Story Notes: RELATIONSHIPS Part Two: Decisions

Spoilers: Between Two Fires,
Divide & Conquer
It's Good to Be King

Relevant Reading: A Matter of Survival
Relationships, Part I: The Host

Season: Eight

Archive: SJD-yes,,,, Carter Oneill Obsession

Author's Note: This is an alternate story line to the episodes and a sequel to "Relationships I: The Host", which is a sequel to "A Matter of Survival". Look for "Relationships, Part III: Friends and Allies", for the conclusion to the trilogy.

Chapter One

"Unscheduled off world activation!" Walter announced over the speakers.

Jack entered the control room and stood behind the Gate Technician. Sam came in a few moments later. "Who is it?" she asked.

"We don't know yet." Jack was patiently waiting for a response. Sam stood next to him and looked at the computer screen expectantly.

"It is an expired G.D.O., Sir. I'm looking for the identification now." Walter clicked a few keys and looked up at Jack. "It's the Tollan, Sir!"

Jack and Sam looked at each other in astonishment. "What?" Sam managed to say.

"I thought the Tollan were wiped out, kaput." Jack did not know why, or where the feeling came from, but he did not like what he heard. He should have felt encouraged if not relieved that old allies considered lost seemed to be alive.

"We have to send the M.A.L.P. and investigate, Sir." Sam was just as anxious, but for completely different reasons. Could Narim be alive?

"Right." Jack sounded anything but enthusiastic. However, they all knew Sam was right.

Less than thirty minutes later, the M.A.L.P. entered the event horizon and Sam, unconsciously, held her breath looking at the screen back at Stargate Command. An eternity seemed to pass before they finally heard the Gate Technician announce, "The M.A.L.P. has reached its destination."

"Are we receiving telemetry yet?" Sam asked anxiously, and Jack gave her an annoyed look.

"Give the poor machine some time, will you?"

"Sorry, Sir," Sam replied absentmindedly, her eyes still glued to the screen. Suddenly there, smack in the middle, she could see a bedraggled but familiar figure. Narim stood hunched, apparently injured and exhausted, in front of the M.A.L.P. "Narim!" Samantha still could not believe her eyes.

Jack did not hesitate to take over. "Narim, is that you?" he asked calmly, as if he had seen the Tollan the day before.

"It is I, Colonel O'Neill. Is that Samantha's voice I heard?" Narim was breathless and in obvious pain.

Sam gave Jack a slight shove out of the way and said, "It's me, Narim. Are you injured?" Her concern was palpable.

"I am afraid I am, Samantha. I was hoping you could render me some assistance. I…" then Narim grasped his side in pain and fell to his knees. "Please! Help me!" He begged as he fell on the ground, face forward.

"We are on our way, Narim! Hold on!" Sam started to run out of the room when she heard Jack.

"Carter!" Sam stopped dead on her tracks, realizing the breach of protocol, but looked at Jack with desperation in her eyes.

"Just be careful" Jack relented. He turned back to the screen with suspicious eyes, still feeling a knot in his stomach. The last time they had received an expired G.D.O. signal, things had not ended well.

Shortly after, Teal'c was the first one to emerge from the event horizon in the remote planet. He automatically scanned the area for hidden threats and stood aside as Sam and Daniel joined him. They both ran to the inert form of Narim, laying very still in front of the steps to the stargate. Teal'c kept a vigilant eye.

"Narim!" Sam called, turning him over with Daniel's help. "Can you hear me?" Narim was unconscious, not responding. Sam took his pulse. "His pulse is weak. He needs medical attention right away. Teal'c, dial us home, quickly!"

Teal'c did as ordered, contacting Jack via the M.A.L.P. as soon as a wormhole was established. "O'Neill, we are returning with the injured Tollan. There appear to be no threats in the vicinity."

"Alright, come back home, people. A medical team is waiting at the gate." Jack's voice sounded thick with resignation.

Daniel quickly unfolded the litter and Teal'c helped him lay Narim's body on it. Sam looked around a last time and then followed the three men through the gate wondering, "What is Jack's problem?"

Chapter Two

Narim was still unconscious in the hospital bed at Stargate Command. "We pumped some blood into him, his breathing is deep and regular, and his pulse is strong," the doctor on duty reported. "He had some internal bleeding, a couple of broken ribs, a concussion and a few other bruises in different parts of his body," the doctor added. "It will be a couple of days before he is able to move around, but he will be able to talk when he awakens." Sam stood next to Narim's bed, Jack slightly behind her.

"We still don't know what happened to him, but just seeing him here feels like a miracle, doesn't it?" Although Sam was talking to Jack, her eyes did not leave Narim's face.

"A miracle, yes." Jack rolled his eyes behind Samantha. "Well, when he wakes up we will get some answers."

Sam nodded, looked at the doctor, and asked "Could you please let us know the instant he awakens? We will be staying here tonight."

"Yes, Colonel." The doctor moved to the patient to check some vitals and make some notes. Sam then turned and left, followed by Jack.

Down the hallway, Jack could not help himself, "Does it not strike you as strange that we are the people he suddenly contacts, when it is obvious he and other Tollan survived the Goa'uld attack, and they never bothered to let us know?"

"Aren't you assuming a lot right now? We don't know anything about what happened. He could be the only survivor for all we know!" Sam responded, sounding defensive.

"If he had been the only survivor, Samantha," he said patiently and mocking the way Narim called the Colonel, "then I would have definitely expected him to come running to your… our door much sooner than this."

Sam looked at him with a puzzled look on her face, looked away, then at him again with an incredulous smile. "Are you jealous?" she asked softly.

"Excuse me?" Jack responded indignantly.

"Never mind! Sorry, Sir. Good night!" She could not believe what had come out of her mouth. Sam started to walk faster, hoping to leave him behind and reach her bed before the conversation could proceed.

Jack had other ideas. He grabbed her arm, turning her around, and said, choosing his words very carefully, "I may be a little bothered by your obvious concern for Narim. Especially when you do not seem to be bothered in the least by his sudden return from the dead. Don't you think he should have let us know that he had survived? And, why call us now? If keeping their survival a secret from us was important, then why contact us for help? Why not the Nox?"

"I'd rather not draw any conclusions and give our friend a chance to give us the answers we need, when he is able. That's all," Sam responded stiffly. "If you don't mind, Sir, I am tired and would like to get some sleep." She left him standing in the corridor, his stomach churning.

Chapter Three

Narim was sitting up in bed when Sam entered sickbay the next morning. He smiled when he saw her, his delight plain to see. Sam approached his bed and took his extended hand, holding it with both of hers. She smiled back, "I see you are doing better."

"Your medical team is doing a first rate job, Samantha. They have been just wonderful," he said, smiling at a blushing nurse currently making some notes next to his bed. Samantha chuckled knowingly, then she said, "We were hoping you would be well enough to answer some questions."

"Of course! You are probably wondering where I came from and why I am still alive," Narim remarked amusedly.

"Well, General O'Neill is not too happy about you having kept us in the dark about your survival. He has a suspicious nature, as you well know. I don't think he will be very pleasant to be around until you satisfy his curiosity." Sam was a little bothered herself, but trying not to show it.

"Please tell your… General is it?" Sam nodded. "Tell your General that I will try to answer all his questions. What happened to General Hammond? He is well, I hope," Narim asked with concern.

"General Hammond is very well, thank you," Jack said as he entered sickbay. "He has been promoted and is overseeing all matters related to the stargate from our Headquarters in our capital city." He approached the bed and pulled a chair. "A lot of things have changed since we saw you last. Carter, for one, is now Lt. Colonel."

Narim looked at her with a smile and said, "Congratulations." Then he again looked at Jack. "Let me, first of all, thank you for your assistance, General O'Neill. I would probably be laying dead in that desolate planet if you had not come to my aid," he said, bowing his head to Jack gratefully.

"Oh, I imagine you would have called the Nox or some other ally if we had failed to assist you," Jack said, flashing Sam a look.

"It was impossible for me to contact the Nox, General O'Neill. They buried their stargate long ago, and I had no access to the communication device we depend on to be able to signal them. And as far as other allies go, we have none other than the Tau'ri reachable through a stargate."

Sam flashed Jack a "told you so" look and turned back to Narim. "What happened to the device?" asked Sam.

"It was lost with my ship when I crashed on the planet."

"But you happened to have an old G.D.O. with you," remarked Jack suspiciously.

"I always keep the G.D.O. in my pack, for sentimental reasons I must admit." He looked at Sam and took her hand again. "Maybe I should start from the beginning," he said, looking at both of them in turn.

"Yes, I think you should," said Jack, getting comfortable in the chair and pulling one up for Sam to sit on, far away from the bed.

Two hours later, Jack was sitting at the head of the briefing table, leaning towards Sam. "Can you believe these people? After all we did for them, they just decide that they would be better off without us?"

"That is not exactly what Narim said, Sir," Sam answered, looking at Jack, then at Teal'c and Daniel sitting across from her. "He said that the surviving governmental body took a long time deciding how to proceed regarding contacts with allies. Other priorities, such as the survival of the few thousand Tollan that were able to escape the attack, took precedence."

"How many years does it take to make a decision like that?" Jack asked, obviously not convinced by the argument.

"They had to gather up fleeing ships, defend themselves from those Goa'uld ships that found them, and finally find a planet where they could take refuge. They are still looking for survivors," she countered, looking at Jack. "That is what Narim was doing when he was attacked by the alkesh that stranded him in the planet where we found him. He is the Rescue and Recovery Team Leader for Tollana III, the name of the new home world, which is actually a moon," Sam concluded, now looking at the other two men. She continued, "Consider what it takes to organize thousands of people in order to form a productive community! Food, drinkable water, dwellings, medical services, educational entities for the young, and other countless items I can't even think of right now, are more important than interplanetary politics," Sam rubbed her eyes, a little out of breath. She sighed and addressed Jack, "Why are you so suspicious? These are our former allies and friends! I, for one, am very glad that they survived!"

"Of course you are!" When Sam glared at him, Jack continued, "We are too! It's just that something in Narim's story just doesn't fit, although I'm not sure what it is yet."

"I must admit that I am also kind of peeved by their lack of communication all these years, Sam. As many priorities as you may be able to think of, you'd think letting their allies know they are alive would have been a pretty simple one to address," Daniel said, looking at Sam apologetically. "I mean, all it takes is for them to access one of the many known stargates in their area and give us a call," Daniel said, looking at Teal'c to see what he would say.

"I must agree with O'Neill and Dr. Jackson. I find it very disturbing to learn of their survival now, after years of the attack, and in such an unusual manner," he concluded, looking at Sam.

Sam stood up impatiently. "He was injured! If he had not called us, he would have died!" She was almost shouting.

"Sit down, Carter. We are just playing devil's advocate here, as we always do. You know we have to look at all the angles," Jack said calmly, waiting for her to take her seat again.

She sighed, dropped her head, and sat down again. "I'm sorry, I guess I've just been thrown off balance by his sudden reappearance. When someone you care about is presumed dead and then, out of the blue, shows up at your doorstep, how are you supposed to react?" She sounded upset. "I am trying to justify their actions because, to tell you the truth, I am angry and hurt that we were kept ignorant of their whereabouts for this long. Just as you are."

"Their whereabouts, or his whereabouts?" Jack retorted, then cleared his throat, immediately sorry.

Daniel stared at Jack in surprise, while Teal'c looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Sam asked angrily.

"Guys, I think we should just wait and see. I'm sure we'll have time to get more answers while Narim is here with us." Daniel's placating tone caught both Jack's and Sam's attention. They suddenly realized what their exchange sounded like. The both reacted immediately by sitting up straighter and covering their expressions with a mask of professionalism.

