The morning you left was as normal as any other since we've been together. You woke me with a kiss, a mischievous gleam in your eye. You wanted to play so play we did. We carried on like wild animals, like wolf pups, nipping and biting and kissing and licking and then it got decidedly less childish, less playful.
Did I tell you I loved you that morning? I hope I did. I think I did, but I can't remember.
We went to work together and when we got there no one was surprised to see us walking so closely side to side. It was never a case of hiding what we had, not since it was given the okay. I'm pretty sure everyone thought we were already doing it anyway. They just had their suspicious confirmed when you retired but stuck with the program.
I still remember your reaction to finding my father waiting for us my lab. It was the first time he'd visited since we became what we are. You were nervous about how he'd take it and you were probably justified. He wasn't happy, especially not when I explained the circumstances, and I'm pretty sure he was planning on talking to you - shouting at you - about it. Maybe he'd even try to warn you away or frighten you off but it wouldn't have worked.
No one could come between us. Not now we're different.
He never got the chance though, or maybe he did and I just don't know about it. He had important information, the Tok'ra wanted you to help on a covert mission. They'd asked for you personally, by name, and because I knew how restricted you felt trapped behind your desk, a feeling I know has only increased due to the changes we've undergone, I didn't argue when you declared you were leaving with my Dad and might not be back for a week or so. You were more than capable of looking after yourself, especially then, especially since you were more than the coverts ops trained former General you once were.
I was wrong, Jack. I foolishly expected you both to return to me in a few weeks, relatively unscathed having been successful in your mission to gather Intel on Baal's plans. I waited for you, my feral part anticipating our reunion, my rebellious nature quite looking forward to your confrontation with my father. You would've made it clear to him that we belong to each other now - and I never thought I'd say that about myself and anyone. You wouldn't have hurt him to prove your point, even if your instinct told you to, because you genuinely liked him and because you knew I'd hurt you back if you even tried. Besides, in a strange way you'd have respected him even more now because he was not only my father but your elder, too. A man to be respected, to be obeyed.
I waited and I waited but you didn't come back to me.
Twelve weeks and three days have gone by and I'm still waiting.
Something went wrong. We don't know what. We know Baal much have discovered your presence because we found evidence of a fight but that's all we found. No remaining Jaffa, no human bodies. The planet you went to is devoid of life other than the trees that survived the fire fight.
So where did you go? Where are you now?
We thought at first you'd been taken by Baal but the Tok'ra operatives uncover in his fleet reported back that Baal is just as confused as we are at your disappearing act - and that's got people looking for you. You really managed to piss him off, Jack. He's not going to rest till you're found.
Neither will I.
We had hoped for a short time that the Asgard had you. Maybe one or both of you were injured and that's why they didn't get in touch immediately. That theory fell through when Thor arrived wanting to speak to you. He was most distressed when he found out what happened and promised me personally that his people would keep watch for you both.
I'm told the chances of finding you alive now are slim to nothing at best but I can't accept that. They want to hold a memorial service but I'm resisting, even if I'm alone now. Daniel and Teal'c have given up hope that you'll come back to us alive and they're trying to get me to see their way of thinking.
I can't, though. They don't understand what it would do to me, what it would mean.
General Hammond is trying to be patient but trying is exactly what I'm doing to all of their patience. They keep telling me to let go, to accept what's happened, to accept that neither of you are coming back to me but I can't.
I just can't.
I told myself for those first months that I'd know if you were dead. That I'd feel.. something. Sometimes, at night when I'm doing my best to avoid the nightmares sleep will bring, I wonder if the nothingness I'm starting to feel is that something.
I'm starting to go numb, Jack. Cold and broken and numb.
Maybe it's because you are dead, because I've lost two of the men I love and need more than anyone else. Maybe this is what happens when an animal loses its mate. They experience this dull grief, this feeling of nothingness, of not being able to feel anything at all. Maybe that's why they, they succumb to the lack of feeling, curling up into themselves in some undisturbed land, sleeping away their lives until nature takes its toll and their bodies start to rot and decay and turn to dust just like their hearts did when they realise the one they love, the one they need, isn't coming back.
The others are trying to be supportive and patient but they can't know what I'm going through, they can't understand why I'm clinging to hope and fighting my grief.
They can't know that I'm doing it to hold on to my sanity, to keep from slipping into the maddening abyss that is grief. They can't understand that it's what I have to do to keep myself alive.
To keep myself from dying, too.
The grass was long and thick. Thicker than the grass at home. It was good in one way, good in that it made it easier to hide, easier to stalk his prey. It was bad in that it reminded him he wasn't home.
He was a long way from Earth, a long way from Sam.
They didn't know where they were, they were on some God-forsaken planet Selmac had known the coordinates to, a planet the Tok'ra said was Goa'uld free.
And it had been, at first, but Baal was obviously out for blood - his blood - because he'd managed the help put a pretty big hole in the Goa'uld plans by stealing a small amber coloured rock from the Jaffa he'd sent to retrieve it.
The significance of the rock was a mystery to him - even Jacob and Selmac couldn't answer his demands to know why it was so important. Well, Selmac couldn't. Jacob wasn't speaking to him but he thought it was safe to assume Jacob didn't know either.
Why he wasn't speaking to him, Jack pretended not to know. It had been Selmac's idea to 'gate to this planet and Jacob had agreed it was a good idea. It wasn't in any way Jack's fault that the planet they'd chosen had no DHD.
No way of going home.
A rustle to his left dragged him from his thoughts before he could get too deeply entangled in recalling all that they'd lost.
No, not lost. All that was temporarily out of reach. Unavailable for now, but not forever.
The rustle in the undergrowth came again, louder and closer. Jack tensed and sniffed the air, inhaling deeply, his eyes narrowing as the scent of his prey wafting temptingly underneath his nostrils.
He stopped being human then. Stopped being the man Jacob Carter despised and let himself become the beast Jacob feared. He used the tactical knowledge of the General he once was combined with the instinct of the animal he could so easily let consume him.
The animal concealed by the long grass and prickly bushes stood no chance. It was slightly larger than an Earth hare but smaller than a fully-grown badger. It would have been able to detect its common enemy, the wild beast that usually feasted on its kind but it would not recognise the smell of the creature stalking it.
It wouldn't know it was being stalked until it was too late.
Jack waited, bowing his head, listening. He half-closed his eyes, concentrating on the sound of the animal taking its last supper, focusing on the soft munching sound as it grazed, concentrating just that little bit harder and imagining he could hear its heartbeat.
It moved closer. Almost close enough. Then it paused, frozen by an unknown fear. Maybe it sensed something, maybe it realised it wasn't alone, that it wasn't safe.
It realised a moment too late.
The animal hesitated before deciding to continue forward. That hesitation cost it its life.
