She storms past me, without actually touching me. She hasn't touched me once while she was here. I haven't touched her, although I was longing to reach out - touch her, pull her towards me, tell her it's alright, I'm going to make everything okay again.
But I didn't.
Instead I made that cocky remark about her husband, and there was such a flash of anger in her eyes. Then she left.
Well, we've been with the Aschen a couple of days now, and everything SEEMS to be coming up roses. The Aschen are .... okay, if a little prissy. That whole covering their ears with sour-lemon faces if a gun goes off is beginning to annoy me. Still, Carter seems fascinated by their technology. She's running around like a kid who's just discovered Christmas, and has had ten years presents in one go.
But there's something not quite right. I keep waiting for the Aschen equivalent of the Morlocks to turn up. This place is just too perfect. I'm sure there must be a boogeyman in the closet somewhere.
I've been sitting here a long time, in my chair overlooking the empty pond. I dropped down into this seat after she left, and I've stayed here, replaying those four and a half minutes over and over. What should I have said different? What did she mean when she said....? What was the exact expression in her face ...? Seeing her was such a shock, I practically ran on autopilot for the whole conversation, never actually engaging my brain before I opened my mouth. Now, as the sun goes down, I finish replaying it, and focus on what she said.
"It turns out we made a mistake."
"We can undo this."
"We can stop this from ever happening."
"If I thought it was going to be easy, I wouldn't be standing here asking for your help."
How far back would we need to go, to fix all those mistakes?
The Aschen have got their own Ambassador now. Joe something. I wasn't really listening when Daniel introduced us. He's okay. Hangs around Sam a little too much for my liking. He's all for a closer alliance with the Aschen. Apparently they're some kind of medical geniuses. They've got this anti-aging vaccine, which they're looking for a volunteer to try out on.
I didn't volunteer.
And neither will anyone else I know, not if I have something to do with it.
The more and more time I spend with the Aschen, the more and more suspicious I get. This is all too good to be true, and there's something about these Aschen that remind me of the Tollan at their worst. They're very self-righteous about their non-violence, almost smug.
I don't trust them. But everyone else does. I HAVE to find something against them. But what? They're perfect.
I hate perfection.
The sun's set now, and the darkness is creeping across the water, slowly, inexorably. Rather like the Aschen moving across Earth, since Kinsey introduced them at his inauguration. Just a little at first, so we barely noticed them, then bit by bit, they became part of our lives, and one day we woke up to find they were everywhere. I began to feel like that guy in the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, who jumps into the lorry and finds it full of pods, and ends the movie screaming 'they're already here!" but no-one's listening to him.
Why hasn't she told Joe?
Sam took the vaccine. How could she? If i'd been here, I'd never would have let her.
But I wasn't.
After a month or so of trying, I finally managed to get Joe away from Sam, and ask him a few questions, the first being,
"Why did the Pentagon send you? They normally send Major Davis for this kind of thing."
"He didn't want to come." Joe tried to say, but I told him,
"Bullshit! Paul takes every chance he can get to get down here."
"Well, not this time, apparently." Joe send, smiling insincerely.
"I don't think so." I said slowly, working it out as I spoke. "I think someone stopped Major Davis coming down here because we trust him, and we know, whatever happens, he'll always back us up against the Pentagon. Because he's pretty much the only person outside this base any of us trust."
"You can trust me." Joe started to say.
"I'd say I'd trust you as far as I could throw you." I told him, my voice low and menacing., "but if pushed, I think I could throw you a very long way."
I'm a lot taller than he is, and as I stepped closer, I towered over him. Give him his due, he didn't step back, although I did see fear in his eyes.
Daniel stood in the doorway, and let Joe leave.
"Were you threatening him?" Daniel asked.
"Yes. Look, I have to be away for a while."
"Where are you going?"
"To see Major Davis. I want to know why he isn't here."
"I'm not sure this is good timing." Daniel said hesitantly. I waited for clarification. "Joe's been hanging around Sam a lot."
"So?". I wasn't happy about it, but surely Sam and he couldn't ... what would she see in him?
"So, they've been bonding, in a way. He lost his mother when he was young too. And his father was in the military. Turns out they even knew each other once, when they were very young. He seems to have a lot in common with her."
"So?" I said again, more warily this time.
"So, okay, I know certain things are never really - said - about you two, but to put it bluntly.."
"Spit it out, Daniel!"
"He's paying her the kind of attention you used to pay her!" he said, all in a rush. It's not like Daniel to come out with things so baldly.
"I've been busy." I said. "Trying to prove.."
"Trying to prove the Aschen are worse than the Gou'ald, with absolutely no evidence to back you up."
"While she is actually working with them. You used to listen to her."
"She used to listen to me."
"Jack, I mean it - about Joe."
"I have to go." I insisted. "I have to know what's going on. Look, try not to leave her alone with him. Make sure you or Teal'c or Janet, or Siler is always with her." I said, pushing past him.
"We can't be with her twenty-four hours a day."
"Try!" I shouted over my shoulder.
"Jack, you're so obsessed with proving the Aschen are bad, you're losing touch with everything else in your life!" he shouted after me, as I strode down the corridor.
Sam suddenly appeared, drawn by the shouting.