"Yes, I think you are right, Daniel," Jack agreed. Then looking at Sam, who was staring at her clasped hands, he added "We will be getting more answers before he returns home."

Chapter Four

Sam went home late that Friday night. Narim was doing better and better every day. He was already walking around and able to eat his meals with Sam in the mess hall. He kept remarking on how good the food was, and Sam kept reminding him how bad it was for him. Cafeteria food wasn't the healthiest, and he especially liked french fries.

She had just finished having a late dinner with him, if a basket of french fries and a bowl of blue Jell-O could be called dinner, when she said good night. As usual, Narim kissed her cheek. This time, however, he also gave her a warm hug and said, "I can't wait for your return."

Sam drove home while trying to sort out her feelings. She still liked Narim very much, and she did enjoy his displays of affection. She was extremely glad that he was alive. She was still a little upset that this fact had been kept from them, although she really did not blame Narim for that. The Tollan government was responsible for that decision, and Narim was good at following orders, most of the time.

What really confused Sam were Jack's reactions. On one hand, she had to admit she was glad to notice what were obvious signs of jealousy from Jack's part. This had never happened before. On the other hand, she was sorry that their relationship had changed enough to cause tension in a situation where there would have been none before.

She also had to admit that their relationship had become less professional since she had almost died in Ba'al's mothership. How could you kiss someone like that and then pretend that it never happened? She was also distressed to realize that, since then, her feelings for Pete were not the same. Her feelings for Jack, however, were sometimes overwhelming.

Sam knew she loved Pete. How could she not? He was so sweet and gentle, and so understanding of the demands of her career. She knew that, if she wanted to have any kind of personal life at all, Pete was probably the answer. However, she could not help but feel that she wanted more. Jack's face kept flashing through her mind every time she thought about it.

Sam was having serious doubts about her decision to marry Pete. Especially after waking up from one of her dreams, where she and Jack had been together in a most unprofessional way. She woke up those mornings looking forward to seeing Jack, even if it was to argue with him, which she had done a lot of lately.

She remembered the recent occasions when, suddenly turning to Jack, or watching him through the reflection on the glass, she had caught a look from him that had left her heart beating faster. It had been damn difficult sometimes to concentrate on work, especially when he appeared in her lab unexpectedly, with some lame excuse for having to see her.

She was still debating with her conflicting emotions when she opened her front door and found her dining room lights on, the smell of food permeating the house. "You are finally home!" said a smiling Pete, coming out of her room. He did not waste any time. He embraced her and started kissing her with great enthusiasm.

Sam was surprised by his sudden visit and guilty about her recent thoughts, and did not respond as warmly as Pete expected. "What's wrong? Aren't you happy to seem me?" He was frowning, but still held her in his arms.

"Of course I am!" she said smiling, "I just did not expect to see you until next weekend and you threw me off balance, that's all. I didn't even notice your car!" She gave his lips a peck.

"I parked down the road; I wanted to surprise you. We got an unexpected break on the case I was working on and we were able to wrap it up earlier this morning. I wanted to see you, so I told my boss I'd take the rest of the day off and drove up here." He started kissing her again, all over her face. "I've missed you like crazy, Sam. It has been more than three weeks." He pushed her softly against the wall, feeling her body with his hands.

"I know, I've missed you too, but…" she lightly pushed him away, "I'm very, very tired, Pete. Could we just eat and go to sleep? I promise I'll make it up to you tomorrow." She smiled at him, but disengaged herself from his arms and walked into the kitchen. Pete had bought Chinese food and had set the table, the dishes warming in the oven. He had even bought a bottle of wine and there was a red rose in a vase, in the middle of the table.

"Well, I see you have gone to some trouble. Let's eat, you must be hungry!" she said, turning around. But Pete was not falling for it. He was very serious, staring at her as if she was a different person.

"What is going on, Sam? We have not seen each other in three weeks. We have barely kept in touch over the phone on the account of you being so busy, which never stopped you before. And now you don't feel like making love to me?" He was upset, Sam could tell. But she felt so emotionally confused that she did not want to discuss the matter at that moment.

"I've had a really tough week, Pete. I'm sorry. Just give me until tomorrow, OK?" she pleaded.

"No. We have to talk now, Sam. I know things have not been the same since you returned from that awful mission, when you almost died. You have been cold and distant since then. I could tell even when we talked on the phone. I thought you would get over whatever trauma you went through in time, but I just see things getting worse. Please talk to me!" His eyes would not let her go. She had to be straight with him. It was the least he deserved.

"Pete…" Sam was not sure how to start. "Pete, I love you, I know I do." She looked at the floor, as if trying to find the right words written on the carpet. "I just don't know if I love you enough to marry you. I don't think that would be fair to you." She hesitated, then seemed to make up her mind, and started to take off her engagement ring. "I think it would be better if I gave this back to you until I can be sure," she said, handing over the ring.

"What?" He came closer, ignoring the ring, disbelief on his face. "We only became engaged a few months ago. Now you tell me you don't love me enough? You thought about your answer long enough. You told me you had things to work out, and I believed you had. When you said yes, I thought you were sure."

"I was!" Sam exclaimed, terribly uncomfortable, "I thought I was, Pete. But now, I don't know. I have conflicting feelings and I don't think I should marry anyone until I am sure of what I really want!" Tears of regret had come to her eyes. She looked at him and saw pain and confusion, then anger and frustration. She took his hand and placed the ring on his palm, closing his fingers around it. Hurting him was breaking her heart. "Please, Pete. Just keep it for me for a while."

"Great! That is just… great!" he shouted, now pacing the floor, the ring in a tight grip.

"Pete, I'm sorry. Let's just talk about this tomorrow," Sam begged, touching his shoulder. She just wanted the whole uncomfortable scene to end.

"Tomorrow I won't be here, Sam," he said angrily. He then turned, and walked into her room. He came out seconds later carrying his bag and jacket, headed for the front door.

"Pete, please don't go!" Sam begged again, following him with tears on her cheeks. "I can't stand to see you hurt like this. I never meant to…" but Pete did not let her finish. He grabbed her arms and slammed her against the corridor wall, his fingers hurting her, his eyes full of pain.

"I loved you, waited for you, and cherished you. But I am not enough for you. I can see that. I can also see that matters won't change, because you love someone else. You have all along. I knew it in my gut but I refused to admit it. I'll be damned if I marry a woman that feels she is settling, by marrying me!" He let go of her, walked out through the door and never looked back. Sam could not tell, but tears were running down Pete's face when he reached his car.

As Jack was getting out of his own car across the street, he saw Pete stalk out of Sam's house, leaving the front door open. He was obviously in a rage, and Jack became alarmed. Could Sam be hurt?

He had come to see her to clear the air. It was only 9:00 pm and he did not feel things could wait until Monday, so tonight was as good as any other time. He was feeling guilty and ashamed by his behavior during the previous week. He had taken some cheap shots at her, and he had to admit it was because he had been jealous of Narim. The fact that his feelings may be clouding his judgment in dealing with the Tollan did not sit well with him.

Jack had to talk to Sam and level with her. He knew she would understand and help him stay on the right path when making decisions related to their allies. But now, he just wanted to be sure that she was all right. Things were not well between her and Pete; that was easy to see.

He walked up to the front door and looked inside, listening. He could hear her sobbing softly, and again became alarmed. Sam crying? And it was not just a few sniffles. He could hear her crying her heart out. He closed the door and locked it.

"Carter?" He walked into the house. At his call, the sobbing halted. He heard her blow her nose and, a few moments later, saw her approach him from her bedroom.

She stopped midway in the corridor, staring at him in surprise. "Sir?" she sniffed and wiped her eyes with a tissue, "What are you doing here?"

"Are you hurt?" He stood there, not daring to approach her yet.

"Hurt? Physically? No!" She was obviously very uncomfortable and trying to stop her overflowing tears. "But I did hurt Pete horribly… I… didn't mean to, but… Oh, my God!" she could not continue. She dissolved in tears again and ran back into her bedroom, seeking refuge from her embarrassment.

Jack was not sure what his next move should be. He knew this was a matter between Pete and Sam, a matter he was hardly qualified, or willing, to address. The "Pete" subject had been pretty much an untouchable one between them. When she had agreed to marry the cop, it had ripped Jack inside. But he wanted Sam to be happy, and he thought she had a chance at that with Pete. He had met the man in a couple of occasions, and he thought he was a good guy. Not good enough for Sam, he thought, but then no one was. At least he could tell that Pete adored her, and that had to be enough for him.

Heck! He could not just walk out and leave her like this. He walked into her bedroom and stood close to the doorway, his hands inside his pockets. She was sitting on her bed, her back to the door, crying into her hands, her shoulders shaking. "I'm sorry!" she cried, blowing her nose again, "I've just made a mess of things, I know."

"What are you talking about?" Jack asked softly, "What things?"

"My relationship with Pete, you and me. And now Narim has complicated things even further." At the mention of the Tollan's name, Jack became annoyed again, but caught himself. He had to be here for her, and thinking about Narim was not going to make it easy.

Jack approached the bed and sat next to Sam, his hands clasped between his legs, as if forbidding them from touching her. He looked at her. She was drowning in misery, and he had to hold back an impulse to pull her into his arms. "You have not made a mess, as far as I know, with anything related to you and me. Care to elaborate?"

She waited for a few moments, trying to collect her thoughts. Then explained carefully, "I have been unsure about my feelings for Pete since you and I… you know."

Jack felt guilt come back fully charged at him. "Ah!" he responded, not willing to say more.

"Sir, I know I have not been treating you with the respect I owe you. I can't help but see you differently now. You do know how I feel about you, don't you?" she looked at him with red, teary eyes, and held his gaze.

"I'm afraid I have never really been sure about how you feel about me. I know you care about me. I know I can count on your loyalty. I know that you liked… kissing me…" he cleared his throat at this, "just as I liked kissing you. But I have never heard you say how you really feel about me."

He was looking at her trembling hands now. He reached over and took the one not holding the tissue, squeezed her fingers and looked at her. "But that does not need to be clarified, ever. You and I know that our military careers depend on us keeping those feelings to ourselves. Neither of us has ever been willing to jeopardize what's at stake, and that is the way it should be."

Sam had stopped sobbing, but tears still ran down her cheeks. She wiped them again with the tissue and said, "I know." She looked away and continued, "I don't think Pete is coming back. I gave him back the ring, and I told him I was not sure about my feelings, and he just fell apart. He said he always knew I loved someone else; that he would never marry a woman that felt she was settling for him." She looked at Jack at this. "He is right, of course!"

"I'm sorry, Sam," he said, feeling like a hypocrite. He had to admit to himself that hearing the engagement was over had felt like good news. "I do want you to be happy, no matter what." He took her hand between both of his and looked at her sincerely, "You know you can count on me always, right?"

"Yes," she responded in a little voice, another tear falling. He could not help himself. "Come here," he said, as he pulled her over and laid her head on his shoulder. She continued to cry, and he closed his eyes, filling his nostrils with her scent.

Chapter Five

Morning came and Jack awoke startled. Something was different. Then he remembered where he was. He looked around quickly, immediately alert, and sat up on the couch in Sam's living room.

He had fallen asleep last night, keeping watch. For what, he was not sure. He thought maybe Pete would come back. He thought maybe she would still need a shoulder to cry on. Whatever the reason, he had been unable to leave her after she had fallen asleep on his shoulder last night. She had spent all her tears and finally had drifted off in exhaustion. He had carefully laid her on her bed, taken off her shoes, and covered her with a blanket.

There were no sounds coming from her bedroom. It was still very early. He walked to her bedroom door and saw her mop of blond hair, peeking out from under the blanket. She was still asleep.

Jack went back to the kitchen and started to make coffee, trying to be quiet. Either he was not as quiet as he intended, or the smell of coffee awoke Samantha. She walked noiselessly into the kitchen, wrapped in the blanket. There was a chill in the air, the heater not having kicked up yet for the day.