Jack sprang out from his hiding place, pouncing, grabbing the animal with an unforgiving grip. He held on tight with one hand and grappled for the knife he had secured at his waist with the other.
With the hand now grasping the knife, he took hold of the animal by its hind legs. It stilled beneath the touch though he could feel its heart pounding in its chest. With his other, now free, hand, Jack reached for the animal's neck.
His eyes closed and he ground his teeth together. There was a short, high-pitched squeal and a sickening crack. The heartbeat he felt slowed and stopped.
Jack kept his mouth closed in a tight grim line and did his best not to breathe in the scent of death. The stench of death was one he couldn't get used to. Not when he was responsible for it, not when he'd killed to feed instead of in self-defence like he was used to.
The stench of blood was worse but has he took the knife to the animal, the blade taking the place of claws and teeth, he forced himself to gulp the air through his mouth instead of inhaling through his nose. The smell wasn't as bad that way but it did mean he had to work harder to keep from gagging.
When he finished carving the edible meat from the poor animals bones, Jack gathered the waste products together and buried them. He then took the meat he'd prepared and walked the short distance to the stream downhill from the cave that had become his home.
He washed himself, washed the meat, all the while avoiding his reflection. He didn't like what he was; he didn't like what he'd become.
But it was necessary. That's what he had to keep trying to remember. Jacob was injured and Selmac couldn't heal him. There was no way to get home and the planet was searched intermittently by Jaffa patrols sent by Baal.
They needed to stay alive and to do that, they needed to eat. To eat, he needed to kill.
Or it should've been simple.
It wasn't. After his first successfully hunting trip, Jacob had taken one look at his blood-splattered clothes, his blood stained hands, and had turned away, disgusted. He hadn't eaten any of that animal nor the next. It was only when his hunger got too much for him to bear and Selmac joined Jacob in insisting he eat.
He hadn't asked any questions, though. He had stopped speaking to him entirely, Jacob seemingly content to settle for speaking to the voice in his head. Selmac spoke to Jack on occasion but those occasions were rare - rare enough so that Selmac was able to keep Jacob from finding out.
That had been the first and only time Jack had returned to the cave without washing up first. He cleaned his hands, his clothes and often returned shivering with the cold as the wet material clung to his skin.
It made no difference to Jacob. He was still a cold-blooded murderer, still a beast.
Still the man who'd changed his daughter.
They talked about her like she wasn't there. Sam Carter sat in her lab and watched them, feeling very much like a spectator in a ping pong or tennis match, wondering why they'd come all the way to her lab to talk about her when they seemed to have no intention of actually including her in the discussion.
"Sending us out in the field isn't a good idea," Doctor Daniel Jackson argued. "She's too distracted, she hasn't been eating or sleeping. If we get ambushed or encounter a less than friendly race, you can almost guarantee Sam will get hurt. She's not up for a real mission yet."
"I disagree, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c managed to argue without arguing at all. "Colonel Carter will not recover any quicker if we continue to delay the inevitable. Perhaps if we resume our usual routine, she will begin to accept what has happened."
A third voice joined the fray and Sam wondered if there was a way she could discreetly get them to leave her alone. "I agree with Doctor Jackson, it could be dangerous for Colonel Carter to go out in the field in this condition. It could also be dangerous for you if your team leader isn't fully able to concentrate on the task at hand."
"But surely you see the importance of carrying on as normal and making her see that life does go on - that it *has* to go on." That was General Hammond, siding with Teal'c but not quite ready to order her out with SG-1.
Not without the base CMO giving him her backing and that was something Doctor Brightman wasn't going to give easily. "She doesn't see it that way, Sir. I have a suspicion the situation is ten times worse for Colonel Carter than it is for any of General O'Neill's other friends. Not only did she lose her father but she lost her partner. Her mate."
"Mate?" General Hammond blinked. Sam might have found it amusing if it weren't for the stab of pain in her chest. "You believe her reaction is linked to the virus she and Jack contracted?"
"Yes, Sir." Doctor Brightman tried to lower her voice out of consideration for the mourning woman and Sam had to bite her tongue against telling her that if she didn't want her to hear, the doctor should've ushered the others out of the doorway to her lab. And down the corridor. And probably in the elevator to the next level, too. Sam was still very capable of hearing more than the average human.
It was one of the effects of the virus that was yet to fade - that probably would never fade. Just like the improved eyesight, the increased speed and reaction time.. and the need to be with her mate.
The hunting instincts rose within her occasionally but not strong enough to consume her. Not too strongly for her to fight.
And the transformations, they'd gone completely. In fact, they were the only things that had truly totally gone. No more claws for fingernails or fangs for teeth - thankfully.
But the rest of it.. The other effects.. They remained and where they'd once served to make her life more interesting, they now served to make it a living hell.
"To Colonel Carter, General O'Neill wasn't just an ordinary partner," Doctor Brightman was in the process of explaining as Sam tuned back in to the conversation, having to stifle a snort at the doctors words. If anyone knew that, it was General Hammond and the rest of SG-1 but she didn't really feel like speaking up and correcting the other woman. She chose to listen instead. "He was her mate. Part of her will forever see him as her mate, that's one of the side effects we couldn't cure. Now I did some research and found that in the wild, when an animal - let's say a wolf for arguments sake - when they lose their mate, they'll often not find another. They'll mourn the loss until they lose interest in everything else, including their own lives."
There was a short pause. Sam waited for someone to say something.
When no one else spoke for several long moments, Doctor Brightman hurried on. "I'm not saying that's the case with Colonel Carter. In fact, I doubt it is. She's a very strong person and human beings are more able to cope in these situations than animals because of their increased intelligence and awareness of the world around them but I'm saying it could explain why she's yet to come to terms with it. Rushing her into accepting it won't help her at this point. She needs time to reach those conclusions in her own time."
"Those conclusions?" Daniel asked the question though from the sound of his voice, Sam was certain he already knew the answer.
"That O'Neill and Jacob Carter are dead."
She looked away then, focusing on her work, feeling their gazes turn to her for the first time since they'd arrived at her lab.
"SG-5 could use your translation skills on their next mission, Doctor Jackson." General Hammond broke the silence eventually, and Sam sensed more than saw him motion to the others that they should leave her alone. She was still able to track their conversation as they walked slowly down the corridor, listening with one ear as she fought the urge to curl up into a ball in the corner of the room, making herself as small as possible in the hopes that the agony inside her with shrink, too. "Your knowledge of the Goa'uld could also prove useful, Teal'c. I'd like you both to join them for this mission. If nothing else, it'll get you back in the field."
"What about Sam?" Daniel wanted to know. "What are you going to do with her?"
"There's not a lot we can do, Doctor Jackson. Not until she's ready to move on." General Hammond sighed and Sam heard the elevator start to move down to their level. "We'll give her as much time as we can but pretty soon my superiors will be asking questions. They'll want to know if she's able to retake command of SG-1 and if she isn't.."
