Story Notes: EMAIL:

STATUS: Completed

CATEGORY: AU, Drama, Angst, Romance

PAIRINGS: S/J, others.

SPOILERS: Everything up to and including Season 3

SEASON: Well... everything and up to including Season 3

SEQUEL/CHAPTERS: There are 7 parts to this, not including the disclaimer. Each part has five sub parts... so yeah. It's LONG. You have been warned.

RATING: PG - 13... just to be safe.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Heavy duty angst... Um... dunno really.

SUMMARY: It's long. He. No... A few members of SG-1 get stuck on the planet where they discovered Ernest, an alternate reality story. This deals with their survival and what happens.

YEAR COMPLETED: Started on 30/10/2001. Finished on 11/01/2002 (happy new year!!)


ARCHIVE: S/J yes please! Heliopolis (if I get around to putting it on there), my site (which should *hopefully* be online soon, and here's some shameless self promotion, the addy is

DISCLAIMER: The usual. I don't own any of the stargate sg-1 characters. I do, however, own the story line - well, most of it anyway -, the original and very groovy characters that *I* invented. Unfortunately the only thing I get out of this story is self satisfaction. No money, no nothing. sigh. The usual disclaimer thingos.. I mean, we all konw the drill anyway.

AUTHORS NOTE: Long story = Long Authors note. You have been warned.

Uh... a novel we were forced to read in english C called Remembering Babylon actually inspired me, sort of, to write this. The novel itself isn't so great plot wise (I'm hoping this fic has a good plot!!) and the only thing that really got me to absolutely love (yes suds, *love*) the book was the way in which it was written. I've tried to make this realisitic and me, being me, hates corny/cliched parts so if there are any corny/cliched bits in there *please* let me know and next time I'll endeavor to do better. He.

Now I'm off to start work on another long fic that's been bugging me for a while but I promised suds I wouldn't start *another* fic until I finished this one.

So... 'tot siens' as we say in Afrikaans and enjoy!!

DEDICATIONS: Firstly... big thanks to... (sorry if I miss anyone) Suds, Jo, Joanna, Joey, Arnise, Tigermoth, Uly for all being such wonderfully patient, encouraging and very *useful/knowledgable* beta's!!

Also to Lena for being such a lovely person. Hope M-I-L is doing okay!!

And this one is going to be for... gee damn, *ME*. I worked so hard and so long on this... i'm just getting teary! *sniff*



Cold. Wet. So, so cold. Ribs, painful. Arm. Fire shooting up arm. Cold. Oh...want to moan, want to cold. So sore. Arm. On fire. Wet. Cold. Help.

Voices. Soft. So soft. So far away. Help me. Please. Help me. Cold. So cold. So wet. Nose. Itchy nose. Want to scratch nose. Can't. Cold. Jagged stone digging into cheek. Fire burning up arm. Cold fire. Drowning. Cold. Help. Please help. It hurts. Why aren't you listening? It hurts. Help me. Please, help me. So cold.



"I am here, O'Neill." I see his lips move, the words lost to me as the noise resonates around the room again. Noise. So much noise, I'm scared my head is going to split open. My body pulses with the movement, I've long since been able to tell where the rocking floor begins and my shaking legs end. All that seems to exist is the noise.

No. That's not true. My team. My team is here.

"TEAL'C!" I scream again, he lurches towards me, his normally graceful bulk stumbling towards me drunkenly. The debris showers down on us, a grimy coating of scratching dirt and rocks sticking to our rain slicked bodies.

He reaches me, and we clutch at each other for balance. His tree-trunk-like fingers dig into my arm, nearly cutting off the blood circulation. I don't complain as my cold, numb fingers wrap
themselves in the tatters that were once the jacket he wore so proudly.

"The others." He shouts in my ear, his voice blending in with that horrific noise, the creaking and cracking as the world around us sways and moans its complaint.

The others. Where are they? The world is darkening so rapidly...the noise is suffocating everything else; I'm drowning in it. Daniel, where's Daniel? Oh! Daniel went home!

"Daniel's okay!" I yell back, relief bringing a momentary release from the noise. But the elation at Daniel's safety is short lived. Daniel made it back. No one else did. Not unless Carter...

"Dr. Langford!" Teal'c announces, darting forwards and staggering drunkenly towards a battered figure stumbling towards us. Catherine. Her eyes are wild with fear, panicking. She's screaming something, I can see her lips move but the only sound that I can hear is the noise around me. The thunder claps again and the world shakes mightily in protest. A war. A war between the heavens and the earth. I sure as hell hope the earth wins this one.

"Ernest!" I can hear her now, as I hold her close to me, steadying her and offering comfort. Ernest. A pang runs through me. Please. No. Please let him be okay, don't do this to her. She's only just found him for crying out loud!

The rain is still falling, hitting us like small stones being hurled by spiteful children. My cheeks are stinging and my vision is blurred. My eyes are tearing because of the burning droplets of water, but it's not over yet.

Another clap of thunder rocks around the room, the lightning illuminating it so that I just have time to catch a sight of something that causes my heart to stop beating for a second. Catherine must feel the shock coursing through me, I jerk as though I just touched a live wire. The Stargate. It's lying flat on the earth.

She pulls out of my hold, but I don't let go. The building shakes again and a rough push from Teal'c throws us out of harm's way as another wall and section of roofing crashes to the ground. Oh. Could this night get any worse?

Of course it can. Dumb question. Remind me never, *never* to ask another question like that because the answer to them is always yes.

"Teal'c!" I yank on his arm. My team isn't safe yet. I don't know where Carter is. Or Ernest. He's not stupid, he knows what I'm about to do, and he doesn't insult my judgement or authority by arguing. Instead, he takes hold of Catherine and leads her out of the room as quickly as possible.

"CARTER!" My voice bounces around the room. I realise with surprise that the noise is fading, the rumbling isn't so loud anymore and I can actually tell where my feet start and where the floor ends.

Now that the noise is going, my other senses start to function again. I can smell the air, dusty despite the gallons of water bucketing down over me every second. I taste the coating of dust and grime in my mouth, feel it clogging my nostrils and chafing against me where it has gotten under my uniform, rubbing my skin raw. Water rivulets down my face, gushing into my eyes and matting my hair to my face.

"CARTER!" Another flash of lightning. A glint of something pale, something gold. Her hair maybe? Another rumble and the floor bucks. OH...Oh no. Things can definitely get worse. Oh damn. This is not good. This is *so* not good. Where's Teal'c when I need him? Oh, oh right. I sent him out with Catherine...damn.

Movement. I jump as another part of the roof comes crashing to the ground, missing me by centimetres. Small chips break off and fly away, stinging my cheeks and neck nearly as badly as the rain. I look up as I struggle to my feet, tearing what remains of my jacket as I yank it out from beneath the large boulder.

Something touches me on the back, a tentative touch. Carter! I spin around as quickly as possible, losing my footing on the unstable ground and crashing to the ground again, sharp rocks and jagged edges digging into my back. I look up at the shape of Ernest as he bends over me, his innocently naive silhouette peering down at me. Not Carter. Damn it, where is she?

"Ernest..." The words stick in my throat as my tongue discovers resistance against the dirt-clogged roof of my mouth. It feels disgusting, big and coarse in my strangely dry mouth.

Another jagged burst of lightning, and then I see it.

"CARTER!" I ignore Ernest, he's okay as far as I can tell. Carter isn't. Oh, SHIT!

"O'NEILL!" Never have I been so glad to hear Teal'c's voice speaking in my ear.

"Ernest!" I grab hold of him, studying his dim form in the darkness. Why does it have to be so dark? "Go to Catherine, okay? Go to Catherine!" He's a like a dog. A quick, affirmative nod of the head much like an eager wag of the tail, and he disappears over the rubble, swallowed by the darkness.

"Captain Carter?" Teal'c asks me.

"Here." I trip over another rock and half land on top of her. She's conscious, barely. "Help me get it off her!" I panic. Why am I so panicked? Because, Jack you doofus, this place is going to go any second!

"We will not succeed, O'Neill." Ever the optimist.

"Quit being so damn excited and help me lift!" My hands, arms, legs, back; my everything strains against the weight, my numb, lifeless fingers scrabbling and straining with every bit of strength in their possession to hold onto the gate and lift it. With an uncontrolled, desperate scratching they slip off the cool metal of the Stargate. I try again, ripping my nails off against the smooth surface, vehemently searching for a hold. Once again they slip, leaving her arm pinned beneath the large metal ring.

"You are not succeeding." Teal'c *helpfully* points out, and I realise with sudden relief that just as quickly as the storm came, it's leaving. The world is now eerily silent and dark, but the darkness is also fading, leaving a drab, murky grey light starting to filter in through the now gaping hole where the roof once was.

Another shift beneath our feet, and I clutch fearfully at Carter. I will *NOT* lose a member of my team. Come hell or highwater, Carter will *NOT* be pulled out of my grip. Which, come to think of it, might have just arrived. right there. Focus Jack, that's right, *focus*.

"O'Neill, we do not have much time." Teal'c states urgently, his eyes focused unwaveringly on mine.

"So you noticed too, huh?" I grunt, pulling myself to a sitting position next to Carter. How do we do this? How do we get her unpinned without chopping her arm off?

Another rumble and again the world seems to tilt awkwardly. It does tilt and the gate shifts as well, ever so slightly. "It's sliding!" I realise, hope fighting within me. "Quick! Push it this way!" I trip over the gate, walking inside it's diametre as I scramble to the correct side.

Teal'c realises what I want to do, and makes his way over to me as well. "Will this not damage her arm further?" He asks quietly before placing his hands over the gate. The world is rapidly lightening, the greyness turning to opaqueness. It looks eerie, with large boulders
barely visible in the dusty clouds of mist gathered over us.

"It's either damage her arm or lose her entirely!" I point out, leaning heavily onto my hands. "I'm sure she'll understand." Catching my breath I ready myself. "One, two, three!" I push forwards, throwing my weight against the gate. Teal'c follows suit, but nothing happens.

"O'Neill, I do believe..."

The world rocks again, a sickening groan and a sound not unlike a stone being dropped from a height and cracking in half splits the air. Not good. Really not good.

I fall forwards suddenly as the gate takes off, sliding slowly at first but gathering speed as the world tips even more to one side.

"COLONEL!" Her scream cuts through the air, agony lacing the frantic cry. Her eyes are wide saucers as they meet mine, her good arm scrabbling for a hold in the rubble as she too, like the gate, begins to roll away from us.

The gate disappears through a hole where the wall used to be, Carter rapidly following suit. Her eyes never leave mine as her body bumps and grates against the small stones and not so small boulders travelling with her.

Teal'c is there, I realise suddenly, tripping and falling but rapidly closing the distance between himself and Carter. Just when I think it's too late he grabs a hold of the upper part of her broken arm and yanks her to a stop.

Then his feet give way.

I watch with a feeling of dread as the giant man crashes to the ground and Carter's eyes lose contact with mine. I close my eyes. Too late. I've lost them.

I prise my eyes open. I can't watch. I can't not watch though. In a last ditch effort Carter reaches out and snags hold of a large rock. She slows their descent just enough for Teal'c to grab a hold of another boulder, and they crash to a stop. I can see her already colourless cheeks change to a sickening grey colour as she looks back up at me, her eyes glazed with pain...and then they close.

Teal'c somehow manages to pull himself to his feet, and all I can do is stand and watch as he awkwardly picks her up, struggling to maintain his balance on the uneven, rickety ground.

He moves towards me so slowly he nearly doesn't make it. He stumbles often over the stones, and as he comes closer I suspect his leg must be broken because he can barely walk on it. The ground lurches again, and he throws Carter forwards. She lands near me, and I grab a hold of the remains of her vest. Dragging her towards me I catch a sight of Teal'c still clutching hold of a boulder. The world is slowly tilting, he can't hold on much longer.

Snagging Carter's limp form against a jutting boulder, I lean over the edge and reach out a hand towards Teal'c. He reaches up slowly and grasps my hand, his fingers ice cold against mine. Slowly we struggle backwards, his feet searching for and finding the bare minimum of contact needed to push him upwards and over the edge to relative safety.

"Let's go!" I grunt, not giving him time to recuperate as he flops over the edge of the jutting land. Grabbing Carter and throwing her gracelessly over my shoulder, I take off, only sparing a quick glance to see Teal'c following me, a hobbling, uneven gait as he stumbles over the ground that's once again bucking and twisting in some demented rhythm that only it can hear. But we made. By the skins of our teeth, by the bone in Teal'c's shin and by the cotton shreds of Carter's vest, we made it.



All I can do is sit here and whimper, watching as Jack efficiently takes control and puts a sense of purpose into our being here.

"Ernest, we need to find somewhere to shelter." I watch him silently as he talks to this strange, eccentric man that I knew so long ago. Ernest. What has happened to you, my dearest Ernest? I barely recognise you from the young, adventurous man I fell in love with.

"Caves." Ernest looks up, and I see the spark in his eyes as he looks up at Jack. There's admiration in the depths of those watery pupils that have aged over time. Jack is the man that Ernest never had the chance to be, and I feel envious for Ernest's sake.

"Where are they?" Jack is remarkably patient. I think it must be why he's so good with children. Oh, the man can be impatient, arrogant and domineering as hell, but the kids aren't fooled for one minute by that tough exterior. And Ernest is responding just like the children that Jack loves so much.

"On the beach." Ernest frowns slightly. "Catherine and I explored them. We found a lovely one that would have made a beautiful house..." He trails off, blinking in confusion but bearing a half contented smile.

"But?" Jack picks up on the pause.

"Catherine thought it would be better for us to stay in the castle. She liked pretending she was a princess and that one day someone would come and rescue us. You came to rescue me, didn't you Jack?" My eyes sting with tears as I watch the emotions and theories run across Ernest's face. He loves me. After all this time, he still loves me. To him, I have remained an unchanged constant. He doesn't seem to accept or believe that I was never really here with him. What's going to happen to us now?

"Ernest, I need you to show me where those caves are, okay?" Jack settles back on his haunches, his eyes never leaving Ernest's. The more I see and get to know Jack O'Neill, the more I like the man. I disliked him at first, just another military colonel who thought he controlled the world and that he was right all the time. He's changed, and I've gotten to see him more clearly over time. His team's helped with that, I think. Dr. Jackson, Captain Carter and Teal'c. Who would have guessed Jack O'Neill would be serving with such a bunch of misfits?

"I'll show you the beach. And I'll show you the caves." Ernest nods, appearing surprisingly lucid and calm considering the statements he'd been making a few minutes earlier.

"Okay. Catherine, I'm going to have to ask you and Ernest to help Teal'c."

"What about Captain Carter?" My voice is still wobbly and it's been at least an hour since it happened. Since we became trapped on this world. I now have the slightest comprehension of how Ernest felt when he realised he had no way to get home. No one knew where he was; no one even acknowledged what had happened to him. At least some people knew where we were, even if we didn't stand a chance of being rescued.

"Carter'll be fine, Catherine. I'll carry her down myself." Jack is back in control again. No worry, no anxiety, no hopelessness shows in his eyes. Instead I only see the grim determination that we will survive this, that he won't let one of us die on this world unless he can help it. The facts about Captain Carter's rescue that I managed to wrangle out of Teal'c just point that out to me. Jack, Captain Carter, Teal'c and Daniel. They're all each other have and they won't let anything happen to their team-mates. The fact that she is lying on the ground next to me, her head resting in my lap is testimony to this fact.

"What about her arm?" I ask, my eyes darting involuntarily towards the mangled limb. It's broken, though smashed or crushed would probably be a better word for it. The skin has been torn off in places, grazed in others, and the small patches where it's still intact have been stained the deep red colour of her blood. Even if we do somehow manage to save her arm, she probably won't be able to use it much. Thank goodness it's her left arm and not her right arm.

I see the fear and concern for Captain Carter slip across his face for an instant before his resolve wins the argument again.

"We'll have to do the best we can. All our medical supplies were in our packs which..."

"Are in the castle." Teal'c inserts as Jack fades away, realisation dawning on his face.

"Has there been any movement?" He asks, studying me intently. Movement? Captain Carter or...? "The castle, Catherine. Has anything else given way in the last five or so minutes?" He repeats the question more clearly.

" don't think so. Jack, you are *not* going to go..."

"I'm in command of this mission, Catherine." Jack states it quietly, his eyes daring me to challenge. I open my mouth, ready to respond to his challenge, but he cuts me off smoothly. "It's my responsibility to do everything in my power to ensure my team is well looked after and safe."

"That doesn't mean risking your own life!" I point out, knowing with a sinking feeling in my gut that it is exactly what his responsibility and his course of action is.

"If something goes wrong I want you to go to the caves and find shelter. Set up a way to get food and supplies...who knows how long we'll be stuck here for." Jack stands up, stretching out the kinks in his stiff legs and back.

Ernest also stands up and half follows Jack along the overgrown, narrow track leading back to the castle.

"Ernest." Jack sighs, stopping and watching him.

"I can find food." Ernest offers. "Catherine and I know where the best things are..." He offers, frowning slightly in confusion. He turns and looks at me properly. "Don't we, Catherine?" He asks hesitantly.

"I'm sure you do, Ernest." I can't help smiling slightly and watching as his own grubby face lights up in response.

"Yes. I do." Ernest nods and turns back to Jack. "Do you want me to find some food, Jack?"

"Don't stray too far." Jack grants Ernest his request. I don't say anything as Jack offers a halfhearted wave before turning and striding back along the path.

I'm not stupid Jack. Do you think I don't notice the tatters your clothes are in? The amount of blood that is staining your skin and clothes? The way you can barely bend your back?

I sigh and glance over at Teal'c who is busy watching me blankly, though his eyes betray the deep concern he also feels for Jack. "How's your leg?" I ask him, pointing at the injured limb which Jack insisted he rest on a rock.

"It is healing." He replies, not really answering the question. Jack was right, it must have been broken. Seeing my look, Teal'c continues. "It should be healed within a few days."

"That's lucky, isn't it." I sigh and look back down at Captain Carter's arm. How on earth are we going to make it?


She has seen his determination, and she believes in his determination. She simply does not believe his determination will succeed. I, however, do believe that O'Neill's determination will be enough for everyone to survive.

I am concerned for my friend. He was also severely injured, yet his pride and sense of duty will not let him be taken care of until the remainder of his team has been seen too.

Captain Carter is severely injured. Dr. Langford does not believe in O'Neill's determination the way he needs her too. Ernest is...Ernest has remained by himself on this planet in isolation for too many years. I am afraid that his mind has been affected. It would appear that so is Dr. Langford.

A rumbling in the distance and the slight movement of the earth beneath us brings to light my fears. O'Neill is in very grave danger, and there is nothing I can do for him. I can only hope that he is successful in his attempt to locate our packs, yet I do not believe he will find anything of value.

A movement in the bushes alerts me. Subtly I ready the side arm O'Neill and General Hammond insist I carry with me all times. Dr. Langford watches me, fear in her eyes as I raise the weapon. Ernest. It is Ernest returning from his foraging exercise. In his hands he bears a great many fruits and berries. It seems we have visited this planet during the fertile time of the seasons.

"Medicine." Ernest tells me, offering large leaf-like plants towards me.

"I have no need for medicine. I am a Jaffa. I carry a Symbiote that heals me and prevents illness from affecting me. Medicine is of no use for a broken limb."

"Captain Carter does." He insists, stepping closer towards me. I can read the fear in his eyes, he is ready to flee because he is scared of me. He is scared of most people, I realise, especially of Dr. Langford.

"How can that leaf help the Captain?" Dr. Langford asks, her voice gentle as though speaking to a child. I can not help but wonder what it must be like to suddenly find the one you have loved all your life and his mind has been affected as Ernest's has.

"It helps." Ernest narrows his eyes, searching the ground around the small fire O'Neill had managed to build with the wet kindling before he left. Spying a large stone, Ernest pushes it towards the fire. He carefully places the leaves on the stone and then uses another stone
to grind the leaves to a stringy paste. He scratches the paste onto one remaining leaf with his bent, twisted fingers and offers it out warily to Dr. Langford.

"What do I do with it?"

"I believe it is a poultice, Dr. Langford." I inform her, the strong scent of the crushed leaves working it's way through my body. "It is a very powerful drug." The scent warms me, much like a salve that Captain Carter once gave to Daniel Jackson for a bad cough he had.

"It's like Vicks." Dr. Langford gasps, pulling the leaf away from her nose after inhaling the scent.

"It makes the wounds better." Ernest says, pointing towards Captain Carter's arm.

"Thank you, Ernest." Dr. Langford smiles at him again, but I can see the sorrow in her eyes as she looks upon the misshapen and knobbly man that she knew as a youth.

"It's okay, Catherine. You showed it to me first." Hearing Ernest speak things like that is disconcerting for both Dr. Langford and I. I hope O'Neill returns soon, he is the only one that Ernest now seems to feel comfortable around.


Catherine. I love you Catherine, and you know that. You told me when we were walking along the beach and we found that shell that matched your eyes. I love you Catherine.

Looking across the small flames at the old woman applying the leaf poultice to the younger woman, I feel fear and horror bubble up inside me. A stately woman, I would describe her as. Never Catherine. Catherine is young and vibrant and so excitable one finds it hard to concentrate when she is near, spurting her imaginative, if not slightly far-fetched, ideas. How can this woman with the same expressive brown eyes be the young girl that's kept me company for so long?

It seems so real, the memories, the jokes, the stories, the confessions...but I *know* they're not real. They are confusing.

Catherine. Are we going home, Catherine?

No, Ernest, sweetheart. Not yet. We have to wait a bit longer. But look, we've got company now. Make sure you show them the best spot for drinking water. It wouldn't be polite for our guests to not have the best our garden has to offer.

"Of course, Catherine."

The old woman looks up at me, startled, concern lining her brown eyes. Catherine's eyes. This can't be Catherine. Catherine is young, she is laughing. This woman is old and there is sadness in her eyes.


Hurts. Still so cold. Hurts so badly. Colonel. Where's the Colonel? It hurts. I'm sorry, Colonel. Teal'c...Daniel? Someone help me, it hurts. Janet? I'm cold. It hurts. Buzzing noise in my head. Hurts. Agony. Fire starts again, gathering warmth as the ice drips over me. Cold. Hot. Noises. People. Cold. Hurt. Darkness coming. Daddy.


I feel like I'm a cadet going for my first run carrying my first pack. At least I've got them. Two packs. Daniel's and Carter's. Why I have Daniel's pack I can only imagine, he probably mistook Teal'c's for his own. Again. I'm surprised Teal'c doesn't get annoyed at him for doing it so often.

Daniel's pack is digging into my back. It's heavier than Carter's, so I figured it would be easier to carry hers in my arms. Another painful dig into my aching back as I dodge a fallen log, and I begin to wonder just *what* exactly Danny boy has in his pack.

Deciding that I've been feeling sorry enough for myself, I force my attention to study my surroundings. A good officer always knows his position and all the possible tactical advantages. As my surroundings now stand, one falling down castle behind me, one delapidated little camp ahead. On the left would you please note the *wonderful* leafy green foliage. Yes, we call those trees. Oh, hey, look, there's some more on the right! Wonderful. I was beginning to think that trees were something unique in the universe, a rarity. Thank goodness I'm wrong.

The whiff of woodsmoke catches my attention, and I allow my attention to drift from the current muddy, slippery track beneath my feet to the small makeshift camp and it's contents up ahead. Water continues to drip off the large, waxy leaves and finds a way down the back of my neck, not really worsening my already saturated condition, just annoying me even further.

"Jack!" Catherine sounds so grateful, I haven't heard many people sound that happy to see me in a long time.

"It's me." I smile at her as I step into the small clearing. A poultice of some sort has been applied to Carter's arm. Sweet. "I got two packs."

"That's wonderful!" Catherine's hand is stroking Carter's hair. I can see her weathered hands shaking slightly, and her eyes continually dart nervously towards where Ernest is poking with a stick in the fire. I'm guessing things aren't happy families between the two of them.

"I strongly suggest you use the medical kits contained within the packs to tend your wounds, O'Neill." Teal'c says softly from his position. The pain on the Jaffa's face seems to be lessening, but then again it's always hard to tell with the big guy. He has this habit of not revealing things until they hurt. *Really* hurt.

"Will do, Teal'c. Catherine, if I could get you to give me a hand..." This isn't going to be pretty, and I'm pretty sure Carter's not going to be too impressed when she realises that I had to help clean and patch her up. She does, despite her denials and statements, have a very feministic pride and I know she's a very modest, shy sort of person when it comes to revealing aspects of her anatomy. But it has to be done. I want Carter to survive, pretty much intact, and I know she won't be *too* upset, just a little embarrassed maybe. At least, I *hope* so.

I swear, getting stranded on alien planets light years away from home and having to undress your female 2IC to keep her alive was *NEVER* in the job description.



The weather has, over the last three days we have been on this planet, remained very pleasing. The warmth of the sun and the lack of wind has encouraged my symbiote greatly to heal my fractured limb.

Captain Carter, however, still remains in a state of unconsciousness. Dr. Langford, O'Neill and I have all taken it in turns to watch over her, dress her wounds and give her water to drink when she requires it. I am gravely concerned about my friend's condition. She weakens daily, and the fever ravages her body. Due to Ernest's medicine, however, Captain Carter's arm wounds seem to remain uninfected and healing remarkably quickly. O'Neill and Dr. Langford have both
applied the poultice to their own abrasions and both are healing very well. O'Neill believes there is still a chance that Captain Carter will retain the use of her arm.

My leg now feels strong and does not ache as much as it once did. I am currently venturing along the sands of the beach. In the distance the castle remains, a broken skeleton still desperately clutching at the sky. The castle has seen many, many seasons. Its walls have, however, failed the test of time. I believe that the Goa'uld will also, like the walls of the castle, fail the tests of time because these with me, the Tau'ri, grow strong and challenge them. While we are alive and living on this planet I will continue to hope and wait for deliverance from this planet so that I may continue my quest for the freedom of my people.


It's my turn to sit with Captain Carter. I've sent Jack to get some sleep. Teal'c disappeared a few hours ago on a walk along the beach, with Ernest discreetly tagging along behind him.

I found a shell today, wrapped in a bit of cloth. Ernest saw me find it, and he asked me if I remembered the night we found that on the beach. I wish I could say yes to him. So much has changed since the last time I saw him.

I was so excited when Daniel told me they knew where Ernest was. After all this time I should have known he'd have changed. I should have known that he wouldn't be the same Ernest I remembered and that we wouldn't just pick up where we left off and live happily ever after. It's stupid, but that's how I wished...

"Catherine?" Captain Carter's voice is hoarse, grating in her throat and barely audible.

"Shh. It's okay, Captain." I whisper, taking a hold of the drinking canteen that Jack always left near her. "Here, have something to drink."

"My arm." She moans, scrunching her pale, gaunt face up in pain. I touch her forehead hesitantly, and relief floods over me as I realise her skin is cool to touch.

"It's broken. Try not to move it. Jack splinted it for you but..."

"We're not on earth, are we?" She wheezes, battling to keep her eyes open as she tries to lift her lips for a sip of water.

"No, we're not." I can't lie to her. She deserves to know the truth. "Only Daniel made it back. Everyone else is still here and fine."

"Everyone?" She double checks as water dribbles down her chin and leaves a damp patch on the pathetic excuse for clothes.

"Everyone. Teal'c had a broken leg but his symbiote fixed that up for us..."

"Your face." She frowns slightly in concern, but the effort is too much for her and her eyes slip closed again in slumber.

Yes. My face. A jagged gash down the whole of my right cheek. A pang shoots through me. Not only a gash down my cheek, but several other scars too. A small mark from chicken pox, a tiny scar under my chin from a fall...all marks that have changed and moulded my face to the
person I have become after all this time. I'm not vain; I know I'm not beautiful. But Ernest remembered me as young and pretty. I've changed so much now, and so has he.

We're not the same people that we used to be.


"How is she?" I nod towards the young woman sleeping fitfully next to the fire.

"She's getting there." The older woman tells me, a longing look on her face. Catherine. She reminds me so much of the Catherine I know.

I can't find Catherine. She won't talk to me anymore. I think she's unhappy with me because I've been neglecting her. These strangers, the people that nearly rescued me are occupying my thoughts now. The older woman in particular.

Catherine. She's Catherine, isn't she?

NO. The Catherine I know walks along the beach with me and talks of everything. She talks of other worlds, of families, of her dreams...this Catherine is so old. Her eyes are old and tired. She was looking for something, but she's given up now.

Where's my Catherine?

"I brought food." I tell the woman, stealing a cautious look at her. She's watching me now, open sorrow on her face as she studies me in the firelight.

"You can't, can you?" She asks softly. She's angry with me, but sorrowed at the same time. What can't I do? Why is she angry with me? I don't know her. Do I?


"What's going on?" I roll to my feet, watching Catherine and Ernest studying each other. Something's wrong between the two of them, even *I* can see that. Catherine isn't eating right and she looks so unhappy. Ernest is just confused as hell, which is okay considering that he's been on his own for the last half a century or so.

"I brought food." Ernest announces, holding up a small animal of some sort.

"Great." I smile at him. The old boy is rather capable. Had to be to survive fifty year on his own.

"Captain Carter woke up." Carter woke up? Who cares about food.

"How was she?" I demand, pushing Catherine out of the way and inspecting Carter for myself. I hate to admit it, but I *do* feel a certain amount of affection for my captain. Hell, who wouldn't, she's a bright kid. Even brighter than me!!

"Coherent. She was worried about the team and she said her arm hurt." Catherine fills me in as I gently pull the poultice off of her arm.

Truth is, Carter, you've had me worried. This poultice of Ernest's will definitely be useful back home, but we all have to get home first. Her arm doesn't look great. The wounds are all red, but they don't look so angry anymore. The thing that worries me though, is the completely pulpy look of her arm. It's just so...flat. Squished. Jellyish. Unhealthy. I'm pretty sure her arm was very well smashed, not just broken. If only we could get some of that poultice on the bone and...

"Catherine..." An idea pops to mind. A Jack O'Neill special.

"What is it?" She knows I'm thinking of something because the thoughtful tone of my voice has to be a rarity.

"What if we mixed this stuff with water and gave it to her to drink?"

"What?" Catherine doesn't look too happy.

" might help with the fever and everything...and maybe it can do miracles for her bone too."

"I don't think it would help her bones heal any faster, Jack. They have to knit themselves back together, and that takes time." Catherine reminds me logically.

Damn. And I wonder why I never made it as a doctor.



"How are you feeling?" I open my eyes and look up into the Colonel's concerned face.

"Better, thanks." I tell him. Okay. So that's only a *little* lie. My arm still hurts like hell, and they won't let me look at it. Catherine had a fit last night when I thought she was sleeping and tried to prise the bandages off. I *know* I shouldn't touch the splint, that I should just leave the arm to heal, but it *hurts* and I would at least like to see *why* it hurts.

"If you try another stunt like last night..." He warns me, no humour in his eyes as he looks down at me.

"Sorry Sir, it won't happen again." Okay, so that sounded very false, even to my own ears.

"Carter, I'm serious. That arm is in bad shape, and I mean *bad* shape." No, he is serious. He's not joking. I *know* my arm is in bad shape...but still.

"Yes Sir."

"Good." He settles back, his eyes never leaving me.

"So how are things going?" I ask, letting my eyes travel around the room again, trying desperately to ignore my arm. But it's so sore. Sore doesn't even begin to describe it. If Daniel were here I'm sure he could lend me a useful word in one of the 23 languages he speaks. Then again maybe there isn't one that describes this kind of agony and then we'll just have to make one up...

"Not bad. Teal'c and Ernest have a rapport going now, they go hunting. That's where our lovely collection of animal pelts is coming from." He grins slightly, pulling a face. "Catherine is gathering berries and stuff...I've been fishing. The usual."

"How long have we been here, Sir?" I have to ask the question some time. Now seems as good a time as any.

"Nearly three weeks."

"Three weeks?" I gape.

"You were out of it for the first couple of days." I point out.

"More than the first couple." I snort; wincing slightly as my arm voices it's complaint. Loudly.

"Carter, I won't lie to you. It's bad." He sighs, leaning back against the wall. I feel privileged for some strange reason, that he's dropping the facade of optimism with me. I've seen him in front of the others, determined that we'll survive, and I believed him. But I know my Colonel. It wasn't *him* speaking. This is *him* speaking, because he's being honest with me.

"The gate?" It's a dumb question, but Catherine won't answer things. She doesn't know what she should and shouldn't tell me. The Colonel doesn't have qualms like that though.

"It's gone." He says simply.

"Gone?" I frown. I remember it falling towards me, jumping to get out of the way, a burning sensation as my arm got crushed...the haziness, the cold, the pain, the wetness and that cold fire that haunted me for so long.

"Yeah. It just fell over the edge. Took a large chunk of the wall with it. I think it's pretty much buried." He sighs, rubbing his hands with his face.

"So what are we going to do, Sir?" I ask softly, watching him hopefully.

"Survive, Carter, and wait." He looks at me, real determination in his eyes. "I'll be damned if I'm going to die on some God forsaken lump of rock in the middle of no where. I *won't* let it happen. Hell, you haven't even had a chance to climb the ranks yet!" He grins suddenly, and the moment is over. Now it's Colonel and Captain once again. A superficial, but comforting relationship none-the-less. "You should get some sleep." He stands up, reaching over and ruffling my decidedly greasy hair.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." I warn him, thinking about the safety of his own hands in that horrifying mop of grease. I can nearly feel it crawling down my neck. I'm sure at least a dozen different insects have made their homes in my hair, I can feel them crawling around there, sending cold shivers down my spine. I can't wait till they let me get up and have a bath. I can't wait until I *can* get up.


Things are strained. Strained would be an understatement actually. More like Catherine and Ernest can't be near each other without the temperature dropping a few degrees and the tension being tightened a notch. I just wish I knew *what* to do about it. Maybe when Carter's better...

"O'Neill." Teal'c motions me over to him.

"What is it?" I ask, jogging over to him.

"I have found something." He states calmly, not slowing his steady walk towards me.

"What?" I ask, turning around and falling back into step with him.

"An abandoned city." He glances out over the water. It's strange; on earth the water tends to have a slightly green tint to the blue. Here it's more of a golden colour, like a permanent sunset or something.

"An abandoned city?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes. I believe that Daniel Jackson would be most enthralled by this discovery." He converses.

"You going to show me this city some time soon?"

"Yes, but it is a distance away." He nods his head.

"I'm up to it." I point out, ready to go.

"As am I, however I do not believe it would be wise to leave Dr. Langford and Ernest alone with only Captain Carter." He points out.

Good point. Looks like the field trip will have to wait.


O'Neill is growing restless. He is a warrior. Unlike me, however, he has never been taught patience or methods with which to remain in control when left for long periods of time without battle.

Whereas I spend my time meditating and learning of the land, O'Neill launches himself from one project to another. One day he attempts to build a house out of wood, the next day he attempts to devise a better way for catching fish.

We do, however, have one ritual that is always followed. As the sun sets over the crimson waters we all gather in the cave. Dr. Langford and Ernest both remain silent during this time, as do O'Neill and I. Captain Carter is now also joining the ritual. Each night O'Neill places more logs onto the fire and waits until they are burning brightly. He then puts the meal on to cook. While the meal is cooking he takes his knife and carefully carves a notch in the wall,
representing another day on this planet. Already the total notches reach 22. We have been here for nearly a month, and we still have no way to return home.



"You can't do that!" How could he even suggest something like that? It hasn't even been a month yet and he wants to put them down as MIA.

"I was supposed to have done it a long time ago, Dr. Jackson." General Hammond says sorrowfully. I shouldn't be yelling at him because it's not his fault. It's not his fault that Sam and Jack and Teal'c and Ernest and Catherine are all stuck back on that planet. It's not his fault that we don't know whether they're alive or not, and it's not his fault that he has to put them MIA. But I'm still angry at him, simply because he's the closest one to target.

"So what now?" I sigh, deciding that I *am* being unfair to him. And to myself. And to Sam and Jack and everyone else. When did life get so complicated?

"Well, I'm going to have to assign a new SG-1 team, and it's your choice whether you'd like to stay on it or not." General Hammond said carefully.

No. No I don't want to be on SG-1 without the others. But I *do* want to find Sha're. And I want to find SG-1.

"I'd like to stay on SG-1, General." I can't believe I just betrayed my friends like that. But I will find them. I *will* find SG-1 and I will find Sha're.


"Damn it, I *don't* CARE!" One very testy female officer announces. Well, more like screams.

"Carter, you're being insubordinate..."

"It bears repeating, *Sir*, I DON'T CARE!"

"Jack, maybe it wouldn't be too bad if..."

"NO!" I glare at Catherine, and like a good little girl she pipes down. I wish.

"Jack, it's not going to kill her for goodness sake."

"You don't know that!" I point out, standing up and turning my attention back to Carter. "If you move your arm, Carter, and damage it even more then you can pretty well kiss your military career goodbye." I snap, and then freeze.

"I think I've already done that, Colonel." She says quietly, and I feel really guilty all of a sudden. I should have gotten them home sooner, I should have insisted that they go home and ignore that stupid display of high school chemistry.

"Carter, it's not that *I* don't want you to go and have a bath - hell, that would be very nice for everyone concerned, but I don't want you to damage your arm even more. I'm no doctor, Captain, but basic first aid tells me that thanks to Ernest's herbs and spices, you do stand a chance of getting your arm back. Sort of." Okay. That was one very technical and know-how speech that just came out of my mouth. I'm impressed. Why couldn't someone *important* have been here to hear me make such an impressive speech about a subject I know hardly anything about? Okay, so I do know quite a bit about *having* broken bones but...


"Yes?" I blink. Oops. I did it again. Now they all think I'm crazy. Even Ernest is giving me a wary look. Isn't a guy allowed to have a few fantasies every now and then? Okay, so maybe waving my arms around and pretending to bow *was* a freaky thing...but I can dream. Can't I?


"How are you doing?" Catherine asks me, settling herself next to me carefully, her eyes not meeting mine.

"About as well as can be expected." I smile slightly, reminding myself not to move. Actually, my arm has been better lately, but that's probably because we've been here for a few weeks now. According to the notches on the wall, which number 32, over a month. I think that's why my arm is starting to feel better. It still hurts though.

"Jack agreed to let you get up." She tells me, smiling slightly.

"Really? That's wonderful!" I can't help my smile. 32 days I've been on this planet, and I don't know what it looks like other than the inside of this cave and the inside of a castle that apparently doesn't exist anymore. About time they let me out.

"Not yet!" She warns me, putting her hand on my shoulder to keep my anxious body seated on the ground.

"What?" So that's really not fair.

"He wants to be here. To make sure you don't hurt yourself anymore." She faces the opposite wall again, leaning back against the one I'm leaning against.

"Well, he's certainly not hanging around when I have a bath!" I declare vehemently. The washes and spongings Catherine's been helping me with really don't compare to a bath. I can't wait to soak myself in some water, to feel *clean* for a change.

"I don't expect he will." Catherine smiles slightly.

I take the opportunity to study her. I didn't really know her well before we came on this mission, but she's lost something. She's lost the glint in her eye that told me she wasn't just another old lady stuck in the past. Now she is just another old lady, stuck in the past.

"What's happened to you?" The words slip out before I can stop them, and I colour slightly. That was incredibly rude; I don't even really know the woman.

She looks over at me, surprise on her face. "Well, other than getting stranded on a planet light years from home..." She fades away, and I'm surprised to see a tear trickling down her cheek. I would have thought that it wasn't too bad on this planet. Teal'c, the Colonel and Ernest all seem okay. Then again, Ernest has been here for a very long time. Teal'c is...well, Teal'c, and the Colonel...we all knew there was a risk of this happening. But Catherine, I don't think her change has to do with being stuck on this planet.

"Dr. Langford..." I narrow my eyes, hoping I'm not stepping out of place.

"Call me Catherine. Everyone else does." She smiles slightly.

"Even Teal'c?" I can't believe that. He still calls me Captain Carter, despite all the times I've tried to convince him to call me Sam.

"Well, okay, not everyone. But Jack and Ernest do..."

There. Ernest. This has to do with Ernest. Why else would her eyes flash with something for just the second that his name passes over her lips?

"So, Catherine, what's it like?" I ask, deliberately casual.

"What's what like?" She frowns, confused, and I realised I was too cryptic.

"Ernest." I say softly, and her face becomes unreadable in the dim light that filters in through the mouth of the cave.

"It's...expected I guess." She sighs, obviously not comfortable talking about it. But I'm bored, I'm bored out of my brain and this provides me with some distraction. Cruel and unfair, I know, but circumstances are a lot different to normal. I ignore my conscience.

"Then why are you so upset?" I ask her, still not quite sure what's wrong.

"I...We've changed so much." She sighs, shaking her head.

"Of course you've changed. It's been over fifty years..." I point out, my scientist brain stepping into place.

"I know that. Believe me, Captain, I know that, but I still believed that it would be different. That we'd just see each other and then everything would be okay."

"That you'd just pick up right where you left off." I feel a pang of pain in my own heart. I could relate to that. Isn't that exactly what Dad and I had done? Not talked for years after Mom's death, and then tried to make up. Only he still thought of me as 'his little princess' and I still thought of him as the person who's killed my Mom, though indirectly. I shake my head slightly, pushing the thoughts away. It doesn't do any good musing over the past and wishing you'd done things differently. It's not possible to just pick up right where you left off.

"I was so...shocked when Daniel came to me..." She whispers, but I can still hear the tremour on her voice. I reach over and squeeze her hand slightly. I may not know her well, but Catherine was there for me nearly every time I woke up, comforting me. I owe her something.

"I thought that...It was so long ago, so far away. Like a nightmare from another lifetime." She bites her lip, her eyes glistening with tears. "But the hope, the memories...It was incredible." She states, and a half smile sneaks through her sorrow as she relives the joy of the moment when she found out Ernest was possibly still alive.

"I was so excited, so eager to just run back into Ernest's arms and be happy..." I can't say anything, even if I wanted to. Nothing I could say could comfort her, and I can't think of a response to this kind of emotion.

"When we stepped through that Stargate and I saw him...I didn't recognise him Sam. My first thought was along the lines of, 'Oh my God, there's a naked old man running around here!'. And *then* I realised that it was Ernest." She snorts through her tears, disgusted at her emotions. "I...I didn't even feel compelled to touch him, Sam. I wanted to stay as far away from him as I wasn't Ernest I was looking at." She whispers, licking her lips as the tears run down her face.

I can only look at this woman with amazement and awe. She has been through so much, suffered so much heartache, and now she's got to go through it all again.

