Disclaimer: I use them for my own enjoyment. When I give them back, my bank account is still empty. I call that a disparity of galactic proportions.

Invasion 'Threads' - Presidential Favors

(It should be called 'Favors a la Thor' but I had already titled it)

by Linda Bindner

A/N1: Why did it take me so darned long to finish this story that finishes 'The Threads Communication Series?' Here's the story's story:

When I finished writing this twelfth... no, thirteenth... story for the series, I let my Beta reader go through it, and she answered, 'The President is a prick - write it again.'

Second time writing it - I emailed it to her, she read it, and said, 'The President is still a prick - I know you can write him better than this - do it again.'

Third time writing it - I emailed it to her - she read it and said, 'This time Jack is a prick - you can write him better - do it again.' (She was beginning to suspiciously sound like my college English professor. Wonder if they're related? Hmmmmmmm....)

I couldn't stomach a fourth rewrite at the time (not after I had rewritten the previous story in the series three times already), so I let this particular story sit... for a whole year... while I thought about Jack being a prick. (Can Jack be a prick? Um... yeah. As much as we all love his character, yes, he can. More importantly yet, can I write Sam as a prick in order to keep Jack company in his prickiness? Hmmmmm....)

Fast forward a year - I read through what I had written for this story, and you know what? My Beta reader was right - Jack WAS a prick. So I wrote it again... and edited it... and edited it again... and I bow down to my wonderful Beta and her infinite wisdom in completely REFUSING to accept mediocre work, and making me do it again (you know who you are). I think the finished product is much better than what I started with over a year ago. Hopefully you will think it's acceptable too.

Enjoy.


A/N2: A 'brief' synopsis so far: The 'Threads' Communication Series:

story one - Mark and Carter have a conversation on the phone

story two - Mark and Jack have a conversation on the phone

story three - a Jack and Sam e-mail conversation with very unusual consequences

story four - Carter receives a concussion when she interrupts a meeting between Jack, the VP (Kinsey), et all. She then spends time in ICU while Jack anxiously waits for her to wake up. (It's hard to have a face-to-face chat with an unconscious person)

story five - Carter learns secrets - from Mark and Daniel, and from Jack - and on a side note, someone is trying to kill her - but who?

story six - codes, letters, and more secrets

story seven - What every man dreams of, but rarely gets - a cliché in the making

story eight - Sometimes it's what isn't said that's important

story nine - Earth is invaded? On the evening news?

story ten - The Aftermath: 'Public knowledge' is handled - SGC style

story eleven - Interviews... interviews... and more interviews...

story twelve: Human zombies - with regards, from the Goa'uld

now on with the series - you know the one I'm talking about - the series that keeps going and going...


While Jack was still gaping in the direction of the seated President Hayes, a second flash of bright light filled the cell, then vanished in the blink of an eye. Even the guards in the corridor outside the room weren't yet privy to the cell's newest occupant. They didn't become privy to these developments until five minutes later when the soldiers assigned to Security detail had seen the flashes on the security computer screen, and had warned the guarding soldiers that something was definitely going on in the cell behind them. But when the guards tried the door, none of their access cards would work in the card reader on the outside of the cell, and the security computer screen was now mysteriously showing only static. Peering through the window in the cell door revealed nothing but General O'Neill bending forward in an unexpected and hushed conference with the President of the United States... and Thor.

* * *

Oblivious as to the ongoing conference between her fiancé and his sudden visitors, Sam Carter sat solemnly on her high stool for her Inside Access interview that General Landry had ordered her to comply with in light of the unveiling of the Stargate Program. Julia Donovan sat beside Sam behind a hastily constructed news desk, doing her best to silently encourage Sam to be as open and relaxed as possible.

But Sam wasn't complying much in the 'open and relaxed' department. She sat completely still, terrified of being filmed, so much so that she missed the camera person pointing at her and Julia to indicate that they were 'on.'

Julia smiled her bland 'on the air' smile and said, “Welcome to Inside Access. Today we have with us Colonel Samantha Carter...”

Lieutenant... Colonel Carter,” Sam hesitantly broke in, a slightly desperate smile now curving her lips as she did her best to force her frightened 'deer in the headlights' mindset aside so that she could correct the newswoman and continue with her ordered interview.

Julia looked like she wanted to say something, probably about the way she was constantly being interrupted in order to get rank correct, but only smoothly fixed her previous statement, “Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter... who I've been told is the person to talk to about Stargate 'wheelings and dealings.'” She smiled again in the camera's direction, looking friendly now, as if she were doing her best to hopefully generate a comfortable atmosphere.

Successfully forced into completely relaxing at last, Sam sat back on her stool, subconsciously encouraged into projecting a more open demeanor to the many Inside Access viewers by the relaxed atmosphere that Julia was creating.

“Colonel,” the newswoman was saying now. Then she appeared hesitant. “May I call you 'Colonel?' Everyone else here seems to find that an acceptable title.”

Sam gave a slight groan now with this familiar question about little known military protocol. “Yes, that's fine, or if you prefer, call me 'Lieutenant Colonel Carter.' Either is correct.”

Julia gave a small bob of her head. “Colonel Carter, can you please give us a basic description of how and why the Stargate works the way it does?”

When Sam didn't - or couldn't - respond, Julia blinked and prodded in a voice tinged with slight aggravation, “I know that you're the lead scientist at the SGC, and I've heard that you're the one to talk to for a basic description of how the Stargate works.”

Stargate... basic... at least this was something Sam could understand.

But how could she make the rest of the world understand? “Basic description,” Sam reiterated, and sighed. Basic... basic... just like Jack's constant order of 'Keep it simple, Carter!'

The second she heard the echo of Jack's voice in her head, she grew calmer, just like she always did when she thought of the man. So, if she followed the directives still echoing in her mind, all she had to do was pretend that she was talking to Jack, trying to make him understand a concept like how the Stargate worked, and she would have no problems, right?

And did she really have a choice in the matter? Julia was sitting there, smiling expectantly at her like she was waiting for her guest to unlock the secrets of the universe, while 'keeping it simple' the entire time.

Then, Jack's voice echoed a second time in Sam's head, loud enough for her to finally gain the courage she needed in this instance. He had always had absolute faith in her abilities, even if she often needed prodding to 'keep it simple' while explaining what she wanted to do. And this time she knew what she had to do in order to break the 'Gate down to the basics. She was a teacher of physics, she reminded herself. All she had to do now was think of the millions of viewers staring at her as students, and it should be no problem. 'Piece of cake!' as Jack often said.