"Can I have some?" she asked with a sleepy smile. She did not seem surprised to see him still in her home.

Jack handed her a mug with steaming liquid inside. She took it gratefully and smelled the concoction deeply. "What I love most about coffee is the smell in the morning." She proceeded to add some sugar and creamer and walked into the living room. She sat on the couch and sipped her coffee, careful not to burn her tongue.

Jack just watched her without saying a word. He thought she looked just as fetching with her hair a mess, swollen eyed from tears and sleep, as she did when she was made up. She was still wearing the black top and blue jeans she was wearing the night before. He leaned on the counter top, holding his mug, and said, "I came here last night for a couple of reasons, which we never did talk about."

"I was wondering what you were doing here late on a Friday night. Didn't you get together with your poker buddies this week?" she asked, still sipping her coffee.

"Not this week. Everybody was busy with something or other." He came to the couch and sat next to her, careful to keep a good distance between bodies.

"Ah!" Sam said. "What are the reasons that brought you to my door?"

"Well, one was an apology. I mean… I felt I needed to apologize to you for my behavior. I did not make things easy for you this past week with the whole Narim coming-back-from-the-dead thing." He looked at her and said, "I really am sorry for being such an ass."

She smiled at him, "You were kind of annoying this past week. But I also thought you were kind of adorable."

"Adorable?" Jack said, making a face. "Now, there's a word I had never heard applied to Jack O'Neill!"

Sam chuckled and looked into her mug. "I accept your apology and there is no need to talk further about it."

"Thanks." He really did not want to dig into why she had found him adorable. "The other reason was to let you know that I talked to General Hammond regarding the Tollan situation. He recommended that we embark on a mission to Tollana III as soon as Narim is able to travel. He wants us to try to reestablish diplomatic relations with his people, as well as offer any assistance they may need."

"Wow! That's quite a mission. I assume we'll be using Prometheus," she said, putting her mug on the coffee table.

"You assume right."

Chapter Six

Narim was impressed by The Prometheus. Not that he found it particularly advanced, but it was certainly a major accomplishment by the earthlings. His friends had obviously made a lot of progress since he had seen them last. Their level of sophistication in matters of interstellar travel had surpassed any of his expectations.

The crew was now all on board. There were supplies destined for the aid of his people already in the cargo holds, and final preparations were being made for launch. Samantha was giving him a quick tour of the ship, clearly proud of it. He was enjoying her enthusiastic descriptions of the ship's capabilities. If she had known that he was hardly listening, and was focusing instead on her face, her movements, and her voice, she would not have been so relaxed.

Being with Sam again had brought new meaning into Narim's life. For so long, life has seemed like nothing but an endless struggle. Narim had fully expected never to see her again. His government had been strict about their isolationist policies since the Goa'uld attack. The few thousand Tollan people who had survived the attack had voted against reestablishing relationships with former allies. The majority of his people felt that their survival depended on secrecy.

Most of their technical supplies and efforts had gone into the construction of a camouflage shield. The shield would make Tollana III unappealing to any living form that could see it from afar. Anyone observing the tiny moon orbiting the gas giant would see a barren, lifeless piece of rock.

The truth was that the new Tollana home world was a fertile moon with a temperate climate, ideal for life. Plant life was abundant and animal life fascinating. Tollan scientists were in their element, making the most out of the moon's resources for their people.

The shield had one draw back. If anyone succeeded at scanning the moon, the results would be unequivocal. They would indicate that the rock was rich in carbon-based life. Their disguise was not perfect, but they felt it would be enough. Except for Tollana III, the rest of the solar system was without life. Therefore, they felt confident that the tiny moon would attract no attention.

Sam was walking ahead, explaining where the main crew areas were, and greeting old acquaintances as they made their way down the corridors. They finally stopped in front of a door and Sam opened it, entering. "This is your cabin, Narim. It is tiny, but we thought you'd appreciate the privacy. The rest of the sleeping quarters are shared. Only officers have private cabins."

"That is most thoughtful, Samantha. I am grateful." He followed her in and dropped the bag of clothes his friends had supplied for him.

"Well, you are technically the Tollan Ambassador, so we have to give you a little respect." She said with a smile, raising her eyebrows.

"This will do quite nicely, thank you again," repeated Narim, smiling back at Samantha.

"We should be launching in a few minutes. Would you like to watch from the bridge?" she asked, feeling a little nervous at the intimate surroundings.

"I'd be delighted, as long as you are there," he said, approaching her and bringing her hand to his lips. "I don't think I have accurately expressed how much your company has meant to me during my ordeal, Samantha. I don't know what I would have done without you." He kissed her fingers, at the same time trying to pull her closer.

Sam felt her heart jump, affected by his nearness. She was startled when the sound of someone clearing his throat came from the semi-opened door. When she turned, she wanted to be a few levels down, through the floor. Jack was standing there, looking nonchalant.

"Are you kids ready for launch? I thought you were going to watch from the bridge," he inquired like any other charming host.

"Yes! We are headed that way. Thank you, Sir!" Sam recovered her hand from Narim's and headed out of the cabin, while the two men glanced at each other, a polite mask on their faces.

Later, at the bridge, Colonel Ronson, Prometheus' Commander, and Major Gant, its pilot, were sitting at the controls. Sam recognized the other crewmen manning the consoles and said hello with a smile.

"Command, Prometheus is ready for launch," Colonel Ronson reported. "Commence countdown."

Soon they were in open space, Earth becoming a small dot behind them, the sub-light engines humming.

"Coordinates are set and Prometheus is ready for hyper-launch, Sir," Major Gant reported.

"On my mark… launch!" The colonel responded, and the ship jumped into hyper-space effortlessly.

"Impressive!" stated Narim with a smile.

"I'm glad you approve!" Jack smiled back. Only Sam could tell he was being a little sarcastic. She gave him a stern look and he looked back at her innocently.

Chapter Seven

Early in the morning of the second day, in the mess hall, Jack kept asking for more details about Narim's encounter with the alkesh.

"My ship was very small compared to the alkesh. Once they spotted me, it was impossible to shake them. My co-pilot, I'm afraid, died when the console he was manning exploded. The other two crewmen died in the crash. I saw gliders searching the crash site, after I was able to make it out of the wreckage and into the woods. They eventually gave up and left." Narim seemed far away, retelling the story. "I guess I was lucky, after all. I knew the planet had a stargate, and I had been able to pinpoint its location right before the crash. It took me days to reach it, but I was able to make it. The rest, you already know," he finished, sipping his lemonade.

"This is a most refreshing drink!" he said, smiling at the glass in his hand. "We have a fruit in Tollana that has a similar taste. It is one of my favorite things." He had become serious, as if suddenly remembering something.

"What is it, Narim?" Sam asked, concerned by the change.

"What? Nothing, just thinking that it will be good to see my people again and let them know that I'm alive. Thanks to the assistance of our friends. They will reconsider their decision to remain hidden from our allies. Especially after receiving the cargo we are now transporting." Narim was actually worrying about the reaction of the Curia when he showed up with the Tau'ri. They had been very clear about the mandate.

"Let's hope that's the case. A united front against the Goa'uld can only be good for everyone involved," Jack remarked, lifting his glass of lemonade for a toast. "To a continued alliance!" Sam lifted her glass and sipped her drink, her eyes narrowing at Jack above the rim. He was really being an ass, but she found it kind of funny.

At the same time that Narim telling his Tau'ri friends how he had come to contact them, high up in the mountains of Tollana III, in a deep cave, High Chancellor Travell looked at the people around her gravelly. "It is a matter of survival. We must contact the Tau'ri!" The formerly elegant, impeccably dressed leader of the Tollan people now wore a simple gray tunic tied around her waist. She wore no make up or adornment of any kind, and her long, gray hair was braided down her back in a simple manner.

The other people in the cave looked no better. Everyone showed the scars of a long, difficult battle for survival. Their shield had failed. The Goa'uld had found them. They could not be sure, but they thought the enemy must have found out their location through the interrogation of captured Tollan rescue personnel. The last two rescue ships had never reported back, and they considered those people lost.

Travell saddened at the thought of Narim. He was one of those people. There had been a time when she did not like or respect the man. She had considered him soft and unreliable. However, he had had many supporters in the government, and had always had important administrative positions. Travell and others had been furious at him for his aid of the Tau'ri, and at what they considered the betrayal of his people.

Not everyone agreed that Narim had committed crimes against his world. There were many that agreed that Narim had acted morally. A triad had absolved him in the end; they needed him badly. But he had been disgraced in any case. He had been assigned the most dangerous position of leadership, the rescue of stranded Tollan survivors.

He had done his job well, unshakeable in his resolve to find every last stranded ship. His self-sacrifice was without limit, and he had proven to be invaluable. Her respect for him had flourished. Travell and the rest of the Curia had learned to appreciate his wisdom, and he was sorely missed.

Years ago, when the Goa'uld attack materialized, they had immediately implemented a previously arranged escape plan. Many ships had left within a matter of minutes after the bombardment commenced. Some had never made it out of the Tollan atmosphere. Narim had been in one of the last ships to leave the besieged planet, along with Travell.

Each ship had been given a temporary destination. They flew out of Tollana II in many different directions, in order to confuse their attackers. They had agreed that they would try to gather the survivors later in the new, previously designated, home world, after the Goa'uld had tired of searching for them.

It had taken time, but slowly, under Narim's leadership, they had gathered their people on the tiny moon, far from Goa'uld space. Then they had started to rebuild. The shield had been their main priority, besides the basics. Next, they had started to build the new city, after finding the perfect location and securing mining sites for materials.

The rescue operations had been halted, after many months passed without further results. Everyone was needed to contribute for the reconstruction of the Tollan civilization. Women had been encouraged to breed, the government hoping to increase their numbers. Construction and agriculture had been the top priorities, or they would have frozen during the winters or starved to death.

Everyone was surprised when they received a dim communication signal from one of the ships they had never been able to find. Important people had escaped in that ship, and Narim's services were secured for their rescue. Two ships were launched, of the few that remained after their parts had been cannibalized for other purposes. But they never came back, and the signal was never heard again.

Weeks after, the first Goa'uld ship had been spotted approaching the moon. Thousands had died during the first attack, completely taken by surprise. Less than three thousand now remained, hiding in mountain caves. They were starving, ailing, without hope. Travell had quickly realized that their only hope for survival was to contact their allies for assistance.

The Nox could not be contacted. All the communication devices had been destroyed or left behind when they fled from the surprise attack. The other allies were not reachable via stargates, and were just too far away to be reached by ship within enough time. They had to reach the closest planet with a stargate and send a message to the Tau'ri. She knew they would do what they could to help them. Maybe they could contact and ask the Asgard for assistance. But the Tollan ships were now controlled by the Goa'uld ground troops, beyond their reach. The jaffas were combing the moon, trying to find the survivors.

Travell had proposed a daring mission in order to gain access to one of the Tollan ships. A few brave souls would infiltrate the jaffas and would try to commandeer it out of the moon. They would attempt to reach the closest planet with a stargate. They had to be rescued before they were completely annihilated.

Not many thought it could be accomplished. They had always depended on their superior technology for their defense. They were not warriors, some argued. It was suicide.

"It is suicide to remain hidden until they find us! You know they will, eventually. This is our only hope!" She was adamant, and her influence over the rest of her colleagues was still great. They eventually agreed, and a small group of strong men and women volunteered for the mission.

It was their last attempt at resistance. And it failed miserably.

Chapter Eight

The Prometheus was close to the coordinates Narim had provided, and everything seemed to go according to plan. No Goa'uld ships had been spotted, which was not unexpected. They were not in Goa'uld space. They would reach Tollana III within a couple of hours on sub-light speed.