"I'm angry at him, Sam." She says suddenly, cradling herself against me. "I'm angry that he doesn't talk to me. I'm angry because he doesn't believe that I'm Catherine, just like I don't believe that he's Ernest." She whispers brokenly. My arm complains violently as I move and place my good arm comfortingly around her shoulders. It's the most I can do, but I know that a comforting hug can help a lot.

"I still love him..." She says eventually as the silence in the cave wears on. "But I'm in love with his memory, not with him." She shakes against me. "I'm awful, Sam, an awful person."

"No you're not an awful person." I state it firmly and honestly, because it's the truth. "You've changed, Catherine, that's all. Both of you. You've become different people." I try and soothe her hacking sobs.

"But I still *want* to love him. I still *want* to live happily ever after with him." She moans against me, starting to gather her control again.

"I can't help you with that, Catherine." I admit eventually. "I can't even offer you advice because I don't have any. I do think that you should try to get to know him again, find out just *how* he has changed." I suggest, knowing that my words are empty and not really a solution. You came to the wrong person, Catherine, I suck with relationships. Ask my Dad. Ask my brother. Hell, ask Jonas if you can get a temporary pass into hell.

We sit like that for a while, in an awkward silence that's still comforting because we've created an alliance. There's an unspoken bond between us because we're the only females and we've taken up the roles of best friends/sisters/mother-daughter. I squeeze her slightly and wonder what she's going to do.

I look up gratefully as the Colonel arrives, ready to escort me to my very first bath on this abandoned planet.




I watch discreetly as she makes her way towards the pool we use for bathing, cradling her arm to her chest protectively. It is not healed completely, despite her assurances to the contrary. Satisfied that she is in no danger, I turn away and return to my task of hunting.

We have been here for 43 days now, and already signs of the seasons changing are setting in. The land is becoming much drier and more brittle, the once abundant berries and fruit drying out in the harshness of a sun that seems to grow more and more intense as each day passes. Since our stranding on this planet, there have been no more storms or rainfall of any kind. For many days after the first storm, the world was alive with colour and sound as the animals and
plants flourished. Dr. Littlefield has told us that this happens regularly, every two or so months. Just when one begins to think that the world has turned into a desert, the storms come again, one after the other, until the world is flooded with colour and life once more. Captain Carter has commented that this is a very strange cycle indeed.

A small animal scurries across my path, and my hunting spear quickly meets its target. I am well pleased with my success at hunting today. Three small birds and now this small animal. This food will feed us well tonight, along with the fish O'Neill managed to catch this morning.

I glance up and once again my eyes rest on the sight of the castle resting precariously on the outcrop of the rocks. During our stay here, we have spent many evening by the fireside discussing the origins of the castle and the ruined city that I have discovered in the distance. O'Neill has decided that once the next storms pass we will all trek towards the city and explore. I look forward to this venture as it will give a release for O'Neill and Captain Carter's restlessness.


The tension is building, and I'm not talking about the tension between us people, though that is building too. I mean the tension in the air. For the last two days the world seems to have been waiting. The animals are hardly moving, which makes it harder for Teal'c and me to hunt, and the air is just hanging there. Not even a breeze is blowing. This reminds me a lot of the tropics just before a hurricane strikes, and Carter agrees.

I'm actually looking forward to these storms that Ernest says will strike any day now. They signify my release from boredom. I think I've been irritating everyone, especially Carter. At one stage Catherine even suggested I go on ahead with this hike and the rest of them will catch up...but I'm *SO* bored it's not funny. Man. What I wouldn't give for some *paperwork* even!

I'm waiting for our meal to cook at the moment. It's strange actually, the roles each of us have adopted. Teal'c hunts and explores, I hunt when I can be bothered, fish when I feel like it and usually cook our meals. Catherine and Carter look after each other...and by that I mean they talk. I know a while ago, the first time I allowed Carter to get up and go outside for a while, that they'd talked. Catherine's eyes were red and Carter looked so...sad. I'm happy with that though, happy that they have someone that they can confide in and rely on. Sara needed that, I know. She needed another woman who she could talk I'm guessing that Carter
and Catherine need that too. Not like us guys though. Ernest just forages around, looking for food and amusing himself by rambling away to 'Catherine'.

That unnerves everyone, the way he's constantly referring to Catherine and talking to her. I'm guessing that's a large reason why neither the 'real' Catherine nor Ernest aren't making a particularly big effort to resume their prior relationship, to put it delicately.

The sizzling and popping of the small cooking pot we had in our camping gear tells me the makeshift stew is almost ready. Almost. A few more minutes and then everyone will be here. It's uncanny how everyone knows when the meal's ready and when I'm about to do the 'Carve-the-day-on-the-rock-wall' ritual. But it's nice. It gives us I suppose. We're all in this together, so we'll all stick together no matter what. A very warped camaraderie, I suppose.


We eat well now, don't we Catherine? Colonel O'Neill and the dark man, Teal'c, ensure this. They are very clever to have brought along cooking implements for emergencies such as this. We should have thought of that, Catherine, the possibility of not returning home.

Home. Where is home, Catherine? I remember a place of sorrow and desperation; people with big eyes and fashionable hair all fighting for survival. I remember war, Catherine. There is no war here, Catherine. We're happy, aren't we?

I look at the objects Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter carry with them, the strange weapons and amazing tools. Has Earth's culture and technology really developed so far? Would we recognise it?

They hurt, Catherine, both of them. Neither of these women are as happy as you are. Captain Carter, a female soldier. The old woman who has your eyes, Catherine. She is so sad, the old woman. I look at her and I feel a strange resentment flooding through me. Resentment and fear. Why am I scared of her, Catherine? Why do her brown eyes seem to look into my soul so sadly and sorrowfully?

Is it wrong, Catherine, to like it here? Is it wrong of me to not want to return back to Earth? Is it wrong of me to want to live here forever with my new friends? They want to return to Earth, home. I want to stay here. This is home. It's all I know.


I look up and catch the look on Ernest's face. It's strangely disconcerted, as if he's just realised something that he should have figured out a while ago. Something good. He looks across at me and looks slightly guilty, wary about something. About what? What was he thinking? Was he thinking about me? Does he think about me at all?

A small grunt to the left of me reminds me of Sam. I look over at her and feel sympathy flood through me as she struggles to eat. Her arm, although healing, is definitely not going to be as good as it once was. Her fingers won't bend or move properly, and I know it aches alot, the whimpering in her sleep tells me that.

I feel Jack watching her as well, a sorrowed expression on his face. Despite all their protests and blushing at my good natured teasing and insistence that the two of them should have a less military relationship, the two of them are close. He's very protective of her, always within shouting distance if she needs any assistance what so ever. Her knight in shining armour, I tease her. She gets annoyed at me when I say things like that, and flings military regulations in my face. 'Besides,' she always adds as an after thought, 'we just don't *have* that kind of relationship. We're *friends* Catherine.' Now maybe but...There I go again. Always the romantic. Still...there would be a bittersweetness to it if they *did* fall in love. An old woman can dream, can't she?

"We think the storms will come soon." Ernest's voice breaks the sudden silence, his eyes fixed on Jack.

"You said that two days ago." Jack replies, looking away from Sam long enough to raise an eyebrow in Ernest's direction.

"Catherine also thinks the storms will come soon." Ernest replies defensively, curling his arms around his knees protectively.

Catherine. My heart still jerks every time he says that. I scrutinize him carefully in the dim light of our cave, the only light provided by the dancing flames between us. I don't see the cocky, confident young man I fell in love. I don't see the clever person who used to smile at me in a way that made my heart soar. I don't see or recognise the soul that used to listen to me talk about my dreams and aspirations and confide his own. I see a broken, weathered old man
with darting eyes that often seem focused on a world that I can neither see nor hear, much less enter. So why do I still want to love him?



"Dr. Jackson." The younger man shuffles into the office, his head lowered and his piercing gaze determinedly focused on the file he clutches tightly in his white-knuckled hands.

"General." He doesn't look up. But he's not military, there's nothing I can do to discipline him, and I don't want to discipline him either.

"I'd like you to meet Major Thomas and First Lieutenant Mason." I glance over at the two people standing in the room with me. Thomas is a good officer, a very good officer. Mason...well, Mason needs some work done on him, but he'll get there eventually.

Dr. Jackson looks up for the first time, his features screwed up suspiciously. "Hi." When he puts his mind to it, our Dr. Jackson can be very...aloof.

"Major Thomas is the new CO of SG-1, Dr. Jackson." The words hit him as though I have physically punched him. The betrayal and anger in his eyes as he looks at me hits me just as hard as my announcement hit him, only I'm not allowed to show it.

"Oh, really." He straightens himself slowly, his back going as rigid as Teal'c's staff weapon. The folder in his hands get shut slowly, the barely restrained anger only being held in check by a will power I know he possess.

"The other member, Dr. Lawson, has unfortunately been detained but she will be arriving within the next day or two."

"And just when were you planning on telling me?" He demands, his voice icy as he stares at me, refusing to turn around and further acknowledge my soldiers. I can feel their awkwardness at his resentment, but there's nothing I can do to ease the situation.

"I did tell you, Dr. Jackson. When I informed you of Captain Carter and Colonel O'Neill's status as being confirmed MIA..."

"You said absolutely NOTHING about replacing SG-1 this soon." He states calmly, his nostrils flaring ever so slightly on the word 'nothing'.

"I said that they would be replaced, the when was irrelevant." I respond just as coldly towards him. If I allow myself to show him the tiniest amount of understanding and compassion even, then I wouldn't be able to control my emotion and think as clearly as my position of Major General demands of me.

"What happens when they come home? What happens when Sam and Jack get back here and they don't have a team anymore?" He demands, placing his file down on the large table with a rigid movement.

"If that happens, Dr. Jackson, the situation will be reassessed depending their physical and mental abilities at the time." He still believes they will come back, that SG-1 is still out there somewhere. To him it is a matter of when, not if. I envy his faith in those people, but they are only that. Only people. And people get hurt, emotionally and physically. And people die. "Now, it's your choice whether you would like to remain on SG-1 under the command of Major Thomas. If you do decide to remain, you will follow their orders and treat them with the respect that you gave to Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter." My words are a warning to him, and he knows it.

"I'm staying Sir," His words are mocking as his eyes glare balefully at me, "But I can't give Major Thomas the respect I gave Colonel O'Neill because Jack still has my respect. And Teal'c and Sam too." He adds, narrowing his eyes.

"You will still respect your fellow team members." I warn him, my voice acid on all our wounds. Team members. Not Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter and Teal'c anymore. Three strangers, three new people invading and taking over the team he served with.

"But of course." He lifts his head proudly and turns to face his 'new' team. "How on earth could I possibly disrespect these fine soldiers?" He asks, but his voice is snide and the look on his is pitiful. They are not SG-1, and he won't give them a chance to prove themselves. Because Thomas and Mason aren't O'Neill and Carter, they have already failed in his eyes. Not, however, in mine. I have the utmost faith in my newest officers.


A tremendous crash outside my office startles me and I jerk spasmodically, knocking over my pink mug full of pens.

"Just what is going on out here?" I demand, stepping into the infirmary and glaring at a very annoyed Dr. Jackson.

"They've been replaced." He spits the words out as though they leave a bad taste in his mouth. They've been replaced. The words, under normal circumstances, would make no sense to me. But these aren't normal circumstances. They make perfect sense. Replaced. SG-1 has been replaced.

"That's no reason to destroy my infirmary, Dr. Jackson." No matter how much this is hurting him, I can't have him in here disturbing my patients.

"Aren't you even *angry*?" He demands, his eyes wild and his hair in disarray.

"Who should I be angry at?" I ask him logically, waiting for his answer.

I can see his mind working, his blue eyes growing thoughtful and his temper calming as he thinks logically about the situation.

"Me." He says eventually, his shoulders slumping as his defeated gaze once again meets mine.

"Why should I be angry at you?" This is where I play psychologist again and convince him that he's not the one to blame for them being...left behind. Left behind. We don't know for certain that they're dead. We also don't know that they're alive. And we have no way of finding out either.

"Jack wanted to leave." Daniel whispers, knotting his fingers together in agitation. His clouded eyes drift away from mine. "I didn't want too...I wanted to stay. They had to wait for me to decide before dialing...and then when they did...if I hadn't been so pig-headed..."

"Stop!" I cut him off, making no move to step towards him or comfort him. "Blaming yourself isn't going to help them, and neither is what ifs or I should haves."

"Then what is?" He demands, his anger resurfacing. "I should be able to do something, I should be able must be something!" He clutches at his hair and rocks himself slightly, frustration building.

"There is." I say softly.

"What?" He looks up, hope shining in his eyes, desperately clutching at something, anything that can bring his friends home.

"Don't be an ass to everyone. Do you really think that Jack and Sam would want..."

"That's not going to help anything!" He shouts at me, his voice thick with emotion and guilt. "I need a solution, something to BRING THEM HOME!"

As much as he needs to let this emotion out, I can't have him shouting in my infirmary.

"Dr. Jackson, if you're going to shout like that I suggest you leave because I can't have you..." He walks out the door without listening to me. I feel a stab of regret and guilt that I chased him away, but my patients come first. I should follow him, I should comfort him and
offer my friendship because right now, he doesn't have anyone now. SG1 didn't really have friends outside of their team. I should, but I can't.



"Hey Carter, what's up?" I didn't realise anyone had followed me, much less the Colonel.

"Nothing Sir, I'm just thinking." Okay, so that was *very* original, and lame. Even the small amount of cheerfulness I injected into my voice sounds false.

"Now there's something unusual. Carter thinking..." His wise crack, lame and *original* though it is, brings a smile to my lips. "Aren't you coming in?" He asks me. The three moons are out and together they throw a reddish-gold glow over everything. It's strange, but on this planet even the water seems to have a golden glow to it. Like a permanent sunset or something. I think it's something to do with the atmosphere and type of sun that this planet orbits, but I can't be sure. I really wish I had a few more instruments to take measurements with; this world is so interesting... "Earth to Carter." O'Neill says. An awkward silence falls over us. Earth to Carter. Earth.

"I'm sorry." I whisper, starting to stand up.

"No, wait." His hand rests on my shoulder, keeping me seated on the ground. Carefully, without removing his hand from my shoulder in case I bolt - which he very well knows I would - he sits down next to me and then carefully pulls his hand from my shoulder. The place where his hand rested feels strangely cold suddenly, which is strange in itself because the air is so humid and hot. "Are you okay?" I can just make out the concern in the shadows of his face.

No. No I'm not okay. My arm is wrecked, ruined, useless. I'm stuck on a planet with nothing to do and I just feel so *angry* at everyone... "Yeah, I'm fine Sir."

"You're lying to me, Carter." It's not a question or a probe for me to agree to or deny, it's a simple statement that we both know is true. "We're going to go home, you know." He says calmly as if it's another statement that we both know is true. But we don't know that it's true. We don't know whether we're going to spend the rest of our lives on this planet like Ernest basically has, or whether something miraculous will happen tomorrow and we'll go home. We simply don't know, and that's what gets to me a lot. "Say something." He begs, and I can hear his fingers fiddling with something. He always fiddles with something, I think it's a habit that he can't break.

"Like what?" I snort, using my good arm to pull knees up to my chest as my eyes stare out vacantly at the ocean. The whispering of the waves against the shore and the calming song they sing as they lap against the rocks sets a false atmosphere of relaxation and peace. Everything around us is filled with a tension that will snap at any moment in the form of one helluva storm.

The silence stretches on for a while. I can only imagine what wild scenarios Catherine will come up with and tease the Colonel and myself with over the next couple of days. Who would of guessed an old woman could be so suggestive? I think a lot of it comes with her relationship, or lack thereof, with Ernest.

"So why's the water red?" The Colonel asks eventually, a lame attempt to get a conversation going.

"I don't know. I think it might have something to do with a mineral or something that's present on this planet...Or it could have something to do with the type of star that this planet is orbiting-"

"We should name it." He interjects suddenly, and I can feel his eyes studying me.

"Name it?" I say slowly, testing the idea out loud.

"Yeah. The planet. We've got Earth...Venus, Mars, Pluto, Mercury..." He starts listing the planets.

"Hey, you know all your planets!" I joke, bringing some levity to the situation.

"Of course." He sounds slightly offended. "I know my constellations too..." He trails off. "I did." He amends, and once again the silence settles over us, but this time the silence is more like a comfortable blanket, bringing a soothing comfort with its presence.

"What do you suggest?" I ask eventually, starting to like the idea. "And not O'Neill's place!" I grin to myself.

"O'Neill's place?" He guffaws in mock disbelief. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of kingdom..." He confides and I can't help the chuckle escaping in me. "We have the castle to go with the theme as well..." He continues, waving his arm around in the darkness and the air movement his theatrical gestures create stir the hair flopping on my face.

"Oh yeah. I can just see this sign, "O'Neill's Kingdom, twelve miles north!" I snort, starting to shake as the laughter takes a hold of me.

"Hey...the whole planet is supposed to be O'Neill's Kingdom, not just some little patch of land twelve miles north!" He complains, no laughter in his mock serious voice.

"What about me?" I demand, trying to control my giggles. Me, giggling? I haven't giggled for a long time. Well, being drunk doesn't count because everyone giggles when they're drunk.

"You can have a star. Or a moon even." He says generously. "How about that one? We could call it Samantha." He points to the brightest moon.

"Samantha?" I roll my eyes. "Puh-lease."

"You don't like it?" He sounds slightly surprised.

"Of course not. No one likes their own name." I point out. "That's why you're Jack, you don't like the name Jonathan..."

"How'd you know that was my name?" He asks suspiciously, a note of annoyance on his voice.

"You're my CO. I'm supposed to know things like that." I remind him. "I also know your middle name." I grin, unable to help myself. This is so, so childish! But it's so much fun, and I haven't had fun like this for so long now.

"Oh." He sits quietly for a while. "When we get back you can bet your booties that..."

"You don't know my middle name." I state matter-of-factly.

"I bet you don't know how old I am!" He avoids the question.

"Actually, I do..." I start out but his hand clamps over my face.

"Ah uh!" He shakes his head, I can see the movement in the dark. "I know your age!" He warns. "And..." He pauses for effect, "I know when your next birthday is!"

"You do?" Now I'm surprised. Birthdays? I never remember birthdays...not even my own. He knows when my birthday is? "So, do I get a present?"

"Carter..." He groans, dropping his hand away and flopping onto his back to gaze up at the foreign heavens. "Other than Kawalsky, you are the only 2IC who's given me this much grief." He tells me, and I feel strangely complimented. I know that the Colonel considered Kawalsky a 2IC of the highest calibre, so to be even thought of in the same context as the kind of makes a girl feel just the tiniest smidgeon of pride.

"So, about naming this planet..."


Outside the air is warmer than inside the cave. I think this is to do with the rock that surrounds us, however that is not really any of my concern. My concern is for Captain Carter and Colonel O'Neill, who have both been away from the shelter for a very long time.

As I move along the shore, taking care not to let my boots splash in the salty waves, I hear laughter winding gently around me. Captain Carter. Locating the position of Captain Carter, I turn my course towards a small hill that overlooks the ocean, a favourite retreat of both Captain Carter and O'Neill.

Arriving at the top, I discover both Captain Carter and O'Neill lying helplessly on the ground and laughing as if they could not help themselves.

"What...what about mash?" O'Neill manages to gasp between his bouts of laughter.

"Mash?" Captain Carter explodes in another fit of laughter, rolling over slightly so that she is half leaning against O'Neill.

"Yeah. Hot Lips. Could...could you image...Hey, isn't Hot Lips full tonight!" Both of them burst into more peals of laughter. Mash? Hot lips? If I did not know that there is a distinct lack of acoholic substances on this planet then I would believe that they are both inebriated.

"That...that is...such a say!" Captain Carter accuses during her laughter.

"What?....Oh!" O'Neill seems to find something even funnier, and I imagine I can see tears running down his cheeks. "Well...I just said...she's you..." He splutters, and I frown in confusion. Hot lips? Mash? Male things to say? Female? Perhaps there is something in the air that I am immune to because of my symbiote...

"Don't like Hot Lips!" Captain Carter tries very hard, yet fails miserably, to sound indignant.

"Well..." O'Neill catches his breath, and I can hear the slyness on his voice, "You are both blond..." Captain Carter's fist connects loosely with O'Neill's arm. Perhaps I should make them aware of my presence.

"Are you well, O'Neill?" I ask them.

"Teal'c!" O'Neill doubles over laughing as though my name is the most hilarious thing on this planet.

"Captain Carter, I do not see what is so amusing." I lift an eyebrow as she snickers again.

"The moon Teal'c, the moon." She giggles as O'Neill starts to recover himself and sits upright.

"Is there something in the moon of this planet that affects you?" I ask, genuinely worried. I do not understand what either O'Neill or Captain Carter could find so amusing, unless their minds have somehow been affected by something.

"What?" Both of them stop for a second, and then once again collapse against each other as the laughter takes a hold of them again. "No!" O'Neill gasps.

"Just a joke, Teal'c." Captain Carter manages, unable to support herself due to her damaged arm and current state of laughter.

I do not find Tau'ri jokes amusing.

"We were concerned for you." I watch them as they start to regain control and pull themselves off each other.

"Sure. We're coming Teal'c." O'Neill stands up and offers Captain Carter a hand up, which she accepts and pulls herself to her feet.

"Lead on!" Captain Carter starts giggling again as I turn and make my way back towards the cave. I do not know what it is that has put my friends in such good spirits, but I am grateful for it. Perhaps now the relationships between the members of our group will improve and lighten, as the sorrow and solemnity of out current predicament is beginning to weigh heavily on all of us.

Slowly, with the occasional snort and giggle from O'Neill and Captain Carter, we head back towards the cave, the air hanging hot and humid but feeling a lot more friendly than it ever has before.



"It's so hot." Carter mutters again, and I can hear her flopping around on her 'bed'.

I shift as well, irritation obvious in my movements as I punch angrily at the sand beneath us. Sand, while distinctly more comfortable than rock solid ground, doesn't make for the best sleeping mat. It's so soft at first, but then it gets harder as the weight of your body compacts it tightly together. And then, any movement just causes your 'shaped' bed to move out of shape and scatter sand everywhere. I'm so sick of sand in my clothes that I could just..

"I'm going for a swim." I see Carter's form sitting upright in the dark. I'm *so* tempted to say, 'Me too', but unless someone else says it first, I'm not going to.

"I'm not moving." Catherine announces, her voice slurred from sleep and heat, hard to tell which one exactly.

"It's dark." Ernest announces from my other side.

"Teal'c?" Carter asks.

"He's Kel'no'reeming." I remind her. That means, 'no'.

"What about you, Jack?" I can nearly hear the smile on Catherine's voice. Sometimes she can be so immature...

"I'm comfortable right here. Besides, I don't really want to put sandy clothes on once I'm free of it." I lie, crossing my fingers.

"Guess it's just me then." Carter sighs, and I can hear the disappointment in her voice. I'm so tempted to just put my hand up and say...

"Be careful, Sam." Catherine jumps in before I can open my mouth and do something stupid. Why on earth would it be stupid though? Because we'd be unchaperoned of course, wearing basically nothing...and we've got our careers to think of. That's why. Not that anything would happen of course, because we *don't* have that kind of relationship. We're just friends. See that Catherine? Friends. We can be friends! Ha!

"If I'm not back in an hour, call the police." Carter fakes a mobster's voice. I chuckle at that. Who on earth would have thought my serious little world/life saving scientist with a tongue that could remove tarnish from silver had such a sense of humour! I'm still kind of in shock about last night, about our incessant giggling and hysterics over naming a moon. I mean, it *wasn't* even that funny for crying out loud.

Okay, so I'm trying really hard not to laugh. So shoot me. It *was* funny. He he.

"Jack..." Catherine hesitates a while after Carter has left.

"Yeah?" I'm not sleeping anyway, so why bother ignoring her?

"Shouldn't we go check on Sam, I mean, it *is* dark and her arm is still..."

"O'Neill." Teal'c interrupts Catherine, and I can hear the wariness on his voice.

"What's up doc?"

"I am not 'Doc', O'Neill." He sounds confused for a minute.

"I *know* that!" I roll my eyes. Sheesh, can't the man just get one teeny tiny little joke? Obviously not. "What was it?"

"The wind."

"What wind?"

A gust of wind whips through the gave and the smouldering embers from our tiny fire suddenly explode into life, flying around the cave in an incredible display of golden lights.

"That wind." Catherine says dryly.

"The storms are coming!" Ernest whimpers and I can hear him scampering towards the back of the cave.

"Carter's out there!" I remember. According to Ernest, these storms hit even faster than they leave, and considering how fast the last one left...I don't want Carter out there in this.

"We should retrieve her immediately, O'Neill."

"I'll do that. Catherine, you and Teal'c pack everything up. I mean everything!" I struggle to my feet, searching for my torch in the darkness. "Put it all inside waterproof covering, the clothes, torches, bedding and Carter's doo-hickeys especially!" I order.

"What about Dr. Jackson's..."

"If there's room!" I bark, running out of the cave.

The sight that meets my eyes shocks the life out of me. Where last night the waves were lapping peacefully at the shore, playing gentle games with the shells and pebbles, tonight they're crashing furiously over the fine sand, grinding down heavily on the already powdery grains. The wind whips over me again, tugging angrily at my hair and trousers. I can almost feel it raking its fingers over me, determined to grab a hold. A strong gust brings the salty spray up into my face and the first ominous roll of thunder rattles my eardrums. Where the hell is Carter?

Ignoring the increasing wind and the sudden, icy cold descending over the tar black world, I start sprinting away from the beach and into the forest where our creek flows. The beam of my torch barely cuts through the oily blackness. Small, unidentifiable missiles are shooting through the air now, leaves and twigs, small rocks and even a tiny bird ricochet off me and through the small, wavering beam of light. The batteries are nearly gone.

"CARTER!" I bellow as they give out, plunging me into a darkness that seems to grab hold of me with tentacles. I can feel it creeping down my back and working it's way slowly into me. I panic. I can't see anything, I can't hear anything as the wind rushes past my ear drums and small projectiles make contact with my face.

"CARTER!" It's useless, me yelling. She'll never hear me through this.

"CARTER!" Suddenly something cold and icy hits my forearm and seems to burn right through the skin. Another impact, and another. My arm is stinging, it feels like acid is falling from the heavens.

"COLONEL!" I jerk, my eyes darting around the incredibly blackness helplessly, trying desperately to cut the blackness aside and locate Carter.

"CARTER?" I yell again, once again jogging in what I hope is the direction of the creek.

Another drop of ice water makes contact with the side of my neck. I'm getting desperate now, where is she? Another roll of thunder and a startling burst of light as the first lightening bolt strikes. For the brief second that the charged particles spring to life and create a dull grey glow over the landscape, my eyes strain to see her. Trees and bushes surround me, their branches whipping angrily in the wind as they strain towards me and then away, swaying and creaking as though they're threatening to fall over.

The world is plunged into darkness again, and I press on forwards, stumbling over roots and rocks and holes that I never knew lined this pathway.

"CARTER!" I bellow again as the world lights up briefly again, ghostly shapes taunting me as more and more shards of rain buffet my stinging body.

"COLONEL!" Her voice carries over the wind, and the sound of it nearly causes my own knees to buckle with relief. The darkness is bearing down on me, the blackness suffocating my mind of all logical thought.

"HERE! CARTER!" I stumble drunkenly forwards, her voice still yelling for me desperately. Another flash of light and for a second she is illuminated right in front of me, her hair silver in the glow and her eyes dark pools of grey, large and desperate in her colourless face. Jerkily I reach out for her, my hand clamping down over her upper arm as I pull her towards me. "Thank God." I hold her for a minute, easing her trembling body against mine and just giving my stunned body a second to recover. I found her. Thank God.


"Thank God." His words ring in my ears. Yes. Thank God.

Another shudder ripples over me and I gasp as an ice cold stone of water stings against my cheek, the liquid feeling like blood as it trickles down my skin.

"We have *got* to go!" The classic line brings a quick smile to my face as he pulls back, removing the welcome warmth of his body against mine. He steps away from me, but I panic, clutching frantically at his already damp shirt.

"It's dark!" I shout, relieved he can't see the blood rushing to my cheeks in embarrassment as I realise how my clutching at him could appear.

"Good idea!" I agree, and I feel his fingers resting on my shoulder. Without another word between us we start running, our legs beating out a steady rhythm underneath the spasmodic rolling of the thunder.

The five minute stroll from the creek to the cave has never felt this long before. The ground reaches up angrily, insistently with roots and twigs, placing holes and stones everywhere so that we stumble and stagger crazily through the darkness, the frequent reddish flashes of light allowing us to see a few metres ahead of us every so often before once again plunging us headlong into darkness. My feet are numb as I stumble again, tripping over another hidden object. Unable to stop and regain my balance, the momentum I've built up topples me over and I crash heavily to the ground, my face getting a personal acquaintance with a small bush and a pile of rotting leaves.

While the smell of damp dirt still lingers in my nose, the Colonel reaches down and helps me up. This time, instead of curling our fingers desperately in each other's clothing and running side-by-side, he grasps my hand tightly and we run on through the absolute dark, my fingers gripping his so tightly I'm scared I'll break his bones - if he doesn't break mine first.

Breathing heavily we stagger drunkenly out of the forest, still tripping and stumbling over small bushes and roots. The world is still dark, but the water ahead of us, while seeming to boil away furiously, gives off a golden red glow. Another arc of lightening splits the sky and the noise, bouncing off the cliff faces and surrounding hills nearly deafens me.

"Come on!" The Colonel tugs on my hand again, and we continue our mad sprint towards the caves. I can't tear my eyes from the water as we run, enthralled by the raw beauty of the tumultuous waves as they crash and vent their fury on the shores. The world rocks in time with each wave as it challenges the earth, throwing itself completely and unguardedly towards the earth where it gets broken into a million droplets of water, the spray hanging like grey crystals in the air before the darkness swallows them.

I run into the Colonel suddenly, and realised he's stopped. Then I see it. The ocean has risen to such an extent that it is already lapping at the mouth of our cave - and it's still rising quickly.

"Stay here!" He yells, pushing me against a large rock outcrop.

"What about the gear?" I can't just stay in here while he goes into the cave...he might need help.

"We'll be fine. Stay here and keep watch!" He orders and turns around. He hesitates for a second, his form outlined against the slight glow of the water. I watch him expectantly, forgetting the storm around us as he turns to me again, and I can imagine the concern and seriousness on his face. "Please?" He asks me softly.

"Okay." I agree, my voice whipped away by the wind and thrown up into the air, unheard. He pulls me into a hug then, crushing my form against him and burying his face against my neck. I clutch him to me as tightly as I can with my good arm; ignore the searing tongues of fire creeping racing up my bad arm as it gets caught between us. I can't lose him. I can't lose any of them. We are all we have.

And then he's gone, disappearing into the darkness that is the rest of my world.

I shiver in the icy air, denying the persistent wind the pleasure of snaking around my bad arm by hugging it tenderly with my good arm. A thought crosses my mind, and I freeze.

The wind rakes it's strong, clumsy fingers through my salty hair, yanking and pulling angrily. But the world seems to fade around me as the storm builds and the rain starts to pour down again, saturating every inch of me.

Bad arm. My arm won't work. I'm not physically able anymore. That's why I'm here...not helping. I'm not capable anymore...the arm...a handicap...a disability...I can't look after myself...anyone else...I've lost my 'place' on his team...oh...

The thoughts crash over me, pounding my mind to a small, insignificant grain of sand that gets lost amongst the billions of other grains of sand that have been suffering against the ocean's fury since before time can remember.

I'm useless to them now.


"Teal'c!" My voice sounds panicked, I know it. I force my eyes closed and take several deep breaths, but the wind whining like a high pitched buzz saw through the cave distracts me. The vice of worry clamps down even tighter around my heart, and I can't stop my hands from shaking as I clumsily roll up the last sleeping bag and try unsuccessfully to stuff it into one of the last waterproof bags.

"We must hurry, Dr. Langford!" His voice is more worried than I've ever heard it, his eyes looking surprisingly large and fear-filled in the near dark of the cave.

"CATHERINE! TEAL'C! Ernest!" Jack's voice mingles with the thunder, and a second later he appears in the cave, his face drawn and tight. Sam. Oh..

"Where's Sam?" I demand, my voice wobbling uncontrollably.

"She's fine. Come on!" He glances around the cave now stripped bare of most of our possessions. "Have you got everything?" He darts towards me, and I can see the precise military efficiency in him that makes him the Colonel he is.

"Nearly..." I look back involuntarily at one book that I couldn't fit into my pack.

"Leave it." He shakes his head, hefting the huge pack onto his back with a grunt. "Food?"

"All of it." I nod, still looking at the book.

"Daniel's not supposed to bring them with anyway!" Jack intercepts my gaze, but I can see the reluctance in his eyes to leave a 'part' of his friend behind. "Where's Ernest?" He realises for the first time that Ernest isn't helping us.

I point over my shoulder towards the back of the cave towards where the man is cowering against the wall, as high as he could scrabble on the fairly smooth walls.

"Ernest, come on!" Jack yells, pushing me ahead of him.

"Where are we going?"

"Out. The water's rising and damn quickly!" He barks. "Go with Teal'c. Carter's waiting at the outcrop of rocks near the first hill." He instructs, turning around.

"What about you?" I hesitate as Teal'c's form appears next to me.

"I'm getting Ernest. He'll drown in here..." But his voice is lost in another crack of thunder as the walls of the cave quiver with strain.

My heart is in my ears, throbbing and pounding as I blindly follow Teal'c towards the mouth of the cave. A cold wetness and sudden yanking against my feet alerts me to the water already surging into the cave. I flinch in fear, ready to turn back to help Jack.

"Dr. Langford..." Teal'c is behind me and he keeps me moving forwards, guiding me with his hand on my elbow for balance. "We must find Captain Carter."

Outside the wind buffets into me, and I gasp for breath as I stagger against the force of it. The water is swirling and tugging around my calves, and the rain plummets against me.

"TEAL'C!" The water gushes and yanks at me while the wind wraps itself around me, pulling me so hard that...

Teal'c's hand clamps down on my arm, and I grit my teeth as his vice like hold brings tears to my eyes. But I stay upright and with his incredible strength we slowly fight our way out of the ever rising water and stagger onto the sand.

The wind gusts again and a mixture of sea-spray and sand gets flung into my face, I'm blinded even more now that we're out here in the complete darkness without the light of our small, dying fire to see with.

As the wind roars in my ears and the world trembles around us as we fight our way forwards until we reach the outcrop of rocks that Jack spoke of.


I spin around, my hand clutching at the smooth sharpness of the rock for balance, and peer desperately into the darkness for a sign of Jack. Despite his cynical attitude and sharp tongue, I'm quite fond of him...and I'll be damned if he's going to die because of Ernest!

My eyes adjust slightly to the pure blackness, and then I make out a reddish glow in the distance. The ocean. The ocean is still glowing a slight red colour, and that faint light is enough for me to be able to see Teal'c's form next to me, not just to feel it. Sam would love this...

"SAM!" I remember, looking around agitatedly. Where is she? "SAM!"

"Captain Carter!" Teal'c calls out, letting go of me to look for her. But I refuse to let him out of my sight, clutching instead at his pack and winding my fingers so tightly into one of the straps that I think they'll fall off due to lack of blood circulation.

I feel him stop and the relief he feels speaks to me clearly as he lets his posture relax ever so slightly. Peering around his bulk, I catch sight of Sam huddled in between two large boulders. How she managed to fit herself into that small gap is beyond me, but the way she isn't moving and isn't talking is worrying me. If only I could see...

The sky gets torn apart with a jagged flash of lightening that seems to have a red glow to it. In that instance I glance at her, and her face is blank. A hand clutches at my heart and I freeze in fear. Something's wrong with her...

"O'NEILL!" Teal'c's voice booms against my ear, and I spin around to face the direction he's now facing. Relief floods over me and for a moment I forget about Sam's sudden unresponsive state and allow myself to feel a fleeting flicker of peace, happiness even, that we're all alive and together. Again.



I'm late. Really late. I don't think I've ever been this late to a briefing before, but then I haven't been to a briefing without Sam, Jack and Teal'c. Call me sentimental but...

The door stares at me balefully with its single glass eye, daring me to glance through its see-through form and look at my new team inside. My new team. The words hang empty and a feeling of grief knots my stomach. They're gone.

If I walk into this debriefing room, if I accept these new people, if I let these people become my team again, then I'm agreeing with the fact that they're gone. Gone. Lost. Dead. Missing. Different words, but essentially the meaning is the same. Gone.

I can hear a slight, tense sounding laugh from inside. Female. It's not Sam's laugh though, this is a giggle only escaping because of pure nervousness.

Nervous. Yes, I'm nervous. More nervous than I've ever been in my whole life.

Guiltily I raise my hand and rest it on the golden doorknob. Funny, I'd never noticed before but the trimmings to the 'official' rooms, like General Hammond's office, this debriefing room and the VIP quarters all have brass door handles. I wonder when they got changed to brass?

The metal is cool and smooth against my warm, clammy hand. Involuntarily my fingers curl around it, savouring its coolness as a second of reprieve from the task at hand.

I wonder how many times Jack and Sam stood like this, gathering their courage with their hand on this very door handle. I wonder if they'll ever do it again. I wonder if Teal'c ever used door handles before he came to earth?

Gritting my teeth I let my rambling thoughts go. They're only a distraction, an ineffective method of stalling from this inevitable moment in time. Licking my lips I screw my eyes shut as my hand slowly turns the handle and the door whispers over the floor as it opens.

I step inside, my heart hesitating along with my breathing. I look up, and nothing happens. A ridiculous urge to laugh assails me, and I take a quick breath to control myself. What was I expecting? A pat on the back for making it this far, an 'I told you so' from General Hammond? The world to suddenly explode or a lightening bolt to come down from heaven and strike me where I stand?

Nothing happened.

General Hammond hasn't arrived yet. The briefing hasn't started yet. I'm not late. Oh...

I quickly glance around the briefing room at it's occupants. A female, two males. That's all I allow myself to observe before I shuffle with my head downwards towards the table. I know they've all stopped talking, and I know they're all watching me curiously, but I don't care right now.

Someone's sitting in my chair. The realisation dawns before I make an idiot of myself. So instead of sitting on my chair, I'm left to sit on Teal'c's chair. A painful twist of guilt stabs me in the gut and the room starts turning suspiciously dark, despite the artificially
bright lights that adorn all the walls and roofs.

"Sorry I'm late people..." General Hammond bustles into the room. I can feel his eyes on me, but I don't look up. I *won't* look up.

"Dr. Lawson?" He asks, and I want to look up. But I don't. Instead I keep my eyes firmly focused on the smooth, rich surface of the table. If I strain my eyes without moving my head, I can just see the marks Jack's put into this desk with his incessant doodling. Over that side
is the slight blemish where Sam knocked over General Hammond's coffee mug when a spider made an appearance...this room is so full of memories. Every room is so full of memories...

"Dr. Jackson?" The room is waiting, poised in time as the occupants wait for me to answer.

"Yes Sir?" I mumble and I don't look up, slouching rudely over the desk. I'm acting like a three year old, but I don't care.

"This is Dr. Lawson, Dr. Jackson." His voice is getting to *that* stage, I should recognise it, I've heard it often enough when Jack antagonises him...antagonised him.

I look up slowly, raising my head as though it is far heavier than it actually is, and look half-heartedly at Dr. Lawson. Dr. Lawson is a female. A female who has dark, curly hair and blue eyes. I look away again. At least she doesn't look like Sam. Or Sha're.

"Dr. Lawson, let me just formally introduce you to Major Thomas." I also sneak a peak at my new CO, and my heart thuds painfully. This man is pale. His hair is straw blond and his eyes are a cornflower blue colour. I can tell he's tall; his reedy fram even longer than Jack's because he looks even more folded when he sits down.

"And First Lieutenant Mason." Mason is stocky, his eyes are also blue and his short brown hair is tufty, spiking up despite his obvious attempts to neaten it. I can see the same, mischievous spark in his eye that I used to see in Jack's eyes, but without the cynicism and world-weariness. Mason is still young, younger than me even, and he hasn't seen enough of the world or human life to realise what it's really like. Not like Jack.

"So people, you are now, officially, SG-1. Welcome to the SGC." The words condemn my soul.


I'm worried about him. Dr. Fraiser is worried about him too, but he won't let anyone near himself. During their first briefing as a team my heart felt torn in two directions. Let him suffer through this first, awkward and cutting debriefing in his own way, or bring him into line and make him face up to his rudeness.

I compromised, and only once called on him to participate.

Now, looking through the partition at the four of them, I can't help but feel a flicker of sympathy for the newest members of SG-1. Before Dr. Jackson arrived, they had been talking and getting to know one another. Granted, the situation had been strained, but now they were all sitting in a clumsy silence, stretching the tension so far I'm surprised Dr. Jackson didn't snap it when he pushed his chair back abruptly and left the room, leaving the other three people gazing after him with slightly confused, concerned and annoyed faces.

Dr. Fraiser appears next to my side, her pale face and tight lips the only sign that SG-1's disappearance has affected her.

"How is Dr. Jackson?" I ask her eventually as she tries not to fidget next to me, her pixie like form stiff with unease.

"He's...dealing with it in his own way." She says eventually, and a trace of guilt clouds her eyes for just the briefest of moments.

"How long do you think it'll be before he's...accepted it?" I try to chose my words carefully, but there isn't another delicate to put it.

"I don't think he ever will. I don't think I ever will." She sighs slightly and a sorrow-filled smile lingers on her lips.

"I miss them too." I admit, letting my own sigh escape as my gaze travels over the new members again, tentatively starting another conversation with each other. Dr. Lawson, the petite dark haired scientist is no Captain Carter, and Major Thomas definitely isn't O'Neill...but I know that over time these three new people will inevitably meld together in just the same way that the previous SG-1 bonded to become a family. I can only hope Daniel Jackson accepts his team-mates and that this new team will have the same completeness that the old one had.


"I'm...nervous." The slight woman the left of me admits, her stilted smile and strained little chuckle at her own confession confirms it.

"We won't eat you." Mason grins slightly, his freckles reminding me of a leprechaun. "Mind you, Dr. Jackson would probably..."

"Mason." I warn him. I understand Mason's irritation with the man, but I can understand Dr. Jackson's grief just as well. "Give him time." I glance over at the woman again.

"So...have either of you actually been through...gone on a mission yet?" Dr. Lawson asks, obviously trying hard to break the silence and keep an interesting conversation going.

"I've been on plenty of missions..." Mason immediately inserts, eager to try and impress the only female member of our team.

"Not through the Stargate though." I roll my eyes slightly. Mason is every CO's nightmare. A smart ass, someone with a mouth wide enough to eat an elephant and still talk at the same time. Someone who is after glory.