Sam didn't hear the rest of the sentence.
She didn't want to.
She shut the conversation out and stared down at the tools in her hands, trying not to notice the way her fingers trembled. She quickly realised that she wasn't going to be able to repair the device she was working on - if anything, she would cause it more damage if she tried with unsteady hands - and set the tools down.
She wrapped her arms around her stomach and bowed her head. Her eyes slid shut and she took deep, calming breaths.
'They're not dead,' she told herself, repeating the mantra over and over in her head. 'They're not dead, they can't be dead. They're not dead. They *can't* be dead.'
The problem was she didn't believe it. No matter how many times she repeated it, no matter how much she wanted it to be true.
Finding somewhere well and truly silent was impossible for her now. Sam could only settle for relative peace and quiet, up on the mountainside where the hive of activity below her was reduced to a soft hum or here, at Jack's house, in the room they'd shared for almost six months.
For some reason, a reason Jack wasn't prepared to admit, they'd all but abandoned her house in favour of his. He told her it was because they were more secluded, that they had more space and no nosey neighbours were able to spy on them through the dense trees that all but surrounded the property. That was probably the reason he told himself, too. Then one he wanted to believe instead of the truth: his house was his territory and hadn't been soiled by another man.
It bothered her at first but she'd learned to accept it, to understand it on one level. At least Jack hadn't been with another woman in his house - at least none she could find any trace of. No lingering scent, no telltale reminder. Even the photograph of his ex wife had been buried in a photograph album - his choice, not hers - replaced instead with one of him and his late son Charlie.
Oh, she was sure he'd had other woman there in the past but as long as she didn't know about it, it was okay. His house could be her haven from the outside world, too.
Their territory, and god help anyone who dared intrude without an invite.
It didn't matter anymore, though. Sam wasn't sure anything did.
She sat in the centre of their bed, looking around the room but seeing nothing. Feeling nothing. And that left her wondering if there was anything left to feel.
She stared at the pillow she'd been clutching and realised how easy it would be for her to just go to sleep. To slip under the comforter, bury her head in the pillow that could easily act as her sand and just sleep, surrounded by the scent of him, by the memories.
Maybe she'd get lucky and she wouldn't wake up.
The thought had her jolting out of her trance-like state and she clutched her hands into fists, grinding her teeth together determinedly.
She couldn't think like that.
She couldn't let herself think it was that simple, that easy to make the hurt raging on inside her go away.
That would mean quitting, giving up. Letting everyone down, letting herself down. It would mean surrendering; giving into weakness and Samantha Carter was anything but weak.
She was just scared, she thought to herself. Scared and lonely and hurting unbelievably.
Her shoulders slumped and the haze started to descend over her once again, the thought of life without them taking hold of her conscious mind and refusing to let go.
As her thoughts got darker, as she slipped further, Sam almost gave in to the pull of the black hole threatening to consume her from the inside out.
Almost but not quite.
Just as she reached the brink she managed to resist it, pulling herself back, regrouping her strength and her courage, backing away from the edge she was balancing precariously on.
She was able to pull back this time, able to get herself together and stubbornly cling on to what fight she had left in her but some small part of her mind realised that there wasn't as much fight left in her now as there had been before. It noticed that a little bit disappeared, dragged down deep into that black hole, and that small part of her mind started screaming.
Started praying to whatever god was out there listening that she'd continue being able to hold on.
Jack woke with a start with Sam's name on his lips. His head pounded in his chest, his blood raced through his veins.
He looked around, seeing only the darkness of the cave and listened intently.
Jacob was awake, probably because of him - he could tell by the soft breathing he heard from the other side of the small tunnel, it wasn't quite deep enough to belong to that of someone who was sleeping though the older man still made no move to talk to him.
He watched, though. Jack could feel his gaze on him.
No sign or sound or scent of her though he could've sworn..
What? That she was there? Light years away from where he knew she really was?
He shook his head, shaking himself mentally, and sat up, leaning back against the dry stone. He let his head drop back to rest against it but couldn't quite bring himself to close his eyes.
He wasn't ready for the nightmares.
His hand moved to his pocket and he took out the small stone responsible for the mess they were in. There was nothing special about it, nothing unique. It was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, translucent like amber and very, very light. Very strong, though. He'd dropped it more than once but the resilient stone hadn't once chipped or cracked.
He sat there and stared into the night, the stone resting comfortable against his palm, trying to pinpoint the reason he felt so on edge. He thought maybe it could be because they were stuck there, because they'd been there for so long. Because they never knew when Baal would send another patrol to look for them, because they knew every time the Stargate activated their lives were in danger.
The SGC wouldn't look for them here. They'd maybe send a MALP through but they'd soon see there was no DHD. If their camp was nearer the Stargate, they could have lay in wait, in hope, and if a MALP did come through, they would be able to get to it in time to alert the SGC to their presence but that was a risk they couldn't take.
The Stargate was a full day's walk away from the river, from the shelter of the caves. It was in open ground that would make them easy targets for the Jaffa. Nowhere to hide, lots of space to run.
It didn't help that Jacob was injured, either. His leg had been broken in the escape from Baal and the bone had healed at an awkward angle. Selmac had done everything possible to fix it but short of re-breaking the bone, there was nothing else they could do and they couldn't risk doing that in case they were found.
Jack let his eyes close as his thoughts returned to the matter at hand, pondering the situation and wondering if there was any way they could get themselves out of it.
He was just seconds away from falling back to sleep when a sound in the distance made him sit up straight, his shoulders tensing.
"What is it?"
Ordinarily, he would have been pleased to have Jacob decide to speak to him again but Jack only shook his head, shooting the older man a look that had him lapsing back into silence.
"The Stargate just activated," Jack told him in a low voice. "I'd say we've got company. Six, maybe seven Jaffa."
Jacob's eyes flashed in the darkness and an expression of concern flittered across his face as Selmac took control. "You are sure, O'Neill?"
"I can hear them," Jack answered simply, seeing Selmac's calm acceptance at his answer, knowing the Tok'ra's host didn't share it. It was a complete reversal of roles to have Selmac on his side and Jacob not. Before the virus that had changed his life, Jack had never imagined himself ever preferring the company of the symbiote over than of the host. "It's not a good sign, Selmac. They've let the 'gate close behind them."
"If the Stargate is closed, how do they intend to return to their home world or ship?" Selmac voiced the question that was playing on Selmac's mind.
Jack grimaced and turned his head away from the entrance of the cave, glancing around to make sure there was nothing near the entrance that would draw the Jaffa to them. "They're not. My guess would be that they're expecting company in the form of a ship. They must have found something last time they were here, found evidence that we were here."
