure misery. No! he emphatically insisted. It was all real, I swear. Then he shut his eyes in regret again. But I don't blame you for thinking that way, either. I really debated for a long time telling you about this because... Jack gusted a heavy sigh then. I don't want to lose you over this, Sam. But there's not much I can do about softening it, either. This whole mole(s) thing... it's big... way bigger than we first suspected. We think it goes all the way up to Kinsey, though the VP's clean, we're fairly sure. That's why I agreed to go see Hammond when you mentioned it. I was pretty sure I could do what you wanted, and still not blow my cover. He sighed again, the regret twisting in his breath. But you figured all this out so damned fast... much faster then I ever anticipated. Though I should have guessed how you are with puzzles, knowing Carter the way I do... did.

Jack, Sam said, interrupting his recitation. She was so stunned that she felt numb and sick. It was all she could do to make her mouth form the words that she wanted to say. Just bottom line this for me. What, exactly, are your feelings here? She stared at him so hard that her stare began turning into a glare. I know that this mole thing is all mixed up with 'us,' like you said it was, and I've played right into your little plan from the very beginning. I can see that now.

Jack cut her off. That's where you're wrong, he firmly stated. There was no plan. We were winging this from the start. In fact, if there was ever a plan, you gave it to us, you figured out who to contact, when to contact them, how to find the second 'Gate, about the 'Ra people, about the ships... we haven't even thought that far ahead, and you say that you're from a whole reality where it's already almost a done deal. He simply stared at her for a second. And you do all this, and still manage to look so beautiful... damn it, Sam, you take my breath away sometimes, ya know?

Sam resisted the pull of the compliment he was trying to give her. You already knew Hammond, she forcefully predicted. That time we 'kidnapped' him wasn't the first time you two have met at all.

Jack tried not to appear too guilty, but it was hard. That was why Hammond was able to get these supplies for us so fast... the supplies were already there, just in case I needed them at a moment's notice.

Sam glared at him then. She stayed silent until he prompted her. Out with it, Sam he advised. Before you throw a rod in your mind, what'r'you thinking?

Sam's glare only intensified. Here's what I'm thinking, she slowly said. But I expect that you won't like it one bit!

Jack winced. I don't deserve to, was all he said.

So Sam huffed a breath and said, Don't you know that I'll always wonder if you're seeing Carter every time you look at me now, if I have this ghost of her hanging over my head? And why don't you just say it? You and West want me to be your bait this second time around on Abydos, right? You want to use me to help dig out the person or people who must still be on the planet, 'cause any mole who can infiltrate the SGO is smart enough to realize that you and West would eventually figure out that you didn't kill Carter all on your own. Then when you came back to prove it, they'll be waiting for you, have all the advantages...

That's where you come in, Jack hurried to say, then hurried to correct himself, I mean, if you want to come in at all. But you threw a huuuuge wrench in this whole thing. Me and West and anyone else could never have predicted that you would show up at all, and at this particular time... Jack regarded her for a moment. Sam, you look just like her! The first time I saw you, you scared the crap out of me! I thought I really was looking at a ghost, and I don't even believe in that kind of stuff. His expression softened just as his voice did. But it got so mixed up so fast... No matter what you might think, I care about you an awful lot, not just Carter, but you, and...

He cares about me, Sam couldn't help sarcastically repeating in her mind, thinking about Za'tarc tests, the Tok'ra, and when her own Colonel O'Neill had said those same words to her and a roomful of people watching him spill his guts without saying anything specific. In fact, Jack O'Neill was the master of the vague statement. He never said anything that exactly explained any of his emotions, not if he could help it.

And Sam was damned sick of it. Why don't you come right out and say it? she demanded to know. I don't really know a damned thing. It's always 'I care a lot' with you. Well, you know what? I've heard that piddly excuse for not saying anything while you're supposed to be confessing everything that I just don't care at all anymore!

Jack's gaze turned from miserable to confused in one second flat. I don't get it, he said. What are you... Then he suddenly understood that he was hearing her talk about something that had happened in her own reality, something that he didn't know about because he hadn't done it. Sam, it's your choice, he stated at last. All I know is that I don't want anything to ruin any 'us' that we have right now, but I've always been an idealist... a cynical idealist, but an idealist just the same. That may not be possible anymore, and I always regret what I almost had. And I don't see Carter when I look at you. I see you. As much as it pains me to admit, and I had feelings for Carter right up to the last minute, but we never got the chance to explore those feelings, not like I have with you. Maybe there was some transference of emotions, like we first worried about, but since the very beginning, I have been falling for you in a way that I didn't even fall for my first wife, and never felt for Carter... it's all you, and it feels like it's always been you. He abruptly stopped talking, and in a softer tone went on to explain, Now that you know everything, and it's all messed up with this whole mole(s) thing... It's up to you, he said again. You can keep helping us... and you'll be a big help even without me or 'us' scattered in this mess... Or you can once again go through the Mirror to where you came from without looking back. I wouldn't blame you if that's what you decide to do. Though I'll miss the heck out of you if you go. But it's your decision. He stopped speaking again and began moving away. Then he paused once more. I just thought you should have that choice, though, to be ready for anything in case you decide to go with us to Abydos. Yeah, West wants to use you as bait...

What do you want? Sam asked, interrupting him to quietly demand.

Jack gazed into her blue eyes with sudden agony in his brown ones. I want you to stay, he said right away. But this isn't for me to decide. Then he couldn't say anything more, so he just left to rejoin Daniel and Janet in chipping the ice away from the supposed DHD site.

And Sam watched him go.

* * *

Half an hour later Jack, Daniel, and Janet were still chipping patiently away at what was clearly going to turn out to be an ooooollllldddd DHD. A dead Jaffa was lying at the base of the DHD, but Jack didn't plan to chip the ice covering down far enough to completely free the alien warrior. Instead, it was taking all of his energy just to clear the star symbols with his friends' help. There was no way that he was going to clear the ice away from the device's base unless he had absolutely no choice!

He was just thinking the word 'base' when all three of them were stopped from their random chipping by the sudden appearance of Sam at his side. He glanced at her, trying to gauge her shuttered facial expression in order to read her decision before she said a word, but she was just as good as he was at schooling his expressions to give nothing away. Even he couldn't interpret her expression with any degree of accuracy. Well? he finally asked to hurry her explanation along. You've decided something?

I really resent this whole thing, Sam growled, looking less than happy about the entire situation. But in the name of intrareality relations, I agree to this whole 'using me as bait' thing again...

Daniel interrupted her to grin and say, I always knew you would make the logical choice!

Sam turned her hard stare onto the archaeologist. I'm not finished, Daniel, she venomously stated.

Her firm comment wiped the smile right off Daniel's face. Sorry, he contritely mumbled, successfully chastised.

Sam said, I agree... on one condition.

Jack waved his hand in the air as if he'd known that she was going to make conditions to any agreement she might make.

Sam went on to his unspoken prompt. Jack, you tell Janet everything. Don't keep her in the dark, too.

But Jack's orders.., Daniel began.

Sam growled again, a sound that came from low in her throat. I don't care about orders, Daniel, she grumbled. This is not a negotiation. Take it or leave it, that's the deal.

Janet had watched this exchange without saying a word, but now she furled her brows and asked, I thought this was just a trip to re-enact Sam's... and to clear the Colonel?

It is, Sam noted. But it goes a lot deeper than just clearing Jack's name.

Janet looked befuddled. You mean there's more?

Sam growled for a third time. A lot more.

Oh, Janet inelegantly proclaimed. Um...

Sam stopped Janet from leaping off the block of ice and getting ready to follow Jack as he gestured her towards the back of the cavern. Sam managed to halt everything when she stated, And I know who your mole probably is. At their looks of surprise, added, Or at least, one of the possible moles.

Her comments caught Jack's wandering attention before it had the chance to drift far. What? he blurted, then reddened. How? I mean, who is it?

At the same time, Daniel asked, Who should we be on the lookout for? and Janet simultaneously looked as confused as Sam had ever seen her. Mole? she screeched. What mole?

Sam ignored them all to hold aloft the list of SGO personnel that General Hammond had loaned to them only the day before. I thought I should do something constructive if I was going to sulk in back of the cavern, and knew as soon as I looked at his name on this list that it could be him. What do you know about the leader of SG-8, Major Jonas Hansen?

Hansen? Jack barked. He's as fine an officer as they come.

Yeah, Daniel agreed. We would never have known about that darker side of his if you hadn't... He hesitated, then specified, Captain Carter, I mean... If she hadn't told us about her being married to him for awhile, but when we were on a mission right when we first...

But Daniel wasn't able to say anything further. Sam's eyes bugged out and she gasped, Married!

They were all silent as they stared at each other. Finally Jack broke the silence when he said, Yeah, for a year or two when you... she... was twenty or twenty-five.

Sam wrinkled her nose. I was never married to him! We were only engaged! When he made that first... mistake... I shot out of there faster than lightening!

Janet again furrowed her brow. 'Mistake?' she repeated. What mistake? She turned back to her girlfriend. Sam, you never told me about any mistake!

Be glad that I didn't, Sam growled. It's as unpleasant a story as it is a memory.

And again they were interrupted by another noise coming from the fissure in the cavern ceiling leading up to the arctic surface. By the time they had all turned to face the area in surprise, three unknown soldiers had already lowered themselves by cable to the uneven flooring, and General Hammond was soon to join them on a cable of his own, wearing a heavy coat against the cold.

General Hammond! Sam barked, her voice full of the astonishment that they were all displaying on their faces. What are you doing here? she asked, then went on to blurt, How did you find us so fast?

Hammond chuckled as he joined them, leaving the three soldiers to supervise the further lowering of extra gear in boxes and bags. Well, Hammond drawled, accentuating his Tennessee accent with his slow speech. I don't have any brilliant scientists just sitting in my back pocket, working on finding the second Stargate, in case you're wondering. His eyes flicked from between Sam and Jack and back again. He said to Sam, The truth is that I had a locator beacon installed inside one of the bags of supplies that I loaned to you. His eye twinkled just a bit as he continued, rhetorically asking, Why search for something that may or may not exist when following you straight to this mythical second Stargate is so much easier? Then his eyes traveled over their shoulders and up to take in the behemoth behind them. And there the second 'Gate is, just as you said it would be, Major Carter. Good work! He gave a sort of laughing/grunting sound. I wouldn't mind keeping you around after all this is over.

Jack's sigh split the tiny bubble of comradeship that had fallen over the group. Right now, I'd advise not pushing Sam too far in one hour, Sir.

Hammond looked puzzled. Colonel?

She knows all of it, Sir, Jack informed his superior General without saying a word about how her knowledge had come about.

Sam immediately jumped into the conversation. I figured it out, and forced Jack to confirm my suspicions, or I wouldn't agree to continue to be 'the bait' for this little plan of West's and yours. She disliked feeling as if she wanted to come to Jack's defense, but she didn't want to cause him trouble for defying his explicit orders from General West not to tell her anything, either. So she gamely went on as even more distraction from the truth, Another condition of my agreement was that he has to tell Janet everything. At Hammond's doubtful look, she hurried to go on, It's not fair to thrust Janet into a situation where she doesn't understand the dangers. After all, this is about a lot more than simply clearing the... clearing Jack's name. Even though I know this goes against Jack's orders, I'm not sure I care about that any longer.

Hammond's face quickly grew thunderous. Do you plan to hold us to the equivalent of vocal hostages if we don't comply to your..?

Sam cut off an officer of superior rank for the first time in her life. In a harsh tone full of the anger she was currently feeling, she blurted, General, you had better stop right there before you say something you'll regret.

Janet gaped, speechless, at the firm tone of Sam's voice while speaking directly to a General. Jack and Daniel didn't even bother to look surprised as she continued.

Sam said to Hammond, And before you get all bent out of shape for the way I'm talking to a superior officer, I remind you that I was never a member of your Force, and you're not my superior officer. Your counterpart from my reality is, but you aren't.

Hammond could only vocalize a stuttering, Uh... True... Uh...

Jack, you and Janet go do your thing, Sam suggested next, her tone bordering on controlled fury. I'll explain things to the General.

Jack said a soft, Okay, as if he didn't want to argue with her, possibly making her more angry than she already was, and led Janet away to the far side of the icy cavern, where they could have the privacy of distance for their discussion. And Sam went on, In the meantime, now that Janet's not here to get confused... General Hammond, I was just telling Daniel and Jack when you arrived that I think I know who your mole is.

That information surprised General Hammond even further, if that was possible. How..? Who..? He gaped at her in wide-eyed amazement. Then, an instant later, his face shuttered, and he stared at Sam with narrowed eyes and a suspicious look. Just how did you figure that out in only a few days when actual SGO employees have been trying for years to crack the mole(s) identity? After a pause, he added before she could speak, And just how do you know who, it, or they are anyway?

Sam held up her hand to slow his natural stream of questions. Let me tell you my story, she said in order to encourage both Hammond and Daniel to silence. When they appeared as if they were at least listening to her, Sam tried to force herself to ignore her inborn anger long enough to begin her tail. But she couldn't completely ignore her emotions, as they were tightly connected to the story behind the possible mole(s) identity. What came out of her was a tone bordering on strangled anger and one of total impartiality. I had just forced Jack into telling me about the possible mole(s). (Not precisely true, but Hammond didn't need to know the particulars of hers and Jack's recent history, and if she could take some of the heat off of Jack for trusting her enough to defy his orders not to tell her about the mole(s), but to tell her anyway, then she was agreeable to do anything short of murder to protect him from the potential fallout of his choice to defy his orders for her. Lying to the General seemed almost insignificant compared to the possible consequences for Jack.)

Sam went on, I was plenty furious about the Force's choice to use me as bait without telling me about it, and while I was on the far side of the cavern, stewing about the information I had asked Jack to impart, I began looking through the personnel list that you loaned us in an attempt to distract myself from being really, really, really angry at being used. When I read that Major Jonas Hansen was not only alive in this reality, but the leader of an SG team, I was surprised enough to take note of it. Sam explained some of her history so that the General might understand her way of thinking a bit better. Jonas Hansen and I were once engaged to be married. He made what I've always called 'a mistake,' but in actuality, he was engaging in basic assault, then trying to fix it so that he could conveniently blame me for being responsible for what were really scenes showing his poor control over his temper. I ended the engagement quite abruptly, gave his ring back, and left for the Pentagon, where I was reassigned at the time.

Sam continued, I thought that portion of my life was over, but Jonas showed up again years later as a team leader at the SGC... my SGO. While SG-1... my team... was on a mission to investigate the disappearance of another SG team, Jonas went crazy enough that an entire planet's inhabitants, whom he tried to terrorize into following him without question, killed him.

Sam took a breath as Hammond and Daniel continued to pierce her with their unwavering attention. Now we jump to today, in this reality. I was under the impression that Jonas Hansen was dead, but a quick glance through this list shows that he's very much alive, and a Major at the SGO. I was even more surprised when Daniel told me your Captain Carter had been married, not just engaged, to Jonas Hansen for a short time years ago.

Now... what was I thinking that's bad enough to implicate him as at least a possible mole at the SGO? Sam continued, explaining. Jonas had a history with Captain Carter that was of the personal kind, just as my Jonas Hansen had a history with me. Because of my ending of mine and Jonas' engagement... Sam turned then to Daniel. And I assume that Captain Carter's divorce was because of her instigation, not Jonas Hansen's?

Yeah, Daniel managed to look intelligent while saying. She said that he lost his temper and hit her several times while they were on their honeymoon, and that she decided that she'd had enough. But they were married by then, and she had to file for divorce, which didn't go through for another year and a half.

Sam nodded. Okay, just like I thought. She turned back to face Hammond. Knowing Jonas personally, I realized right away that, as long as Jonas has the same basic personality in our two realities, Jonas would never be the type of person to give up control over another person so easily. He would still be holding a grudge against Captain Carter for standing up for herself on her honeymoon and asking for a divorce just as my Jonas was still holding a grudge against me for ending our engagement. And if Jonas thinks he's been slighted in any way, he'll come out seeking revenge first, and ask questions about a situation later.

Sam took a breath, thinking, This explanation is getting awfully windy! She needed to try to sum up their history, but the thinking was distracting her from her anger, and she would rather be distracted than angry any day of the week. She went on, If Jack didn't kill Captain Carter, like we suspect that he didn't, then who did? It had to be someone relatively high up in the SGO to even be able to 'Gate to Abydos to wait for SG-2 to arrive on the planet, and he or she would still need General West's help to dial the 'Gate. Which means that West has to have known where this person was going. West has already shown that he doesn't agree with the idea that Jack killed Carter by helping Jack to 'pretend' to retire while in actuality allowing him to still work for the Force. I imagine that you-know-who gave West the orders to let whomever it was to go though the 'Gate to Abydos?

General Hammond nodded. The order came straight from Kinsey, which is what tipped us off that all was not quite right. The President can and certainly has given orders to military units in the past, but rarely to one military individual. The uniqueness of that situation encouraged us to start paying more attention to him.

Right, Sam said in agreement with his interpretation of events. But West helped whoever it was who Kinsey ordered to go through the 'Gate to Abydos so that he didn't alert his orderer... Kinsey... that West was onto him. So whoever it was who secretly went through the 'Gate actually did go through the 'Gate and lay in wait for SG-2 to show up. And when they did, and when Jack agreed to do that staff weapon lesson with the Abydonian kids, and shot close to Carter, whoever was waiting for SG-2 acted, and Captain Carter was killed.

Sam's expression turned thoughtful. Now... and from here on out I'm surmising... it's not known fact... Jonas Hansen had reason to hold a personal grudge against Captain Carter. In his mind, it would have been well within his rights to be extremely angry at her for defying his control enough to divorce him. Jonas was angry enough at me for just ending our engagement! she exclaimed. I can only imagine how vindictive he would have felt at Carter for divorcing him.

Daniel interrupted her recitation. But aren't you jumping to conclusions here? he asked. Just because Hansen had reason to be angry at Captain Carter doesn't mean that he killed her. We don't even know that it was him who went to Abydos!

Sam gestured to one of the soldiers as a way of reply. Do you happen to have a computer handy with you? she asked.

The man nodded, held up one finger to indicate that she wait a moment, dug around in one of the bags that they had brought into the cavern, and pulled out a 'something' that resembled Sam's laptop. Plug it directly into the generator over there, he instructed her, pointing at a box where two heaters were already plugged in and spewing hot air onto the block of ice that covered the DHD. The work of those two heaters had shortened the uncovering of the DHD by several hours already, and were gaining time.

Sam snaked the long computer-like machine's chord to the generator, but Daniel had to show her where to attach it so that she could tap into the generator's power source. When she was done, she handed the computer to General Hammond. I bet that if you check the date of Carter's death, then cross reference it to what Hansen was doing at that time, or the day before, the SGO scheduling records will show that his team was on downtime. And if you keep digging, you'll find that West 'hid' the fact that he ordered the 'Gate to be opened for Abydos, and that Jonas went through the 'Gate, but that West attempted to conceal the commands to make it look like he didn't want us to find it when, in fact, he actually did.

Hammond shot her a puzzled look again, but did as he was told. He pulled up the SGO's master schedule, which showed that SG-8 had indeed been on two weeks of downtime after a particularly grueling mission the week before Carter was killed. I found that Hansen was available to 'Gate off-world, Hammond said. But I don't know how to find anything that indicates that West did what you say he did and opened the 'Gate to Abydos.

Here, Sam said, taking the machine from Hammond. Let me try... She hit several close approximations to keystrokes, hit another button several times, scrolled through many commands, but the machine was not as forthcoming as she had hoped that it would be. Hmmm, she hummed. This may take a few minutes.

Huh! Hammond grunted. 'A few minutes!' he derisively quoted. West probably spent days on creating the program to hide his information, so that he wouldn't make it look too easy to discover what he was doing. And you expect to crack that program in 'a few minutes?'

Sam briefly smiled up at him. You haven't worked with me before, she reminded him. Computer hacking is my specialty. She went to work, holding the machine carefully on her lap while sitting on the packing boxes. Daniel and General Hammond went back to 'helping' the heaters to melt the ice away by chipping by hand at what was left.

Silence reigned in the cavern. Sam could barely distinguish the murmurs of Jack and Janet's conversation as she worked. at last, after twenty-eight minutes, she triumphantly said, Aha! She turned the machine towards Daniel and Hammond. Just as I said, she couldn't help but gloat a bit.

Hammond and Daniel leaned in closer to the screen of the computer, and read the words displayed on the screen. Look at that! Hammond muttered mostly to himself.

Sam grinned tightly. It's easy when you know what you're doing.

Hammond grunted. How did you get so good at cracking our computer programs when you've only been in our reality for a few days?

Sam's grin grew a bit more. Computers are basically the same everywhere, or at least, they work on the same principles. All I did was guess at West's password, then rewrite the cover program he had employed to tell the machine to show his orders over the last month. And there it is, in plain type... he ordered the 'Gate Room to be cleared on the 10th of Mulan...

That's this month, Daniel helpfully pointed out. About a day before Carter... He didn't finish, but painfully swallowed.

Sam was glad that Jack wasn't present to witness Daniel's discomfort.

How did you guess his password? Hammond inquired then.

Easy, Sam told him with a shrug. I called up his military personnel file, and even if it's been relegated as 'top secret,' it still lists the fact that he owns a dog named 'Mince.' I just guessed that was what he'd used as his password. Way too many people use the name of their pets as passwords to sensitive information.

Clever, Daniel muttered.