"Do you know each other from" She seems to be reluctant to say the word, to say "Stargate" or "Wormhole" or anything that all three of us once thought was completely science fiction, impossible, unable to exist.

"No. Fortunately." I can't help shooting a despairing glance towards the petition where General Hammond is talking to a petite brunette who I recognise dimly as being the base's CMO.

"So...where are you from then?" Mason asks, relaxing back into his chair and settling himself for a long conversation.

"Me? New York." Dr. Lawson gnaws on her bottom lip with her teeth. "So, Major Thomas...?" She hesitates, checking that she used my rank and title correctly.

"Yes Dr. Lawson?" I sigh. A scientist. One who's never been around the military before. A woman who just wants to talk the whole time. Could life get any worse?

"Am I allowed to leave?" Mason coughs slightly, his face turning red as he tries not to laugh.

"Of course you're allowed to leave." I try not to laugh myself, but fail miserably as a snort escapes.

"Oh. Well, would you mind if I left then...went home?" She gazes at me with her innocent blue eyes and I can't imagine that there is intelligence behind that gaze. Everything about her, her unsureness, her hesitancy, her wariness...she's scared of doing the wrong thing. She's not confident in herself, and I don't think you could hold a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics unless you were confident in yourself and believed in your theories.

"Do you have any work to do here?" I ask her kindly, growing tired of picking faults with my new team.

"Uh...well, I have to get my desk sorted out. You know, just put things away and all that..."

"But nothing of vital importance?" I cut off her speech, not feeling like listening to her stutter on for half an hour.

" No I don't think so." She screws up her eyes and shakes her head slightly, curls bouncing over her shoulders. She does, I notice, have great hair. Long, falling halfway down her back in a long cascade of black curls.

"Have you sharpened all your pencils?" Mason asks guilessly.

"Mason, shut up." I order him, not even bother to look at him.

"" She blinks, confused.

"Look, just go home, okay?" I watch her steadily and she colours slightly.

"Sure. What time do I have to be in tomorrow?" She asks, licking her lips again. I can see her twisting her fingers together, her leg tapping in agitation against the desk. I can't believe she's been chosen to fieldwork if she can't even get through a debriefing!

"0800 hours." Mason offers, seriously for once. I can see the same thoughts as mine flicking through his eyes. Wasn't she paying attention during the briefing? Couldn't she even remember *times*?

"Oh. And how long will we be?" She stands up slowly, her hands nervously smoothing over the desk.

"It's a two day mission, Dr." I slump into my chair. Two days. Two days with a smart ass, a sulk and someone who wants to be the hero. Which gods were against me today?

"Oh." She heads towards the door, and pauses as if to check with me again that she really can leave.

"Yes, you really can go!" Mason squeaks in a preppy cheerleader voice. She blushes bright red with embarrassment and jerks the door open stiltedly.

"Oh, Dr?" I have to make one thing perfectly clear.

"Yes?" She turns around and I'm shocked to see her bottom lip quivering.

"You have to wear your hair tied up. It's the rules."

She nods mutely, and flees down the hallway without even shutting the door behind her.

How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to follow in 'Colonel O'Neill's team's' footsteps when I don't even have a functional team? We'll go down in SGC history as the most dysfunctional team ever. I cringe slightly as Mason grins widely at me and follows Dr. Lawson down the hallway.




"Ernest!" O'Neill is yelling in the man's ear, his hands on the bony shoulders furiously shaking the man in frutstration. "Come on! I need you to work with me now!" He demands.

"Trees." Ernest whimpers, and the keening of the world around is us so immense that I almost do not hear the frail word as it is gleefully whipped away by the wind.

"Trees? How the hell's that gonna help us." O'Neill releases Ernest in a jerky movement and runs his hands through his hair - to no avail. The wind and rain are still building in power and the lightening chases itself across the sky.

"The big trees!" Dr.Langford looks up, hope in her eyes. She turns away from Captain Carter for the first time since we have arrived at this rock outcrop and found her there. "The ones on the hill, back through the forest." She jerks her head backwards in a direction towards the forest.

I am aware of these trees she is talking about. Their roots are nearly big enough to seem like caves, their trunks larger than any I have ever seen in my lifetime.

"We're gonna have to go through the forest." O'Neill huddles closer as another forceful shower of raindrops heaves down on us. "I don't think we should risk it, not with this lightening and wind."

"So what, we're just going to stay here?" Dr. Langford demands.

"We've got shelter, Catherine." O'Neill starts out.

Dr. Langford snorts slightly and looks at him. "*This* is shelter?"

"You weren't in the forest when it started, Catherine. I was...and this storm is just getting worse and worse. These rocks are shelter and they'll do just fine until the first break." O'Neill states firmly, wincing as another gust of wind buffets us and slams his body into the rockface.

"What about Sam?" Dr. Langford persists. I can see the worry and confusion illuminated on O'Neill's face as he gazes towards the smudged darkness in the cracks of the rock where Captain Carter is still hiding. O'Neill insists and swears that when he left, Captain Carter was fine. I believe him. I have seen him developing a 'soft spot' for her during the time we were together as SG-1, and more so now that it is just the five of us stranded on this strange, and unwelcome planet.

There is silence for a while, as every suffers the cold in silence. As a Jaffa, I am not as vulnerable to the cold as my companions, yet even I feel the iciness of the wind as it sends frozen droplets of water against us, stinging us with its wrath.

"Ernest, how long is this going to last for?" O'Neill demands after a vicious gust of wind vented it's fury against us. Sheltered between these rocks we have some reprieve, it is not as easy for the rocks to reach us, but the rain still lashes down constantly.

"Long time." Ernest barely answers, but he is sitting by me and I heard him.

"Ernest." O'Neill did not hear him.

"He says a long time, O'Neill." I frown. To me, it seems as though the winds have been lessening slightly and the rain not coming down as heavily as before. "However, I do believe that he is incorrect."

"Why so?" O'Neill asks me, not moving.

"I do believe the wind is dying down again, O'Neill."

"About damn time." He snaps. "We've been stuck here for nearly two hours."

"That's a relatively short hurricane then." Dr. Langford speaks up.

"It's not finished yet." Ernest shakes his head. "There's are more storms, lots more."

"How many's lots?" O'Neill demands warily.

"Three or Five more. There is always an even number." Ernest speaks up, his confidence growing once again now that the storms have diminished.

"The eye." Dr. Langford realises as the rain starts to slow down dramatically.

"The eye?" O'Neill raises an eyebrow, I can see that now that the sky is lightening and the moons are already coming out from beneath the clowds.

"Of the storm." Dr. Langford nods. "There are only two or three hurricanes that strike, but each of them has two halves. Makes it seem like a lot of storms..."

"One is plenty enough for me." O'Neill points up, raising his head warily. "Oh my..." He stiffens in surprise.

"What?" Dr. Langford also stands up. "Oh..."

"We'd better go. Now." O'Neill states as I stand up.

The ocean has risen nearly all the way up the beach, the waters are already close enough to spray angrily over the rocks we use for shelter. The cave where we had been living for the past days is completely underwater, only the rockface in which it was embedded still climbing resentfully out of the broiling waters.

"Teal'c, you grab a pack..." O'Neill shoulders the other pack.

"What about Sam?" Dr. Langford demands and I can see the worry by the glow of the moons which now shine brightly in skys that are completely clear and deceptively peaceful.

"I'll get her." O'Neill crouches down in front of the rocks, peering into the darkness. "Carter?" He speaks gently, as if to a scared child. She refuses to answer him. I have never seen her like this, never. "Carter, we've got to go." O'Neill tries again. He has patience, but this is no time for patience. "Sam, please, you have to." He tries again, reaching into the rock face.

"I'll slow you down." Captain Carter whispers, and I can see the confusion on O'Neill's face.

"What? No you won't. If anyone slows us down it'll either be Catherine or Ernest." He says confidently, shooting Dr. Langford and apologetic look which she accepts with a grimace.

"My arm..." Captain Carter's voice is so soft that I can not hear the rest. Dr. Langford is also straining to hear, but I do not believe it is our place to listen. I gently reach over and move her away from O'Neill and Captain Carter, and she looks at me with understanding and sorrow in her eyes. Where we stand we can hear the low rumbling of O'Neill's voice, and that is all. After a time we can hear relief on his voice as well, and then he stands up, extending his hand out to assist Captain Carter. She appears smoothly from her hiding place, but she is vulnerable. She hugs herself tightly and shakes as she waits for her next orders, her head hanging down and her eyes refusing to look up and meet the rest of ours.

"It's okay, Sam." O'Neill says before gathering her in his arms for a hug. He holds her for a while, comforting her before letting her go. "Okay, we're all going to hold hands so we don't lose each other in case the storm arrives again. "Teal'c, you take our six. Hold on to Catherine's hand. Catherine, you to Ernest with your other one, and Carter can take my one."

At first I do not understand why Captain Carter is being given the lead, but then, once we take hands and begin our trek, I realise O'Neill has not given her the lead because she walks next to him, slightly behind him. He has merely been sensitive to her damaged arm, knowing that she could not hold onto anyone with the mangled limb. And he wishes to keep her close. I do not know why, but I can see that he feels a new emotion for her, a protectiveness that was not there a few hours ago.


My legs are so tired and cramped I think they're going to fall of. Through the foliage around us, a grey light is starting to appear. Dawn. That means that the next cycle of the storm isn't far off, its been longer than I thought it would be at any rate.

"Here we are." Jack announces and stops. I nearly start crying with relief. The air is so cold, colder than I can ever remember anything. All I want to do is find a relatively dry spot and just huddle close to Sam for warmth.

I stand uselessly while Jack and Teal'c make a hurried exploration of a few root-caves around us. While they are searching for suitable shelters, they are also conducting a conversation. Bits of it float towards me, but it's about survival and what the best options would be.

I shuffle on my foot, and realise with dismay that my hand is still clutching Ernest's. I want to pull it out, to let go of this man that I love and hate at the same time. But I can't. He seems unaware that he's still holding my hand, and I can't find it in myself to be the one to break the simple contact.

"It'll be okay, Catherine. Jack and Teal'c will take care of us." He whispers, his voice blending in with the leaves. I feel the familiar stab of resentment, of anger at his imaginary Catherine, but then I feel his eyes on me. Catherine. He called *me* Catherine. He was *talking* to me. My eyes start to sting as the long suppressed tears of exhaustion and fear creep to the surface.

"Okay campers, here's the plan..." Jack tears my attention away from Ernest, and almost mutually we release hands, letting each limb float down slowly and reluctantly to our sides where they get clenched and unclenched in time to Jack's words.

"We can't find one big enough in time for us to be able to set up both tents before the storm breaks..." He starts off before glancing towards Sam and resting his hand on her shoulder. She leans into his hold ever so slightly and I can see a bit of her apprehension and fear fading.

I should be jealous that she never *talks* to me about anything, that I confided in her about Ernest...but I don't. I can understand that, she's not a very confiding type of person. Neither is Jack or Teal'c for the matter, and Ernest has changed so much...but I'm relieved that she seems to be trusting Jack that little bit more than she allows herself to trust us. What I do know about Sam isn't much other than mundane, useless little bits of trivia like her favourite colour is blue, she hates heels and has a cat called Schroedinger. If she's allowing herself to trust someone then I'm happy she's chosen Jack. The two of them would be good for each other.

"...any problems with that?" Jack asks. I freeze, guilt and stupidity crashing over me like a fresh tidal wave of wind and rain from a brand new storm. I missed everything he said. I feel like a kid in school...and I'm a 50+ woman (we are not going into details where age is concerned!) "Catherine?"

"" I try, hoping desperately against hope that I don't giggle. A feeling of lightness descends over me. We'll be okay. As long as we can all laugh about mistakes, enjoy each other's company and survive, we'll be okay. I know it looks like a large, daunting list...but isn't that what we've been doing so far? Surviving?

We're going to make it. I don't whether we'll be rescued or not, but we're going to survive and live *happily* here, because *that* is what surviving is all about.


Teal'c, Catherine and Ernest have taken the one pack - Daniel's - and gone to the largest of the root-caves as Catherine calls them. I feel really guilty for packing Catherine and Ernest off together like that with only Teal'c who is, despite how much we all like the guy, not
really the best kind of company that those two need. But I need to talk with Carter, I need to be with her now.

We work together quickly and efficiently, just like we always have. I observe discreetly as she struggles with the broken limb, the way she tries and fails to keep the pain hidden from me, the way she determinedly tries until she gets the poles clipped in using her feet and legs to hold the one while her good hand clips the two together, her useless arm is kept close against her. Sure, she's not as quick as she was, so what? I feel a surge of pride and affection wash over me for this pale woman working so determinedly in the murky grey dimness of our root-cave. Despite her fears of last night that she's no good to us, that she's useless without her arm, that she's deformed...I still...she's still my friend. I still like her, I still rely on her and I still trust her completely and explicitly with my life and those of my friends.

We're done almost before I know it, and hastily we store the pack inside the small tent now set up inside the root-cave. There's just time to go check on the others before the storm comes again. We know it's coming because the air has gone deathly still again and a loud
cracking sound is echoing over the land from the ocean, signaling it's arrival.

"Catherine? Teal'c?" We peer into their dim root-cave for signs of life.

"You done already?" Catherine asks, reminding me very much of a school girl on camp.

"Yeah. You guys?" I enter their cave and find myself face to face with their tent.

"Teal'c is just putting in the last few pegs." She informs me.

"Ha! We beat you!" I smirk, grinning triumphantly at Carter. She offers a weak, unsteady smile in return and I feel another wave of pride crash over me. She's strong, she'll fight this and come out the victor. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if she heals her arm *completely* with pure will power. Mind you, she'd probably tell me that physically, that's not possible. That's our Carter though, stubborn and determined as hell.

"You'd better get back." Catherine frowns as a roll of thunder resounds through the tree.

"You know, this is incredibly stupid." I point out. "We're sheltering under a tree in the middle of a lightening storm."

"It's all we can do." Catherine reminds me of my earlier relisation.

"Okay. Well, have fun then. And Catherine," I hesitate, meeting her eyes in the rapidly growing dark, "I'm sorry."

She knows what I'm talking about. About Carter confiding in me, not in her. About shrugging her off with Teal'c and Ernest, one of whom she can't talk to and the other who isn't much better company. She should be the one in the tent with Sam. I should be bunking with the guys. Not her.

"It's okay." She smiles at me, and there is nothing false or resentful or sarcastic about it. She understands, and she's happy.

"Thanks." I hug her quickly and then wave goodbye to Teal'c and Ernest. Outside the wind has picked up, and I feel a bit of surprise that we didn't even feel it inside the root-cave. "Come on!" I grab Carter's hand and we run, feeling like naughty teenagers, towards our root-cave.

Inside it's surprisingly snug. The sleeping bag is lying open on the bottom of the tent and Carter has pulled out a spare little towel. I don't know why she's got that out, but I'm not going to ask.

"Colonel?" She hesitates, licking her lips slightly and looks embarrassed. Then the darkness closes over us and I can't see her anymore. I hear and feel the thunder as it plays joyfully over the skies, proclaiming its message loudly and forcefully. The storm has hit.

"Carter?" I ask once the thunder has died down.

"Never mind." She closes off again, but I won't let that happen.

"No, what? I'm bored now, so you'll have to tell me." I inform her, bringing lightness to the situation.

"You're always bored. Even in briefings." She points out.

"True. But you still haven't told me what you wanted." I bring the subject back on track. She's really too good at changing the subject without you even realising it.

"I was just wondering if you could help me..." She trails off.


"My arm..." She hesitates again.

"Spit it out, Captain."

"I hurt it when I fell before..."

"Where's the towel?" I ask softly, understanding.

"Here." Something soft lands in my lap.

I quickly knot the two ends together and then shuffled towards her until I bump into her soft form. "Here." Hoping that I won't accidently touch anything inappropriate, I reach out and come into contact with her shoulder. Phew. Quickly I slip the towel over her head and she helps me as I place the arm into the make-shift sling.

"Thanks." She whispers, her voice trembling.

"It's okay, Carter." I feel compassion burst open in me. It should scare me, I realise dimly as I gather into my arms again, hugging her gently, that the sudden intense flood of emotions I've been feeling lately are all directed at her. But, common sense kicks in, it's because of the storm, the adrenaline and the fact that I nearly lost her the first time that's making these emotions so intense. They'll pass, right along with the storm. At least I hope so.

For now though, she's not my 2IC anymore, she's my friend who's in need of a hug and a shoulder to cry on, and seeing as my shoulders are just so damn big and manly, I'm guessing I'm the right on for the job description. So we huddle together, for warmth and comfort, during the darkness of the storm while outside the world gets bashed the shreds. Damn. There go some of those lovely tree specimens...

~Part Twelve~


"Ready?" Thomas asks, looking around at us. He's got this look in his eyes that says, 'why me?'. Jack used to get that look in his eye sometimes when Sam and I got involved in a very deep discussion about something scientific or moral...and Teal'c usually added his two cents worth about his experiences. He's very surprising, Teal'c. Because he hardly ever speaks -spoke - people thought he was the 'innocent' alien, the one who didn't know anything about culture etc. Teal'c did actually know a lot more than most people, his sense of honour, dignity and loyalty as well as his intelligence meant that his contributions to our conversation were usually very thought provoking. Unless of course he was asking one of his *questions*...

"Dr. Jackson?" Thomas' eyes focus on me. I nod curtly and turn away from him, facing the Stargate.

A frission of excitement runs through me, followed closely by a stab of betrayal. Here I am, standing at the foot of the ramp leading up to the Stargate, ready to embark on another mission while my friends, my team are marooned on another planet. Or dead. And I call myself their friend.

"Where's Dr. Lawson?" Mason asks the question burning on everyone's mind as we still stand at the bottom of the ramp.

"I don't know." Thomas glares at his watch, his jaw clenched in anger. I look up at him. The man is tall, a bit taller than Teal'c, but thin. Weedy would probably be a better way to describe him. Still, I wouldn't like to get in a fight with him because there's something about the way he moves that tells you that his entire weedy frame is nothing but muscle; a sinewy strength.

A door hisses open and, standing in a very embarrassed tangle of straps and field gear, is our Dr. Lawson, her hair curling out from underneath her helmet and her cheeks a fiery red colour.

"Where the hell were you?" Thomas demands as she struggles towards us, teetering drunkenly around as she tries to get used to her large, awkward pack. I know the feeling. Only recently can I confidently step through that gate with my pack on my back, knowing that I probably won't fall over. At first I fell over before I even stepped through the gate. And I can now put the stupid thing on without help. Lawson, however, can't.

"Here." I sigh, shuffling over to her. Her surprise blue eyes meet mine, and for a minute I'm confused. Why is she surprised? Then I realise that I haven't actually spoken to her. To any of them yet. No wonder she's surprised by my offer of help.

"Sorry, I'm just so..." She stands rigidly, awkwardly trying to watch to see the straps I'm pulling, tightening and loosening.

"Not a problem. Sam and Jack actually had to take my pack off a few times before..." I pause and continue with my task. What am I doing here, talking to her about Sam and Jack? What am I doing here, ready to go on another mission.

"Chevron Seven, Locked." The techie announces as the gate whooses into life, it's surface rippling and moving gracefully as the precarious balance between stability and chaos is maintained.

"*IF* you're ready..." Thomas glares at the poor woman, and I can almost feel her shrinking away.

"Sorry..." She whispers, but I'm surprised that she doesn't offer any explanation. I notice with surprise as Thomas glances up towards General Hammond standing in the control room, nearly mouthing the words 'I told you so' before turning and leading the way up the ramp and stepping through fearlessly. A pang goes through me. He didn't salute the General. Jack *always* gave General Hammond a salute before we left.

Mason and Lawson watch with some surprise and amusement as I attempt a salute, to which General Hammond somberly responds with one of his own. "Good luck." His voice echoes through the room before it snaps away as I step through the gate.


Jackson is one weird assed fellow. I nearly collapsed with laughter when he saluted, or should I say *tried* to salute the General. I didn't though, simply cos I knew that General Hammond wouldn't be too impressed with me. Neither would Thomas for that matter.

The trip through the gate is..."Hey Jackson, how would you say 'incredible' in another language?" I ask once my breakfast feels settled again.

"Why?" He asks, blinking at me seriously from behind those glasses he wears. At least he's more awake than Lawson though. The woman is busy losing her lunch into the bushes next to the Stargate.

"Never mind." I sigh and trot over towards Thomas like the good little 2IC I am.

Thomas is gazing at the gate with a look of awe on his face. "And we're going to be doing that for..."

"A long time." I grin at him, and for the first time I feel more than just officialism coming from my new 2IC. About time too, I never thought he'd warm up to me...always treating me as though I'm some kind of imbecile. Okay, so I've known the guys for a few weeks and I haven't actually *done* anything with him other than attend two or three briefings...but he's very capable of making his feelings known pretty damn quickly.

"Yeah." He grins at me, camaraderie sparkling in his eyes, but it quickly fades when he remembers Jackson and Lawson.

"So, where to?" I ask him, shifting my pack that already seems to weigh a billion tonnes.

"You're too impatient, Mason." He throws off-handedly over his shoulder before heading back towards the two doctors. "Everything okay?"

"That was terrible." Lawson groans, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. There's something about her...I don't know. She's jumpy, more jumpy than a newly broken in colt, ready to spook at anything.

"It gets better the more times you go through." Jackson offers. I feel envy when I look at him. The trip didn't even phase him, he didn't even turn green. Hell, he's even quicker than Thomas, already has the whole area scouted out *and* he has the beacon set up. A seasoned traveller, one of the very originals. Him and Ferretti, the only two left now. I feel another pang of envy when I look at him. He was serving with the greatest SG team there was, he was *part* of the
greatest SG team there was, close friends with Jack O'Neill, one of the most talked about Colonels in not only the SGC, but in black ops and boot camp...and the man doesn't care. All he cares about is the fact that his friends are gone. And, strangely enough, I feel respect and admiration for him. Someone with that kind of loyalty, friendship...I haven't met anyone like that till now, and I've certainly never had or been a friend like that.

"So which way?" Thomas asks them, and I smirk. That had basically been my question...

"The UAV showed some signs of past life 3 clicks West from here..." Jackson says, not even looking up from his pack which is now already lying half unpacked on the ground. I'm impressed. Three clicks. UAV. Seems this man learnt a lot from Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter.

"So why are you unpacking your pack?" Thomas asks, very sarcastically.

"Well...considering the fact that it looks an awful lot like rain..." Jackson points out, placing a raincoat over the top of his jacket. Raincoat? What on earth does that man have in his bulging pack? An umbrella?

"So what's in your pack?" Thomas asks, raising an eyebrow in sceptism.

"What I always have in my pack." Jackson looks up, daring Thomas to argue.

"Which is?"

"Books, for research. My sleeping gear, cooking gear, first aid kid, antihistamines, spare change of clothes..."

"Change of clothes?"

"Of course. You don't expect me to walk around in the same clothes for two days?" He sounds shocked.

"And O'Neill let you carry all this stuff with you?" Thomas raises an eyebrow.

"What stuff? It's all necessary." Jackson sounds mildly amused now as he starts putting the unneeded gear - namely medical supplies and a few textbooks - back into his pack.

"Change of clothes? Books?" Thomas waits for a response.

"I'm an archeologist...a anthropologist...take your pick." Jackson's sarcasm is very admirable. "I *need* these things to do the job I'm paid to do."

"Which is?" Thomas looks annoyed and slightly embarrassed now.

"Find out about other cultures, people, our own history..." Jackson raises his eyebrow as he shoulders his pack and belts himself up again.

We all stand for a minute, looking dumbly at each other until Jackson speaks up again. "So, who's taking point then?"

I can't help myself from bursting into laughter, the look on Thomas' face is priceless. If I didn't know better, I'd say Jackson was in command of this mission, despite Thomas' position and ranking.

A glare from my CO quickly shuts me up.

"Mason, you take our six, I'll take point. You two can just fall into place." Thomas orders warily.

"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go..." Jackson mutters beneath his breath. He catches the grin I send in his direction and offers me a slight smile. Seems the man does have a sense of humour after all. Great. At least the whole team won't be a bag of deadbeats who can't take a joke...

"Jackson." Thomas snaps, and a tense, awkward silence falls over us. So much for a first mission, Thomas is shaping up to be the CO from hell, complete control freak. And Lawson...I'd forgotten she was here actually...she's so quiet and shy, almost afraid of us. Maybe when she gets to play around with her little instruments and do her job she'll loosen up.

Hopefully Thomas loosens up as well, other wise I can just see my future. Janitorial duties due to court-martial.



I'm warm, Catherine. I don't remember ever being this warm during a storm. Teal'c and the woman are sitting on either side of me, a sleeping bag spread over us, keeping us warm. The roots of the tree we are sheltering in keep the wind and rain away, and the tent around us adds for extra warmth. I don't remember ever being this warm during a storm.

"Are you warm enough, Catherine?" I ask.

"Yes, fine thanks." The woman responds. I jerk. She's not Catherine. I feel her own stiffness against me. She realised, too late, that I wasn't talking to her. Her name is Catherine as well, but I can't bring myself to call her Catherine. She's not Catherine.

Why aren't you talking to me anymore, Catherine? Why do you disappear each time I try and look at you? Why do I see your eyes looking so tired and sorrow-filled in the older woman's face?

"How long do you think it's been, since the storm started?" The woman asks, her voice nearly drowned by the storm.

"Not many hours." Teal'c answers her.

Teal'c is strange. He is a Jaffa. I have never heard of a Jaffa, or seen one until now. He says he comes from another planet, Catherine. A planet called Chulak. In his gut there is a *thing*. A thing that reminds me of a snake. They call it a Goa'uld. Teal'c calls it a symbiote. An alien. Teal'c is an alien.

"I wonder how Sam and Jack are." the woman continues talking. The silence makes her uncomfortable.

"They will be fine." Teal'c consoles her, his voice calm and resonating in the tent. "O'Neill and Captain Carter are both warriors, Dr. Langford."

"I know Teal'c...but Sam was..."

"O'Neill will take care of her." Teal'c sounds certain of this.

In my mind, I see the two of them. I see him talking softly to her, offering her words of comfort none of us can hear, while the waves throw themselves against the rock. I see him holding her, giving her his strength. Yes, he will look after her. They have the same bond we
have, Catherine. One that doesn't need words to express itself because we *know* its there. We've always known it was there, the words just confirmed what has always been. Yes, they will look after each other. Teal'c is right, we shouldn't worry about them.


I wake up slowly, not really thinking about it until my arm starts aching again. As my senses awaken along with my body, I realise that while my nose and one half of my face is warm, the otherside is cold. That is, I'm suddenly aware, because the warm half of my face and
nose is firmly pressed up against the Colonel. I'm lying half on top of him, the sleeping bag tangled around us, his one arm around me and the other hand tangled in my hair.

He's still sleeping, the steady rise and fall of his chest is surprisingly comforting as I take in my surroundings. The surprising silence that seemed too strange causes me to realise that the storm is over. How long for, I don't know, but it's over.

I debate whether or not to wake the Colonel up. He looks so peaceful, so asleep, that I decide to leave him be. Which means I don't move either, just in case I wake him up. That's fine by me, it's warm and secure snuggled safe in his arms.

I sigh slightly, and let my eyelids fluttered closed again.

"Sam? Jack?" The tent flaps part suddenly and my eyes blink open to reveal Catherine and Teal'c, both looking surprisingly cheery and awake.

"Mm?" I mumble, not really feigning sleepiness. My movements are slow and sluggish, my eyelids still feel like they're glued shut.

"Morning. Well, afternoon actually." Catherine grins at me

"What?" I have no choice now but to roll out of the warmth of his arms and into the cold air.

"Don't." The Colonel mumbles, catching me and snuggling close. "It's cold. Go away Catherine, find your own hot water bottle." Not once does he open his eyes.

"Uh...okay." Catherine looks *very* amused now. The dim light filtering in from the mouth of the root-cave throws a greenish tint on everything.

"O'Neill, should we not attempt to find food before the next storm strikes?"

"Find food all you like. I'm sleeping now." Colonel O'Neill says, one eye opening lazily. "And so's Carter." He states firmly.

"Very well." Teal'c pulls back, leaving Catherine gazing at us curiously, a *very* amused smile on her face.

"Catherine, if you don't close the flap of that tent *now* and stop letting all the warm air out..." Colonel O'Neill opens his other eye, shifting slightly into a more comfortable position.

"Okay!" Catherine grins and backs away, letting the flap fall into place. "Have fun!" I don't know if I heard the words floating towards us, or whether I imagine them, but they bring what I know is a rosy flush to my cheeks.

"We're sleeping, Catherine! Sleeping!" The Colonel sighs dramatically.

We lie in silence for a while, and I'm surprised how relaxed it is. I would never have imagined the two of us lying like this, sleeping together like this. Not in a million years. I wonder what Hammond would say if he caught his 2IC in bed with *his* 2IC? I giggle at the thought.

"What?" The Colonel asks, moving again so that I'm not snugly wedged between his arm and his body, my head resting against his neck on his shoulder.

"I was just thinking what would General Hammond think if he caught us like this."

"We haven't done anything though." he's confused, and I can just picture that *look* he gets on his face when he's completely baffeled.

"I know." I giggle again. He must think there's something completely wrong with me. I hardly ever giggle...but lately I've been giggling around him like a school girl. Come to think of it, I *feel* like a school girl around him. I don't feel like I have to prove anything anymore, that I have to *prove* I'm smart, that I have to *prove* I'm capable. He accepts me the way I am, and that makes me comfortable around him.

"So?" He waits for me to explain the joke.

"I was just wondering what he'd think if he found his 2IC - you, in bed with your 2IC!" I giggle again.

"Sometimes, Carter, I wonder what exactly it is that makes people think you're so smart." He tells me, giving me a slight squeeze.

We lie in silence again, and I savour the feeling of contentment I have lying here in his arms.

"This is nice." He says eventually.

"What? Being stuck on a planet in the roots of a tree while we wait for a storm to pass and pray that lightening doesn't strike us is nice?" I ask him sarcastically, knowing full well what he means.

"No. That's not too great." He admits. "But this, this is nice." He waves his hand around the in air a bit, gesturing wildly. "Just...I don't know. I feel..." He stops.

"What?" I ask him, holding my breath.

"Happy." He says softly.

"And that's a bad thing?" I ask, confused by the way in which he said it, almost as if he doesn't want to believe it, that it can't be true.

"I...I don't know." He sighs softly, twining his fingers with mine in an unconscious gesture of...of what? "We're friends, aren't we?" He asks almost hesitantly.

"Of course." I'm surprised by that. I mean, fair enough, we are CO and 2IC, but I thought we were also friends.

"Good. That's good, Carter." His moving fingers still in mine and he seems to relax against me.

"Thank you." I whisper.

"For what?" Confusion again. The man is unable to accept a *serious* thank you from friends.

"For today. This morning. Last night." I can't remember when it was that he spoke those whispered words to me, but I can remember what he told me.

He doesn't answer me, and I know it's because he doesn't know what to say. And that's fine. Rather that than having him brush off my thanks.

"Wonder what Teal'c's found." He says, sounding slightly guilty.

"I don't know. We probably should go and have a look." I say, understanding his guilt at not contributing to the task of finding food.

"It's just so cold." He complains.

"What, an old man like you can't handle the weather?" I grin up at him, but the world seems to freeze for a million years while our eyes lock. Suddenly I'm very aware of his body pressed up next to mine, of his strong fingers holding mine and of his face only centimetres away.

"Jack!" Ernest's voice breaks the spell and I sit up jerkily. What *was* that? What were we doing? "JACK!"

"What?" Colonel O'Neill gets up reluctantly, turning around and offering me a hand up. I accept it, but the sudden fear that rises up in me when I realise just how aware I am of his rough hand holding mine makes me let it go the minute I'm standing. I can't look at him, not when I'm suddenly flooded with these traiterous feelings of...attraction. God. The man's my CO, my friend. You're not supposed to feel attracted to him, not supposed to develop a crush on him overnight.

Overnight. Okay. That's it. It's been a very, *very* emotional time these last few weeks, and he's been there for me, talking to me, helping me, looking after me. Of *course* I'm going to feel attracted to him. This will pass soon, for the sake of our friendship it had better pass soon. I'm gonna kill Catherine for putting ideas like these in my head.


Standing here, looking down on our prize, I feel tinges of pride in me. It has been many, many years since I have hunted. Since our stranding here my hunting skills have returned, and now our patience and diligence has finally been rewarded.

"What is *that*?" O'Neill's voice sounds awed, if not slightly jealous.

"Food." Dr. Langford answer him shortly.

"And a pelt." Captain Carter adds softly. Her voice sounds strange, as if her mind is elsewhere. Looking at her pale face and the distant look in her eyes, I understand that this is the case. Her thoughts *are* elsewhere.

"So...what are we gonna do with this honking pile of...of...animal?" O'Neill asks.

"Smoke it." I have thought of this problem too, and smoking it seems to be the most obvious solution.

"Uh, just in case it slipped your attention Teal'c, we are in the middle of hurricane weather at the moment...I don't see how..."

"The root-caves." Dr. Langford inserts, her eyes bright with excitement and pride.

"I wonder *what* it is." Captain Carter sounds more like herself, the curiousity and puzzlement is back in her eyes. I observe O'Neill's look of relief and affection as he glances at her, and feel a strange sense of happiness. I do not know what O'Neill and Captain Carter were discussing, and I have no wish to find out unless they decide to enlighten me.

" was running around on all four legs..." Dr. Langford describes.

"It doesn't look like a carnivore." Captain Carter is now bending over at the creature's head, examining its teeth.

"It seemed afraid when it saw us...I have never seen one of these before."

"I think the storm must have scared it out into the open." Captain Carter strokes her hand along the oily, matted fur.

"So, you can skin, gut and chop this thing up within the next coupla hours, right?" O'Neill checks with me.

"I believe so."

"Great. Well, you can do that. I'll go look for a cave for you to...smoke...this *thing* in." O'Neill backs away, still looking hesitant.

"Very well." O'Neill obviously is not fond of this kind of work. I am not either, but many years of experience has made me efficient at it.

Captain Carter is also experienced at this. Upon the curious look that Dr. Langford gives her, she admits that she went on hunting trips with her Dad as a young child. A shadow crosses her face as the words pass over her lips, but both Dr. Langford and I know she will be unwilling to tell us more if we pry. Captain Carter is a person who does not like to talk much about herself.

By the time we have removed the skin from the animal, which Captain Carter decided is a cross between a 'cow' and a 'deer' with a distinctly 'rabbit' like pelt, the calm in the air is starting to dissipitate. It will not be long before the next storm strikes.

We work quickly, carving the animal up into large portions which we give to O'Neill, Ernest and Dr. Langford to transport to the root-cave they have found.

"We've stocked the cave up with firewood." O'Neill states. "It's big. Catherine and I are going to get the packs and tents and move them to the new cave. It's more than big enough." Heglances at Captain Carter, making sure with her that the new arrangements will be satisfactory. This is interesting, O'Neill normally makes most decisions, and if one has a complaint with them, then one speaks up. Now he is making sure Captain Carter is satisfied. I can not help but to be curious as to what has passed between the two of them.

Placing the last of the animal on the pelt and carrying it towards the root-cave between the two of us, Captain Carter and I quickly follow Ernest to the new cave. It is indeed a spacious confinement. Putting the meat to one side, O'Neill and I stretch the large pelt over one 'wall' and hammer it in place with spare tent-pegs. We then turn to the small fire that Captain Carter has managed to build up from the damp kindling and logs.

Taking a large cooking pot, I prepare to cook some of the meat for our evening meal.


"Carter," Jack looks up from the pack he's busy digging through. "Is this Daniel's pack?"

"Yes Sir." She looks up at him, mildly surprised, before turning back to a large textbook on Ancient Rome.

"Do you have any idea of what exactly he *has* in here?" Jack sounds slightly shocked and awed.

"Well, no Sir. I thought I'd be better off not knowing." Sam admits, closing the book. The flickering flames of the smoking fire hardly throw any light onto the pages, despite how close she is sitting to the fire.

"He has *two* sleeping bags. Not one, *two*." Jack states, pulling the second sleeping bag out. "And look, this one is nearly big enough to fit two people!" He sounds absolutely flabbergasted. "And books. Carter, why does the man insist on bringing a library load of books
through on every mission?"

"I don't know, Sir. I think it might have something to do with his line of work." Sam tries not to smile, but fails.

"Are you undermining the seriousness of the situation, Captain?" Jack looks at her, and if I didn't know him well enough to be able to read the laughter lines around his face, I would have thought he was serious.

"Of course not." Sam shakes her head in mock innocence and makes her way over to Jack.

"Okay. So, Teal'c?" Jack looks through the dim cave. Teal'c is sitting on the otherside of the fire, busy cooking a stew from some of the animal that we hunted today. Ernest is hovering next to him, eagerly watching what the skilled man is doing to the raw meat that he's preparing to smoke.

"Yes O'Neill?" Teal'c looks up.

"When I got you to take an inventory of the didn't think it necessary to tell me that most of the stuff in here is completely *useless* to us?" Jack demands.

"I did inform you, O'Neill, that Daniel Jackson's pack contained mostly research materials, medical supplies, sleeping equipment and a large supply of chocolate." Teal'c looks up at Jack. "Along with the regular food supplies, emergency rations and a spare change of clothes."

"A spare change of clothes?" Jack shakes his head. "So *that's* where the extra things came from."

"Don't you bring spare clothes on missions?" Sam sounds quite surprised.

"Well, I bring underwear, but trousers, boots and jackets?" Jack shrugs.

"You mean he brought a jacket and boots?" Sam tries not to laugh.

"Yes. When we get home, Carter, remind me to check his pack before every mission." Jack lets go of the pack. "So, Teal'c, how far's the grub?"

"What grub, O'Neill? I am not aware of any insects or grubs in our root-cave."

I can't help myself, bursting into a peal of laughter despite the dirty look Jack sends me.

"When the *food* is ready, Teal'c, do us a favour and bring it over here. I'm freezing my toushie off." Jack stands up, dragging a sleeping with him in one hand and clutching Sam's hand in the other. Holding hands? I'm curious. What exactly *were* they doing in the tent by themselves?

"What are you doing?" I ask as Jack sits down on the ground next to me, tugging Sam down on his other side.

"Getting warm between two gorgeous women." He grins wolfishly at me before theatrically spreading the sleeping bag over the three of us. Relishing the sudden warmth, I accept his offer and lean against him, cuddling into his arm that he's put around my shoulders. I can see Sam's head doing the same as mine, burying itself under his chin. The only difference is, he leans his head on hers and I can feel majority of his weight shifting to lean against Sam.

I smile inspite of myself. Oh, I can't wait to see how far this goes!


"Colonel!" Carter's voice breaks the fresh silence.

"Carter. Good morning." I smile over at her, but don't make any move to leave my position. The sun is out today, and I'm making the most of it. No way in hell are they getting me off this lovely warm rock. A week of storms is *more* than enough to make a man need a little R & R in the sun for a while.

"I've been talking to Catherine and Teal'c, Sir, and both of them agreed that it was quite amazing that the trees we were sheltering in *weren't* struck by lightening." She starts out, building up to something big.

"Get to the point." I sigh, not really feeling like pretending to listen to another long lecture in mumbo-jumbo that I can't even understand.

"Well, I did some tests on the soil on the next hill along from our trees, Sir, and they contain a lot of..."

"Carter!" I warn her, opening an eye to peek at her.

"To put it in short, Colonel, any lightening that comes near the trees won't strike them because it's attracted to the hill..."

"Like blue metal?" I ask lazily.

"Yes! I think it's something very similar inside the hill..."

"No offence, Carter, but why do I need to know this?"

"Well, how about if we change plans slightly?" She licks her lips.

"How?" I sit up, realising I'm not going to get my R & R until I've listened to her.

"If we spent this break between storms gathering food and getting a base camp set up in the trees, along with supplies, and head out to the city next break, then we'd be better equiped and have somewhere relatively safe, dry and secure to head back to if we run into trouble." She explains.

"What kind of supplies were you thinking of?" I ask, mulling the idea over in my mind. It's not a bad idea, but I'm just a little blank on how they propose to *preserve* any supplies in the root-caves.

"We've got the smoked meat..."

"Which is nearly finished..."

"But we could go hunting for more. There should be more of those animals out there somewhere, and if we could hunt a few more and dry the meat out with salt..."

"Which we get where?"

"The ocean...anyway, we could also use to pelts and make 'clothes' out of them." She's getting all excited about the prospect of playing 'Swiss Family Robinson'.

"Carter, I don't want to wear a stinking animal carcass." I shudder.

"No offence Sir, but your BDU's aren't going last forever. Neither are your boots."

"And Catherine and Teal'c also want to do this?" I sigh. It's a mutiny.

"Well, we only discussed it..." She hesitates. "Yes Sir."

"So why send you? Why not all come over?" I frown, not liking this way of sending Carter over to reason with me.

"Well, Catherine and Teal'c AND Ernest seem to think that there's something between us..." She blushes and looks down.

"There is." I grin. "We're friends, remember?" I pat her shoulder.

"Yes Sir. Friends." She smiles up at me, but her eye seem suspiciously bright.

"Go and tell *Catherine* that sending you to try and convince me probably isn't the best idea because you fill me so full of unintelligible mumbo-jumbo that I can't think straight..." I grin at her and she smiles widely in response, "But the idea *had* sort of been playing across my mind already. You just pointed out ways to make it possible."

"Yes Sir!" She does a snappy salute, laughs, and leaves me alone with my peaceful time in the sun. Suddenly I feel lonely and in short of company, and I wish secretly that Carter had hung around for a little longer and just talked. I like, I realise with surprise, listening to her talk, even if it *is* mumbo jumbo.



I find him in the science department. He's sitting in my office, a resigned sadness on his face as he studies the walls bearing my books and personal ornaments.

"Dr. Jackson." I lick my lips nervously, watching him warily from the doorway.

"Dr. Lawson!" He's startled, glancing at me guiltily before hastily struggling out of my chair.

"Were you looking for someone?" I ask him tentatively as he glances around my office again before walking towards me.

"Mm?" He blinks, focusing on me again. "No." He shakes his head, an odd smile playing around his blue eyes.

"Then what...?" I wait for an explanation. This man is strange. During the missions we've been on these last few months I haven't really gotten to know him very well, but then again no one really has. Despite the few dangerous situations we've been in, that we've relied on each other to save our lives, we still don't know each other as a team. Not the way other SG teams, like Ferretti's for example, know each other. We're not friends.