Selmac shook his head and his expression turned grave. "If they found evidence that we are here, Baal will be on his way. I have no doubt that he would wish to deal with us personally when we are found."
"Me," Jack corrected with a brief glance to the injured Tok'ra. "He wants to deal with me personally. Baal and I go way back. He won't bother with you if he knows I'm out there."
"You're planning something." Selmac stared at him with such a suspicious glare that Jack half-expected the voice he heard to belong to Jacob. "Whatever you are thinking, General, it is out of the question."
He looked away and stared into the darkness at the mouth of the cave, listening intently to the sounds of the approaching Jaffa with one ear, listening to the Tok'ra's protests half-heartedly with the other. "I'm doing what I have to do," Jack murmured eventually, looking at his companion without meeting his gaze. "Sam would never forgive me if I let her father die and that's what's going to happen if I don't get them away from here." He got to his feet with the agility of a man half his age, scooping up his pack and opening it as quietly as he could. He divided their supplies of food and water, leaving almost all of it behind and packed his bag with the necessities - a blanket and ammunition. "I'll try and get back every so often with food. Do me a favour and make sure Jacob eats it."
"You can't do this, Jack." The voice that spoke to him was human, though Jack was far from convinced it wasn't just Selmac trying to get him to stay. "She won't forgive us if anything happens to you."
"I don't plan on letting anything happen to me, I fully intend on finding a way home so I can get back to your daughter, Jacob." He answered as if it was Jacob imploring him to stay although in his heart he doubted it was. "I'm just going to give them a diversion." His jaw was set, his expression determined. "Then I'm going to figure out how to get us both home." He strode to the entrance of the cave, knowing that it was unfair. Knowing that Jacob had no way to stop him. "Take care of yourself. I'll try to keep them away but I've left my Zat just in case."
"Jack!" Jacob tried pushing himself to his feet, taking over from Selmac, but white flashes of agony shot up his leg the moment he tried to stand on it and he found himself crashing back down to the floor.
He stopped trying to stand and stared at the mouth of the cave.
It was empty.
He strained to hear the sounds that had put Jack on full alert but heard nothing but the sound of the breeze whispering through the trees and passed the cave's entrance.
He was alone.
'You pushed him away,' Selmac said accusingly. 'You made him go out there. If anything happens to him..'
"I know." Jacob spoke aloud, his voice the only familiar sound left on the alien planet. "I *know*."
Sam would never forgive him.
He doubted he would forgive himself.
He kept to the shadows as much as possible, taking advantage of the coverage offered by the trees, using the stream to avoid leaving traceable footprints. He was careful not to go too fast, careful not to splash around in the water and it was only when he was far enough away for Jacob to be safe that he left the stream as it grew into a river and concentrated on speed rather than silence.
It was easier to run when he wasn't so concerned about making sound - in fact, the more sound he made the better so he purposely stood on twigs and branches, making the crack, attracting the attention of the Jaffa.
Distracting them from the defenceless man he'd left behind.
Distracting him from the guilt he felt at having done that.
He found it easier to escape detection with his improved senses but the confidence that he could outrun them did nothing to slow the ferocious pounding in his chest. If anything, the knowledge made his heart beat faster, the adrenaline racing through his veins helping to keep his spirits high.
As high as they could get, anyway, with knowing that with every step he ran the risk of being caught even if he did have the advantage of knowing which way was safe and which would surely result in capture or confrontation.
Jack paused after twenty minutes, closing his eyes briefly to help him tune into the sound of the approaching Jaffa.
They were still following him.
Still going in the opposite direction to which he'd come.
He took a deep breath and adjusted the straps of the bag on his shoulders. He stared into the night, up at the sky at the two moons above.
Midnight. Near enough anyway.
He needed to get some sleep and to do that he needed a safe place to rest for a few hours. He tried to figure out where he was, tried to remember what the area looked like during the day and tried to recall if there was anywhere near by where he could take shelter.
The trees were thinning; the mountains and caves were behind him. He couldn't remember anywhere on this side of the river but the other side was unexplored territory.
And it would take him further away from the Stargate, further away from his only hope of getting home.
The footsteps were getting louder, closer, and he could hear the metallic rustle of armour. He stared at the river, judging its strength. Judging his own ability to wade through it without being swept away. It wasn't too strong yet but from the sounds of it, it got much stronger later on.
He crossed the river and climbed up the bank on the other side, pulling himself up with his hands when his foot slipped momentarily.
He heard a shout from behind him and swore under his breath, pushing himself up and ignoring the iciness of his river-soaked clothes.
A staff weapon was activated. He dove to the side to miss the first blast and picked himself up as the other Jaffa were alerted to his position by the first.
Another blast was successfully avoided and he dove into the trees as a third was fired in his direction.
He ground his teeth against the exclamation of pain that rose in his throat when the third shot skimmed his shoulder, burning through the material of his jacket and t-shirt, singeing the skin beneath.
The smell of scorched flesh had never been appealing and was even less so as his sensitised nostrils inhaled.
Jack swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat, glanced over his shoulder to check the wound briefly before pushing himself forward, running blindly over the unknown terrain, praying he found somewhere safe to take shelter.
He had to keep going, he had to stay alive.
He had to keep Jacob safe and find a way back to Earth.
She slept in.
Sam Carter never slept in but she had. Again. Third time in a row.
If that wasn't a sign something was wrong, Sam didn't know what was. No one called her on it, though. She crawled out of bed and checked her messages on Jack's answering machine, finding one from General Hammond. Teal'c and Daniel were away with SG-5, he said. She could take a few days or return to work in her lab. It was up to her.
She assumed that he'd decided she was taking a few days when she hadn't arrived at the SGC at 0800 hours that morning.
Shrugging her shoulders to loosen the tense muscles there, Sam turned on her heel and headed back for the bedroom, slipping beneath the sheets and scooting over to the centre of the bed. She tried closing her eyes but it was still far too light in the room, the mid-morning sun beaming through the gap in the curtains, so she pulled the covers over her head with a noise that was part groan, part grumble and curled up in the foetal position.
Minutes passed, then hours.
She wasn't tired enough to fall asleep but couldn't work up the energy to move.
Her throat was dry and the thought of getting a nice cooling, soothing glass of water was tempting but not tempting enough.
Not enough to get her out of bed.
Her bladder ached and insisted she move to empty it but she didn't. She just curled up even more, forcing the thought out of her mind. When it got too much, too insistent, she pushed herself out of bed, grumbling all the while, padded across the room to the en suite bathroom and made short work of the necessary tasks.
She returned to the bed as soon as she was finished, closing her eyes tightly as she buried herself underneath the sheets.
Her limbs felt heavy, too heavy to lift. Her head ached, a dull ache that spread from temple to temple and ran down her neck and spine.
She just couldn't be bothered.
She couldn't work up the strength to move, the energy to care.