I stood there, about to tell her everything. What I knew. What I felt. Then, behind her, Joe suddenly appeared.
I couldn't tell her now. I'd tell her later.
Later never came.
Daniel was right.
I was in the grip of obsession, and I couldn't see past it, to the other danger threatening me.
It didn't take long to track down Paul. He was in his office at the Pentagon, packing up.
"Davis!" I called from his doorway.
"Jack!" he yelled back, grinning. "What are you doing here?"
"Come to find you. Why are you packing up?"
His face fell.
"I've been sacked."
"You?" I said, closing the door behind me. "Why?"
He took a deep breath. He looked grey and shaken. Whatever happened over the past few days had been rough on him.
"I've been accused of helping Maybourne escape." he told me.
"But that was me."
"I know that. You know that. But they've managed to twist the evidence and pin it squarely on me. I've been told to count myself lucky I'm not going to jail." He sighed, and sat down heavily, the picture of a broken man. It's fair to say I felt more than a little guilty.
"Look, " I started to say, "if you want me to..."
"Not much point." he said. "Haven't you heard the gossip?"
"I've been preoccupied." I admitted.
"Kinsey's got his party's nomination. He's running for President in 2004. Oh, it's not official yet, of course. But he's already got his contacts. His network of spies and informers and bullies. The whole government is riddled with his ..evil, and it's rotting away from the inside. Anything bad that happens, its down to him, and whoever controls him. Almost every political scandal of the past ten years can be traced back to him. It's impossible to tell who to trust, impossible to tell who's going to stab you in the back. To tell the truth, I'm glad I'm getting out."
"Well, good." I said. "I needed you help, but..."
"No, it's okay. What do you need?" he asked, as eager to help as ever.
"Did you read my report on the Aschen?"
"I did. You liked them at first, but later.."
"I didn't. And I KNOW there's things I'm not being told about. Listen, do you know someone called Joe...I never even caught a last name."
"Dark Hair, smart suit, bit plump, very 'charming' in a game show host kind of way, you know there's something sleazy about him, but you don't know what?"
"That's the one."
"One of Kinsey's lackey's. To tell the truth, he's not the smartest guy in the world. He'd never be able to see beneath Kinsey's facade."
"He's the Ambassador to the Aschen. He's also getting close to Sam."
"Oh, this is bad." Davis said grimly.
"Paul, I need to get into Kinsey's office, find something, anything. Find out what he knows. I know it's a lot to ask. but..."
"I'll help you." he said without hesitation. "I want payback too."
"Kinsey's surrounded by bodyguards." he told me, as we drove to the office.
"Well, he was before."
"He's got even more now. I think he know's trouble's coming. And those guards will shoot to kill. Make no mistake, if he finds us in there, he will kill us."
"Scared?" I asked him.
"Terrified." he said, smiling back at me. "But for years I've sat in a nice cozy office, reading about you and Major Carter and Dr. Jackson and Tea'c running off all over the galaxy, risking your lives. It's about time I had some fun to."
It was surprisingly easy to get into the office. Okay, so it involved crawling through a dirty, bug-infested ventilation shaft, knocking out a few guards, disabling the alarm system (Davis had some surprising talents), but basically, easy.
Finding the information was not. All we found were the basic day to day records of any politician, not even any interesting lists of bribes. Davis hacked into the computer, but found nothing.
Then he had an idea.
"My dad had a desk like this." he said. "It had a secret drawer which you had to...." He fiddled around under the desk. In a moment, there was a click, and an extra draw slid out.
"Gotcha." I whispered. Inside the desk were reports, marked for Kinsey's eyes only. I handed some to Paul, and opened one.
It was written by Joe.
"Oh my God!" Paul suddenly said, his eyes staring in horror at the page. It was then we heard kinsey's voice outside.
"Go!" said Paul urgently. "If they find you in here, you'll never get back to Cheyenne. Leave the reports, they can't know we've seen them." I climbed up into the shaft.
"Hurry!" I whispered to Paul, but he shook his head.
"I have to lock it behind you, or he'll know they were two of us." he told me as he screwed the cover down. "Jack, you have to stop the Aschen, it's vital. They're..." but at that moment, Kinsey came in, and he fell silent.
"What are you doing here?" Kinsey asked, only slightly surprised.
"I wanted to know what was really going on." Paul said, his voice firm. ""Why I was no longer allowed to work with SG1. And now I know."
"Are you alone?" Kinsey asked, almost politely. "Please don't lie. It'll be worse for you if you do."
"I'm alone." Paul confirmed. One of the guards tried the shaft cover. It was locked. I stayed still, back in the shadows, where he couldn't see me.
"He's alone." the guard confirmed.
"Good." Kinsey said. "Shoot him."
I wanted to leap out, rescue him, but I couldn't. Whatever it was that Paul had found, it had so horrified him that he was risked his life to make sure I got out, and stopped the Aschen. I watched, clenching my fists so tight my fingernails drew blood, as the guards pulled out not guns, but Zats, and shot him, three times.
His body disintegrated. Nothing was left of Major Paul Davis. Kinsey sat down where he had died, and started to tidy up the mess we had left on his desk.
I got back to Cheyenne as soon as I could. I had to tell Sam what happened, I had to warn her, warn everyone. I ran through the base, to her lab, praying she was there.