"I...nothing." He swallows, I can see his adam's apple bobbing slightly, but then the mask is back in place and those detached blue eyes are studying me intently again. He's holding something, I realise. A photo. A photo that has four people standing together comfortably. A team. An SG team. SG-1. The real SG-1.

We're fooling ourselves, all of us. Mason and Thomas are fooling themselves thinking that they can become the next SG-1. Sure, we're officially called SG-1, but we *aren't* SG-1, not the way Jackson, O'Neill, Carter and Teal'c were.

Carter. This was her office. That's why he's here.

"I'm sorry." I look up at him. It's ridiculous this fear I keep feeling, but I can't get rid of it. Jackson is a gentleman, but I'm still scared. Of all of them. How did Carter do it, live with three men and become a part of their team?

"For what?" He blinks, surprised as he starts to step past me.

"For not being her. For Mason and Thomas not being the others." I whisper.

He turns to me then, sorrow in his eyes. "I am too." His words cut into me. I flinch, despite myeslf, and turn away from him.

"Dr. Lawson...Alexandra...I'm sorry." He catches a hold of my arm and turns me back to him. "'s just...three months. You know. Three's a long time." He runs a hand through his hair. "A quarter of a year."

"You were lucky, having them." I tell him, smiling slightly.

"Yeah. I was." He agrees, a slight smile crossing over his lips.

"Anytime you need to, you're welcome to come in here..." I motion to my office. "If it helps you feel closer to her..."

"To her?" He blinks.

"Captain Carter."

"What?" He looks completely surprised. "I'm afraid I've lost you..."

"If you need to come here to remember her or anything, that's fine." I tell him, also slightly confused now.

"To remember Sam?" He sounds slightly wary now. "You think Sam and I were...?" He pauses, unable to say the word.

"Involved? Weren't you?" I blink. Why else would he come to her office?

"NO!" He nearly laughs at the idea. "It's just we all used to come in here together, because Sam was usually here and..." He trails off, obviously remembering another time. "Oh no, Sam and I didn't have anything like that. I'm married." He explains.

"Oh. You are? I didn't know that." Now I feel like a real idiot. Two months we've been serving together, and I still don't know that he's married.

"Yeah. Sha're..." He trails off, a wistful look on his face. But he wipes it away and his mask slips back into place.

"What does she do?" I ask, curious.

"She's...." A look of pain twists his features up. "The Goa'uld have her." He whispers.

A stab of pain shoots through me for him. His best friends are gone, and his wife is with the Goa'uld. I feel disgusted by my earlier irritation and dislike for his acting as though the whole world was against him. Jackson has been through so much more than I'll ever be able to understand...

"Jack and I were going to get them back." He says softly, his eyes blank and far away.


"Skaara. Her brother." He focuses on me again. "What about you? I don't know anything about you. About any of you actually." He gives a raw bark of laughter that grates painfully over the tense silence.

"I'm married." I acknowledge.

"Kids?" He asks, a bitter smile on his face.

"Yeah. A daughter, Angela. She's two." I smile, thinking about my little angel.

"Sweet." He says, and looks mildly surprised as the word passes over his lips. Sweet.

"Yeah, she is sweet." I watch him curiously. A series of emotion plays over his face, eventually settling on determination.

"Three months is a long time." He says again, his voice resigned.

"A quarter of a year." I echo his words.

"Too long for us to be a team without *being* a team." He states. He takes a breath and looks at me steadily, his voice only cracking slightly as he speaks again. "Are you free on Saturday?"

"Ye-es." I say hesitantly.

"Good. We're going to have a pizza and poker night." He says, his voice strained.

"Pizza and Poker night?" I'm doubtful.

"Yes. It's a SG team thing. You have pizza and poker night one Saturday night a month. At least one anyway." He smiles slightly and then his eyes are boring into mine, begging me to agree.

"I don't know how to play Poker." I admit eventually.

"I didn't either. Neither did Teal'c. We'll teach you though." He states calmly, only the shaking of his hand betraying the emotions raging inside him.

"Okay. Where?" I agree spontaneously.

"My place. 7p.m." His voice wobbles slightly.

"Okay. Thanks Dr. Jackson."

"If we're going to *be* a team, Alexandra, call me Daniel." He states firmly.

"Fine. Then I'm Alex or Lexi. NEVER Alexandra." I smile slightly.

"Just like Sam..." He grins properly for the first time, and I can see the sorrow in his eyes are he remembers his friend, but the desperation and complete desolation is missing. Three months *is* a long time, long enough for him to have started healing.


How did I let Jackson talk me into this? Standing outside his apartment, a six-pack clutched in one hand and a packet of munchies in the other, I once again berate myself for agreeing with this.

"Thomas!" He flings the door open. His smile is strained and I can see him struggling to keep control of his emotions. This man has guts, I realise with a start, he has more guts than I'll ever be able to imagine. As the CO of SG-1, *I* should be the one making the effort to try and get us to *be* more of a team instead of a few people just getting thrown together in a rush. Instead, Jackson is the one working on the team spirit while he's still dealing with the loss of his real team.

"Hey Jackson." I shuffle nervously on one foot, peering over his shoulder into the cluttered apartment behind him.

"Come on in. Alex is already here..." He turns around and leads the way in.

Alex? I thought that Mason's name was Eric...OH! Seated on the couch in a pair of tailored slacks and a fitted T, with her hair spilling over her shoulders again is a woman. My eyes widen slightly. Dr. Lawson. It's our scientist! I am shocked by the transformation...

"That'll be Mason." Jackson announces as the door bell rings.

"Hey, I haven't missed anything, have I?" Mason's voice sounds relaxed and natural. I'm surprised actually, very surprised at how well Mason and Jackson get along. Mason's sarcasm and continual talking/showing off irritates the hell out of me, but Jackson seems to accept it, even smiling and retorting with a sarcasm of his own. I would never have thought the two of them would have gotten along the best out of all of us.

"No, Thomas and Alex arrived like two minutes apart, and you're a minute behind Thomas." Jackson's voice grows louder as he enters the stilted silence of the loungeroom again.

"Great. So. Have you ordered yet?" Mason asks hopefully, his blue eyes excited at the prospect of a pizza and beer evening.

"No, I told you Mason, everyone just got here!" Jackson rolls his eyes and takes the two six-packs Mason brought with him. Picking up the pack I brought, he disappears through a pair of swinging doors.

"So. What did you do on your evening off?" Mason asks, his voice falsely bright and cheery as he looks at Lawson. He knows better than to try and strike up a conversation with me.

"I stayed in." Lawson offers helpfully.

"Oh. Well...I..." He searches his mind, trying to remember something interesting. "No...nothing much myself." He admits. "How about you, Major?" He asks me politely, still using my rank.

"Had dinner." I offer him, deciding that for Jackson's sake I could at least *try* to make an effort.

"Oh. I had pizza." He grins.

"And now you're having pizza again?" Lawson raises a delicate eyebrow. I'm surprised at the teasing tone on her voice.

"Of course. I only have uhealthy food once a week." Mason deadpans.

"Unhealthy food?"

"Steak. On the BBQ." Mason grins, his smile unable to be held in check. That man smiles through anything, including a gunfight. I've never seen anyone smile so much.

"What's this about steak?" Jackson enters the room, bearing a bowl of peanuts and four cold bottles of beer.

"Mason was just saying how he only eats unhealthy food - steak - once a week, the rest of the time it's a very health conscious choice of pizza." Lawson grins, and I'm surprised that she looks pretty normal.

"Sounds like Jack." Jackson smiles ruefully, throwing me one of the bottles of bear. He chucks another to Mason and then tosses one lightly to Lawson. Everyone drops off into silence for a while, opening their beer and dragging the first gulp out as long as possible in the strained environment.

As we sit and nurse our beers for about five minutes, without anyone thinking of something that's not completely ridiculous or very false to say, I can't help but wonder just what Jackson hoped to achieve by doing this.

"So...weren't we supposed to be having a party or something?" Mason asks eventually, looking around.

"No. A poker and pizza night." Jackson states stubbornly.

"Oh. And the difference is?" Mason shoots back, raising an eyebrow.

"We don't trash the joint in the process of getting drunk, we just get drunk and lose money." Jackson says drily.

"I don't get drunk." I announce haughtily. It's true, sort of. I can hold my alcohol incredibly well.

"Good for you. Spoils the fun though." Jackson retorts, not missing a beat as he raises the beer to his lips again.

"What pizza are we getting?" Mason has a one track mind.

"Nothing with anchovies." Jackson says firmly.

"I go that." Mason agrees.

"Me too." Lawson agrees thankfully.

"This has to be the first time I'm with a group of people and *no one* likes anchovies." I grin at them, feeling pretty pleased about this ridiculously mundane detail.

"Me too. First time in a long time I'm having pizza without anchovies." Jackson agrees with a relish, taking another swig.

"What, they all liked anchovies?"

"Every single one of them. Always pizza and anchovies. Never even bothered getting me some without." He frowns slightly, the look in his eyes surprising me for a second.

"So. Who's ringing?" Mason demands.

"I will..." Jacksons stands up, placing his empty bottle on the table. Finished already. That was quick " deal." He throws a pack of cards towards Mason and disappears out of the room again.


I glance across the table, sneaking a peak at Jackson's hand. Ha! I've got this one in the bag...if Thomas folds.

"I raise you..." I begin.

"And you're bluffing. I'm calling." Thomas sighs dramatically, swigging another drink. So he doesn't get drunk, fair enough, but he sure has loosened up in these few hours that we've been playing cards. Lawson is out like a light bulb, snoring gently.

"Hey!" Jackson moves sluggishly to try and stop Thomas from taking the pool. "No fair!"

"I've won." He throws his cards on the table. Fair enough..but still!

"Oh no you don't..." I try to grab the pool from him, but the quick jerky movements send my mind reeling and the whole world seems to tilt and sway awkwardly.

"I'm sick of this." Jackson mutters, his hand flopping around on the table, searching for his drink.

"Let's watch a video." I lose interest in the battle for the pool and stagger over towards Jackson's T.V. "What you got?" I ask, my eyes refusing to focus on the tags.

"Documentaries...home videos..." Jackson slurs and half rolls off of his chair. He lands on the floor with a thunk and I can hear Thomas trying to drag him towards the couch.

"Move it Lawson." I hear another thunk, which I can only assume is Lawson as she gets rolled off the chair, and then the creak of springs as a lump of dead weight settles itself on Jackson's sofa.

"Home videos it is." I peer at the blur of videos. "Where are they?"

"Dunno." Jackson mumbles. "Left."

I fumble a video on the left side and somehow jam it into the VCR, pushing buttons until the little clicky noises the machine makes tells me it's going. The TV gets flicked on, probably by remote, but I'm too gone to really care.

I lose interest rapidly as the screen turns desert yellow. "Home videos?"

"Cairo. A dig." Jackson explains, pulling himself up against the couch. Lawson stirs and lifts her form to also lean against the couch. I ignore them and make room for myself next to Thomas.

"Nice. What did you do, build sandcastles?" Lawson asks tiredly, her stretchings blocking my view.

"You're in my way." I complain, pushing her arm away with my foot.

"What? You might miss out on seeing sand?" She's a lot more sarcastic when she's relaxed.

"Hey!" Thomas perks up.

"Who's that?" Lawson asks as the camera focuses on someone.

"Jack." Jackson's voice sounds desolate again. "Teal'c...Sam...General Hammond..." He lists the people, all related the SGC.

"I thought these were home videos." I remark, confused.

"They are."

And then it dawns on me. These people are all Jackson has, all he had. Now he's stuck with us, and we're such a bunch of whacko's that we can't even be his friends. Now I really feel bad.

We all sit and watch for a bit, the stupified haze of alcohol induced sorrow settling over us. On the screen we're watching a party, the four members of SG-1, General Hammond and Doc Fraiser all letting down and relaxing after a mission. I feel jealousy raise its head inside me. Why can't we be a team like that? Why can't Thomas be the CO that O'Neill seemed to be? Why do we have to be like this, always second guessing each other and having our suspicions? I want that. I want what SG-1 had, and I know that Jackson wants back what he's lost. I'm going to try now, for Jackson and for myself.



"I'm *so* bored. No. Bored doesn't cut it. Carter, where's Daniel when you need a word?" O'Neill demands, busy tearing a leaf to shreds with his hand.

"Usually not around." Captain Carter responds, placing a hand over her mouth while she yawns.

"How long still?" O'Neill demands tiredly, abandoning his destroyed leaf and looking across at Captain Carter who is busy studying one of the many textbooks that was in Daniel Jackson's pack.

"A few weeks probably." Captain Carter looks up from her book with resignation written plainly over her features.

"How about a hike?" O'Neill suggests hopefully. "We've done the hunting thing, found no more big animals, caught lots of fish, got the nut about a hike?"

"A hike?" Dr. Langford asks doubtfully, looking at him.

"What if the storms strike while we're away?" Captain Carter reminds him.

"You said we have a few weeks. We don't *need* to be gone that long. Just a few days. Exploring the lay of the land. Who knows, maybe we find some more of those big animal things." He suggests, his excitement for his idea growing.

"Perhaps it would be wise." I agree.

"It would?" Dr. Langford looks doubtful.

"Yes. O'Neill is much like a child, he needs something with which to occupy himself at all times..."

"Teal'c!" O'Neill sounds betrayed.

"This would prove to be an excellent opportunity for everyone to enjoy a small reprieve from the monotony of the life we have." I point out.

"The world is beautiful." Ernest inserts. "The cold season will come soon, but everything is still alive and beautiful now."

"Great. Looks like we're going then." O'Neill jumps up. "Pack your kits people, we're going on a hike." He grins and disappears into the root-cave.

"Is it just me, Catherine, or is Colonel O'Neill acting more and more like a teenager?" Captain Carter sighs, pulling herself to his feet.

"I don't know. I personally think that this isn't so bad."

"You do?" Captain Carter frowns, confused.

"Well, yes. I was retired, Sam. I stayed home all day doing nothing. I wasn't needed. Now I feel as though I'm thirty again...I'm needed here because it's up to everyone to contribute in order for us to survive."

I frown slightly, thinking about Dr. Langford's words. While life here is somewhat idyllic, I would much prefer to return home. To return home to my wife and my son, neither of whom I have seen for a very long time.

"What about you, Teal'c? What do you think?" Captain Carter looks at me, curiousity on her face.

"I would return, if given the opportunity." I answer her, also rising to my feet to assist O'Neill in the 'packing'.

"Why? What's so bad about this life?" Dr. Langford asks me.

"There is nothing bad about this life." I say honestly. I am worried. I have no wish to lie to my comrades and friends, but for me to admit the truth, that I have family would take from the trust that has formed between us.

"Then why?" Dr. Langford persists.

"There are many things that this life lacks, Dr. Langford. Family is one of them, as is duty. I am still in service to the Tau'ri, I am a warrior like O'Neill and Captain Carter. The days here, while pleasant, do not fulfil my ambitions." I turn around.

"I didn't know you had family." Captain Carter frowns slightly.

"Everyone has family, Captain Carter, even Jaffa." I allow a small nod of the head to show her my words are not spoken in anger but in friendship, and then I retreat to the dim recess where O'Neill is busily packing.


"Were you serious, Catherine?" Sam falls into step beside me.

"About what?"

"About liking life here." She glances at me quickly, but not for long enough so that I can read her features.

"Yes." I'm surprised by that admission. I hated this planet a few weeks ago, but for some reason I've found that I *like* the way we all live and work together like a family. The way we all sit and just talk around the campfire about nothing in particular, the way that I've formed such close bonds with Jack and Sam. Teal'c too, to an extent. I don't think he'll ever really let anyone close to him, but Jack and Sam are becoming not only my friends, but my 'children' too. I feel like their mother, sometimes, wanting to look after them.

"So, if it was possible for us to go home, what would you do?" Her question provokes thought in me.

"I don't know." I realise. "I miss the creature comforts of home, all the people, the relative warmth and security...but this is so nice." I wave my hand around, drawing her attention to the trees around us as we make our way down the hill in the opposite direction of the ocean. "I think, that if you all left then I'd leave too." I say eventually. A revelation hits me. "It's not so much where we are, Sam, it's what we've become." I try and explain.

"What we've become?" She sounds slightly dubious, regarding me warily.

"Yes. Look at you and the Colonel, for example."

"What about us?" The defensive spikes immediately surface, and I smile a gently smile to let her know I'm not going to tease her about something that I'm not quite sure doesn't exist.

"There's a bond, for lack of a better word, between you now." It's true. Even though we are all friends here, there is something special between the two of them. A different type of relationship.

"But there's one between you and me too." She points out.

"I know." I nod. "A camaraderie, between *all* of us. I doubt that we'd have that if we weren't here." I remind her.

"True. I probably wouldn't even know you properly if we weren't here." She agrees, somewhat ashamedly.

"Don't be ashamed of that, Sam. You have...had your own life, just like I had mine." She sighs at my words and looks ahead to where Teal'c and Jack are walking with Ernest running ahead and pointing things out.

"Would you hate me if I said I wanted to go back?" Sam asks eventually.

"Of course not!" I'm surprised and I link my arm through hers to show her the sincerety of my words.

"I just..." She sighs, frustrated as she tries to push the hair off her face with her bad hand. I let go of her arm without saying anything, and she immediately raises it to brush the strands out of the way. "I want things to be the way they were." She says
eventually, casting a guilty look at me. "But I don't want them to be like that because then I would know you or Ernest. And the Colonel and I wouldn't be...I don't know..."

"What are you?" I ask softly.

"Friends. Honestly Catherine, that's all we are. I think we're best friends though." She satisfied suddenly, as if a great weight has been lifted off her shoulders.

"Best friends?" I look across at her, and then think about all the times I've seen the two of them just sitting talking. No. Best friends doesn't cover it. It's more than best friends between the two of them, it's as if they *need* each other close by at all times. I can understand that. The two of them are young, by our standards anyway. They were, realistically, the two of us along with Teal'c that lost the most by becoming stranded here. Ernest has been here so long that it's a part of who he is now. And me? I'm old. I don't have much time left. As long as I'm surrounded by people I love and people who love me then it doesn't really matter all that much.

I look ahead to where Jack is walking, occassionally reaching out a hand and steadying Ernest as he stumbles over rocks in his eagerness to get to the next 'point of interest'.

"It's going to be a long walk back." Sam says eventually, smiling slightly at nothing in particular.

"It is." I agree, groaning inwardly as I think of our day long trek so far. All the way downhill. "Think it'll end soon?"

"I don't know." Sam frowns slightly. "But the storms are going to come soon." She says softly.

"How can you tell?"

"The air." She shrugs her shoulders. "It's slight, but it feels as though the waiting is setting in again."

"And your arm hurts." I broke my leg once, not seriously though. Whenever there's a bad storm coming the bone starts to ache a few hours before hand. I can only imagine what Sam's arm must be like.

"Sometimes." She agrees softly, unwilling to talk about her impairment. "I don't think we should go much further though."

"Why?" I can't say I'm too upset about that, but I'm curious all the same at the note of worry creeping into her voice.

"Didn't it strike you at all odd that the first set of storms we witnessed didn't reach the cave?" She asks eventually.

"Well, we weren't in the cave then..." I point out.

"But still, the water doesn't just go down in a day." She reminds me. "I didn't see it last time, but I'm guessing that there had to have been *some* water in the cave..."

"I guess so. The sand was wet..." I remember.

"But not that wet. This time the whole cave was absolutely drowned in water." She continues.

"Why do you think that is?" I frown, confused now.

"I don't know exactly, but I talked to Ernest a bit yesterday and he said that sometimes the water rose so high it nearly reached the castle..."

"Will it reach the tree?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. As far as I can tell the hill with the tree is actually higher up than the castle..." She pauses. "Apparently with each storm the water level rises higher and higher, settling back down to normal once the storms are over. Then the next storm brings the waters up even higher...then they go back to normal. Eventually when the water gets to its highest point, close to the castle, they start receding with each storm until they reach the lowest point. I'm going to guess, and Ernest seems to agree with me, that the storms when we got here were at their lowest point, so the water only rose a little bit. That's why last storms they rose so much. This storm they'll probably rise even more..."

"And you don't want to be in any lands lower than the tree." I realise, surprised by the danger we've suddenly found ourselves in.


"Have you told Jack?"

"No, not yet." She shakes her head.

"You should."

"I know. But he was looking forwards to this hike so much..." She gazes at him, a half smile playing around her lips as she gazes at him.

"He won't be happy that you didn't inform him of danger though." I remind her.

"I know. I'll tell him when we stop again...oh look!" She gasps, her face lighting up in awe.

"What?" I look ahead as well as we break out of the trees and get faced with a large meadow, still sloping down hill, covered with lush green grass and millions of wild flowers. "It's beautiful!" I gasp, flooded with memories of other flower filled meadows of my younger years. "Come on!" I grasp her arm, catching a glimpse of her surprised face and Jack's amused one as I gallop past him, dragging her behind me and into the field of flowers.


Catherine! We should have come here before! It's beautiful. A field of flowers. Millions of flowers. Do you remember how you used to run in the fields and gather the flowers as though you were unable to keep still? And then you would...

The older woman rushes past me, dragging the younger one, Sam, behind her. Together they plunge into the flowers that have grown up their waists. Once amongst the ocean of reds, blues, yellows and purples the older woman lets go of Sam and starts scooping up arm fuls of flowers.

"I haven't done this in years!" She laughs, holding the multitude of colours against her while she continues to pick more. "Come on, Sam!" She laughs. Sam hesitates before scooping up flowers as well. I feel sorrow for her as her one arm dangles uselessly in it's sling, swaying as she jogs towards Catherine.

The older woman is a lot like you are, Catherine. Her eyes are lit up with the same joy and awe that yours contained when you were presented with flowers of any sort.

"Only women." Jack snorts next to me, also watching the women as they dash and play childishly amongst the blooms. The older woman's enthusiasm is catching, and Sam is now also smiling widely, her cheeks flushed with joy and pollen brushes on her clothes.

"They are creatures who appreciate beauty, O'Neill." Teal'c's voice sounds wistful as he gazes at the two woman laughing together, still gathering flowers.

"Yes." Jack smiles tightly, and I notice his eyes trained on Sam. The bond between them is strong, Catherine. Stronger than even ours, I think. He sees her beauty, and thinks we don't know that he sees it.

"And their joy makes them beautiful too." The Jaffa continues. I look at him. He yearns for a loved one.

"Yeah." Jack agrees and I look back at the women.

"It's magic!" The older woman laughs. Magic. The words she is using...the laughter...the movements...Catherine? Where are you?

My eyes are drawn to the older woman as she flings her flowers in the air, holding her arms outstretched and laughing as the colourful rain gently descends on her. The bright petals cling to her silvery hair, her eyes are bright in her rosy cheeks with excitement. She looks just like you, Catherine, just like a woodfairy dancing amongst the flowers.

"Come on." Jack sets off towards the flowers, but the women ignore him, once again picking flowers and laughing. The older woman looks up suddenly, and sees me. Her movements slow and cease as our eyes lock. Why, why does she remind me so much of you Catherine? Why am I so afraid of her? Why do I want to leave you Catherine, and love this woman standing with an open face watching me?

I stop in front of her and brush the petals from her hair, much like I used to do with you, Catherine. Why am I doing this? I frown in confusion, scared suddenly.

She hesitates also, swallowing. Then she smiles at me, Catherine, and she is you. She is Catherine for the brief second. I reach up again and touch her cheek with my roughened fingers. It's not soft, like I remember it. It's dry and the skin is wrinkled, marked by tiny little scars that never used to be there.


"O'NEILL!" Teal'c's voice intrudes suddenly, and I find myself staring at the old woman, the shock in my own eyes clearly mirrored in hers. Hastily I pull away, and turn to look at what Teal'c yelled at.


She looked so beautiful. Here eyes were so bright, so happy. Happier than I'd seen her in a long time. Happier than I'd ever seen her. With the petals falling around the two of them, I could easily have believed Catherine's statement of 'It's Magic!', because it was.

I lost track of Teal'c, of Catherine, of Ernest. I lost track of time. I just stared at her, still smiling widely and gathering flowers in the sunlight, watching as the beams of light played around her golden hair, giving her an aura...

I didn't even realise I'd started walking towards her, or even spoken for that matter, until she looked up and met my eyes. She didn't look away as my traitorous feet carried me closer, and she didn't move when I stopped right in front of her, close enough to smell the singular scent that came off her skin.

"You got something in your hair." I whispered, not breaking the contact between our eyes as I reached up and brushed some of the flowers off, trailing my fingers down the smoothness of her silken skin and tracing the graceful line of her neck.

Her eyes regard me, not discouraging me or encouraging me either. She is so close, she is so beautiful and...


Thank God for Teal'c. What was I thinking? I wasn't, plain and simple. I'd been contemplating kissing Carter, and for crying out loud, she is my 2IC!!

"What?" I turn around and look at Teal'c who is pointing completely innocently towards something in the distance. Some big somethings that are eating grass.

"It's the animals!" Catherine calls, her voice sounding suspiciously tight and her lips compressed in a tight line. Ernest, also, looks a bit confused and wary now.

"I don't think we should go and just shoot one..." Carter stops me as my hand reaches for my gun.

"You don't?"

"No, Sir. If they're in a herd and they're spooked into the wrong direction then they could easily flatten us." She points out. "Besides, if they're not frightened of us then it would be easier to get some in the future."

Smart woman. Now you know why we keep her around.

"What do you suggest we do then?"

"I don't know." She looks slightly nonplussed for a minute, but I can see revelation dawning over her face. "If there was one off by itself..." She starts out.

"Single it out." I nod, understanding. "How?"

"Wait? Meander around a bit..." She glances up at me.

"Sounds good." I agree.

"Wait!" Catherine stops us again.


"How are we going to get it up the hill?" She points out logically. I nearly groan in disappointment.

"Why do we not just prepare it here and find shelter amongst the trees..."

"No." Ernest shakes his head.

"No?" I bat an eyelid.

"The storms are coming. The water will rise higher." He says cryptically.


"Sir..have you noticed how there seems to be layers carved into the landscape?"

"Layers?" What has layers got to do with anything? What are they talking about?

"Sir, according to Ernest the rain patterns here are strange. The waters flood each year, going higher and higher until they reach maximum height, and then they flood lower and lower until they reach minimum, and back up until they reach maximum again."

"So what's it doing now?" I *think* I understand that.

"Going up. According it takes about a hundred to a hundred and ten lots of storms to reach maximum and then roughly the same to reach minimum..."

"Just how high is maximum?" I feel really bad now.

"Just below the castle, Sir. I don't think it will reach the tree..."

"Captain Carter, did not the water rise a very large amount since the first time and the last storm?" Teal'c points out. Things are just getting better and better.

"Uh...Well, I'm going to hazard a guess that it rises and shrinks exponentially." She looks around at us, and having a captive audience she continues. "It would rise a lot quicker at the beginning because there is less surface area." I must look really confused because she sighs and tries again. "Imagine a cone Sir, or a pyramid shape upside down. When you pour water into it then the level rises quickly because the bottom of it hardly has any volume at all. However, the closer you get to the top, the more water you need to make it rise a lot because there is a bigger volume." She glances at me. I *think* I get it. "Okay. It's going to be like that on the planet Sir, because it's a sphere and the more layers you put on top, the bigger they are..."

"So you're saying that it's going to rise 'less' this time?" I check.

"Theoretically, and according to Ernest, yes. But not by much" She looks around.

"Okay. I *think* we'll leave the science stuff to you and just take your word for it." I'm quite happy to trust her, even if I don't understand because I know she understands.

"Why do we not attempt to capture a small animal and take it back with us?" Teal'c asks, looking quite taken with the prospect.

"I think we should leave it this time. We know where they graze now, and until we come up with a way that would probably not scare them all off for good, I don't think we should risk it." I say, slightly dejected. I was looking forwards to hunting...

"So which way now?" Catherine asks.

"We'll camp here and head back tomorrow if you're all so certain that the storms are going to come soon." I decide, glancing around at the agreement on their faces. I look up and notice that the sun is starting to set again. It's funny, but despite the warmth in the air, there is an underlying chill that really comes out at night.

"Are we using the tents?" Catherine asks.

"Yep." I nod. "You and Carter can share the big sleeping bag. Us boys will take the two little ones." I decide, rolling my eyes at the grins passing between Sam and Catherine. "Why do I feel like a teacher on a school camp?" I sigh. "If you two keep us awake with giggling *again* then I swear I will not let you guys alone together again."




"Talk about depressing." Jack sighs, gazing around him in disgust. "Teal'c, I thought you said this was a *city*."

"It was." Teal'c returns, glancing over at Jack with a *look* on his face. "Many seasons ago."

"It is ruined, Sir." Sam adds her two cents worth.

"Still, it is disappointing." I can't help agreeing as I look around the tumble down rocks and broken pillars.

"The floods would have been breaking this down slowly over the years." Sam reaches out and runs her finger along a pillar.

"So now what?" Jack kicks irritably at a stone. "That was a waste of time."

"Not really, no." I argue with him. "We still haven't explored this place, Jack. There's still the temple which is pretty much whole..."

"And looks like it could fall down around our ears at any given moment. No." Jack shakes his head.

"It's a pity." Sam sighs, her eyes travelling down over the valley in which the remains of the once large city lie, crumbled and broken. "It looked whole from the camp..." She sighs.

"Looks can be deceiving, can't they." Jack snaps sarcastically.

"Well, what now?" I ask. "Seeing as you've decided that this was a waste of time..."

"We should probably hike back, it's gonna take at least twice as long going home..." Jack sighs, bending over to pick up his pack again.


"Well, we only have what, two weeks before the next storms come?" He points out.

"Why did we take so long starting out in the first place?" I grumble. It's not fair. I *really* want to stay and explore this place.

"Because some of us know that we need to have supplies ready when the next storm hit. Besides, it getting onto winter now, Catherine." He rolls his eyes and glances over at Sam. "Everyone ready?"

"Yes." Sam nods her head. "We should do hikes more often..." Her eyes are sparkling as she looks over us.

"Not this long though." Jack disagrees as we set off, leaving behind the broken world without even exploring it properly.

"Why not?" Sam asks. "If we can find another high place to hole up for the storms..."

"If." Jack emphasises. "Despite our *accurate* predictions of when the storms come, I personally don't want to get caught out in one again."

"Then I'm going to suggest we head back to base camp. Quickly." Sam states, frowning slightly as a gust of hot air suddenly hits us.

"Carter, I thought you said.."

"I did." She frowns, confusion clouding over her face.

"Sometimes, when the cold comes, the storms come closer together." Ernest pipes up suddenly.

"And what, you just *forgot* to mention that?" Jack demands incredulously.

"It doesn't always happen." Ernest whimpers, and I feel a spark of anger at Jack for yelling at him like that.

"Give him a break, Jack." I snap.

"Me? Me give him a break?" Jack snorts in laughter and his cynical gaze meets mine. "You're the one who can't give the man a break. You can't seem to get past the fact that he's been stuck here for the better part of a century with no one but his imaginary friend Catherine for a friend, who, I might add, he loved because she was *you*!"

"So what, you expect us to just pick up our feelings where we left off?" I yell back, angry and hurt because I know that his words are strangely true.

"No, but I expected you to at least try!" He glares at me.

"What about him? Or is just suddenly pick on Catherine because she had the advantage of living for fifty years thinking that he was dead?"

"Catherine...Colonel!" Sam's voice cuts across our argument.

"No Sam. I want to hear this." I push her away, still glaring at Jack.

"All I know is that if I suddenly realised the person I loved was still alive, I wouldn't spend my time being jealous of an imaginary 'me'." Jack says, his voice cool and barely controlled.

"What's made you take his part so suddenly?" I demand, fear clutching at my heart. It's happening. My worst fears are coming to light. We're arguing, driving a wedge through this precious family that we've come to be, despite all our faults.

"I'm tired of it." He snaps. "I'm tired of being stuck on a piece of rock in the middle of no where. I'm tired of not having anything to do except find company. I'm tired of eating the same food over and over again. I'm tired of freezing my ass off when the storms strike. I'm tired of watching the two of you slowly freeze each other out, ignoring what you once had! I'm tired of..." He spins around and marches off, not finishing his sentences.

"Catherine..." Sam reaches her hand out and touches my shoulder.

"Don't." I shrug it away and take off in the opposite direction. I want to cry, but I'm ashamed to cry because everything Jack accused me of is true. I don't know why I'm doing it to myself, to That's a lie. I do know why I'm doing it. I'm scared. I'm scared of finding out that he's not who I remembered. That I'm not who *he* remembered. I'm scared that we've both changed so much that he doesn't love me anymore, but I still love him.

I still love him. Despite his twisted, gnarled form, his vacant looks, his odd habits, I still love him. I still see in him the person who I loved. And I'm scared that he doesn't love me.

I'm too old for this.


Teal'c, Ernest and I just stand there looking at each other. In one direction is Catherine, in the other is the Colonel. In a matter of minutes, no, seconds, this flimsy fabric of love trust and friendship that we've woven over the last couple of months has been ripped to shreds, the threads pulled apart and snapped by some angry truths and accusations.

"Who's going after who?" I ask. It's a tough question. Teal'c isn't really the sort of person you send after anyone, and I can't send Ernest after Catherine for obvious reasons. Then again, I can't really send him after the Colonel either.

A part of me, the part of me that calls the Colonel my best friend wants to go after him. I *know* that I can convince him to talk to me. Well. Talk by his standards anyway. I've realised over the last couple of months that getting that man to really talk is harder than getting Teal'c to understand a joke.

Then again, the other part of me *knows* that I'm the only one who can talk to Catherine, simply because Ernest isn't really the person she needs to see right now, and Teal'c doesn't talk much either.

"Captain Carter, perhaps it would be best if Ernest and I were to go after O'Neill." He doesn't look to happy about that, and I can't say I blame him. The Colonel is in one of his moods at the moment, and if you irritate him even more when he's in a mood then you might as well consider the rest of your life (while he's in the mood anyway) to be over.

"Okay. We'll meet you back here whenever." I sigh and turn to head off in the direction of Catherine.

Truth be told, I'd rather go to the Colonel simply because I know he won't try and confide in me. Catherine is lovely. She's sweet and kind and a good friend, but I'm not someone who likes confiding personal things. She is. But, I call myself her friend and the least I can do for her is be there now.

I find her sitting back at the spot where we first surveyed the ruins from, sitting perched up on one of the pillars, holding her knees to her chest in a very protective form. I stand for a few minutes and just watch her, running scenarios and lines through my mind. What do I say to her? I agree with the Colonel, I think that you and Ernest should just forget everything and go for gold?

"Are you going to stand there or what?" She's been crying, I can tell because her nose sounds blocked and her voice is catching in her throat. "I'm not stupid, Sam. I know you're there." She turns around and looks at me, her eyes red and raw already from only a few minutes crying.

"How did you know it was me?" I ask eventually, making my way over to her and leaning against the pillar.

"Who else would it be?" She laughs bitterly, her eyes pained as they look into mine.

This was stupid. Why did I think I could do this? Why did I think I could talk to her? I can't. I can't talk to people, not like she needs me to be able to talk.

" okay?" Dumb Sam, real dumb.

"Do you really want me to answer that?" She sniffs slightly, a half smile playing on her face. "Thank you anyway." She says when I don't answer.

"For what?" I'm really confused now. Give me a gadget anyday, I can tell you in two seconds flat what it is, how to work it and how to make one. Shove a person in front of me and I can study them for a whole life time, but I still wouldn't be able to understand them or *talk* to's not who I am.

"For trying." She smiles properly at me, wiping her eyes again. "I know it's not your style..." She waves her hand in a dismissive motion, "but it's really nice to know that you care enough to try."

"You're my friend, Catherine. Of course I'm going to try." I retort.

"Can we just sit here for a whlie?" She asks, turning back to look at the view. "I'll just talk, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to."

"Okay." I can handle that, isn't that what I did that night she cried on my shoulder because of her problems with Ernest?

"Thanks." She sighs, but doesn't continue for a while. "I'm so stupid." She berates herself quietly.

"No, you're not stupid." I feel the need to insert.

"I thought you weren't going to talk." She smiles slightly, another tear rolling down her cheek.

"I wasn't going to...but that comment was just asking to be made." I inform her, settling myself against the rock.

"I've ruined it." She says mournfully.

"Ruined what?"

"Everything." She swallows, calming herself. "It's not perfect anymore..."

"It never was." I point out softly.

"I know. But...we were...happy. Weren't we?" She looks at me for confirmation.

I think about that. The Colonel wasn't over-joyed that we were stuck here, but he had seemed contented enough. Teal'c was...well...Teal'c is one of the universe's constants, I think. Ernest was happy. Ernest has been here for so long I don't think he remembers what it's like *not* being here. And he has *real* company now, so of course he's going to be happy.

And me? I'm not anything. I feel suspended. Like this is all a dream and I'm waiting to wake up, back in my lab looking at my plans for a naquadah reactor. I'm not happy as such. I like the company - most of the time - but I'm not happy. I'm angry. So very angry at everyone and everything.

"I don't know." I sigh. "There's different kinds of happiness, Catherine." I rub at my face with my one hand. "You can have happy moments, sharing a joke or something...but it's not the lasting happiness."

"You're not happy here." She realises.

"Not really, no. I want to go home."

"Even if you go home, Sam, it won't be the same." She says softly, her eyes lingering on my arm. My fingers twitch and I wriggle self-consciously, glaring down at the useless limb.

"No. But I'll still be home." I agree simply.

"What will you do?" She asks me, a thoughtful look on her face.

"I don't know. I've still got my mind, Catherine. I can still think for myself. I'm still a scientist."

"But you won't be military." She says gently. "You won't be on SG-1. You won't be able to do all the things you could do."

"I know that." I swallow, closing my eyes. "But it's the same thing." I realise.

"What is?"

"Me wanting to go back. I want things to be the same, Catherine. I want my arm to work, I want SG-1 to just pick up where it left off. But it won't. Just like you and Ernest want things to be the same, even though they can't be." I glance over at her.

"That's where we're different." Catherine whispers, studying her fingers. "You're strong Sam. You're willing to fight it, to adapt and carry on. I don't know if I can do that."

"Why not? It's what you've been doing since we've been on this planet." I point out. "Living here, making the best of things, fighting to survive."

"It's not the same."

"Yes it is. You've changed your whole lifestyle. You've found happiness here, Catherine. Why can't you accept the changes in yourself and Ernest and move on?" I ask gently, surprised at the insight I suddenly have into why she's so scared to accept Ernest.

"I...I don't know." She lies, looking away.

"I thought you were strong Catherine. I admired you when we got here first. I admired all the hardships you've lived through, all the pain and heartache you've survived. I was in awe of you because you were so strong." I tell her, blushing slightly at revealing my feelings.

"You were in awe of me?" Catherine turns to me incredulously. "I'm not the one surviving with a ruined arm. I'm not the young one who's lost my entire life because I'm stuck on a planet with no future." She laughs slightly. "I admire you, Sam."

"You do?" I'm surprised now.

"You're not afraid to fight for what you believe in. You've worked damn hard to get where you were in the military, to be accepted by people like Jack...and then you get thrown with this." She shakes her head ruefully.

"What is this, a patting each other on the back session?" I try to laugh but the words get caught on my throat.

"No, it's not." She shakes her head and looks away again, her eyes focused on the crumbled rocks. "I'm sorry." She sighs.

"It's okay, Catherine." I put my hand on her arm. "I'm sure that the Colonel didn't mean everything he said..."

"Yes he did. He means what he says, Sam. You of all people should know that." Catherine smiles drily. "It was true, Sam, what he said. I am jealous of an imaginary friend."

"Change it, Catherine. He doesn't love his imaginary friend. He loves you. You *are* his imaginary friend. He couldn't have you in his real life, Catherine, so he pretended you were here. I think that the Colonel is right. He still loves you. I think he's just as scared as you are, scared that you don't love him."

"What do I do?" She rubbed her face in her hands. "It's not like we can just kiss and make up..."

"Why not?" I grin at her.

"Sam." She rolls her eyes at me.

"So you're going to try?" I check, watching her intently.

She takes a deep breath, visibly steadying herself and gathering her courage. "Yes." It's a mere whisper that nearly disappears on the still air, but it's said all the same.


O'Neill is standing on the banks of a small river we had to cross. His agitation is clearly shown by the snapping of a twig and the manner in which he casts the broken pieces of wood into the river, watching them float away.


"Hey Teal'c." He sounds wistful, but he does not turn around to look at either Ernest or myself.

"Captain Carter is with Dr. Langford." I inform him.

"Girl talk." He sighs and turns to look at us. "Me and my big mouth, huh Teal'c?" approaches us slowly, as if his body is old and tired.

"I believe it would be foolish to attempt to start out journey back to the trees." The light is fading around us and we are all tired due to our walk. "One night of rest will surely not cause any harm."

"Sure." He agrees, stopping in front of us. "Is Catherine okay?" He asks softly.

"No." Ernest shakes his head, his wide eyes studying O'Neill slightly accusingly.

"What? You're gonna yell at me too?" He sighs, not even smiling. O'Neill must be greatl upset if he has lost the will to make his 'Tau'ri Jokes'.

"No." Ernest shakes his head again and turns around. "We shouldn't leave them alone." He continues, disappearing up the path, his skinny legs reminding me of sticks from beneath his tattered clothing.

"Thanks Teal'c." O'Neill smiles slightly, but his eyes are sorrowed as he walks with me to where we arranged to meet Captain Carter and Dr. Langford.



"Alex?" I blink in surprise as I pull the door open, revealing Alex shivering on my doorstep.

"Sorry to bother you..." She whispers, hunched up against the rain, "But I didn't know where else to go." And a sob is choked out of her.

"Come in." I grab a hold of her elbow and tow her into the warmth of my house. "What's that?" I motion towards the bundle peeking out from beneath her raincoat.

"Oh. Angela. Daniel, this is my daughter." She smiles slightly, but her face is pale and her eyes are wide and frightened.

"Hi Angela." I bend down to try and talk to the little girl, but the child ducks behind her mother, refusing to come out. Looking back up at Alex I'm suddenly worried at how pale she is. "Come on, Alex. Have a seat..." I guide her towards my couch, helping her out of her raincoat. She slips onto it gratefully, and then just sits there, clutching her daughter and shaking. Judging by her vacant look and icecold skin, I'd hazard a guess and say she was in shock.

"Alex, I'm going to call Janet, okay?" I bend down and look at her.

"Don't call Rob." She begs, her fingers clutching my hands and crushing my bones.

"Okay. I won't." I promise. Who is Rob?

I dial up Janet, and hope she's home. It's my lucky day; the determined little doctor is in.

[Hello, Janet Fraiser.]