So, Hammond said to bring them back to topic. This says..? He gestured at the computer in Sam's lap.

Sam cut him off once again to say, It says that the 'Gate was opened, the address to Abydos was dialed, and that one Major Jonas Hansen went through the 'Gate, all on orders from President Kinsey. So, it's my theory that Jonas was on Abydos, waiting for SG-2 to show up. And when they did, he used the cover of Jack's staff weapon lesson to shoot Captain Carter at point blank range, which caused the victim to fly backwards several feet from the force of the blast, and also caused the extreme amount of blood that was all over Jack and Captain Carter.

And you figured this out by..? Hammond prompted.

Sam sighed, rather disgruntled that her attempts at hiding her emotions from herself were going to prove to have been useless actions on her part. But again she gamely went on, As I said, I was mad, and I was looking over this file from you as a way to get me to think about something else that would distract me from being mad. Sam sighed once more, but went on, The second I saw Jonas Hansen's name on this list, it caught my attention, and I began immediately thinking: What if Jack hadn't been the intended target in the whole 'kill Carter' scenario, but Captain Carter was actually the target? That would be the case if I could prove that it was Jonas who was available to go through the 'Gate and wait for SG-2 on Abydos. Jonas then killed his target, Captain Carter, for personal reasons, which he was allowed to do as long as Jack O'Neill could be made to look like the target in this shooting, and then made to retire from the SGO, which, according to West's computer report, written here under his password 'Mince,' were Kinsey's overall orders to West. We know that the whole retirement thing was real... if in a faked way. It was as if General West had to 'force' Jack to retire, thus getting him out of the SGO, when in fact that entire 'retirement of Jack's' was faked. And it says right here that West was under direct orders to get Jonas through the 'Gate and to force Jack to leave the SGO. My guess is that West just had to come up with a viable reason for Jack to leave the SGO. And it was all under Kinsey's orders, as West has said. She shrugged again. This is all theoretical, of course.

But plausible, Daniel interrupted to say.

Sam again shrugged her agreement with Daniel. But see, the whole theoretical scenario shows some proof that was simple to find when you know a little bit of Jonas Hansen's history. But I bet that Kinsey is banking on the fact that nobody will ever think to look at the 'history of Jonas Hansen' angle. And my appearance in this reality was a complete wild-card. It could never have been predicted. But I know Hansen's history, because it's sort of my history too. She shrugged again. Put the two together, and you have at least one of your moles, who killed Carter, and who ordered West to cover it up. Simple.

Hammond snorted to show his view of how 'simple' it had been, and when Jack and Janet arrived beside them, was arrested enough to only look quite thoughtful. At least he doesn't look confused anymore, Sam said to herself.

Jack really did look confused as he stared at all of them. General? he tentatively asked. Is there something wrong?

Hammond shook his head, as if he were clearing it of the sticky cobwebs spun by Sam's tail and hypothesizing. Colonel, he said at last, pointing a finger at Sam. She was afraid that she had done something truly heinous, but Hammond went on to say to Jack, If you decide that you don't want to keep her in this reality, we'll see that staying is too sweet a deal for her to want to leave.

Jack slowly smiled in such obvious affection that Sam had a hard time trying to resist it. She had to remind herself that she was currently angry at Jack. I know she's a keeper, Jack commented, in an almost offhand manner. I've tried to tell West my thoughts concerning Sam, but...

Hammond cut him off. Well... Let's save comments on who has said what until you return from Abydos. He glanced at the four people gathered before him. And you will return, he said in firm finality. You're too smart not to return. He turned to glance again at the uncovered portion of the DHD. You know, if we get those three soldiers who I brought with me to help the five of us, we should have the DHD free in short order. He gestured the three over to them and ordered them to use their hands if they had to, but that DHD needed to be quickly available.

So they all set to work. Within an hour of constant scraping and shifting of partially melted ice, the DHD was cleared enough for Jack to punch in the address to Abydos, and for the event horizon of the Stargate to form inside the cavern with a bellowing swoosh that echoed off the walls and ceiling of the icy chamber.

Well, it works, Jack then said with relief in his voice. Good thing, as I didn't know what to suggest that we do next if this baby didn't pan out.

The wormhole blazed a stable blue color for a moment, then disappeared. Sam heard General Hammond sigh sadly behind her, and he softly said, I wish we had a probe of some kind to send through first with video feed so that we could know what you'll be facing when you get there.

Wishful thinking, Jack said as if he had a lot of experience with wishful thoughts.

If wishes were horses.., Sam muttered to herself.

But she'd forgotten what good hearing Jack had even though he'd spent half his life around explosives. He smiled at her comment, though he continued to look at the 'Gate. If wishes were horses, Jack said back to her as he slowly departed to begin gathering supplies for their trip to Abydos. Then he looked piercingly right at her. I know what I'd wish for, he said before turning away to help the others.

What? Sam wanted to ask. What would he wish for? She tried to guess. Would he wish for Captain Carter to return to life? Would he wish that none of this had ever happened? Would he wish for Charlie... Tyler... back?

But she really had no idea, and wouldn't have a clue unless she asked him directly. Maybe he wishes that I was gone and that Carter was here with him. Sam swallowed the buildup of bile in her throat at that thought. Her heart began pounding as she continued to think that she had to concede that point even if she didn't like it.

Wait a minute... How could she dislike it? Wasn't she supposed to still be angry at everyone connected to the SGO, Jack in particular? Wasn't she still angry as a hornet on a mission to sting someone?

Not anymore.

Damn. Sam sighed in defeat. She never could stay mad at Jack O'Neill for more than an hour. In fact, she was lucky that she had made it beyond five minutes! It wasn't fair, really. She had plenty of things that she could be mad about... but reminding herself of them now was only giving her a headache, not keeping her anger alive.

Wondering what she should do, and having a few wishes herself, but refusing to tell Jack about any of the few that she did have, Sam turned to lend a hand.

Part VIII

And so... Abydos!

Sam squinted against the sun that flooded through her eyelids. She should have remembered to bring her sunglasses. But they were still in another reality. She grunted: they would have done little good against this sun anyway. She felt a tiny twinge of sympathy for Jack, who was sensitive to strong light even while wearing his sunglasses. But eye protection against the sun had not been high on anybody's priority list back on 'Earth.' Of much more interest had been finding a second 'Gate if one existed at all, and seeing if it still worked.

Sam tripped over an indentation in the sand. It was amazing, really, how uneven this sandy slope just outside Ra's pyramid was. Now I remember why I never liked coming here, she commented to anyone who was listening. Sand gets in my... Well, everywhere, she ended on a vague note.

Here, take this, Jack suddenly said, ignoring her commentary to hold out a handgun and some ammunition to Daniel.

Daniel slipped the book on Egyptian artifacts that he'd been reading during the trip to Antarctica to his left hand, and timidly took the offered weapon and extra ammunition with his right.

Jack went on, We're walking into a potentially hostile zone: I don't want anyone to be unable to defend themselves if they have to, and weapons were one thing that Hammond was unable to procure for us in DC with their ban on handguns.

Do you think that'll ever be overturned? Daniel curiously asked. I don't think I want to know where you got this, he said as an afterthought.

Sam couldn't stop herself from blurting, Daniel, you're amazing... Here we are on another planet, for crying out loud, and you're reading a book!

Daniel grunted as he first checked that the safety of the handgun was on, then stuffed the weapon that Jack had offered to him into his trouser waistband. I want to finish this one chapter! Daniel defended himself as he tucked. Speaking about something as mundane as chapters in a book on Egyptology while stowing away a gun was a bit of an oxymoron that the archaeologist seemed to be unaware of.

Doc, you armed? Jack inquired next, also ignoring Daniel's defensive remark.

Janet pulled a smaller pistol out of a holster strapped to her side. I have this 9 millimeter from my academy days when I used to sit alone for one of my medical instructors in a very big house full of expensive furniture that I wanted to protect. I even had to use it once, though all I did was hit someone over the head with it, as I had forgotten that I might need ammunition for it someday.

Jack grinned, the sun shining off his rosy cheeks. Hopefully you won't be hitting anyone with it here.

I hope I will, Janet contradicted. It's been so long since this gun was fired that with my luck, it would backfire. I'd rather not have to be the one squeezing the trigger if it comes to that.

He next held out a small handgun to Sam. Here Sam. I don't want you to be unarmed, either. I know that this gun isn't very big, but it's small enough to fit in your pocket, he said of the small weapon he handed to Sam. It might give you a tiny advantage in a field that could be particularly hostile, particularly to you. It'll help to make it look like you are unarmed but actually be secretly armed the entire time. He warily looked at the tiny weapon in her hand. Maybe you should use it only if you have to.

Sam stared at how much more lethal such a tiny weapon looked in her hand as opposed to how ineffectual it had appeared in his larger palm. Does something this small actually fire? she dubiously asked.

As a reply, Jack took the pistol back from her, turned away from them and fired the weapon that was almost swallowed up by his palm. Yeah, I'd say that it does.

Sam finished with a skittish sidestep caused by the loud noise the gun had made. Was a demonstration really necessary?

Jack smirked. Even as she was abruptly annoyed at him again, Sam had to admit to herself that she had missed that smirk! He said to everyone, Any of you hear something that sounds like that, come running with weapons drawn. We're walking to a possible murder site that could very well prove to be rather fatal to Sam, and I really don't want to have to bury another Carter. He glanced at her to see if she understand that he was teasing, but quickly sobered back down when she didn't immediately glance back at him. When she did turn back towards him, he said to her, If you have a weapon, it will ease my mind a little.

He was spending time worrying about her? Sam finally smiled at him.

But then he went on, ruining the almost-compliment that he had given her. Just don't shoot anybody with it unless you think you're gonna actually hit them. You can shoot, can't you? I mean, you were in your version of the military, weren't you? He gazed inquiringly at her.

Aggravated, Sam ordered, Daniel, toss the book you're holding into the air.

Without question, Daniel tossed up the book he was still holding. Sam continued to squint against the powerful sunlight in her eyes as she systematically put four holes in the book, one in each corner of the front cover. She critically surveyed her aim when it came back to the ground. Hmmm, she said as she looked at where she had hit. Then she glanced at the small weapon in her hand. It pulls a little to the right. I'll have to remember that.

Her three companions were speechless for a moment as they stared at Daniel's book. Huh, Jack finally grunted in surprise. You and me are going to have to spend some time facing off at the firing range when we get back.

As long as you promise to take me out to dinner when I whip your ass, Sam agreed. Then you're on. She slipped the weapon's safety on, then put it and the extra magazines that Jack had given her into her front trouser pocket. Anytime. What had come over her? She usually didn't fall for such a macho line as Jack's.

I better start saving for dinner right now, was the next anti-macho line that Jack blurted. Which reminds me, he said as they once again began trekking across the desert towards the nearest Abydonian settlement. You never did tell me why you brought all that cash with you when you came here... there... you know what I mean.

Sam giggled.

Jack again commented, I'd tell you to stop giggling, but I'm assuming that hearing it means you're not mad at me anymore, and besides... He shrugged. I kind of like the sound of it.

Daniel shook his head. Jack, you are so far gone, I can't even see you anymore.

Thanks Daniel, Jack sarcastically muttered. But he still looked at Sam. Money? he prompted.

Sam grimaced, but the gesture was lost in her squint. You were the beneficiary of my will, Jack, she explained. But as the Colonel O'Neill in my reality is... She didn't finish her comment either. Since he'll never receive any of my estate, I willed everything left in my account to my Daniel and my Janet, with most of it going into Cassie's college fund.

To whose college fund? Janet innocently asked.

They hadn't heard of Cassie? Oh boy, Sam resignedly said under her breath. I see that General Hammond and I are going to have to have a talk about a planet called Hanka.

The others all shrugged, as they had no idea what she was talking about. So Sam continued with her explanation, Anyway, I left most of it to several people, but took some with me so that in case I ever found a Jack, I could leave it to him when I... She wasn't able to say the word 'died' then, either, because Jack cut her off.

Well, I'm sure glad that you didn't disappear from the face of the your Earth with no way to support yourself if you had to, Jack loudly proclaimed as they trudged on.

Hey Sam, Daniel next inquired after a short silence. You've mentioned this Sha'ner person...

Sha're person, Sam automatically corrected.

Yeah, her, Daniel said. Who is she, and why's she so important to me?

Sam grimaced once more, and her gesture was lost a second time as she looked at him. I don't know if I should tell you that, Daniel. I might mess up the whole time continuum thing,

We're in a different reality than yours, not a different timeframe, Jack pointed out. It's a totally new time thing here. An alternate reality has nothing to do with that time continuum thing. How can you mess up something that hasn't even started yet?

Good point, Sam pensively said. To Daniel, she added, Sha're was your wife. Or at least she was in my reality.

That news made Daniel almost fall flat on his face as he tripped over his own foot in his surprise. My what?

Wife, Sam casually repeated. She's the daughter of the leader fella here. She turned more fully towards her friend now as she walked. You know, you always called Sha're's father 'Good Father' in my reality. And that always made me want to call him 'Bad Father,' just once, just to see what would happen. She grinned at him. It always piqued my interest.

But Daniel wasn't listening to her, as he was still stuck on the 'wife' part of her explanation, according to the look of shock on his face.

You go, Daniel my boy! Jack was appreciatively saying to Daniel instead of letting him speak.

None of them had time to comment on how Daniel was to acquire his wife, however, as they topped a rise and the Abydonian settlement hove into view.

No naqueda mine here, Sam murmured as she glanced at the sprawling village/town.

The mine's just beyond the town, Jack conversationally said, while Daniel seemed to have something stuck in his throat.

Ah, Sam said in understanding.

Daniel grunted, Uh..! Uh..!

Save it for the ladies, Daniel, Jack was advising as they reached the outskirts of the town... of the village... of the collection of sandstone houses before them. Janet and Sam snickered at Jack's comment just as an entourage left the gates in the wall surrounding the town in order to greet them, headed by a man...

Oh look, Sam nonchalantly said to Daniel. It's your future father-in-law.

Jack sniggered then. Sam tried to hold back her laughter, but snorted anyway, and Daniel continued to helplessly grunt.

The man reached them, and upon recognizing them as the peaceful travelers he'd seen before rather than Goa'uld, said something in welcome as they all bowed in greeting.

As a linguist, Daniel, the natural one to answer him, only blurted, Bad Father! Uh, I mean Good Father! Uh, I mean...

He can't understand you, Daniel, Jack murmured, a faked smile gracing his features.

The man stared at them all, then his eyes alighted on Sam, and he suddenly grinned, gesturing to her and enthusiastically saying something more. He obviously was remembering what had befallen the Carter from the earlier expedition to his town. A quick glance at Jack told Sam that he was wishing that he didn't remember any of it.

I think their leader just announced that I'm miraculously recovered, Sam noted to distract Jack. The natives had all bowed to her as the head man continued to say something, singing it this time as he bowed with his fellow planetary inhabitants.

What's he saying now? Janet asked, just then recovering her tongue.

I have no idea, Daniel announced. Just nod and smile at them.

Sam smiled, nodded, but instructed, Listen for the vowels, Daniel.

How do you know that? Jack asked. Have you become a linguist lately and didn't bother to tell me?

Sam snorted again. Not likely! It's just that my Daniel told this story of meeting the natives of Abydos a hundred times if he told it once.

Daniel carefully listened as the head man said more to him, then bade them with hand gestures to follow him. It was then that Daniel's face suddenly cleared. It's a blend language, almost like...

Good, Daniel, Jack said. It seemed that he was determined not to let his friend finish a sentence. Just say 'hi' and ask if we can take a look around.

Daniel spouted out a few words from some foreign language, and made hand gestures into the air to accompany his words. The Abydonian man listened with a look of astonishment on his face at the way Daniel was abruptly able to speak to him.

I think he just offered us his firstborn, Daniel told his companions in puzzlement. Or else he deeded us his pig...

They don't have pigs in a desert, Janet pointed out.

Daniel just shrugged. Whatever... I think I got our purpose for being here across to him.

So we can look around? Jack wanted to know.

Daniel glanced up at him. Yeah. If we don't mind the whole village tagging along behind.

Sure, Jack said, and once again appeared more laid-back about this whole Carter deal than Sam had expected him to be. It made her suspect that he was covering up many more emotions than she had seen thus far. Just make sure that someone stays with Sam at all times, and the camera is out and ready to start filming at a moment's notice. And that Sam should not be in charge of the camera, ever, so that a second party will be free to film anything that transpires around her.

Sam was impressed: Jack wasn't taking any chances with her safety. It rankled to feel like she was under intense scrutiny, but she confusingly appreciated that scrutiny at the same time.

Jack pulled out the small video camera and commented, Okay, I suggest that we do a little re-enacting here. Daniel, you be yourself, and Sam, it makes the most sense that you be... His voice died as quickly as the wind rose in hot bursts of air, and he had to quickly look down as his emotions overwhelmed him in a wave, like the wind. He drew a deep breath and shuddered as his three companions patiently waited for him to go on. When he was better in control, his voice was much more strained than it had been. On second thought, Sam, why don't you come with me, and one of the village girls can play Carter for us.

Ooookaaay, Daniel slowly intoned. He looked around, then apparently spotted someone who would fill his idea of an Abydonian Captain Carter. He spoke to the leader he had spoken to earlier, and gestured first at the girl he had chosen from the crowd to play Carter for him, then to Jack, then to Sam, then made the sound of a weapon going off in his hand. The leader fella must have understood after Daniel repeated his request several times, for he smiled, nodded benevolently, and waved the girl over.

Sam couldn't help the quick intake of breath she gave.

What is it? Jack quietly asked, missing nothing of her reaction. Someone you know?

Not exactly, Sam replied, helpless to halt the introductions and the huge smile that Daniel wore on his face as the girl agreed and grinned as well.

Sam continued to whisper, That's Sha're.

Comprehension flooded Jack's expression, and he once again tried not to snicker in enjoyment of the little drama being played out before his eyes.

Jack then called, Oh, and Daniel, I'll need a group of young people to come with me to be the staff lesson attendees.

Daniel nodded at Jack, and made his request, all the time not taking his eyes away from Sha're. It was almost as if he was star-struck. Or as if a brick wall was going to imminently flatten him.

Jack gave a small grin and softly commented to Sam. Well, at least this whole thing is working out for somebody.

A group of teenagers, all dressed in desert robes or brown leggings, joined Jack and Sam, looking as if they were thrilled to be the extras in the SGO's version of a soap opera.

Janet piped up, And I'll pretend to be the assailant, if there was one.

Daniel pointed behind him. Okay, then Janet, you stand here, and you... He turned to Sha're, and immediately his gaze softened as his grin widened. You stand right here... He pulled Sha're to stand right beside him.

Wow, that was a fast fall into oblivion, Jack softly commented of Daniel, and Sam grinned again.

Then she turned to stare at Jack. Okay, what were you doing right before the..? Once again, she didn't finish.

Jack grimaced, but looked at the sand. He moved to the right, then moved to the left, then squatted down, then stood back up. Uh... I was... Uh... At last he sighed in irritation. What I wouldn't do for a staff weapon right about now. Or at least a long stick. Then he snorted a grimace. But good luck finding a stick on a desert planet.

Before either Jack or Sam could stop him, Daniel was repeating Jack's request to the Abydonian leader.

The youngsters surrounding Jack and Sam must have heard Daniel speaking, for their eyes lit up and they started gesturing and shouting as one.

Jack and Sam looked at each other in befuddlement. Whadwe do? Jack called over to Daniel.

Daniel responded, Uh... Nothing, as far as I can... He looked at Sha're as she began babbling to him in her native language. He looked surprised, then answered her. She nodded, then gestured for him to follow her.

Uh.., Daniel said. Then he took a hesitant step in the direction of the settlement. I think she wants us to follow her to a staff weapon.

Jack's brow furrowed. Where did they get a staff weapon? he asked, but Daniel had already disappeared through the gates of the village. So Jack shrugged, and allowed the young people to herd him and Sam the few steps to the village gates. They went through several twists, up and down several staircases, all followed by the entire village population, and at last into a room that contained a rack holding a staff weapon against one wall and a cell housing one familiar looking individual.

Sam gaped, then blurted, Teal'c!

The large man in the cell jerked his head up at the sound of his name. He slowly uncurled his large frame in order to stand, and looked at them all for a minute. Then he guessed, grunting in perfect Goa'uld, Someone knows of my reputation as a fierce warrior.

Uh.., Sam spluttered, trying extremely hard to force her scattered mind to translate her next statement into Goa'uld. No, she managed to say. Uh... I hear... hearing... of... She then glanced helplessly at Daniel. Daniel, she implored in her native language. How do I tell him about coming from an alternate reality where I've known him for the last five years?

Daniel took pity on her, and turned to the man in the cell. In Goa'uld, he asked, Your name is Teal'c?

Warily, Teal'c nodded.

Daniel went on to explain how Sam had come through a device that they called a Quantum Mirror, and that she was from another reality where she was good friends with his other self.

The Teal'c in this reality reacted to Daniel's explanation only by raising his eyebrows to his hairline. The fact that he rose both eyebrows at once showed his extreme surprise at this development.

He eyed Jack and Daniel, then perused Sam and Janet in a way that made them both furiously blush. What he chose to ask next surprised Sam and Janet, too. Female warriors?

Once Daniel had translated his words, Sam huffed a sigh of exasperation. Both she and Janet were used to getting this kind of reaction, especially from men, but really!