Narim was almost giddy with anticipation, standing with Sam and Jack on his left in the bridge. The view screen provided a beautiful view of the rings of one of the solar system's gas giants.

The Tollan felt in his gut that his decision to contact the Tau'ri had been the correct one. It was the only option he had had in order to save his own life. But, more importantly, he had never agreed with the decision to keep their allies in the dark. He had jumped at the opportunity of an excuse. Seeing Samantha again had been an incentive as well, he had to admit.

He would probably face some trouble for disobeying orders, but he was certain he would eventually be forgiven, and that his friends would prove to be invaluable in the future.

"Two ships on intercept course!" announced Major Gant.

"Can you determine if they are Goa'uld, Major?" asked her commander calmly.

"They are, sir! Two alkesh. They are closing on our position. Four minutes out," the woman responded.

"Sound general quarters! Shields and weapons, Major!" Colonel Ronson exchanged knowing looks with Jack and Sam. Narim could not believe they were not more unnerved. He had not expected to encounter alkesh this close to his home world.

Teal'c and Daniel, engaged in a chess game, heard the alarm and, in their haste, knocked the game over. They ran toward the bridge, two levels up, while the rest of the crew took emergency positions.

At the same time, Narim shouted, "We have to get out of here! They must not suspect we are close to Tollana. We have to divert their attention elsewhere!" He was downright scared. He felt the decision he was so sure about only moments before may end up dooming his world.

"Don't worry, Narim. We were prepared for this," responded Jack.

At that moment, the two alkesh became visible on the screen, and Narim's face went slack, staring blankly. Sam looked at him in concern and started toward him as Colonel Ronson gave Major Gant an order, "Execute Maneuver Alpha, Major."

The colonel had not finished giving the order when Narim suddenly turned on Sam, the one closest to him, punching her brutally across the face as she approached. Sam flew against the wall, knocked unconscious. He then turned to try to stop Major Gant. "No!"

"Heeey!" Jack screamed, throwing himself at Narim. Narim stepped away to avoid him and was able to grab Major Gant's left arm. She had hesitated momentarily, startled by Narim's attack on Sam, but was in the process of punching commands in her computer. Jack had not missed him completely, and brought Narim down by the sleeve, allowing the woman to complete the commands. Prometheus jumped into hyper-space in a fraction of a second, and the enemy ships were left far behind.

Before Jack could recover his balance to try to subdue Narim, the Tollan reached and grabbed a steel water container that had fallen to the floor during the struggle and clobbered the general with it. Jack laid there, motionless, an ugly wound bleeding on his temple. Narim now turned to face Colonel Ronson, who had come out of his seat.

"Return!" he ordered the colonel, clearly not himself. He was like a robot. Major Gant, sitting right behind him, reached for a zat gun hidden under her seat. The other crewmen were standing behind their colonel, ready to assist.

"Why do you want to return?" the colonel asked, approaching Narim. The Tollan suddenly felt the zat'n'ktel's electric shock hit him from behind, but it failed to take him out. He turned abruptly, knocking Major Gant's hand away and grabbing the zat gun at the same time. Before the men could get close enough, he turned and fired at them. Colonel Ronson was shot almost point blank. The man fell backwards on the floor with a groan and stopped moving. The other men got shot in rapid succession.

Major Gant jumped Narim from behind, trying to reach the weapon. Narim easily flipped her and pointed the gun at her. She slowly stood, trembling, knowing he could shoot her at any moment.

"Return!" Narim ordered.

"No!" She shouted, at which Narim responded, "Return or die."

Major Gant closed her eyes and responded again, "No." Narim shot her. He heard running footsteps approaching and he quickly pressed the controls next to the bridge door, closing it and sealing them inside the bridge, just as Teal'c and Daniel were reaching for it. He shot the controls point blank, shorting them out.

Narim looked around him, a vacant look in his eyes, and proceeded to pile up his unconscious victims against one wall, except for Jack and Sam. He could hear the crew on the other side of the door. He then started to tie everyone up with his or her shoelaces, except for Sam. He figured she'd be the first one to awaken. Narim then stood over Jack, and waited for Sam to regain her senses.

In the meantime, Daniel and Teal'c were trying to figure out how to break into the bridge. "We won't be able to get through. Can we cut the door?" Daniel asked one of the crewmen. The young man nodded and turned to place a call through the intercom system, requesting a torch.

Another man, Engineer Johnston, made a suggestion,. "We don't have to. There is an access point through the ventilation system. It would be quicker if we could enter that way, but it may be difficult with a crazy guy holding a zat gun." He had arrived in time to hear the flare of the zat gun and the short circuit at the other side of the door.

Teal'c turned to the engineer and ordered him, "Show me where."

Daniel told the other crewmen, "The rest of you try to cut through and make as much noise as possible." They nodded as a third one arrived with the torch. Teal'c and Daniel followed Engineer Johnston.

Minutes later, Sam slowly felt herself come out of a deep, black place. Her left cheek was very sore, and she could taste blood in her mouth. The inside of her cheek had been cut against her teeth. The right side of her head hurt, and she felt a bump there. She could not believe her eyes when she opened them.

Narim was standing close by with Jack laying at his feet, the general's hands tied behind his back. He was still unconscious, and the front of his shirt was stained with blood, which she assumed came from the still bleeding wound on his temple.

"You can pilot this ship. Return to the previous coordinates, or I will kill him." He was aiming the zat gun at Jack's body.

"Narim, what are you doing?" Sam still could not believe her eyes. He had a blank look on his face. He was not Narim, not the Narim she knew. "What is going on?"

"If you do not turn this ship around, I will kill him. Then I will continue to kill your crew members one by one until you do so." Not even his voice sounded the same.

Sam painfully came to her feet. She noticed the others were also tied up, and still unconscious. She slowly walked to Major Gant's station, without taking her eyes off Narim. She started to press buttons and look busy, trying to buy some time, not really doing anything but reroute systems. "Narim, if we go back, the Goa'uld ships may destroy us and you will never see your people again."

"People?" Narim looked like he had never head of people before. Sam looked at him in consternation, wondering what could have happened to cause this.

She could hear the loud sound of the torch working on the door from the other side. The crewmen were also shouting regularly. "They are trying to cut through the door," she thought. She had intimate knowledge of the ship, and knew there was an access point to the bridge through the ventilation system, above Narim's head. She did not dare to look that way, but hoped someone had thought of it.

"Narim, please reconsider. You are not well and don't know what you are doing. Please let us help you. Let me help you. You know I care about you." She had paused and was looking back at him.

"Return." He had a one-track mind. She thought he sounded brainwashed.

She stood slowly, trying to reach him, "Narim, please just give me the weapon."

In response, Narim shot Jack. "Nooo!" Sam screamed, believing this was Jack's second shot.

At that moment, Narim heard something above his head and turned. Teal'c shot Narim from above as the Tollan was turning and missed his target, the man's right shoulder. Instead, he saw Narim grab his head as he fell.

Sam looked up and saw Teal'c leaning out of the ventilation shaft, with a pistol in his hand, his arm extended. Before her brain fully registered that Narim was no longer a threat, she ran to Jack's body.

"Jack!" Sam cried, kneeling by the still form of the general. "Oh, my God, Jack!" She automatically felt for a pulse and was surprised, but immensely relieved, to find one. "Oh, Thank God!" She sighed and let her forehead fall on Jack's chest.

"Colonel Carter, are you able to make the door mechanism work so that we can obtain medical assistance?" Teal'c had lowered himself to the floor from the shaft, and was checking the fried mechanism.

"I don't think so, but let me see." Sam got up and started to do what she did best. Solve problems.

Chapter Nine

Narim opened his eyes to find himself in sickbay, in restrains. Sam, with an ugly bruise on her left cheek, was standing next to his bed. Daniel, Jack and Teal'c were also in the room, sitting in chairs behind her, discussing the recent events.

"He's awake," Sam turned to let them know.

"Sam, what happened? Why am I restrained?" Narim was honestly baffled. "What happened to you? Why are you hurt? And you?" He now looked at Jack, who had approached the bed behind Sam. He wore a large bandage over his left eyebrow.

"Your handiwork, Mr. Ambassador," Jack replied. "Are you telling us you don't remember?"

"No!" Narim tried to lift his head and realized it felt like it weighed 100 pounds. "Ah! My head…" he grimaced in pain. He then realized his head was bandaged.

Sam looked at the others in confusion. "Try not to move your head. You were wounded. What do you mean you don't remember, Narim? You almost killed General O'Neill. You punched me out. You disabled the whole bridge crew and demanded that we return to face the alkesh we ran from."

"What?" Narim asked incredulously. "This must be a mistake. I do not remember doing such a thing."

"No mistake. You almost killed me," pointing at his bandage, "you punched her out," pointing at Sam's face, "and you are in big trouble," he concluded, pointing at Narim.

Narim just laid there, wondering if they were pulling a prank on him. But wait, he did remember something. Flashes of memory started to pop into his mind. Sam flying against a wall, Jack's bloody shirt, the crew piled up against the wall, unconscious. "Oh, no! No. Why would I do that? Why? And why can't I remember clearly?" He suddenly grimaced in pain and gasped. Before their eyes, he started to convulse.

"Doctor!" Sam yelled, and the medical team surrounded the convulsing man, pushing the four of them out of the way. They just stared in consternation as the doctors tried to help Narim.

Later, while having lunch in the mess hall with Teal'c, Sam and Daniel, Jack threw up his hands in frustration. "What is going on with that man?" Narim was still passed out in sickbay, and they were not any closer to having answers.

They had stayed clear of Tollana III, still hiding from the Goa'uld. They had implemented a previously set plan they had agreed to in case of trouble. They had jumped to pre-determined coordinates inside a nebula and they were still there, waiting for answers and trying to figure out what to do next.

"God, do I miss Janet right now! She would at least have a theory. These doctors have no clue," Sam said, her head in her hands. She had not been able to eat a bite.

"It was pretty obvious that he had no idea what we were talking about. I think he honestly does not remember. What could cause that?" Daniel was thinking out loud, not expecting an answer.

"I believe Dr. Jackson is correct. Narim did not remember, and when he started to, he convulsed. I have never seen anything like it," Teal'c contributed.

"Colonel Ronson said that he was acting like a machine. He kept saying we had to return. I must admit he didn't sound like himself at all. I know the real Narim would have never hit me," Sam stated, touching her injured cheek.

At this point, a crewman approached them. "Dr. Sykes is asking that you come to sickbay, Sir. The patient is awake."

The four of them jumped up at the same time and almost ran to sickbay, where Narim was now sitting up in bed, still in restrains.

"I remember!" he told them as they entered. He started to speak, and everything began to make sense.

Chapter Ten

Narim began his narrative in a soft but clear voice. "I never crashed in the planet. I remember clearly now. I was dumped near the stargate by jaffas. My injuries were not from the crash, but from a beating I got while being held prisoner."

"What? When were you a prisoner? Who was the Goa'uld holding you?" asked Jack impatiently.

"Of that I am not sure. I only know they referred to her as their queen. I never saw her. But I remember the interrogator, a First Prime called Amyl." He looked at them expectantly to see if they recognized the name.

His audience just looked at each other. The name was not familiar.

"Whose First Prime?" asked Daniel, "Could you tell?"

"I'm afraid not, but starting from the beginning… Two Tollan ships were sent out to try to find a missing transport ship. We had given it up for lost long ago, but we received its signal a few weeks ago. I was in command of one of the rescue ships and of the entire operation. When we approached the coordinates of the incoming signal, we were surprised by four alkesh. It was over very quickly. The other Tollan ship was destroyed immediately. The four of us in my ship were taken prisoners." Narim paused and asked for a sip of water. Sam obliged.