She was. But she wasn't alone.
The Aschen were with her.
"Sir." she said, surprised, seeing me charge in, breathless. "This is Mollan. he's one of.."
"What's going on?" I asked darkly.
"Samantha volunteered to try the anti-aging vaccine." Joe said from behind me. I ignored him.
"I thought I asked you not to?"
"Could you leave us alone please?" she asked. They left reluctantly, Joe pausing at the door to say,
"Samantha, if you need me, I'll be right outside."
"She won't need you." I said harshly, closing the door in his face. Once we were alone, I asked her again.
"They asked for volunteers. I volunteered.!
"I thought I ordered you not to." I said, not bothering to disguise my anger.
"You weren't here to order me" she almost shouted. "You ran off, God knows where, on your never-ending secret mission to discredit to Aschen. Who do you think you are, that guy from The Invaders? There's's been no harm done, I'm fine."
"I suppose the Aschen Doctor told you that."
"I thought you thought I was clever. Of course not. I got Janet to double-check the results. I'm okay. You're wrong, Sir."
"Sam," I said, trying to calm down. "Please, please don't have any more to do with the Aschen until I...."
"Until you what?"
"I'm not sure yet. But stay away from them. And Joe."
"And Joe." she said cynically. "Why Joe? Is it the same reason you disliked Martouf? And Narim?"
"Sam, I am ordering you..." I said harshly, loudly.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I have to disobey your orders. You see, Daniel and I already have orders. We're going to Aschen tomorrow."
Oh no. No no no. No way. This must have come straight from Kinsey. She'd be there. In the heart of the enemy's stronghold.
"With Joe." she sid, finally.
"Sam, do these orders come from Kinsey?"
"No, Sir. From the President. And please don't tell me once again that the Aschen are evil, or that's it's all a conspiracy, because, with all due respect Colonel, I'm not prepared to believe you unless you produce some evidence." she said, wearily.
"I see." I said calmly. It was obvious Joe had had a little talk with her, somehow persuaded her against me. "By the way, Paul Davis is dead. I'd tell you how and why, but I don't think I can trust you any more."
I flinch even now, as I remember telling her that. Why did I say that? I could trust her. I could always trust her.
But I was grieving, in shock,and angry, and all that filled my head was the Aschen. I wanted to lash out at someone. Unfortunately, I picked the person I was closest to.
Sam had been on Aschen for six months before she finally found time to come back. I waited for her in the gateroom, with Hammond. I'd found nothing else about the Aschen, although I'd spent days going through all of Daniel's records to find something about them, talked for hours with Teal'c about what he knew (nothing). I'd discussed their medical treatments in detail with Janet.
"What I understand, I like." she told me
"How much do you understand?"
"About 5% of it." she admitted. "Still, they are making remarkable advances. They think they'll have a cure for cancer soon." she said, but she seemed down.
"You don't like them either." I said.
"No." she admitted slowly. "I can't put my finger on it, its nothing specific. Maybe its just because they're making my job obsolete."
"Hey, you can be my doctor any time." I said, trying to cheer her up. "By the way, " I asked, trying to be breezy, and not fooling her in the slightest, "Have you seen Sam lately?"
"I visited her about a week ago." she said. "She says she's coming back soon. I'm going to see her next week, and we're all coming back together."
"Yeah.she's said that before." I said. "Something new and exciting always comes up."
"You could visit her."
"There's no way I'm going to Aschen." I insisted.
"Then you could write to her. I could always give her the letter personally."
"No, what I have to say to her is one of those face to face deals, you know?"
"All right." she sighed. "But don't leave it too long. Whatever you've got to say say it soon, or.."
"Or nothing." she evaded. "I've got to go."
"Janet." I said to her. "Can you tell her one thing. Tell her I...give her my best."
"I will." she promised.
That was over a month ago, and Sam had finally agreed to come back. I was nervous. I wasn't sure if she would even speak to me, after the way we parted.
The Stargate whooshed open, and I straightened up.
And then she was here. Dressed in grey, the favourite colour of the Aschen, she looked like one oh those ice-cool, untouchable Hitchcock blondes. I'd forgotten, in six months, I'd forgotten, how sometimes the very sight of her took my breath away, and I felt like I had the first time I saw her, as if someone, somewhere and suddenly switched a light on in my mind, and once again, I couldn't move, couldn't speak, could do nothing but look at her.
She smiled, but not at me. She saluted General Hammond, who saluted back.
"Welcome back Major." he said, looking like a father welcoming his favourite child home.
"Thank you , Sir. I'm sorry I was away so long."
"That's alright." he said, smiling paternally. "It's just good to have you home. Let me tell you, you've been missed around here."
"It's good to be back." she said, smiling back at him. "I've got so much to tell you."
"It can wait. Go and settle in." he told her. She nodded, and turned away, and then she was facing me.
"Hi." I said, softly.
"Sir." she said sharply, although her voice shook a little (or did I imagine that?). Then, before I could say anything else, she turned to go. As I watched her leave, I noticed something.
She was holding hands with Joe.
It's dark now, and I should really turn the lights on. But all I can see before me is that life-changing, gut-wrenching moment.