Jack answered before either of them could. He obviously understood Goa'uld, for he said, Yeah, and one's a damn fine warrior, and one's a damn fine doctor... uh... healer who does amazing things with needles. I wouldn't want to run into either of them in a dark alley if I were you.

Teal'c's brows lowered at Jack's words, and he asked, What is this 'dark alley?' Do you have ships that fly across the darkness of space?

Sam laughed, even as she felt warm all over at Jack's words of praise. No, she answered. He means that I know how to defend myself. Daniel translated for her, as it was clear that she couldn't speak Goa'uld as well as Jack did, but she had no trouble understanding it when it was spoken to her.

The cloud cleared from Teal'c's expression. Defense, he muttered, understanding at last. He turned to Sam then. All females are taught to defend themselves.

Sam quickly replied in a hard voice, My offense isn't bad, either.

Teal'c again looked surprised at Sam's testy reply, but he chose to ignore her comment and instead asked something of Daniel.

But again it was Jack who answered in Goa'uld, No, we want to ask you to borrow your staff weapon for awhile. We have need of it.

Teal'c scowled in bemusement again. He said something to Jack in rapid commentary, to which Jack replied just as quickly. Sam just shared a shrug with Janet: the conversation was too fast for even her listening skills.

Jack grinned, and Sam heard him say, Yeah, I know how to use it.

But Teal'c made a condition to Jack's request. You may borrow it only if I accompany it.

Jack turned his eyes back to Daniel. Daniel? Go ahead and ask the Abydonians if it's all right with them if Teal'c comes with us.

So Daniel did, and it took some finagling to convince the leader... Kafus...

Kafus? Sam noted. Not Kasuf? She sighed. Another reality check, she thought to herself. She struggled to retrain her attention onto Daniel and his conversation.

Daniel was attempting to convince Kafus to agree to this strange request. It was clear he didn't feel comfortable with granting even temporary freedom to Teal'c.

But finally Daniel must have said the magic words, for Kafus shrugged. He glanced around him, then said something more, which made everyone laugh.

Daniel, Jack cautioned. I may understand Goa'uld well enough to swear in it, but I have no idea what just happened.

Daniel laughed along with Kafus, and told Jack, Kafus... the leader... him... He said that he didn't think it was a good idea to let Teal'c out of his cell, but to go ahead and borrow both him and his staff weapon, that 'it's your funeral.'

Sam gave a laughing cough then, and Jack had to smile as well. Now we're getting somewhere, he added.

The cell was opened, and Teal'c's hands wore firmly tied behind his back while Jack lifted the staff weapon down from the far wall.

Teal'c immediately instructed, To activate it, you need to...

His words abruptly halted when Jack did whatever he needed to do to make the weapon sing and begin to glow. I know, Jack succinctly told him, shut down the weapon, then led the way out of the room and back through the village.

After a second or two, Teal'c gave Sam a distrustful glance, then they too followed Jack from the room.

Daniel, Janet, Sha're, and Kafus stopped near the village wall to get ready for their parts in the re-enactment, while Jack, Sam, several dozen teenagers, and Teal'c with his hands bound firmly behind his a back struggled out further into the desert. They halted when Jack felt certain they had gone far enough.

This should be the place, he said. Through the radio that Hammond had loaned him in the vest that Hammond had loaned him, too, he instructed, Daniel, your job is to just talk among yourselves until you see us begin that wrestling match. Then when I tell you to start, begin acting. He released the radio and turned to Sam. Sam, can you film what happens here, or...

Uh... Hold on, Sam interrupted him. She was peering through the small pair or binoculars that she found in her vest, her gaze glued to the Abydonian village wall as she said, I don't think there's a reason to re-enact anything at this point, Jack. You might want to take a look at this before you have Daniel start anything.

Bewildered, Jack nonetheless reached for the binoculars she was already handing to him and pointed in the direction she wanted him to look. Right there at... You'll know when you see it. She stared in the direction Jack had the binoculars pointed in.

Teal'c squinted in the right direction as well. To what do you seek?

Sam laughed. Teal'c, you can't possibly see that far. Well, maybe you can, she corrected, recalling that Teal'c's Goa'uld symbiote would enable him to see and do things normal Humans could never do.

Is it that shadow on the wall that you are gazing at? Teal'c asked. Sam nodded. He went on, I do not understand what is so revealing about what looks like an old staff blast mark on a village wall. Many Jaffa have left many such marks many times in the past.

Just then, Jack zeroed in on the mark on the wall. Wow, he said. Notice how the mark is behind the overhang thing going on in the wall. What's the overhang thing for, anyway? It's no wonder we didn't see any blast marks that day last week. We could never have seen around a corner like that, even if we hadn't been surrounded by people that day.

Teal'c was totally confused. I do not understand what is so interesting about a blast mark on a wall.

Jack patiently explained, It means that there's no way that I killed Captain Carter.

Teal'c's calm voice issued forth again, But how can you be accused of killing this Captain Carter when she is standing right here? He turned to Sam then. Your name is Carter, correct? The... healer... told me so.

Sam nodded, then explained, But Jack is accused of killing a Captain Carter. I'm Major Carter.

Teal'c still just looked confused. There is a difference?

Sam gave a ghost of a smile. You're title is First Prime, isn't it?

Teal'c looked at her in suspicion now. How is it that you know of my position among the Goa'uld?

Sam looked at him in guilt. Well, I have known you for five years. She automatically corected herself. Known the other you, I mean.

Sokar is an exacting master. Teal'c grimaced. Too exacting. He no longer deserves my loyalty.

Sam blinked. 'Master?' But you were First Prime to Apophis, not Sokar!

Jack finally jerked away from the binoculars aimed at the wall. That !%&$#* snakehead! He just would not die!

Sam blinked again, but before she could comment on what Jack had said about Apophis, Jack was on the radio link to Daniel again. Tell Sha're to stake out where you think Carter landed, then have her lay down on the sand and play Carter. And you make it authentic - I'm not planning to watch. Then he switched the radio off, and turned to Sam. Now let's see if I'm right.

You mean if I'm right, Sam instantly stated back to him.

Jack grinned softly. That's right - we'll see if you're right.

Teal'c just mournfully shook his head. A Jaffa would not take such contradicting from his woman.

Jack was slightly thrilled that Teal'c thought of Sam as 'his woman,' but he disagreed with the larger man. If 'the woman' is right, she can hardly be contradicting me, can she?

Sam growled inaudibly. If all this 'male' talk is over... Teal'c - You never told us why you were being held in that cell. Were you captured or something?

Jack bent to retrieve the video camera from the sand he had rested it on when he took the binoculars from Sam, and he flipped the lens cap off. He grinned disarmingly. Good for keeping sand out, but also good for keeping pictures out.

Teal'c watched what Jack was doing as Jack filmed, slowly zooming in and out, and panning to take note of where Sha're had lain down in the sand, but he murmured to himself, Keep your eyes shut, O'Neill, and you should be fine.

Teal'c gave a start. O'Neill... Is that your name?

Don't wear it out, Jack flippantly said.

Then Teal'c straightened his spine, looking more noble yet, a strange site for a man with his arms tied behind his back. Then I am here to see you.

That surprised Jack enough to make him stop filming and lower the camera to his side. You what?

I had heard that the famous SG-2 was going to be on Abydos in the near future. I used the Ring to come here and surrendered to these people so that I might speak to you.

Jack visibly swallowed. He looked stunned at the idea that a Jaffa actually wished to speak to him. What do you want to see me about? My yearly torture appointment coming up or something?

I wish to join you, Teal'c said, shocking all those listening to the conversation except Sam. I wish to fight against the Goa'uld until we are all free.

Jack slowly blinked. Am I hearing you right? he finally asked. You wish to fight... with us?

I wish to fight, was all Teal'c said, as if that statement was self-evident, making it enough to convince them of his sincerity.

Well... Jack looked in stunned silence back to the village. Knock me over with a feather.

I am awaiting your reply, Teal'c rumbled.

Jack blinked again. It's not that easy, he said. I need to speak to my General... my leader... who needs to speak to his leader... though we're trying to take that particular leader out right at the moment...

Sam cut in then. Perhaps when we report in to General Hammond later today, we can ask his advice, she suggested.

Jack turned to Sam as if he'd forgotten about her. Now he remembered. We have to be extra careful now, Sam, he blurted instead of making a remark to her suggestion.

Sam furrowed her brow. Why's that?

Jack gave a puff of air. We just proved that I didn't kill Carter. And if I didn't do it, then who killed her? He concluded his speech by hissing, There's someone on this planet right now who's already killed once. I can only expect him or her to try again.

Sam cautiously stated, But I already told you that I think I know who it is. We can just be on the lookout for him.

You told us who you think it is, Jack said to Sam. You don't have proof yet. There's a difference.

Sam huffed a breath of air of her own. Well... Then let's just take care of what Teal'c wants of us first. I'll worry about the mole later.

Teal'c grunted. Tor'i have such strange sayings... What is a mole?

An animal who infiltrates. In this case, we think we're talking about an organization of some kind who's working through one or two people, Jack quickly explained. But not your problem. You worry about what General Hammond's going to say in an hour or so...

Sam checked her watch with surprise. Have we been on Abydos for almost five hours already?

Yeah, Jack confirmed for her. Hey, let's film these kids doing their thing with the staff weapon before we go. He toggled his radio. Hey Daniel... Quit gabbin' to that native girl and listen up.

They heard a snigger in the background as Daniel responded, I am not gabbing!

Jack ignored him. Why don't you run out here and take a look at our newest wall etching, then we should go ahead and do that re-enactment for the Pentagon folks... You know how neat and tidy they like everything to be... Then you and Janet can escort Teal'c back to his cell and set up camp while me and Sam talk to Hammond about what all's going down here, and that Teal'c wants to join us, and...

Daniel toggled back over his radio. Say again... The Jaffa wants to join us?

Jack smiled. You heard right. O'Neill out.

Jack released the radio, then turned to the others. Okay, let's get this show on the road!

* * *

An hour later, Jack and Sam were 'on the road,' trudging over sand dunes towards Ra's pyramid and the Stargate to check in with the group left back on the alternate Earth. If SG-2 didn't 'call' in thirty minutes, Hammond would feel that he needed to 'call' them half an hour later, the time he and Jack had prearranged before the Abydos team had left Antarctica.

But Sam's mind was not on General Hammond or Antarctica. It wasn't even on SGO mole(s), or the alternate Earth at all. It wasn't even on her Earth. Her focus was a lot more personal.

Sam shot Jack a glance from the corner of her eye. She was currently involved in a heated internal debate whether or not to ask the man beside her a question that had been recently weighing heavily on her mind. She chewed her bottom lip as she continued to try to decide.

Jack took the matter out of her hands as he suddenly noted, I know you... You're chewing your bottom lip again. It must mean that something's on that brilliant mind of yours, so spill.

Sam sent a ghost of a smile in his direction, but sadly commented, Captain Carter probably had the same habit of chewing her lip when she was deep in thought. You probably don't know me as well as you think, but you know us quite well.

Ehhhh! Jack buzzed into the quiet air. You'd like it if it were that simple, wouldn'tcha? he teased. Captain Carter used to twirl her hair when she was lost in thought. You bite your bottom lip. He turned to gaze at her. Do you doubt me so much that you don't think I would have noticed that cute little habit of yours by now?

Sam sighed, feeling suddenly embarrassed by her earlier observation. I'm sorry, Jack, she immediately said, trying to soothe her conscience as much as apologize to him. I didn't mean for that to sound so accusatory. I was just making an observation. Then she really did grin. But I have to admit the fact that you knowing about the differences between us... That's really... cute... that you've already noticed that about me, she shyly said.

Jack looked slightly abashed and slightly pleased with himself at the same time. Aw, come on, Sam, there must be something about me that you've noticed too that isn't the same as it is in your reality's version of Colonel O'Neill. He peered at her, smoothing back the blonde hairs that had settled on her forehead. Huh... Come on.., he prodded.

Okay, Sam finally said, a smile still gracing her lips. Now her face flushed a dark red to match the lip she had just been chewing. You're a lot more open than my Colonel O'Neill. She glanced at him. I mean, emotionally, she clarified. Emotionally open.

You mean..? he asked as they started walking again.

You're a lot more likely to mention what or how you feel about something, she explained. For example, my Colonel O'Neill... when he... Sam didn't finish her comment, as neither Jack nor she had ever finished a comment about either Captain Carter or Colonel O'Neill dying. But she pressed on, When he... She gulped, and tried again. When he died, she said, ridiculously proud of the fact that she could force herself to say that word aloud. She was so proud of herself that she did it again, just to see if she really could do it, or if it had been a fluke. When he died.

Yeah, I got that, Jack said as soon as she spoke. And..? He waved his hand through the air. Wish I could do that, by the way, he added in a softer voice. Say the word 'die,' not actually do it. Say it in connection to Carter, I mean. But it's very... brave... of you to even say it... Ah, crap, you know what I mean.

Sam's grin returned to her face. I do... And thanks. Then she focused again on the observation about him that she was making, and why it had made her think about her Colonel O'Neill in the first place. I was saying... Colonel O'Neill said something about loving being on SG-1 when he... died. He looked at me, true, but he didn't make any declarations of love or anything, the way it... it happened... Or maybe it had been Captain Carter and not Jack who had made a last-minute confession of love, and it had been Janet who had said something about Jack and Carter being in love with each other, not that Jack himself had said anything as Carter died. Oh! It was so hard to keep all the details of two realities straight in her mind!

Before Sam could say anything more, Jack began speaking. Sam, he sighed, running his hand through his hair in sudden aggravation. I know what Carter said to me, and I would have said the same to her if there had been time. He stared off at the horizon, not at the ever looming pyramid they were approaching. Then he went on in an even softer voice. But we both knew that nothing could be done to either of us at such a time. We'd both seen too many fatal wounds not to know that Carter's time was pretty short. It was a miracle that she lasted the initial shot, actually. He turned to regard Sam solemnly. So anything we said at the time was... He sighed. Let's face it... she was making a deathbed confession to me, and we both knew it. It didn't make it mean any less... He paused, seeming to try to organize his scattered memories now that they were talking about that day the week before. It was sort of surreal, like it wasn't really happening. Or that it was like a moment out of time, in some other timeframe, something we just borrowed for a second or two, not something that really existed any place other than my memory.

Sam shot a startled expression towards Jack. Are you saying that none of it really existed?

Yes... No... I guess I'm saying I don't know. Jack sighed again. I thought I did, but now... He sighed a third time. But I guess that's not the point that I want to make here.

When Jack didn't go on, Sam did the hand-wave motion in the hot air the way he had recently done, encouraging him by prodding him along. You're point is?

It's this, Jack said with a firm sense of determination in his voice. He stopped walking, and pulled her to a stop beside him in the sun drenched sand. Sam, I know that, especially here, it has to be hard for you to keep yourself and Carter distinct and separated as two different people.

Sam grimaced. It is sort of like sharing my identity with someone else, she admitted. Like I've always been very sure of who and what I am, but I come here, and suddenly I'm sharing everything about myself, even my personality, with Captain Carter. Then she hastened to add, Not that I mind... exactly... This must be how identical twins feel, she mused. It's like I'm an individual, but an identical individual. It's weird. She added one last observation, I don't think I like it all that much.

Do you feel like you're in some kind of competition with Carter? Jack wanted to know.

Sam gave a bitter laugh. You know, I always felt strangely like I was in some kind of face-off with Sara... your Debbie... and I always thought that I was somehow on the losing edge with that, even though Colonel O'Neill never brought her up in conversation himself. At Jack's puzzled look, Sam went on to defend, I never said that how I felt made sense.

Jack gave a huff of air. Well, it doesn't. There's absolutely nothing about you that's like Debbie was. And there was nothing between Debbie and Carter that was much alike, besides the fact that they're both female.

Sam gave a cackle of laughter at his comment, and the sound made him grin. Well there isn't anything alike about you two, either, he said, defending himself this time. You're as different as night and day.

Sam continued to laugh.

Abashed, Jack said, Okay, you go ahead and laugh, but... I'd rather be right here with you than even with Tyler if it meant that I would have to be with Debbie again. Then he seemed to realize how what he had said sounded, for he added, Not that things were so bad with Debbie... at least, not at the beginning. Then he sighed once again. But, the truth is... Even if Tyler had lived... Things were getting more and more strained, and... He looked straight at Sam then. There was a reason I took so many faraway assignments, the reason I took this one at the SGO, even. I just didn't expect Carter... Jack looked moodily at the horizon again. I'm not saying this very well, he noted at last. What I'm trying to say, and not doing a good job of it is... He turned to look at her again. Sam, you're not even Carter when it comes to what I feel...

You mean that... being here has made you realize..? Sam dispiritedly began.

Jack grabbed hold of her upper arms and turned her to face him squarely. No, you idiot, he said, his voice sounding desperate and urgent now. I mean that coming back to this place has made me realize that what I felt for Carter, while intense, often seemed to be not-quite real, either. And what I feel for you seems a lot more immediate and deep by comparison. He ran a hand through his hair again while he thought, delightfully messing up the strands so that the wind could ruffle through them once more. He replaced his hand on Sam's arm. I mean that I don't want to undermine the way I felt for Carter all those years... from the minute I met her, actually... But I want to say that... there's no kind of competition here. Sam, I don't want to give you up when all this is over, and... He paused to suck in a sad gasp of air then. I know that you... 'us'... is only temporary, and... I hate that. His eyes pierced through hers. I know that you're gonna want to go back through that Mirror thingy, and... I hate just the thought of you going back, but I know that you never intended to stay here, and...

Jack, Sam cut him off. I came here thinking I was going to die of entropic cascade failure. My Colonel O'Neill is gone, and no matter what I do with how many Mirrors, I can't bring him back, and... I'm not sure if I'd want to anymore, really, She barely breathed. He and I... We never did anything... And probably never would have done anything. She helplessly stared at Jack for a second, then simply stepped in and hugged him hard, wrapping her arms tight around him, holding him to her just as he held her tightly to him. I don't want to go back, she quietly confessed at last. I've already done more and have more with you than I ever had with my own Colonel... and I miss him... but it's better here... even with you being retired... not retired... and... I have more to lose here... Sam was crying now, and Sam never cried... It was almost weird how affected she was. I don't want to go back, she repeated in a whisper. Not without you.

Sam... Jack's voice broke. He cleared his throat. I'd like to say that I can be sure that will never happen, but I can't. This involves General West now, since he's the one in charge of the Mirror. I don't even think Kinsey knows about it, and... Jack held on tighter to her. It doesn't matter, though. What West decides, I mean. He shook his head. I'm not going anywhere you're not going. I'd even go to jail if I have to...

Sam sniffed. Technically, I'm an illegal alien. Then she laughed, and added, Literally. Jack chuckled with her. If Kinsey is as horrible as you say...

He is, Jack interrupted to say.

Then he has every right to send me wherever had wants to, Sam admitted.

Then I go, too, Jack firmly stated. We're in this together, you and me. I mean, we're married and all. Jack held up his hand next to hers, and the rings that they still wore glinted in the sun. Sam laughed again at the point he was making, thinking that this too wasn't real, but Jack told her, No one will ever think to wonder if it's a real marriage or not, and if they do, it doesn't mean a thing to me, anyway. It's real where it counts, inside me. Jack touched his forehead to hers. I'm yours, Sam, in every w...

The romantic moment between them was cut off by a snap of electricity from Jack's radio inside his vest. General Hammond's voice barked through the air. Colonel O'Neill... report!

Sam jumped back in surprise, and brushed away the tears already drying on her face as Jack reached for his radio, clearing his voice so that he could speak. General! he coughed, then swallowed, then tried again. This is Colonel O'Neill, reporting in as ordered.

Hammond's scowl translated loud and clear over the radio link. No, you're not following orders at all, Colonel! You were to report in half an hour ago!

What? Jack incredulously questioned. I was on my way to report, and Sam was keeping me company, and we got to talking, and... What time is it? he asked, glancing at the watch he wore on his wrist.

1530 hours! Hammond barked. I thought we agreed...

Crap! Jack softly swore. We had no idea that much time was going by! Honest, General, we didn't mean to get waylaid.

Hammond's voice lowered in decibels as his anger apparently ebbed as well. I was worried sick that something was going on...

Not at all, Jack answered in a bright tone. In fact, things are going very well! He glanced at Sam, then changed his comment to, Well, it's good depending on how you look at it, I guess.

Meaning?

Meaning that... We found proof that there's no way that I could have killed Carter, and that someone, probably Kinsey, since he gave the original orders for Hansen to go through the Stargate to Abydos... It must be him who's setting me up after all. Which wouldn't surprise me, really.

You found proof? Hammond asked. In what form?

Jack quickly responded, Sam found it right away... a blast point on the wall around the Abydonian village, well away from where Captain Carter fell after being hit that day last week. I had to have made it.

Could it have been a scar from an old staff blast? Hammond inquired to argue.

Sam interjected through her own radio. No Sir. Teal'c and I talked about that possibility, and before he went back to his cell, we did a close-up of the staff blast site, and the stone of the wall still shows the charring at its edges, even where it's black in the middle of the blast site. Teal'c said that a staff blast would char stone, then after about five days, those little drops of oil start to flow through the charred stone at the edges, rejuvenating it again right at its edge. But only a few drops showed yet, not enough to make it an old blast wound, and...

Teal'c? came the slightly aggravated reply. Who the heck is that?

Sam colored. Oh, yeah, you haven't met him yet.

Jack took back control of the conversation then. He's a Jaffa, Sir.

A Jaffa?! Hammond barked. You spoke to a Jaffa??????