He then continued, "We were taken, one by one, for interrogation. I was last. By the time they got to me, they knew of my relationship with you, the Tau'ri. I refused to say anything, either to confirm or deny it, and they beat me," he paused, thinking.

"And?" Jack prompted.

"I remember them taking me to a room with a strange machine. They wrapped something around my forehead. It hurt, that is all I know. After that, I can remember nothing clearly. It gets very confusing, because I have memories of the crash, which now I know did not really happen. I clearly remember them dumping me on the ground, in view of the stargate. And I still don't remember anything I did on the bridge," Narim finished, a confused look on his face.

"A zatarc," Teal'c announced. "His account is consistent with what we know of the programming some of the SGC personnel suffered at the hands of the Goa'uld," he concluded with his hands clasped behind him, sounding very sure.

"Yes! It makes sense!" Sam agreed. "Narim behaved just like Lt. Astor and Martouf did at Stargate Command. They just went nuts when a situation triggered their programming."

"Oh, wait! How convenient! How come his head didn't explode or something? All the other zatarcs killed themselves when they could not complete their missions. Narim is very much alive," Jack argued, not convinced.

"Narim was in the process of completing his mission when Teal'c shot him," Daniel commented slowly, obviously thinking of possible explanations. "It is possible that the head wound helped him get rid of the effects of the programming. Good thing Teal'c didn't have a zat gun handy. Zatting Martouf didn't work, as I remember," he said looking at Sam uncomfortably, but continued, "Teal'c would have had to kill Narim, in order to stop him." He looked at Jack shrugging his shoulders. "It's just a theory, of course."

"Narim lost it when he saw the two alkesh in the view screen. That's when I first noticed something was wrong." Samantha was now smiling. She was glad that they had figured this out.

"So you think Narim was planted to lure us into a trap?" Jack asked, still not convinced.

"What else?" Daniel responded. "The Goa'uld had him long enough to come up with a plan and tamper with his mind. Otherwise, why would they just let him go with access to a stargate?"

Narim had been listening to their exchange in confusion. He finally asked, "A zatarc? Could you, please, help me understand what you are talking about?"

Sam sat next to his bed and explained.

An hour later, in the main conference room aboard The Prometheus, which still floated inside the nebula, Sam asked, "So what now? We can't stay here indefinitely. If information of Narim's relationship to us was tortured out of his people, the Goa'uld also probably know where Tollana III is. No wonder there were alkesh waiting for us in the vicinity!"

"We need to help the Tollan. It has been weeks since Narim and his people were captured," Daniel said. "If they haven't been attacked already, they will be soon."

"Oh, I think we can safely assume that they have already been attacked, Daniel. Those alkesh were not just sitting there waiting for us. They have probably been busy with the Tollan," Jack said gloomily.

"There may be no one left in Tollana," Teal'c agreed. "The camouflage shield would have been of no use to them if the Goa'uld already knew their location. And Narim himself told us that they had not built cannons because they were now ineffective against Goa'uld shields."

"But we can't just leave without knowing whether there are survivors or not! We have to go to Tollana!" Daniel was adamant.

"I agree, Sir. I would not want to be the one to tell Narim that we are turning back, abandoning any hope of helping his people," Sam said softly.

"I know, I know. We'll come up with something, as usual. My orders are to render assistance, and that's what we'll do," Jack answered, already starting to think of a plan. Sam smiled, and remembered why she felt the way she did about him.

Chapter Eleven

They had been floating for two days inside the nebula. Everyone was impatient to do something, but they were still waiting for the Tok'Ra. When they finally arrived in Ba'al's former mothership, commanded by Selmac, everyone was relieved.

"Hi, Sammy. It's so good to see you!" Jacob said when he boarded The Prometheus, hugging his daughter with a smile.

"Dad, I speak for all of us when I say we are even more pleased to see you," answered Sam, smiling back. "The Tollan may not have much time. We need to move quickly," she added, now serious.

"Hello, Jacob. Ready for our little rescue operation?" Jack greeted Jacob with a handshake.

"Ready when you are, Jack. I think we have gone over the details enough times, as few as they are." Jacob thought the plan was very simple. They rarely relied on overwhelming force to attain their goals, but that had changed after they had obtained a mothership fully loaded with alkesh and gliders.

Time was limited, and they could not waste any of it. Therefore, both starships were promptly on their way.

Within minutes, in the infirmary, Sam introduced Jacob to her Tollan friend. "This is Narim, Dad. Narim, this is my father, Jacob, host to Selmac." Narim was still tied to his hospital bed, but in good spirits.

"It is a pleasure to meet Samantha's father," he said, bowing with a smile.

"I see what you mean, Sam. I would not be so polite if I were tied to my bed." Sam had told her father how cooperative and charming Narim would be.

"I prefer the bindings, Jacob. I must admit that, despite the discomfort, I feel much better knowing I can cause no more harm. No one has been able to assure me that there isn't still some hidden programming in my brain. But Samantha informed me that the Tok'Ra may be able to assist us with that," Narim told Jacob without bitterness.

"It is a dangerous procedure, Narim. I won't lie to you. If there is still programming, and we are not able to stop you, you may succeed in harming yourself. We don't know for certain what will happen."

Narim nodded. "Samantha explained everything in detail, and I understand. I would like to go through the procedure as soon as possible."

"Then let's get started," Jacob said, looking at Sam. "Let's have Freia join us in the lab."

Back in Tollana III, Chancellor Travell and the rest of the surviving Tollan Curia were still hiding in the cave, high up inside one of the mountains. It was getting bitterly cold, and snow covered the ground. The rest of the surviving Tollan were scattered in caves all over the side of the mountain. Their supplies were scarce, and trips to secure drinking water from the mountain springs were dangerous.

Even fewer Tollan remained. They had been able to save many women and children, but there were few able men left. Most of the elderly had succumbed to poor conditions. The Curia, made up of middle-aged leaders, were not doing well either.

"Our situation is desperate. We have been lucky so far. They still do not know where we are hiding, but that will change eventually. I believe it is time to surrender and hope that they don't kill us all. We know they are after our knowledge of advanced technology, after all." Travell was emotionally exhausted, but no one could tell. She was still strong in front of her people. They depended on her.

"Our young ones will be of no use to them. They would have nothing to offer but their bodies. How can we allow them to die or become hosts for the Goa'uld?" a middle-aged mother asked.

"We will have to negotiate for their survival and release, in exchange for the information they want," an older man responded, agreeing with Travell.

"What if they don't keep their word? The Goa'uld are a treacherous race," said another elder.

"We will have to find a way to make them keep their word. The only other option is to die slowly, one by one. We can't allow that to happen either," Travell responded.

They agreed. It was time to surrender.

Chapter Twelve

Freia's heart skipped a beat when she greeted General O'Neill. She still found him very handsome. She had a weak spot for the sexy, manly types, while Anise preferred the brainy ones. "Remember why you are here," Anise reminded her host. "I will remind you of that when we see Dr. Jackson!" she responded to her symbiote, who thought it was funny.

"It is a pleasure to see you again, General O'Neill. Please accept my congratulations on your promotion," Freia said to Jack, shaking his hand.

"It's good to see you too, Freia. Although I wish it was under happier circumstances," he answered with a polite smile.

When he felt Sam entering the room, he added, "One of these days you should just drop by Earth and visit. I'll take you fishing!" His sudden enthusiasm surprised Freia, but she promptly replied, "I would love to come and visit you, General O'Neill."

"Please, just call me Jack from now on." He was still smiling into Freia's eyes, but he was very aware of Sam standing behind him.

"Hello, Freia. I will take you to the lab, if you are ready," Sam greeted the Tok'Ra woman politely.

As the two women were exiting the room, Sam flashed him a resentful look. She knew what he was doing, and she did not appreciate it.

"Jack, Jack, Jack! What the hell are you doing?" he thought to himself. "Behaving like a teenager, for crying out loud! I have finally lost it!" He was already sorry about needling Sam. Following an impulse, he had tried to make her jealous because he was still upset with the Narim situation, and that was not fair. She was going through enough heartache after her break up with Pete.

"OK, I guess I'll have to apologize later." he thought. His main concern now was to get through the mission. After that, he had to make some tough decisions. Things could not continue as they were.

While Jack battled his own demons, Chancellor Travell and two other members of the Curia stood in front of the First Prime, Amyl. He had done what he could to demean the Tollan leaders, hating their dignified posture. The three elders had calmly approached the jaffas on Tollana's surface, and they had been promptly transported to one of the alkesh in orbit.

"You are in no position to negotiate! You will surrender completely, or die!" He told them as he stalked them, looking at the elders with contempt.

"We demand that you ensure the survival of our people in exchange for our knowledge. If you do not agree, we will all die, taking our knowledge with us." The High Chancellor was unperturbed. "If you desire the cooperation of our best minds, you will first let everyone else go."

"No, we will not!" Amyl shoved his face within inches of Travell's. "We are in control, not you. We will find you, take your knowledge, and then kill you. The Tollan civilization will die, and you can't stop it!"

"Amyl!" A young, feminine voice was heard.

Travell saw a tall, very young woman enter the room. She was dressed like royalty, golden jewelry heavy on her arms and neck. A black, form-fitting gown and veil made her look older, but the host could not have been more than a teenager. She was enchanting, possessing a dark, alluring beauty.

"My Queen!" Amyl bowed, instantly cowed. "I thought you wanted me to report to you once we succeeded extracting information."

"Yes, Amyl. But I can see you are not succeeding. Despite your best efforts, I do believe the Tollan Curia would let their people die unless we negotiate with them. Am I mistaken?" she asked sweetly, approaching Travell.

"No, you are not," confirmed Travell, her eyes on Amyl.

"Very well, then. No use getting upset with each other. I am Anat, Queen Anat. I was destined to become Ba'al's consort before he was murdered by the Tau'ri." She proceeded to sit on the throne-like seat in the middle of the room. "I guarantee the freedom of your people. However, you must allow us access to your scientists and leaders. You must also agree to assist us in the destruction of the Tau'ri. Is that a fair trade?" she asked patiently.

"There is nothing fair about it, Queen Anat. We would not assist you in the destruction of another world. However, whatever you do with the technology you obtain from us, will be out of our hands," Travell answered stiffly.

"That is good enough. I am a fair and understanding queen. You will not be sorry," Queen Anat smiled. "Amyl, allow the Tollan people to board their remaining ships and leave. I do not care where they go. But first, gather up the scientists and leaders, as well as twenty young men and women. The young ones will provide the elders with an incentive to cooperate. If I am not satisfied that the Tollan have held up their end of the agreement, they will be the ones to suffer."

"We do not agree to those terms!" Travell shouted, finally losing her composure.

"It will be as I say, or you will all die. It is the same to me at this point. I am quite weary of this!" Queen Anat responded, her eyes flashing.

The three members of the Curia exchanged glances. They had worked together long enough to understand each other without talking. How could they let everyone die? They had to sacrifice some to save the rest.

"Very well. It will be as you propose," Travell capitulated.

Chapter Thirteen

Narim's smile of relief was infectious. Anise had performed the procedure without complications. He seemed to be free of any further Goa'uld programming. Sam was also smiling. The moment Narim was freed, he approached her and enveloped her in an embrace.

Jacob glanced at Jack. He knew how Jack and Sam felt about each other. He had always suspected, but since the developments in Ba'al's mothership, he was sure. Jack's face was impassive, and he immediately directed his attention to Freia.

"How can we be sure of the results? You just confirmed that he had been a zatarc, but now you are sure he no longer is. Can you explain that again?" He was still suspicious and uncomfortable with an unrestrained Narim in the ship.

"It is very simple, Jack. When we asked Narim questions involving the false memories, the indicator turned red, but then slowly turned blue again, every time. That seems to indicate that the memory is not real, but that Narim recognizes this fact."