Her hand in his. That slightly shy, almost coy smile that used to be mine, and mine alone, directed solely at him now. And the light she lit in me was extinguished, for ever.
I managed to get her alone, once more, later. I hadn't wanted to go in, while desperately needing to go in. I paced the corridor up and down a few hundred times until Janet came along and ordered me to go in 'for all our sakes!'.
I went in.
She'd changed back into uniform, and looked a little like my Sam again, but my Sam would never have given me that cold glare.
"Long time, no see." I said.
"Long time, no visit from you." she replied. I decided to ignore that.
"So, how was Aschen?"
"Did you learn much?"
"I learnt a lot." she said, continuing to unpack.
"Anything useful to you, or to the rest of the human race?", she asked, almost as sarcastic as I can be. It was fairly obvious by now she was just as angry as when she left, possibly even more, since I hadn't visited her. But I couldn't have gone to Aschen, didn't she see that?
"Sam..." I started to say.
"Major! " she snapped. "You're entitled to call me Major, or Carter, but not Sam, Sir."
"You're still angry." I said.
"The Aschen are good people. They only want to help. I saw that while I was there. If you had come to visit, as I know Daniel asked you to, you might have seen that."
"You only saw what your new 'friend' Joe wants you to see!" I said angrily. "Sam, don't you understand..."
"No!" she snapped back. "I cannot understand why you are so obsessed with proving the Aschen are worse than the Gou'ald. You don't do anything, you don't care about anyone, the single most pressing issue in your life is proving you're right!"
"And how many times have I backed you up when everyone thought you were wrong, even though I couldn't understand a word you were saying?"
"A lot less times than the times I've backed you up against everyone else, even against Daniel and Teal'c!" she yelled back.
"Look, Sam." I said, trying to calm us down. "I know that there's been times when I've been wrong, but trust me, this isn't one of them."
"Trust you!" she said, under her breath.
"Please, "I continued. "Help me this time. You and I, we've always been just that little bit closer than the others. You know that I care for you, that I'd do anything for you, haven't I proved that?"
"Don't you dare." she hissed. "Don't you dare throw that in my face."
"Throw what in your face?" I yelled, angry my attempt to make up had been rejected. "The face that I love you, and I thought you loved me too?"
"Love!" she shouted, although I could see tears in her eyes now. "You've shown precious little love lately. You've been as distant these past two years as you were when you came back from Adorra! At least you had an excuse then, but now, your obsession consumes everything and everyone around you."
"Sam!" I started to say, but she interrupted.
"And I don't ever remember either of us using the word 'love." she said coldly.
Oh God. I felt a chill spread through me, one that started in my chest, and froze all the life in me.
"They taught you a few things in Aschen then." I said, equally coldly.
"I learned a few things, yes." she said gently. almost sadly. "I learned what it was like to have someone say please and thank you, instead of just yelling 'solve it, Carter' at me, and expecting me to solve it. I learned what it was like to have someone who cared for, and saying it to me, instead of having it forced out of them by Anise. I learnt there's other ways of expressing love then the occasional longing glance, and unspoken words. I learnt what it's like to be around someone who doesn't hide half their feelings, leaving to guess how they feel, and being angry when you're wrong. And I learnt I want more than to spend the rest of my life running around after a man I can never have."
She'd revealed more to me in that speech, than she had done in the last five years. The tears ran freely down her face now. "And please don't tell me you care for me again, because the last thing you said to me was that you couldn't trust me. I'd have thought, after everything, the least you could do is trust me."
I should have reached out. I should have given in to her. But I couldn't. I couldn't push away that memory of rejection. So we each stood there, in our own little self-protective bubble of hurt and loneliness. The tears poured down her face, and I could feel tears in my eyes. We should have comforted each other.
"Goodbye." I said, and left.
That was the last time I ever spoke to her. Until today, of course. It wasn't the last time I saw. The next time I saw her, was at her father's funeral.
I quit soon after the argument with Carter, unable to bear being near her any more. The urge to see her was out weighed by the fear of finding her and Joe in a clinch somewhere. I'd managed to talk Hammond into letting me visit the Tok'ra though. It wasn't difficult. Soon, the gate was going to be moved to Washington, and he wasn't happy with the idea. Kinsey was looking more and more like a shoo-in in '04, and Hammond did not want the gate directly under HIS control. He was beginning to find the Aschen a touch repellant too. He gladly sent me through to the last known position of the Tok'ra.
The Aschen/Gou'ald war was in full swing by now, and although several SG personnel were involved in it, in an advisory capacity, it was so far away in space, barely any of us were aware of it. There were many Tok'ra fighting with the Aschen. I expected Jacob to be with them.
Which is why I was surprised to find Jacob sitting quietly in the Tok'ra base, doing nothing much at all.
"Why aren't you fighting in the war?" I asked him in surprise.
"Why aren't you?" he asked back. We understood each other.
"Let's talk." he said.
We walked through the corridors, being careful we weren't followed.
"I take it you're not too keen on the Aschen?" he asked me.
"That's putting it mildly. To tell the truth, stripping that holier-than-thou mask off them has become something of an obsession." I admitted.
"Really? What does Sam think?"
"She doesn't agree. We argued about it." I said, trying to keep my voice light, not reveal how the bottom fell out of my world every time I though about her.