So, showing new determination to treat this interview more like the typical student lecture that she was familiar with, Carter took another breath and prepared to 'break things down to the basics.'

The basic workings of the Stargate... The Stargate...

Carter! Jack's voice mentally admonished when she wanted to open her speech with too much technological mumbo jumbo.

And in that minute of mental chastisement, Sam knew exactly what to say. “Does there happen to be an apple or an orange in here somewhere?” she called to the milling people filling up the news room. “Something round?”

An anonymous person immediately passed something to Sam. “Will this do?” a male voice asked, and Sam suddenly found a white softball thrust into her hands.

Sam looked dubiously down at the softball. She'd actually been thinking of using an apple or...

Julia gave her a wan smile as she hesitantly perused the softball. “This newsroom was a supply closet before we changed it into... um...”

Carter grimaced at the ball - then squared her shoulders. She knew the a good teacher was nothing if not flexible. If this was the best they could do (on such short notice, that is) she would just have to to cope!

So she gave a friendly smile to everyone, including those unseen individuals who would later watch this interview unfold, nodded towards the light in thanks for 'the offering' that someone had given to her, then patted that offering, hopefully illustrating her flexibility. “Something 'saved' for the next staff picnic, maybe?” She playfully tossed the softball around, then in a steady voice, began. “Okay... Pretend that this ball is the Stargate.” She glanced up again in order to already pause her speech to turn towards Julia Donovan and remind, “You saw the Stargate activate this morning when Teal'c brought Rya'c and Kar'yn to Earth.”

Julia gave another small grin. “You say all the strange names and 'Stargate speak' with such ease. Clearly you're the right person to speak to us about this.”

'Stargate speak?' Well, that was a new term. But the offhand compliment really did give Sam the confidence she needed to continue. “Thank you.” She smiled what she hoped was a disarming smile, then, feeling as if she were about to embark on a description of something that was truly common knowledge, she spoke anyway. “Wormholes,” she reminded. “Pretend this... ball... is a wormhole that has formed inside the Stargate.”

“A wormhole,” Julia repeated, sounding as if she didn't believe in or even know much about the existence of 'wormholes.'

Sam nodded. “A wormhole is just that big blue puddle in the middle of the 'Gate that looks like water, but is actually an event horizon for a subspace conduit where the 'Gate demolocuralizes...” Julia's blank expression brought Sam up short. The newswoman was wearing the same expression that Jack always acquired the minute she started speaking technobabble. “Uh,” she stuttered. It was uncanny... That look was exactly like Jack's.

So, even though Sam still felt as though she was already giving the most basic, common description of how the 'Gate worked, she tried once again anyhow. “Okay...” She held up the ball. “Just accept it - this ball is the Stargate, and inside the Stargate is a wormhole that looks like water, but isn't. You travel through this wormhole. It doesn't matter how you enter the Stargate, or how it moves you across vast distances, just know that there's a Stargate on our end on Earth....” She slapped her right hand over one side of the ball. “... and there's another Stargate at the end where you're going.” And she slapped her left hand over the other side of the ball. “Now, the term 'wormhole' is just a a story, a fiction, a way to describe a really cool effect. If we didn't have that 'wormhole,' we would then have to move through space much more 'normally,' like the way the spaceship 'The Millennium Falcon' does in the movie Star Wars.” She moved her hand in a circular motion around the ball, pantomiming moving through space in a spaceship.

Sam went on. “So, instead of flying through space like Han and Chewie did in the movies, which could take centuries for us to do, we just step through the Stargate, which as you recall, has an active wormhole connecting it to another Stargate on another planet. Once we step into an active Stargate, we're instantly moved to the other Stargate on the other side of the wormhole...”

“The one on the other planet,” Julia interrupted to ascertain.

“Right,” Carter told her. “We instantly go through the conduit that's linking the two 'Gates together, and step out of the Stargate on the other planet.” She grinned disarmingly at her 'student.' “It's like walking into an elevator...” And then she was compelled to say, “Or like walking into a corridor that leads from the airport terminal to an airplane - we enter in one place, then exit in another." She shrugged. “The Stargate system is just one big airplane."

“Really?” Julia asked, doubt still coloring her voice, but now that voice was peppered by surprise as well. “Like any old airplane?”

Sam gave a second shrug. “Except that instead of walking down that airplane terminal corridor, the Stargate instantaneously moves a person forward in three seconds.” She nodded one more time. “Except for that, you can just think of it as one big airplane.” She grinned, pleased with her spur-of-the-moment analogy.

But despite simple analogies, Julia still looked confused. “If the Stargate only moves a person forward, as you say... how do you get back?” she thoughtfully asked. “And how do you make certain that this alien planet that you're going to is able to support human life?”

Sam gave an easy smile, feeling more and more in her 'teaching' element the entire time. “Good questions,” she replied. “There is almost always what we call a 'DHD' - a name that stands for...” And here, Carter blushed just slightly at what she was describing. “It stands for 'Dial Home Device.'”

“'Dial'... as in dial a telephone?” Julia asked again in surprise, as if she was unexpectedly understanding what she was hearing. When Carter nodded her agreement to Julia's analogy, Miss Donovan asked again, “That's all you do... dial the Stargate like it's a telephone?”

“Yes, that's right,” Carter again agreed. “A DHD is just a big telephone... doohickey... thing... with buttons on it as big as your hand, and little squiggly lines on the buttons instead of numbers like on a regular telephone. These squiggly lines are actually star constellations, and anyone can 'dial' a seven constellation address, or 'phone number,' just by pushing the buttons in the correct order.” Sam grinned again - this analogy of explaining the Stargate in simple terms compared to talking to Jack about the 'Gate was easier than she'd originally thought it would be!

But again Julia appeared confused, knocking Sam's confidence level back a notch or two with only one look. “You said 'almost' every Stargate has one of these... these 'D' things... to go with it.” Carter nodded encouragingly, so Julia went on. “Does any Stargate not have one?” Then she paused and thought to add, “And what do you do if you get to a planet and find out that there isn't one, or the one that's there is broken?”