Did more than spoke... speak, Jack corrected, and shook his head. He claims to be the First Prime of Sokar, said he surrendered to the Abydonians, who then slapped him in some cell that looked like it couldn't hold a monkey determined to escape. Even Daniel could have broken the lock they had holding Teal'c. But that Jaffa just sat there, waiting in a bad excuse for a jail cell, for us to show up. If that doesn't show his sincerity, I don't know what does.

Hammond snorted his own laughter over the radio link. Don't trust him yet, huh? he guessed, seeming to contradict Jack.

An escape made easy, but ignored. Him 'following' us out to the place where I supposedly shot the Captain so we can prove I didn't shoot Carter. Him acting like he cared if I did or if I didn't shoot Carter by testing the blast point drops of oils... it's all too nicey-nice, especially for a Jaffa. Smells like a set-up to me, Sir.

You haven't been in the military and stayed alive this long by not being completely paranoid, Hammond agreed.

Sam was surprised by Jack's suspicions. I thought Teal'c has seemed sincere the entire time we've been here, she remarked.

Jack looked at her. That's why I'm the Colonel, and you're the Major, Major, he lightly teased back to her. Then to Hammond, he went on, Oh, General, you might want to tell West that if he wants me back... if he even stays in command after all this... We don't know how all this will end up, after all... Even if we prove that I didn't kill Carter, the mole(s) could be taking over the entire SGO right now for all we know.

Hammond chuckled. Very true.

Anyway, Jack went on. West might have some new clientele to deal with when this is all over.

You mean new people coming back with you? Hammond clarified.

Jack confirmed his suspicions by saying, That would be correct. It looks like Daniel might get himself married again, we might... possibly... find a way to transport Teal'c back to the SGO if he lives long enough... he asked to come back with us..., and I plan on bringing Sam back with me, no matter what happens, and...

Do you want me to call the General and warn him, or will you do that yourself? Hammond interrupted, wanting to know.

Jack sighed, but then admitted, It would be better coming from me, but I'll keep your phone number in my back pocket in case I need to call you in as a reinforcement.

Hammond chuckled again. Just be careful. Remember, there's still a man possibly by the name of Jonas Hansen out to get the Major.

Jack looked towards Sam and winked. Oh, I'm not likely to forget about the danger to Sam any time soon. She is our 'bait' after all.

Don't remind me, Sam grumbled in a voice too quiet to carry over Jack's radio link.

She's in good hands... you are, aren't you, Sam? Jack asked, making all who was listening in on his and Hammond's discussion laugh.

Take care, Jack, was all Hammond would say. And stay on the lookout, and call back next time, or I'll call again half an hour after 1500 tomorrow. Until then... stay warm.

No trouble there, Sir, Jack said as he wiped the sweat beading on his forehead away with his free hand. Stay cool yourself.

Will do. Until tomorrow... Hammond out. The link went quiet in a fizz of static. The Stargate must have shut down to close the link. Jack looked at Sam then. Well, we have some time to kill now, since we don't have to walk all the way to the pyramid now. He winked again, and rubbed her cheek with a few fingers.

Sam only grinned at him and shook her head in rueful resignation. You're incorrigible, she said. She kissed his few fingers, though.

Yep, Jack said, wrapping her arms around her in another firm hug. But you love me anyway.

Stop gloating, Sam teasingly suggested as she leaned happily into him for a quick... or not so quick, knowing Jack... snuggle. On second thought, go ahead and gloat. In fact, count me in on it.

The sun of Abydos continued to blaze down on them. They were surrounded by sand in every direction. Hot wind ruffled their hair.

Despite the natural discomforts, that was the best snuggle that Sam Carter had experienced in a long, long time.

Part IX

Night on Abydos...

Sam took another quick glance around as she silently slipped between two buildings of a tiny dead-end, walled alley near what looked like two houses. She briefly wondered what Daniel was doing that night. He had oddly (or not so oddly, considering the circumstances) not shown up to join his 'Earthly' companions at the beginning of the night. But she was far more interested in keeping her gaze focused on the entrance to the tent that she and Janet were sharing than in pondering what Daniel was doing right at the moment.

She was also wondering if what Jack had predicted at dinner earlier that evening, that Teal'c would attack during the night if he was up to any kind of nefarious schemes, would come true. Sam remained steadfast in her beliefs that Teal'c was as honest as a Jaffa could be, but she'd also had enough experience with O'Neill's sixth sense about people that she couldn't quite shake Jack's warnings about the Jaffa as much as she would like to.

The Abydonian village was quiet and calm. The off-worlders camp had been set up only a little removed from the houses of the town, certainly close enough to take advantage of the cover offered by the shadows the buildings cast for watch. Sam settled back for her two and a half hour guard shift, when her relief in the form of the small but scary Janet would appear to take her turn at guarding the 'Earthers.'

Sam blinked, her gaze skirting everything in the vicinity. Nothing moved. She was certain that nothing would get by her careful gaze in order to enter hers and Janet's tent. And if they got passed her, they surely would not get by Jack, who had refused to sleep anywhere but on the ground right outside hers and Janet's tent in order to keep a better eye on everything that happened in or around the women's sleeping quarters.

Two hours later, Sam was beginning to get sleepy in spite of the way she kept pinching herself awake. She didn't know how Jack had managed to get through a three hour watch, taking both his and Daniel's, all the while grumbling good naturedly that Daniel had skipped out on them, but secretly suspecting that the archaeologist had a good reason this time. It had to be because of Sha're, he and she had figured. Besides, Jack had explained to them that he would rather watch Sam's tent for half the night... it was the only way he could insure her safety... rather than sleep the night away. Sam affectionately called him a controlling freak of a guy while at dinner, and he had only smiled, then wrapped his arm around her waist, declaring that she was worth a little lost sleep.

The memory of his comment made her warm even now. Warm and content. Too content. She was slowly falling asleep while on watch. Sam took a deep breath and pinched herself one more time, warding off sleep for a while longer. She blinked, yawned, then pinched herself again. She didn't stand up to relieve the cramped muscles of her legs, as standing would leave her highlighted and vulnerable in the dying embers of a fire that was several feet away. She preferred to remain in the shadow, blinking rhythmically but sporadically enough to keep her awake, as the Colonel had taught her long ago. But she needn't have been so concerned. The area was and had been calm all night. She was convinced that she would have seen a disturbance the second one erupted anyway.

Thus she was mightily surprised when she suddenly heard several gunshots, staff blasts, then Janet's voice triumphantly yell, Got him... the bastard!

Shocked at the curse word coming from a normally subdued individual, Sam stood to run towards the tent where she had left Janet sleeping at the beginning of her watch, but her muscles protested. Sam had to spend a few moments shaking blood into her legs as she watched a silent form... Jack, she supposed... streak into the tent before her.

When Sam finally struggled into the square of canvas that she was sharing with Janet, chaos and bright lights met her dark-accustomed gaze. Sam blinked for a moment, her eyes threatening to water, as she desperately tried to take in the site before her.

What..? she grunted, then stood, too stupefied to continue.

There it was, proof that Jack's instincts hadn't failed him once again. Teal'c lay, prone, next to her stuffed sleeping bag, his staff weapon beside him, a blonde wig just peeking out from under the covers of the bag near him. A knife was thrusting its hilt upinto the air from the middle of her bag, and the rest of the tent was a mess. Boxes and supplies were thrown over half the empty space around her bag, and medical supplies lay scattered everywhere in the sand. Jack was leaning down beside the Jaffa that Janet had just apprehended, cautiously studying the unconscious man as if he fully expected Teal'c to jump up at any moment.

What happened? Jack had just barked when Sam ran into the tent, illustrating that she was still fine. He issued a sigh of relief that he didn't even bother to try to hide, then turned to regard Janet, who was smiling so big that it was amazing her face didn't crack.

Janet's seemingly ill-timed gesture widened even more. She held up a gun, and two small darts in her hand. Tranquilizers, she said. And a trip alarm that I had put in place when Daniel and I set up camp, just to be on the safe side. When Sam left for her watch, I woke up too, stuffed Sam's bag with our extra clothes, left my bag empty beside hers, then grabbed a blanket and moved back here into the shadows where someone who entered the tent would see Sam's bag first, my empty bag second if he saw mine at all, and assume that I was on watch and had left Sam alone for an hour or two.

Jack stared at her in squinched-eyed wonder. What made you think to do that? he asked, puzzled. Then he exclaimed, I'm glad that you did, don't get me wrong! But... what possessed you? He gazed at the doctor now as if she had been the recent victim of an alien possession.

Janet smiled even larger as her own gaze landed on a piece of string that lay on the ground at her feet. What you said earlier about Teal'c being a possible turncoat intrigued me, Colonel. I wanted to see if you were right. I knew the string I tied to the tent pole by the door and then fixed to my wrist with a slip knot would wake me if anyone came in during Sam's watch. If a person did come in, he or she would think it was my watch, since it seemed like Sam was still here and asleep. The blonde wig that I had leftover from an Academy theatrical really came in handy tonight. Then I watched as Teal'c crept up to Sam's bed, and plunged a knife...

Where did he get a knife? Sam asked in a horrified sounding voice.

Janet shrugged. How do Jaffa do anything that they do? she rhetorically asked. Her face was still alight with her recent triumph. Yet her voice had been strangely nonchalant until now, as if she were simply giving a report to her commander, not describing how she'd just thwarted a murder attempt on her alternate best friend. Sam wondered if Janet was in shock or something. She didn't look like she was in shock, but different people reacted to stimuli in different ways.

Then Jack spoke again, and Sam had to reroute her attention back to him.

You're right, Doc, you can't trust those Jaffa, so who knows how he got ahold of a knife, Jack said to Janet. Then he said to her, Go on. But he squeezed Sam's hand firmly in his own, telling her that he was glad she had been out of the tent and on watch at the time that Teal'c had chosen to attack.

Janet went on, ignoring the squeeze that she obviously saw. I caught the entire thing on film, but I don't know how well it will come out - it was pretty dark in here at the time. When Teal'c realized that he was knifing an empty bag rather than Sam, he looked up, and that's when I shot him twice with the tranqu gun that I know every medkit has, as I'm the one who put together all the medkits.

Jack scowled. Why didn't you use a regular gun, Doc? he demanded to know. We could have...

Janet cut him off. Earlier tonight, I remembered the oath I made at the beginning of my career. You know, the one that says that a doctor shouldn't harm anyone? she pointedly reminded him.

Jack's face reddened. Sam could tell that he was angry, but all he said was, Oh, that one.

Yes, that one, Janet repeated him. So I shot Teal'c twice, with enough sedative in each dart to take out one of those big transcoms that we have on 'Earth.' I have to say that he put up quite a fight, but fell over just as he had found me hiding behind the supplies. Now he's out like a light.

Jack hissed out a breath just as Daniel ran wildly into the tent, his glasses askew and his hair uncombed. What happened? he gasped in one breath. Is everyone all right? Then he caught sight of Teal'c's body lying unconscious on the sand at his feet. Teal'c! But I thought...

We all did, except I didn't quite believe him, Jack muttered. I'm actually sorry to be right this time. He settled back onto his feet, then slowly rose until he was standing. His head brushed the tent top where he was standing at its highest point. Okay. We have a little problem here that we didn't expect to have to take care of. So... He looked around the tent at the mess strewn around. Let's not worry about the tent right now. He smiled then, a decidedly wicked gesture.

Sam recognized that expression on Jack. What do you have in mind? she warily inquired.

Jack practically laughed at whatever he was thinking. I have... Do we have the collapsible stretcher with us in the medkit? he suddenly asked Janet.

The doctor responded with a thoughtful glance down at the medkit sitting on the sand. We do. I thought we should bring it along in case... She uneasily eyed Sam. In case... Again her tone belied her trepidation. Finally she blurted, In case something really bad happened to Sam, and she falls unconscious and needs... or doesn't need... an immediate evacuation to the SGO for further medical attention.

Jack visibly winced at Janet's suggestion, but admitted, That was good planning, Doc. He turned quickly to Sam and Daniel, fighting his emotions as he did so, according to the tight expression on his face. He ignored his feelings of the moment to say, I suggest that we send this guy back to Sokar, and tell that rotten snakehead that...

Daniel interrupted as he continued studying Teal'c, He's not one of Sokar's Jaffa, Jack.

Jack looked befuddled. That's what he told us, Daniel, Jack protested. He glanced at Sam. Sam was there too, and heard every word Teal'c said. He said 'Sokar no longer deserves my loyalty.'

Daniel shrugged. Well, he may have said that, but... He bent over, peering closely down at the tattoo embedded on the Jaffa's forehead, studying it in detail now. This mark isn't Sokar's emblem.

What? Jack blurted, staring hard at the mark too in the shadowy light still illuminating the tent.

Daniel shrugged. I've been keeping a record of every tattoo marking that I can make out, and which mark belongs to which System Lord, and when we first ran into Sokar a few years ago that one time when we were captured in the mine thing...

Yeah, I remember, Jack testily cut him off. Your point, Daniel?

Daniel hurried to say, Anyway, I've been keeping... and that's not Sokar's mark. It's close, but... His isn't this big, swirling thing that Teal'c has. I've never seen this mark before.

But I have, Sam said. She was pensively studying the marking as well, staring at it with intensity. I think... Isn't that Nirrti's tattoo?

Nirrti..? Jack thoughtfully muttered, thinking hard. No, don't remember ever running into him.

Her, Sam corrected.

Her, Jack quickly said, repeating Sam.

Sam gave an unhappy sigh. You'd remember her if you'd ever come in contact with her. She's as devious as any Goa'uld I've ever met.

Jack had to add, And we all know how devious your typical Goa'uld is.

Sam gave a ghost of a smile at his remark. Right. She kept her gaze inquisitively fixed on Teal'c's forehead. The Nirrti that I know played around with phase shifting... it makes whatever she wants invisible.

Invisible!? Jack repeated in stunned disbelief.

Sam shrugged. Hey, I'm just telling you what I know, at least what I know is real in my reality. I guess it might not all be the same in yours.

Jack winced, then sighed. If Teal'c was invisible... It explains why I didn't see him enter your tent. He sighed, the sound he'd made as unhappy as Sam's sigh. Okay... A Goa'uld who hates us enough to want to kill us, and we haven't even met her yet. He finished grousing and gave a sick grin then. I guess it's nice to know that SG-2 has pissed off enough of those snakeheads to be getting something of a reputation, anyway. Enough of one for them to want to get us out of the way.

Yeah, and this is proof, Janet wryly commented. She sighed as well. But it still doesn't help us decide what we should do with him.

Suddenly Sam grinned. I know what we can do with him. Then she added, Or at least, I know who we can send him to.

Jack, Daniel, and Janet all stared at her. Jack lifted his eyebrows. Care to share?

Sam explained, I'd say we should send him to Netu, but it's been destroyed... at least it is in my reality. So... And she glanced at each of her friends in turn. I say we strip him, then send him on to Cronus. I'm pretty sure that Cronus won't be particularly fond of having anything sent to him that comes with Nirrti's symbol on it.

They all looked back down at Teal'c again. Jack's smile that crept over his face was just as diabolical as Sam's. You're right. Cronus has no love for anybody, if I recall.

Janet slapped her legs. Okay... Daniel, run and tell Sha're... we know that's where you are tonight... Daniel blushed a fiery red as Janet continued. We'll need your help to carry Teal'c as far as the Stargate. She looked back down at the unconscious man and grimaced. He looks big enough to give ten guys a hard time lifting him. She sighed. Anyway, Daniel, you tell Sha're what you think you can tell her about what's going on. The rest of us will get Teal'c on the stretcher and ready to transport. See you in fifteen minutes.

When did you take over this mission? Jack belligerently teased Janet. Did you get a promotion that I'm not aware of? Should I start calling you something besides..?

Janet interrupted him before he could say anything. You better not dub me with yet another new nickname! she huffed. I can't get rid of the last three you gave to me!

Sam chuckled to herself at the way Jack was always calling Janet something he shouldn't. It seemed that particular trait of Jack's was universal.

Jack grinned. I was only gonna call you...

Again Janet cut him off, Do it, and you'll wish you hadn't at your next physical! she warned.

But Jack continued to grin. I was just gonna compliment you and Sam on your maliciousness. You both look so innocent...

Daniel finished for him. Who would have thought that you two would have such evil streaks.

Sam smiled and put an arm around Janet's shoulders. Just call us 'The Diabolical Duo.'

Janet groaned. Sam, do you realize that you just gave us both a new nickname? She groaned again. We'll never live this down. She stared balefully at Jack, as if she knew exactly whose voice she needed to fear telling the entire base personnel about this incident. I'm already trying to remember where I've been storing the extra long needles, she told him.

Jack balked. You mean there are longer needles than the ones that we already have?!? His tone of voice showed his intense worry over the situation the doctor had proposed.

Janet just grinned. Jack looked anxious. Sam looked suddenly worried for Jack. And Daniel looked at Janet with a new sense of appreciation. Janet, you do realize that you're the only person who Jack is actually afraid of on the entire base, don't you?

Janet's grin grew even more evil. Absolutely.

Daniel gave a sigh of pure happiness. Thanks for keeping him Human, Janet, he said.

No problem, Janet said next as she leaned near the medkit and pulled an extra needle out of the kit. Any day, she said and glanced at Daniel. She didn't see Jack's eyes get bigger than they already were at the sight of a needle, the only thing besides Sam... and Janet, the needle wielder... that frightened him nearly white.

That's two traits of Jack's that seems to be universal, Sam corrected herself with a giggle, then prepared to help Jack and Janet lift Teal'c onto the stretcher while Daniel disappeared to 'talk' to Sha're.

* * *

We have something of a problem, Sam called out in consternation to her companions as she stood ready to dial the DHD inside Ra's pyramid with the last known address that she had for Cronus.

Sam? Jack queried with a concerned eyebrow lifted to his hairline as he tried to ready himself to help Daniel and Janet to lift Teal'c through the Stargate as soon as the 'Gate activated. But now he crossed over to where Sam stood near the DHD instead. What seems to be the problem?

Sam's hand was still poised over the rounded device, but she wasn't moving. Um... She hesitated. She looked again at the DHD.

Jack's brows lowered at her hesitation. What? he asked in a not-particularly-friendly voice. Is it broken or something?

Sam shook her head. No, it's not broken.

Jack huffed. Then what's the problem?

Sam went on to explain, The second 'Gate in the cavern back on 'Earth.'

Yeah? What about it?

Sam could tell by his tone that Jack had moved from his not-so-friendly mood to his really-getting-irritated mood. So she hurried to say, That 'Gate had a symbol of origin...

Yeah? Jack was quickly becoming pissed.

That symbol isn't on this newer DHD, Sam softly said.

Jack's expression morphed to show his puzzlement. So?

'So,' Sam echoed. There's no symbol for the second 'Gate on 'Earth' on this DHD. Without that symbol...

We can't dial it in, and then we can't 'Gate home, Daniel finished for her. Then he corrected, Or you mean that we can't 'Gate back to the second 'Gate in Antarctica.

There was silence for a minute as the four of them frantically tried to think of a solution to this new dilemma that faced them.

Finally Jack inquired, Can we still 'Gate back to the SGO?

Sam hissed her breath out between her sun-dried lips. We're going to have to if we want to 'Gate home.

Daniel gave Sam a quizzical stare. So you're saying that you and Jack wouldn't have been able to call Hammond earlier today... yesterday... even if you had gotten here on time?

Sam raised her brows, but eventually nodded. Yep, that's what I'm saying, she answered. She glanced at Jack then. Hope General West really wants to see you back at the SGO, and let's us in, she quipped.

Jack heaved a gust of air. I so do not need this, he muttered, but then straightened as he seemed to come to a decision. Okay, Sam, dial up Cronus and let's get rid of the big guy like we intended to before he wakes up. Then we'll deal with the SGO.

Sam nodded her head, said a clipped, Yes Sir, before she realized what she was saying, and quickly exclaimed, I mean, Yes Jack!

Jack's only response was to glare at them all just a little more.

* * *

Jack sent Daniel and Janet back to the Abydonian village ahead of him and Sam as he called in to the SGO. Hope this works, he whispered to Sam as the Stargate swooshed out into the room. He waited for a moment, then lifted his freed radio to his mouth and said, This is Sierra Gulf Two. Come in.

Wow, it's the same words, Sam thought to herself in some surprise when she heard Jack speak.

But Jack continued then. Come in, Sierra Gulf Oleander, This is Sierra Gulf Two, over.

Sam winced minutely, thinking that the similarities of their 'military talk' had already ended the more Jack said.

Static greeted this second request, too, and Jack adjusted the dial of his radio, then repeated his request yet a third time. He turned to Sam and muttered, I hope they're still using the same emergency radio frequency, or I'm gonna feel really stupid for getting us stuck here.

Just as he finished with his comment, his radio burst into life. A gravelly voice barked over the communication link. Jack, is that you?

Jack grinned. Nice to hear your dulcet tones again, Sir.

Those 'dulcet tones' did not sound amused right at the moment, however. Cut the crap, Jack. Where the heck are you right now? he asked, then didn't give Jack time to respond as he said, I got a call from General Hammond of the Vice President's office saying that you were on Abydos, and to expect you to bring back some guests when you came back. Sam could hear the General's glare come through in his tone. What the heck are you doing on Abydos?

Jack looked a little nervous about explaining their situation to West. Um... I was recruited by... He gave a sigh into his radio. I can't say, General, I'm afraid it's classified.