"Did you two make up?"
"No." I said shortly. "She's hooked up with some guy now, he doesn't leave her alone long enough for me to talk with her."
"And you quitting the SGC doesn't help either."
"How did...? You've seen her." I said. He nodded. "Did you tell her how you feel about the Aschen?"
"No." he told me. "I don't want to lose my daughter, Jack. In case you forget, we're in the minority here. And as brilliant and imaginative as my daughter is, she IS a scientist. She won't believe any theory until she sees some evidence, no matter how small. And we have no evidence."
"Just a gut feeling."
"An emotional reaction. And ever since Jonas, Sam's been a bit wary of emotional judgments."
"About me, or the Aschen?" I asked. He just smiled, and continued walking.
"You know Anise, right?" he asked.
"Well, she's also not a big fan of the Aschen."
"That's a point in her favour - to balance out all the points against her."
"Yeah, I know." he said. "But like Sam, she's a scientist. And she's been trying to get proof. I'm supposed to meet her this evening."
"She's here?" I said, falling behind him.
"Yeah. Why? You got a problem with her?"
"Well, apart from anything else, she made a pass at me." I admitted, feeling my cheeks burn even as I remembered.
"You're kidding, right?" he laughed. "Anise?"
"Well, no, Freya. She said Anise liked Danny, but she would just have to suffer."
"I'd loved to have seen that!"
He was still laughing as he turned into a room - and it blew up.
Another death to mourn. I tried so hard to save him, for my sake as much as Sam's, but I couldn't.
Another black mark on my soul.
The funeral was in December on a cold grey day. I attended, but kept well back, out of Sam's way. I didn't want her upset by seeing me, not today. She didn't know I'd been with him when he died. I'd argued furiously with Hammond about it.
"We can't tell her you met the Tok'ra, Jack. What if she tells Joe, how long before it got back to Kinsey?"
"Why would she tell Joe?"
"Because she loves him, Jack."
They'd been so many blows to my spirit over the years that I no longer felt anything. I was numb.
Still, I mourned Jacob. And my heart ached to see Sam so pale and thin. She was surrounded by Daniel and Teal'c and Janet, and Joe was supporting her, but he couldn't be truly sorry. He'd never even met Jacob. I wish I'd been by her side. I could have reminded her what her dad was really like, mourned with her, instead of offering empty platitudes.
When the service ended, she turned to leave. And then she saw me. She straightened for a second, as if strengthened by seeing me, and then she smiled, slowly, sadly, sweetly. There was no anger there, no hate. I moved to speak to her.
I turned to see Anise standing at my shoulder.
"Not now." I said.
"I have to now. I must talk to you."
"I can't, I said.", seeing Joe spot me, and move to Sam's side.
"It's about the Aschen." she whispered. "I have the evidence you need."
I turned away from Sam.
I should have said 'Damn the Aschen, I need to speak to Sam'.
I should have, but I didn't.
We walked into the churchyard. It was misty, and cold, and Anise shivered in the Earth clothes she wore.
"Not used to cold?" I asked.
"It's different." she admitted. She stared out across the churchyard, to the sea. "What a lovely place to be buried." she said. "The Tok'ra live a vast proportion of their lives underground, or in space." she told me. "It can get claustrophobic. Sometimes I long to see the sky, feel the wind om face."
"Thinking of moving here?" I asked, a little disturbed by this new introspective mood of hers.
"It is a lovely world." she told me. "I can see why the Aschen want it."
"Then they are trying to take it over." I said.
"I found evidence." she told me. "Plans for this planet, what they will do with it. I'm not sure of the timescale, but I do know they are planning on wiping out all human life on this planet."
"How did you find this?"
"It was ...difficult." she admitted. "I am now a hunted woman." and I saw suddenly how her eyes had taken on a new wariness, her movements were more furtive.
Beyond her, I could see Sam being helped into a car by Joe. She glanced once at me, then looked away again, expressionless. I turned back to Anise.
"Why are you helping us?" I asked.
"I have made many mistakes. " she said. "The armbands, the Zatarc testing. I only wished to do good, but I ended up doing damage. I wanted to redeem myself."
"Do you have the evidence with you?"
"No. I...I...". Her voice trailed off. She suddenly clutched her stomach, and screamed in pain.
"Janet!" I called. She came running over with Teal'c.
"What's wrong?" she asked efficiently.
"I don't know, she just collapsed in pain."
Janet managed to lift Anise's head. Blood was pouring out of her mouth and nose.
"I recognize the symptoms." Teal'c said. "It's poison. Her symbiont is disintegrating. She's dying."
"Not if I can help it." Janet insisted.
"No, too late." Anise choked. "Hammond...." she tried to say, as Janet lay her down.
"Support her head." Janet ordered me. "Don't let her swallow the blood. Teal'c get my bag from the car." Teal'c ran off and Janet took off her coat, and laid it over Anise. "You'll be all right." she said, gently. Anise shook her head. Her eyes filled with pain, and now she began to weep blood. Blood was beginning to sweat through her skin, soaking my lap.
"Hammond." she croaked. "Box."
"Try not to speak." Janet said.
"I'm sorry." Anise whispered. Then she gave one final, convulsive shudder, and died.