"That is just a theory, right?" Jack was still unconvinced.

"I suppose. But everything seems to indicate that there is no programming left. Narim has suffered no further convulsions, even after he recovered all memories, true and false. He is clear about what happened to him while prisoner, and he even remembers his actions on the bridge. Still, no other symptoms have been in evidence." Freya looked at Narim with a satisfied smile. "I'd say he is cured!

"Well, then, I suppose we'll have to shoot suspected zatarcs in the head from now on, just to be sure," Daniel said smiling, amused at Jack's obvious discomfort. Teal'c raised his eyebrow at him, a slight smile on his lips.

Jack gave him one of those exasperated looks reserved for Daniel alone. He then turned to Freia again. "We thank you, then, for your help on this one. We didn't want to lose our friend, here," he said, indicating Narim, who bowed to Jack gratefully.

"It was my pleasure, Jack. We have learned much about this condition by being able to test Narim. It is possible that a non-lethal trauma to the head is a solution for this problem, as barbaric as that may be. However, I believe it is more likely that the programming is erased once the programmed mission fails, and the subject manages to survive, like Narim did." She looked at Narim again, noticing his hand on Sam's waist.

Narim approached Freia now, taking her hands in his and bowing to her. "I am grateful for your assistance. If there is anything I can ever do to repay you, please do not hesitate to ask."

Freia smiled and bowed back. "I will return to the mothership now." She turned to leave, hesitated, and asked Jack, "Jack, would you escort me back?" He was startled, but immediately replied, "Sure! Please, you first," indicating the door.

Sam was throwing daggers at their backs with her eyes as they exited. Jacob was left to wonder what could be going on, while Daniel and Teal'c just exchanged knowing looks. Narim seemed blissfully unaware.

In the meantime, aboard an alkesh vessel, Queen Anat sat in her throne-like chair, Amyl kneeling at her feet. His adoring eyes were on her as she stroked his face sensuously. "You have been a devoted lover, Amyl. I owe my survival and well being to you. Do not think I will ever forget that. But I need you to complete one more mission before you officially become my consort."

"My life is yours, My Queen. What do you wish me to do?"

"I want you to destroy the Tau'ri. Revenge for what they took from us is our first priority. The Tollan technology will be valuable in achieving this goal," she said, continuing to stroke his face.

"Our ruse failed, My Queen. We had them within our reach, but they slipped away. We have been trying to locate them ever since." He lowered his eyes, ashamed by his failure.

"They will come back, Amyl. They are very predictable. They know we have Tollana at our mercy. They will try to assist their allies. Their compassion is their weakness." She now stood and walked to the view screen, as if trying to find the Tau'ri ship among the stars.

"We must hide two alkesh where they will be undetectable. We will leave only two in orbit of Tollana. When the Tau'ri ship returns, we will surprise them. They will be outnumbered, but we will not destroy the ship. We will capture the crew and use them as hosts. We will send them back to their planet and, before they know it, our children will have taken over." She turned to face Amyl with a smile. "We have enough symbiotes for this purpose now. Thanks to you, my love. They just need a little more time to mature further. Even if control of the hosts is not complete, it will be enough for our purpose."

"Yes, My Queen." Although Amyl wanted to believe they would succeed with this plan, he was afraid it would not be as easy as she made it sound.

"Come, my love. Let's see how our Tollan friends are doing." Queen Anat exited the bridge followed by an obedient Amyl.

Moments later, they met with the three members of the Curia, which returned accompanied by twenty young men and women.

"Where are your scientists?" asked Queen Anat angrily.

"They are in a secure location down in Tollana. They are expecting communication from us, to let them know when it will be safe to turn themselves in to your jaffas," informed Travell.

"How dare you!" Queen Anat shouted.

"We are just ensuring the safety of our people. Once we receive communication from the ships, telling us they are safely away, and not followed by alkesh, I will communicate with the scientists," Travell said, tapping a communication device strapped to her left wrist.

"How do we know the scientists will not be in those ships?" asked Amyl.

"If they are, we will have nothing to produce for you, and you can kill us," Travell responded, indicating the group around her. "And you probably would be able to follow and capture the Tollan ships after you do. But you will have no need. The scientists are in Tollana, expecting my signal," concluded Travell calmly, waiting for the queen's response.

"Very well! Amyl, let the ships go! I am quite tired of this planet, and we have much to do." She turned abruptly and stalked out of the room.

Chapter Fourteen

"Sir! Four ships headed away from Tollana III. They are not Goa'uld," declared Major Gant.

"Can you identify what they are, Major?" asked Colonel Ronson.

"No, Sir. They are still using sub-light speed, though."

"Contact General O'Neill and the Tollan. They may be able to identify the ships."

"Yes, Sir." And Major Gant proceeded to do so.

Minutes later, Narim was staring at the view screen, not believing his eyes. "Those are Tollan ships! They are the four remaining transport ships we had. I know they are not large enough to transport all our people. I wonder where they are going."

"Communication line is open, Sir," announced Major Gant.

Jack, Sam, Teal'c and Daniel were standing in the bridge, surrounding Narim. Jack had ordered them to be on the look out for any unusual behavior, but the Tollan had acted normally since he had been pronounced cured.

"This is Narim, Tollan Rescue & Recovery Team Leader, please respond," Narim spoke aloud, tense with anticipation.

"Narim! This is Fren! We thought you were dead!" A pleasantly surprised voice answered a few moments later.

"Fren! What is happening? Why are the transport ships leaving Tollana?" asked Narim with concern.

"The Goa'uld let us go, Narim. They kept our most knowledgeable people in exchange. They want our technology, Narim. They also kept twenty of our young people. My son is one of them! Can your friends help us?" Everyone in the bridge noted the hopeful note in the man's voice, and Narim looked at Jack anxiously.

"Tell them to stop. We need to talk," Jack ordered. Narim looked relieved.

"Fren, please come aboard as soon as we join you. We need more information."

After what seemed to Narim like hours, he was finally face to face with his old friend. "We are all that is left, Narim, only two thousand, six hundred eighty two Tollan people, crammed in four ships. We left another two hundred people in Tollana, including all members of the Curia. Our top scientists in every field, and some of our children, are prisoners. We must save them!" Fren was desperate. Narim thought the man was half the size he was the last time he had seen him.

"Calm down, my friend. The Tau'ri have promised to assist. We need more details." Narim was grieving. He had been floored by Fren's accounts of the attack, their escape into the mountains, their fight for survival, and finally, their capitulation. "So many deaths!" he kept thinking, trying to focus on the present.

"How many ships, do you know?" asked Sam.

"From what we could tell, only two alkesh in orbit of Tollana III," Fren responded.

"I clearly remember four alkesh when we were attacked," stated Narim.

"It is possible that we did not see all the Goa'uld ships as we left. To be honest, our main concern was to determine a location to head to. Travell insisted that we determine that after we left Tollana. She did not want any of the Tollan people left behind to know where we could be found. That is what we were trying to determine when you contacted us," Fren admitted.

"Alright, slight change of plans! We can't go in with guns blazing when there are Tollan people aboard the ships," Jack remarked.

"I think it is safe to assume that they are being held in one or both the ships in orbit. The other two are probably hidden somewhere," Jacob reflected.

"Ok, this is what I'm thinking…" started to say Jack, standing up and addressing the group.

Chapter Fifteen

"The Tau'ri ship is approaching Tollana, My Lord," a jaffa announced to Amyl. The First Prime stood and stared at the reflection of the Earth vessel in the view screen. "Pathetic!" he thought to himself.

"Arm weapons and verify that the other alkesh know. They should be ready to come at our signal," responded Amyl. He then left to notify his queen.

Much closer than Amyl suspected, Jack was at the controls of the Ancient's cloaked ship. "We still need to come up with a name for this baby", he was thinking when Sam interrupted him.

"That is the spot we need to hit, Sir." She was pointing at a diagram of an alkesh. "When we take out that power generator, the shields and weapons will be disabled."

"What do you think we should call it?" Jack responded.

"What?" Sam looked at him puzzled. "I believe it is called an alkesh, Sir."

"No, I mean, our baby here. Ancient Ship is kind of long and boring." He was looking at her expectantly.

"I think… that should be your decision, Sir. As long as you don't call it Enterprise," she answered.

"Why not? It's a great name!" Jack retorted.

"But not very original," Sam commented, looking at Daniel, Teal'c and Narim seating behind her, asking for help.

"How about AS-1?" Suggested Daniel.

"Ass One?" Repeated Jack, turning to give him a look.

"You know, Ancient Ship Number One. I'm still hoping we'll find more of these somewhere," Daniel answered innocently, thinking the name made perfect sense.

Sam chuckled and said, "OK, how about if we think about it and decide later? We have work to do… Sir," looking at Jack apologetically.

"Yeah! Definitely not Ass One." Jack turned back to the controls.

Moments later, a baffled jaffa shouted, "My Lord, we are under fire!" A loud explosion was then heard.

"Impossible!" Amyl replied, coming closer to the screen. "The Tau'ri vessel is still too far away!" Another, louder explosion rocked the ship, leaving no doubt of an attack.

"We have lost a power generator! We have no shields or weapons!" the jaffa reported, alarmed.

The First Prime turned as Queen Anat stalked into the control room. "What is this? How could you let this happen?" she shouted, furious at Amyl.

"My Queen, we have not detected…" but he never finished the sentence. Queen Anat lifted her palm and sent him flying backwards. She then approached him with her palm high up and shouted, "This is the last time you fail me!"

Moments later, Amyl laid dead. Queen Anat then turned to the pilot and ordered, "Have the closest alkesh come within transportation range. Have the other two attack the Earth vessel before it gets closer."

"Yes, My Queen!" replied the jaffa, terrified.

Aboard the Ancient ship, Sam noticed the transport beam. "OK, there is our chance. We don't have to attack the second alkesh. It just dropped shields, and the first one is in the process of transporting something to it," indicated Sam.

Teal'c and Daniel were ready. They pressed their wrist controls and they immediately transported to the second alkesh. "I've got to get us more of those! Thor owes us, after all," thought Jack.

Meanwhile, the Tollan prisoners had been gathered in the cargo hold of the first alkesh, wondering about their fate. Travell could not imagine who was attacking the Goa'uld. She knew the Tollan transport vessels had no armaments, only shields.

"That one, Sir," Sam said, pointing at a landing bay on the first alkesh.

Jack fired and the gate to the landing bay ceased to exist. Still cloaked, he flew his ship inside.

They were still cloaked and hovering when the gate accessing the landing bay from inside the vessel opened, and a river of jaffas started pouring in. They stopped and looked around, baffled, not seeing anything. But they did hear a loud voice threatening, "Drop your weapons, surrender, and you will survive."

A few jaffas automatically started shooting their staff weapons at thin air. They could see the blasts bouncing off something, but were unable to do any damage.

"Again, surrender and you will live. Continue to shoot, and you will die. Is that any clearer?" they heard the voice again. Some jaffas ran back inside, others dropped their weapons and raised their hands.

"Prometheus, we are inside Alkesh One, please respond," called Jack.

Minutes earlier, two alkesh had intercepted Prometheus, still at a distance from Tollana III. They had started firing on the Earth vessel the moment they had been within range, but their shots had done no serious damage.

"Surrender, or we will be forced to destroy you," Colonel Ronson had warned them, but the alkesh had kept flying around the vessel and firing at it.

"I don't detect any Tollan life signs, Sir, only Goa'uld signs from what I can tell. There are twenty souls in both ships, at most," Major Gant had reported to her superior, thinking that the Asgard detectors were just too cool.

"Last warning. Stand down or be destroyed," the colonel had repeated to the two alkesh.

They had refused to respond, and had kept firing, like pesky flies around a beast.