"Hi Janet, it's me. Daniel." I glance over at Alex who hasn't moved. "Uh..Alex has just arrived at my place with her kid. I'm not sure, but I think she's in shock and I don't know what to do." I can't believe how calm and clinical my voice sounds.

[Okay. I'll be right there. Keep her warm, Daniel, and try and get some sweat tea into her, okay?]

"Okay. Oh, and bring Cassie as well. I think she'd be able to help with Angela." I realise, glancing over at the child Alex is clutching tightly to herself.

[See you in ten, Daniel. Bye.]

"Bye." I hang up the phone and head into the kitchen to pop the kettle on.

"What's going on?" Thomas pops his head around the corner, watching me.

"Alex is here." I offer, pulling out a mug. "Get me some blankets would you?"

"Sure. Where are they?"

"In the cupboard in the hall." I roll my eyes. The man has been staying here for two nights already and he can't remember where the spare blankets are. Honestly.

"What's wrong with her?" He peers through the doorway at Alex who is still completely out of it.

"I don't know. She was just standing on the doorstep in the rain. I think something's happened to her." I explain as I pour a generous amount of sugar into the tea.

"The kid?"

"That's Angela." I offer.

"Ah. Famous toddler?" Thomas smiles slightly but I can see concern etched onto his features.

"Yes. I thought you were sleeping." I remember suddenly. "Don't you have to be at the SGC in like three hours?" I check my watch.

"Yeah." Thomas agrees. "But I can't sleep in the middle of the afternoon."

"Oh." The tea is ready. Alex doesn't seem to see either of us as we try and give the tea to her, and Angela refuses to look at either of us or let go of her mother.

"That should be Janet." I sigh in relief as the doorbell chimes. Sure enough, I pull the door open to reveal another woman and child...only this one looks normal enough and is actually responsive.

"Where is she?" Janet asks, towing Cassie in behind her.

"On the couch. With Angela." I lead the way to the piece of furniture and step back with Thomas while Janet talks softly to Alex. Cassie stands off to one side, looking slightly bewildered and wary of the rest of us. She's a brave kid, and she seems to be adjusting nicely to the new way of living.

" you have some dry clothes, Daniel?" Janet looks up, her face strained and angry.

"Uh...yeah. I have some of Sam's things in a box somewhere..." The words jerk at my throat.

"I'll help you." Thomas offers after Janet shoots us a pleading look.

"Cassie...why don't you go help Daniel too? And take Angela with you..." Janet orders, her Dr. voice coming into play. I cringe. Why? Why do they all have to help me go through Sam's things to find something for this woman? They didn't even *know* Sam. None of them. Not Cassie, not Thomas and not Angela.

"Where are they?"

"The other spareroom." I state, leading the way to the rooms at the back of the house. My house. My big house that I live in all alone. Why did I go and buy a house? Because I needed somewhere to store their things until they got back. Jacob Carter was going to sell Sam's stuff...but I wouldn't let him. I took it all. Keeping it in storage for her. And Jack's stuff. A whole room each. Most of the furniture is still in their houses which I'm also keeping but letting out at the moment...

"You really believe they're coming back, don't you?" Thomas asks softly, his face unreadable in the dark.

"Yes." I nod. How can I not be sure they're coming back?

"How? How are they going to come back?" He demands, flicking on the switch. The room is flooded with light and all the carboard boxes stand silently in the otherwise empty room.

"I think her clothes are in one of these..." I ignore his question and yank out a box marked 'clothing'.

They all stand aside, leaving me alone to tear the at the tape until it comes off the box with a soft tearing noise. I push the flaps open and immediately Sam's scent fills the room. I never really noticed her scent before, but suddenly having the familiar smell of wild flowers hanging in the air I can't help but remember her smile and the way her eyes grinned at me.

I see all of them infront of me. Sam laughing at something Jack has said, Teal'c's usual curious expression. They look relaxed. They look *happy*.

"Daniel?" Cassie's voice brings me crashing back to reality, snatching away the dream. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." I swallow roughly and pull out some clothes. A pair of sweat pants and a large black T shirt with the words "dumb blond" emblazoned on it. Sam. Dumb blond? I don't think so...

Janet meets us halfway in the hallway, her face strained as she studies us.

"She okay?" Thomas asks awkwardly.

"No." Janet doesn't lie. She understands that we need to know the truth, and that's why I respect her so much.

"I'm due on base in a few hours..." Thomas glances down at his watch while I thrust the clothes at Janet. Her face falls slightly when she takes a hold of the garments, but the brave face I'm so used to falls back into place so quickly I wonder if I imagined the small slip. "I'll go and get ready." He adds, backtracking out of the room.

"I'll go and get her into these..." Janet says softly.

"And that leaves me with the kids." I murmur. "Come on, let's go see what's on T.V." I lead them to my room. Deciding that Janet will come and get us when she's good and ready, I flop onto the bed with Cassie while Angela sits hesitantly on the floor, her blue eyes slightly fearful as she studies me.

"Who's Sam?" Cassie asks when we fail to find anything.

"She was...a good friend of mine." I swallow, forcing back the tears that are stinging my eyelids.

"Was she your girlfriend?" The new terminology sounds strange on the girl's tongue, and I can't help but marvel at how quickly children adjust to their surroundings.

"No. No, she wasn't my girlfriend. She was just a really good friend of mine."

"Like Alex?" Cassie persists, her childlike innocence pouring acid onto my heart.

"No. Not like Alex." No. Sam was one of my best friends. My sister. Alex is...just someone I work with. The truth hurts, but it *is* the truth.

"Oh." Cassie frowns slightly. "Where is she?"

"She...there was an accident, Cassie." I can't say too much because there is the 'classified' factor to my line of work.

"Was she in the SGC?" Cassie asks.

"Yes. She was on SG-1 with me before Alex..." I stop abruptly. "I shouldn't be talking to you about this." I remind her, giving her a pointed look.

"Janet talks about Sam too, sometimes. She gets really sad." Cassie whispers.

"Because Sam was everyone's friend. Just like Jack and Teal'c." I smile slightly.

"Would she have been my friend?" Cassie asks softly, cuddling up close to me.

"I'm sure she would have. Sam loved children. She was always sad because her niece and nephew lived so far away."

"What about Jack?"

"Jack loved kids. He was a big kid." I chuckle slightly, remembering some of Jack's antics. "He had a little boy called Charlie."

"Where's Charlie now?"

"He died." I swallow slightly. "So Jack's with his little boy now, and I'm sure they're all very happy."

"They'd be with my Mom and Dad then too, wouldn't they?" Cassie smiles slightly. "I like that. Your friends can be friends with my Mom and Dad."

"Yeah." I drop a kiss on her forehead and look up to see Thomas watching me with a strange expression on his face.

"Were they your friends too?" Cassie enquires, happy now.

"No. I didn't know them." he shakes his head.

"Like me." Cassie sighs slightly.

"I'm going now, Jackson." Thomas looks at me again, and the look in his eye intrigues me. "My apartment should probably be done tomorrow so I'll be out of your hair..."

"No problem. You haven't been in my hair at all..." I smile slightly and then sit up. "Behave yourself and don't watch anything I wouldn't."

"Daniel!" Cassie rolls her eyes at me and picks up the remote. "Angela?" She calls down to the little girl who looks up indecisively. "You coming to watch?"

Satisfied that the two girls will be okay, I head towards the loungeroom where I meet Janet heading towards me.


"How is she?" Daniel asks softly, his eyes shifting over my shoulder and trying to see Alex who's now lying down on the couch, sleeping.

"Not good." I sigh, rubbing at my head tiredly.

"Want a coffee?" He asks. I can tell he wants to ask more. He wants to know...but it's not his right to ask because they're not that close of friends.

"Sure. Mind if I use your phone? I'm going to have to give General Hammond a call."

"No, go ahead." He smiles tightly and disappears into the kitchen, leaving me alone to place the phonecall.


"Afternoon Sir. It's Dr. Fraiser here..."


"I'm at Dr. Jackson's house at the moment. Dr Lawson is also's pretty bad, General." Why am I stumbling around like this? Why can't I just come out and say it?

Because, I realise, I could have stopped this. I should have seen the signs, I should have done something. But I didn't.

[What is bad, Dr Fraiser?] He sounds slightly confused now.

"Dr. Lawson's husband was abusing her, Sir." I whisper softly. "Things got a bit more out of hand than usual."

[How is she?] He is instantly concerned.

"She's sleeping at the moment. I'm going to have to get her collar bone examined more thoroughly, I'm sure it's broken. Other than some heavy bruising a few cuts, physically it isn't too bad." I swallow slightly.

[What do you recommend?]

"Well, Sir, Dr. Lawson is going to need some time to deal with this, and I can pretty safely assume that the rest of SG-1 will need some time as well."

[Major Thomas is due in this afternoon. I'll tell him that SG-1 have downtime until further notice.] General Hammond agrees.

"Thanks Sir. He should be there pretty quickly considering he left here a few minutes ago." I inform him, trying to swallow past the lump in my throat.

[Are *you* okay, Dr?]

Damn my traiterous voice for wobbling.

"Fine, Sir."

[Don't even *think* about blaming yourself.] He adds.

Damn the man for knowing me too well.

"Yes Sir."

[I not joking, Janet. There's nothing you can do in situations like this...]

"With all due respect, Sir, I saw signs. I saw the warning signals and I ignored them." I whisper. Arguing on the phone like this isn't going to make anything better.

[I'm sure you could have managed to stop her husband, Dr. Fraiser.] He snaps sarcastically.

"Yes Sir." I lick my lips, watching as Daniel walks back into the room carrying two mugs. "Uh..."

[I'll see you tomorrow morning before your shift, Dr.]

"Yes Sir."

"General Hammond?" Daniel asks as I hang up the phone.

"Yes." I nod slowly, accepting the coffee from him and curling up at Alex's feet while she sleeps. "You're all on down time until further notice." I say absently, my eyes lost on the carpet.

"What happened to her?" He asks softly, guardedly. I peer at him from over the rim of his mug. He looks concerned, guilty and a little bit worried, but you can tell that his worry is more the dutiful worry of a colleague. Not a friend. If that was Sam lying there, or Jack even, then he'd be frantic with worry, not sitting here sipping a cup of coffee looking so hopeless.

No. Sam or Jack *wouldn't* have been lying on that couch in the first place because we would *all* have noticed something wrong to begin with. Things would never have been allowed to progress this far.

"Janet?" He brings my musings to a shuddering halt.

"Her husband abused her." I look over at Alex's relaxed face. Already the side of her jaw is turning a deep shade of purple, testimony of her husband's fist.

"Are you okay?" He looks over at me, concern for me etched deeply onto his face.

"I just feel so...angry. At her husband. At Alex. At you." I admit, rubbing at my eyes.

"Why me?"

"You're on her team, Daniel. You're supposed to be her friend. Friends are supposed to know when things are wrong." I feel the tears coming before I can stop them. "Just like Doctors are supposed to know."

"It's not your fault, Janet." He echoes General Hammond's earlier words.

"It's easy for you to say." I fling back, stifling my sobs slightly. "You're not the one that examines her after every mission. You're not the one who sees old bruises and ignores them when she laughs about being a klutz. You're not the one who lived through it..." I halt briefly, glancing guiltily at him.

"Your husband?" He asks gently.

"No." I smile slightly. "No, he didn't hit me or abuse me." The tear wipes away easily. "We just weren't meant to be."

"Then what?" He frowns.

"My Dad, Daniel. He hit my Mom too..." I swallow, forcing down the dark demons of my past. "But that's over now...he changed. A long time ago. I barely remember it I was so little..."

"She's still with him then?" Daniel asks, mildly surprised.

"Yes. She wouldn't still be with him if he did hit her. It's why he stopped. We left." I glance over at Alex. "We're a mess, aren't we?" I laugh slightly.

"Not you. I'm a mess." He shakes his head.

"I think we all are." I sigh eventually.

"It's so hard, Janet." He says plaintively, his eyes locked on Alex's sleeping form. "I want to try. Really, I do."

"But you don't want to betray Sam, Jack or Teal'c."

"No." He agrees softly. "But it's more than that. I'm scared of...of them not wanting what I want."

"What do you want?"

"What I had before. It's stupid. They can't be what I had before." He shakes his head angrily, placing the mug on the table before pulling his knees up against his chest. "With Jack it was...I don't know. I've never known any one like him." He smiles faintly as he remembers something. "Do you know," He pauses, "I've never had friends like that before."

"I don't think many people have had friends like them." I agree softly.

"No. Alex told me I was lucky." He sighs again, rubbing his nose against his knees before looking up. "I'm scared to try with them Janet, because I'm scared that if Jack, Teal'c and Sam come home then I've betrayed them. By giving up on them I've betrayed them."

"You haven't betrayed them, Daniel." I sigh softly. "You can't just stay back in the past because you're waiting for something that might never happen."

"I know that." He glances over my head, focusing his gaze somewhere behind me. "When we had our first Pizza and Poker night a few months ago...we watched a video." He says softly. "It was celebrating something...I can't remember. We were all on it. You, me, General Hammond, Teal'c, Jack and Sam." His gaze doesn't falter. "It felt right then. They were happy. It was as though they were saying it's okay to move on."

"Then why don't you?"

"I want what I had, Janet. What if this SG-1 doesn't want to be like that? They've all got family and friends here. I think that's what made us so special. We didn't have any one else other than SG-1. Sure, we 'had' people, but no one was close to us." Daniel sighs, leaning back in his chair.

"I think that, given the chance, all of them would love to have what you guys had."

"I'm scared to try though. What if they throw it back in my face? What if we *do* end up getting that and I lose them all over again." He shakes his head. "I don't want that, Janet."

"I'm sure you don't want to be stuck like this for the rest of your life though."

"No." He agrees after some deliberation.

"You've made a start though. You all get along now. This..." I motion with my hands towards Alex, "This could maybe be what you lot need to pull yourselves together. You're going to need to be there for Alex now, Daniel. All of you. All of us."

"It's a start, isn't it?" He sighs softly, his gaze strangely thoughtful as his eyes rest on Alex.



My legs are screaming in protest, the sweat rolling down my face and sticking my greasy strands of hair to my face. With each step I take the air burns into my lungs and stars explode over my vision. But we can't stop. We can't stop because the storms are nearly here. Another day at least until we reach our camp, and I don't know if we have that long until the storms strike.

In infront of me Sam stumbles over a root, grunting in pain. Jack turns around in front of her, steadying her quickly with his hand and querying her silently with his eyes, but other than that we don't stop.

"O'Neill." Teal'c's voice sounds from the back of the line. "We must rest. This pace will slow us down."

"Clearing up ahead." Jack pants, his voice sounding hoarse and strained even to me.

Sure enough we break through the trees and arrive in a small clearing littered with rocks and debri. A small house must have once stood here, many hundreds of years ago.

"Drink?" Jack holds out his canteen to me as I lean against a tree, the blood throbbing in my head seeming to increase even more dramatically now that I've stopped.

I accept his canteen and let the cold water slide down my throat, half choking me.

"Listen!" Sam stands dead still, her head cocked to one side as she listens intently.

"What?" Jack sinks to his haunches, holding his head in his hands. His hair has gotten long, shaggy. Sam and I really should have a go at him with the scissors from the medkit. He looks terrible with it so straggly.

"Keep still for a second." Sam instructs, her lips tightening slightly.

We all stop our movement and strain to hear what her incredibly sensitive ears have picked up on, and then I wish I didn't hear it. Even at this distance away from the ocean, we can still hear the echoes of it cracking angrily, announcing the storm that will break shortly.

"Damn." Jack curses, jumping to his feet.

"Wait." Sam lurches to her feet drunkenly, clutching at his offered arm for support. She looks so tired, so young and in pain. "When that storm comes we're not going to be able to see anything. Not each other, not where we're going, *nothing*." She reminds us.

"We'll hold hands then." Jack says simply, shrugging it off.

"What if we lose someone?" She points out, her eyes shadowed. I can tell she didn't want to say that, but she didn't really have a choice.

"Head to high ground. Head back to the camp ASAP. We'll rendezvous there." Jack's shoulders sag slightly.

"It's unlikely though, isn't it?" I ask, dreading his answer.

"Yes. If we all stay together and watch each other we should be fine." Jack agrees, half glaring at Sam.

"We should continue." Teal'c states softly.

We reach the summit of the small hill about an hour later. Squinting between the trees, I can make out 'our' hill ahead of us. First, though, we have to go down through the valley between the two hills and cross the small river that runs through it, and then back up the hill towards our tree. At least another 10 hours or so we have to hike.

"At least this bit's downhill." Jack quips, earning an exhausted smile from Sam. "Let's move out, campers." Jack heads off again, his long legs eating up the ground.

I follow after him, stumbling over small roots and bushes that seem to grow in the most inconvenient of places. A rumbling sounds across the sky, heralding the arrival of the storms.

"That sounded ominous." Jack sighs.

Minutes later the light starts fading. We just break out of the trees and reach the field when the first ice droplets of water fall through the air and the temperature plummets.

"Grab hands!" Jack orders, snatching at Sam's good hand and reaching back for my hand with his other one. "Let's go!" He yells as another crack of thunder sounds and the sun seems to die.

We run then, a mad dash down the hill, the wind yanking and pushing at us, small objects and missiles impacting with us regularly. I stumble, my ankle wrenches, but Jack clutching onto one hand and Teal'c holding the other both refuse to let me fall or stop running. Instead we careen through the dark as the heavens open us over us.

Sam's yelling something, but I can't hear what she's saying as once again the wind tears her words away from her and drowns them in the thunder.

"THE RIVER!" I hear her clearly suddenly.

"We'll make it!" Jack runs faster if that's possible, dragging me along behind him.

Ten minutes later my lungs are screaming as the cold air slices into them, seeming to shred their soft lining with its icy edge. In front of us lies the once peaceful river, now swollen and already straining at its banks.

"We're gonna have to cross." Jack yells.

"I'll go first." The lightening illuminates the world for a second, and I can see the fear on Sam's face. She doesn't have a choice. To make it across we'll have to hold onto each other, a human rope for balance. She can't go last because it would be awkward for everyone involved and she can't use her other arm because it's too painful and has no strength.

"Carter..." Jack hesitates.

"I will go second." Teal'c inserts smoothly, and I see Jack's face relax. The Jaffa has the strength Jack doesn't have, strength enough to hold onto Sam in that rushing water.

We all slip into line slowly, Ernest after Teal'c and myself after Ernest. Jack is goinglast. It's so dark and noisy that I can't tell when Sam enters the water, or Teal'c and Ernest. I simply follow the line, shuffling my feet slowly and hesitantly over the wet soil.

The minute I step into the water I come dangerously close to falling over, the strong current and wind yanking at me as well as Ernest slowly pulling me forwards all unbalance me, and I sway, strugging for balance. Jack is there though, and he grabs a hold of my shoulder with his spare arm, anchoring me.

"THANKS!" I yell, and he squeezes my shoulder in acknowledgement. We continue slowly, the river not making me any wetter than I already am, just colder, more exhausted and disorientated. The river is wide, a lot wider and deeper than I remembered it, and as each second goes by and the rain buckets down over us it gets deeper and faster and wider.

By the time I reach the middle of the river, the water is so deep it's up to my waist and the current is strong enough to knock someone off their feet. I keep going, my feet seeming to get sucked into the strange river bed, inching forwards so slowly I feel as though I'm hardly moving at all.

The rain and the wind are still whipping down on us, and the strangely coloured bolts of lightening still dance across the sky, illuminating boiling waters and Ernest's form in front of me.

I'm so tired. My limbs are so heavy. I don't think I can go much further...Suddenly the movement in front of me increases. Sam and Teal'c must have reached the shore and they're reeling us in. The joy bubbles up in me as I clutch tightly to Jack's hand, pulling him in behind me.

I knock my shins on the rocks at the banks, but I quickly struggle over them, elation soaring in me despite the chilling temperature and the angry wind. We made it. All of us.

I turn around to help Jack up the last bit, when he lets go. A bolt of lightening conveniently lights up the world and I watch as he loses his footing, slips and lands with a sicking crunch on top of the rocks. The river, sensing its victory, immediately tugs him into its grasp, and he's gone as the world descends into darkness.

"JACK!" I scream frantically, searching the darkness frantically, hoping against hope that he's somehow managed to hold on.

"COLONEL!" Sam heard my scream. She must have seen him fall. As the next bolt of lightening strikes I see her flinging herself into the river, desperation creating terror on her face. I realise, in a moment of shock and completely inconvenient timing, that she's not scared of dying. She's scared of losing Jack.


The water tugs at me gleefully, washing around me and knocking my feet out from underneath me. That's okay. The world is dark, the water is cold, the currents want to pull me over. Time and time again I'm bashed against the rocks on the shore, until suddenly a stronger current grabs hold of me and I'm yanked into the middle of the river. Another bolt of lightning, and I can make out a darkish blob ahead of me, also bobbing at the mercy of the river. The Colonel. It has to be him.

I kick forwards, my arm long ago slipped out of its sling which is now dangling uselessly around my neck. Come on. It *has* to be him. It has to be.

Another flash and I realise I'm on top of him. I grasp the water desperately with my hand, fighting to keep my head above water and find him. My fingers close over the shoulders of his vest. Thank God for the vests.

I pull him towards me and I realise he's unconscious as his head lolls limply against me. Damn.

My legs are growing tired dangerously quickly. The cumbersome pack he has on his back is heavy, pulling us both down deeper into the water. My arm isn't strong enough to hold us up. Oh.. I'm in trouble now...

I jerk to a halt. Something has snagged the pack and we get whipped around. A branch. A branch has snagged a hold of his pack. Without thinking I unzip his vest and then wrap my legs around his torso, keeping me anchored in place as the branch creaks and bends while I unzip my own vest.

I really hate my left arm. I hate the way it aches all the time. I hate the way my fingers won't listen to me, the way they won't bend when I want them to, hold things, work. I hate the way I only get disjointed sensations from them, odd patches of tingling.

But I have never hated it as much as I do now. I want to zip us up together, create a cacoon around us with our vests, a way to stay together. But I can't zip us up in the dark because I can't hold the zippers with one hand.

I try so hard my arm feel as though it's on fire. Cramps are running up my right arm because it's bent at such an awkward angle. But I won't give up, dammit. I won't. Why won't you work? Why, the one time in my life when I really need them, why won't they work? I feel like screaming, but my throat is to constricted with cold and unshed tears of frustration to even manage a squeak.

That water rushes around us and the branch shifts slightly. I clutch at the Colonel fearfully, but we're still okay for the moment. I jam the one size of the zip between my useless fingers and shove and pull until suddenly my heart lurches crazily as it clicks into place and the zip slides quickly and effortlessly to the top. Half done. One more to go. Again I jam the zip in my fingers and feel the other side clip, but I can't pull it up with my good hand. I clench my muscles, flexing them, praying that my stupid fingers will hold as I quickly push the zip upwards. Halfway. It makes it halfway. I laugh in relief, choking sobs hacking in my throat as I desperately pummel the zip with my useless hand feeling it inch slowly upwards with each flailing blow. And then it's done. I'm zipped up tightly to the Colonel, our chests and torses pressed together closely, and a strange warmth spreads through me. We're together. We'll survive this one together.

The branch snaps.

Once again the current grabs a hold of us and bashes us against innumberable unseen objects with rough, jagged edges. I fight, kicking and tugging to keep the Colonel's head up along with my own while both the pack and the river fight against us.

Hours. We've been in the water for what feels like hours. My legs are numb, I'm breathing in more water than air, we're sinking, and the blackness is starting to close over us. So light. I feel so lightheaded, so free suddenly. As though I'm falling.


A waterfall. Oh...

I pinch the Colonel's nose shut and cover his mouth with my own seconds before we re-enter the water with a sickening crunch. Our bodies are jerked, spun, tossed around, bashed...

My lungs are burning, and my mouth is so tightly attached to the Colonel's that I swear there'll be a popping noise if we ever manage to get it unstuck. I can just imagine the headlines. A Colonel and his 2IC are permanently stuck together in a liplock due to the incredible vacuum caused by his 2IC's tonsil hockey techniques...

A ridiculous giggle bubbles up inside of me, and I clamp down on it. Hard. I can't giggle. Not now. Later. Later when I try and peel my mouth from his and the hills echo with a sound of a pop.

I giggle.

I splutter and realise that my head is now above water.

Swallowing and gasping water, the wind and rain still driving into my face, blinding me, and amazed and slightly dubious when I realise that a lot of the current has seemed to disappear. Either that or we're on the edge of the river, out of the main current...

Our feet drag against the bottom.

Finally. I was beginning to think that someone was *seriously* out to get us.

Either that or I'm imagining things.

And, I do believe, I'm in shock and near hysteria. Yes. The increased tendency to burst into uncontrolled laughter definitely signifies that...

Shore. Oh..

I'm so tired. So exhausted. I can't see.

He's so heavy. A dead weight. No. Not dead. He's breathing. I can hear his heart thumping next to my own. No. Just a *really* heavy weight.

I don't know how I crawl from the river, dragging him underneath me as my fingers scrabble for a hold in the loose sand and my knees sink into the soil. Tired. So tired.

Something catches the pack, and I can't move him. So Tired. Hacking sobs are burning my throat as I tug feebly against the obstacle, my movements so slow and so lethargic...

I collapse on top of him, crying without tears. We made it.


Hurts. Oh. That really hurts.

My head buzzes slightly, and I recognise that as a symptom of receiving a very large bump to the head and being knocked out. This is what happens when you wake up. You'd be proud of me, Doc Fraiser, I can tell you quite confidently I have a concussion. Seems to be a regular occurence.

What isn't, I tense up as my eyes open, a regular occurence, is waking up with my 2IC sprawled over me and her face so close to me that I can feel her breath on my neck.

"Carter." I grunt, and pain shoots up my side. Oh..ow..."Carter." I nudge her, trying to roll her off me. She's attached to me. She's what? "Carter." Now I'm awake. And I'm sore. My ribs. She's on my ribs...

"Hmm?" She murmers, moving slightly.

"OW!" I wince as her movements intensify the pain.

"Colonel?" Why does she sound *just* as confused as I am?

"Yeah, that's me. Do you mind, you're on my ribs and they *hurt*." I wheeze.

"Oh." I feel her tense up as relisation dawns on her voice. "You're okay. Oh..oh God." She's crying, I can feel her tears on my neck.

"I would be okay. If I could ribs." I feel bad, but it *really* hurts. "For some reason, though, you seem to be attached to me."

"OH. I did that..." The emotion is gone as quickly as it came, I can almost hear her swallowing it.

"Great. Think you can *un* do it?"

"Yes." The zips of our vests are pulled down she rolls off me.

"Owww...." I wince as my ribs expand and the cold air settles over my wet body. "What the hell happened?" I demand. Broken. They're definitely broken. I reckon when we get back home I'd be able to become a doctor with all this experience I'm getting...

"You fell in, Sir." She blinks and I look at her properly. Her hair is matted. Tangled and wet. Her face is bruised and grazed on one side, a cut running down her other cheek. Her hands, I realise with a start, are no better. Rubbed raw and dried blood caked on them.

"And you?"

"I came in after you." She admits furrowing her brow as she tries to remember.

"You *what*?" I bark. "That river was..are you *insane*?"

"No Sir." She licks her lips.

"The orders were, Captain, that you head to the base no matter what." I remind her, srutinising her face. It's unreasonable, this sudden fear that rose up inside me when I thought about her risking her life for me. I don't know what I would have done if she hadn't made it...

"You would have drowned, Sir." She says softly.

"Thank you." I haven't said thank you like that in a long time. She looks very tense at the moment, jumpy. A thought strikes me as I struggle to sit up and she helps me with her good arm.

"How did you zip us up in that?" I look down towards the river. It's about five metres away from us, and judging by the look of things, still rising.

"We got snagged on a tree. There was just enough time..." She shudders slightly, absently rubbing at her bum hand.

"What about your hand?" I'm not stupid, I *know* how difficult it is to do up zips with one hand. One handed in the dark in the middle of that river...the feat speaks for itself. This is one amazing woman. I'm only happy she's on my side.

"It'll be okay."

"Let me look at it." I ask, holding my own withered paw out. The wrinkles from our bath are still there, just like my clothes still squelch when I move.

Hesitantly she places the twisted limb into my hand. It's hot and stiff in my hand. Swollen. She damaged it even more now.

"Does this hurt?" I ask softly, massaging it. Once Sara strained her arm really badly playing tennis. It got so bad she had to go to physio therapy and have them work with it. They showed me some nifty little massaging techniques that are supposed to help retain muscle flexibility and strength.

"A little." She winces slightly as I move my fingers over her hand.

"Good. It's supposed to." I say promptly and truthfully. She offers a dry smile and sits in silence for a while.

Her fingers, though not really much use anymore, are long and graceful, I realise with a start. Her skin is softer than I thought it would be...smoother too...

I drop her hand abruptly. I'm not supposed to notice things like that. She's my 2IC for crying out loud.

"We should probably get going." She rises to her feet slowly, staggering around a bit until the strength returns to to her legs.

I get up too, my ribs screaming their protest and my vision blurring slightly as the world spins.

"Careful." She at my side in an instant, supporting me against her. "Are your ribs okay?" She frowns up at me. Doesn't this woman miss anything?

"I think I might have cracked a few..." I admit eventually.

"Maybe I should bandage them. We do have the pack..." She lets go of me and kneels down to look at the pack we managed to keep hold of during that wild journey.

"No. They're fine. Won't do any good." I shake my head. "Where's your sling?"

"I lost it somewhere..." She shrugs carelessly.

That horrible cracking noise suddenly happens again.

"Here we go." I can't believe this.

I clutch at her as she hoists the pack onto her back, keeping her close not only for warmth but for comfort too, I don't know why. We half run, half stumble for a good ten minutes, climbing steadily uphill before she calls a halt.

"We should find shelter of some sort. We shouldn't get anymore exposure to this cold, Sir."

"What do you recommend?"

"Well, Sir, we've got our tent in the pack..." She glances around. "There." She points to a small spot that looks relatively sheltered between two large boulders and the rockface we've been skirting along next too.

"Are you sure the water won't reach us?" I ask doubtfully.

"No Sir." She replies honestly. I can see the exhaustion in her eyes, the pain she's trying too hard to ignore, and I can feel her shuddering with cold as I stand next to her, supporting myself against her.

"Okay. Set it up." I agree as she lumbers forwards with the pack. Within seconds the tent is unclipped and we start setting it up. But our fingers are chilled, unresponsive and she only has one hand anyway. By the time the first rattle of thunder passes over us we've only got the tent set up, the fly is still lying on the ground.

"Get in." I order.

"No." She shakes her head. "It'll be quicker this way." Deciding not to waste time and argue with her, I let her help me pitch the fly and we both crawl into the tent as the first drops of rain slash down overhead.

"That was close." I sigh, shivering in the dark.

"Yes." She agrees, and we sit awkwardly for a second before my stomach rumbles loudly.

"What do we have in the way of food?" I ask, grabbing a hold of the pack.

"I'm not sure which pack you were carrying." She admits, and I'm ashamed to say that I don't know either.

"We're in luck." I grin as the somewhat soggy 'dried' meat falls into my lap. "Oh yum. Just what I love. Wet aniaml Jerky." I groan slightly.

"Hey!" She sounds quite happy and I can't tell what she's scrabbling in the sleeping back for.


"The sleeping bag! It's dry!" She grins. At least we know some of the waterproofing bags we have still work.

"Not like us." I groan ruefully.

"We'll have to change."

"Into what? The other pack had the clothes, if I remember correctly, and the other two sleeping bags AND the medkit."

"'s dark." She says doubtfully.

"Great." I agree, though not enthusiastically enough to worry her. "Lay your stuff out on that side to dry. I'll put mine there as well."

It's a very awkward silence as we both strip. I don't remove everything though, figuring that my underwear will dry pretty quickly. I'm sincerely hoping that she shares the same idea as me.

"It's so cold." She whispers and I can hear the embarrassment on her voice.

"I know." I agree, shivering as the wind howls around us and the tent rocks alarmingly. "Get into the sleeping bag." I order.

"What about you?"

"I was intending on getting in it too." I grin slightly.

"Will we both fit?" She asks doubtfully.

"We'll have to. No way am I sitting out here in my underwear in this weather." I reply simply.

"Me neither." She agrees.

"Where are you?" I reach out and touch what I'm assuming is her knee. "Where's the sleeping bag?" I ask and she passes it over to me. We push the pack to one side and I carefully lay the sleeping bag across the middle of the tent, as best as I can tell.

"After you." I offer generously.

"It'd be easier if you got in first." She points out logically.

Point accepted, I climb gingerly into the sleeping bag. My ribs have been feeling a bit better and I'm starting to believe that my earlier diagnosis of broken ribs were inaccurate. I'm starting to think they were only slightly bruised. Oh well, a man can't always be right.

"I'm all snuggled in. Care to join me?" I ask lightly.

"Of course." Even her voice is shivering with cold, and I can't help but secretly feel grateful that we're going to have to cuddle up like this for warmth.

"Hop right in. Just watch the ribs." I remind her. Lying on my side I feel her hands brush over me as she forms a mental picture of how to get in. I feel her sit next to me and then she quickly slithers in next to me, the narrow confines of the sleeping bag pushing her smooth back up tightly against my chest and giving us no room to move or lie comfortably.

"Sorry about this." I whisper in her ear, surprised at how easy it is to hear myself over the noise of the storm even though I'm only whispering. I wrap my arms around her, pulling her closer despite my protesting ribs, and she responds by cuddling against me, tangling her feet with mine to try and warm our cold toes.

"Actually," she admits with a slight chuckle, "it's not that bad."

"No." I agree. "It's nice. And warm." I hasten to add before she gets the wrong idea. Before *I* get the wrong idea.

"Yeah." She agrees, relaxing against me.

The more we relax, the easier it is for me to notice the softness of her skin and her lithe form pressed up so close against mine.

She's my 2IC for crying out loud. Think about other 2IC's. Kawalsky. I never had to cuddle up to Kawalsky like this. Oh boy. He definitely didn't feel or smell like this either.

Uh Oh.

Thank God she's alseep. Completely exhausted. I don't know what I would have done if she was still awake and realised where my thoughts were due to an unavoidable, obvious biological function. Something tells me I'm going to find it hard to sleep tonight.

I *so* did not just think that, did I? Lame jokes to myself in my thoughts. Oh yeah. I think the aftershock is catching up to me.


"Dr. Langford, this behaviour is of no use to either O'Neill or Captain Carter." Teal'c says calmly, his eyes watching the woman as she continually paces around the tree.

"I know that, Teal'c." She snaps, wiping angrily at tears in her eyes.

"The storms have only been over for a few hours. It might take them a bit longer to get here, that's all." I try and soothe her. Her agitation, for some reason, makes me feel agitated also. I don't want her to be upset.

"What if they're hurt?" She demands.

"We have no way of knowing where they are, or if they are alive even." Teal'c says calmly.

"What do you think?" She asks softly.

"I believe they are alive. I have known both O'Neill and Captain Carter long enough to have a great faith in their abilities." He says firmly, his eyes showing he believes what he is saying. His belief is enough for me, also.

"So how long have you known Jack and Sam?" The woman asks, trying to divert her attention.

"It would be nearly a year now, perhaps more." Teal'c thinks about it.

"And you haven't been home since?" She looks sorrowful.

"No." Teal'c says shortly. He misses someone. His family.

"You must miss your family." I says softly. I understand his longing, his aching. Did I not ache for you all those years, Catherine? Until you joined me here so long ago?

"Yes." He acknowledges.

"I didn't know you had a family." The woman sounds slightly surprised.

"I did not speak of them."

"Why not?" I ask, surprised as well.

"I told General Hammond that I had no family."

"Why?" The woman is horrified.

"If I had family, General Hammond would not have permitted me to join SG-1. My family can be used as hostages against me because of my betrayal to Apophis and the Goa'uld." He says eventually.

"Tell us about your family." I ask softly. It has been so long since I have heard of a family; had family stories shared with me.

"My wife is called Drey'auc." Teal'c smiles gently, thinking of his wife. "She is a most beautiful woman. Strong too. She has borne me a son, Rya'C."

"How old is he?" The woman breathes, and again I can see traces of you in her, Catherine.

"Soon he will be old enough to receive a Prim'ta, if he has not already done so." Teal'c scowls slightly at the thought.

"A Prim'ta?" Catherine asks.

"A larvael Goa'uld." Teal'c says bitterly. "Had I perhaps told General Hammond, then both he and Drey'auc might have had a better life."

"Then who might have had a better life?" Jack's voice cuts through the air.

"JACK!" Catherine jumps up, hugging him tightly.

"Watch it." Jack winces, pulling back. "My ribs." He adds as an afterthought.

"Sam!" Catherine turns to the woman and hugs her.

"Thank God." Sam whispers and collapses under the burden of the pack.

"CARTER!" Jack immediately drops down to look at her. "I *told* her to give me the pack." He complains, pulling it off her narrow shoulders. "She's too cold. Where's a sleeping bag?" Jack demands. He accepts the one that Teal'c gives to him and quickly unzips it.

"Catherine, zip the other one onto this. She's too cold." He states again, worry on his features as he quickly pulls her damp jacket and trousers off. Catherine hands him the sleeping bag and he places Sam onto the sleeping bag, sitting down next to her and peeling his own jacket, shirt and trousers off.

I'm shocked at the casualness of it. How can he just remove their clothes like that in front of everyone and then zip the sleeping bag up around them? Once the covers are pulled up tightly he throws out another shirt. Sam's. He's taken her shirt off. They aren't even married! The worst of it is, neither Catherine nor Teal'c find it strange. They are, in fact, encouraging it. They take the damp garments and place them in front of the fire to dry.

If this is what Earth has resorted to, openly encouraging illicit relationships such as this, then I wish to have no part in it. I do not want to go back to a place that treats human relationships so casually.

~Part Nineteen~


A tentative knock on the door alerts me. I get up hesitantly and open the door, not wanting everyone to stare at me with those wide eyed, sympathetic looks I've been receiving lately.

"Hey." He smiles nervously, shifting from foot to foot before looking up at me.

"Hi." I sit back down at my desk, curious as to why he, of all people, is here.

"General Hammond said you were resigning." He starts out, glancing at me to guage my reaction.

"Yes." I nod slightly, trying not to stop the tears.

"Why?" He frowns, confused.


"You're running away." He explodes, anger in his eyes. "I thought we were going to try. All of us."

"I'm *not* running away from anything." I fire back, shame flooding over me. Yes. I *am* running away.

"I...I talked to Jackson. And Thomas." He licks his lips. "They don't want you to resign either."

"I have to. I don't have a choice." I shake my head. It's sweet of them, really, but I *can't* stay here.

"Yes you do. You always have a choice."

"What about Angela?" I remind him gently, thinking of my daughter currently with a babysitter. It wasn't fair, leaving her alone all the time.

"Alex...why not do what Doc Fraiser does?" He glances up at me.

"My daughter is two and a half years old, Eric. Cassie is much older than that. And she understands what Janet is doing and *why* it's a secret. Angela will never have that privilege of knowing." I remind him gently.

"You still don't have to resign though..." He fiddles with the door handle behind his desk. "She's not old enough to be angry yet..."

"No. I want to watch my little girl grow up, Eric. If I stay on SG-1 there's a strong possibility of me dying and not seeing that happen. Then who would she be left with? Rob?" I smile bitterly, the familiar stab of pain slicing through at my casual mention of his name. It's over now though. Over with and behind me.

"We'll look after you though..." He tries again, cajoling me.

"Why do you want me so desperately?" I ask, confused.

"I told you, I talked to Jackson and Thomas and they both agreed that we should try and be more of a team. If we'd have been a team..." He stops abruptly, his eyes flicking towards me guiltily.

"No." I touch his shoulder gently. "Don't go there. I could have told you easily. I could have easily admitted it to Janet when she kept asking. But I didn't, and that's my own fault." I won't let them take the blame or accept guilt for what's happened.

"I'm still sorry though." He says softly, gazing at me with his clear blue eyes. "I'm sorry for not being there."

"You were there for me." I smile, my eyes stinging suspiciously with tears. "You were there for me when I needed you guys. All of you." I lean over and hug him, surprising us both. His arms hold me awkwardly, but then he seems to relax and he accepts my embrace.

"You won't be a stranger?" He asks hopefully.

"No. I've got one more mission with you boys and then I'm heading off." I agree.

"Where will you go?"

"I've had an offer from the university that I think I might take up on." I smile slightly, stepping away from him and continuing to pack my books into the box.

"We'll...we'll still see you though?" He asks hopefully. "I mean, Pizza and Poker nights won't be the same without you and Jackson falling asleep and snoring us out..." He grins slightly.

"No, I'll stay in touch. And you take care of yourself, okay?" I sniff again, smiling slightly.

"Of course. And knowing me, I'll probably end up looking after Jackson and Thomas too." He laughs slightly before waving good bye and sauntering off down the hallway.For the first time I feel a part of SG-1. Sure, I'm leaving it in less than a week's time, but I've finally had a taste and a touch of what all those othe SG teams share, and I can finally start to comprehend just how much Daniel was a part of his old team.


"You got it?" Jackson glances at me, his eyes wide and slightly worried.

"Of course I've got it." I'm slightly disgusted with him, thinking I forgot it. Honestly.

"Are you sure we should? I's only been a few weeks..." He hesitates, guilt clouding his innocent blue eyes.

"Come on, Jackson. It's not like we're..."

"SH!" Mason hisses, scurrying towards us. "I can hear you guys arguing down at the trees. I'm surprised Alex hasn't heard you!" He glances around cheekily, unable to wipe the ever present smile off his cheeks.

"Jackson is having doubts..." I roll my eyes.

"Come on." Mason copies my gesture. "It'll be great! Something she'll never forget."


"She's okay, Daniel. I talked to her yesterday. She's fine. She'll take this in her stride and move on with a few laughs to help her settle in at the university."

I sigh, rolling my eyes.

Jackson looks at me with surprise on his features.


"Nothing. It's just that..."

"What?" I ask again, completely lost.

"It's happened." He grins happily, but a sad glint present in his eye.

"What's happened?" Mason demands, fidgeting and glancing over his shoulder as he kept watch for Alex.

"We're a team." He says almost hesitantly.

"Yeah? So?" I blink.

"Never mind." He sighs and stalks off, annoyance radiating off of him. I chuckle slightly. Of course I know what he's just so much fun to annoy the man!

"He's right though." Mason's smile changes to a very soft one, his eyes thoughtful.

"Don't you *dare* go and get all soppy over me." I warn him and head off to go and check that Alex is still okay.


It's been too long. Much too long since I've felt this contentment sitting around an open fire with friends and attempting to enjoy an MRE.