"What happened?" Janet asked, horrified.
"She redeemed herself." I said softly.
Whatever Anise did, she did not deserve that death. Her haunted, blood-filled eyes drift through my nightmares, and I wake up screaming.
It was New Year's Day, and Hammond, Janet and I sat in a cafe in Washington, not celebrating at all.
"I tried to do an autopsy." Janet said. "But her body just disintegrated."
"Do you think the Aschen poisoned her?" I asked.
"No." insisted Janet. "It was a Gou'ald poison. Teal'c identified it."
"But the Aschen could have..."
"Jack, no!" Janet insisted again, harshly. "This has gone too far. If I were still your doctor, I would recommend you see a psychiatrist. As your friend, I'm just going to tell you you're nuts."
I started to argue, then thought better of it.
"Maybe you're right." I said. "I'll try to stop blaming everything on the Aschen."
"Good." she replied. "Now, I have to go. I have to meet Sam. Any messages?" she said to me pointedly.
"Give her my love." Hammond told her.
"Giver her my best." I said, simply. Janet nodded, and left.
"Have you really changed your mind about the Aschen?" Hammond asked.
"No. But too many people have died because I got them involved. I don't want Janet's blood on my hands too."
"Not your hands, son. The Aschen. And Kinsey."
"Look, Sir." I said. "You..."
"Now don't you tell me to quit. I'm far too old and far too stubborn to walk away from a fight now."
I smiled in reply. Stupid of me to try to stop him, really.
"Anise said something about you, and a box." I told him. He nodded.
"When she came through the gate to the funeral, she gave me a wooden, carved box." he said. "No explanation. There was nothing in it. And no secret drawers either."
"So, now what." he asked.
"No idea. GO fishing I guess."
"Only this time, you're not asking Carter to go with you?" I looked up in surprise. He laughed. "Think I didn't know about you two?"
"There never really was any 'us two'." I told him. "She shot me down over this whole Aschen thing."
"Perhaps you two should talk."
"She knows where I am if she wants me."
"You two, both as stubborn and self-reliant as the other. You know, neither of you handle rejection at all."
I got up to leave, then had a thought.
"Sir, the carvings on the box, maybe they mean something. Maybe Daniel..."
"Dr. Jackson is in Egypt at the moment." Hammond told me. "Taking his first holiday in seven years. But his translation program is still in the base computers. I'll download it into my computer, and work on it at home."
"Wouldn't it be safer to work at the base?"
He smiled sadly.
"They're closing it down. Moving the gate to Washington, ready for the Aschen to come through as soon as Kinsey become President. They're turning the SGC into a tourist attraction."
"How nice."I said. " A Stargate theme park." His laughter echoed after me, as I left him in the cafe.
A month later, I was in my cabin on the lake, when there was a knock on the door.
"Janet?" I said in surprise, when I opened it. "Come in. How the hell did you find this place?"
"Teal'c gave me directions. He wanted to come, but he had to fetch Daniel from Egypt."
"Why? What's wrong?" She was white, and shaking like a leaf, not a bit that calm, collected, defiant, courageous woman I knew.
"General Hammond has died." she told me.
"Oh my God." I sat her down in the nearest chair. "How?"
"A heart attack. He phoned me last night." she told me, her voice getting more tearful. He said he had to talk to me urgently. I'd said I'd see him in the morning. When I got there, he was dead."
She started to cry. I poured her a drink, and crouched beside her chair.
"They ... the Aschen .. said he'd had a heart attack. But how can that be? I gave him a checkup last month. He was fine."
I know how, I thought.
"What did he want to tell you?" I asked.
"I'm not sure." she said. "But I checked his cellular. He'd called your cellular too, last night."
I frowned. I didn't remember a call. I went to get my phone. The battery was dead.
"I don't use it much." I stammered. "I forget to charge it up."
"Do you have any idea what it's about?" she insisted.
"The box." I remembered. "Janet, was there a carved wooden box there?"
"No." she said, confused.
"The Aschen must have it. We have to get it back. Get Teal'c, and Daniel here. Sam too.."
"Sam?" Janet said, standing up. "Haven't you heard? No, I don't suppose you would have."
"Heard what?" I demanded, sudden panic building in me. "She's not...she's okay, isn't she?"
"She's getting married."
I swayed, and had to lean on the wall. I'd thought I was immune to her by now. I'd thought I'd got past the stage of caring what she did. Now, all of a sudden, I realized there was no going back. I'd lost her forever.
"Joe?" I asked.
"Joe." she agreed. "Nice, dependable, safe, SANE Joe."
"But I thought...I thought..."
"That she'd come running back to you? Are you mad? You pushed her away! You practically drove her into Joe's arms. All you could think about was the Aschen, always the Aschen."
"She knew I cared." I said stubbornly, unwilling to admit the truth of what Janet said.
"One forced revelation does not a relationship make." she said gently. "She needed more. Reassurance. Stability. Lately, you haven't be able to offer any of that."
"She'd have had that and more if she'd only backed me up. She rejected me, Janet, in every way possible. I turned to her for help , and she was off playing happy families with her beloved Joe, and getting all cozy with the Aschen." I shouted, in my anger, my ..insanity, oblivious to the fact I was shouting all this at Sam's best friend.