The will to anything but lie there and metaphorically lick her wounds.
Of course her wounds weren't those that were physically visible, and they weren't wounds that time would help heal.
Time was something she wasn't sure she had.
At three o'clock the telephone on the bedside table rang. Her face scrunched up in concentration as she untangled herself from the sheets and tried to decipher what the annoying sound was.
She glared at the offending object for several seconds, wondering why it wouldn't stop making the noise - it had her attention, what else did it want?
Then the intellectual side of her brain kicked in and she remembered she had to answer it first.
"'Lo?" The word was a grunt; one she wasn't sure the person on the other end could understand as for a moment the only response she got was silence. She cleared her throat and tried again, shaking herself mentally. "Hello?"
There. That was better. A full word at least, two syllables and everything.
"Sam?" The voice on the other end was instantly familiar though it did take her a minute or two to place it. The concern in it, however, was something she heard immediately. "Are you okay?"
"Cassandra," she murmured into the phone, pushing herself up and waiting for the flare of pleasure that usually came when she heard the teenager's voice. She was still waiting ten minutes later when the conversation ended. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, snowed under with homework but I guess that's normal, right?" The teenager sounded much too old, much too complacent but Sam couldn't find it in her to worry. "I got a message from Daniel saying they were going away for a few days and I wondered if you'd like to come and visit me? I'd come and visit you but they get a bit snippy if you take too much time off in your first year."
Sam closed her eyes and fell back against the pillows, recognising the phone call for what it was - a pity call, one made out of obligation more than concern. "I'm okay, Cassandra. You don't need to worry about me."
Cassandra Fraiser snorted derisively down the phone. "You're not okay, Sam, stop saying you are."
"Then what do you want me to say? That I'm contemplating throwing myself off the top of a high building?" The sharp demand escaped before Sam could swallow it back. Her eyes opened in alarm and she bit down on her lip and with the hand that wasn't holding the phone to her ear clutched the corner of the bed. She felt the beginnings of a heat wave wash through her but did her best to push it away.
It wasn't possible; she was supposed to be cured.
"I didn't mean it like that, I just meant you can't keep pretending nothing's happened. Deal with it." Cassandra spoke with the air someone who knew. Someone who'd suffered a loss, survived, and had fooled herself into thinking she could cope. "When my mom died.."
Sam tuned out the rest of the conversation, focusing on keeping her breathing nice and deep and steady.
She knew Cassandra had lost her mother, knew all too well the pain and the grief and the devastation the teenager had felt - and lived through.
She'd felt it, too.
And she knew Cassandra felt it now for Jack but it wasn't the same. It could never be the same. She'd lost her father, a parent, a feeling Cassandra could relate to but how could the teenager ever even try to understand the agony of losing someone else so intricately involved in her life.
"I'm going to have to go, Cassie, there's someone on the other line." The lie came to her easily and she cut through the pre-prepared speech the teenager was in the process of delivering. "I'll call you later, okay? Then we can talk more about it."
"Oh." Cassandra sounded suitably put out but Sam ignored it, just as she ignored the small flicker of guilt she felt at interrupting her and ending the conversation prematurely. "Right. Well, call me later. I'll be in till seven. Seven my time, not your time."
"Right. I'll call you then." Sam started moving the phone away from her ear. "Bye, Cass."
She pressed the button disconnecting the call before Cassandra could say anything else. Then she stared at the phone in her hand - stared *at* her hand - and threw the phone as hard as she could against the far wall.
The receiver shattered on impact, showering the wood panels of the floor with little pieces of plastic and rubber.
Sam didn't notice. She was too busy staring at her hand to care. Seeing something that wasn't there in reality but was all too real in her mind.
Her nails were longer than they should've been. A little more pointed, too. The sheet she was clutching with her other hand ripped and Sam held her hands in front of her, staring at them in disbelief.
A lot sharper.
A lot less human.
It wasn't supposed to be possible. That was all she could think. She was supposed to be cured, supposed to be as human as she could be.
She was supposed to be cured.
The oddly familiar feelings rose within her, the hunger and the urgency and the anger.
She fell back against the bed and fought it, repressed it even as it ran through her veins and demanded to be given free reign.
It was her imagination; it had to be. Her mind was playing tricks on her because it couldn't cope with know they were dead.
With knowing they were coming back.
Her heart twisted painfully in her chest and Sam cried out with it, tears she wasn't aware of escaping from her eyes and streaming down her cheeks, running over her lips and trickling over her chin and down her neck.
They really were gone.
They really were dead.
She curled up on her side and sobbed, her body shaking with the force of the shudders that ran through her.
They weren't coming back and there was no way she could keep denying it.
They were dead.
There were animals here. Animals the size of big dogs.
Very big dogs.
Jack had spotted some tracks belonging to those animals but he hadn't had time to investigate them further or to give them so much as a cursory glance as he rushed passed them, conscious of the Jaffa on his heels.
At least he was successfully keeping them away from Jacob, that was the only good thing he could think of as he scurried through the undergrowth, swearing under his breath when his feet got tangled in mangled tree roots or thorny branches snagged and tore at the thin material of his clothes.
He was, however, very mindful of the new footprints, wary of the creatures that had created them - and with good reason.
His adrenaline failed him and he was eventually forced to find somewhere to rest or run the risk of making a mistake that he knew would more than likely be fatal. Luck seemed to be on his side and he found a gap between two overgrown bushes and a path that looked well worn. He fell onto all fours and crawled in between the bushes, gritting his teeth against the thorns that brushed his cheeks and arms and tore at the fragile skin.
The den had obviously been used recently but Jack didn't care; it was empty, it was concealed, it was safe. He looked around thoroughly, sniffed the air and found no trace of evidence that whatever had originally made it was anywhere near by. So he lay down in the centre of the den and closed his eyes, letting his heartbeat slow and his breathing deepen.
He was safe; there was no need for concern.
Until morning, anyway.
Until he woke up and knew before even opening his eyes that he wasn't alone.
The smell hit him first, thick and musky. Then the sound of soft snorting followed by a warning snarl.
Jack opened his eyes and found himself face to face with a wolf-like creature with flashing green eyes. The animal bared its teeth at him and snorted and it was all Jack could do not to react to the cloud of stale breath expelled into his face.
The animal took a step forward, a low growl echoing in its throat.
General Hammond sent someone to get me when I didn't return his message this morning. Doctor Brightman came with two SF's; I don't know who they were. I only knew they were coming for me; I heard them even before they broke into the house. And I knew she was with them before I even saw her because I could smell her perfume before she started up the stairs.
She came into out room and looked at me.
I looked back.
She opened her mouth and spoke to me. She asked if I was okay but I didn't answer. Couldn't answer. Then she spoke more slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. I wanted to snap at her that I could hear perfectly well but I couldn't.