“Um...” Sam smiled to cover the fact that her mind was spinning to create an answer, but one that wasn't automatically confusing to death. “First off,” she replied, “If you don't find a DHD, or it's broken, you don't panic. Stargates can be dialed by hand if necessary.” Then she brightened as another idea hit her. “And on a similar note, we never found a DHD with the Stargate on Earth when it was discovered in Giza in 1928. So an entire group of us scientists worked for years to write a computer program that would make our Stargate dial. We finally got it to work, and the Air Force sent a team to a planet called 'Abydos.' That was the first mission that Colonel O'Neill - now General O'Neill - went on with Daniel... er, Doctor Jackson.”

Julia looked impressed at the simple alien planetary name. “Aby..?”

“Abydos,” Sam repeated. “Daniel figured out how to make the Stargate work in the first place, so he was a natural person to bring along on a mission like that, and he also figured out how to bring the team back to Earth.” She still felt as if she were explaining things that ought to be common knowledge, but she had to continually remind herself that this knowledge was hardly 'common' to anyone not connected with the formation of the SGC.

Suddenly Julia grinned. “I bet that General O'Neill was suitably impressed with Dr. Jackson after he figured all that out.”

A pensive curl to her lips, Sam admitted, “Um... not really.”

This answer surprised Julia once more. “No?”

“No,” Sam more firmly said. “Actually, he didn't much like any of us scientists at first, Daniel included.” She gave another wry twist to her lips. “He complained that Daniel sneezed a lot on Abydos.”

“Sneezed,” Julia repeated, clearly befuddled. “Why?” She went on, “Was he having some kind of strange reaction to alien..?”

Sam cut her off, “No, nothing like that.” Then she apologetically explained, “Daniel has allergies. Besides, as I said, General O'Neill has never had much use for scientists.”

A male voice off the camera called out a correction to Sam's assertion, “But it's one that you and Daniel have managed to change over the years.”

Carter could barely make out Jack's form in such strong lighting. Still, she smiled in pure delight the second she heard that voice that she would recognize anywhere. “Jack!” she called in delight in his general direction. “You were still in holding an hour ago; What are you doing here?”

“Don't mean to interrupt your interview,” he began by saying as he strolled towards the two women seated at the news desk. “Though I think it needs a good fist fight or two... for excitement.”

Carter could tell by his tone that he was teasing them, but giggling, Julia took what he said seriously, and was quick to assure amid her giggles, “It's alright that you showed up, General O'Neill - we're not taping live right now, anyway. We can edit this part out later, if you like.”

Carter gazed at Julia out of suddenly insightful, narrowed eyes. Since when did Julia Donovan offer to actually work with a her hopeful interviewees? Was she flirting with the General? Carter wasn't certain, but she didn't want to take any chances, either - she fingered her engagement ring as she lay her left hand on the desk top between her and Jack, as if to reinforce the notion that he was already taken, and taken by her.

Julia got the rather subtly obvious message, and instantly sat back in her chair, putting some necessary distance between her and the new visitor. Still, she exclusively spoke to him, ignoring Carter. “Tell us, what can we do for you, General?” she asked in an overly sweet tone that Sam hadn't heard the no-nonsense newswoman use before.

Carter had to forcibly stop herself from rolling her eyes. It was obvious to her, if not to him - he had just garnered another member for his own fan club. It was true that he often teased Carter about her particular club full of drooling men ready to die at her feet. But it was just as true that she frequently teased him in return about his own club made up of women who were just as quick to drool over him. Carter knew that she had agreed to marry a seriously handsome man, and she had to put up with as much aggravating attention from the opposite sex as he had to.

But just because Jack felt the need to 'put up with it' didn't mean that he also felt he shouldn't enjoy every moment of it! So now he smiled, soaking up the unexpected attention coming from his newest diehard club member before turning to look at Carter, who was still fingering her engagement ring in a very obvious fashion. Her eyebrows were raised all the way up to her hairline, but other than that, her calm demeanor would have fooled anybody but Jack. Yet, he chose not to comment on her... jealousy. (Carter was jealous - because of him? Woohoo!)

Jack said in an easy manner, “I'm just coming to tell Carter my latest news.” He turned again towards Carter as he added, “Instead, I find myself listening to a very plausible and easy-to-understand comparison of the Stargate to any old airplane at any old airport.” He gave Carter a dry twist of his brows. “Why didn't you just say that years ago? That was the best explanation of how the Stargate works that I've heard in eight years!”

Carter grinned at the compliment. “I would have said something to you first,” she promised. “But I just now thought of it.” Then she leaned in closer to him and mock whispered, “But I was thinking of you the entire time I was speaking. I kept telling myself 'Keep it simple, Carter!'”

Jack beamed when she called herself 'Carter,' using his own pet name for her. “See - I knew I would eventually be good to keep around for something,” he joked. “And of all the scientists I know, you're my favorite,” he mock whispered back to her.

Carter actually giggled herself, abruptly recalling the star-struck Miss Donovan. But, Carter firmly told herself, she had outgrown 'star-struck' a long time ago. At last she spoke to him using her regular voice, “Okay... What's going on, Jack? The suspense is killing me.”

Jack tapped the top of the desk once with his fist. “Yeah, well, there is something going on,” he agreed, not meeting her eyes now as he spoke.

Sam's smile at seeing him so unexpectedly slid off her face as if he had told her something purely shocking. “Jack?” she knowingly prodded.

Jack didn't say anything at first, thinking instead that the word 'Jack' had replaced 'Sir' in the way she could communicate so many things with just one word. He was busy marveling at her abilities to project her emotions without really 'projecting' them.

Jack realized that he was just stalling when he at last forced himself to respond to her query. “Miss Donovan,” he said, addressing the news woman in a less than jovial tone. “Can I possibly speak to Carter in private?”

Uh-oh, Sam instantly thought. This is already bad.

Caught slightly off guard by his suddenly piercing gaze, Julia was still quick to insist, “That's fine! We can continue with our interview when you're finished!”

Again Carter had to force herself not to roll her eyes at the way Julia was being overtly obsequious to Jack. She was so far gone on him that she must be the fan club's president by now!

Aloud, Sam responded to Jack, “Sure - somewhere private...” Then her gaze landed on the closed door leading to the one room that remained of the supply closet that Julia had spoken of earlier. She gestured to it. “After you.”

Jack let loose a grin when he saw where she was leading him. He had always wanted to get Carter alone in a closet!