Sam gave a strangled laugh at that comment, and Jack laid his splayed fingers over her mouth as she stood next to him in order to help her remain silent. Besides cutting off her laughter, she also kissed his fingers. Jack grinned at her, but focused again on the conversation with West. I know that this is a hard thing to swallow, especially now, and especially from me, but... we need your help.

A moment of silence passed, then West glowered, What kind of 'help?'

Jack gave a false chuckle. Well, you see, we kind of came here through a second Stargate on Earth...

There is no second 'Gate on Earth! West said in aggravation. We've had top scientists looking for something like another 'Gate for years, and that mythical second 'Gate just doesn't exist!

Jack glanced at Sam, and she could feel the warmth of his eyes as his gaze washed over her. It seemed that his irritation at her not wanting to point out the lack of an old 'Earth' symbol on the DHD earlier had vanished, and was now replaced with nothing but affection. Uh, he hesitated. I'm standing with a scientist right here who showed us right where to go to find a second 'Gate. We found it, went through it, but it's a really old 'Gate, with an old DHD, and the symbol of origin for Earth has changed. So, as the symbol isn't on the DHD here on Abydos, we can't get back through the second 'Gate. So I'm asking for transportation to the SGO for myself, Daniel Jackson, Janet Blaizer, and several guests, Sir.

Guests? West asked, his voice displaying his doubt. What kind of guests? he asked suspiciously.

Jack gathered himself to explain. Well, I suspect that Daniel's going to get married again very soon to a local girl, if he isn't already married, so he'll want to bring his wife back if he can convince her to come, and we have a special... He eyed Sam again. A special scientist with us who you haven't met. And we're on the trail of the mole(s).

We've been looking for those mole(s) for years! West exclaimed, the anger now clear in his tone. I suspect that you're gonna fail on that one. Though I'm not unrealistic about these mole(s) and how clever they are, I still hope you catch him or her this time. But what do you think that you have this time that we've never had before? His disbelief in what Jack was talking about was palpable even over a com channel.

We have the right bait, Jack succinctly replied as he gazed at Sam.

Jack and Sam heard West sigh in aggravation. A moment later, he sighed again, this time in resignation, then asked, And there's no way for you to go back to where you came from?

Sam burst out into a fit of giggles again at the General's words, but held on to her humor. Jack's fingers went back to cover her mouth, and he replied, No chance, Sir. I'm afraid that you'll either have to give us amnesty over this and let us 'Gate back to the SGO, or send a ship to Abydos, but since we don't have any ships, I guess you'll have to leave us here then to watch Daniel go native. Or you can let us 'Gate back to the SGO, and we'll tell you the location of the second Stargate.

West was silent as he thought the deal over for a moment. At last he quietly said, Okay. We're sending a coded access number through to your GDO. If you unscramble it correctly, we'll know it's you when you want to come back, and open the iris to let you through.

Negative, Jack replied. We have no GDO with us.

Then we'll have to send you an auditory signal to send back to us on your radio, West huffed in aggravation. We know that you have radios.

Will do. Jack paused, then a red light on the side of his radio that Sam had never noticed before turned green. Got it, Jack said. And we appreciate your efforts and hospitality. O'Neill out.

The radio link was severed, and the 'Gate deactivated.

Sam and Jack breathed in the quiet that settled over the room. He didn't sound too thrilled to be seeing any of us in the near future, Sam said as she and Jack turned to head back to the village.

Jack calmly put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug. He's a teddy bear, really.

Sam looked as if she didn't quite believe him. One with fangs, she whispered, still unconvinced. Then her nose wrinkled in thought. And what was all that irritation on his part for, anyway? I thought he knew all about you not really being retired.

Jack grinned. Well, he started to explain. Remember, according to the rest of the SGO, I am retired. Only General West knows that I'm not. He had to make a convincing show.

She nodded. Ah, right. She remained quiet and pensive as she and Jack meandered back outside, where the sun was just beginning to rise on a new Abydonian day.

* * *

Jack and Sam arrived just as the village was beginning to show signs of its residents waking. Fires were stoked, and the pounding of flour for the day's 'bread' resounded on the walls.

Crap, Janet muttered as she stared at a water receptacle near the city's main gate. My canteen's still in the tent.

I'll get it, Sam said to her friend. I need to get mine, too. I think I have sand in my teeth from that walk, she joked, then headed for their tent. If Janet was already talking about canteens, then there was no hope for getting more sleep that day.

Sam sighed resignedly, then gave herself a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior of the tent. She noticed that Janet must have cleaned everything up from her battle with Teal'c. The medical supplies, the crates, the bags... Everything was once again in its place. She sighted the canteens lying exactly where they should ge on top of the suplies. She moved to the supplies, General West's words still echoing in her mind, so she missed the slight scuffling sound in the sand at the back of the tent as something moved around to stand at the entrance, effectively blocking Sam's way back out to her friends.

Hello, Sam, a voice said. I've been waiting for you to come back.

Canteens in both her hands, Sam whirled to face her sudden adversary. Jonas. As she immediately turned back to the stack of supplies in order to set the canteens down again, she noticed that he was wearing a desert robe over his BDUs, making him blend in with the local population. No wonder the SGO members, as well as her, had missed him in the crowds since they had come to this planet.

Now she eyed him from top to toe with a slight sneer to her lips. Well, as I live and breath, if it isn't Jonas Hansen, in the flesh. What the hell are you doing here, Jonas? And what's with the desert robes? she thought to ask. They don't quite suit you.

Jonas sent Sam a patient... or not-so-patient... smile. You sound exactly like I remember you sounding. His lips curled up in a feral grin. Now I know why I shot you so quickly last time, he said. It was so that you wouldn't have time to open that big mouth of yours.

Sam's brows rose. She had focused on what Jonas had originally said. You shot me? Then she corrected, You shot Captain Carter?

Jonas gave a sigh of irritation. And I thought I'd killed you... Captain Carter. He gestured derisively at Sam and gave a twisted grin. But here you stand. And with a Major's maple leaf for my pains. I must not have made as good a shot at you as I thought. That doctor team must have patched you up real good. I don't even see the sign of a mark on you.

Sam gave her own twisted grin. If it was you who shot Captain Carter...

Oh, it was me, payback for that time ten years or so ago... when you told me not to touch you... I see you remember. His face grew darker as he spoke. I'll have you know that NOBODY tells me who I can and can't touch. See what happens when you try?

Sam took a deep breath, amazed at how calm she felt. Jonas had always made her tremble before. The man that he had become was now staring at her out of glittering eyes that were hard as granite, and Sam recognized the look that said that Jonas felt threatened, but she also found that she just didn't care any longer how he felt. She knew from experience that being threatened in any way made him lash out at the nearest target that he could find, and she knew that he would never forgo using as good a target as she represented. But she felt more irritation at the idea of a strike from Jonas than the fear that she was more accustomed to. She briefly wondered if that was due to all the defensive training that she'd had over the years?

Sam gazed at Jonas in something close to contempt. I take it that Captain Carter had to issue a restraining order on you in order to keep you away from her?

Jonas actually laughed a tiny laugh at Sam's words. In a silky voice he went on to protest, As if you don't know, Even his laughter sounded mean. You're the one who ordered it for me, telling me to stay away from you. Then his smile turned decisively more satisfied. But it didn't say anything about mentioning a transfer to the same command as you. And if you got killed in the line of duty... He shrugged. I was only following the orders of the Jag office. He looked self-satisfied and smug.

Sam grimaced then, still amazed that Jonas didn't frighten her any more than any of the regular crazed individuals that she ran into. Oh, puh-lease! she exclaimed now in a fit of sarcastic humor. Like me or anybody else is going to believe that! she derisively said. That you just happened to be in the exact same place the Captain Carter died? No judge is ever going to buy a defense of 'I happened to be in the area.' She was deliberately goading him now, hoping to make him lose his temper quickly. 'An angry warrior is a warrior who makes mistakes,' she heard the voice of her Teal'c say in her mind.

But as she goaded Jonas, she tried to get what information she could out of him. And this whole mole thing? 'Cause I know you're the one, or one of them. You were just following the orders of the Jag office then, too, huh? The disdain in her voice was thick as she spoke.

Jonas gave another sick grin. Noooo, he intoned in a sing-song voice. I was rising above my rank there, he replied. Going and doing things for planet Earth that no one at the SGO can ever match.

Sam crossed her arms in a stance of complete disbelief. She brushed the button on her radio as she made the movement to position her toggle switch for constant chatter. She just really hoped that one of her friends happened to have their radios turned on and were in a quiet place and listening to this conversation. What have you done, Jonas? she goaded again. Like I believe that you could ever...

How about stealing devices that will wipe out the Goa'uld threat forever? Jonas gloated. Those dumb aliens will be too busy thinking that we 'worship' them to pay any attention to us 'insolent' humans, he predicted in a sarcastic tone of voice. Then we can have the great ring all to ourselves... and it's power. Just think, Sam, all that is yours for the taking! When she didn't even respond to his comment, Jonas added, Being the informant on the SGO was the best decision I ever made!

Sam snorted again. And just who did you inform to, Jonas? Sam asked in a tone of voice that left no doubt as to her disbelief in what he was saying. If you expect me to buy any of this... this controlling the 'Gate, this being in control of all the power... you'll have to give me a name that I recognize or...

Jonas interrupted, Like I'm gonna give you a name... just because you asked, huh? I'm not that dumb, Sam!

You were dumb enough to do in Captain Carter! Sam harshly bit out. What? Did you think that I would never figure out that it was you who killed her?

Jonas curled his lips. You're talking like you aren't her, but I know better! Major's leaf or not, I shot you!

Sam snarled back. When did you shoot her? she demanded to know. Where? And on whose authority?

Here, on Abydos, just last week! Jonas roared. You know that!

Good... He was angry already. Nothing could be relied on like a Hansen temper fit. You shot Captain Carter? Your own fellow soldier? she derisively asked. Even as she requested specific information, her tone was far from nice.

Jonas was callous and triumphant in his answer. You bet I did, and I can shoot you again, only this time I won't miss your heart, I promise you that one!

Sam lifted her lips in a sardonic half smile. You didn't last time, either. You killed Captain Carter!

I only shot her, Jonas claimed. That idiot O'Neill killed her!

Sam scoffed, Oh, you actually believe that stupid sordid story about O'Neill? I didn't know that you're so gullible, Hansen! She had deliberately used his last name, so that there would be a record of the fact that she had called him 'Jonas' and 'Hansen' in their confrontation.

Jonas snorted his own laughter. I'm not as gullible as you are, if I remember correctly!

Sam rolled her eyes in a dramatically large way to ensure that he could see her gesture. You always did underestimate me. That stupid little gullible girl who believed that you could do anything is G-O-N-E, gone! She knows exactly what you're really like. Nothing but a power monger control freak. I know, she knew, we both know everything! And the fact that we know is what's driving you nuts!

You wish it were! Jonas replied in a scathing tone. I know you, Samantha, don't forget! You and I were married once!

Sam grimaced. Thank the System Lords that you and I were never married! I feel sorry for Captain Carter to even have been married to you for a second!

That statement surprised Jonas. That's the second time that you've...

Sam sneered at him. How she hated this man! He had done nothing but cause her grief in the short time she'd known him. That's because I'm not her! she hissed in interruption. You mean to tell me that you, the great Jonas Hansen, can't tell the difference? she mocked. She knew she had goaded him onto dangerous ground by partially revealing her true identity, but it just felt so good to goad him over the edge. She hadn't had the opportunity to talk to him like this in her own reality before he had died. Now she wanted to draw him closer and closer to his own mental edge than she had ever had the chance before.

Jonas gazed assessingly at her. You're not Sam Carter?

Sam gave a light laugh that belied the serious expression on her face. I'm not Captain Carter, if that's what you mean, she responded. You made sure that she would never come back by killing her.

Jonas stared at her now in open puzzlement. If I killed Captain Samantha Carter last week, then who the heck are you? Are you a ghost or what?

Sam gave her half grin again. You'd like it if I were a ghost, wouldn't you? Sam demanded. But I'm not gonna make it that easy. I'm Major Carter, and I'm from a reality that you've never gone to, and can never hope to go to.

Jonas eyed her skeptically. You're lying, he unequivocally stated.

Sam smirked, thinking that Jack would approve of her expression. You'd like that, she said again. I am Major Samantha Carter of the USAF, kick ass Goa'uld killer and scientist for the SGC, and your worst nightmare.

Jonas instantly pulled out a gun, training it on his perceived enemy. You're not so kick ass, are you, if just any old guy can pull a firearm on you. I killed you too fast last time. Now, I have some questions that you need to answer before I pull my trigger.

But Sam's smirk only grew as she pulled the tiny gun that Jack had given to her when they'd arrived on Abydos from her front trouser pocket. How dumb do you think I am? she rhetorically asked. First rule of combat: Never go into a possibly hostile situation unarmed. Even me, not a member of the SGO, knows that. Her tone showed her supremely contemptuous opinion of his intellect.

Jonas' assessing gaze trained on the small handgun that she aimed at him. And you think that I'll be worried by a puny little gun like that?

Sam peered at Jonas, then said, Even a tiny gun can make you bleed, Hansen. And my aim has improved a hell of a lot over the years. I might do more than just give you a flesh wound... you prepared to take that chance?

Jonas laughed, but warily eyed Sam's weapon.

Sam in turn was thanking the fact that Jack was so paranoid that he had given her a handgun that was so small she could literally hide it away. She was never so glad for Jack's nerves.

Jonas snorted again into the quiet tent.

Sam snorted as well.

Jonas snorted one more time. You're as insignificant as your weapon.

You've started insulting me personally! Sam noted. That means that you're starting to feel insecure.

Like you know me so well! Jonas retorted back to her.

I know you as well as you know me, Sam reminded him. But since you're so insecure, I propose a hand fight, she suggested. We put down our weapons, and you get the opportunity to show me 'the error of my ways,' I think is how you said it.

Jonas' smirk widened. You will definitely see your errors, he predicted. He and she both laid their guns on top of the crates of supplies he and Sam stood beside, and Jonas raised his hands up to face Sam. I'm gonna turn you into tiny little pieces of meat.

Sam mirrored his gesture. Put your fist where your mouth is, she disdainfully suggested.

Jonas sent Sam an expression that told her of his assumed superiority in hand fighting. You let me worry about my fist, he said. Then he thought to remind, But I guess you have intimate knowledge of my fist, don't you?

Sam sneered again. Enough knowledge of it to hate the very sight of it.

You're still gonna hate the sight of it, 'cause you're gonna see it way too often, Jonas predicted.

It won't even touch me, Sam predicted back.

It has before, Jonas reminded.

And it never will again, Sam said in determination.

Jonas made the first move towards her as he growled, You can wish all you want.

Sam pushed his lunge aside with ease, hitting him squarely in his stomach and upper ribs with her entire left arm. Her lightning fast move quickly shunted his away. Is that the best you can do? she taunted. I remember you being better at fighting than this.

Jonas made his second move, a left-handed punch, which Sam also blocked. She got in her own side swiping lock this time, trapping his left punching arm so smoothly and swiftly in hers that he didn't see it coming until it was too late for him to stop it. Sam instinctively wrapped her arm around his, then just like her Teal'c had taught her to do, she smashed Jonas' elbow backwards onto her upraised knee.

The move instantly broke the man's arm at his elbow joint just as Sam released his arm so she could bend down and scoop up a handful of sand with her free hand. She threw the whole fistful into Jonas' face. Then she spun him away with her arm rewrapped around his, and threw her foot behind his staggering steps, tripping him at the last minute. Jonas crashed to the ground in stunned astonishment, and by the time he had recovered even some of his faculties, Sam was straddling him with her fingers poised in a knife-hand thrust into his throat. Give me a reason to finish my punch, Sam quietly begged. I would sooooo enjoy it!

Jonas' hasty pants of breath sounded loud in the quiet tent as he pointed his head in her general direction, his eyes still glued shut by watering caused by the sand she had thrown. I give, I give, he said in an undertone. Geez... Where did you learn to fight like that?

Not how you remember me being, is it? Sam queried with a victorious smile. I'm level three advanced, technically, but for the last five years, my Teal'c has been teaching me all that he ever learned while he was in service to the Goa'uld. You've just fought First Prime Jaffa style. Sam's smile turned thoroughly and happily satisfied. Dirty fighting, isn't it?

Jack and Daniel suddenly pushed through the tent opening. Daniel lugged the video camera in his hand, and Jack was bent to draw his handgun. Nice job, Sam! he very appreciatively said. That was some kick-ass fighting!

Sam grinned in satisfaction. Thanks! You know, that was downright cathartic! she declared.

Jack grinned as well. When Daniel ran up to me at the tent entrance a few minutes ago and told me to start filming, and that you were in here alone with someone we thought was the SGO mole, or one of the moles, I nearly had heart failure. But I see that I shouldn't have been worried. He leaned over Hansen lying on the sand at his feet. She too much for ya? Jack inquired unkindly.

Sam bent back down to face Jonas, and began undoing Hansen's BDU belt underneath his robes. She whipped the material of the cloth belt out of the loopholes of his trousers once she had the buckle freed.

Sam? Jack asked in sudden confusion. What are you doing by undressing him?

Sam gave a sardonic laugh. As if I want to undress this thing! She rolled Jonas over, uncaring of the ribs she had fractured earlier in their fight. She was tired of caring about not hurting Jonas Hansen; she had spent way too much of her life being careful around him so that she wouldn't make him angry. Or she figured that Captain Carter had spent too large a part of her life treating Jonas like he was a fragile piece of glass about to break.

Now she grabbed Jonas' arms and yanked them behind his back, even the broken one. Jonas practically fainted when she roughly handled his left arm, but she ignored his look of pain. This is for Captain Carter, who, thanks to you, is not here to fight back, she whispered in Jonas' ear. To Jack, she explained, My Teal'c taught me long ago to use whatever equipment I had at my disposal to defend myself with. And whether I'm fighting for my life, or turning a mole into a prisoner, I need to use what's at hand. To that end... She quickly wrapped Jonas' belt around and around his wrists, then buckled the belt again, cinching it snugly against his skin. She patted his cheek. One mole, coming up, she quipped to Jack. Then she turned to Daniel as she and Jack aimed to exit the tent and to find Kafus so they could explain to him why his town was in an uproar over this scene, and that no, the Goa'uld weren't coming. I'd keep my weapon trained on him at all times, if I were you, safety off. She turned back to regard Jonas again, but spoke to Daniel. Don't trust anything he says or does. He'll try to sweet talk you, and when that doesn't work, he'll try to overpower you. When that happens, shoot him.

Daniel gaped at her. You want me to shoot him? He sounded like he didn't believe her last order.

Sam stared straight at Daniel with an unflinching stare. Give him the same consideration that he gave Captain Carter.

Daniel suddenly smiled. Gotcha. And he flipped the safety off his weapon that Jack had given him.

Part X

Sam tried to calm her wildly racing heart. She, Jack, and Daniel had moved Jonas the hour before to the cell that Teal'c had formerly occupied in the room in the Abydonian building that acted something like a Municipal Hall. There they left him with his hands untied, sitting up and leaning against the bars of the crude cell, his broken arm dangling uselessly at his side.

Jonas glowered at them all as Jack and Sam left him alone with Daniel and his drawn gun while they went to bring back some breakfast for their friend. But as Sam passed by the cell on the way out the door, she winked at the imprisoned SGO man. Too bad you don't understand how locks work, Sam said in a parting shot as she left the room. But things like locks were always too mundane for you to worry about, weren't they? Then she tilted her head to give him a little look. She was enjoying this baiting of Jonas a little too much, but she couldn't resist giving him a parting shot. Too bad Carter isn't here to help with the mechanical lock. But then, you made sure that she wouldn't be. Sam sort of grimaced at him, all the while she sent him a 'goshdarn, that's right, it's my fault she's not here' expression. She said, Too bad.

She was really getting too much enjoyment out of this baiting. Sam wasn't at heart a mean person, but the things that Jonas had done to her were not easily forgotten or forgiven. It was as if she had years worth of stored taunts for him just sitting in the back of her mind, and now she finally had the opportunity to say them. It was liberating while she was doing it, but rather humbling when she wasn't. It was good to know that she was capable of this level of animosity, but she didn't like the fact that she was stooping to giving such basic insults, either. Sam decided that if it was left to SG-2 to interrogate the prisoner before they returned to the SGO, she would let Jack or Daniel or Janet handle the interviewing; she didn't want to have anything more to do with Jonas Hansen.

And so it was that later that day, Daniel found himself on the eve of his wedding to Sha're interviewing a mole. (Daniel and Sha're's wedding was a surprising event to everybody but Sam. At least, it was surprising that it had come about so quickly, even to her.) But interrogating an SGO mole was going to be hard enough. Sam didn't trust herself to even ask Jonas such simple questions as the names of possible other moles. So she let Daniel handle the interview of Jonas Hansen as the rest of the team watched.

It was a bit unnerving for Sam to note that Daniel could be a very able interrogator when he wanted to be. Daniel seemed like such a mild mannered, harmless archaeologist on most days, but now he was barely recognizable as the man they all knew and loved.