I couldn't say or do anything then and I can't now. That's why I'm here, why they're keeping me here. They don't know what's wrong with me yet but I'm pretty sure they'll figure it out eventually.
Whether or not it'll be too late I don't know.
It feels strange, kind of like I've been infected with something else - or like the virus I already have has mutated into something new.
My senses are still heightened, I can still hear and smell and see perfectly. I just can't speak or move on my own. I can't work up the energy or the strength to care about doing anything like that.
It's like being in a waking dream, or how I imagine being in a waking dream would be. I'm fully aware of everything that's going on around me but I'm too tired to participate. I'm not interested in being anything more than a spectator because it would be too hard to do.
So I watch them, listen to them. They bring me food and although it smells nice and I'm sure it would taste just as good but I'm not hungry. Even the thought of my favourite ice cream, of steak and French fries and diet coke at O'Malleys does nothing for me.
My body is a prison, a locked cage. I have no way of working free though I wish I could.
To break free I would need a key. I'd need something - someone - to help get me out of here.
But no one can.
The human half of his brain wanted to back away, to show the creature he was no threat. The animal part of his brain, the part that had more control due to his using it more and more, decided to stand its ground and claim the den as his own.
A growl was the response of his opponent and Jack was helpless to stop an answering snarl from escaping his lips, baring his teeth to the creature standing over him. The animal sniffed the air and stared unblinkingly at him though there was confusion in its eyes now. Confusion Jack was used to seeing in the eyes and dogs of cats back on Earth.
He'd mentioned it to Sam once and although she'd claimed not to have had experience of it herself, she theorised that it was because of the virus, because of the changes. She'd said maybe they had a different scent to normal humans, one that only other animals with increased senses of smell could detect. Maybe they got confused when they smelt animal and human - and only saw human.
He took advantage of the creature's hesitation and in one, swift movement, he grabbed the knife from its sheath and pushed himself up and off the ground, the momentum carrying him over to his opponent. He drew his arm back and lunged the hand with the knife in it at the animal just as it realised what was going to happen.
The creature whined, once, as the knife was pulled out of hind leg. It snorted and stared at him, then let its head drop. It turned and ran out of the clearing, limping on its injured leg.
Jack only relaxed when he couldn't hear its uneven footsteps anymore.
He wondered about getting up and leaving the den but the part of his brain that had insisted on holding his ground also insisted on staying and getting more sleep.
It was his territory now, after all. His right.
He let his eyes close and made himself as small as possible, for warmth more than anything else. And this time when he slept he let himself dream.
Dream of a future he wasn't sure he could have.
Doctor Brightman's cheeks were flushed when she arrived in the private room Sam had been moved to. General Hammond was already there with Daniel and Teal'c, the three men taking it in turns to talk to the almost comatose woman staring blankly up at them.
"General, I'm sorry I'm late," she apologised breathlessly. "I just got some test results back from the lab and wanted to run them again to make sure they were right."
"Tests involving Colonel Carter?" General Hammond asked with a raised eyebrow. "It's not the virus, is it? It hasn't come back?"
"No, Sir, it's nothing like that." Doctor Brightman glanced down at her patient. In any other circumstances, she would have ushered the three men out of the room and break the news to the blond woman alone. But the circumstances they were in didn't give her that opportunity. "Colonel Carter is pregnant, Sir. I estimate between twelve and fourteen weeks but I won't know for sure without more tests."
Daniel took in the news silently, a blink the only sign he'd heard her at all. He glanced over at Teal'c and saw grief flash momentarily in his friend's eyes. "Sam?" Seeing no one else move forward, Daniel stepped towards the bed, a weak smile on his face. "Did you hear that? You're pregnant.
She didn't respond. Didn't even blink.
Daniel sighed and took a step back. He shrugged helplessly at General Hammond and Doctor Brightman. "I don't think she can hear us. I don't think she's here at all."
"Then in spirit she is with O'Neill and her father." Teal'c's expression barely managed to mask his own pain at the thought. "We must depart and ask Anoc for his advice," he added in a slightly stronger voice, a determined edge to it. "He will know of a way to bring Colonel Carter back to us."
"We could trade for the information," Daniel agreed slowly, answering before Doctor Brightman could say there was no point and General Hammond could turn them down. "We could give him the cure. The permanent cure. Warn him that it doesn't get rid of everything but does ease the negative effects of the virus. He might be willing to help us out."
"He was not unhelpful when we last met," Teal'c added.
Doctor Brightman snorted. "He didn't exactly give you a fair warning, did he? He could have mentioned that General O'Neill would try infecting someone else or that he'd turn into that. that thing. Speaking of which, we have no way of knowing if this child will be normal. It might be best if."
A low growl from behind her stopped her in her tracks. The four of them turned to face the bed once again and saw Sam staring up at them, her eyes no longer blank but alive.
Gleaming inhumanely but alive.
She sat up in bed, a hand falling to rest protectively on her abdomen as she glared at them. "My child will be fine," she spoke sharply. Warningly. "And I will not let you anywhere near it."
Doctor Brightman nodded, the smile on her face evidently forced. "I didn't mean that we should do anything to harm it, Colonel. Just monitor the situation carefully."
"We could go and ask Anoc if he knows what we can expect," Daniel pointed out helpfully, giving Sam a small smile to show her he was on her side and pleased to have her back - even if he was a little scared by the look in her eyes. "Maybe we can talk to some of the woman in his tribe, find out if their pregnancies are normal or if we need to prepare anything in particular."
Sam acknowledged his words with a nod but didn't say anything. She lay back down on the bed, two sides waging an internal war inside her head. She heard their voices get quieter as they left her alone, heard General Hammond grant permission for Teal'c, Daniel and SG-13 to go back to Anoc's home world. She heard Doctor Brightman request two armed SF's be stationed outside her room - just in case - and bristled when permission was granted.
She wasn't dangerous. She wasn't a creature to be feared, not again. She was as human as she was ever going to get. A grieving daughter, a mourning widow.
A soon to be mother determined to protect her young.
I'm pregnant, Jack.
We're having a baby, just like you wanted. A child of our own to raise and love and teach and protect.
But you're not here.
You're supposed to be here.
Doctor Brightman told me two hours ago and I think it's only just starting to sink in.
I'm starting to worry, starting to have doubts. Starting to over think it just like you knew I would and promised to reassure me everything will be okay.
I'm having a baby, Jack, and I'm terrified.
Not of actually having it. Not of the labour or the months leading up to it but of the months after. Of the possible ways our child might be different because of the way we are, of the ways it could be in danger and of the people I might need to protect it from.
How can I do that without you?
How can I be a good mother without you here to guide and help and support me through it?
I've never done this before. I've never been responsible for a child that belongs to me, never had to take care of one for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. I've always been able to give them back, always been able to return my nephew and niece to my brother or Cassandra to Janet when she was younger.