They entered the small room, acting like it was so normal for meetings to take place in SGC supply closets that it wasn't even worthy of mention. Once the door was firmly shut behind them, and Carter had flicked the light switch in the corner, Jack started to explain. “Carter, I just met with the President and Thor.”

Sam's brow wrinkled. “Thor?” she asked, already confused. “But how is it possible for you to see Thor and The President if you were still in..?”

Jack hurriedly interrupted her. “They beamed into my cell,” he explained. “Anyway, long story short, they gave me a new job.”

Sam was still feeling slow as she echoed him, “A new..?”

Jack again cut her off. “You're looking at the new Liaison Officer for Alien Allies - President Hayes and Thor just told me the news a few minutes ago.”

Carter's first reaction was to congratulate Jack on his new appointment. But she had barely managed to get any words of a congratulatory nature out of her mouth before something had started to uncomfortably niggle at the back her brain. She stopped and stared at Jack for a second with narrowed eyes. “Wait a minute... Thor and The President came all this way just to offer you a job?” she echoed, now sounding abruptly suspicious. When Jack remained silent, her suspicions compounded. “A job that General Landry could have told you about just as easily?” Jack shuffled his feet, looking more like a guilty boy than the seasoned soldier that he was. This made Carter's anxiety level hit the roof. Arms crossed defensively on her chest, she demanded, “Okay Jack, out with it - why were Thor and The President really here?”

Jack looked down at his shoes on the floor so that he wouldn't have to meet her gaze. “Thor...” He even sounded uncomfortable now. “They... Thor... knew about the brainwashed humans thing. It seems that the Asgard can detect them through their onboard ship computers, or something like that. The thing is, he detected them all at once, and...”

But Carter was the confused one now. “But how can even Thor's onboard computer detect something that's so..?”

Jack answered before she had the chance to finish her question. “It seems that even something like brainwashing leaves a Goa'uld footprint, if you know what to look for. There were extremely small amounts of naquedah left behind in the brainwashed humans that Thor's sensors could read, but our sensors aren't strong enough to read yet.” He glanced up to see Carter predictably chewing on her bottom lip as she thought, and he immediately assumed she was reviewing Earth's sensor systems, or lack thereof, and why she hadn't realized how incapable they really were before now. “It's not your fault, Carter,” he firmly said. “You know how much more scientifically advanced the Asgard are than we are - they're years ahead of us on a technological scale.”

“I know that, Sir,” Carter said, calling him his habitual military title without even realizing what she was doing as she thoughtfully went on, “But I'm not thinking about the sensors.”

That surprised Jack. How could he have read her so completely wrong? “You're not?”

“No,” she said, then slowly admitted her true thoughts. “I was thinking about the fact that if Thor can detect these brainwashed guys, then why didn't he take care of them all at once?” Her blue eyes met his in cool appraisal. “What about that one who came to your cell?”

The guilty-little-boy demeanor was back. “Apparently there were some of those brainwashed goons in DC, too. Thor knew that between me and President Hayes, even with the presidential security forces, I was still the one person he knew for sure would more likely to be able to handle a fighting situation with these zombie guys than Hayes could - because I knew what to expect. And so, he...”

“He only sent troops to DC,” she guessed, now sounding slightly put out. Jack nodded, but said nothing, so she went on to ask, “He thought you could handle yourself, huh?” Her foot actually tapped in aggravation on the concrete floor. “Why would he think that?”

Against his natural instincts for a time when he should run from a partially angry Carter (he didn't ever want to have to deal with a fully angry Carter), he hazarded to guess, “Um... Thor thought that it might be fun to give Colonel Carter a heart attack while he was at this brainwashed human roundup?”

Too late for dealing with only a partially angry Carter. Her foot tapping had morphed into louder taping, and indicated that she was already fully angry. For a brief flash, Jack felt irritation of his own at his small alien friend - it figures that Thor would not be immediately available when the shit hit the fan on this. The chicken! Jack thought.

Jack didn't exactly blame Carter for the way she felt, either. She couldn't have known how that holding cell dust up was likely to end, after all, and she knew that even though Thor had every confidence in O'Neill's fighting abilities, he hadn't truly 'known' either. And that was what ticked her off.

In order to distract Carter from her own anger at this situation, Jack went on to explain, “Thor didn't want to send the Asgard to the SGC with guns blazing because that would have tipped this Za'tarc zombie guy off, and this was the perfect opportunity to catch him in the act. That's why General Hammond sent me that note, as a sort of warning to be on my toes.”

Now Carter was confused as well as pissed. “General Hammond?” she slowly repeated in calculation. “But how would he have known that sending you a note would be enough of a warning?” she asked, speaking to herself as much as to him. Then inspiration hit, and she answered her own question. “Unless... You and he have done this kind of secret communicating thing before, haven't you?” she accused.

Now Jack really looked guilty. Carter did her own marveling at the way he could look like a naughty little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar with one agonized look in his expressive eyes.

Jack's softened voice admitted, “Hammond and I... may... have used a secret communication system a time or two... or three... during my SG-1 days.”

Carter looked more than irritated now. “And you didn't think to tell SG-1 about this while we were all in your cell earlier today because..?” Her voice encouraged him to give one of his unexpected replies that would stun her right off her feet.

Jack reluctantly explained, “After reading that message, I didn't know for sure who I could trust and who I couldn't - even you.” At Sam's look of surprise at his admittance that he felt he couldn't trust even her, he added, “You'd been off world many times, after all.”

Carter's expression turned accusing again. “Is this another one of those 'need to know' things?”

Jack winced at her brusk tone. “Yeah,” he told her, still refusing to meet her eyes. She had guessed how things were... and so quickly! Though, he supposed he shouldn't be surprised - Carter's brains, and the way her mind worked, had always astonished him. Now he continued speaking to her, though his tone was as much apologetic as explanatory. “You didn't need to know about that communication thing... back then, at least.” Then that apologetic tone of his slipped more to become explanatory again. “Now you need to know,” he firmly said. “I insisted on it.”

Well... that was certainly nice to hear. 'Nice' and 'Jack O'Neill' still didn't automatically go together in Sam's mind. But she still had to internally admit that what he'd said was some compensation for once again not being fully allowed into the loop.

Yet, she could also tell that this wasn't everything he had to fill her in on, either. “Spit out the rest, Jack,” Carter said, sounding tired now as much as irritated.