"Alright, Jacob. I guess they are all yours. There are no Tollan people on board. See you later," Colonel Ronson's voice had sounded in the mothership's bridge.

"Good luck, William," had answered Jacob from the mothership, which had suddenly dropped out of hyper-space. He had then proceeded to destroy the two alkesh.

"We are almost there, General. Have you met any resistance?" asked Colonel Ronson only minutes after leaving Jacob to mop up.

"Some, not much I guess. We are still inside the landing bay, waiting for the troops. Let us know when they are here," responded Jack, still inside the cloaked ship with Sam and Narim.

"They are ready for transport. We will be there in two minutes," assured the commander of the Prometheus.

"We'll be waiting," Jack smiled at Sam and Narim in satisfaction.

Chapter Sixteen

Daniel and Teal'c were making their way, slowly but surely, through the second alkesh. They had been careful to remain hidden while looking for the Tollan prisoners. Their mission was to locate them and determine their number, without engaging the enemy.

"Given their numbers, the most logical location would be one of the cargo holds," Teal'c told Daniel in a whisper.

"Which do we search first?" Daniel whispered back.

"It would be more expeditious to scan the ship from the bridge. Follow me." And Daniel proceeded to do so.

At the same time, Tau'ri soldiers were being transported to the one designated Alkesh One at different locations. The troops started to make their way through the ship in order to secure it. Some jaffas offered no resistance, while others fired their weapons at them, and fell.

The Tollan people huddled in fear in the cargo hold, listening to the sounds of battle, and expecting to see executioners appear at the door any minute. Chancellor Travell and the other members of the Curia were facing the locked door, with the intention to act as a shield for their people by attempting to reason with whoever may enter.

Jack, followed by Sam and an unarmed Narim, were finally able to exit the landing bay and make their way toward the bridge of the ship. They had encountered little resistance. The corridors were fairly empty, and they were inside the bridge in less than two minutes. It took seconds to disable the jaffas there. Sam quickly scanned the ship and turned to Narim with a brilliant smile. "At least two hundred people are being held in the main cargo hold, Narim. I think we found your friends." At which Narim smiled, letting out a relieved sigh.

"Excellent!" commented Jack. He could see Prometheus in the view screen. "Let me talk to the other alkesh," he ordered Sam.

In the meantime, Teal'c and Daniel had made it to the bridge without being spotted. The alkesh was fairly deserted. They could hear activity inside, but the entrance was closed.

A feminine voice shouted, enraged. They looked at each other, readied their zat guns, and proceeded to listen carefully. They could hear the firm voice of General O'Neil. "You are outnumbered. The only way you will survive is by surrendering, now. We have the Tollan people, and we have way more guns and ships than you do, since your other two alkesh are space debris now," Jack was telling Queen Anat from the bridge of the first alkesh. He sounded smug, which only added fuel to the queen's fury.

Queen Anat was beside herself. She could not believe her eyes when she saw the mothership approach. The despised Tok'Ra were here! She knew they had kept Ba'al's mothership.

"I will die, but I will take you with me!" she screamed at the visage of the smiling general.

She turned to her pilot and ordered, "Set a collision course to the alkesh! Quickly!"

The jaffa hesitated, not sure he was ready to die. Before he could decide, they heard the door to the bridge open and the flare of zat guns, almost simultaneously.

Queen Anat immediately raised her defense shield, but the jaffas in the bridge fell in rapid succession. Two men she had never seen were now standing in the bridge, viewing their surroundings. One was the infamous Teal'c. She knew by his Tau'ri uniform and the golden tattoo on his forehead.

"You have nowhere to go," the other man told her, with almost pity in his voice. "You can keep your shield on until you starve to death if you wish, but it is over now. You lost." He was patiently waiting for her to respond.

The queen knew he was right. She had lost.

Chapter Seventeen

Chancellor Travell held her breath when she heard the door to the cargo bay open. Then let it out with a rare, broad smile when she saw Narim standing in the threshold, flanked by Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill.

"Chancellor Travell," said Narim bowing slightly. "It is a pleasure to see you are well."

Travell could hear the shouts of joy and cries of relief from the people behind her, but she had eyes only for Narim.

"I am afraid I had to disobey the Curia's orders and contact the Tau'ri, High Chancellor," Narim said, looking contrite.

The Curia members just laughed at this, approaching Narim and slapping his back in greeting and relief.

"It seems our past decisions may not have been as wise as we believed, Narim. It also seems we have better friends than we knew. It is time we review those decisions, don't you agree?" She was asking the Curia around her.

They all smiled and nodded in approval to her comments. She then turned to Jack, getting close and placing her right palm on his chest, bowing to him. "We are, again, grateful. We owe you a great debt. One we will never be able to fully repay."

Jack could not help himself, "But you are still not going to share your technology with us, right?"

Sam glared at him, Narim laughed, and Travell responded, "Those are also decisions we must review."

Hours later, the four Tollan ships were being evacuated, people running to greet each other in joy and demonstrations of affection. The two alkesh and Prometheus had also landed. There was a group of jaffa being held captive. The rest had agreed to join the rebellion. The mothership was in orbit, Selmac still in command.

Jack, followed by Narim, the Tollan Curia, and SG-1, was walking through what remained of the destroyed city. "What a waste!"

"Little will be wasted, I assure you," Travell responded. "Thanks to your supplies, we will be able to start rebuilding immediately. At least now we will not starve during the winter. But, yes, there is much to do. Our first endeavor will be to build a stargate so that we can better communicate with you."

"Now, that's quite a change in attitude," thought Jack.

The Tollan were in high spirits, despite everything and everyone they had lost. Jack could not help but admire their endurance. These were tough people, as well as smart.

Narim had been officially invited to join the Curia. Everyone considered him a hero. If not for him and his friends, for his decision to disobey orders, everything would have been lost. He had been charged with negotiating treaties with the Tau'ri and the Tok'Ra. The Tollan were going to need a lot of help. But they also had a lot to offer.

"We look forward to the commencement of treaty negotiations. The sooner we complete them, the sooner we will be able to complete our city and go back to normalcy," Narim told Jack.

"Well, you are welcome to return with us and bring anyone else you may need so that we can get started." Jack was feeling magnanimous. This had been one of their greatest victories yet. Aside from now being close to finally getting their hands on Tollan technology, they had had no casualties, they had obtained two more alkesh, they had freed the Tollan survivors, and they were now in the process of rescuing a few Goa'uld hosts from their enslavement.

Jacob was busy supervising this process in the mothership. The first one had been the host of Queen Anat. The Goa'uld symbiote had been safely removed, and a sweet, grateful child had emerged.

Her name was Karah. Many weeks earlier, Amyl and his jaffas had taken her from her village. She was able to shed light on where the Queen symbiote had come from. It seemed Amyl had been in charge of the safe keeping of the symbiote for Ba'al in a constantly moving alkesh. He had learned of Ba'al's defeat, and had promptly obtained a host for the symbiote.

The implantation had happened as soon as the queen symbiote was mature enough, and they had then embarked on a conquest campaign. They had only been able to gather four alkesh and a couple hundred jaffas before Queen Anat decided that the Tollan technology was a priority to obtain. She wanted to be prepared to face the remaining system lords before they learned of her existence.

They had gotten lucky and encountered a Tollan ship adrift in space, not too far from Tollana II. The ship had been badly damaged and there were no survivors on board. They had also been disappointed not to find very much useful technology. It had been a simple transport ship. They had activated the beacon in the hope to lure the surviving Tollan. That was when Narim's ships had been captured.

Chapter Eighteen

Sam was resting in her cabin, thinking of grabbing some lunch, when she heard a knock at her door. It was Narim, holding his bag, ready to depart Prometheus.

"Narim. I see you are ready to go." She stepped aside, inviting him in. "You are going to be a very busy man during the next few months, if not years."

"Indeed, I will be. I could not leave without having a few private words with you, Samantha. I will not be seeing you for a few weeks, until I come to Earth to start negotiations. Is this a good time?"

"Sure! Please take a seat." She sat in one of the two chairs in her cabin and pulled the other one close.

He sat, leaned over closer to Sam, took her hands in his, and spoke softly, "Samantha, I am here to ask you that you consider a proposition."

Samantha had no idea of what he could be talking about, so she just waited.

"You already know how I feel about you, Samantha. I have felt this way ever since we met, years ago. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was to keep you in the dark about our survival. Not the Tau'ri, but you. I missed you terribly, and I hated the thought of you believing I was dead. Somehow, I had always hoped you and I would have a chance to be together."

Sam was speechless. She just stared at Narim, feeling what would follow and not knowing how to stop it.

"What I am trying to say is that I don't want to spend any more time waiting for that to happen, Samantha. I want us to be together, forever." He stopped her when she started to reply. "Please let me finish. I know this is not a decision you could make lightly. There are many things standing in our way, even if you love me enough to say yes. I would like you to live here, with the Tollan people as your people, with me as your husband. I know you could be happy here. You'd have so much to learn, to keep you busy, as I know you like to be." She started to shake her head, but he plunged ahead, "If I could just leave Tollana and follow you to Earth, I would. But it is clear that I am needed here. I could never turn my back on my people now. I know you understand that," he concluded and waited for her to say something.

"Narim, I am flattered beyond words that a man as special as you are, would ask me to be his wife. And you know that you are special to me. But I have learned recently that I must love a man passionately for me to commit myself to that man. As much as I like you, and even want you, I don't think it is enough." Sam was sadly looking down at their clasped hands, thinking that for the second time in less than a week, she was hurting someone she cared for.

She felt him lift her chin softly, until she could look into his eyes. His sad smile just made her feel worse, and a tear escaped onto her cheek. "You have always been wise, Samantha. Please know that I understand, and that still, I have hopes that you will, some day, change your mind. I will be waiting." He kissed her lips softly, still holding her chin, then stood up and left quietly.

Moments later, Jack saw Narim leave Sam's cabin from the end of the corridor. The man had a dejected look on his face, but he straightened, lifted his head, and continued walking toward the exit.

"What now?" he thought. He was going to ask Sam to join Daniel, Teal'c and himself for lunch. He approached her door and knocked a couple of times. When she finally opened the door, he could tell she had been crying.

"I was wondering if you wanted to join us for a bite to eat," he asked, as if he did not realize she was upset.

"I think I will eat something here in my cabin later, thank you, Sir," she replied, looking down at the floor, trying to hide her red eyes.

"Are you all right?" he asked, not moving away from her door.

"Me? Yeah! I'm OK…" she stammered, still avoiding his eyes. "Just tired, that's all."

"Carter, you know I don't like to eat alone. How about it?" he asked, trying to snap her out of her funk.

"Isn't Freia available?" she asked, finally looking at him.

Her red eyes prevented him from responding with one of his sarcastic remarks, which was his first impulse.

"I don't want Freia's company, I want yours," he responded sincerely. Now he was really feeling lousy for trying to make her jealous. Sam stared at him for a few moments, not knowing how to respond. Then her face crumpled, and she turned away from the door, covering her eyes.

"Now I've really done it!" thought Jack. He felt like kicking himself. Why had he not just accepted her refusal and gone to lunch? He could not leave now. Daniel and Teal'c would have to go ahead without them. Jack entered Sam's cabin and closed the door behind him. He stood there, not sure what to do next. Sam was softly weeping into her hands. He finally grabbed a tissue from a box on her desk and approached her, turning her around and pulling her hands away from her face. He then proceeded to wipe the tears off her cheeks.

Sam was disarmed. She did not know what to do with this gentle side of Jack. She grabbed his hand, took the tissue and blew her nose. She looked up to him. There was pity in his eyes, and something else. She could not help herself and she went into his arms, seeking comfort.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Jack asked gently. But Sam just shook her head, still sniffing. How could she explain? She was just too confused.