Who do I turn to with our child?
You. But you're not here.
Daniel and Teal'c will help, I know that, but what experience do they have? Daniel has no experience with children and Teal'c admits he missed most of Rya'c's childhood but even if they did know, even though they're eager to help, is it really fair to let them? They have lives of their own. Daniel is seeing more and more of Sarah and Teal'c's relationship with Ishta grows more intense, more serious with every visit they have.
Cassandra would be willing to help out, will no doubt offer to baby-sit just as you said she would but she's not here all of the time, she's busy with college and, let's face it, she's still a child herself. A teenager trying to find her place, trying to make her own way in the world.
She doesn't need me messing that up for her. Doesn't need to feel burdened or in anyway obligated to be a part of the baby's life.
I miss you, Jack. There's a hole in my chest where my heart used to be, a gaping hole that healed a little when Doctor Brightman said those magic words but it's still there.
It's still going to be hard without you, probably just as much now as before but at least I have a reason to keep going.
A reason to *try* and keep going.
As long as I'm carrying your child I can convince myself that a part of you is still alive. Part of you is still with me.
Anoc agreed to meet with them; curious about the cure they claimed to have. He listened to their explanations of the cure's limits, listened to their request for information.
"We will deal with you," he responded at the end of a long-winded speech by Daniel. "I will give you the information you need and you will give us your medicine and then you will leave." Anoc left no room for arguments, no space for further discussion. "I am sorry for the loss of your leader, and for the loss of his mate. When two are joined in this way, when they choose to belong to each other as your friends have done, they will rarely survive without the other. The woman may fight her despair for the sake of her child but it will not be enough to anchor her to this world if her mate no longer exists within it."
"When we were here last you said the female who attacked O'Neill was searching for a replacement for her mate." Teal'c met Anoc's gaze with a determined stare. "She survived the loss of her original mate, did she not?"
"Balita had not chosen her original mate. He chose her and it was not a match she ever truly accepted. When he died she did not grieve. She moved on immediately and sought another mate to take his place." Anoc's expression was grim. "She did not succeed and died in the days after your departure. We cannot exist without a mate and even the strongest of us cannot survive the loss of one we have given ourselves to wholly. We are incomplete alone and your cure cannot alter that for us or for your friend."
"What if we find her another match?" Daniel jumped into the conversation with bright, curious eyes. Desperation showed in his face; he didn't want to lose another friend. He wasn't ready for their number to decrease get again. "If she accepts another mate in Jack's place, will she survive? Will the baby survive?"
Anoc gave the question some thought, taking a long pause before he opened his mouth to once again dash the hopes of the travellers. "I see no reason why the child will not survive if your friend does. However I have my doubts that you will succeed in convincing her to take a mate."
"But it's not impossible," Daniel murmured, latching on to the tiny glimmer of hope with both hands.
Teal'c and Daniel handed over the medicine and gave short instructions on how Anoc should inoculate his people before quickly taking their leave and heading back through the Stargate to Earth.
Anoc watched them leave holding the container they'd given him in both hands. He had told them all he could, helped them all he could and he knew it wouldn't be enough.
After taking a few days to rest and hide, he managed to double back on himself without being spotted by the Jaffa in pursuit. He avoided them by sticking to the trees and bushes and undergrowth, thinking more like an animal than a human being.
He still hunted, stalking his prey while at the same time conscious that he himself was being stalked.
He ate his share over the small fires he allowed himself - always upwind from his pursuers - and often cooked more than he would eat, storing some for later if he didn't get the chance to light a fire and he was also starting a small collection to leave for Jacob when he made his way back to the cave.
He was relieved and more than slightly satisfied to find no fresh footprints on the ground on the side of the river the caves were on. It meant the Jaffa hadn't found Jacob, that they were letting him lead them around in circles instead of searching for any companions he might have had.
Jack stuck to the edges of the river as much as possible, knowing it was the best way to avoid leaving footprints for them to find and follow. He was only forced up to the trees once and even then it was - thankfully - a false alarm. When the river slowed and shrank into a steam, he walked almost entirely up the middle, keeping his eyes set on his surroundings, his eyes primed to pick up any noises that didn't belong there.
"Jacob?" He called out the older man's name as he stood in the mouth of the cave, having crept up the side of the hill as slightly as he could.
A muffled sound was his answer and Jack took a few tentative steps into the cave, careful not to make too much noise. Noise in caves echoed and sounded two or three times louder than it originally was. He moved further into the caver, quickening his pace when he saw Jacob slumped in the same place as he'd been when Jack had left.
"Jacob?" He crouched down beside the frail-looking Tok'ra and hesitantly reached out to check for a pulse.
"Sam." Jacob jerked awake, blinking, his eyes clouded by fever. "Jack."
"Hi." Jack forced a small smile, doing his best to keep the concern he felt from showing on his face. "I brought you some food," he said a whisper, reaching into his pack to take out the food he'd cooked and stored with the purpose of leaving it with Jacob. "It's already cooked so you don't need to worry about lighting a fire."
Jacob took the food he was offered and unwrapped the first piece, staring at it ravenously for several seconds before biting a big chunk out of it and swallowing it almost without chewing. He took another bite as soon as the first was gone and spoke around the mouthful he was chewing. "Water."
Obediently, Jack took the flask of water he'd collected from the steam and gave it to Jacob. As the older man drank greedily, he looked around the cave for the second flask he'd left behind for Jacob when he'd first left. He found it a few feet away, empty, and quickly put it back in his pack.
He would fill it later, he decided. And he'd stay with Jacob for as long as he could, leaving only to get more water and food unless he heard the Jaffa coming. Unless he sensed he was putting Jacob in danger and needed to create a diversion.
For the first time in days, he sat back against the cave walls and let himself relax. His eyes slid shut as his sense of hearing stayed on full alert, listening to the sounds of the man across from him eating.
Listening for the sound of approaching danger.
Their news was met with various degrees of doubt and scepticism. Doctor Brightman didn't believe it was a viable option - she was convinced Sam was getting stronger, recovering from her grief because she knew about the baby. General Hammond was sceptical for another reason - he didn't believe it was possible for them to convince Sam to choose someone and he wasn't entirely sure it was necessary.
Daniel and Teal'c discussed it amongst themselves and decided that Sam should at least be given the choice. They both felt awkward at the thought of offering themselves as a replacement but neither would back out. They were determined to be there for her in whatever way she needed them to be but even so, her reaction took them both by surprise.
At first she laughed, the first laugh they'd heard from her in a while but one that wasn't up to her usual standard. Then they convinced her they weren't joking, that they were serious - and that they were worried she would give up if she'd didn't have someone to share her life with.
Sam scoffed at their suggestion, thanked them for their concern but turned the both down flat. She didn't want anyone else to raise Jack's child. She didn't want anyone else to try and take his place because she knew they couldn't.