Jack shifted where he stood next to the supply shelves, and said, “I don't have a locker at the DC bus station. I... might... (translate that 'might' to 'did') have a PO box right here in Colorado Springs, but Hammond didn't use that for anything more than to get the key for the code that we came up with, honest... because Hammond's here, ya know. Here in the Springs, that is. While the President... he was in DC the whole time, and...”

Tiredness forgotten, Carter now gave him a full out glare. “It didn't occur to you that I might be interested in this information?” She huffed when he didn't answer, but she still didn't look surprised, not by any of this revelation so far. Secrets were, according to her experience, the military way, after all.

Then her eyes narrowed even more to become slits of calculation. “But all this, as interesting as it is, isn't why you're really here,” she correctly announced. “This all could have waited till I was finished with my interview with Miss Donovan. So... why the cloak and dagger, Jack? Why not just tell me what you came here to say?”

For a third time, guilt washed over Jack's features. “This is the part that you really might not like.”

Her sense of suspicion ratcheted up yet one more notch. “'Might not like?'” she dubiously echoed.

Jack blew out his breath in a perturbed sigh. “That you might not like,” he repeated. “Or that I might not like telling you.”

Carter simply gave him an assessing stare... for more than a silent fifty seconds. Finally she said just one word. But that one word conveyed a host of emotions, suspicion accompanied with a touch of anger being the chief ones. “Oh?”

Jack cringed when she said that particular word in that particular tone. But he couldn't chicken out now and run for the exit, no matter how much he wanted to. She deserved to hear the entire truth both as his friend, and as his fiancé. “Um... yeah,” he began, hesitating just briefly, enough for him to draw a deep breath for courage. It wasn't the liquid kind of courage that he preferred, but under the circumstances, he figured that he should be grateful to get at least that much. “This afternoon, Thor and the President kind of had a proposition for me, too, that goes along with the new position,” he told her.

Carter leaned back against the shelves behind her and crossed her arms even more tightly, showing off her belligerent attitude without having to say a word. She continued to glare, and the seasoned General continued to wince whenever he looked at her expression. When Carter chose to break the silence that had settled over the closet like a smothering blanket, her voice came out sounding tired and resigned again more than aggravated. “What kind of proposition?”

Jack winced once more anyway, in spite of her tone, and this particular wince told her almost as much as he himself was telling her. His news was bad, and she privately prepared herself to hear the worst that she could imagine.

But even Sam Carter couldn't imagine something like this.

Quietly, Jack told her, “The President wants me to travel with Thor to the other treaty planets to make sure that the Goa'uld don't also have a foothold in their governments, in whatever form those governments happen to take. Thor plans for us to be gone for a year.”

Carter did a flabbergasted double take. “A year!” she yelped, eyes wide now as the meaning of his words rocketed home. “You're going to be gone for a whole year?!

Jack gave yet one more wince at the frustration leaking out through her voice. He'd known telling her was going to be uncomfortable, bad even, which was why he had shared his information with her first before broaching this subject - to put off the inevitable for just a bit longer. “Yeah,” he now noted, his voice a vehicle for his trepidation. “At least, that's what Thor thinks. He wanted to leave right away, but I told him that I had to tell you first. So,” and he gave another slight wince. “I'm telling you.”

Carter's mouth gaped open just a little in her shock. She looked like she didn't believe him. Or more precisely, as if she didn't quite believe that this was happening to them. It had to be fate, she mused, fate keeping her and Jack apart. They'd come this far, were engaged to marry even. But it was inevitable - there was always something to pull the rug out from under them, every time!

Now Carter's almost flat, emotionless tone drilled into him. “You're leaving,” she announced in a thoroughly detached monotone. “For an entire year.” Her voice hardened. “And you decided to tell me instead of just... what? Disappearing? Dropping off the face of the Earth for a whole year?”

Only for twelve months,” Jack softly and gently corrected, as if that distinction made much of a difference. “If everything goes according to plan.”

Carter snorted - nothing ever went according to plan!

But she didn't say anything for several heart thumping minutes. To a casual observer, it would appear as if she was considering the situation that he had mentioned, but Jack knew that she was valiantly fighting for control of her emotions as well as of her voice, not that she was lost in thought.

Finally Carter swallowed hard, then looked at him out of eyes that were simultaneously chips of blue ice, and pools of condensed agony. When she spoke, her tone was no longer angry, but now held a much worse sound - defeat. “So, this is goodbye, then?”

Jack knew from the expression in those blue eyes that he had to speak carefully. So he cautiously said, “No, we can do that in a more private location if you like.”

Carter snorted again, but it was a snort of amused hurt rather than anger. “More private than a supply closet?” she sarcastically noted.

Jack inhaled another deep breath of air. His use of sarcasm had definitely rubbed off on her - he just didn't know if this was a good thing, or a bad thing. For now, he simply wrapped up his explanation. “I just wanted you to know,” he told her without giving more details about his planned trip with Thor. What more did she need to know beyond what he had already told her, anyway? What he'd said was already bad enough as it was.

Carter swallowed again, but forged on... like a snow plow with its gears welded in the 'drive forward' position. “How is it that Thor so easily convinced you to go?” A third swallow, then she noted in a nonchalant voice, “You have obligations to this planet, too, especially now.” Not wanting to draw attention to them, she shot a glance in his direction, indicating with one look the new public status of the Stargate Program, and how he had become the unofficial 'hero' for the Program's current state.

Jack blinked at her, then leaned conspiratorially closer. “In a competition between this trip with Thor, and a holding cell, awaiting trial for my court-martial, I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to try out my space feet on The Samantha Carter.”

The Samantha Carter? That was the name of the ship that he and Thor planned to take to parts unknown? “Well, at least you'll be on a ship named after me,” she mumbled, her comment not telling him much more than her capacity for sarcasm.

A trait of hers that he already knew about, and already treasured. So when she continued speaking, what she had to say, and the tone she had to say it in, still took him off guard. “So... I won't be any farther from your thoughts than those space feet that you were talking about.”

Oooooooh... extra thick sarcasm... she was still pissed. Pissed... and defeated... a lethal combination.

But instead of talking through the emotions... and the fear... that Carter had to be experiencing, Jack did the same thing that he had always done in emotionally charged situations: he ran... figuratively speaking. “I just wanted you to know... before Thor and I leave.” He blinked again, feeling his own fear battling with feelings that might cause tears to come to his eyes at the thought of not seeing her for a whole year. But he refused to give in to those kinds of emotions until he was alone... preferably thousands of miles from where anybody could see him. So he gruffly went on, “If you'd like, I'll be in my quarters for the next few minutes, packing, before I have to leave with Thor... if you have more to say.” Translation: 'if you have more personal things to say... or do.'