"And why shouldn't she? They are on our side."
"No! They're unscrupulous, merciless, lying tyrants!"
!Why? Because you say so?"
"Yes! And if Sam can't see that, and help me, then good luck to her. She can marry her beloved ambassador, and to Hell with her."
Janet stood there shaking with anger, and I was aware I'd gone too far.
"I can't hate you." she said calmly. "Because I know this isn't really you, and because Cassie loves you, and because I owe my life to you, but right now, I don't like you very much."
And she turned, and left.
Of course, I know now I wasn't angry at Sam, I was angry at me for letting her go. But I didn't know that then. I didn't know that this afternoon. It's only now, sitting calm and still and alone, watching the stars coming out, that I realize that.
I wasn't invited to the wedding, but I went anyway. I got the time and the place out of Daniel, who didn't really seem that keen on Joe either, and stood outside, in the trees, watching her pose for photos.
She was lovely in her dress, as I knew she would be. But then, to me, she ws lovely in fatigues and a helmet, covered in mud. Dressed like that, she almost looked unreal. She smiled, but didn't really laugh, except when Daniel whispered something in her ear, and once I imagined I caught a rather wistful look, but she hugged her new husband, tight, and smiled for the cameras. Joe looked like he adored her, and worshipped the ground she walked on, which, after all, was what she deserved.
But she didn't glow. I remembered her as always having an inner spark, a light and a life in her. Maybe she only had that with me. Maybe I'd destroyed it.
Daniel spotted me, and wondered over casually.
"Hi." he said.
"Hi." I said in return.
"So, I was half expecting you to turn up during the 'whosoever knows of just impediment to this marriage, let him speak now' bit."
"She looks happy." I said.
"She is." he said gently. "I've seen her happier. You should talk."
"No." I shook my head. "Too much has been said between us. We'd only argue again."
He shrugged, and turned, as Sam called his name.
"Daniel!" I called after him. "Look after her, won't you."
"Always." he promised, looking so young, but so wise, as always.
I walked away, but was stopped in my tracks by a very beautiful young girl in a bridesmaid's dress.
"Hi Jack!" she said, brightly.
"Cassie?" I said, amazed. She nodded.
"So why haven't you carried Sam off?" she asked me, smiling, but kindly. Why does everyone keep asking that?
"She doesn't want me, Cassie." I said gently.
"If you say so." she said, not believing me.
She shrugged, and took my arm, and we walked away.
"So, guess what I'm doing now." she said.
"Umm, you've become the finger-painting champion of the world?"
"Not quite. Next year, I'm going to Cambridge, in England. I'll come back in several years with a brilliant physics degree, and an impeccable English accent."
"How..nice." I said, enjoying her company, her hope, her love of life, her future.
"But first, I'd thought I'd take a year out."
"A year out?"
"Yeah, it's something they do in Britain a lot. You take a year off between school and university, and try something else. Guess what I'm doing?"
"Backpacking in India?"
"White House intern." she said, stopping and facing me.
""You work for Kinsey?" I said, shaken. She nodded, her eyes serious. "Well, if he offers you a cigar, say no." I told her, trying to joke my way out of my shock.
"I've learnt an awful lot." she told me. "Passwords, times the guards go to the bathroom, secret ways in...." her voice drifted off, but her eyes were full of meaning.
"Cassie, what are you saying?"
"I can get you in there. Even to the Oval Office. You could finally talk to Kinsey."
"I'm not a child. I know what you think, Mom's told me, and I think you're right, but there's not a lot I can do."
"There's not a lot I can do either. But I would like to talk to Kinsey. But I don't want you getting hurt."
"Don't worry. I'll be gone in a few weeks, in another country. And if anyone does suspect me, I'll play dumb." She pushed an envelope into my hand. "Everything you'll need to know is in there." she told me. "Now, I have to go and hold Sam's hand during the toasts. You know how she gets embarrassed when she's the centre of attention. Any message for her?" I shook my head, smiling fondly at my substitute daughter. "You normally tell Mom to give her your best. Tell me, if you want Sam to have your best, why are yo always giving her your worst?" she said, walking away.
Janet's done a good job raising that girl. She's more perceptive than any of us realised.
So, a week later, I found myself in the Oval Office, in front of Kinsey, and we were all alone.
"What the Hell are yo doing here?" he growled.
"Don't reach for the panic button, or I WILL shoot." I said, pointing my gun at him, "I want you to look at these." I threw a file down on his desk.
"What is it?"
"I was hoping it would be a file of the Aschen's illegal activities, but since it's impossible to get that information, I'd thought I'd show you something else. It's all the people you've had killed to protect your alliance with those double-crossing snakes. That's Major Davis. He was a good friend to SG1. He died protecting me. That's Jacob Carter, blown up by a supposed Gou'ald terrorist. That's Anise. She was fed a slow-acting poison to give her a painful death. Hammond, who I think you know did not really die of a heart attack."
"Am I supposed to show remorse?" Kinsey said. "These people died because their purpose went against God's plan. Others have died too. Do you think these people are any more special because they were friends of yours? I have a file too, Jack. Let me show you."
"What file?" I asked, as he pulled one out.