"Hey, Alex." Mason pipes up suddenly, a gleam in his eye as he looks over at the distracted scientist.

"What is it now Eric?" She asks tiredly. I can only sympathise with her. This whole mission he's been asking questions, irritating people and generally making a nuisance of himself. A lot like Jack.

Thomas, strangely enough, is also a lot like Jack, but in a different way. He never talks to you about anything or tells you how he's feeling, but you *know* that he understands and realises a lot more than most people give him credit for. He also has a very sharp tongue, not as sharp as Jack's mind you, but pretty close.

"Well," Eric glances over at us. "The three of us thought..."

"Not three. Just two." I point out, holding my hands up innocently.

"The *three* of us thought that since you're leaving us and heading off into the big wide world without us superheroes there to save your six, that we'd give you a little something." He reaches behind him and pulls out a pair of tiny boxing gloves. "Next time someone hits, you hit back harder." He throws them at Alex who catches them with a half stunned look on her face.

Then she's crying and laughing all at once, holding the gloves up to her hands and nearly choking.

"I *told* you this was a bad idea." I feel so angry at them, they're so insensitive. Don't they understand what the poor woman has gone through these last few weeks that we've known about it, and all the years before hand? Honestly...they can be so immature...

"I'm surprised you didn't give me an umbrella." Alex snorts.

"Umbrella?" Thomas blinks, stumped.

"Running out like that with no umbrella and getting soaked..." She stifles her laughter and wipes at the tears still flowing down her cheeks.

"So you're not mad?" Mason checks tentatively, now uncertain.

"No." She shakes her head. "God no."

"Good." Thomas nods, satisfied as he finishes off his meal.

"It's ironic really." Alex says after a while.

"It is?" Mason echoes.

"Yeah. We're finally getting along and I'm leaving." She sniffs slightly, wiping at a tear with her hand.

"You're not leaving much behind." Thomas quips, obviously uncomfortable with this openess in Alex's conversation.

"It's not forever though." I offer up kindly. "You're still coming over to Pizza and Poker nights..."

"Jackson needs his sleeping buddy." Mason quips, earning a thump on either of his arms as Alex and I simultaneously hit him.

"You're right though." Alex agrees, smiling over at me. "It's like that song they used to sing in the war...we'll meet again."

"Sing it." Thomas orders us, taking a long drink.

"We'll meet again
Don't know where don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day." Alex complies softly.

"Wow. My reccomendations are forget science and go music." Mason says honestly. Alex's voice is incredible.

"I thought about it..." She admits briefly, "But then I discovered the joys of science." She grins. "Besides, if I hadn't gone science I would never have gotten to see this." She waves her hands around in the air, a gesture of awe. "And I wouldn't have met you guys..."

"And you wouldn't own a pair of boxing gloves." Mason feels obliged to add.

"No. I wouldn't." She agrees, smiling slightly as she gazes into the fire. "I'm happy though." The silence stretches on, but its comfortable. "I'm happy that we're a team. Even if it is only for one mission. Thank you for letting me be a part of it."

My own throat constricts and I look down into embers as well. It happened. Just like I thought it would. Another team. Another loss. It was inevitable. The minute you open yourself up to someone you create the possibility of being hurt.

But, I realise with a small smile, it's worth it. It's worth it because things always go bad, no matter how hard you fight and try, and at least you can choose to have some good memories and friends to help you through those dark times.

"Me too." I echo softly, my gaze travelling up to the stars around us. "Me too."



"How long have we been here now?" Carter asks in the dark, her body moving against mine as she speaks.

"About a year and a half, nearly two, I think." Catherine answers her, sounding thoughtful.

"We missed out on Christmas." Her voice sounds so wistful, so folorn.

I pull her tightly against me, offering her my comfort. It's so strange and awkward, this new relationship that's formed between us. If you could even call it a relationship. Ever since she jumped into that river after me, things have been different.

I still blush thinking about waking up with her in the sleeping bag the first time. My hands were all over her. *Literally* all over her. And her distinct lack of clothing just added to the embarrassment.

She didn't say anything after my awkward apology, so I didn't bring it up again, but things *did* change between us. It's almost as if there's the beginnings of something between us. I don't think either of us is ready to take that step yet, to try and take the 'relationship' to the next level, but we are aware that the possibility is there.

That's why during the ice cold storms Carter and I always share the big sleeping bag, leaving the two smaller ones to be shared between Catherine, Ernest and Teal'c. It's not usually a problem, Teal'c doesn't get cold unless it's *really* cold, and then they simply make one big sleeping bag by zipping them together and they all get in, Teal'c in the middle and Ernest and Catherine on either side.

"We should have Christmas." Catherine says after a while.

"In the middle of summer?" I frown slightly, that's not right. Christmas is supposed to be cold so that you can sit on the couch and drink hot drinks while the fire sparks around and your kid opens presents. Mind you, Christmas died a a few years ago in my books.

"We could wait until the next storms. They're only a few weeks away." Carter turns around, I can feel her watching me in the relative darkness of the cave. "Please?" She asks softly, burying her head on my shoulder.

"It's not up to me." I point out, casually curling my arm over her and letting my fingers work their way in underneath her shirt to rest on the warm skin of her stomach. She wriggles a bit closer - for warmth, I swear - and sighs slightly. "I don't see why we can't though."

"What'll we do for presents?" Catherine sounds slightly worried.

"Find them. Make them." Carter's getting all excited about the idea, turning over again.

"Would you lie still?" I sigh, tugging her tightly against me to stop the wriggling.

I can almost feel the frosty glare Ernest is probably sending our way. Ever since we've come back, there's been a barrier between us. Him on one side, myself and Carter on the other. It's strange actually. I'd have thought that the gap would be between me and Catherine, considering all the things we yelled at each other. But it's not, it's between Ernest and us.

"Could we?" Carter asks softly. I smile slightly. She can be so...young sometimes. Christmas. I guess some people never lose their love of the festive season. Some people never have cause to lost sight of the festive season. "For Teal'c. I don't think he's had a Christmas yet."

"No. I have not. But Daniel Jackson has told me about your celebration." Teal'c admits, sounding curious. Well, curious for him anyway.

"Like I said, it's not up to me." I bury my nose in Carter's hair, trying to remove the frosty chill that's settled over it.

"Great." She settles against me, her own arm creeping over me. "Guess we're going present hunting."

"This should be fun."


"Catherine..." She sounds slightly conspicious to my ears.

"Sam?" I don't turn around from my task, knowing that she's coming closer to me.

"What are you getting the Colonel?" Her voice sounds very close now.

"I don't know. I was thinking maybe I should just pick the man a bunch of grass. He likes chewing on it, doesn't he?" I smile slightly, motioning out to the tall heads of grass that have sprung up everywhere again. The summer season. The season we arrived here, give or take a few storms.

"Yeah." She sighs, settling herself on the rock next to me and gazing down at her hands. "What's that?"

"It's a belt of sorts." I admit, looking down at the rather limp bunch of reeds I'm clutching in my hands. "I'm trying to make one anyway."

"Oh. For who?" She sounds curious.

"Ernest." I smile slightly.

"Oh." She pauses and looks out over the ocean in the distance. "Do you think you'll ever pick up where you left off?" She asks eventually.

"No." I shake my head. "We could start again, I suppose, or pick up from a different point. But it'll never be what it was." I shrug slightly. To tell the truth, I'm happy now. We've reached an agreement. An unspoken agreement that we still love each other. I can see that by the way he always does things for me, smiles at me and walks with me. Nothing's happened, we haven't spoken much. But that's okay. We're old and we're both comfortable in the knowledge that we're together. That's enough for us, I think. Enough for now.

I glance over at her again. She wants to ask something, to say something. But she doesn't know how. "Did you want anything?" I ask, trying to make it easier for her.

"What?" She looks at me quickly, the innocence on her voice so false it wouldn't be hard for a relative stranger to realise she's lying.

"Mm." I nod my head disbelievingly and continue trying to bend my unco-operative fingers to work the reeds.

"What are you getting Teal'c?" She asks after a while.

"I don't know yet. Sam, this is the most insane thing you've ever suggested." I tell her in no uncertain terms. Christmas. No presents. What were we thinking?

"I'm making him some arrows." She confides, smiling with a childlike gleam in her eyes. Jack is right. This Christmas is for her. Her and Teal'c. Ernest and I don't need a Christmas, and I don't think Jack needs one either. This is for Sam and Teal'c. So we'll struggle to find presents on this unforgiving planet, and we'll *make* Christmas happen here.

"And Ernest?" I ask curiously.

"I don't know." She frowns slightly. "Do you think he'd like one of Daniel's books?" She asks hesitantly.

"I don't know." I purse my lips.

"Maybe I'll just get him a few more shells for his collection." She shakes her head.

"He'll probably like that." I agree, thinking with a small smile of Ernest's shell collection. His old one, and 'Catherine's' had apparently been in the castle.

"It's strange, isn't it?" She plucks a blade of grass and fiddles with it, trying to tie it into a knot with her one hand.

"What is?"

"We've been here for nearly two years now." She drops the grass in disgust at her failure and starts picking at the threadbare towel still supporting her arm.

"A lot has happened, hasn't it." I agree softly, looking out over the water.

"I'm bored." She admits eventually, losing interest with the towel.

I've noticed that. I've noticed that while Jack has seemingly become more and more settled in this new role of life, Sam has become more and more agitated, taking over his role of continual fiddling and flitting from task to task.

"Is that what this is?" I ask, motioning down to the belt in my hands. "A diversion from the boredom?" It's not really surprising that she wants something different.

"No." She shakes her head. "Maybe." She relents. "I don't know. I *do* want Christmas...but it's not the same." She stands up, already 'bored' with the conversation.

"No. Nothing is the same anymore." I agree simply. I learnt that the hard way with Ernest, and I'm not going to let it catch me out again. Things change. Constantly. Month to month, season to season, day to day and second to second. Everything changes, whether you want it to or not.

"I just feel so..." She spins around, kicking at a stone. "Look at me. I can't even sit still for five minutes without completely getting frustrated."

"You just need something to keep you busy." It's not that simple. I *know* it's not that simple.

"I know. But what? I get bored every five minutes Catherine. I don't feel like I'm doing anything anymore. Nothing except finding food, talking and sleeping. Relaxing." She paces again, frustration mounting in her eyes. "I miss the work, Catherine." She says eventually, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "I miss working my mind, searching for answers. I miss *being* someone."

"You *are* someone." I point out gently. "You're Sam."

"I know that." She sighs, clearly annoyed at herself for some reason. "I'm just so...edgy." She says eventually, perching on the rock again. "Like I'm waiting for something. I need a purpose, Catherine. Finding food and sleeping just isn't enough." She states eventually.

A flicker of an idea springs across my mind, but the mood she's in now she'd probably kill me.

"What?" She knows me to well.

"Nothing." I shake my head, turning back to my belt.

She sighs and looks defeated as she stands up again.

"What about Jack?"

"What about him?" She asks, confused.

"What's happening with him?" I try not to smile.

"What do you mean what's happening with him?" She's either deliberately playing dumb or hoping that this isn't leading to where it's leading.

"With you two." I look up at her and notice the awkward, slightly embarrassed look on her face.

"Nothing's happening. We're just friends." She answers, looking away from me briefly. Oh..that is *such* a lie.

"Friends who sleep together." Okay, that sounded really insinuating...but they *do* sleep together.

"So?" She opens her eyes defiantly. "We are just friends, Catherine. That's all we are and all we ever will be." She states firmly, but an odd emotion passes over her face briefly as the words pass over her lips.


"Why what?"

"Why won't it ever be anything more?" I ask her bluntly.

"He's my CO." She looks surprised that I ever asked that. "Besides...he's married."

"Was married. Besides, we're not on earth anymore. Probably never will be again. Regulations don't count anymore." I remind her.

"True..." She shrugs. "We don't look at each other that way." She turns around to head off.

"Not yet." I call after her.

"Sure Catherine." She yells back, but I can tell I struck a nerve because she's running from me to think about what I've said. A grin spreads itself over my face. Good. Those two are good for each other. They don't realise it, but they are.


"You do not seem pleased, O'Neill."

O'Neill looks at me with a 'sarcastic' look. "Well now gee, Teal'c, *what* on earth brought you to *that* conclusion?"

"We are on not earth, O'Neill. I do not understand your statement."

O'Neill rolls his eyes in the customary O'Neill manner and then turns away from me. "You know, this whole idea stinks."

"Then why did you agree to it?" I remind him. Something is bothering O'Neill, but he will not admit to it.

"Carter wanted it." He says simply after a silence.

"You love her." I do not know what has brought the words to my lips, but once they have passed they seem correct. Do O'Neill and Captain Carter not share a bedroll every night? Does he not take every opportunity to assist her? Do they not spend their time together almost constantly? My friends love each other, but I do not believe they know it yet.

"What?" O'Neill explodes, disbelief etched onto his features as he looks at me, shocked.

"You love her." I repeat softly, staring out over the large expanse of water in the distance.

"What would you know about that?" He demands spitefully, skillfully avoiding confirming or denying my bold comment. I will let it pass, I do not have the right to force a confession out of him.

"About love?" I smile slightly, memories washing over me. "I know about love, O'Neill."

"You ever been in love Teal'c?" He sounds wistful now, as if he is sorrowed by something.

"Yes." I agree. Catherine and Ernest know of my family. O'Neill and Captain Carter do not. I believe that it is not honourable to keep it from them any longer. It never was.

"Do tell." He invites, glancing over at me.

"I have a wife, O'Neill."

"You what?" His eyes widen slightly and his mouth is open in surprise.

"And a son." I smile, thinking of Rya'C.

"And you just thought it prudent not to mention that?" He demands, anger showing.

"Would you or General Hammond have allowed me to join the SGC, to pledge my allegience to your world had you known about the family I left on Chulak?" I ask him, not meeting his gaze. Does he not understand what those denials cost me?

"No." He agrees, running his hand through his hair. "But I mean...I would have thought you trusted me Teal'c..."

"I do. That is why I am telling you."

"You miss them, don't you?" He asks eventually.

"I have not seen them since I betrayed Apophis." I agree. "My son will have grown much. Perhaps he now bears a Prim'ta." I know this is true. Rya'C will be of age now.

"What's his name?" O'Neill asks softly, a tenderness I have rarely heard present on his voice.

"Rya'C." I tell him proudly. "He is strong. A good son."

"Like his Dad, huh?" O'Neill smiles tightly, but I can see the pain in his eyes. He knows the loss of a child. His own son.

"Perhaps." I agree. It was unwise of me to tell O'Neill of my own son when he has lost his forever.

"You'll see him again." O'Neill promises me, his back still turned away from me.

"You can not say that for certain." I remind him, though it pains me to speak the words out loud.

"No. I guess I can't." He sighs again. "Teal'c..."


"What....what are you gonna get the others?" He changes his words and asks a different question.

"I am in the process of making a hunting spear for Ernest." I tell him. "For Dr. Langford I have a small ruin from the city we visited..."

"You have some of that?" He sounds surprised.

"Yes. I thought to keep it for if we returned to Earth. Daniel Jackson would be most happy to receive it."

"Smart." O'Neill nods. "What about Carter?"

"I am not allowed to say." I tell him, watching jealousy suddenly make itself known in his eyes.

"You're not?" He asks doubtfully.

"No. Dr. langford has sworn myself and Ernest to secrecy..."

"But it's for Carter, not for me." He pleads, curiousity burning his eyes.

"It is not my idea to speak of." I shake my head. "What are you getting for Captain Carter?"

"Me?" He sounds slightly surprised. "I don't know. I don't know what to get anyone. I mean, look around Teal'c, there's not exactly a lot of variety." He shakes his hands out in annoyance.

"I will speak to Dr. Langford. Perhaps she can offer you some suggestions." I tell him generously.

"Thanks." He sighs, turning his gaze once more out over the waters. "What about you? What do you want?"

"I do not require anything, O'Neill." I shrug. I do not understand this ritual of exchanging gifts, but both Dr. Langford and Captain Carter seem enthusiastic about it.

"That's good, cos I probably can't get you anything anyway." He kicks at the earth with his heavy shoes. "This Christmas idea of Carter is causing more trouble than its worth." He says, but the fondness in his eye when he speaks the words show that his statement is not the truth. He is merely frustrated.

"I do not believe so, O'Neill." I watch him for a minute, and then take my leave. He does not need company at this moment in time.


Call me juvenile but I *can't* sleep.

"Carter..." The Colonel grunts irritatedly, tugging my closer to him despite the muggy heat around us.

"Sorry Sir." I whisper, trying not to giggle. Soon. So soon now...I wriggle again.

"For crying out loud, Carter!" His leg anchors over mine and I'm firmly wedged between the Colonel, the sleeping bag and the floor.

"Would you two cut it out?" Catherine grumbles from her corner. "It's hot enough already with out you two having to add to the discomfort..."

"Me?" The Colonel is indignant. "It's Carter! She won't quite moving around..." He complains.

"Maybe if you two didn't insist on sleeping together..." Catherine's voice is groggy, but I still manage to feel my face flaming in the dark.

It's true though. Everynight, hot or cold, the Colonel and I curl up together. I don't know why. We've been doing it for months now, ever since the river episode, and we haven't said a word about it. The others, except Ernest, seem to have accepted it, strangely enough. Why, I wonder, why are we doing this? Is it simply the basic need for human comfort, companionship? Or is it more than that?

No, I won't let myself go there. Not now. Not yet.

"Carter." He snaps quietly, his voice barely a whisper.

"Sorry Sir." I whisper again, turning so that my head is resting on his shoulder and our legs are tangled. I always feel so comfortable lying next to him, so completely relaxed, as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

"You are worse than Charlie ever was." He chuckles slightly and I feel him dropping a kiss on my hair. I really wish he wouldn't do that, who knows *what* kind of germs he might be picking up from that oily tangle?

"Am not." I tell him, trying not to giggle again at his exasperated to sigh.

"Soon, Captain, the storms will break soon." He promises me.

"But do we have to wait that long? This heat could still go on for weeks. You know how long the last one took to break..." I know I'm impatient, but this is busy building up, the excitement is building and I'm feeling more and more eager for the time to arrive. Why, I'm not exactly sure, but it feels for some reason as though this 'Christmas' is going to change things. As thought it's going to be an important pivoting point for...for *something*.

"Carter, if you just close your eyes and go to sleep the time will go quicker." He sighs again, snuggling against me.

"You're hot." I complain, but snuggle closer anyway, happy to let his arms circle me and hold me close while my own snake around his waist.

"Go. To. Sleep."

"Yes Sir." I grin and close my eyes, letting sleep steal over me quickly.


"Jack..." Catherine's voice is whispering in my ear. I shiver involuntarily. Who turned off the heat?

"Jack...wake up." She nudges me slightly and I feel Carter shift in response to my own movement.

"What?" I mumble, not wanting to disturb the warmth of Carter just yet.

"It's time." She says and my eyes fly open. Time. The storms are here. I'm suddenly aware of why it's so hard to hear Catherine and why the air has gotten so cold. Funny that, I'm sleeping straight through the arrival and the departure of those storms now. Don't even bother me anymore.

"She's still asleep." I inform her, quickly glancing down at Carter's peaceful face squashed tightly against my chest.

"Good. Ernest and I are putting the vines up and getting the bush...Teal'c is getting the present." She grins, and I can see the excitement on her face from the flickering light of the small fires they've lit around the tree-cave.

"Great. I'll stay here and make sure she sleeps." I offer helpfully.

"You do that." She smiles at me and stands up. "Is all your stuff ready?" She checks.

"Yup." Of course. Hidden in my designated 'hiding' place.

"Good. Well...merry Christmas Jack." She pats my head and then disappears. I can hear the wind and the thunder outside and shiver slightly. Gratefully I cuddle closer to Carter, kissing her neck quickly and hurriedly just in case anyone notices my guilty pleasure. I've been doing that a lot lately. Small, plutonic kisses on her hair and cheek while she's awake, and the same treatment on her hands and neck while she's sleeping next to me. It's wrong, I know it's wrong. I don't have the right to kiss her like that, but I do it anyway. God help me if she ever finds out.

Strangely enough, I'm content to just lie there holding her while Catherine and Ernest cast strange shadows on the walls as they silently flit around the cave, stringing their vines around the large cavern.

I'm worried about this. Very worried. Teal'c's statement the other day hit closer to home than I thought it would. Love her. Do I love her?

I don't know. I don't want to think about the 'L' word anymore. Last time I used the 'L' word things happened...good things and bad things. I don't want bad things like that to happen again. Not ever.

Carter gives this cute little moan in her sleep, a very female sound of contentment as she stretches against me, turning slightly so that she's half lying on top of me. I know this routine. Ten more minutes, that's all they've got. Ten more minutes before another stretch, followed by a yawn and a cuddle against me before her beautiful blue eyes flick open. Whoa...did I just say 'beautiful blue eyes'? Since when do I say things like that about my 2IC...? I don't even remember the colour of Kawalsky's eyes...then again, he wasn't a stunningly attractive woman that slept in the same sleeping bag as me everynight. I didn't have his scent imprinted in my memory or the way he fitted against me so perfectly...Oh...I *really* don't have those memories simply cos they don't exist. I don't like where this train of thought is headed...

"Catherine!" She pauses as she slips past me, my whisper reaching her in a lull of the wind. "She's waking up." I inform her softly, absently running my hand up and down Carter's back, knowing that it will buy us a few extra minutes.

"We're nearly done." She admits, peering into the cave. "We're just waiting for Teal'c...And here he is." She stands up. "You can wake her up if you want..."

"Okay." I wait until she's gone and then I turn to the woman lying asleep half on top of me. "Carter....Carter..." I nudge at her cheek with on finger. Her mouth is open and her hair is falling on her face. Not the most elegant of poses I'll agree...but still...

"Hmm?" Movement of the eyelids as she pulls her mouth closed and buries her head against my neck.

"Wake up Carter. What are you, sleeping beauty?" I chuckle as she pushes at me indignantly with her head.

"Can't a girl get some sleep anymore?" She complains, her voice muffled against my neck.

"Not on Christmas morning." I grin as she suddenly springs awake, excitement in her eyes. She *really* reminds me of Charlie now. How is it, that this grown woman of 30 something can be so...childlike with her joy at the prospect of Christmas? What is it about Christmas that makes some people so incredibly happy...and others so incredibly philosophical?

"It is?" She grins at me, struggling to get out of the sleeping bag. It's like she's regressed into her childhood again.

"Yep." I agree, helping to manouver us both out of the sleeping bag. I feel something suspiciously burning at my eyelids. Why does she have this effect on me? Why does seeing her so happy and excited make *me* feel so happy and excited?

"Merry Christmas!" Catherine appears and gives Carter a hug.

"Merry Christmas!" Carter returns the greeting enthusiastically. Then her mouth drops open in shock and her eyes also brighten suspiciously. "Oh...oh..." She turns around slowly, her good hand rising to her mouth in a movement of pure amazement.

"Do you like it?" Catherine grins, looping her arm around Carter and giving her another hug.

"Thank you." Carter whispers, clutching tightly at Catherine. "Thank you so much."

"It's a pleasure." Catherine tell her, smiling at me over Carter's shoulder. "We thought you needed it."

She's right, Carter did need it. Who have I been trying to kid? We *all* needed this. Teal'c included.

Looking around the cave I have to admit that Catherine and Ernest did a wonderful job in twenty minutes. Their collection of vines and boughs of leaves that they've been gathering for days now and hiding at the back of the cavern has been spread out throughout the cave now, the flickering of six small fires around the edge of the cave and the larger one in the middle casting a magical glow throughout the cavern. And the crowning glory, a small tree hung with several rather wilted looking flowers and shells standing against the wall on one side.

"It's incredible." Carter sniffs slightly, grinning at me and then heading over to Teal'c and Ernest to give them each a hug and a 'Merry Christmas'. Watching her walk, I notice not for the first time the way the firelight glints off her hair, the way her skin seems to glow with a luminiscence and her movement makes her look like she's floating. Definitely *not* the kind of things I'm supposed to be noticing about my 2IC...

"You've got it bad, Jack." Catherine states matter-of-factly.

"Got what bad?" I plead innocence.

"You're only fooling yourselves." She says gently before giving me a quick hug and then making her way over the the main fire where 'breakfast' is cooking.

Fooling ourselves. Are we? Are Carter and I fooling ourselves?

My eyes follow her animated movements, and I feel a flutter of something in me when she meets my eye and gives me a full fledged grin. My grin. The smile she reserves and only uses for me. I've checked that, and I've noticed that I'm the only one who gets it. My very own Carter Smile. Best Christmas present ever, I reckon.


There is a feeling of magic in the air, a sense of unreality. I don't remember the last time I had a Christmas. It was so long ago...spent with Catherine and her father. We had a large meal, I remember, and spent the evening sitting around the piano singing carols while Catherine's nimble fingers flew over the notes and her strong, clear voice led us in song.

That is a memory I have always cherished and held close.

This Christmas is different.

The air isn't heavy with the scent of pine trees. No chestnuts are roasting on the fireplace and no snow is falling outside. Instead a storm is raging, but it is muted by the thickness of the roots surrounding us. No wind or rain reaches us in this warm cavern.

The presents I have gathered for these people are well hidden in my assigned spot, the small treasures all carefully wrapped with bark and painstakingly labelled with one of Dr. Jackon's pens that Captain Carter - Sam - so graciously leant me.

"So...when do we open presents?" O'Neill asks, grinning slightly. His gaze rests on Sam who is exclaiming over the decorations and, I would even go so far as to say, romping around the cave with childish glee. I can understand, watching her reaction, why we have all put such an effort into making her wish a reality. A smile forms itself on my face when I watch her reach O'Neill and he envelopes her in a huge hug.

I don't agree with what they're doing. Sleeping together isn't right. They're not married. But they are, as I have told you Catherine, in love. They share a bond and that bond is providing them with the same happiness and comfort my bond with you, Catherine, provided me when I first was stranded here. It helped me settle, and in time, it will help them settle also.

"They're good together, aren't they?" Catherine whispers, standing so close next to me that our arms brush.

Yes. They are good together. But it's not right. They *shouldn't* be together because they aren't married.

"Ernest?" She looks at me, her eyes wide in the firelight.

"Yes." I agree hesitantly and am surprised by the feeling of warmth stealing through me when she slips her hand into mine. I glance down at our dim, hidden hands in the darkness. Both limbs are old, stained and freckled by the sun, the skin worn and tired. But underneath the skin, underneath the appearance not all that much has changed.

"Merry Christmas." I tell her, and lean over to kiss her cheek. She smiles at me and rests her head against my shoulder, content to stand together for a while just as O'Neill and Sam are content to stand holding each other.

I catch sight of Teal'c, a look of sadness on his face as his eyes also rest on O'Neill and Sam. I think at times like these that he feels like more of an outsider than I myself have ever felt.


"Thank you." I smile, feeling my eyes prickle suspiciously again. Looking at the small treasures piled up around me feet I can't help but feel that this is probably one of the most meaningful Christmas' I have ever had.

"It's not over yet." Catherine grins at me, excitement in her eyes as she turns to the Colonel and Teal'c. Wordlessly the two men get up and leave the relative warmth and safety of our cave and disappear into the storm.

"Where are they going?" I demand, a finger of worry for them stealing over me.

"They'll be back soon." Catherine avoids the question, busying herself instead with gathering up her small pile of gifts. The flowers Ernest gave her are still pushed into her hair, and I doubt she'll remove them for a long time.

Watching her sitting lost in thought like that causes me to feel a pang of affection. A mother. Catherine is becoming more and more like a mother figure to me. The mother figure I never really had, don't really remember and probably never could be because of those reasons.

"What?" She looks up and catches my gaze on her.

"Nothing." I shake my head and smile slightly, fingering the small shells that Ernest gave me. So what that most of the presents we gave each other were shells, flowers and small bits of wood carved crudely with our knives. So what that our decorations are vines and flowers,
wilted by the heat. So what if our Christmas dinner is going to consist of the same food we eat day after day; fish and the strange fruits. So what. This Christmas will be the one I remember most as being surrounded by friends. The lengths they've gone to do all this, to create all makes me feel very special and incredibly lucky that I've got them.

"Hey, Carter!" The Colonel and Teal'c re-enter the cave, carrying several small items that are obscured by the jackets.

"Sir?" I glance around, noting the excited grin on Catherine's face.

"We got you a little something..." He grins at me and heads over to Catherine, his back towards me.

"You said that you were feeling useless..." Catherine grins at me, cradling something in her arms. "So we got you something."

Now I'm feeling *very* suspicious. They're all looking at me with half hopeful, half excited faces. What are they up too?

"What is it?" I ask, peering down at the small bundle Catherine is clutching to herself.

"Here." She passes it to me and I'm slightly surprised and worried to feel something warm and feathery in my hands.

"A bird?" I blink.

"Yeah. It's a parrot thing..." The Colonel interjects.

"I raised one of them myself." Ernest adds, satisfaction on his face as he looks towards me awkwardly clutching at the little bird. "Unfortunately a bird of prey captured him after a few years, but they do make wonderful companions."

"A bird?" Why can't I seem grateful? Why can't I be happy that they've been so thoughtful.

"Well, you said you needed something to occupy yourself with." Catherine interjects, slightly upset that I'm not as happy with her efforts as I should be.

"I can't look after a bird. I'll probably kill it..." I point out, holding the bird back out towards her. The thing is tiny, shivering and cheaping in my hands so pitifully... "You took it from its mother." I accuse.

"She's got more." The Colonel shrugs, confusion in his eyes. "We thought you'd like this..."

"I can't look after a bird." I remind them.

"Why not?" Teal'c asks. Great. So he's in on this as well.

"Look...I really don't want to seem ungrateful or anything, but how is a bird supposed to make me feel useful?" I ask coldly. Why am I being like this? Why am I suddenly running from them, slamming up my defenses a mile high and treating them like dirt?

"Well... I figured that in days gone by women's roles were always finding food, making home and looking after babies... and since I'm guessing that you're not to keen on the kids department - yet anyway - I guessed a bird would have to do. You can look after it and..."

Why don't I like the look she threw at the Colonel when she mentioned the word 'kids'?

"I..." I lick my lips, staring down at the bird still struggling in my hands. "I *can't* look after it."

"You can't?" Catherine asks doubtfully. "What do you mean, you *can't*?"

"I mean I can't. I don't know how to feed it... I'm a scientist, not a vet."

"We never asked you to become a vet, for crying out loud." The Colonel reaches out and carefully plucks the bird from my hands, holding it close to himself. Instantly the crying stops and the world seems to drop into a sudden silence. The storm is over for now.

"I'm sorry." I whisper, pushing past them. "I'm sorry for ruining Christmas."

The air outside is cold against my skin, my tears like daggers of ice as they cut themselves down my cheek. What have I gone and done? I've gone and ruined Christmas and I don't even know why.

"Carter?" The Colonel's voice is hesitant, unsure. "What happened?" He asks me, and I can feel him standing behind me, not even a footstep away.

"I don't know." I'm so angry at myself. I'm angry at myself for being like this. For being so unreasonable, so selfish and so ungrateful. What kind of a person am I?

"You don't have to keep it you know." He says softly.

I let my eyes travel over the landscape, the branches and leaves still hanging heavy with water that's slowly dripping off them. Droplets like little balls of crystal fall from them and shatter on the ground, adding to the muddiness.

"I know." I acknowledge, rubbing my shoulder with my good arm.

"You want to talk about it?" He asks hesitantly, I can feel him shifting his weight from one foot to another in awkwardness.

"No, not really, seeing as I don't know what there is to talk about." The words could have been harsh, had I wanted them to be. But they weren't, I sounded surprisingly folorn even to myself.

"Here." He turns me around and I face him.

I take a second to study his face in front of me. Tanned, hardened, roughened by such a hard existence...but the wrinkles around his eyes are there because he smiles often, the lines around his mouth are laughter lines and the care and concern in his eyes is what stands out to me. He's changed. He's lost the bitterness that used to haunt him, lost the constant edigness. He's relaxed now, and I don't really remember him as ever being relaxed, even during down time.

We've all changed. Catherine is much more gentle now. She was gentle before, but there was always a brusqueness with her when we first got here, as though she was afraid to let people get close to her. It's gone now, she's acting like the mother to us all, someone we can rely
on and trust.

And Ernest? He's happy. Settled in this new life style we've brought with us. I don't remember the last time I heard him talking to 'Catherine'. He talks to the real Catherine now.

I remember thinking before that Teal'c was one of the universe's constants. I was wrong though. There is so much about that man that we don't know, that we never will know. He's lived for longer than any of us, he's seen more atrocities than any of us and he's committed more of them than the Colonel himself. But he's married. He has a son. He has a sense of duty, courage and a determination stronger than anything I've ever encountered before. He's changed too... not much, but you can see the change in his eyes. You can see that he is being himself among us now, not constantly guarding himself so that we might find fault with him and send him back to

"Carter?" The Colonel frowns, watching me curiously.

"I'm sorry." I turn away from him again, refusing to let my eyes stray to the small bundle of bird clasped in his huge hands.

"You don't have to be. We made an assumption about you - all of us - and we were wrong." He turns around and walks away, and I feel a stab of regret shoot through me. What have I done?

The air is cold against me, the slight breeze stirring my greasy locks of hair where they lie against my neck and shoulders. I'm growing my hair long because it's less fuss than having to keep asking someone to trim it for me when it gets to long and hangs in my eyes. This way I can tie it up with a strip of leather - or at least, someone else can tie it up - and it stays out of my face for the day. I haven't brushed my hair today, the excitement of Christmas seeming to important than to worry about appearances. They've all seen me looking worse than just having my hair unbrushed anyway.

"You coming in soon?" The Colonel's voice is soft against my ear, his warmth appearing around me suddenly in the form of his arms. I stiffen slightly. Why? Why are we like this with each other? Why are we sleeping together every single night? Why does he always help me with everything? And why was I so terrified that night I nearly lost him in the river?

"Maybe." I answer. It was a dumb question and an equally dumb answer. Of course I'm coming in soon. The storms will strike again soon.

"Can I ask a question?" He hesitates.

"You will anyway." I remark, following the expected cliche.

"True. But I wouldn't force you to answer it." He sighs, resting his head on my shoulder.

No. He probably wouldn't force me to answer it.

"Ask away." I turn my head towards him almost instinctively, burying my nose in the warmth of his neck. What am I doing? Why are we playing this game?

"Why did the bird upset you so much?"

I don't know. I know why the bird upset me so much. I don't know *what* upset me.

"You don't have to answer..."

"No..." I cut him off, thinking about the answer to that. "I don't know. What made you give the bird to me?" I frown slightly. Not just him, all of them. The bird had been from all of them...

"Catherine thought it would be a good idea." He admits reluctantly. "I didn't know what else to get you..."

"You didn't *have* to get me anything." I smile slightly.

"I did though." He blurts out, and I can feel him tense against me as he realises he said the wrong thing.

"You did?" I'm curious now, more curious and eager to know that I really should be.

"'s nothing really." He tries to shake it off, to convince me it's not important but the way his fingers are suddenly digging into me speak of another tension within him.

"Sure." I nod sarcastically. "I gave *you* a present..." I remind him, thinking with embarassment of the collection of little stones I'd given him. He hadn't known what they were for, so I had to show him how to play 'Jacks' with them.

"But you said that I didn't have to get you anything..." He tries to wriggle out of it, but I can hear the worry on his voice. Worried. Is he worried that I won't like it?

"Yeah, but you got me something so you have to show it to me now." I turn in the circle of his arms, placing my own around his waist. What are we doing? We're standing with our arms looped intimately around each other, and still trying to convince everyone including ourselves that there is nothing going on between us. There *isn't* nothing going on...I just don't know *what* exactly it is that's going on between us.

"It's stupid." He whispers, his breath stirring the hair on my forehead.

"No it's not." I whisper back, leaning even closer towards him.

"Keep that thought in mind." His one arm leaves my waist and digs in his coat pocket. He pulls it out, closed tightly into a fist and looks warily into my eyes. "I found it... on the hike to the city..." He opens his hand between us and looks down at the small object in his hand, afraid to meet my eye.

The object is small and white, an ivory colour. The surface is smooth and shiny, glinting in the weak sunlight filtering down over us through the leaves.

"I put it on some fishing line..." He begins nervously, still holding the object.

"It's beautiful." I whisper. It is. The carving is strange, beautifully patterned and intricate. "Thank you." I look back up at him and he's smiling slightly, his eyes still focused down on the trinket in his hands.

"Can... Do you want me to put it on?" He asks hesitantly, looking up and meeting my eyes for the first time.

"If you don't mind." We're still whispering, I don't know why, but it seems right.

"Of course not." I turn quickly and grab hold of my messy hair, yanking it to one side so that he can see what he's doing.

"I've made it so you can change its size." He says as he fiddles behind my neck, his cold fingers brushing against my warm skin.

"Thank you." I feel obliged to say. His hands rest on on my shoulders then, his thumbs gently massaging the back of my neck. A jitteryness floods over me suddenly, a warm current of awareness. I can *feel* him standing behind me, my suddenly sensitive body aware of every nuance of heat his gives off centimetres away from me. My breath catches in my throat.

This is wrong. This is *very* wrong.

"Why did you get me the bird?" I ask suddenly, tensing.

"I... Catherine said it would be a good idea." He says again, obviously unsure of where I'm heading with this new line of questioning.

"Why? Why would it have been a good idea?" I demand, his hands falling from my neck and leaving my skin feeling strangely bereft.

"I..." He licks his lips, I catch the movement as I spin around, facing him with demanding eyes.

"Don't lie to me." I warn him.

"She said you didn't feel needed..." Again the hesitation. I thought this man could lie. How could he have survived in Black Ops for so long if he can't even lie to me?

"What has a bird got to do with that?" I snap. How could she tell him that? I confided in her, I admitted something to her and she went and blabbed it to everyone. To him. I don't *want* him to know that I'm not happy, that I'm not who I used to be.

"She thought maybe you'd have a purpose... find something to keep yourself occupied?" He frowns slightly. "Okay, I admit, I didn't really buy that myself."

A snicker escapes me. She's not serious, is she?

"What?" The Colonel demands, also confused now.

"I don't believe it..." I turn around, trying not to stop the ridiculous laughter floating up inside me. Catherine... *so* not funny Catherine...

"Don't believe what?" He demands.

"She wants us..." I stop suddenly, realising what I was about to say.

"Carter?" He's looking at me like *that* again.

"Well... Catherine seems to think that... that we... well... you know..." I'm pathetic, I can't even say it.

"That we what?" He *so* knows what I'm trying not to say.

"That we have a more than... unprofessional relationship." I feel my face flaming, the heat coming off my cheek sufficient to feed our campfire energy wise for a month.

"We do." He says simply, looking at me.

"We do?" I frown. Okay, he wasn't supposed to say that.

"How many CO's do you know who sleep with their 2IC?" He asks with a twisted smile on his face.

"No, she means *more* than just sleeping together." I didn't think it was possible for my face to go any redder, to get any hotter. Huh. I obviously hadn't gotten myself in such an embarassing situation before, had I? Sleeping together. Oh, sorry General Hammond, Colonel O'Neill and I just *slept* together every night... I mean, we conducted a *strictly* professional relationship at all times..

"She thinks we should have more." He says, his voice surprisingly thoughtful as he gazes out, away from me.

"She's a romantic." I try to brush it off.

"What about you?" He still isn't looking at me, which is fine as far as I'm concerned.

"I... We can't Sir." I remind him softly, not wanting to say anything incase I embarass myself even more.

"Why not?" He turns to me, his eyes boring into mine with a conviction that both surprises and scares me. He's serious... this isn't just some crazy old scheme cooked up by some crazy woman. To him, this is serious. And to me too, I realise with a start.

"I... it's against regulations." It's my turn to look away now. That's a pretty lame excuse, and we both know it. I sneak a peak at him, and look away just as quickly. Why am I so scared of this? It's not like he's going to cheat on me or anything...

That's what it is. I'm scared that this is just something that is happening because there's no other choice. It's just the two of us and so we're expected to get together, and so we get together. I'm scared that it means more to me than to him.

"Regulations don't count, Carter." He says softly. I glance up at him.

"How can you say that? How can you just say we're never going home?" I spit at him, taking out my anger on him. It's wrong, I know it's wrong, but I'm too emtional now to care anymore.

"Look around you. I don't exactly see a Stargate just lying around, and I think Captain Kirk is going to take a little too long to get to *this* galaxy." He snaps sarcastically.

"Actually, Sir, we're still in the same galaxy..." I trail off. He's looking at me with a look of complete amazement and relief on his face.

"You're incredible." He tells me, his lips curving up into a smile.

"Pardon?" I blink. Did he just say that? Did he *really* call me, Samantha Carter, incredible?

"You're incredible." He whispers suddenly, his eyes darkening as his finger traces a path down my cheek. It's as if that one little action wipes away the fears and the doubts.

"So now what?" I whisper swallowing roughly.

"We kiss each other till we fall down on our sleeping bags and make wild and passionate love until we both die." He grins at me, and once again my traiterous cheeks light up the atmosphere.

"As nice as that sounds..." I can't believe I just said that, "I'm sure Catherine, Ernest and Teal'c will have a few problems with that."

"It was her idea." He smiles again, and we just stand there, staring stupidly at each other.

"I..." I lick my lips, the doubts and fears suddenly making a terrific reappearance.

"I was joking, Sam." He smiles at me, not making another move to touch me.

"I know... it's just... Slow. We should take things slow..." I take a deep shuddering breath.

"Slow." He nods slightly reluctantly.

"Thank you." The words are soft, slipping out of my mouth and burying themselves in his jumper as he pulls me against him in a hug. "Thank you." My fingers clutch at him, holding him tightly against me and just savouring him in a way I wouldn't let myself do before.

"We should go back now." He whispers, pressing his cheek down against my hair.

"We should." I agree. We peel ourselves off each other and I smile at him shyly. We've done it. We've taken a hold of this 'relationship' and moved it out of the floating, unsure category between friends and lovers and put it in the lovers box. Strangely enough, I'm not surprised. Now that we've done that, it feels right, as if everything had been building up to this moment.

"C'mon Carter." He links his fingers through mine, our palms touching and walks slowly back to the cave with me. Slow. We're going to take everything nice and slow.


~Twenty One~


" know what they say." Mason shrugs slightly, dismissing Bester's comment as irrelevant.

"Actually..." Jackson interupts, his face wearing the earnest expression it gets when he's dying to point out someone's error, "If you are right, Alan, then we should be able to use those things and..." He stops abruptly, the colour draining from his face as he glances forwards.

Seeing him frozen like that, completely stunned, I also look ahead.