"Your quarters?” she parroted.

Jack nodded, and repeated, “So I can pack. A few minutes is all I could convince Thor and The President to give me.”

Carter's eyes narrowed. “Only a few minutes for all of us on SG-1 to say goodbye?” she incredulously asked. Such a short ending seemed callous even to her, who was used to shortened military goodbyes.

But now, Jack just nodded his confirmation of her assessment, a weak grin on his face. Carter blew a breath out, as if she had a hundred things to say, but couldn't voice any of her thoughts. Now wasn't the time or the place, surrounded by toilet paper and cleaning supplies as they were. Instead, she muttered, “Practically nine years of surviving life and death situations reduced to a fast 'so long, see ya later' in your base quarters.” She fingered her engagement ring again, telling him so much more than what she was saying. But all she did was blow out another breath.

Then her determined gaze once again met his. “I'll wrap things up here, and meet you there,” she said, once again 'the good soldier' - but what else could she be?

She didn't say, If I make it to your quarters on time, but she was thinking it, Jack could tell. Just as firm, he told her, “I won't let Thor leave without you being there.”

“Okay,” she said. Then without another word spoken, she followed Jack out of the closet, and watched out of eyes filled with... something... as Jack turned and crossed the crowded room in the direction of the door leading to the corridor.

Carter gnawed at her bottom lip as she watched him go, unhappiness leaking from every one of her pores, despite how she professionally moved to the stand beside Julia Donovan still patiently waiting next to the news desk. With a resolute, deadened expression, Carter ignored Jack's journey across the room, and though her hands shook, she clipped the microphone she'd left resting on the news desk back onto her jacket collar. The move was meant to cover teeming emotions that were undoubtedly showing in her eyes, but she also knew that such a task was hopeless even before it began. All she could hear in her mind was the terrible repetition of a whole year!

Julia took one look at the agony so clearly expressed in Carter's eyes, and leaned in closer to her. “If you need a moment to gather yourself together, Colonel Carter, I...”

But movement from Carter suddenly cut the other woman off in mid word. Julia gaped at Sam, whose thoughts were clearly revealed of her face.

Carter's mind raced; this saying a quiet goodbye to Jack... this swallowing every hurdle in her personal life that was placed in front of her... this suffering in silence... This silence was what was always expected of her! This was what she'd been taught was the way a soldier handled problems, and she was undoubtedly a soldier... so she had been told again and again and again...

But this wasn't about her being a soldier - it was about her life! With an abrupt turn of her mind, for the first time she realized that not only was the Air Force taking over her professional life, but she was also allowing it to take over her personal life - and she refused to be the 'good little soldier' this time! She couldn't let Jack go like this, with barely a single objection from her!

The military colonel abruptly stood straighter, and fire flashed in her previously deadened eyes. Her gaze trained on Jack, she determinedly began to fumble with the microphone she had just clipped onto her jacket.

Ignoring the newswoman beside her, Sam loudly hollered across the crowded room, “Jack, wait!”

“Hey, that's... careful!” Julia simultaneously warned about Colonel Carter's microphone.

But despite the warning and her tugging, the delicate piece of technology refused to easily set Sam free. She finally yanked the offending piece of recording equipment off her dress uniform even as Julia again cautioned, “Careful with that... hey!”

General O'Neill already had the exit door open when he heard Carter's yell. It brought him up short, and he let the door swing shut as he turned, arrested by such a loud and emotional cry, his eyes intuitively seeking hers. “Carter?” he carefully questioned.

But Carter didn't answer him. She couldn't. Instead, she stared at him with her constantly assessing gaze as she quickly traversed the sea of people crowding the room. The news people seemed to flow apart when she neared them, then flow back together when she passed on her way to her destination.

When she reached Jack's side, she stopped, but didn't fling herself into his arms, as she'd considered doing just a second earlier. Now she took in every tiny move that Jack made, each breath he inhaled, every flicker of emotion in his eyes. The mein of professionalism that she had been trying to cultivate crumbled as she stared. She had forgotten that they were in a newsroom full of interested reporters - had forgotten, or no longer gave a damn. “Jack?” she said again in a final appeal for his attention.

Jack more completely faced her, his own emotional upheaval on display in his brown eyes. His entire demeanor was strung so tightly that he twanged with tension. “Yeah?” he was able to force himself to respond to her soft voice.

But Sam was unable to speak now that all eyes, Jack's especially, were trained on her. When she didn't say anything more, or do more than stare at him with that same agonized, indecisive expression on her face, Jack was forced to recall that his chance of talking with her was ticking away with the clock on the wall, that he hadn't been given much time to talk to Carter even though he had insisted on it. He at last was forced to say, “I've got to go, Carter - Thor's waiting for me.”

“Thor can wait,” Carter decisively replied.

Jack gave a small start of surprise. Carter had always before deferred to the advanced aliens - Jack instinctively knew that she was far more agitated by this situation than she appeared to be just by what she had chosen not to say.

Yet that still didn't rectify their growing crisis of shortened time. Eventually Jack gusted a sad sounding sigh. “Carter...” He was about to remind her again of their time crunch, but she cut him off before he could go on.

“All those coded letters and emails and phone calls that we shared...” she inquired in a nonchalant voice, as if she were mentioning something that everyone already knew about. She went on to gently ask him, “What were they all for?”

Taken aback by the simplicity of her query, Jack could only splutter, “Uh...”

But Carter refused to give up on the tact she had chosen to take just because Jack didn't immediately comprehend where she was going with this. “You and I... We spent months talking about everything, all the while pretending that nothing was going on, that we weren't even much aware of the other, to the point of writing in code to keep people from instantly knowing...” She stopped, years worth of hiding and denying stopping her from making any declarations. But then she repeated, “I mean, to keep them from knowing... or us from admitting...” She halted a second time, looking supremely uncomfortable.

But she also looked supremely determined. “From saying how we felt... for each other.” She was still barely able to say those words, in spite of her determination. She swallowed the trepidation still showing in her eyes and forced herself to go on. “What was the point of all that?” She gazed at him, beseeching, the reporters playing the part of the suddenly erected force field that kept them apart this time instead of a real force field on a real Goa'uld ship, doing the same thing.