"OK." Jack held her for long minutes and let her weep onto his shirt, and Sam knew she could never feel safer anywhere else.

Chapter Nineteen

"Would you care to explain what is the meaning of this?" Jack could tell General Hammond was in an unhappy mood, stalking into Jack's office with a black look on his face. The older man threw an envelope on Jack's desk and stared at him, waiting for an answer.

"Nice to see you too, General." He knew this was coming. But he had not expected to see the general in his office only hours after he had sent him his resignation by courier. "Please make yourself comfortable."

"I expect a better explanation than all the retirement nonsense you spilled into that letter, son. And get Colonel Carter in here as well. I'm not accepting her resignation either!" He was in the foulest mood he had ever seen him in. But, what was it that he had said? Sam had resigned?

"What do you mean? Carter has not resigned," Jack stated, wondering if his subconscious was playing tricks on him and he had mentioned Sam in the letter.

"Oh, yes, she has! Look at the second document in the envelope!" General Hammond pointed.

Jack pulled out the letter the general indicated, read it quickly, and looked up at Hammond, indignant. "She resigned to you? She did not even copy me?" He immediately picked up the phone and requested Sam to be summoned. "I can't speak for Carter, but I don't think me wanting to retire should come as a shock to you, Sir. I mean, I had retired when you reeled me in, years ago." Jack was now standing, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Would you care for some?" he asked Hammond, who pursed his lips and started pacing the room.

Sam entered seconds later. She looked scared and ready to flee at any moment.

"Take a seat, Colonel Carter," ordered General Hammond.

"Yes, Sir." She looked at Jack, who was staring at her, and she quickly looked away, not willing to face her superior officer. She sat and looked at Jack's desk, noticing her resignation letter sitting on top.

"Please explain to us why you are throwing away a brilliant military career, Colonel Carter. Your sudden interest in private industry just does not ring true. What is really going on?" Hammond was looking at both, Sam and Jack, in turn. "And don't you two dare lie to me. Time for the truth, people!"

Sam was a little confused. "General O'Neill can't give you any explanations for my resignation, Sir. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he just found out from you." Sam looked at Jack guiltily. She knew he was probably furious at her for going over his head and not even having the courtesy of letting him know what she was doing.

"That is true, Colonel, but he can certainly explain why he has suddenly decided to retire," Hammond responded.

"What?" Sam stood up, a shocked look on her face, and looked at Jack for confirmation.

"I'm old, I'm tired, the hours suck, my knee hurts, I want to be able to drink beer every night. Take your pick; I have many reasons. But she doesn't!" Jack pointed at Sam angrily.

Sam glared at him, her lips tight. Hammond looked from one to the other and shouted "Tell me what is going on, now!" Sam jumped and looked at him wide-eyed, surprised at his outburst. She then sighed and sat back down, looking at Hammond sadly.

"Sir, I feel I am unable to perform my military duties as they are expected of me. My judgment is compromised." She was praying he would take that for an answer. She was deluding herself.

"Please elaborate," Hammond ordered.

"It's my fault, General," Jack interrupted. He felt guilty, and very sorry that his lack of control had brought them to this situation. "I compromised her. I behaved in an inappropriate manner and this has affected our working relationship. Carter is trying to solve the problem by removing herself from the situation. I will not allow it. She is needed here, much more than I am needed here."

"That's not true! I kissed you back! And you are more important to this command than I am!" Sam exclaimed, getting out of her seat. She then realized what she had said and blushed red, not wanting to look at Hammond.

General Hammond gaped at both of them, understanding downing on him. Then he sighed, took a seat, rubbed his bald forehead, and ordered them to sit down. He was thinking furiously, trying to come up with a solution to the problem. He could not lose either of them. They were both vital to SGC.

Jack was the one man the alien allies respected and admired. They counted on his participation in all matters. Only Jack's death would have been accepted by the allies as an acceptable excuse for having to deal with anyone else. Furthermore, he was the leader of the facility and the most qualified man to be so. Hammond could not imagine whom he could replace him with.

Sam, on the other hand, had the most brilliant mind Hammond had ever seen. Her ability to solve the unsolvable, her untiring dedication, her loyalty and honesty, as well as her physical abilities in the field had been invaluable to Stargate Command. He could not imagine losing such a resource. She was the expert on the stargate and on naquadah technology. They absolutely needed that expertise.

"Sorry, I can not accept either of your resignations," Hammond started, "but I recognize we have a problem. We just need to come up with a solution." Both Jack and Hammond automatically looked at Sam for an answer.

"What? Don't look at me! I already came up with a solution and you are shooting it down. What do you want me to do?" Sam had her hands up, looking helpless.

"Your resignation is not a viable solution, Colonel Carter. This Command cannot do without your services. Half of your expertise would just be wasted elsewhere, and you know that. Besides, you would never be happy working anywhere else," Hammond argued, hoping for another idea.

"Sir, I happen to agree with you. That is why I decided to retire. There are… other things… I was hoping to do before it's too late for me," Jack stated. "There is just no other solution for this problem. It's time for me to go."

"No, it is not!" Hammond was looking at them thoughtfully. "There are military rules that prevent you from having a relationship…" Jack and Sam could tell he was coming up with something, but Hammond was still thinking.

"So?" Jack prompted impatiently, wondering what he could be getting at.

"Are you two capable of continuing to work together effectively, as a couple, if these rules did not affect you?" Hammond asked, hopefully.

Jack and Sam looked at each other. They were not sure what Hammond meant.

"Sir, let me be clear about this," Jack suddenly said. "The reason I'm retiring is so that the damn rules don't prevent me from asking Sam to marry me. Whatever your solution, it must allow for that," Jack concluded looking at Hammond, then looking at Sam expectantly, and anxiously.

Sam's mouth was open, staring at Jack. She could not breathe, or move. She then closed her mouth, swallowed a lump, and looked at Hammond, who was smiling at Jack. "Sir, I believe General O'Neill and I would be able to work together if he was no longer my military superior. At least I know I could," she stated, looking at Jack hopefully.

Jack smiled and then directed his attention to Hammond. "Sir, I will make our working relationship work, as long as she agrees to be my wife. That is non-negotiable." He then looked at Sam again, who was now smiling at him.

Hammond watched them look at each other with love in their eyes, and he could not help but feel happy for them. He thought, "Why did I not see this coming? I should have been better prepared."

"Sam," General Hammond addressed the Colonel as a friend now, "you must understand that my solution would require that you no longer be the commanding SG-1 officer. You pretty much would be giving up field operations as an SG member." He held her look and saw the resignation in her eyes.

"Sir, when I resigned the military, I was giving up SGC, period." She sounded sad, but sure.

"Very well, then. Here is what I propose." Hammond stood and addressed them both, pacing the office.

Minutes later, Sam and Jack were now sitting next to each other, holding hands and listening to General Hammond. "It is almost surreal," Sam thought, but it was really happening.

"I expect there will be some bumps in the road, but I am sure you two will be able to deal with them," Hammond was saying. "Colonel," he addressed Sam, "I will accept your resignation from the military, effective today, and I will immediately do what is necessary to process your employment as an independent civilian consultant. There will be some noses bent out of shape in Washington, I am sure, but I will take care of it. You have my word." He was now smiling, pleased with himself.

Sam had agreed to compromise. No longer would she be able to lead an SG team, but she would be able to accompany teams in missions as deemed necessary by Jack. Daniel and Teal'c would continue to be part of SG-1, but they would be under new command, still to be decided. Another team member may be needed to provide the technical expertise Sam had provided for the team.

Sam would be able to spend more time in her lab working on her projects. "I will be able to have a family, now. I give up something, but I get something more precious in return." She had never talked about her desire to have children with Jack, so she just prayed that he was agreeable.

Jack was unhappy about Sam giving up the military. He felt bad about her having to give up something so important to her, while he was giving up nothing. However, he had to admit that he loved the idea of her working safely in her lab, and not risking her neck through the stargate. He had to watch for that. She'd never forgive him if he let his feelings interfere with her being able to go on missions on occasion.

"Well, I believe we have a workable solution, don't you agree?" Hammond wanted to be sure that Sam was satisfied.

Sam and Jack looked at each other, smiled, and looked back at Hammond. "Yes, Sir," they both said at the same time, still holding hands.

"In that case, let me be the first to congratulate the both of you. I am certain that you will make each other very happy," he said, standing up and extending his right hand to shake Jack's, then giving Sam a hug.

Jack leaned over to whisper something in Sam's ear, and she chuckled, "No, I don't think it is," she responded to whatever he had asked.

"I was asking Sam if it was too early to ask you that you be my best man, Sir. Would you do us the honor?" asked Jack.

"The honor is mine. Nothing would make me happier." He shook Jack's hand, now smiling broadly. "Now it is time for me to get back to Washington. I left kind of abruptly and there is much I need to do." He turned to leave, hesitated at the door, and told them, "I'm also sure you too have a lot to do," he smiled at them with a twinkle in his eye.

At his departure, Jack turned to Sam and asked innocently, "What do you think he was referring to?"

Sam grabbed his face, brought it close to hers, and said "I think he was referring to this," she answered, kissing him.

Out in the hallway, Teal'c and Daniel were heading for Jack's office. They had agreed to teach Teal'c to play Black Jack that evening, and they wanted to make sure their plans were still on. They were surprised to meet General Hammond in front of the elevator.

"General! We didn't know you were coming. Are you staying the weekend? We are playing cards at Jack's tonight, if you'd like to join us," invited Daniel, happy to see the old man.

"I'm afraid I have to rush back to Washington tonight, and I expect I will be working through the weekend. Thanks for the invite, though. Maybe next time." He started to get into the elevator, turned and said, "Something tells me you won't be playing cards tonight either." He was smiling in a peculiar way.

"Why do you say so, General Hammond?" asked Teal'c, raising an inquiring eyebrow.

"I think General O'Neill should tell you," he said. Then he chuckled as the elevator was closing, leaving the two men perplexed.

Inside Jack's office, in between a rain of kisses, Jack was asking, "I know, and you know, why I was retiring. But what did you think you were accomplishing by leaving us?"

"Well," she started, still kissing him, "I just could not continue seeing you every day and not being able to be with you. It became too hard, Jack. And," she smiled, "I was hoping that, once I was no longer in the military, we could pursue a relationship."

"What would you have done if I had not responded the way you expected?" asked Jack, teasingly.

"What do you think I would have done?" asked Sam, teasing him back.

"Hit me over the head?" Jack answered.

"Something like that," she agreed. "You know, you haven't really properly asked me to marry you yet," she told him threateningly.

"Ohh, really?" teased Jack. "I thought I did it in a very dramatic, romantic way." He was now nibbling her ear.

"Don't think you are going to get away with `stuff', now. Remember that, although you'll still be my boss here, I will be boss at home." She smiled at his worried look.

"I think we better negotiate some `stuff' before I take the plunge. You are beginning to scare me!" Jack said, but Sam grabbed his head and pulled him to her mouth again, giving him a long, passionate kiss. When he could come up for air, he said, "OK, you win, whatever you say," then he went under again.

"Wooowww!" they heard at Jack's door. "Sooo sorry! I'm making a habit out of this. Teal'c, don't look!" Daniel had placed a hand over Teal'c's eyes.

"It's alright, Daniel," said Sam smiling and still hugging Jack. Jack was still hugging her back, and Daniel took his hand away from Teal'c's face. Teal'c was looking at him sideways.

"Daniel, Teal'c, we want you to be the first to know. This," hugging Sam tighter, "is the future Mrs. Jack O'Neill."

"I will be keeping my name," she clarified.

Jack looked at her, then at them, and said "Yesss, I can tell we will be very, very happy." He then made a terrified face at the two men and everyone, including Teal'c, busted out laughing.

The End

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