Holding Sam's Zat gun in one hand, Daniel poked Hansen in his left shoulder none too softly with one of the free fingers of his other hand. I'll make this easy on you, he said to Jonas. You tell me the name of the other moles working at the SGO, and I promise that I won't shoot you with Sam's Zat. But as long as you keep up this quiet act, I'll have to keep bothering you. He thoughtfully stared into the air of the cell. Part of me wants you to talk, just so I can get this over with. Another part of me hopes you clam up, I admit, so then I can shoot. And Daniel did a double take. Oh, that's right, you won't know about Zats. Then he rubbed the handgrip of the weapon against Jonas' cheek, looking more menacing than Sam had ever seen him look. Even when she knew that he was pretending to be malicious for the sake of the interrogation, seeing Daniel get 'down and dirty' made Sam instantly uncomfortable.

Daniel went on speaking to Jonas, One blast from a Zat causes intense pain, but it doesn't kill. Two blasts kill. You don't want to incite me to shoot you twice. Oh, Daniel added, as if in afterthought. Three blasts will disintegrate your body. If I shoot you three times, it's like you never existed. A huuuuuge part of me hopes for this end. He carefully regarded Jonas. But it's your choice, of course. Talk, and I'll go easy on you. Don't talk... Daniel threateningly raised the Zat. I just might have to shoot you.

Sam winced as Daniel pushed the Zat further into Jonas' cheek. She had no idea that her mild friend could behave so... evilly. But she was also busy recalling the time Jonas had broken her own arm once when he'd lost his temper, so she didn't feel much sympathy for him as he suffered through Daniel's threats.

When Jonas didn't answer except to sneer and grunt, You don't have it in you, linguist. I'm not worried.

Daniel gave a dramatic sigh. Then he shrugged, congenially said, Okay, and shot Jonas once with the Zat. Sam jumped back, wholly not expecting this move of her friend. The blue arc of electricity faded into Jonas, who was now a still mass on the floor of the cell.

Jack grimaced while he stared at the still form on the cell floor. You know, Daniel, you don't have to get so very involved in this, he cautioned after he had watched the expression of distaste cross Sam's features.

I'm already involved, Jack, Daniel insisted as he squatted by what had been the writhing form that was Jonas Hansen.

Sam gave an even deeper grimace. I know that I learned that move of shooting people in interrogations from a Jaffa, and you then learned it from me, but... She blanched and had to swallow. She turned, heading for the door of the room. I'm suddenly having flashbacks of the Goa'uld... think I'll just wait outside with Janet. With a roiling stomach, Sam fled.

Janet stood near the door, the medkit at her feet. Sam! she remarked in some surprise. I'm just waiting for the guys to get done with their 'questioning.' Then I'll go in and fix what I can fix.

Yeah, Sam said, going pasty. I witnessed some of that 'questioning.' I even taught some of the methods that Daniel is using. Sam gave a wan smile. And what he has to do still makes me feel queasy. Some Goa'uld I would make! she sarcastically exclaimed.

I don't know, Janet hesitantly said. Not being able to stomach Goa'uld methods is something that you might want to claim, she suggested, then snorted a laugh. That's probably the first time that NOT being a snake would be considered to be the preferable thing!

Sam laughed with her. You may be right!

In the short silence that typically followed a comment like she had just made, Sam caught the sound of Daniel's upraised voice carrying out of the building to where she sat with Janet. You should talk, Jack! came the angry retort. What happened to you being all down and out because of Sam dying?

Jack's equally angry voice carried out to them as well, and Sam gave up all pretenses of not listening to the argument when it was quite obvious that Janet was listening too. It was hard not to overhear such a heated exchange. Daniel! Jack was saying, a warning sound in his voice. You don't want to go there!

Why not, Jack? came the sound of an incensed Daniel. We lost a good friend! Our team mate! Our... other half! Daniel finally settled on yelling. Or has Major Carter taken over what we had with Captain Carter?

Jack huffed a deep breath, and firmly replied, How dare you even think that Carter could ever be replaced?

Daniel laughed, a sound with no mirth. Come on, Jack! he scorned. You tell me about any taking over that Major Carter's done so far! After all, you married her! Then he corrected himself to add, Or you're pretending to be married. I don't know which is worse!

Yeah?!? Jack bit back. And do you want to make some kind of issue out of...

You're pretending to be married to her, Jack! Daniel interrupted. How would that make Sam... Captai Carter... feel? He snorted his anger. How much bigger of a replacement do you want?!? I don't think...

Jack harshly interrupted the archaeologist, Sam is not a replacement for Carter, and she never was! You know that! It's not even possible!

Don't you tell me what is or is not possible! Daniel hollered. Geez, Jack, I always thought you and Sam... I mean Captain Carter... That you shared something really special, but now I'm not so sure!

Jack's voice got lower as his anger increased. What Captain Carter and I shared was special! What Sam and I share is special! What do you want me to do, Daniel? Not pay attention to what I'm feeling now for Sam because you think I should somehow...

But Sam had heard enough at this point. She threw the curtain that acted as a sort of door to the incarceration room aside and stormed in, right up to where Daniel stood now outside the cell beside Jack. Jonas slept on, oblivious, as she breathed hard and glared at her friend. Daniel, she eventually said in as even a voice as she could muster at the moment. She tugged on the wedding band that she was wearing on her right hand, then lifted it between her index finger and thumb. What is this? she barked her question.

Daniel looked confused, but quickly answered. It's your wedding ring. He corrected, I mean, your fake wedding ring, the one nobody but us knows is fake.

Incensed at Daniel's perception of hers and Jack's tumultuous relationship, Sam bit out, Fake or not... Who does it say that I'm married to?

Daniel began looking slightly uncomfortable, but gamely responded, It doesn't say anything, but Jack gave it to you, didn't he?

Did he? Sam asked. Or maybe it would say married more if I wore it on this hand. She shoved the ring onto her left hand, held it up for his inspection, then pulled it off again to study it. Or... as you so happily pointed out... maybe it doesn't actually say that I'm married at all! She went on, Or maybe it doesn't have to! As Daniel's face began to show even more confusion at what Sam was claiming... or not claiming... she further explained. Maybe I'm meant to wear this more for you... and Janet... and Sha're... and General West... and my dad if he was alive in this reality... My point is, this ring's for everybody else in the whole world to stare at, and to tell them that I'm married! But it still doesn't actually say who I'm married or not married to! She huffed a breath. I can take off this ring, and I'm still married, or pretending to be married, and no matter what's the state of mine and Jack's relationship, I choose to be married to Jack! Does that cheapen what I felt for my Colonel O'Neill? she rhetorically asked. No! But then, Jack is not and never was my Colonel O'Neill! I never knew my Colonel the way that I know Jack!

But didn't that 'knowing' come about awfully fast? Daniel sardonically queried.

Oh? Sam asked right back. And who's getting married tomorrow? she rhetorically asked a second query. Isn't that also happening a bit fast?

Well, Daniel hemmed and hawed. It doesn't seem fast to me. Or to Sha're, he argued.

And this doesn't seem fast to Jack, or to me, Sam retorted back to him. I didn't know the domestic side of Colonel O'Neill, Jack didn't know anything domestic about Captain Carter. I will always feel a bond to the Colonel, and Jack will always feel fondness or more for Captain Carter. Okay, that's life. But that doesn't mean that I should give up Jack, and that he should give up on me so that we can stay 'true' to this amorphous thing that neither one of us ever had to begin with, Sam continued to argue. I love Jack. There it is. Simply put. I don't know how I can be any plainer. And Jack loves me. He's showed me so on several occasions, even if he hasn't said much about his feelings. And if we did or did not go through a wedding ceremony or whatever you have here in this reality doesn't make us any more or less married.

Then her eyes lighted momentarily on the ring she still held between them. And this ring... She sighed in aggravation that she didn't know any other way to illustrate her point. I don't mean to be sappy, but... This ring does not say married to me. Sam touched her chest over her heart with her right hand. I feel it. In here. Inside me. It's not contained in this symbol, and she again held up the ring. I can not wear it, and I'm still very much married, and I choose to be married... even pretend-married... if being married is so important to everybody... I choose to be married to Jack... with or without a ring. End of story. Then she slapped the ring into Daniel's hand. Here. Give this to Sha're tomorrow. Having it obviously means more to you than it does to me.

But Daniel protested, I thought you told Janet that this was feigned.

Jack piped up for the first time and softly admitted, No, it's real. Then he added his own ring to the one already in Daniel's palm before anyone could react to his confession. Here, he said almost nonchalantly, the anger completely gone from his voice now. I don't need this either... you have it. Then Jack looked at Sam with a contented smile on his lips. I've never felt more married than I do right now, he said. Then he gathered Sam's hand in his and pulled her out through the curtain that Janet had been holding aside with her body.

Together they walked out of the room, leaving Janet and Daniel to take care of the broken bone that an only now stirring Hansen was suffering. I've never heard anything more romantic, Janet murmured with a sigh as she turned toward Jonas' cell.

No, Daniel pensively said, staring at the rings in his hand. Neither have I.

* * *

Two hours later, Daniel joined his three other current team mates at the fire that Jack had built just inside the perimeter near their tents that he and Janet had erected what seemed ages ago to Sam. He stared balefully at his three friends, then bluntly stated, I convinced Hansen to name Corporal Janice Rush of the Hospital Room as another mole. He turned to regard Janet. As Co-CMO of the base, Janet, you should know her the best out of all of us. Is Corporal Rush a possibility for a mole?

Janet gaped at Daniel. Janice! She's an excellent doctor! I would never have expected her - she's so quiet!

Jack grimly stated, It's the quiet ones that you have to watch out for.

Janet then thoughtfully went on, Now that I think about it, Janice did have the opportunities to be an informant... she's the other base CMO... she knows what I know... And I suppose that she could have a motive... she has mentioned several times that she wondered about the way the SGO has so far chosen to carry out its original mission that was given to it several years ago by the woman who was President then.

Jack turned back to Daniel, at least semi-convinced by Janet's misgivings. Good job. I don't know how you got him to confess that, and I'm not sure that I want to know.

Daniel's smile that he sent Jack's way was just as grim as Jack's expression had been. I had the video camera on 'record,' but I had it lying in the sand the entire time. You can hear what Hansen is saying, but you can't see anything about why he said what he said.

Jack's eyebrows rose when he heard that comment. Wow, Daniel, that's very... with it... of you. Good thinking.

Daniel was still grim in spite of the rare compliment from Jack. I can't say how much we can trust anything Hansen says. He did kill Captain Carter, after all, so he's about as trustworthy as those snakes we're fighting... And... Here Daniel paused, obviously overcome by his emotions for a moment. Finally he softly said, I keep thinking about her, ya know? About how we were discussing the possibility of blood having something to do with making Goa'uld technology work...

Blood has everything to do with it, Sam thought, but she kept that thought to herself. She had been debating with herself the merits of divulging more specific details of her tale dealing with the reason for the presence of naqueda in her blood by telling the group more about her possession by Jolinar than they already knew. Or should she keep it all a secret known only to herself? But what if someone comes in really injured, and you could help them with a healing device, only no one knows about that ability of yours to make one work because you never told anyone about it? On the other hand, do I actually want to divulge the details of that secret and probably give free license to everyone on base to start calling me 'snake' behind my back again?

Sam sighed, the arguments running around and around in her head, as they had done for the last hour. Sam glanced at Jack... her husband, she supposed. Or not her husband? They weren't actually married yet... were they? Or, after the speech she had made a few hours before to Daniel, did she need to begin thinking of Jack in 'husband' terms? She did, didn't she? Did a wedding ceremony matter? Or, like she had said, was it more important to 'feel' married inside than it was to actually have gone through a ceremony? Which was more important to her? To him? To the world of 'Earth' where they were going the next day at around 1000 hours?

Ugh! Decisions of moral proportions were only sure to give Sam a headache, which was why she avoided the moral decisions and went for the scientific and realistic ones instead. It was why she was a soldier. There wasn't anything too moral about whether or not to call a fellow soldier 'Sir.'

Unaware of her personal turmoil, naturally, Jack said, We don't know if we can trust Hansen's word, but we can't really afford not to trust that word right now, either, at least, not initially. I suggest that we secure Corporal Rush's arrest when we get back to base, then investigate this matter further, unless she makes a confession while she's incarcerated. He heaved a gigantic sigh, as if the weight of the world was currently resting on his shoulders. There's nothing we can do about it right now, anyway. So, Daniel, and he smiled now as he spoke. Why don't you get Sha're and bring her over here... We should get to know her, shouldn't we? Then when we go back to the SGO, we'll worry about who's guilty and who isn't.

Daniel grinned the minute that Jack mentioned wanting to get to know Sha're, and he enthusiastically stated, You bet! before disappearing into the night.

Janet snuggled a little closer to the fire as she changed the subject with her good natured grouse to Jack, I still don't quite understand why you have this thing about eating native cuisine. I checked that dinner that I can smell that the Abydonians are cooking, and my scanners show that all the food is perfectly edible. She shrugged again. I don't get it.

Sam and Jack both snorted as one as soon as Janet finished speaking. Kynthia, Sam said, as if that one word explained the entire situation to the doctor.

Poison, Jack noted at the same time that Sam spoke.

Both Sam and Jack turned toward each other, their faces alight with amazement. Kynthia? Jack queried. Don't know him... or her. Is this another Goa'uld that we haven't met yet?

What's this thing about poison? Sam inquired instead of answering Jack's question.

Jack forehead was still wrinkled. Poison, SG-12, lost two good fellows right when the SGO first went operational because some enzyme reacted differently to native blood than to the element that is supposedly in Goa'uld blood... Daniel was talking about that debate earlier... Anyway, they ate this wedding cake on some planet, and it killed them when it was just supposed to drug them...

Wedding cake?!? Sam blurted.

Yeah. Jack suddenly smirked. Guess one of the natives was quite a looker. Anyway, the two guys ate this cake that she gave to them, and were dead before they could get back to the SGO for treatment. After that, General West banned all eating of native foods, no matter how good it smells while it cooks. He eyed Janet meaningfully.

But it was Sam and not Janet who choked on the water she was drinking as he explained his reasoning.

Sam, you okay? Jack whacked her on the back. Sam nodded, still unable to speak. What was it that you were saying? he asked. Something about someone named Thea?

Nevermind, Sam managed to choke out just as Daniel arrived with Sha're in tow, making an excellent diversion for her.

Daniel and Sha're sat down next to Sam on a log spread before the fire, Daniel grinning like a maniac and Sha're looking unsure as she surreptitiously studied the friends of the man she had promised to marry after only knowing him for a few days.

Sam knew that Daniel intended to return with the team to the SGO, and that he intended to take Sha're with him. It wasn't clear that he would be able to return either of them to Abydos in the near future, so Sha're was on the brink of losing everything that she knew about her life and was familiar with to be with the man she was going to marry.

God, the girl is so going to be in culture shock at first, Sam considered. She wondered if Daniel had thought of that, and she determined to help Sha're as much as she could, knowing that Daniel... her Daniel, at any rate... often got caught up in events going on at any moment and ignored everything going on around him for days on end. But she wasn't sure, either, of the role she would be allowed to play in the future of Sha're at the SGO. She may not even be welcome at the SGO, and could hardly be much help to Sha're then.

Maybe she could convince Janet to watch out for Sha're, Sam vaguely thought. That was a possibility.

But Janet was already busy digging around in her pack that lay beside her in the Abydonian sand, and was unavailable for Sam to speak to. As she dug, Sam considered the situation: Maybe Janet would be too busy with her SGO duties to spend much time worrying about Sha're. Still determined to help the alien girl, though, Sam turned to her, an introduction quickly on her tongue. Aware that Sha're still only knew a few words in her own language, Sam spoke slowly, and when she could, spoke in Goa'uld, even though her talent at speaking Goa'uld was limited at best. Hi. My Name Is Sam Carter. Then she pointed at Janet. Janet Blaizer. And she next gestured at Jack. Jack O'Neill.

Sha're stared at her a bit quizzically until Daniel said something to her in Abydonian, then repeated the introductions that Sam had just made. Ahhhh, Sha're said, smiling now, while Sam thought that the grunt of understanding that Sha're had just given must be as universal as many of Jack's behavioral traits.

Sam grinned in Sha're's direction. My Goa'uld must be worse than I thought, she remarked to everyone and no one.

Sha're gazed at Sam, and gestured to herself, all the while saying, Sha're. Then she pointed at Sam. Am?

That made Sam giggle. Close. 'SSSSS, she hissed, exaggerating the sound. SSSSam.

Sha're made a valiant attempt to repeat her. HHHHHam.

Both Janet and Jack joined Sam in laughing with her this time. Not HHHHam, SSSSam.

Sha're tried again. Slowly she intoned, SSSSam.

Sam nodded, smiling. Good.

Sha're then looked to Jack. ZZZhhhaaaak, she said, sounding a great deal like she was French.

Jack gave a slight scowl at the mangling of his name while the others gaily laughed again. JJJJJJack, Sam said.

JJJJak, Sha're repeated, and beamed at Sam's grin and nod of approval.

Sam was about to continue the naming lesson by gesturing to Janet next, but the Doctor was still searching through her pack she had brought with her from Antarctica for something that she finally pulled out in triumph. Well, whatever happens in the next few days, look what I got right now. She had pulled out the fixings for s'mores.

Hey! Jack exclaimed in delight.

Good thinking! Daniel shot out.

Yeah! Sam couldn't help but blurt, her language lesson forgotten for the moment.

Janet handed round two chocolate bars apiece, and even had some left over to hand Sha're. She also threw a bag of marshmallows into the circle of friends, then went to work on a package of graham crackers with the knife from the medkit.

Daniel kept grinning. You know, even though we've been together for five years, I think this is the first time any of us thought to make s'mores at the campfire.

Well, there's a first time for everything, Janet quipped as she finally got the graham cracker packaging free. Here. She handed round the crackers and began working on another package. I can't believe you guys have never had s'mores before now.

Jack shrugged. What can I say? We're geeks. Thanks Doc. He looked around for a stick to sharpen in order to roast the marshmallow over the fire, but Janet was already pulling several roasting forks from the side of her pack. Doc, you've thought of everything, he appreciatively said after taking one. Between you and Sam, I don't even have to bother showing up anymore. He grabbed a marshmallow out of the bag in the center, then turned to Sha're as he began roasting it in the fire. In Goa'uld, he asked her if she had ever had chocolate before.

Sam was glad that Jack had thought to include the woman who was a virtual stranger thrust into a group of people who didn't even speak her language. Sam again made a conscious effort to include Sha're when she had successfully made her first gooey s'more. She slowly handed it to Sha're, still smiling in as friendly a manner as she could, since her grasp of Goa'uld was not nearly as good as Jack's. She tried to say something though as she shared her food with the Abydonian woman. Um... Sha're... story... how... met... And she pointed at both Sha're and Daniel. Then she helplessly glared at Daniel as he convulsed with laughter at her bungled attempt at speaking Goa'uld.

He spoke when he had calmed enough to form words. Maybe we should concentrate on teaching Sha're our language, not the other way around, so that Sam can talk to her. Then he asked in Goa'uld what he thought had been Sam's question of Sha're. Sha're grinned shyly as she answered that she had been a gift to her 'Dan-yelllll' from her father to show the Abydonians' good will in helping to clear Jack's name in the murder of their friend.

Jack snorted his laughter when Sha're mentioned that she had been a gift to Daniel, but it was Sam who correctly translated the word 'gift' and glared at Daniel. Daniel! she blurted. And you accepted? Daniel had the temerity to blush as Sam exclaimed, How could you!?!

Daniel blushed a deeper shade of red, but shrugged in self defense. It was for relations! At least, I thought so at first! Then...

But Sam didn't let him finish. Here's what I think of your relations! And she tossed three marshmallows at him at once. To Sha're, she said, You and I... talk... female ideas!

Sha're looked worried while trying not to look worried, and Jack and Janet just laughed. Well, at least Sam's feminist ideals aren't different from Carter's! Jack reported in good humor. I think I'd miss those ideals if they weren't there!

Sam sardonically, seductively, accusingly, thoughtfully, and appreciatively gazed at her husband... or the man who wasn't her husband. It was so weird to think of him in any way but 'Jack!' But she only lifted her eyebrows to her own hairline, and simply said to him, Good answer.

* * *

Four gongs into the next day found Jack sitting on the nearest walkway between two buildings in the Abydonian village, close to where he could shoot a video while watching Daniel and Sha're walk under an arch three times in order to get married. Sam sat beside him in order to keep him company while he filmed. She repeatedly told herself that she wasn't just sitting there in hopes that he would let her dissect the technology of this alien camera once he was done filming the wedding, but she was having trouble even finding herself to be very convincing. She figured that as long as she kept repeating this one idea to herself, she would start to believe it after awhile. She was just now finally giving up hope.

Jack smiled at her as he adjusted the focus on the camera again and continued to film as an Abydonian Priest of the Pyramid announced Daniel and Sha're joined, linked, one mind, bonded. Daniel and Sha're traded wedding rings... an Earth custom that seemed strange to every Abydonian present... then vowed before all those gathered that he and she would remain true to only each other for as long as the other lived. The Priest said something that sounded like Daniel and Sha're would be sure to enjoy great happiness and prosperity... just as long as the woman always deferred to her husband.

Sam tried to squelch her natural snort when she heard the Priest say such a thing. Her laugh of incredulity turned more into a strangled cough of sarcastic hilarity as she thought how the many cultures that her SG-1 and Jack's SG-2 had met had already made many natural mistakes in how they perceived the way that the Earthers regarded the women of their society.

Jack stopped filming as the ceremony seemed to come to an end, and both Daniel and Sha're were surrounded by Abydonian well-wishers. He turned to Sam with a grin. I figured that I had better film this auspicious occasion, as no one at the SGO will believe that Daniel has really gotten married this time, as in a marriage that was meant by him to stick. He's been 'married' to alien women so many times on our past missions that I guessed no would would believe it unless they saw it for themselves.