A shield or a job - what did it really matter? There was always something keeping them apart! And she was tired of it.

So she continued, “If all it comes down to is us saying goodbye in a public newsroom, what was it for?”

Unfortunately, Jack still didn't quite understand what she was trying to get at. He sharply drew a breath to help him stay as calm as possible when her words made him want to instantly run for cover. She had referred to the taboo topic - their feelings - and though he was happy to express those feelings to Carter, he still wasn't comfortable showing his regard for her in public.

Or having her show her regard for him... or even talk about it.

Jack changed his stance so that he was more balanced even as he deliberately tried to change the focus of the conversation, doing his best to keep this exchange from escalating out of control into one more confrontational in nature. “The point was...” The problem was he had no idea what the point had been - other than to set up a way for him to feel close to her. But he couldn't just say that... not out loud! So instead he reminded her, “I could never have known what was going to go down, Carter.”

Carter grimaced at what he had said... or why he had said it. “No, I don't mean that I think you should have known about this, or that we should never have bothered with... everything,” she lamely ended.

“Then...” Jack's forehead wrinkled in puzzlement as he thought. “What did you mean?” His gaze wandered from Carter to focus on those standing around her, and blinked. Now that he had enough wherewithal to acknowledge that he had once again forgotten where he was, he was able to school his language as much as possible under the circumstances. He could only hope that Carter was equally as observant.

But Carter seemed to not want to be observant, or understanding, or even aware of other people at all anymore. She also didn't seem as if she were willing to not bring up uncomfortable personal topics, either, for she next slowly said, “I guess I mean that we... that I... feel...” She switched her balance from foot to foot, rocking slightly in her blue dress shoes. A look of hesitancy sparked just once in her eyes, and Jack honestly expected her to next tell him 'Nevermind.' One thing that he knew about Samantha Carter was that she didn't like her own emotions on display for anyone but a chosen few to see (or hear), and the news people from Inside Access didn't fit her definition of 'a chosen few.'

But Carter just as unexpectedly surprised him again. A flash of determined resolve burned in her eyes in the next instant, blocking out her growing frustration. Instead of telling him 'Nevermind - enjoy your trip,' she went on without a hint of hesitation in her voice. “I mean, why did we go to all that trouble of finally telling each other... things...” The trepidation was back for just a microsecond, and Jack heard her voice waver as she recalled the earlier part of their personal journey that led up to this conversation between them in a newsroom full of reporters. “That was so hard for me, you know,” she whispered, frowning. “To even talk about... that.” Now she visibly swallowed. “Even to talk to... you.”

Funny: she had made it look so easy.

A beat of silence went by, until Jack broke it by quietly confessing, “I know.” It was little enough for him to say... but at the same time, it was everything.

Small words...

No words...

Little to no declarations...

That had always been their way. When Carter really scrutinized that idea, she didn't feel uncertain, as she had always expected to feel at such a moment. She wasn't at all uncertain of his feelings for her as she'd allowed herself to think she was. She had always known - on some level - if only she had let herself listen.

And now that thread of connection between her and Jack was being threatened... by Thor, of all people. And by The President. By their own country. Just as it had always been. For eight long years everyone had done their best to break that bond between herself and Jack. Even the actions of SG-1 had come between her and Jack. And now...

And now... the first time they had hit a snag to this new relationship that they had struggled to form...

They had just... stopped... as if they didn't know what to do next.

Carter's thoughts fairly zipped by in what was possibly the fastest thinking spree she had ever indulged in. But when it came right down to it, she knew what she had to do... what she always should have done - she would fight... but fight for him this time. It was as simple as that.

Her decision made, she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin a fraction of an inch in a show of her resolve. Then she calmly asked, “What does Thor..?” But she had to stop to clear her throat - she may be determined to do this, but it wasn't easy to go against years worth of training and expectations and habit in order to do it.

She went on when she could. “What does he say about..?” She had to pause for a second time to regain her courage before going on. “About... having family members... along?” She stopped, then thought to add, “On this trip... that you have planned?”

Jack was a little bewildered by her question, though was fairly astounded that she'd found the courage to ask it in the first place. The stumbling way she had asked illustrated exactly how difficult the asking had been. “Uh... He never mentioned family.” What was she getting at?

Carter took a breath before she was able to continue in the same slow, stammering manner, “And what did The... The President say... about the same... thing?”

Suddenly, an understanding grin wormed its way onto Jack's face. She wanted... she was asking...

Instead of letting himself follow that train of thought, as much as he really wanted to, he mumbled, “Um, The President... I mentioned to him that I really needed to stay here with you... and he said something about there being a choice for me about taking this trip or face a court-martial; my choice didn't really involve you... per se... But he... um... Well,” he thoughtfully added, “President Hayes never really got around to mentioning families, either.”

Sam sniffed, then wrapped her arms around her middle in a protective way that supported her at the same time it defended her. Still showing her uncertainty, she ascertained, “No one said... said anything?”

Jack shook his head, abruptly hopeful for the first time since that morning. “Nope, nada.”

A small smile curled the corners of Sam's lips when he said that. She went on, her voice tinged with just a touch of anticipation now. “And... when did you accept this... promotion?” she asked, for want of a more specific term.

Jack's threatening grin burst up into a real smile, a small one, like hers, but a smile nonetheless. “Fifteen minutes ago,” he replied.

Satisfaction bloomed across her cheeks when he told her that. But her voice remained controlled. “So... You're stationed with Thor now.” She gave a slight pause to allow that information to fully sink in. “And I'm still assigned to the SGC.” Oblivious to those around them, Sam and Jack's eyes completely met for the first time since she'd yelled at him across a room full of reporters. “That means...”

Jack finished her comment. “It means that we're not in the same chain of command anymore.”

Carter added, “Or stationed at the same base anymore.”

She hardly left him half a second for this dual information to fully infiltrate his brain before she went on, “So... Wanna get married?” She hesitated again. “I mean... um... right now?” She spoke in such a casual tone that she made the asking of this seem easy. But it was anything but easy! Her heart was pounding in her throat as she spoke, making her collar jump so everyone could see it.

Fortunately, Jack's response was quick and definite. “Yeah,” he announced. “So, you're planning on coming with me, is that it?”