"What you've got there is just the tip of the iceberg. You weren't the only one openly suspicious of the Aschen. Quite a few of your friends seem to have caught the same suspicious bug as you. Here."
He threw photos on the table between us.
"Bre'tac." he announced. "Presumed killed be a stray Gou'ald. Nyan, killed by a Gou'ald infiltrator. The Nox Lya, killed by a strange wasting disease. Siler, killed in a mysterious explosion in teh SGC. Thor, his ship destroyed by Replicators. On by one your friends are dying Jack. Soon you'll be the only one left. Do you see the connection here?"
"They all discovered the truth about the Aschen."
"They all died." Kinsey said.
"Why aren't I in that file?"
"Why would you be, Jack?"
"I know things too!"
"What things? Jack O'Neill thinks the aliens are baddies. The same Jack O'Neill who was badly wounded in the Gulf War. Known to have had psychotic periods, oh, we have the medical records to prove it, and we didn't have to fake them, which was helpful of you, Jack. He's been on medication. Once was so bad, had to be restrained. He starts to slip into insanity, as his good friend Daniel Jackson did after one too many many trips through the gate. Finally, the woman he loves rejects him, and marries someone else, and that just pushes him over the final edge."
"I'm not insane. I'm right."
"Prove it. With these kinds of records, if you start screaming 'alien' in the street, no-one's going to believe you. They'll pity you, maybe even laugh at you."
"So, if I'm insane, why don't I just shoot you here and now?" I said, advancing toward him.
"Do that and Sam Carter dies!" he yelled quickly. I lowered the gun. "She's surrounded by people who work for me." Kinsey said, a little calmer. "I just give the order, and she's dead in seconds. If I die, she dies. If I have an accident, she dies. If I get ill, she dies. Is all that clear?"
I put the gun down on the table. I believed him. Kinsey was mad enough to do it. Even if he wasn't, there was no way I was taking the risk. I could almost see it, the bullet ripping through her. Or worse, dying racked by pain, screaming as Anise had done. I couldn't face that. Whatever happened to me, she had to live.
"No-one will listen to you,because I can prove you're insane. And you kill me, the woman you love dies. You're screwed, Jack."
He was right. I was caught in a trap. I let his bodyguards throw me out.
And this has been my life fo the past ten years. Here, in this cabin, alone. Staring at the lake during the day, my dreams haunted by image of death, images of her, hurting me, rejecting me. But I never thought of her while awake. It was too painful.
Bu then this afternoon she came.
I thought I was hallucinating at first. She came round the corner, all in white, looking like an angel. My heart stopped when I saw her. She spoke, and I answered warily, wandering if hallucinations were supposed to talk. I couldn't stop staring. Was she real? Was she really this beautiful?
Bu then she called me Sir. And I knew she was real, because in the good dreams, she called me Jack.
I think that day was the first day I ever heard her use my name in her own voice, not shouted out by Jolinar. It should have been unbearably sweet. Instead, it was unbearably painful. She looked pleased to see me, if a little apprehensive. I didn't make it easy on her. I kept thinking of Joe.
Carter. I called her Carter. Is she still Carter? I don't even know Joe's last name.
She's got some way to save the Earth again, and she wants my help again. I'd forgotten, how the blue of her eyes could hold my hypnotized.
I'd forgotten how much her every movement, her voice, evoked such feelings of unbearably strong, overwhelming love. I'd learnt to control it once, but after so long, I wasn't used to it, and waves of feelings threatened to crack my self-control. I'd forgotten just how much I'd loved this woman.
No, I hadn't forgotten. I hadn't wanted to remember. So I stirred up the old anger, and sent her away, and thought myself safe.
But after she had gone, I realized I'd got everything I wanted. She'd come to me. She'd asked for my help, she didn't really need it, but she'd asked for it. Abd she'd asked me before she asked Joe.
Well, what the hell. It's not like I had anything else planned fo the day.
I've been here for ages. There's only so long I can hang around before someone gets suspicious,and takes a good long hard look at me, and a good long hard at the picture in the corridor, and jumps to conclusions. Why isn't she here yet? Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she doesn't want to change that last ten years. Maybe she's forgotten, as I remember, the joy of working together, of reading each others thoughts, of automatically turning to look at each other at a difficult moment. I just want to see her again, see her smile again. I want to tell her, she was right, I was wrong. Not about the Aschen, but her. She's the be-all and end all of my life, and I should never have let her go. I know if we do this, it's the end. If we succeed, this will never have happened. If we fail, we'll probably die I the attempt. Wiping out our ... my mistakes of the past ten years is as good a reason as any to die.
But I'd wish she'd come. I want to tell her I'm not doing this for the good of the human race. I couldn't give a damn about the human race. I'm doing it because she asked me, and it's the first thing she's asked to do in ten years.
It's strange to be here. This is where almost everything good happened in my life. I could stand here for hours, remembering.
There, a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. Don't look Jack, keep your head down. There, a better look from behind the tour guide. It's her, with Daniel wearing one of Teal'c old hats. Oh God, here it comes again, the way my heart stops. She 's here. It's happening. I'm going to get her back. And I suddenly feel unaccountably nervous. What if she throws what I said this afternoon back in my face? What if she refuses my help?
She's laughing at something Daniel said, and as I walk past her, I say it.
"And we're walking."