Does Daniel know that you're doing this? Sam asked in curiosity.

Jack's grin grew wider. He'll thank me later, he knowingly said in answer to her query.

Sam giggled, but didn't comment on Jack's unusual regard that he was showing to their friend. Sam's attention turned away from Jack and the video camera he had set down beside him on the wooden bridge that he and she were sitting on, and stared at Daniel and Sha're among their enthusiastic support club. A minute later, she couldn't quite keep her pensive sigh from escaping through her parted lips in a slight hiss. Jack heard.

Whatcha thinkin?' he quietly asked.

Sam grinned her reply, then added, Oh, I was just considering Daniel and Sha're, and what they feel or don't feel, as the case may be. She studied Jack's features as she spoke. Do you think that they're really in love with each other? she finally asked.

Jack considered, watching the smiling couple. They look happy enough together. Why? Do you think they're in love?

Sam again watched her friends. Well... She tilted her head the other way, still thinking. At last, she said, I think that they think they're in love.

Jack wrinkled his nose. But you don't think so? he asked.

Sam sighed again. Yes and no, she finally imparted to him. I think that, as you said yesterday, this has all come about very quickly. When all the dust has settled, and we're back at the SGO, and reality has set in for Daniel, we might find that Daniel only ever had a crush on Sha're, that he didn't really love her. But Sha're will be at the SGO as Daniel's wife by then... What happens to her then? Sam rhetorically inquired. She'll be on another entire planet, cut off from everything that she knew from when she grew up. Let's face it... Sha're was originally a gift to Daniel, one that I personally can't believe he accepted, and I can't help but worry that this whole emotional commitment thing that they have here is going to last a few months, then wear away as Daniel takes off his rosy glasses. Then she grimly gazed at Jack. Except that by then it will be too late. She turned back around to stare at the happy couple again. I know that I sound totally not like a romantic, but I can't help myself in analyzing their situation, even if that analysis won't highlight the rosy ending that we all want.

Jack considered all that Sam had said for a moment, and puffed out a breath of air. Still thinking, he softly, slowly questioned her, And... taking into account all that you've just said that you believe... What do you think about our own situation then? He studied her face as well. Do you think that, as Daniel said yesterday, this... thing... between us has happened way too fast? When Sam didn't immediately reply, he added, Everyone else does think we're married, after all. Whether it's the true case of things or not is really beside the point. He turned back around to face forward. And how can you say what you just said while you said what you said to Daniel yesterday about me... us... and still expect us... anybody... to buy either of them. Which is the truth?

Sam sat a little stunned and taken aback by Jack's queries. At last, she attempted to reply, I guess that I think that mine and your case is very different from Daniel's and Sha're's relationship, but now that I think about it all again, I really shouldn't be saying that. She glanced at him, puzzled. The two really aren't so very different, are they? she asked. I'm from another reality... so is Sha're, sort of... And Daniel's right about one thing... this 'thing' between me and you has happened just as fast as it has for Daniel and Sha're, but that doesn't mean that I think that our... And she gestured with her hand between her and Jack. I don't think that our relationship... that what we have... is going to fail for sure. Why would I automatically think the same about Daniel and Sha're's? she carefully asked of herself. She whipped her head back around to watch Daniel and Sha're talking to Sha're's father by then. 'Good Father' was laughing at something that Daniel had just said as someone passed them what looked to be some ceremonial 'bread' to munch on. Daniel took a handful, gave what he held in his hand to Sha're even though her father had unthinkingly held out his hand to take it first, then peeled off another chunk to give to Sha're's father before he did it a third time for himself. He then passed the long loaf of 'bread' to the other people gathered in their group, talking.

It was only then that Daniel gave another look at the chunk of 'bread' in his hand. He raised his gaze to regard Jack seated on the elevated bridge. Then he turned to Kafus, and with a respectful bow, passed the 'bread' on to another well-wisher who was only too happy to receive it.

Sam sighed a second time as she watched. Absently, she said, You know, I meant everything that I said yesterday. I do consider us married, even if we are or if we aren't. I still feel the same way about you with or without me wearing a wedding ring.

Jack sat pensively for a moment, giving himself time to ruminate about her gentle proclamation. Ooookkaay, he finally intoned. Then he turned to quizzically stare at her. Are you saying... among all this other garbage... You know how I've never been good with words... mine or anybody else's... But are you saying that, because of the way that you feel about me and about 'us'... that you're kind of unsure about everything concerning 'us'... the whole 'are you just replacing Carter' thing... are you you, or are you just 'you being her' in my mind, like Daniel said he was worried about? That maybe you would rather be married ourselves than not? Even though you say that you already consider that we're married, both you and I know that we're really not, and... Jack shrugged. What's going on in that big brain of yours, Sam? Come on, he wheedled, not sounding angry at what she thought she had said, only sounding good naturedly confused. Share, he commanded.

Sam listened to his disjointed speech, thinking that even though Jack claimed that he wasn't good with words, his or anyone else's, he had the unerring ability to 'cut to the chase' and to 'hit the nail straight on the head' with his observations. He could see right through all the other distracting garbage and narrow the problem down to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. It impressed Sam even as it made her think about something she hadn't considered before. Huh, she grunted at last. I don't know. She thought again. Maybe, she had to at last concede. I know that I've never felt this way about anybody before now, and... She had to admit, Not even Colonel O'Neill made me feel this comfortable being with a guy. She turned to regard him again. Do you want to get married? she queried. I had the idea that you never wanted to get married again. You know... you don't want to open yourself up again to all the possible nagging that's linked with marriage in your head. That it was the reason for all the ring/no-ring/wedding/no-wedding thing. She studied him, looking for some reaction, even a flicker of an eyebrow, so that she could judge what he was thinking. I was under the impression that Sara... I mean Debbie... had done quite a number on you and ruined the whole marriage scenario for you.

An impassive Jack shook his head. No, I wouldn't say that she ruined any ideas that I had about marriage. He shrugged, thoughtful, considering his past according to the look on his face. She may have tarnished my ideas... quite a bit, Jack divulged. But I wouldn't say that she ruined the idea of a second marriage for me. Then he glanced down at his hands in his lap. I have to admit that the idea never really crossed my mind until yesterday when you gave that speech of yours to Daniel. Then he looked back up at Sam. What you said... He grinned. That was pretty sweet, I admit. Then he peered again over the railing at Daniel and Sha're while she ate her ceremonial 'bread' and they gabbed to her father. He shook his head; there was no one better than Daniel at talking a person's ear off.

But he had more to think about than Daniel. Jack again turned towards Sam and peered at her through narrowed, calculating eyes. Do you want to get married? he suddenly asked. Is it important to you?

Sam again grew pensive. I can't say that I've ever really thought about marriage before, she admitted at last. I've been so focused on my career for so long... She sighed. I guess it was a sort of vague thing in the back of my mind... you know, that I would get married someday because all girls eventually get married someday; that it's almost expected. She gazed at him as a sense of self-discovery crept across her face. I just didn't think about it much. It was always that 'someday' thing, even when I imagined being married to the Colonel. It didn't seem real somehow. She heaved another breath of air into the morning. So no, I guess that I can't say I ever thought about it, not until now, at least. Then she fondly grinned at him because she couldn't help herself. I have to admit that I'm thinking about it now, though. You kind of have that effect on people.

'On people,' Jack echoed. You mean that I could make other people want to get married just by staring at them?

He was teasing her. Or at least, she hoped that he was. Sam continued to grin at him. I guess I should amend that last comment of mine to say that you make me start thinking about marriage.

Jack had to snort a laugh at that statement. And that's no small thing, by the way you tell it, he said.

Sam narrowed her own eyes in bewilderment. Why are you asking? she inquired. Do you want to get married?

Jack cleared his throat, a tactic that she recognized as something he did when he wanted to buy himself a little time before answering the question that had been posed to him. But before he could gather himself together to respond to her, she cut him off.

Are you asking? she gently queried next.

Jack looked stunned for a moment as he seemed to reflect on his recent motives. His introspective expression landed on her after a moment, and he slowly said, Yeah, I think I am. He sounded like he was as astounded by this event as she was. I admit to being surprised at myself. Debbie did kind of 'do a number on me,' like you said. His gaze landed on her blue eyes. But that doesn't mean that a second marriage for me has to be anything like the first one turned out to be. His shoulders lifted in a shrug. So yeah, I think I am askin.' He stared at Sam once more. It could be a lot of fun, he pointed out. Whaddya say?

Sam blew her breath out. It could be... She stopped herself to reconsider her words. I won't know what to expect, though, she said.

Not knowing what to expect is kind of the point, isn't it? Jack asked her. If everyone waited until they were ready to get married, the Human race would have died out centuries ago.

Sam snorted her laughter. Like becoming parents, she said. No one is really ready to have kids, I've heard. Parenthood often happens when you least expect it to. Then she added, At least that's what my dad always told us Carters when we were kids.

Jack was still gazing at her in great intensity. You want to? he asked again.

Sam looked worried.

It's that control issue that you have, isn't it? Jack guessed. You not being able to control things, like marriage is one of your experiments. He argued, But isn't that the idea with marriage, that you can't control it, can't manage it like a piece of intergalactic equipment?

Sam peered at him, still hesitant, but feeling more confident about the whole marriage-to-Jack idea the entire time. I'll need a lot of advice, she warned next.

Jack gave a short shake of his head. You'll think that at first, but it's kind of like remembering how to ride a bike; you used to do it when you were a kid, and now that you're fifty years old... or forty... it seems like it will never come back. But the minute you climb on the seat, it all comes back to you.

Sam busted out laughing at that image. Only you can liken marriage to bike riding! she laughed.

Jack looked fake wounded. Hey! he said sorrowfully. I'll have you know that I actually like riding bikes... as in motorcycles, he clarified. I have an old one sitting in my garage right now. I used to take Tyler riding. I haven't been on the thing since...

Sam let his voice taper off as he clearly recalled better times with his son. To distract him, she nudged him a bit with her shoulder. Think we should get back on? she asked. See if riding's the same with me?

Jack studied Sam. Do you have a thing for bikes? he asked then.

Sam grinned. I had one in my own reality. Her grin widened. And something tells me that you knew a thing or two about Captain Carter's bike.

Slowly a grin split Jack's features as well. Caught, he teased, then suggested, But then wouldn't you say that it's fate that we end up together?

A second guffaw exploded out of Sam, but she was thinking that she half agreed with him. Images of Dr. Carter from yet another reality accosted her mind. Dr. Carter had been married to her Jack O'Neill, Sam reminded herself. Sam recalled how the woman had grieved for her dead husband the entire time she'd spent at the SGC. If that marriage had worked out so well for Dr. Carter that she was consumed by grief at its ending, then it must have been something pretty special.

Suddenly Sam linked her fingers through Jack's. I'm in, she stated without more formally answering his question.

Jack burst into a huge smile at her words. Sweet, he declared.

Yeah, life could be pretty sweet at times, Sam considered as she watched Daniel with Sha're.

With Jack sitting beside her, the dry wind constantly ruffling through his hair, making him look so cute, she found that she couldn't contain the smile that creased her face. In one swift move, Sam kissed him on his cheek, smiling the entire time as a surprising bout of contentment engulfed her.

She was getting married! The trapped feeling that she had always thought she'd experience at the thought of marriage didn't overwhelm her now. Instead, a sense of absolute peace and contentment slowly enveloped her as her grin widened to an impossible length.

And in the sense of excitement that fluttered through her belly, Sam was aware that Jack was sending as encouraging grin back at her through the dry morning air.

* * *

So, at five gongs, Sam promised the same things that Sha're had an hour before, in front of the lowliest assistant to the Priest of the Pyramid that the Abydonian village could provide on such short notice. At least this lowliest assistant priest was allowed to witness weddings, she thought, though the priest had to speak the words for the ceremony in Goa'uld. Jack translated for Sam, occasionally filling in nonsense words for the more serious aspects of the traditional Abydonian wedding ceremony. Sam tried her best to maintain a straight face while she ruminated about the ceremony's events, but it was difficult.

She and Jack passed through the piece of wall that was acting as their arch one time too many, just for good measure. As she tried to swallow another splutter of laughter, Jack muttered to the priest and to Sam that the extra walk through the arch couldn't hurt.

Besides trying to hold in her giggles and maintain a serious expression, every time Sam passed under the doorway into the animal pen that they had appropriated for the ceremony, Sam kept expecting it to crumble on her head. She had more than enough to keep her mind occupied during her own wedding.

But the masonry of the arch held as the assistant heard her vow to stay true to Jack (stilted though her speech was) and for Jack to stay true to Sam for as long as they both lived. But Sam utterly refused to defer her wishes before any man's, even her soon-to-be-husband. Jack wholeheartedly agreed. The priest quietly argued that the marriage was then sure to be doomed from the start, but Jack couldn't have been prouder of Sam than if she had just outwitted an entire squadron of Jaffa using only a wrench and her wits.

Proof of the marriage was left on the main Priest's desk, under several rocks with scrapes on them counting off the gongs of the day. It was all meant to be found later, after the off-worlders had left Abydos, and all the excitement had dissipated. And only Sam and Jack and the lowly assistant to the head Priest would ever know when the wedding had actually taken place.

And what had been Jack's favorite part of the precipitous ceremony? When he accidentally said that he promised to be true to Jane Samantha Carter, and had to hastily correct himself to say that he would be true to Samantha Jane Carter instead. Sam and Jack both gave up preserving their stolid expressions at that point, and soon were laughing so hard that they almost weren't able to kiss the binding kiss of the ceremony, sealing their fates as one forever.

Almost.

Jack whispered to her as he leaned in to kiss her that this ending tradition was his other favorite part of the ceremony.

Part XI

Sam sucked in a breath and tried again to still her heart that was once more racing away in her chest. She stared in trepidation at the activated Stargate. She was now only a wormhole away from the SGO. Half of her brain was busy knowing what she would find on the other side, and the other half was consumed with wondering what she would find at the same time.

Sam snuck a glance at Sha're clutching her 'Dan'yellll's arm in her white fingers. What was going through that young woman's mind? Sha're, unlike Sam, had no idea what to expect to greet her on the other side of the shimmering blue event horizon of the Stargate. She didn't even know what the Stargate was, or how it worked. For all she knew, her new husband was sacrificing her to the Gods she had always and only known to use the Stargate.

The amount of trust that Sha're was currently showing Daniel astonished Sam. Sam didn't quite understand how someone could so completely give up control of her own life to someone else, someone she hadn't even known existed two days before. Sam supposed she had that control issue in common with Jack. But as she watched Sha're clutching Daniel's arm, she realized that she was learning how to let go of that imperative desire within her to always be in control.

Yep, she was slowly and gently having that concept burned into her brain. And surprisingly enough, she decided that a lack of control actually felt kind of... good.

But Sam was also still thinking about Sha're, and control, and life, and marriage, and... How could a man called 'Good Father' give away his own daughter to a man neither he nor she knew anything about? Did he not think that Sha're had a will of her own, would and should have a say in who she spent her life with? Didn't she? Didn't Daniel?

But Daniel was thoroughly besotted, Sam could see as he tried his best to tenderly soothe Sha're's fears. He was so gentle with Sha're that it was almost as if she was another of his precious and rare artifacts that he was always talking so enthusiastically about. He treated Sha're like a treasure. In fact, Sam had only ever seen Daniel behave so carefully with a rare and expensive item in his lab. She only hoped that this tenderness that her friend was showing would last longer than the time a typical artifact spent in Daniel's office.

Again Sam gulped, making an audible gasping sound with her lips as she stood stoically beside Jack, who was just finishing sending the prearranged emergency transmission signal from his radio that he and General West had decided that Jack should send before the party went through the 'Gate. Briefly Sam wondered if she was going to coalesce at the other side of the 'Gate, or if she was destined to shortly become a stainless splat against the SGO iris.

And how could she improve that iris for them to..?

Stop it, Sam! she admonished. You haven't even seen the iris! And besides, they may not want to keep an alternate reality girl who goes around breaking people's arms, she reminded herself.

Then General West's voice sounded grufly over Jack's radio, SG-2, the iris is open and we're awaiting your arrival.

Thanks, Command, Jack answered just as Janet busily shoved a reluctant Jonas Hansen to the 'Gate beside Jack.

Jack gave a start as he regarded the frightened Sam. What are you thinking? he asked in a whisper.

Sam didn't lie. I'm thinking that the SGO may not want to have anything to do with a Jaffa-trained-soldier-scientist-geek, that's what I was thinking. She turned grim eyes onto his.

Jack reached out for her hand and firmly wrapped his fingers around hers. If that's what they decide, then General West is a bigger idiot than I think he is, Jack firmly responded. Come on, Sam, he said then in a low voice. You go with me, I go with you... whatever happens, he added.

Jack's voice sounded so adamant that she had to believe what he was saying. Okay, let's do this, Sam replied in an equally firm voice.

Remember, Jack said just before Sam took her deep breath in preparation for stepping through the 'Gate. He gave her hand another squeeze. Together, he said.

Sam smiled. Together, she repeated, and as one, they stepped forward through the 'Gate.

Epilogue

SGC, present day, present reality

General Hammond clutched the large blue envelope in his fingers as he phoned Walter.

Control Room, Sergeant Siler speaking, came the tinny voice over the phone line.

Is Sergeant Harriman available, Siler? Hammond asked.

The Sergeant's voice squeaked a bit, then cleared and he repeated, Uh, no Sir, the Sergeant is a bit detained right at the moment. Can I do something for you, Sir?

Since Sergeant Harriman is unavailable, is it possible for you to page Dr. Jackson and Dr. Fraiser to the Briefing Room, Sergeant? Hammond requested. I have something that I think they'll be very interested in seeing.

Sure thing, Siler replied before hanging up the phone.

General Hammond was still staring at the envelope that he kept before him, a thoughtful expression on his face, when the page went over the intercom system in the mountain a moment later. Drs. Jackson and Fraiser to the Briefing Room.

Two minutes went by before a bewildered Daniel Jackson entered the Briefing Room from the corridor, and immediately started to fix himself a cup of coffee.

Better make one for me, too, Daniel, Janet Fraiser said as she entered the room not long after Jackson. I think my fingers will fall off, it's so cold in the Infirmary.

Daniel grinned as he grabbed a second Styrofoam cup from the stack beside the coffee maker and started to pour a cup of the hot beverage for her. Sugar, no cream, right?

Right. Janet glanced once around the room. Do you know why we're here, Daniel? she queried in a voice full of inquisitiveness laced with concern.

Daniel shook his head as he handed the coffee to Janet. She took a cautious sip as he spoke, I have no idea. I was trying to think of something on the way over here that I've done wrong lately, since I haven't heard of anything new coming through the 'Gate, and I don't go off-world myself any longer, but...

You might as well stop speculating, Dr. Jackson, General Hammond said as he exited his office. You'll never guess in a million years what I have here for you both to look at.

Daniel eyed the large blue envelope in the General's hand. You're right, I have no idea what that could be, he said, agreeing with the General's assessment of his guessing abilities.

General? Doctor Fraiser asked.

Pull up a chair, people. Hammond crossed to the oval Briefing table. Sit down next to each other. That will make this easier.

Jackson and Fraiser complied, both a little bewildered at what was going on. After arranging their coffee cups to be close at hand, they both turned to Hammond standing at the head of the table.

Daniel started by saying, If either of us has done something wrong, or need to...

Hammond cut him off by sliding the envelope across the table to come to a rest between the scientist and medical doctor. This... package... was found this morning at Nellis. Once it was determined to be safe, it was brought immediately here to the SGC to be delivered to me, since it's addressed to me, and to one or both of you, as Murray... Teal'c... is with the rebel Jaffa now instead of at the SGC, and Cassandra Fraiser is, presumably, in high school today. He slowly took his usual seat at the head of the table.

Janet slowly shook her head, then gave a start. You're right, Cassie is in school right now, and... But I think I would remember sending something that looked like this, so... blue. I didn't send anything to...

Again Hammond interrupted her. No, you don't understand, Doctor. We don't think you sent this. But it is for you. You and me and Dr. Jackson.

Puzzled, Janet leaned forward so that she could pick up the large envelope. Once in hand, she read aloud,

Attention:

Dr. Daniel Jackson

Dr. Janet Fraiser

Murray (T.)

Cassie Fraiser

General George S. Hammond;

Norad, C/O Commanding General, SGC, Cheyenne Mountain

Colorado Springs, CO 80914.

Janet paled to see such a strange, blue envelope addressed to her. Well, um... Do we know who it's from? she asked as she investigated what she held in her hands, turning the envelope over and over again, searching for some kind of clue as to its sender. Does it contain a bomb, or some kind of biological agent that will..?

But Hammond was already shaking his head. As I said before, it seems to be a perfectly safe package. The people at Nellis already did an MRI on it, and the only things inside that envelope are for the people it's addressed to. As far as those at Nellis can tell, it's a letter.

Daniel frowned. A letter?

And pictures, Hammond added.

Janet's brows rose into her hairline. From..?

Hammond gave a heartfelt sigh at their curiosity. As far as we can tell, without opening this envelope, it's from Samantha Carter.

The blood in both Daniel and Janet's faces drained to their feet. But how is that possible? Daniel quickly asked. Sam's dead. She has been for over a year.