No one could.
It was only when they mentioned that her refusal might not only cost her her own life but possibly the life of her child, too, that she stopped laughing at them.
Jack's child. Their child.
She took them seriously then. Sat in silence with her hand resting on her stomach as she considered their proposition.
Maybe she did need a mate, a life partner. She did feel as though she needed someone else to live with, someone to help provide and protect and care for her offspring.
But that was just instinct - animal instinct. Not the thoughts of the independent confident woman she knew she was.
She didn't need anyone. Anyone other than Jack and even then she could live without him. The thought sliced through her but she pushed the pain aside, focusing on being Colonel Sam Carter rather than a grieving wife and daughter.
She would be strong; she would survive. She would live for the sake of her child.
"Thanks, guys, but I'll be fine." She gave them a small smile. "If things start to change, I'll reconsider but right now I'm perfectly fine on my own. I'm okay with the thought of raising my child alone. I might need some help from you guys now and again but I don't need either of you to try and take Jack's place. You can't. No one can."
Daniel and Teal'c said nothing to try and change her mind, both relieved at the display of confidence but both worried it wouldn't last.
She still had a long way to go. Six or slightly less months until her baby arrived and at least eighteen years after that while she brought her child up alone.
Two weeks later, Sam's condition wasn't as good and Daniel, Teal'c, General Hammond and Doctor Brightman weren't as confident that she would be able to keep fighting her body's instinct to curl up and give into the eternal hibernation that became a stronger temptation with every passing day. She'd moved out of the infirmary the week before but within days had been readmitted to her private room when she was found asleep in her quarters at midday on the second day of her release having been that way ever since escaping the watchful eye of the infirmary staff.
The four concerned individuals were discussing her condition when the klaxons blared and the lights went off. General Hammond, Teal'c and Daniel moved down into the control room while Doctor Brightman remained in the briefing room, watching the Stargate from the window above.
"Receiving a text message, Sir." Sergeant Harriman announced several seconds after Hammond had joined him by the dialling computer. "It's from the Tok'ra, Sir. There's a Stargate address and a warning."
"A warning?" Hammond looked down at the screen.
"They say the planet doesn't have a DHD," Harriman continued reading as the message slowly came through.
Daniel frowned and leaned over Harriman's shoulder to read the writing scrolling on the screen. "Why are they sending us a gate address if we can't go through?"
"The message is from a Tok'ra within Baal's ranks," Harriman mused, his eyes fixed to the bottom of the screen. He blinked, thinking for a moment that he'd misread the words. The Stargate shut down but no one in the control room noticed. "He claims General O'Neill and Jacob Carter are being hunted by Baal on this planet He's pretty sure they're still alive but doesn't know for how long they'll stay that way. Baal is sending more Jaffa to widen the search in the next few days."
"Then we need to act fast." General Hammond frowned, considering the risks, deeming them worthwhile when he realised there was probably only a handful of staff at the SGC who wouldn't be willing to go after O'Neill and Jacob. "Sergeant, contact Siler and get him to prepare a naquada generator. Teal'c, Daniel, get suited up. I'll get SG-13, SG-2 and SG-4 ready to join you in half an hour."
"As you wish, General Hammond."
The three men moved to follow their orders and General Hammond moved to pick up the phone. He had no doubts that he was doing the right thing but he knew he had to at least inform the President and Joint Chiefs of what he planned to do.
He doubted they'd argue, not when he told them this was their only chance to save four lives.
He could hear footsteps but not the clink of metal he knew accompanied the Jaffa. He wondered if it could be a super solider and let his eyes close in a silent prayer just in case it was. He didn't think he'd stand a chance against a super soldier, even with all of his increased senses and enhanced abilities.
He crouched down in the dirt, staying as still as a deer caught in headlights. As still as a rabbit who'd heard the telltale crunch of grass as a predator moved closer. He listened intently, wondering why the footsteps were familiar.
Wondering if his time was up.
A voice caught on the breeze and travelled towards him. He strained to hear it, to catch more of the conversation.
He was sure he recognised that voice.
It was so familiar but he couldn't place it. Couldn't link it to a name or a face until.
He straightened, slowly stepping out of his hiding place and into their path. He caught sight of the surprise on their faces but didn't know if it was caused by how he looked or his sudden appearance from seemingly nowhere.
"O'Neill." Teal'c was the first to recover from his shock, moving forward to clap Jack on the back companionably. "It is good to see you well, my friend."
"Likewise, Teal'c." Jack grinned, relief radiating from every pour of his being. "It's good to be seen again." His gaze wandered past his two friends to the other soldiers, his face clouding over. "Where's Carter? She's not with you?"
Daniel and Teal'c exchanged a look he didn't miss but couldn't interpret. "Sam's still at the SGC, Jack. She's not been doing so well recently."
"Colonel Carter is mourning your death, O'Neill, and the death of her father. She will be most pleased to see you."
"I'll be pleased to see her, too." Jack nodded; accepting the answer although he knew there was more to it than that. "Jacob's this way. He's not doing so good either, could use one of those healing devices right about now."
The group continued moving with Jack on leading the way, asking questions about Sam that were answered by avoidance and questions on how he'd survived and an explanation of how they'd found him.
It was only after they had Jacob and were on their way back to the Stargate that Teal'c and Daniel lingered behind with Jack and told him all about Sam's reaction to his disappearance and gave him a limited rundown of the events that had occurred in his absence. They almost made it back to the gate without revealing Sam's secret but Jack stopped, sensing there was something else and refused to move until they told him.
"Colonel Carter is with child, O'Neill," Teal'c eventually gave in.
"Yeah, Jack. Congratulations." A sheepish grin arranged Daniel's features, easing the lines that had appeared over the course of the weeks before.
Stunned silence was followed by a whoop that echoed for miles, a sound that alerted the Jaffa to their whereabouts but it didn't matter. It was too late.
Jack was on his way home at last.
He checked Jacob was going to be okay, made small talk with General Hammond and dropped off the amber stone at the lab leaving orders for the scientists to see if they could find out why it was so important. When all of that was done, he made his way to Sam's room, brushing off Doctor Brightman's concern that he needed to be checked over first.
He stopped in the doorway when he saw her curled up on her side facing away from him.
According to Doctor Brightman, she slept most of the time now.
He took quiet steps forward until he was in line with her bed. Reached out and touched her cheek, watching with a small, fond smile as she stirred at the light touch.
Gaining confidence from her response, Jack eased himself up on the bed beside her, gently wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her near.
She muttered incoherently but soon relaxed against him, sensing it was okay.
Sensing he was back.
"Go back to sleep, Sam," he murmured into her ear, the hand that had come to rest over hers on her stomach tracing soothing circles on the back of her hand. "I'll be here when you wake up."