I've seen enough and heard enough about them to know who I'm looking at, to recognise the strangely familiar face in front of me.

"Jack..." Jackson whispers, his voice strangled and gasping, as though he's had his wind knocked out of him.

"Daniel, good to see you." Another man chimes in, pushing past Colonel O'Neill and facing all of us squarely.

"Kawalsky..." Jackson breathes, still completely stunned.

"Uh, yeah. I take it I'm dead in this reality..." He looks slightly pertubed, as though it's an uncomfortable concept to take hold of.

"Ye-es..." Jackson visibly calms himself, unable to tear his eyes away from O'Neill's counterpart. "I'm sorry...but I don't understand..."

"What's there to understand?" O'Neill demands bitterly, glaring briefly at me before focusing his dull eyes on Jackson again.

"Well...considering the fact that you're not supposed to be here..." Mason insterts suddenly.

"Who are you?" O'Neill turns to me.

"Major Paul Thomas, Commanding officer of SG-1..."

"What?" O'Neill blinks. "Where's Sam?" he demands, his eyes searching around the room.

"Uh...well...." Jackson hesitates, and O'Neill understands the hesitation.

"I...I think we should probably go and get General Hammond?" Mason suggests hesitantly. I can see the awe in his eyes as he looks up at the man who has such a hero status in this reality.

"Sure." O'Neill turns and marches off, not even waiting for direction or instruction.

"Kawalsky...what's going on?" Jackson turns to the man next to him, falling in step with O'Neill.

"Well... in our reality the Goa'uld just attacked. Blasted the hell out of us from orbit... destroyed most of the world... that kind of thing."

"So... " I wait for more explanation.

"We came to find help. Dr. Jackson travelled through the Quantum mirror once and found help...we figured we might as well do it again."

"Where is your Dr. Jackson?" Mason blurts out.

"He...he didn't make it." Kawalsky swallows roughly, focusing his eyes on O'Neill's back with a strange concern. "And neither did the Doc."

"Doctor Fraiser?" I frown, slightly surprised.

"No. Dr. Sam...O'Neill, Carter... whatever." He shrugs, swallowing again.

"You mean Sam as in Samantha Carter?" I ask slowly.

"Uh...sort of. She married the Colonel... surname's O'Neill now." Kawalsky admits.

"Oh..." Jackson rubs at his face. "And Jack..."

"You can ask me yourself, you know." The man's voice is bitter, his stride doesn't break once and he never turns his head towards us as he speaks the harsh words. "Just because my wife died..." I hear a catch in his voice. Wife. Married. O'Neill and Carter were...married?

"You mean to say that Sam and Jack were married?" Jackson re-iterates.

"Of course we were married, what else did he say?" O'Neill spins around, anger and grief glaring out of his dead brown eyes as he studies Jackson.

"'s just... Sam and Jack in this reality are both military..."

"Sam? Military?" He snorts slightly, a bitter laugh. "Hell no. She couldn't get her head out of her science books long enough to be bothered with all that training and to have all those regulations in her way." He shakes his head.

"Uh...she was." Mason says hesitantly.

"Was?" O'Neill snaps, glancing accusingly at Mason.

"Yeah... She... well... SG-1 was lost back on P3X 972..." I trail off. Neither man seem to recognise the place I'm mentioning.

"Did you guys find Catherine's fiance?" Jackson asks, a catch on his voice.


"And you all made it back?"

"Just in the nick of time." Kawalsky nods as we start to walk again.

"Not in this reality." I murmur softly, earning myself a death glare from both Jackson and O'Neill.

"I'm the only one who came back." Jackson whispers, closing his eyes.

"So me and Sam..." O'Neill closes his eyes tightly before opening them again, nothing showing on his face as he heads up the flight of stairs next to me.

"General..." General Hammond turns around and catches sight of us, his mouth dropping open in its usual gesture of shock when faced with something extraordinary.

"Jack..." He gasps.

"Don't forget me." Kawalsky smiles weakly, resting a comforting hand on O'Neill's shoulder.

"Sir...we need your help." O'Neill shrugs the hand off and stares straight into Hammond's eyes.

"Let's go talk in the briefing room." Hammond's eyes are still goggling, but at least his vocal skills seem to be functioning somewhat normally again.


"Would somebody be so kind as to tell me just what exactly is going on here?" I demand, my voice filled with disbelief and amazement.

"Uh...we believe that Jack, *this* Jack and Kawalsky are from another reality, General." Dr. Jackson explains, his eyes still glued to O'Neill's hunched form. "Uh...they came through the quantum mirror..."

"We don't use those." I remind him.

"We did." Kawalsky inserts. I feel a tug of affection as he grins at me, the same cocky tilt to his head still present and the fierce loyalty towards O'Neill still present in his eyes. "The Goa'uld attacked our world, Sir, and we don't have any form of defence left..."

"So what exactly do you want us to do?" Major Thomas inserts, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. I can understand his concern. If this Kawalsky and O'Neill decided to stay here then we would more than likely accept them, which means that Thomas stands the chance of losing his command to O'Neill.

"Well...we were wondering if we could compare notes with you." Kawalsky continues after throwing a glance in the direction of a decidedly quiet O'Neill. "The Goa'uld seem more intent on conquering our world than destroying it. Maybe you have some allies or friends that could help us out..." He looks at me hopefully.

"What about the Asguard?" Dr. Jackson frowns slightly. "Didn't they try to arrange a treaty with the Goa'uld?"

"The Asguard?" Kawalsky frowns slightly.

"Thor's race?" Mason asks, confused.

"Uh...we haven't actually met them yet, obviously." Kawalsky turns back to me, hope on his face. "I take it the Asguard can help us?"

"Well..." I hesitate. "I can't tell you that son, our 'realities' are all different..."

"What about an address? That way we can at least try to contact *something*" Kawalsky begs, desperation surfacing in his eyes. I can't help but feel concern for O'Neill who's still brooding in the corner, not even looking as though he's paying attention to the conversation.

"We don't actually have an address for the Asguard..." I admit somewhat reluctantly. "They choose when and where to contact us..."

"Oh." Kawalsky sighs, rubbing his face with his hands. "Look, General, we could *really* do with some help..."

"I know that, son." I say gently. I can understand that, the Goa'uld are nearly unstoppable. "I think that for now though, you should both head down to the infirmary and let Dr. Fraiser have a good look at you." I turn towards O'Neill who is staring down at his hand, turning what looks suspiciously like a wedding ring with an agitated motion.

"Yes Sir." Kawalsky stands up slowly, glancing over at O'Neill with a resigned expression on his face. "Jack?" He frowns. "Jack, you coming?"

"Sure." O'Neill stands up stiltedly and follows the party out of the briefing room, still staring down at his hand with a bewildered expression on his face. I don't think I've ever seen him looking so vulnerable.


"Janet..." Daniel's voice sounds slightly tense and awkward.

"Just a minute..." I finish the notes on my piece of paper hurriedly, skimming the necessary information and mentally reminding myself to check this in more detail later on. "What have you done this..." I freeze. "Colonel?"

He looks up at me, completely lost.

"Janet." He swallows roughly and takes a shuddering breath, composing himself.

"Hey, doc!" A suspiciously familiar voice assails my senses.

"Kawalsky?" Now I'm just plain stumped. Back. Jack could possibly come back. Kawalsky *can't* come back. He died. I *saw* him die. I saw his body. He *can't* come back. But he's here...he's standing in front of me...grinning... as if nothing's changed.

"In the flesh." He grins and winces slightly. "Though the flesh is a bit sore..."

Immediately the 'doctor' part of my personality pushes the 'Janet' part out of the way and shoulders forwards to inspect the cause of his wince.

"What happened to you?" My question has more than one meaning, we all know it, but the most literal meaning is the only one that Kawalsky can answer.

"Staff blast. The Goa'uld are everywhere." He grimaces, pulling his shirt up and letting me have a look at a dressing on his side. "You - well you sort of - already patched it up but you weren't happy with it..."

"I'm still not happy with it." I frown. Me? What? Is he on something? Is there an adverse reaction from this staff blast? Infection maybe? "What about you, Colonel?" I glance over at O'Neill who's still staring numbly in my direction.

"She's gone." He whispers, his mouth barely moving as his eyes rise up slowly to meet mine. "She's gone, Janet." His shoulders slump and he sinks onto a chair behind him.

Gone? Who's gone? Where did he come from?

"Could somebody please explain what's going on?" I demand impatiently, gently ripping Kawalsky's dressing off and glimpsing the angry wound underneath.

"They're from another reality, Janet." Daniel whispers, coming up close and casting a worried look in the Colonel's direction.

"Another reality?" I frown slightly, remembering Alex's so called trip to another dimension that ended up saving our planet.

"Yeah." He looks down at his hands quickly and frowns up at me, confused. "He was married to her, Janet." He frowns slightly.

"Who was married to who?" I flinch along with Kawalsky as the dressing sticks tightly to the wound.

"Jack and Sam... " He pauses again. Jack and Sam, married?

"It's against regulations." I frown slightly.

"Not if she's not military." He points out, frowning. "Did you know they felt like that about each other?" He demands suddenly.

"What? NO!" I shake my head vehemently. "I thought that the Colonel and Sara..." I stop. Sam and Jack?

"For crying out loud, I am *right* here. Would you all quit talking about me as though I can't speak for myself?" The Colonel snaps, and I feel a flood of guilt wash over me. Okay, so maybe it wasn't sensitive or particularly polite, but to be hit with O'Neill and Kawalsky (both alive but actually thought of as dead) and the knowledge that Sam and Jack were *married* makes me feel a bit... strange.

"Sorry Jack." Daniel whispers, glancing warily at the man in question behind me. "It's just... I haven't seen you for nearly two years and you're standing in front of me telling me that you're married to Sam. The last I heard you two were just friends, comrades and colleagues."

"Behind the times." I can feel the Colonel glaring at me. "How is he, Doc?"

"He should be fine. It's only a superficial wound, but if he doesn't look after it, it *will* get infected and turn even nastier." I warn Kawalsky who is busy studying us all with a strange look.

"Uh... Dr. Fraiser?" Major Thomas pokes his head around the corner, looking warily at us all in the infirmary. No doubt he feels like a third wheel because we all know - knew - the Colonel and Kawalsky... he didn't.

"What is it, Major?" The Colonel snaps.

"General Hammond has ordered that... Colonel O'Neill and Major Kawalsky be shown to VIP quarters for the night."

I hear the Colonel getting to his feet behind me, the chair squeaking its protest as the change in weight once again.

"We don't *need* to have VIP rooms because we're not staying." He says with finality, heading towards the door with his determined stride.

"General Hammond wants to help, Sir, he's asked that you stay until we can think of something." Thomas says hesitantly. I can see his respect and wariness for O'Neill in the way that he seems to cower before the shorter man.

"We can't afford to wait." O'Neill snaps, glaring at Thomas. What's happened to him? Sure, the man I knew was hard and bitter, but not this arrogant or quick to lash out at others. He *knows* that Thomas is wary of him; unsure, and he's taking advantage of it.

"Colonel, with all due respect, Sir, I think General Hammond's right." Kawalsky says softly, his hesitation obvious in the way his eyes are searching the Colonel's back, begging him to turn around and agree.

"Why?" O'Neill spins around, his eyes pinning Kawalsky to the floor.

"Going back isn't going to help anything or anyone, Sir." Kawalsky hesitates, biting on his lip. "It's not going to bring her back, Jack." He says softly.

"I know that." O'Neill's eyes darken in anger. "They will pay for the rest of their lives..." He spits out venemously, grief making an appearance. "But if they can't help us here then we *have* to go back."

"We never said we can't help you, Jack." Daniel inserts quietly, a slight amazement on his face. It's as if Daniel has suddenly realised something about Jack O'Neill, and he can't believe that he didn't know it before.

"We can't wait all year, Daniel." The Colonel's shoulders slump again and he takes a step towards Thomas. "We'll stay, Charlie, another 24 hours and then we leave, help or no help." He states before pushing past Thomas and heading out towards the hallway.


"What is it, Daniel?" Jack's voice sounds tired through the doorway.

"How did you know it was me?" I ask, pushing the door open and slipping inside hesitantly.

"Your knock." He shrugs simply, looking down at the piece of paper clutched in his hands.

"Oh." I look around the room quickly, taking in the plush decor and quality furnitures. The Airforce sure knows how to spend money on its VIPs.

"So... you here to 'talk' are you?" He sighs, still not looking up at me.

"Well... no." I shake my head. "Okay... maybe." I relent. He knows me too well. I barely know him like that. Then again, in his world he's probably had close to two and a half years knowing me, not even counting the Abydos mission. "I brought beer." I motion to the beverages clutched tightly in my hand and place them tentatively on the wooden table.

There's silence as I watch the air condense on the cold bottles and slowly sink down onto the table top, probably ruining the woodwork.

"What do you want to know?" Jack asks eventually, breaking the silence. He never was a big fan on silences.

"Why?" I frown slightly, studying him as he still looks down at the piece of paper in his hands.

"Why what?"

"Why come here?" I change the question. I can't ask him what I wanted to ask him. It's not fair of me to ask something like that.

"Where else was there to go?" He laughs bitterly, looking up at me. He's only got a small lamp lit, the room is dark and dim with a glow settling over everything. At this moment in time I realise just how little I know about him, the Jack O'Neill in *my* reality. And now it's too late to find out more.

"Why did you marry her?" I blurt the question out, the words burning in my ears as the sound waves travel around the room, seeming to bounce strangely off the walls, condemning me.

"I loved her." He sounds completely surprised that I asked that question. "How could you ask me that?" His voice is rough with pain. "God, I loved her." He closes his eyes, his hands fisting tightly over the paper in his hands.

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have asked that." I lick my lips. I should leave now. I should go before I say something else. But... but I can't. "How...?"

"I don't know." He looks down at the paper. I recognise the glossy glint as a photo. "She carried this around with her." He smiles slightly, just a slight tugging of his lips. "She... " He stops, regaining control of his voice as he struggles to get the words out. "The memories..." He whispers, looking back up at me. All the time I've known - knew - Jack, I never saw him looking like that. I never saw such pain in his eyes, not even when the Energy imitated his son...

"She was good for you." I know that. Despite Jack's hardness, the bitterness that's present in him, I can see signs of a softening in him. The emotion he's displaying, the relative ease with which he's speaking to me.

"Yeah. She was." He nods slightly.

"How did she die?" I whisper. I'm disgusting. She - Sam - probably didn't even die a day ago and here I am wanting to know the gory details. But I can't help it. There's a horrified fasincation in me that makes me want to know more, to make me *want* to 'experience' the love they felt for each other. I don't know why. Maybe MacKenzie will tell me it's because I still feel guilty for being the only survivor, wanting to imagine them as being happy together so I alleviate my guilt. I don't know why I want to know, but it's a burning need inside me and despite the harshness of my questions I *have* to ask them.

He looks up at me, his eyes suddenly dull. "They'd been attacking for days." All emotion is gone from his voice, his tale is being told from a detatched point of view, a numbness creeping into him. "They were going to get to the SGC eventually... they'd gotten in everywhere else." He rubs at his face tiredly.

"We tried to defend retain our hold over the Stargate so we could continue pumping personnel out of there..." He stops again. "She was supposed to go through. I *told* her to go through, damn it." He jumps up, throwing his chair over in anger. "She didn't. She wouldn't go without me." He walks over to the wall and kicks it. "Why? Why Daniel? Why wouldn't she go when I told her to?" He asks brokenly, sliding down next to the wall and crouching there, the photo lying in a crumpled heap on the ground.

"I don't know." I whisper, closing my eyes. Stop. Please stop. I don't want to see your grief, I don't want to have to live with another loss. But it's my fault. I asked him to tell me, I *wanted* him to tell me.

"They got in eventually." He says, his eyes focused dully on the wall opposite him, remembering another universe and another time. "General Hammond ordered us to fall back... to go through the gate. She was dialling us out... the last group of personnel still alive... we met up with her in the control room and we heading down to the gateroom when they broke through. We opened fire on them... " He hesistates, swallowing back a sob. "It's my fault. She took the shot meant for me...jumped right in the way..." He balls his fists and scrunches his face up. I recognise that gesture... he decides which mask he'll place over his face once he's got his emotions reigned in.

"They put us in a storeroom..." He continues, his breathing ragged as he recounts his tale. "Janet... she could have saved her... but they wouldn't let her use medical supplies..." He rocks himself slightly. "God, Daniel, we could have saved her but those bastards..." He knocks his elbow roughly into the wall, not even flinching as the wall doesn't move. "She died... in my arms..." He's crying now, crying openly. I've *never* seen him crying openly before, never seen him this completely lost and desolate. "Just gone... she smiled and then she was gone... " His body is wracked with sobs, but I don't hear them, I just see him shaking with grief and the tears glistening in the dark as they trail down his cheeks.

What can I say to that? What can I do?


I understand his grief, but telling him that won't help him. It won't help me either.

I copy his motions and allow myself to slide down the wall, cradling my head in my arms as the guilt and grief try to drown me again.

Why? Why can't life be a 'happily ever after'?


The man across from me is a hero. A legend returned from the dead, nearly literally.

"Thank you, General." His eyes are ringed and his face is pale, grief and anger present beneath every movement.

"We can't guarantee anything though, remember that Jack." General Hammond reminds him.

"Yes Sir. Thank you." O'Neill nods again and looks around at us all. "Thank you all." His gaze lingers on Dr. Jackson, a sorrowed expression filled with resignation and acceptance.

"Very well, dismissed. Major, you and... Jack?" General Hammond jumps forwards as O'Neill suddenly collapses in a spasm of pain, his body jerking with convulsions as it crashes to the ground.

"Medical Emergency in the Briefing room." Thomas is immediately at the emergency button thingy and Dr. Jackson is huddled over Colonel O'Neill with Kawalsky and the General as they try to stop him from hurting himself.

Bester and I stand looking at each other helplessly, feeling decidedly awkward and out of place as O'Neill lies spasming on the floor.

"What...the *wrong* with... me?" He gasps his hands grasping Kawalsky and Jackson's forearms.

"I'm nor sure but I think it could be Temporal Entropic Cascade Failure." Bester announces, sounding slightly strangled as he goggles down at O'Neill.

"What failure?" O'Neill wheezes pulling himself into a sitting position and breathing heavily as the sweat drips from him.

"Well... physicists have theorised that..."

"Can it." O'Neill snaps, momentary grief showing in a pained expression on his face. "What is wrong with me?"

"It's theoretical...but... the alternate realities theory says that two of the same beings can't be in the same reality at the same time..."

"He's not though. The Colonel O'Neill of this reality is dead." General Hammond frowns.

"Is he?" I ask, shock shooting through me.

"What do you mean, 'is he'?" O'Neill wheezes again, tensing as another wash of pain rushes over him. "I'm either dead or not."

Daniel cocks his head in surprise. "Well... if the O'Neill of this reality is dead then you shouldn't be affected..." Bester admits as everyone suddenly turns to stare at him.

"You mean there's a possibility that Jack is alive?" Daniel asks the question suddenly burning in all of our minds.

"Uh... theoretically, yes."

"That would explain why I'm still fine." Kawalsky nods his head thoughtfully, his eyes gazing wonderingly at Bester.

"It's not definite though, is it?" O'Neill grunts through clenched teeth, his back arching as the pain races over him again. I can see his muscle contractions from this far away.

"No." Bester shakes his head. "But highly possible."

"So what, you're saying that Jack's still alive then?" Daniel demands again, desperation on his face as he stares at him intently.

"No, I'm not saying that." He shakes his head again, stepping backwards. "I'm saying it's a possibility, that's all."

"It's always been a possiblity." Thomas speaks up softly for the first time, his eyes resting on O'Neill's trembling form. "It's a possiblity that they're all alive. We simply don't know."

"So what do you suggest we do?" Daniel turns to the others.

"Well....the Colonel can't stay here, he'll die if these things continue."

"Just when were they planning on warning us that parrallel universe travel is hazardous to your health?" O'Neill grunts in response, eliciting a small smile from Jackson, albeit a tense one.

"Well, this changes things people." General Hammond speaks up. "Colonel, which of the people in this room are still alive in your universe?"

"Uh...I don't know Sir. The only ones I know for a fact are dead are Daniel and Sam." O'Neill's face contorts in a spasm of pain that has nothing to do with the physical agony he is suffering.

"So only Dr. Jackson can accompany you to your universe to help you find the Asguard." General Hammond states logically.

"Yes Sir." Kawalsky agrees, glancing at O'Neill still convulsing on the floor. "With all due respect, Sir, we'd better get going."

"Yes. Dismissed." General Hammond looks around at us, his eyes focusing on Bester. "Dr. Bester, you'd better let Kawalsky show you how the Quantum mirror works so that you can help bring Dr. Jackson back if the need arises.

"Yes Sir." Bester nods. He's not military, but the General does demand a certain amount of respect.

~Twenty Two~


The days have now settled into a routine which Dr. Langford went so far as to describe 'idyllic'. I myself would not call the days idyllic, but pleasant instead. During the early hours of each morning O'Neill and I hunt, sometimes with the aide of either Captain Carter or Ernest. The others collect fruits during this time, work with the many pelts we have gathered and attempt to create a more comfortable living environment. Afternoons are always spent curing food, relaxing and spending one's time as one pleases.

Most often Dr. Langford and Ernest take a walk along the beach and collect shells, Captain Carter plays with her bird which has now grown into a larger bird of strange colourings, and O'Neill does whatever task has taken his attention. I myself sharpen our spears, engage in Kel'no'reem or assist with the gathering of firewood.

Evenings are usually always spent together when we have our meals and engage in conversation until we retire for the night, O'Neill and Captain Carter still sharing their sleeping bag.

Both Dr. Langford and Ernest have ceased to comment about Captain Carter and O'Neill's 'relationship'. We are all aware that things have changed since the Christmas storms, for the better perhaps. Neither one has spoken about what occurred between them outside that evening, and none of us will ask them as it is none of our concern.

We have, however, noticed that they are closer. Often O'Neill will sit and 'massage' Captain Carter's hand, claiming that it helps keep her muscles strong. She, in turn, often massages his neck for him. They are shy in their new relationship, I have noticed. Nothing overt is said or done, but the manner in which they are constantly together and holding hands speaks far more than their words ever would.

Perhaps in time they will feel comfortable enough with their relationship, so much so that they won't feel it necessary to be so cautious around the remainder of us. We are all pleased for them, they have been through much and deserve the happiness they can bring each other.

It does, however, remind me of my own wife and my longing for her. When I see them smiling at each other or watch O'Neill brush Captain Carter's hair for her, I feel the sorrow and longing that I have for a long time now been able to hide.

The sun glints off the rocks around us and the grasses glow a rich green colour. With her bird settled on the shoulder of her bad arm and her 'working' hand comfortably clasped in O'Neill's, Captain Carter smiles over at me.

"Teal'c, we're going for a walk, okay?" She asks, studying me with her large eyes. There is excitement in her eyes, an eagerness to attend this walk, and this arouses my curiousity.

I incline my head; it is not up to me to tell them they are not to go for walks.

"Tell Catherine and Ernest if they're looking for us." O'Neill adds before pulling Captain Carter along with him and down a pathway.

I am very curious now, something is going to happen with O'Neill and Captain Carter, and the smile forming on my lips as they disappear out of sight can only mean that the results will be good.


Strolling along the now worn pathway with the Colonel's hand holding tightly onto mine and my bird awkwardly preening himself on my other shoulder, a ridiculous sense of peace and well being suddenly flows over me. Contentedness.

"What do you think Catherine will say?" He asks suddenly, grinning down at me as we continue our walk.

"Pardon?" I'm confused. What will Catherine say about what?

"Us going off alone on a walk." He raises his eyebrows suggestively.

"She's a dirty old woman, Colonel, go figure." I tell him promptly, earning a chuckle as he tugs me against him slightly so that our shoulders knock. Bird squeaks his protest as his balance is upset and his little foot digs itself into my hair to regain his balance. "Ow!" I flinch, trying to pull his foot out of my hair.

"Here." The Colonel chuckles slightly and deftly untangles Bird from my hair. Since Christmas, a few weeks ago, things have changed. Mainly with me, but with the others too. Ernest and Catherine seem far more relaxed and happy with each other, even going so far as to take walks alone on the beach and reminisce.

With myself it's different. I'm happier. I'm much happier because it finally got through my thick skull that I'm not going home, to earth, and that the people I've been stranded here with are the best possible people to have been stranded with. I'm happy now, even looking after Bird. He's grown up into quite a large bird now, and looks very cocky and full of himself as he sits on the Colonel's shoulder, his odd purple and yellow colours bright against the surrounding greens and browns.

"You are a naughty Bird." I tell him, tapping his beak affectionately. He squawks knowingly and cuddles his head behind the Colonel's ear. He'll start flying soon, we're sure of that, but for now he's happy to ride along on our shoulders and hands. Everyone's, that is, except Catherine. For some strange reason, Bird can't stand Catherine. He nips and niggles at her with every opportunity that presents itself and has developed a habit of chuckling *just* like the Colonel when he's up to mischief. Despite my earlier reluctance and dislike for Bird, I can't imagine life without my crazy pet.

"You should be teaching him better manners." The Colonel states, reaching behind my head and pulling the leather tie loose.

"What did you do that for?" I frown slightly as the greasy, limp locks fall free and hang like a wet rag around my head. I *hate* the feel of my hair, all greasy and yuck. For some reason it feels better when it's tied up, and now him having untied it I'm just reminded of our lack of toiletries and comforts.

"He made it messy. Turn around and I'll tie it up again." He whispers, but his eyes are focused intently on me, his hands framing my face as his thumbs trace my lips. My body tingles expectantly as he gazes at me, a half smile playing around his lips.

Kiss. We're going to kiss. It's inevitable, not a hope or a fantasy on my behalf, we are definitely going to kiss. We've been waiting for this since Christmas, stealing glances at each other, holding hands, giving teasing caresses at night when we're supposed to be sleeping... but we haven't kissed yet.

Time does that funny thing again where it seems to take a year for a second to pass, and a second for a year to pass as the world around us just seems to fade away. All I'm aware of is the gentleness of his hands on my face and the closeness of his body as we suddenly press up against each other.

"You are so beautiful." He whispers, letting his hand trail down my neck. Slow. We're taking it slowly, savouring every second as it passes, taking simple pleasure in the waiting. My hand finds its way to his neck, letting my fingers tangle in the straggly bits of hair that are screaming out for a trim again and feeling the stubble on his cheeks rub against my palm.

I smile at him hesitantly, our faces slowly moving together. A feather width apart, I can almost feel his lips on mine as his breath brushes against me gently...oh...

I blink, jerking in shock. Blindly we stumble out of each other's grasp, and I claw frantically at my eyes. What the hell *was* that?

I look around and stiffen in shock, meetings his eyes with a mutual stunned expression. Where the hell are we?

"Sam!" Catherine's voice rings out, relief evident as she appears from no where and flings her arms around me, hugging me tightly. "Jack...oh...what happened?" She demands, regaining her control and looking around with a fearful expression on her face.

"I do not believe that we are on the planet any longer." Teal'c suddenly inserts. I realise we're all here - Teal'c, Catherine, Ernest, the Colonel and myself, even Bird is squawking away disgustedly on the Colonel's shoulder.

I look out of the 'window' that Teal'c is standing in front of, and gasp in amazement. A planet. There is a *planet* below us... where the hell are we?

A weird noise fills the air, making me for some absurd reason think of crystals, and another, smaller but no less brighter flash fills the air.

"Greetings." A very etheral sounding voice emerges from the small grey...*thing* seated on a chair that appeared from no where.

"Uh... Greetings?" The Colonel responds, grabbing a hold of my hand and pulling me closely behind him. Once upon a time I would have resented his protectiveness, his chauvinistic macho attitude of keeping woman and children out of danger, but now I'm thankful for it. My arm is ruined, useless, and my self confidence in my own abilities has slipped. He's my protector now, and for that among other things, I love him.

"You are O'Neill." The little person thing continues, his huge eyes seeming to gaze around the room.

"Yeah..." the Colonel is slightly unsure about this, squeezing my hand as much for his own sake as for mine. He would never have been this hesitant before, but years out of action and not being faced with inconceivable dangers leaves a person rusty, unaccustomed to dealing with situations like this. "And you are...?"

"I am Thor." The alien introduces himself.

"He looks like a Roswell Grey." Catherine pipes up, amazement on her voice suddenly.

"Must have been some ground to those rumours then." I agree, studying the alien closely.

"You are Captain Carter?" He blinks, looking at me with what I can only describe as a bewildered and naive expression. Strangely enough, I don't think that he really *is* bewildered or naive, there is a wiseness in his eyes that contradicts the innocence of his expression.

"Yeah." I nod, stepping forwards so that I'm still slightly behind the Colonel, but more next to him now.

"Welcome aboard the Belliskner. I have been asked to return you to your home planet." He explains, looking around the room again.

"You have?" The Colonel asks hesitantly, his voice calculating.

"Yes. When Dr. Jackson realised that there was a possibility you may still be alive..."

"Daniel? You've heard from Daniel?" I squeal, excitement coursing through me suddenly. Home. Could we *possibly* be going home? I feel the Colonel's back straighten and a sudden energy surge go through him as his hand tightens briefly on mine again.

"Yes." Thor nods his head. "Feel free to go anywhere you wish on board the Belliskner, the journey will not take long." He states before a light starts glowing around him again.

"Thank you!" The Colonel calls after him as he disappears with another flash.

We stand in a stunned silence after he's departed, gazing around at each other with a horrified fascination.

"We're going home." Ernest whispers, his eyes wide as he looks at Catherine. "We're really going home." And he falls into her arms, hugging her close as sobs suddenly wrack through his body.

A dream. The last two and a half years suddenly fade in the excitement of the prospect of going home. They pale to a dream, half memories that just float around in my mind as part of a nightmare that I'm in the process of waking up from. Home.

"Well...that was...unexpected." The Colonel murmurs, still clutching at my hand.

Home. Regulations. I look down at our hands still linked together tightly. Home means none of this. None of this hand holding because we can't have each other... Yes we can! My arm. My stupid arm that's still useless and most likely always will be useless is dangling limply nex to my side. I can't be in the military with a wrecked arm.

A tide of anger and regret washes over me then and there. It's not fair. My career, my life, ruined. The bitterness rises to my mouth and I taste a foul taste that has nothing to do with not having had the best oral hygiene for the last couple of years.

"You okay?" He whispers, reaching over to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear.

No. No I'm not okay. Is this some sort of a sick joke? Just when I've resigned myself to spending an eternity on that damn planet with only four other humans - well, three humans and a Jaffa - and a dumb parrot for company, some little grey alien called 'Thor' comes along, whisks us up into his ship *just* before I can get the kiss I've been waiting for for so long now and once again pulls the intergalactic rug up from under my feet. Of course I'm not okay.

"I'm fine." I smile slightly, letting my fingers slide out of his hand and stepping backwards. "We're going home." I whisper the words, looking at him in amazement, memorising the lines of his face and the care in his eye as he studies me.

"Nothing has to change, Sam." He reminds me, not taking a step towards me.

"I know that." I shudder slightly and wrap my good arm around myself, stepping even further away from him. What am I doing? I'm running again. Why?

"O'Neill, perhaps we should explore the ship." Teal'c suggests, breaking the strained silence that has suddenly fallen over us.

"Yeah." He nods and blinks, shattering the spell that had held me gazing into his eyes. "You guys be okay here?" He asks us, his eyes resting on Catherine as though he is unable to trust himself looking at me.

"Sure." Catherine nods, her face also strained and white.

A flutter of panic rises up in me. Will it still be the same? No, no it won't be the same and that fact is scaring the hell out of me.

"Well...don't break anything." The Colonel calls over his shoulder as he follows Teal'c out of the room. Break anything, huh.

I close my eyes slightly and sink to the floor, numbness washing over me.

"Sam? Are you okay?"

Catherine's arms wrap around me, and she rocks me comfortingly.

"I'm fine." I sniff, struggling out of her hold and rising unsteadily to my feet. "I'm going to see if I can find Thor..." I state.

"Are you sure that's wise? Jack did say to stay here..."

"No, he didn't." I shake my head, moving towards the doorway.


"I'll be fine Catherine." I tell her, smiling slightly at the two of them standing in a bewildered little huddle in the middle of the room.

Will we cope with this? Another huge change, another adjustment. Learning to live a life we'd given up on. Right now I'm so scared that I can't even trust myself to think ahead into the next hour, not to mention allowing myself to get my hopes up.

I quickly discover what seems like a main corridor and take a chance following it to the right. My guess pays off as I enter a large room at the end where I see Thor seated on his chair, watching me.

"You were searching for me." He says.

"Uh...yeah." I agree. Why? Why was I looking for him? To find some answers maybe, to ask why now, after all this time, have they come for us. To ask how Daniel is.

"You are injured." He nods towards my arm.

"Uh...yeah. A long time ago." I agree, self consciously rubbing at the withered limb. Thanks to the Colonel's massaging it's not as twisted and withered as it could have been, but it's certainly not going to win any prizes for being a perfect arm.

"How?" Thor asks. His voice is so strange, it has a bell like quality and it just seems to hang in the air.

"Uh...the Stargate fell on it." Okay, so that sounded really dumb.

"Oh." He blinks slightly, still looking bewildered, but I'm sure he understands what I mean. "You have managed to survive for a long time on Kaldroon." He says eventually.

I watch him, measuring his reactions as best as I can. "Nearly two years." I agree softly.

"The Ancients left the world many centuries ago because of the vicious storm cycle." Thor admits, looking down at the panel on his left. "May I look at your arm, Captain Carter?" He gets up slowly. His movements are a strange graceful jerkiness, slow and measured as he approaches me.

"Sure." I agree, slightly confused.

"Would you like me to heal it for you?" He asks, blinking slightly.

Would I like him to heal it for me? What kind of a question is that? Of course I want him to heal it for me. Having my arm healed would mean getting my life back, it would mean still having a career, it would mean having no relationship with the Colonel...

"I..." I look down at the withered limb. For nearly two years this has held me back, giving me unbearable pains and agony, throbbing during the worst storms and sending cold fingers of fire up my arm when I bump it. "Yes." I don't look at my arm as he reaches out and touches it, I focus on the small bubble thing that he has inside his hand. I watch silently as a glow of light springs from it, reminding me strangely enough of a ribbon device. He focuses the glow on my mishappen arm, but I refuse to look down at it. I can feel the continual ache that I've been living with for so long now start to subside, I can feel a tingling in my my fingers and palm as the life slowly comes back to them and I can feel a sudden surge of strength in the limb.

"It is done." He tells me as the glow fades and he steps backwards, away from me. It is done.

I look down at my arm. It's still twisted and shrivelled looking, my fingers still curled over where their tendons have stiffened, but it *feels* better. Experimentally I try to straighten my fingers. They are tight and it pulls painfully as I work the tense muscles, but they move slightly, uncurling themselves ever so slightly before the pain becomes unbearable.

"You will have to regain muscle composition and re-learn your movement." He warns me gently, "I cannot completely heal it."

"But it's fine right? It'll be good as new, won't it?" I ask him, unable to stop smiling. Better. My arm, it's better!

"Perhaps." He shakes his head. "You must understand, Captain Carter, your nerves and the arm itself were very badly damaged. Added to that, it has been so for a very long time. I do not know whether the healing will be effective in the long term."

"You mean there is a possibility that this will 'wear off'?" I ask eventually.

He frowns slightly, determining what I meant. "Yes."

"Oh." I swallow. Cruel. It's so cruel to offer me this chance of being cured and then being warned that it might not be permanent. "I'm going to find the Colonel now, if that's okay with

"It is okay." Thor inclines his head, reminding me a lot of Teal'c, and then I turn around and leave him, clutching my newly healed arm close to my side protectively.


"Colonel!" Carter's voice surprises me and I turn around to face her with curiousity.

"What's wrong?" I ask, examining her excited face.

"I...he healed it! Look!" She dances forwards, holding her left arm with her right and thrusting it towards me. "It's not better yet, but it will be!" She babbles, and I watch as she slowly straightens her fingers a bit and then lets them curl back.

Fear shoots through me. Healed. Her arm is healed. Will she still want me around to help her if her arm is healed? I know a lot of our 'relationship' was based on me helping her and looking after her to a degree, but now that's she's better will it still be the same?

"You don't look happy." She realises, and I can see her own doubt in her eyes.

"No, I'm happy for you. Really." I tell her honestly, gently taking her stiff hand into my own and bringing it to my lips in a gentle kiss. "It's just..."

Her fingers uncurl slightly and brush against my lips. Losing her. I'm losing her now, before I even really had her. I meet her eyes with surprise to see a tear slowly running down her cheek. She knows. She knows that things will change again between us, that we'll have to go back to the CO, 2IC relationship we had before all this started.

"I'm sorry." She whispers, curling her fingers between mine. "I'm so sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry about." I remind her gently, reaching for and taking her other hand.

"I had a choice. I chose..." She stops, looking down at the floor. She chose her life, her career and her arm over me. A stab of pain shoots through me.

"It's okay." I swallow roughly, willing her to look up at me. "I... I knew it was to good to be true." I admit eventually. That's the truth. How long would the relationship have lasted? Realistically, not long. Carter is too independant to be happy in a relationship where she depends on someone as much as she depended on me during the last two years, and as much as I loved helping her at first and coddling her, I know that'd I'd get sick of it myself because she'd get sick of me helping her all the time. No. It's better this way.

"So... now what?" She licks her lips as her eyes move up to meet mine.

"We say goodbye." I whisper hoarsely, pulling her against me and wrapping my arms around her tightly. Her cheeks are damp with tears, the warm moisture hot on my skin. I kiss her temple, her cheek, her nose, her skin soft and warm against my lips, and then I just hold her, our foreheads and noses touching, our lips still only a feather width apart, just like they'll always have to be.

She closes her eyes and cradles my cheek with her hand, still resting her bad arm between us like she used to when I gave her a hug.

"I love you." I whisper, placing a small kiss on her cheek, nearly touching her mouth.

"I love you too." She sniffs, moving her head and looking up at me, the tears still escaping. Her skin is so soft beneath my thumbs as they brush the tears away, her breaths coming in small shudders speaking of her sorrow.

I lean down and kiss her, allowing myself to dream for a minute as she responds to my kiss, her hand moving to the back of my neck and holding me against her as our lips touch ever so lightly. Tentatively I pull back without breaking the contact and then let her draw me back into the kiss. We stand like that for a minute, each afraid to let the kiss get deeper than a light lip touching, but both reluctant to end it, until a surprised noise at a doorway startles us and shatters the moment.

We don't look at the intruder who finally ended what couldn't and shouldn't have been, instead we just stand there, holding each other, and I savour the feel of her in my arms and of being in her arms, of having her breath warming my neck and the soothing, familiar pattern of her hands tracing my spine.

For the first time I wish we could have stayed on that planet just a bit longer.

~Twenty Three~


The air is so tense it's on the verge of snapping. Daniel's fingers are beating an incessant rythym on the table top and my own fingers are twisted and knotted nervously.

"How much longer still?" Daniel demands, glancing up at the clock.

"I don't know," General Hammond sighs. This must be about the tenth time in five minutes Daniel has asked that question. "Thor had to find them, if they were alive, and then return."

"He might not find them, Daniel." I remind him gently, not able to bring myself to look into his eyes.

"I know." He sighs, burying his head in his hands and knocking his elbows on the table a few times. "I just... it's the waiting." He says at last, looking up at us again.

"We'll know shortly..." General Hammond has barely opened his mouth when the now familiar flash brightens the room and a small group of people are left standing in a huddle off to the one side.

There's a sudden silence as I take in their appearances, my eyes starting to burn suspiciously as something clogs up my throat. "Sam." I whisper, knocking my chair backwards and half running around the table to envelope her in a hug.

She's shaking as she hugs me back, clutching at me tightly, her fingers digging into me through the heavy material of my uniform. "Oh God..." She hiccups, refusing to let go. "I thought..."

"I know." I rock her, ignoring the... smell... and just relieved to be giving my friend a hug again. "I thought we'd never see you again... that you'd died..." My own voice is wobbling as I hold her against me, the tears now making an appearance and spilling over my eyelids.

We let go of each other and I take the time to study her. To study them all as they stand there awkwardly, all looking and feeling very much out of place. They're all thin, too thin for my liking, but other than that they look healthy. Teal'c doesn't look like he's changed much at all, and Catherine looks a bit younger than she did before she left, if that's possible.

"It so good to see you all again." I say eventually, my eyes resting on the Colonel. He looks tired and upset about something.

"Welcome home, SG-1." General Hammond says softly, gazing at them all with wonder in his eyes. "Dr. Littlefield, Dr. Langford, welcome back." He nods at them.

"Thank you." Dr. Littlefield nods his head in acceptance of the welcome and looks around him, his eyes wide as saucers as he takes in the surroundings. I'd forgotten that the last time he'd been on earth there hadn't even been a space program. I wonder how he's going to re-adjust. Looking at them all and their unease, I wonder how all of them will re-adjust.

"I'd like you all down in the infirmary, please." I tell them, breaking the awkward silence that has once again settled over the room. Daniel is gazing at them fearfully, as if he's scared of them and what they'll say to him. They, in turn, are all watching him warily as well, unsure of how to react to the obvious changes they can already see in him. He's not the shy, timid man he used to be. He's a capable soldier now, although he's not military, capable of leading and commanding field units better than a lot of CO's. He's changed. They've all changed and it's going to take a while for everyone to re-learn each other again.

"Oh great, here we go." The Colonel sighs. I catch the look he exchanges with Sam, one filled with longing and a resigned acceptance, and I feel my heart skip a beat. Please don't tell me
that they acted on the absence of regulations. I watch discreetly as he gives her hand a small squeeze before letting it go - I hadn't even realised they'd been holding hands - and steps away from her, leading the way out of the briefing room and down the corridor.

"What do you think?" General Hammond asks softly, his eyes following the little procession down the hallway. It's not what I'd expected. I'd expected a lot more hugging, happiness and cheer than what we'd gotten. I'd expected things to go better, but they'd been awkward and difficult.

"I think it'll be a while before they're settled." I say carefully, my eyes resting on Daniel. "It's been a long time, Sir, for all of us." I remind him.

"I know." He agrees.

"You coming, Daniel?" I ask hesitantly, watching as he doesn't move from his position at the briefing table.

"No." He shakes his head, swallowing. "I... I'm going to work on the translations that SG-8 brought back..." He stands up, his movements slow and jerky. His eyes are wearing that shocked, bewildered expression he wore when SG-1 disappeared for the first time, and when Sha're was killed.