She didn't say either 'yes' or 'no.' She didn't even say the words that screamed to be said here. Instead, she told him, “I'll be in a stronger position for consideration for promotion by the powers that be if I go with you.” She paused, then added, “It's a great opportunity.”

Clearly disappointed with such a clinical response, their audience would have booed that remark if they had been on a game show. Encouraged by the aggravated sighs that still sounded around them, Jack asked, “And is that the only reason that you can think of that you want to go with me?”

Her reply was equally as clinical as her earlier comment had been. “I'd finally get the chance to study the Asgard technology up close and...”

Obviously disappointed now, the crowd's booing was loud and boisterous.

At last, Sam's full blown smile obliterated her anemic grin in a show of steadfastness that was uniquely hers. “Actually, who cares about alien technology... much.” She continued to grin. “I, for one... um... just think it would be... fun.” She now eyed him with just enough concern to almost make his mental warning bells ring. “As long as you don't mind if I... tag along.”

In answer, Jack regarded the others gathered in the room, all of them now standing silent. Thus, it was to an audience holding their collective breaths that his resulting holler resounded, “Anybody know what we need to do to get married?”

Aside

(It was Jack who was silent several moments later - silent and astonished. The sudden excitement that he and Sam had caused with their precipitous marriage plans was interrupted by a call from the main gate to Landry. “Excuse me General Landry, but there's a lady here named Barbara Denby, and she claims to be the County Clerk, and she has a marriage license for General O'Neill and Colonel Carter?” The guard said it like it was a question that it be alright for her to even be at Cheyenne Mountain. “She said something about seeing on the TV that they needed one, pronto. Should I throw her out, sign her in... what?”

Even as Landry made the arrangements for a guest pass to the SGC, Jack and Sam were astounded to find out that their entire conversation had just been displayed on the air for billions of viewers to watch and sigh over in satisfaction. If they both hadn't been the heros of the SGC before this afternoon's events, they certainly were now!)

Denouement (a big word for Epilogue) - A 'Threads' Reset

A year later (give or take a month or two):

Jack sat back in the lawn chair that he had erected on the end of the dock at his cabin in Minnesota, crossed his legs at his ankles, and gave a big sigh. This is the life! he thought in contentment.

Beside him, Sam grinned in his direction when she heard his sigh. “Penny for your thoughts,” she said, then amended her statement to say, “Or I mean, two bars of weapons grade naquedah for your thoughts.”

Jack grinned, and let the sun soak into the top of his head, warming his entire body, which felt like industrial goo by now, he was so relaxed. “I was thinking that this...” And he indicated the lake, the cabin, her, the current state of his life, with a wave of his fishing pole. “This is great.”

'Great' barely summed up the wonderful way that Jack was currently feeling, but it would have to do. There was no shrub (er, Pete) messing up his dreams, no frat regs keeping him and Sam apart any longer, no SGC allies to muck up his perfect vacation, no weird technology to attract the attention of the beautiful hot blonde scientist wife currently sitting at his side... nothing. Nothing except... nature. Nature and Sam. And him. A perfect uniting of two human beings in the perfect natural location.

Jack grinned again at that thought.

Grinning back at him, Sam also leaned back in her chair in a sense of contentment equal to Jack's. “You're right... this is great,” she agreed.

Jack couldn't quite repress his desire to smirk at her. “I told ya!” he triumphantly said.

Still smiling, Sam sent one more cast of her fishing line into the lake. It plopped into the water, and she added, “I can't believe that we didn't do this years ago.”

In a nonchalant voice, Jack replied, “Yes, well, let's not dwell.”

He had barely got the last word out of his mouth when he suddenly sat straight up in his chair, his fishing pole falling slack to his side as a blank look invaded his eyes.

Sam stared at him in abrupt anxiety. “What is it?” she asked of him, her own fishing pole also forgotten for the moment. Had he forgotten something else? Gotten suddenly sick? What?

Jack gave her a vague look, then glanced out at his fishless pond, then back towards the cabin. “For some reason, I expect to see Daniel... and...” His voice thoughtfully trailed off.

Sam's sense of perplexity grew. “Daniel's on his honeymoon,” she carefully corrected him. “He and Sarah are...”

Jack interrupted her with a vigorous shake of his head. “Nope,” he blurted, and shook his head a second time. “Not going there,” he firmly announced. “Nevermind.” And he settled back into his lawn chair as if nothing had just happened.

But Sam continued to gaze at him as if he'd hurt himself with all his sudden thinking. “Are you sure?” she asked when he didn't explain further.

Jack still looked as if he'd been run over by a truck, despite the fact that he was staring forward at his lake again. “Just a sense of déj vu,” he at last noted right as Sam's cell phone rang. The ringing caught his attention to pull it away from his inner contemplations. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “I thought we agreed - for this first vacation for us alone... in more than a whole year... we agreed that we would leave our cell phones at home!” He sounded incensed now as Sam tried to tug her phone from the front pocket of her jeans. “I suppose the 'Gate's broken again, and 'they' want to know if you can you take a few minutes 'to fix the artifact.'” He softly derided the code name that the SGC had given for the 'Gate when speaking about it on an insecure phone line before the Stargate Program had unwittingly become public knowledge. “I knew that we should never have told them we're back.”

Sam finally succeeded in pulling her phone from her pocket, and glanced at the phone's window, noting who the call was from. “No,” she vaguely said, hushing her surprised husband. “Not the SGC. It's Mark.” She rested her fishing pole on the wooden planks of the dock, muttering, “I need to take this call.” She rose from her chair to put some paces of privacy in between herself and her husband - she didn't want to interrupt Jack's 'tranquil time,' after all. “Hello?” she greeted into her phone.

“Sampster!” Jack heard Mark delightedly cry in that same tone he'd used a year earlier when he'd called him from California. “What's up?” the man asked.

Sam drifted farther away towards the cabin, so that Jack could no longer hear her or her brother. But Jack was too busy pondering something else to take much notice of her movements. Hadn't this whole 'them'... as in, the 'Sam and Jack getting together' them... Hadn't it started with a simple phone call from Mark?

Jack shot another glance at the beautiful hot blonde former 2IC who had become his wife, and blinked to clear the fog away from his vision. It always descended on him when he stared right at Sam. They had dubbed this fog 'the veil of happiness.'

Well, Jack suddenly thought through his veil. If all 'this' began with a phone call from Mark Carter... How on Earth am I ever going to repay him?

The End


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