Hammond shook his head. That's what we all thought. He sighed into the quiet air of the Briefing Room. When Major Carter disappeared that night after she shot Senator Kinsey a year ago, we thought that she must have died of three consecutive Zat blasts, since we couldn't find a body to prove otherwise. Now, we're not so sure.

Daniel's face took on the expression of intense concentration. Suddenly he quietly formed the words, Quantum Mirror.

Hammond looked at Daniel in inquisition. Dr. Jackson?

Daniel sat up straighter in his chair. The Quantum Mirror, he repeated himself. His gaze met Hammond's. In a state of mounting excitement, he reminded, Sir, you said yourself that this was found at Nellis. Don't you see? He glanced at the two people who stared at him. I can't believe I didn't think of this before, Daniel muttered. Then he gestured in further excitement at the envelope. When the other two in his audience continued to stare at him blankly, he explained, The Quantum Mirror. Nellis. That's where the Mirror is stored.

Hammond lowered his brows. How do you know that?

Daniel blinked owlishly behind his glasses. I... uh... overheard you on the phone one day, arguing with someone about wanting to destroy the Mirror, but that somebody wanted to study it instead. It was Kinsey, probably, knowing him. Then Daniel glanced back up again at the General. Sorry, Sir, I didn't mean to overhear, but I was out here in the Briefing Room, doing some work, and your office door was open.

Hammond sighed in supreme aggravation, but he could hardly reprimand Dr. Jackson for something that was actually under his control. Just don't make a habit of listening at doors, Hammond testily warned. Go on.

Daniel went on. Well, I was talking to Sam just before she shot Kinsey. We all thought that she'd gone nuts with her grieving, or had post traumatic stress syndrome, or had an alien plague. But... He paused to stare at them. What if she planned the whole thing, knowing ahead of time that there was a way out for her no matter what she did?

Janet glared at Daniel. Are you saying that she would choose to leave us behind, leave everything that she'd spent her whole life working for, just to go through the Mirror?

To see Jack again? Daniel rhetorically asked, then added, I mean, a Jack? He shrugged. It all fits. I had told her about the Mirror just before, and she then prepared to be gone for a long time... You have to admit that her legal dealings were in an awfully good state for someone not expecting to leave here. Then she shot Kinsey, then she somehow made her way to Nellis... though I wonder how she got out of the SGC undetected?

Hammond responded to Daniel's question with a reminder of his own. She seemed to disappear into thin air. Where she went isn't even on the security tapes. One minute she was there, the next she entered the bathroom, then disappeared.

Daniel shrugged, and Janet said, Maybe she tells about it in her letter. She pulled up a brass colored tab on the envelope's back side. Only one way to find out. Read it. And without further contemplation, she pulled the sides of the package apart and upended the contents of the envelope onto the Briefing Room table.

What was clearly a stack of pictures landed next to several sheaves of paper on the table top. Janet quickly made a grab for the pictures and pulled them apart for easier perusal.

A photo labeled 'one' showed a person that Janet never thought she'd see again in her lifetime. Jack! she exclaimed.

Daniel grabbed the picture. Sam! he added to Janet's original call as he stared at the photo in his hand.

But it was as Daniel grabbed the photo that Janet saw that something was written on the back. Aloud, Janet read, 'Me and Jack, ten days after we got back from Abydos and after I was released from prison.'

Janet paused for a microsecond, then yelled in surprise, Prison!?

Look at the others, Daniel ordered, ignoring Janet's fascination with what was written. So Janet picked up photo number two from the table top. There was a tiny sheaf of paper taped over this picture that said, 'Daniel, prepare yourself for this one. I really debated sending this picture at all, but you have the right to know what your double in this reality is doing.'

Daniel took a breath, mentally prepared himself for... he didn't know what for... then flipped the note aside. Then he gasped.

Janet made a grab for his arm. Daniel, what is it? Are you all right?

Sha're, Daniel breathed in awe as he looked at the picture. He acted like he might blow up if he spoke too loud.

Janet grabbed the photo out of his hand, and revealed a picture of a smiling Daniel and equally grinning Sha're. On the back was written 'Daniel and Sha're, a year and a day after their marriage on Abydos. P.S. Sha're and I call her Dad 'Bad Father' instead of 'Good Father' when no one is listening.''Don't tell him I said that.'

Picture #3 showed Jack, Sam, Daniel, and Janet standing in a meadow filled with purple daisies. It was clearly a picture taken off-world. The four of them were dressed in slightly familiar off-world gear, and were grinning happily at the camera. Jack's arms were around Sam's waist, and Daniel had his arm slung over the much shorter Janet's shoulder. On the back, Sam had again written 'Our team, SG-2, off-world. Second Colonel Jack O'Neill, Dr. Sam O'Neill, Dr. Daniel Jackson, and 2IC Corporal Janet Blaizer.'

Blaizer?! Janet blurted, stunned. Then a slow grin crept over her face. I'm on an off-world team! she breathed in awe.

Daniel agreed, but asked in sudden confusion, Yeah, you're there, but where's Teal'c?

Janet grabbed his arm. It says here on the back in really small print, 'No Teal'c. He's the First Prime to Nirrti, who is as evil as ever.

Nirrti?! Daniel exclaimed in surprise.

Janet further read, 'Yep, Nirrti. I'm not kidding.'

Daniel paused, as if he were assimilating what he'd just heard, then blinked. Wait... Sam O'Neill? he inquired.

Janet then pointed to some small writing on one side of the first picture after she grabbed it again from where it lay on the table top. It says 'We were married on the 18th of Mulan, 3188. Translation... Married. On Abydos. The date doesn't really matter. Every day is our Anniversary.'

Daniel gaped as Janet kept mouthing the word 'Married!?!?' Daniel ignored her and made a grab for photo #4. This one showed a man he didn't know, standing in front of a sign that said 'SGO' in what looked like a good representation of the SGC Briefing Room. The man was wearing what was clearly a military uniform that looked sort of familiar, but the Briefing Room table he stood behind was all black. On the photo's back, it read 'General West in a quiet moment, which almost never happens in the SGO.'

It was General Hammond's turn to gape this time. SGO?

Dr. Frasier shrugged. Their version of the SGC? she guessed. StarGate Organization instead of StarGate Command?

General Hammond had to concede the possibility that she was right. Could be.

But Janet had already proceeded to picture #5. This one was a family photo from several years prior to the other photos. Janet could tell, as the Sam Carter in the picture was quite a bit younger than the Sam Carter she had last seen. On the back was written 'The Carters: Victor Jacob Carter, Mark Carter, Jane Samantha Brown, and Samantha Jane Carter.' A little further down, Sam had added, Samantha and Jane are twins, but something tells me they were never very close. I've briefly contacted her and Mark, and relations between us all are improving.

General Hammond's eyebrows rose in question to his nonexistent hairline. Victor Jacob Carter?

Daniel looked puzzled. I vaguely remember Sam once telling me that Jacob's middle name is Victor... Maybe the two names are switched around in the reality that Sam's in? he postulated.

Hammond and Janet could only shrug. Maybe, Janet said. Anything can be a changed there. After all, Jack's still alive. That reality can be a little or a lot different.

True, Hammond conceded as Daniel reached for the next picture.

This new photo was a picture of a single man whom all three of the SGC personnel immediately recognized. Jacob! Hammond breathed.

Janet flipped the picture over. 'Victor Jacob Carter, age indeterminate. Died of Pancreatic Cancer four turns... years... ago.' That's so sad! she immediately chimed in a teary voice.

Daniel had reached for the next photo, and after a quick glance at it, said, Janet, I wouldn't be so quick to get sad just yet if I were you.

Huh? she asked, then she and Daniel were both staring at the next picture that Sam had sent.

This photo was also a picture of the man they knew as Jacob Carter, but this time he was standing in what was obviously the 'Gate Room, surrounded by Sam and Jack on one side, and the man they had just learned was General West on the other. The Stargate wasn't in sight, but a corner of the ramp leading to the Stargate was in the bottom left of the picture. On the picture's back, Janet read the written words aloud, 'Jacob Carter after General Hammond introduced him to a secret society called the 'Tek'ra' discovered very unexpectedly by SG-9 when Jacob was on his last leg from his Cancer. He joined with a symbiote named 'Gelmak' and is now the secret liaison between the Tek'ra and Earth. No one at the SGO knew any of this.'

Janet chimed in, Sam didn't even know that her dad was alive?

Now that is sad, Daniel burst out while wearing a look of sympathy on his face.

Picture #7 followed, and the stack proceeded all the way up to picture number 52. Included was a photo of everyone and anyone and everything that might be even remotely familiar to those at the SGC. There was a photo of what was their version of the Infirmary, called the 'Hospital Room, weirdly enough.' Then there was 'Lieutenant Walter Harriman,' 'Sergeant Siler and his giant hammer,' 'The Control Room, where I originally stole the information for the location of the second Stargate in Antarctica,' all the way down to a house that looked very familiar. Hey that's..! Daniel called.

Janet read the back of the picture before he could finish. 'Jack's house, now our house. Jack requests that you send a grill if you can. He wants to see what one looks like.'

Then came what was obviously a head shot from an identification badge. It was of 'Captain Samantha Carter, killed in the line of duty by Major Jonas Hansen, 11th day of Mulan, Abydos.'

Wow, Daniel said. She looks just like Sam.

Janet crinkled her features. What's with this 'Mulan' stuff? she asked as she stared. And wasn't Jonas Hansen killed in something like 1997? And wasn't he just a Captain?

Daniel shrugged again. Like you said, it stands to reason that some things are going to be different between the two realities. He peered then at the papers lying innocently on the Briefing table. What's the letter say? He reached for the paper, and found that he was holding a small book, the letter was so thick. Wow! Then he grimaced a grin. Sam always did have a thing for being wordy. He began reading aloud.

Dear Daniel et all,

Daniel, I can hear you already... I'm not being too wordy! I just can't seem to help myself.

I'm typing this on Jack's home computer/typing machine that they have in this reality. It looks sort of like a large square box with a pyramid on top of it. There's a screen, but it's small. I think my first project as a married woman is to convince him that he needs to upgrade... badly! Maybe I can tell him that if he'll upgrade, I'll show him how to grill... WITHOUT BURNING THE MEAT! Hey, miracles have happened before.

(I've been working on this letter for two months already, and Jack says that I need to just finish the darned thing and send it already, for crying out loud!)(Isn't it nice to know that some things {like his sayings} don't change no matter what reality you're in?)

I'll tell you what's been going on, and I'll make it brief... especially for me... I promise.

There followed an account of something to do with Jack being blamed for Captain Carter's death; it taking the efforts of the entire group to clear his name; and in so doing, finding out that Jonas Hansen was responsible for killing Captain Carter as well as being one of the moles in the SGO... The tale was relatively confusing, but the three SGC personnel got the gist of the story that Sam was trying to tell them.

But apparently that story didn't end when the alternate reality group arrived at the SGO. Sam said something about figuring out that General West...

... who was both a good guy and a bad guy, at least on the surface, had used the names of his pet dogs as passwords for secret files that implicated General Hammond as well as President Kinsey in the SGO mole conspiracy...

President Kinsey? Janet shrieked when Daniel read about that. She groaned. That man has high ambitions, at least, I can say that much for him.

Daniel continued to read aloud from Sam's letter without adding his own commentary to Janet's observations.

We were all very surprised about General Hammond, as you can imagine, and didn't believe it at first until he tried to back down the stairway into the Control Room in an effort to get away when we found out. Sha're, who was close to where I'd put my Zat gun for the time being after showing it to the entire group, grabbed it and shot him once in order to stop him. When he came back from being unconscious, he confessed his entire involvement with an organization that secretly wants to begin a religion with followers who worship the Stargate in return for not being Zatted a second time. (It's amazing how well that threat of a second blast from a Zat really does work!)

Then she went on to mention more detail about Kinsey's presidency, and Sam had added that his being President was the one thing that was worse in her new reality compared to her old reality.

And Kinsey being President is a big problem, I admit. When Hammond named him in the whole mole/kill Carter/Jonas affair, Kinsey went ballistic, flew to the SGO, called us all delusional alien doppelgangers with oversized egos, and then put me in what's the equivalent of a jail cell, SGO style. Jack was able to visit me later, and implied the theory that of course Kinsey had incarcerated me, as I'm one of the few people who Kinsey's afraid of. I could feel a symbiote inside Kinsey the minute I met him, but when I said something about this, he just called me 'possessed,' and locked me up, then put an execution order on my head. I demanded an immediate MRI, of course, which showed that I have NO symbiote (Janet, I had the image of you yelling at all the people in the SGC for calling me 'snake' running through my mind the entire time all this was happening. I didn't know if I should wax nolstogic or cry! But isn't that when Colonel O'Neill started calling you 'Napoleon? That made me laugh a little.)

Daniel gave a start. They called her 'snake?'

Hammond rolled his eyes, as if he'd heard everything the SGC personnel had called his top scientist. Among other things.

They called me 'Napoleon' way back then? Janet demanded to know only a shade behind Daniel's query.

Did Jack know about this 'snake' thing? Daniel then wanted to know, ignoring his friend in order to ask.

General Hammond responded to him. After he broke the nose of Major Billings, I had to tell him that if he didn't want to fight the entire base personnel, he'd better stop what he was doing every time he heard that someone new had called Major Carter names. Hammond rolled his eyes again. He said he would stop if they would stop. No more rumors of Major Carter being a Goa'uld went around the base. I never told the Major, and as far as I knew, she never heard of it.

Daniel gaped once more. She may have known about the 'snake' thing, but I sure didn't! He gazed at the wall in introspection for a moment. Huh! I think there's a whole new SGC world out there that I know nothing about. Then he went on reading, not giving his two companions opportunities to respond to his muttered comments.

The MRI was done and showed no snake inside me, but we all know what a smooth talker Kinsey is. That man can lie with the best of them! So I set out to outwit him, which wasn't easy. He kept countering everything I thought of to do, all the while coming up with reasons not to have his own MRI done, and saying that mine was 'inconclusive' and 'doctored' to make it look like I wasn't 'possessed.' Then two days before my execution (that was to be highly televised on their version of the TV. News is sensationalized no matter what reality you're in.) I finally thought of the idea to 'out' the entire Stargate program in order to sway public opinion against Kinsey. With General West's help (he didn't quite know to think of me, and still doesn't, but I did save his command from mole-infiltration, so I figure that he figures that he owes me one... or two... or three...) We told the entire sordid story about the Stargate, everything, from the Tok'ra... Tek'ra... to Teal'c to the mole(s) and the fact that Jack was framed for killing Captain Carter. Jack called a friend of his at an image station (TV station) in Michigan that he knew, and showed the video he had made of us on Abydos on this reality's equivalent of the news. But Kinsey managed to turn it all around again, and make us look stupid in the process. He's good, I'll give him that. Politics is the right career for that guy.

Finally, West asked Thor to intervene, and with me and Jack already aboard an Asgard ship, Thor 'beamed' up Kinsey. He then let me have the distinct pleasure of shooting Kinsey again with the one Zat gun I'd taken with me (sorry about stealing a Zat, General Hammond, but I figured that it was better to take government property with me to Nellis than to be an unarmed woman alone on the road all those months ago. Besides, didn't the SGC technically steal Zats from the Goa'uld, who stole them first from... we don't know who from? Teal'c will know. Anyway, we're splitting hairs about who stole what. I'll just say that I 'permanently borrowed' a Zat gun, registration number RX3201872, in case you've been looking for it) After Zatting him, we did the MRI of Kinsey that he refused to agree to having done, which easily showed his Goa'uld symbiote. In case he later claims that we fudged the MRI, we filmed the entire thing, then showed it on the news again.

Kinsey couldn't save himself this time. The public of the country was way too mad. He was forced to resign, and now Hayes (the Vice President) is President, and life at the SGO in The Springs, Cheyenne Mountain, Arkansas (I know, there are no mountains in Arkansas! I told Jack this, and he explained that the mountain is really just a big hill, but 'Cheyenne Hill' doesn't have quite the same ring to it that 'Cheyenne Mountain' does. And get this... Jack still owns a cabin, but it's in Colorado, not Michigan, and we live in Arkansas, not Colorado, and work in a big hill, not a mountain. As Jack often says, 'Doh!')

Anyway, I'm just glad that bullet proof vests don't do anything to stop Zat blasts, or I would be one dead Major. And I'm glad that we had some help from Jack's 'little buddy.' (We all know what great timing the Asgard have!)(By the way, this reality's Thor looks more like Heimdall on drugs than our Thor, but I thought it would be prudent not to tell him that I think so. The Asgard are scary in this reality!)

About being married... No, I haven't forgotten how I felt about Colonel O'Neill, and I still feel sorta sick every time I think about him. Jack feels the same way about his Captain Carter. But I never knew a domestic side of Colonel O'Neill, and never would have (I mean, it never would have happened! It never would have had time to happen! Right? Who are we trying to kid, right?) And Jack never knew his Captain Carter outside of their work at the SGO. It didn't take us long to decide that this new domestic side we were seeing of each other was all right by us. And since I'm not in the Force here (their Air Force), there was no Frat Reg, no Rule, no nothin' standing in the way. So right after Daniel married Sha're... We owe a lot to Daniel and Sha're. If it hadn't been for them, we never would have gotten married. When Kinsey found out that the wedding was legal and aboveboard, he flipped a gasket. Living through the ceremony was almost worth it just to see that.

But even being married to Jack is better than striking a blow at Kinsey. I love being married (yeah, who woulda thunk?) Jack has his faults, but so do I. And Cassie... your romance novels can't hold a candle to the real thing!

Well, that's it. SG-2 has been going off-world for 10 months now (the rest of the time was spent trying to beat that weasel Kinsey at his own game). Dr. Blaizer (Janet) begged Jack to take her on board SG-2 (the mission to Abydos whet her appetite for off-world travel). At first, he was reluctant, saying that being on a front line team where she would have to kill Jaffa goes against what's our equivalent of the Hypocratic Oath. But she argued that as long as she wasn't acting in the capacity of a doctor on the team, then she wouldn't be breaking her Oath. I have to wonder if that just made a convenient, good sounding excuse, but I wouldn't trade her being on the team for anything (well, maybe for Teal'c, but in this reality, he's too busy trying to kill us to join us. Go figure.)

All in all, life here is pretty darned good, much better than I expected it to be (especially as I thought I would come here just to die within a week of entropic cascade failure. I didn't think at the time how depressed I was about the Colonel dying. Helping this reality's Jack clear his name kind of took precedence for awhile, and when the whole thing was all over, I was married, and being depressed wasn't an option any longer. Isn't it weird how life works out sometimes?)

All my love,

From this reality to yours,

Sam

P.S. I have the remote for the Quantum Mirror here with me, so you can't dial up this reality. I decided to take it with me at the beginning of my little adventure in order to keep from being followed, and to keep any reality that I went to as safe as possible. I didn't want to be the cause of an attack from another world on any reality I ended up going to! In a future letter that I send, I'll let you know if I have the okay from General West for me to send the remote back to you, and to send a description of the room the Mirror is kept in so that you can maybe send that grill that Jack is begging me to remind you to send to him someday. Until then, take care!

Dr. Sam O'Neill, SGO scientist, SG-2

previously Major Samantha Jane Carter, USAF

Daniel paused, then carefully folded Sam's letter and handed it over to Janet, along with the stack of pictures that Sam had sent. I assume that Cassie will want to look at this? he asked, smirking. Cassie would more than like to look at Sam's package!

Janet replaced all of the stuff that Sam had sent into the envelope she had provided, and asked, Oh, yes, definitely, Cassie would love to see all this, but shouldn't Teal'c see this first?

General Hammond answered her question. By the time we contact Teal'c and get a message to him to return to the SGC, Cassie can easily have the time to look at all that Sam sent. Just show no one else any of it... that's an order, Dr. Fraiser... Then bring it back tomorrow, and we'll call it even.

Janet smiled and said a hearty, Yes, Sir!

Daniel was still looking a bit puzzled though. He spoke as they all rose to return to their work. Wouldn't it be a good idea to write our own letters back to Sam and send them to her through the Quantum Mirror now that we know the Mirror was definitely not destroyed? I mean, we can...

Hammond hesitated. You're a civilian, Dr. Jackson, and can do what you want. But Major Carter is still considered by this country to be a criminal in this reality for shooting Senator Kinsey, and the military must adhere to those decisions made about her. Technically, those of us in a government run organization like The Air Force can't send anything to her in another reality. Even claiming that we know of her wherabouts would be aiding and abetting a known criminal.

Aiding and abetting aside, General, Janet queried then. Do you think it might really be possible someday to send Sam some things that she might like to have?

Hammond sighed thoughtfully and studied her face alight with the enthusiasm of hope. Well, Dr, giving the matter my professional opinion, this General West sounds like a clever and resourceful gentleman. I can only hope that he's reasonable about this entire situation. And as to 'the aiding and abetting' part... Here his eyes twinkled as he included Daniel in his careful perusal. He continued, We really can't send anything to Major Carter, but what can we say if Dr. Jackson 'happens to overhear' what we want to say to Sam, and then dictates that into some of his notes, then happens to slip it into his own letter to the Major..? He quirked his eyebrows at the two before him.

Daniel smirked, this time at General Hammond. What you're saying is that this could be a chance of 'unexpected' first contact, aren't you? And how can we pass by that kind of a chance? It would be downright unprofessional of us!

Hammond kept his expression straight, but a smile was tugging at the corners of his lips. You didn't hear it from me, was all he said. He turned and disappeared into his office.

But he was sure to leave the door firmly open.

The End


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