"Daniel..." I frown. No. He shouldn't do that. He should face this now, deal with the changes and get on with life. Ignoring the changes and trying to run from them will ruin his friendship with SG-1.

"They know where I am if they want me." He says stiltedly before heading down the corridor in the opposite direction to the infirmary.

"Dr. Fraiser..." General Hammond looks at me, his eyes searching my own. "There are going to be a lot of difficulties." His drawl is more pronounced than usual, the tension and concern in him drawing it out.

"Yes Sir." I agree. Not just for Daniel and both SG-1's, it's going to be difficult for everyone involved.


The march from the briefing room to the infirmary is one of the longest walks in my life. Each footstep down the long concrete corridor takes me further away from the slow, easy life I'd become used to on Kaldroon, as Thor called it, and back to the hectic, confined pace of Earth's civilzation.

We pass countless officers and airmen in the hallways, and they all stop and stare at our little procession, but mainly gawking at Jack, Sam and Teal'c. One or two people offer a greeting and a smile, a genuine grin of happiness to have them back, but most people just stare with a stunned look on their face and watch wordlessly as we go by.

Instinctively we're all drawing together. Back in the briefing room there had been a wall between us and the other people. Dr. Fraiser had tried to scale those heights and welcome us, but it hadn't worked because neither General Hammond nor Daniel had helped her. It feels as though it's us against them, which is stupid because there is no reason for us to be against each other.

Yet, marching silently down this hallway, clutching tightly at Ernest's hand for my comfort as much as his own, I can't help but feel trapped and enclosed in this confined area. In front of me I see Sam and Jack walking as close together as possible without touching. I feel a painful jerk in me, watching them and remembering that kiss I walked in on. I don't know if they've kissed before - they probably had - but that kiss was bitter-sweet. I could see it on the
expressions of resigned longing on their faces that they were saying goodbye, and it hurts me that they're going to give each other up for their careers.

Sam still walks half behind him, her arm - although basically healed according to her - still cradled protectively by the other one. The way her head keeps darting around and her movements are all jerky and erratic tells me that she's uncomfortable, awkward with this new and sudden change that's happened yet again.

"Well, here we are." Jack sighs, stepping into the infirmary and holding the door open for the rest of us.

I remember this room, with all it's medical equipment and the nurses all in their spotless white uniforms. I remember the general hum of machinery and the clean disinfected smell from my one visit here before our trip through the gate so long ago.

"Oh good, you're all here." Dr. Fraiser walks in the door behind us, her eyes suspiciously red and swollen as she gazes at us. "I'll examine you one by one over there..." She points to a small cubicle that's no doubt already been set up for our examinations. "Who's first?" She looks around for volunteers.

"I will be the first." Teal'c stands up and passes Bird - who'd been riding on his shoulder - over to Sam. I watch with a faint smile as she accepts the fairly ugly looking bird and cuddles him close. Bird gives a satisfied squawk at being passed to his favourite person and rightful owner, and cuddles himself tightly against Sam. Christmas seems like so long ago, a nearly forgotten dream that was an impossibly happy time, even though it was only a few weeks ago.

We sit in silence for a while, Ernest and myself on the two plastic chairs and Jack and Sam perched awkwardly on a hospital bed until Ernest eventually breaks the silence.

"What are those?" He asks, pointing towards a monitor sitting on a desk.

"A computer." Sam answers him absently, her thoughts obviously else where.

"A computer?" Ernest's eyes drop open. "And that?" He points to another machine.

"Some medical thingy." Jack shrugs, watching Sam cuddling Bird.

"Oh." Ernest falls silent again, digesting the information. "And those?" He points towards more machines.

"Don't know." I shrug. "This is Dr. Fraiser's area."

"Oh." He looks around again and then looks up with interest as Teal'c and Dr. Fraiser appear from behind the curtain.

"Clean bill of health once again." She tells us all, looking at us. "Who's going to be next?"

"I'll go." I stand up, deciding to get it over and done with.

"So... how have you been?" Dr. Fraiser asks once I'm settled on the bed, pulling out a sheet of paper and a pen.

"Fine." I shrug. "I had a small cold at one stage, but other than that I've been fine."

"That's good." She nods, in satisfaction. "So... what did you guys do?" She asks, pulling out her torch. "Teal'c tells me you lived in a tree, went on hikes, lived through cyclones..."

"That about covers it." I agree simply.

"What about food?"

"Well... there were fish and fruits and berries and stuff, and then we found this herd of animals which Jack and Teal'c occassionally hunted for... birds and stuff." I shrug, frowning. Listening to me describing it, it sounds almost too easy. "What about you guys?" I ask suddenly. What's been happening in the world while I've been gone?

"Well... uh... a few new models of cars have been created, uh... same old I guess." She shrugs slightly and smiles suddenly. "Oh... don't tell Sam, but I... I have a daughter now." She whispers, excited.

"Oh. Congratulations." I frown slightly. I don't really know this woman and she's telling me about her daughter.

"She's thirteen now..." She continues, smiling happily. "We found her about two years ago on a planet called Hanka that had been wiped out by a Goa'uld." She frowns slightly.

"Oh." My insides flop. The Goa'uld. Despite the classified nature of the information, I had been privy to a lot of it due to my involvement with the Stargate Program from the beginning. "Still around are they?" I ask, licking my lips.

"Yeah." She nods, a shadow crossing her face. "But we've managed to get some good allies now."

"Thor's race?" I hazard a guess.

"Among others." She agrees. "Well, Dr. Langford, as far as I can tell you're fine and up to scratch." She steps back. "I am, however, going to keep all of you in the infirmary over night for observations and after that we'll see."

"So I'm clear to go?"

"Yes." She nods, closing the file she opened before. "I'm going to ask that you stay in the infirmary though, General Hammond wants you all to get cleaned up and have a rest before you go and debrief."

I chuckle slightly. "Gonna be a long debriefing."

"He said something along those lines." She smiles as well and then surprises me by giving me a hug. "It's good to have you all back."

I wish I could say it's good to be back, but I can't. This feels too strange, too foreign. I miss the tree-cave and my closeness with the others already. We haven't even been here for an hour and I'm already feeling it starting to slip away.


"Sam, how about you go next and then you can show Catherine to the shower block, huh?" Janet's voice seems to reach me from far away. I glance up in surprise. My turn already? It doesn't feel real, somehow. It feels so strange, as if I'm watching a movie from a distance.

"Sure." I try to smile tightly and slide gracelessly off the bed, wincing as I absent-mindedly use my bad arm.

"Want to give me Bird?" The Colonel asks, holding his hand out.

"Okay." I don't want to relenquish my Bird, don't want to give up his feathery warmth and comfort in this cold, unfamiliar area. The infirmary. I can't even count the amount of times I've been in here, being prodded and poked by Janet, lying flat on my back in agony or merely visiting someone else in agony, and yet it feels foreign and confining; strange.

Bird seems to sense my reluctance to let him go and digs his feet into my shoulder and his beak into my ear.

"OW!" I squeal as the Colonel tries to detatch him in vain. "Leave him, he's fine." I beg as the sharp little talons dig into even deeper into me.

I can feel them watching me as I make my way behind Janet to the small little cubicle. An irrational burst of fear and apprehension rises up in me as I'm separated from my friends, and I raise a shaking hand up to rub Bird's head for comfort.

"You okay?" Janet frowns slightly. She's changed, gotten older and her hair has gotten longer.

"Fine." I smile tightly, trying to force the tenseness away.

"Don't lie to me, Sam." She frowns slightly, and I can remember that look of pure doctor determination.

"Why would I lie?" I know this routine. She'll try and get me to confide, but I won't. It's not that I want to, I can't. Something inside me won't let others in, won't let me confide and admit things are wrong, I don't know why I'm like that but I've been like that for a long time.

She rolls her eyes, obviously also remembering the routine as I sit myself up on the bed.

"What's wrong with your arm?" She demands, swooping down on it. Bird squawks angrily and lunges down, trying to grab hold of her with his beak. "Whoa!" She jerks back, shocked.

"Bird doesn't like you." I say unecessarily, unable to hide the feeling of relief that Bird will be guarding me.

"I gathered as much." She frowns slightly. She knows I've changed and it's worrying her. "What happened to your arm?"

"Nothing much, the Stargate just fell on it." I shrug slightly. I don't really remember much about that night, other than it hurt so much and I was so scared and cold. I've been scared since then, but I don't know why I'm always scared. I think that's one of the reasons why I let things go as far as they did with the Colonel, because it was when I was around him that I felt that old feeling of security and safeness, and I yearned for that.

"Oh." She blinks, surprised. "It did?"

"I don't really remember it." I explain, massaging the limb in question. "It was quite literally smashed." I add. "Couldn't used it, hurt like hell." I smile a bitter smile.

"And now?" She frowns, watching as I try bending and straightening my fingers.

"Well, the Colonel kept doing this exercise with it, physio he called it." I can't help the fond smile crossing my face as I think about his ministrations. "Thor said they helped a lot, they're one of the reasons why he could actually heal it."

"So Thor healed it for you?" She's studying me now, a look of intense scrutiny present on her features.

"Yeah." I nod. "He said that he couldn't heal it properly, a lot of nerves had been damaged. Janet, do you think it's possible that I'll get the full use of my arm back again?" I ask hopefully, allowing myself to meet her eyes for the first time.

"I don't know until I examine it and I won't be able to examine it unless you get that killer bird off your shoulder."

When he heard his name, Bird immediately started chuckling like the Colonel, drawing an amused smile from Janet.

"I'll hold him here." Gently I remove Bird from my shoulder and wedge him between my hand and leg while Janet gingerly examines my other arm.

"This was a bad break." She says thoughtfully, studying it. I look at my arm. It's still slightly twisted, small little irregularities and dips in it showing where the bones had been smashed and healed, the stiff tendons sticking up in their usual places.

"Oh yeah." I flinch slightly as she pulls on one finger.

"Sorry." She lets go. "I don't know, it is possible if we give it physio and maybe get a specialist to look at the tendons, but I can't promise you anything." She says eventually.

"So there's a possibility that I'll have to resign." I lick my lips.

"Yes." She says softly, and there's a small silence between us.

I look down at Bird who's busy trying to eat through my tattered trousers and nibbling my fingers.

"What's his name?" Janet asks, pointing.

"Bird." I smile, blushing slightly.

"Who came up with that one?" She snorts, starting a normal examination.

"No one really. I couldn't think of a name I liked so everyone just called him 'bird' while we tried to find him a name. Eventually he just became 'Bird'."

"Oh." She smiles again and pulls back, looking at me. "I've missed you." She whispers suddenly, pulling me into another hug.

"I missed you too." I hug her awkwardly with my bad arm, still keeping Bird prisoner with my good arm so he doesn't attack her again.

"Carter!" Bird sqawks suddenly, sounding very much like a disgruntled Colonel did at night when I wouldn't lie still.

"Was that Bird?" The Colonel's voice sounds over my laughter.

"Yeah!" I call back excitedly as once again Bird launches into his Colonel Chuckle.

"Carter!" Bird squawks again, looking very pleased with himself as I let him go and he climbs up my arm to settle himself on my shoulder. "Carter!"

"Well... you look okay Sam, so I'll let you go." I climb hurriedly to my feet and find myself automatically going to stand next to the Colonel, letting his hand curl over mine without thinking. I see the confused and suspicious glance Janet gives us, but I can't stop
myself. I need to feel something familiar with me in this strange world, and the Colonel is that. "There are some spare fatigues in the cupboard at the door." Janet adds. "You and Catherine can go have a shower, but I expect you both back here in half an hour."

"Yes ma'am." I snap off a quick salute, accompanied by another 'Carter' from Bird and nearly run out of the cubicle with Catherine right behind me.


"You might as well stay here seeing as you're here now." Janet tells me. I look over at her and feel a knot in my gut. She's upset with me. What have I done? Well, other than hold hands with Carter that is.

"Uh...okay." I gulp slightly and allow myself to sit on the bed and have her shine that stupid little torch in my eyes.

"Mind telling me what's going on, Sir?" She asks in her best 'do or die' voice.

"With what?" I ask innocently, giving her the look I usually gave Carter or Catherine when I was guilty of something or avoiding something.

"With Sam." She frowns at me, pulling out a needle.

"What's that for?" I demand.

"Shots. I'm giving them to all of you. I'm also taking blood samples so hold out your arm." She instructs in her no nonsense tone.

"I swear you didn't give these to Catherine and Carter!" I protest as the needle finds it way into my arm.

"I did." She disagrees. "You still haven't answered my question. What's going on with you and Sam?"

"Nothing." I say truthfully, forcing my face to remain neutral.

"Then what was that hand holding about? Technically you are her CO, Colonel. You're not supposed to hold her hand." She reminds me.

"I *know* that." I snap. That's what makes it so damn wrong and makes me feel so damn guilty.


"We've been stranded on a planet with no one but ourselves, basically." I remind her. "I think I earned the right to hold her hand a long time ago."

"Are you having an unprofessional relationship with her?" Janet demands, disappointment in her eyes.

"Depends on your definition." I admit.

"Define your relationship."

"Ahh...friends? Good friends?" I try.

"Colonel..." She sighs and looks at me with resignation. "A couple of days ago we had a litle visit." She licks her lips.

"Oh, that's nice. Santa Claus?" I suggest.

"No." She smiles slightly despite herself. "You."

"What?" I blink. Me? I was on Kaldroon...whatever... how could I have given them another little vist?

"Not *you* you, another you." She admits. "Another reality, an alternate world." She explains.

"Oh." I *think* I understand.

"You...he...was married to Sam." She continues. Married? Me? To Sam? I frown. That doesn't sound to bad actually, but then again wasn't I telling myself just a few hours ago that a relationship between us wouldn't work because of the dependency thing?

"Oh?" I frown. "So you think because they were married, Carter and I are going to get married?"

"No." She shakes her head. "I saw the feelings that had developed between them, Colonel, and I *know* that given half a chance those same feelings would develope between the two of you because essentially you two are the same people as they were."

"Were?" I frown.

"Uh...his Sam died." She whispers softly.

My heart stops. Sam died. What would I do if Carter died?

Who was I trying to kid? The only reason I was trying to convince myself a relationship wouldn't work between the two of us was because I don't have a choice. Making it seem as though it would have been a loss anyway made it easier to deal with, but I was only lying to myself. The only thing stopping Carter and myself from having a relationship is the regs which are once again a problem.

"Colonel?" She frowns at me.

"How... how did she die?" I whisper, my voice strangled.

"A staff blast intended for you - him." She blinks, studying me. A smile touches her lips and she pulls away. "Can I ask you something, Sir?"

I shrug noncommitedly.

"Did you... have a relationship?" She stumbles over the words.

"No." I shake my head and then meet her eyes. "No." The floor is suddenly very interesting.


"Nothing ever happened, Janet." I can't help the resignation in my voice. So what if she knows that I would have liked something to happen. So what? Nothing did happen, and she'll be happy about that.

"You wanted it to though, didn't you?" She asks gently.

I look at her. What? She expects me to just open up and confide in her? "Yes."

She blinks. "Sam did too?"

I nod mutely, not trusting myself to speak. "We... we only really started talking about it a few weeks ago. Nothing happened though." I won't count our kiss today as something, because it was a good bye and that's all.

She puts her little tools down and looks at me wearily. "I should report you." She says eventually.

"But you won't." I nod satisfactorily.

"No. I know neither of you would have done anything irresponsible to jeopardise your careers. I can understand that you eventually decided to pursue a relationship, given that the chances of you returning home were scarce..."

"Why did you wait so long?" I ask suddenly.

"We thought you'd all died, collapsed with the castle." I admit eventually. "Daniel... Daniel refused to believe it though."

"He doesn't seem very happy to see us." I point out, thinking of his frosty reception in the debriefing room.

"I... " I frown. "Go easy on him, Sir." I whisper, remembering the scared man sitting on his couch nearly crying so long ago. "He's been through an awful lot since..."

"So have we." I snap bitterly, standing up. "Can I go now?"

"Colonel." Janet turns to me. "You may think that while you've been stuck on that planet we've been here having it easy, living the good life. Take a look around you, Sir. The SGC and earth are still here and in one peace, despite a few attempts to change that by the Goa'uld. Daniel was invovled with every single counter-attack, helping to save this planet. I think the least you could do is try to be understanding."

"I think, Dr. Fraiser, that you're assuming too much." I snap. Okay, so that has no relevance what so ever to the conversation, doesn't even make sense really, but I needed *something* to snap at the woman.

"Jack..." Her voice is soft as she calls me back. "Sha're died a week ago."

I freeze. Daniel. "How?"

"He shot her. She would have killed Dr. Bester, one of his team mates."

The world starts spinning and I grab a hold of the bed to steady myself.

"Easy!" She's there in an instant, supporting me.

"Sorry." I gasp, clutching at the bed until my vision clears and I can see her again properly. "I... can I go?"

She frowns, worried about my sudden collapsing fit, but nods her head and lets me walk out of the door. He shot his own wife to protect a team mate. Could I do that? Could I shoot someone I loved with all my soul just to save a team mate? Could I have shot Sam to save someone?


Daniel's become a soldier while I was gone. I can see he's taken what I've lost, the ability to do battle and make choices like that. My mouth is dry and my tongue is like cardboard in my throat.

Can I do this? Can I get back the training I had? The lifestyle, the ability to make the biggest sacrifices, the continual fear of putting my life on the line for others? Could I kill someone again so that we win the war?

The plastic chair is hard and uncomfortable. Teal'c is watching me as I half fall into it, I know my face must be pale and drained, but this is something I hadn't thought of. I'd known that things would be different for Carter, Catherine and Ernest when they came back, but I'd expected myself to just fall right back into life, just fit back in where I'd left.

I'd forgotten that life goes on though. I'd forgotten that they'd replace us and move on, live their lives and continue doing the job I'd thought myself capable of - defending the earth at whatever cost.

When did I change?


The words on the page swim around in front of my eyes, random letters, figures, numbers, lines, shapes, blobs that make no sense to me what so ever.

How often did I sit here, at this desk, staring pointlessly down at a translation while wishing that I could change things? Wishing I could bring them home, wishing I had been with them, wishing that I knew more - knew whether they were alive and okay, or whether they really were dead.

Then I moved on, because life moves on whether you want it to or not, and trying to stay behind in one spot waiting for others to catch up was only going to get you run over and trampled yourself. So I moved on.

And now look at me. Here I am, sitting at my desk once again, crying because they're back and they've changed; I've changed.

A soft tap on my door alerts me to her presense. I haven't heard that tap in years, but I'd recognise it anywhere, just like I'd recognise Jack's thud and Teal'c's polite rap. It's Sam.

"Daniel?" Her voice is hesitant, thick with fear and confusion.

"Come in." I grab my handkerchief and pretend to blow my nose.

"You okay?" She asks gently, slipping in front of the door and closing it behind her, but not moving any closer to me.

"I should be the one asking you that." I point out, just watching her. "You look good." I say honestly. She does. Her hair has grown a lot and it's hanging damply over her shoulders. Her skin is tanned and she's lost quite a bit of weight - maybe too much - but she looks healthy.

"Thank you. So do you." She returns the compliment, which I acknowledge as being okay. I've been working out in the gym lately, taking combat tips from Mason and Thomas, and I feel a lot fitter and healthier than I have for a long time.

We drop into a strained silence, just gazing helplessly at each other.

"Do you love Jack?" I blurt out, watching as shock registers on her face as it turns a deep shade of scarlet.

"What?" She's flustered, pushing her hair behind her ear awkwardly.

I swallow. She does. Oh. I open my eyes and watch her, the determined set of her jaw as she approaches me giving me warning.

"What made you ask that?"

"Well... we met another Jack from an alternate universe..."

"You *met* someone from an alternate universe?" She gasps, completely forgetting my earlier comment.

"Yeah. That's how we figured that Jack, at least, must still be alive. See, Kawalsky and Jack came through here and after a few hours Jack had some Failure thing because there was more than one of him in this universe..." I trail off.

"And Kawalsky was fine because he died in this reality." She nods in satisfaction. Her eyes narrow as she gazes at me. "How does that relate to the question?"

"He was married to you." I admit softly, watching surprise on her face.

"Married to me?" She blinks, digesting the information.

"He loved you a lot. You loved him a lot too, more than life itself." I can't help the slight bitterness on my voice as the words pass over my lips. "She died for her Jack."

Sam swallows again and blinks, her face suddenly paling.

"You knew that though, didn't you?" I realise as she opens her eyes calmly. "You knew you were willing to die for him." I stand up.

What am I doing? I'm fighting with Sam because she's in love with Jack. They haven't even been here for two hours and the only conversation I've had with any of them is a fight with Sam because things have changed so much so between the two of them that they're willing to die for each other. I'm bitter about their changes because I'm jealous; jealous that I missed out on continuing and helping to build on what had started out as one of the most incredible friendships I've ever had or seen. They didn't miss out, they built on that friendship and it's led to even more between them, while I'm still standing back at the crossroads wondering why I chose to move on.

"Maybe." She whispers, not completely denying what I said. "Daniel..." She hesitates, her eyes suddenly tired as they study me. "I can't love him." Her shoulders sag as she slumps down into a chair. "Nothing happened, nothing will happen." She looks up at me, desperation in her eyes. "You can't tell, it'll change everything."

"Everything is already changed." I whisper harshly, tears stinging my eyes.

"So what." She shakes her head stubbornly, glaring at me. "They can be fixed, Daniel, un-changed."

"No, they can't." I say gently, ignoring the tears that want to run down my cheeks again.

"Yes they can. My arm, look at it." She demands, thrusting a stunted limb towards me with abandon. "It was ruined, Daniel. Smashed, useless, I couldn't even move my fingers. Now look at it..." She carefully straightens a finger before letting it curl over again into it's claw like position. "You *can* change things back."

"I can't." I shake my head. "I can't change anything that's happened. Don't you think that if I could I'd have changed everything that's happened? I'd have changed letting Sha're get captured. I'd have changed wanting to stay behind at the Heliopolis and causing you guys to get stranded. I'd change Alex's husband abusing her, I'd change Cassandra's world being wiped out, I'd change killing Sha're..." My voice trails off to a whisper as I look at her. Her face is slightly confused and surprised as she looks at me. Who am I kidding, she has no idea what I'm talking about.

"Daniel..." She whispers, rubbing at her face tiredly. "I don't want to fight."

"I know." I agree, sinking down into my own chair. "I don't want to either."

"Then why...?"

"I don't know." I lick my lips. "It's just a lot to take in. I mean, a month ago we still thought you were dead."

"Two hours ago I was resigning myself to the fact that I wasn't going to come home, my arm wasn't going to get better and that the Colonel and I really could..." She stops suddenly and studies her arm. "Then along comes Thor."

I watch her as she tugs absently at a small pendant around her neck.

"His timing really sucks." She adds thoughtfully, looking at me.

"It does." I nod in agreement. For a minute it's like it was years before, we're just talking and keeping each other company.

"I... I've got your stuff at my place." I remember suddenly as she pushes her hair behind her ear again.

"Oh?" She blinks, surprised.

"Yeah." I can't help the smirk. "They told me I was crazy, but I couldn't sell your stuff. I bought your apartment off you Dad and bought Jack's house... all your stuff is in storage at my place and your houses are being let out."

"Oh." She looks at me, her eyes smiling. "Why?"

"I didn't want to believe that you were really gone." I admit eventually, leaning back into my chair. "I told myself I believed it eventually, but I still couldn't bring myself to sell it." I admit, watching her eyes suddenly fill with tears.

"I don't want to lose you Daniel." She whispers, watching me.

"You won't. I promise." I swallow, closing my eyes. It's not just me that's changed, it's her too. All of them. The Sam I remember would never have admitted this or sat on a chair like that nearly crying. She's a lot more vulnerable than I remember, a lot more willing to let others know how much they mean to her and that she relies on them.

"Thank you." She closes her eyes. "I was scared, you know." She surprises me by admitted that. "I was scared that when I came back to Earth no one would want me because of my arm..."

"What kind of thoughts are they?" I'm stunned. I know that Sam's always been very narrow-minded and determined when it comes to proving herself capable, but to the extent of believing that people only like her if she has both arms working?

"I don't know. It was during the first storm." Her eyes cloud over as she remembers something, and then clear when she looks at me. "I'd accepted it though, eventually, that my arm was going to stay that way."

"It's better now though, isn't it?" I look discreetly at the twisted limb. It doesn't really look better to me.

"No. Thor's just made it so that it doesn't really hurt and I can move my fingers. He said that if I exercised it and worked it then it might get better..."

"But there's a chance that it won't." I finish off for her.

"Daniel," She frowns, looking up at me suddenly. "Is it... do you think it's wrong to hope that it doesn't get better?" She whispers, finding her trousers very interesting all of a sudden.

After her admission about being scared and wanting her arm to get better, this new admission comes straight out of left field and knocks me out for six.

"What?" I blink. She *doesn't* want her arm to get better? Am I missing something here?

"It's just stupid, a question." She shakes her head suddenly.

"No, you weren't being stupid." I argue.

"Carter!" Jack's voice echoes around the room. "Carter!"

I blink.


Sam starts giggling.



"Where is Jack?" I demand as Sam desperately tries to control her giggling.

"It's not the Colonel." She admits eventually.


"Then who?"

"Bird." She hiccups as tears stream down her face. Her fingers fumble with a pocket flap and a second later a hideously bright purple head of feathers with a beady eyes is glaring up at me.


"Daniel, meet Bird." She grins as the parrot like creature clambers out of her pocket and sits himself on her shoulder.

"He's ugly." I tell her, gazing at the bird with amazement.

"No, he's not." She argues, tickling him.

"Where did you get him?"

"Christmas present." She grins at me, sharing a secret smile with the bird before looking at me again. "Want a hold?"

"You sure he won't bite?"

"No." She admits. "He hates Janet and Catherine."

I stretch out a hand tentatively only to have a razor sharp beak attached to my finger and drawing blood.

"Add me to the hit list." I jerk back, holding my finger tightly to stop the small blood flow.

"It's your own fault." She tells me pertly. "You said he's ugly."

"So the bird understands English?"


"Okay, that *wasn't* the bird." I state unnecessarily as the door opens and Jack strides in.

"Where the hell have you been, Captain?" He demands, studying the two of us.

"Introducing me to your killer Bird." I state drily.

A smile breaks through on Jack's face suddenly as he reaches over and taps the bird lightly on the beak. "Doesn't like you, Danny?"

Why do I suddenly remember why I hated Jack at times?

"No." I return drily, watching him.

The sudden ease at which we'd communicated evaporates as we stand, watching each other awkwardly.

"Doc was looking for you, Carter." Jack says. I tilt my head slightly. He still calls her Carter, but the way he says it has changed. It's almost as though it's a pet name for her, far more intimate that just calling her 'Sam'.

"Yes Sir." She smiles up at him, and I get the distinct feeling that the 'Sir' is no longer said with the respect a Colonel deserves, but rather that of a good friend, maybe even lover.

"Well... see you at the debriefing, Danny." Jack's hand rests on Sam's back as he guides her out of my office, walking so close to her I can't see daylight between the two of them. Maybe the reason Sam doesn't want her arm to get better is busy walking down the hall next to her.


I'm getting sentimental in my old age. SG-1, the first SG-1, is sitting around the briefing room table for the first time in nearly two years. Teal'c, O'Neill, Jackson and Carter are all seated in the same chairs they used to occupy so long ago.

But that's all that's the same as it was back then.

Captain Carter is no longer the bright eyed young Captain with a focus and determination that sparked off her every time she moved. O'Neill is no longer the old, battle scarred soldier; trained to kill and complete mission objectives no matter what. And Dr. Jackson isn't the hesitant, shy archaeologist he used to be. Teal'c is the only one who I'd say hasn't changed much at all, then again I didn't really know the man all that well so I can't really give you an accurate description.

"Carter!" O'Neill's voice rings around the room and the tension is broken as everyone gets a smile on their face.

I look over at O'Neill who's trying not to grin too obviously, staring down at the pen between his fingers.


His lips didn't move. I raise my eyebrows and look at a certain Dr. Jackson who is trying very hard, and not succeeding, to laugh openly. "Dr. Jackson?"

"Bird, Sir." He laughs, looking over at Captain Carter.

Captain Carter looks at me innocently, but I'm sure I can see the glint of tears in her eyes as she stifles her laughter.


"Yes Sir, Bird." O'Neill agrees. I watch as he reaches over to Captain Carter and undoes a button on one of her pockets. The gestures strikes me as very intimate and relaxed, and a sudden concern for their relationship dampens my enthusiasm at having them back. Have they, over the two years they've been gone, conducted a less than military relationship? I wouldn't have thought it possible before, but then I hadn't known that in another universe Captain Carter had been willing to die for Colonel O'Neill, or that they had been married. Now, now it seems a very likely possiblity.

His hand delves into the pocket and I can feel my eyebrows hitting the roof because the pocket is directly over an area of the Captain's anatomy where his hand *definitely* shouldn't be.

Captain Carter and O'Neill are too engrossed in his hand down her pocket to notice the looks flying around the room at their display. Dr. Jackson is watching them with a grief stricken, bitter look; Dr. Fraiser has an expression of 'oh damn, here we go' as she sneaks a look at my face; Dr. Langford is smiling slightly and so is Dr. Littlefield; and Teal'c is sitting stoicly observing everything.

"Uh...Colonel?" I clear my throat.

"Gotchya!" O'Neill crows pulling his hand out of her pocket and surfacing with a triumphant smile. "General Hammond, this is Bird." He announces, placing the small purple and yellow parrot on the table.

I look down at the parrot in amazement as it studies me with a beady little eye, squawking and moving his feathers in a disgruntled fashion. "Carter!" He calls again and then waddles over the desk towards me.

"Careful Sir, the little monster has a sharp beak." Dr. Fraiser warns me, a rueful look on her face.

"Carter!" Bird squawks again. I pull back slightly from the desk as the bright bundle of feathers approaches me, clicking his tongue. "Carter!" He hops over the small gap between my chest and the table and quickly pulls himself up until he's sitting on my shoulder and starts nibbling on my ear.

"Look at that, he likes you!" O'Neill croons, a delighted grin on his face. I blink. O'Neill, crooning over a purple parrot sitting on my shoulder? He reminds me of a proud parent watching his son scoring a goal at soccer...

"Maybe we should get on with the debriefing?" I ask, trying to ignore the feel of the small bundle of feathers settling himself behind my ear.

"Carter." Bird gives a satisfied sqawk and settles.

"Where would you like us to start, Sir?" O'Neill immediately turns into the man I remember; a soldier.

"How about you just tell us what happened after Dr. Jackson left?" I suggest eventually, gazing around the room.

"Okay. Well... there was a storm, obviously, and it was pulling the castle apart. Carter was just running towards the gate when the first tremours started and the world seemed to go really really dark...."

The debriefing carries on... one hour... two hours... three hours... and all five people have narrated, agreed, jumped in, argued, interrupted, disagreed and laughed together over their lives for the last two years.

I look around the debriefing room as O'Neill finally concludes and let my eyes rest for a second on each person.

"Is that all?" I ask eventually, my voice soft and filled with respect.

"Yes Sir!" A Bird I'd forgotten all about sqawks next to my ear, his voice sounding suspiciously like Captain Carter's. A few chuckles sound around the room.

"Okay." I sit back and absently reach up to ruffle his feathers. After another squawk, Bird decides he's sick of me and heads off back across the table to Captain Carter. "How did you get the bird?" I ask, watching as he nuzzles against Captain Carter and lets her pet him.

"A Christmas present." She smiles slightly.

"Oh." I smile in return. I can understand them having a Christmas like that, wanting things to be as normal as possible. "Well... Dr. Fraiser, Dr. Jackson, if you'd like to show Ernest, Catherine and Teal'c to the infirmary..." I catch the look of hesitation on both O'Neill and Carter's faces as they glance at each other and then look back at me. "I just want to talk to Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter." I say gently. I don't want to do this, I don't want to discuss their relationship and whether or not they broke regulations, but I have to.

"So." I stand up and watch the two of them sitting at the desk. During the debriefing the Colonel had leant over Captain Carter and taken hold of her damaged arm and massaged it. Due to his ministrations and their positions, she'd had to lean against him for nearly the entire time, and neither one of them had look too uncomfortable. "Are you okay?" I ask them softly.

"Fine Sir." Both people answer simultaneously, not looking at each other.

"I don't want to do this, you understand, but I have to." I sit down on Dr. Jackson's chair opposite them. "Did your relationship at any time turn unprofessional?" I don't want to hear the answer.

"Yes Sir." O'Neill states, his eyes looking past my head and meeting the wall. "Carter and I slept together..."

My eyes bulge.

"That's all we did though, Sir." Captain Carter adds, her cheeks a very healthy shade of pink.


"There were only three sleeping bags, Sir." She explains. "Because things were difficult between Ernest and Catherine, the Colonel and I shared one and let each of them have their own sleeping bag."

Oh. The relief that rushes over me is indescribable. "So neither of you would define what you did as fraternization?" I have to clarify that.

There's a hesitation.

"No Sir." O'Neill says eventually, looking over at Carter with a sorrowed expression on his face for a second.

"Why the hesitation?" I don't like this, I don't want to know about my officers personal lives and decisions, but as their CO it's my responsibility.

"Well... I'd say that if we'd had a few more hours that regulation could have possibly been broken." Carter says eventually, looking down at her arm and running her thumb over it in an agitated way.

I hadn't expected either of them to admit to that, I hadn't wanted either of them to admit that, but she had.

"And now?"

"Now nothing." O'Neill shrugs. "I think we both feel that the relationship only had a possiblity of happening because of the situation and circumstances." He says stiltedly, as though he's been rehearsing the line to himself a number of times. I can see a shadow
of pain flicker across the Captain's face, but she doesn't say anything to disagree or contradict him.

"So if you were to resume your working positions as CO and 2IC then this wouldn't be a problem?"

"No Sir." Both people answer immediately, their answers starting to flow again. No. It wouldn't be a problem between the two of them simply because they are both to stubborn and career orientated to let themselves make a mistake. I can trust them completely on this. I *could* have trusted them completely on this before. Now, now I can't. Not because of their actions, not because of their admissions, but because of what I'd seen. I'd seen another reality's O'Neill when his wife had died. I'd heard how she died for him. I'd heard how my own reality's Carter had nearly killed herself for O'Neill, throwing herself after him into the river like that.

"Sir, it *won't* be an issue." O'Neill can read my hesitation.

"It might not have to be an issue." I remind him gently. "We do have an SG-1, Colonel."

The pained surprise on his face hurts me, but he knows we can't just keep a vacant spot open for a missing team that stands a very slim chance of being alive, and even slimmer chances of returning home.

I rub at my face with my hands.

"You both know the way to the infirmary, Colonel. I'll let you go now for some rest, but we will have to deal with this whole situation."

"Yes Sir." Both people answer softly, not looking at me or each other. Watching them walk out the door, keeping a careful distance between themselves, I have my doubts as to whether I can still trust them not to break the regulations, because they've changed and become different people.

~Twenty Four~


It feels so unreal. Ridiculous. It feels as though the last two years of my life have just been
erased, wiped out even. A half forgotten memory that's teasing me because I can't seem to grab
a hold of it and remember what it was *really* like. I can remember things, like the tree cave
and the hike. I can remember watching a sunset with Carter, laughing about naming the moon. I
can remember being cold during the storms; other times lying next to her comfortably warm in
the sleeping bag. But the memories seem false, unreal. Scenes from a movie that I watched a
long time ago and only have the dimmest recollection of what it was about.

And I've only been back for a few hours.

The air smells clean and artificial, the near silent hum of machinery and the slip slopping of
sneakered feet against the lino floor are the only noises that break the complete silence I'm
surrounded in. On the bed to my left I can make out Catherine's form in the pale green glow of
the emergency exist signs. I can tell she's sleeping, her body is completed relaxed in a way it
hasn't been since Thor beamed us up to his little ship for a joy ride back to earth.

Carter is on the bed to my left. She's awake. I slept next to her often enough to know when she
was faking sleep, and this is one of those times. She lies so still and tense that it's a dead
give-away - she's normally a very restless sleeper. She's restless all round. I don't think
I've even seen her just sit completely still and relaxed,she's always got to be doing something
to burn off all her energy. I'm like that too, my fingers constantly fiddle with things or my
leg jerks erratically to some internal rhythm that I can never seem to work out.

I sigh and turn onto my back. So what if she knows I'm awake and she's pretending to be asleep.
So what that I'm uncomfortable on this soft mattress with this clean, disinfected smelling
sheets. I feel homesick.

The environment is foreign to me. I can't sleep when environments are foreign, one of the
reasons why my internal body clock is so good, especially on missions. The slightest noise or
movement that seems out of place generally jerks me to wakefullness, and tonight *everything*
is foreign to me. I don't even have the familiar comfort of curling up next to Carter for
warmth - despite the fact that the infirmary is that ever comfortable heat setting they seem to
forget it on. I've gotten used to sleeping with her. I've gotten used to the feel of her body
pressed up close against mine, our hands and legs tangled around each other and the feel of her
breathing against my neck. Her scent.

That should worry me, actually, missing her scent, because despite all our baths in the creek,
the smell wasn't too great on any of us. Still...

"Carter." I whisper, grinning to myself as I think of Bird and his sudden new vocabulary.
Wonder how the little rat is behaving with General Hammond?

"Yes Sir?" She murmurs, also deciding to give up the pretense of sleeping.

"I'm cold." It's a blatant lie, so sue me.

"Me too." Oh, and *that* wasn't a lie either?

"Come on." I move over on the bed, watching her shadow intently. She sits up on the bed, the
green glow glinting off her hair as she looks around the infirmary hesitantly. "Warmth,
Captain." I remind her, also sitting up and hoping that she'll also need the comfort I'm
looking for. Who needs blankets?

What's wrong with me? A grown man of 40...ish... and I can't go to sleep because I don't have
my favourite Carter-bear next to me? Just another one of the changes that's taken place, I
guess. This could come in handy, I can just put anything irregular or stupid down to 'another
change because of situations and circumstances'.

She slips off the bed and runs lightly across the floor and hops onto the bed.

"The floor's cold." She whispers, slipping in between the covers next to me.

We position ourselves quickly, legs tangling together and her arms finding their way underneath
my shirt.

"I'm going to miss this." I whisper as my own fingers find the smooth, comforting skin of her
stomach and trace a random pattern on it.

"Me too." She agrees, her voice sounding distant as her thoughts slip away from us.

Lying here with Carter in my arms, I relax quickly, losing myself in the familiarity of the
feel of her. "You smell good." I whisper as her hair brushes past my nose when she moves again
and leaves the clean scent of her hair behind.

"You too." She murmurs. She stretches then, pushing herself against me and running her gentle
hand over my chest.

"Sam..." I whisper, panicking. She can't do this; we can't do this.

"Please, Jack." Her hand cups my face as she rests on my chest, her hair spilling down over us.
"I just want to pretend, for a little while." She says softly, and I can see her eyes glow in
that same luminescent light that's creating shadows all around the infirmary.

"I know." I pull her head down and nuzzle her hair as she crushes herself against me. "But we

She draws in a shuddering breath and I can feel her retreating away from me, the urgency gone
as she withdraws her form from mine. But I don't want her to go, I want to keep the comfort,
the closeness, but I've scared her away again.

I pull her against me tightly, stroking her hair and holding her with an urgent fear that
scares me.

"I'm sorry." I whisper, unable to stop myself from kissing her neck. One small, guilty

If anyone walked in then I have no idea how we'd explain the situation, the two of us lying
together on an infirmary bed clutching each other as though we're never going lay eyes on each
other again. In a way that is the case, this is the last time either of us will give into this
weakness, this temptation. Here in the dark, dreamlike unreality of the beginning of our lives
on earth again, it's easy to pretend and wish until the mists of our lives become concrete and
real with daylight, taking away any chance we have.

"I know. Me too." She agrees calmly, pressing her cheek against mine. The sudden gripping
terror and desperation is gone for now. "I'm sorry, I just..."

"It's okay." I kiss her cheek gently and shift my weight, pulling her close to my side. She
settles next to me again, in much the same position as we started out in, but without the fear
and urgency. The terror of losing each other has abated for now. I know this is wrong, and it's
holding me back just like it's holding her back, but sometimes emotions and fears are so great
that they just seem to flood over you.

"We can't do this again." She says eventually, her fingers playing with mine.

"I know." My breath rattles in my throat as the words pass over my lips. That's why I'm not
letting her go, that's why she's staying here with me. One more night of pretense and comfort,
and then tomorrow it's back to CO and 2IC for real, no more pretending that we're trying to be
CO and 2IC, because we will be.


My eyes fly open, startled. Where am I?

I sit up quickly, taking in the white concrete walls and the curtains drawn around the bed. A
bed. Earth.

The memories come flooding back as I remember that we're not on Kaldroon anymore. We were
rescued, returned to earth, brought back. I look over towards Jack's bed and jerk in surprise.
They slept together again.

Looking around the semi-private cubicle I hope to goodness that no one has thought to check up
on any of us yet. I slither off my bed quickly and rush over to them.

"Jack! Jack!" I hiss, nudging him.

"Hmm?" His eyes flutter open and he stares at me sleepily. Sam stirs next to him and turns her
befuddled blue eyes up to meet mine as well.

"You're going to get caught." I remind them. The shock appears on their faces almost
simultaneously as they realise that things have changed, that they're not supposed to be
sleeping together anymore.

Sam half rolls, half falls off the bed in her haste to get them out of implications way and
stands bewildered between their beds.

"Morning." The curtain gets pulled back energetically and one very bright, preppy young nurse
is standing smiling at us.

"No, it can't be." Jack grumbles, rolling over and burying his head under the pillow. Some
things never change.

Sam and I are shown to the infirmary bathroom, the menfolk told to use the normal locker rooms.

"You okay?" I ask her as she stands in front of a mirror, glaring at her reflection.

"I'm fine." Standard Samantha Carter response.

"What was all that about?" I ask eventually, revelling in the feel of soapy hands underneath
cold, running water. I never realised how much I took soap, shampoo and simple toiletries for
granted until now.

"What was what about?" She's stalling, trying to think up a reasonable excuse.

"I'm not stupid Sam, I *know* that you two aren't supposed to sleep together, no matter how
innocent it is." I say gently, watching her fight for control.

"The last time." She says eventually, reaching over and turning her own tap on. "A good bye."
She whispers, swallowing roughly.

"I'm sorry." I dry my now tingling hands on the rough towel and touch her shoulder gently. "I'm
sorry for encouraging you..."

"Don't be." She smiles slightly, "Nothing ever happened between us."

"Nothing?" I frown, remembering the kiss I walked in on.

"No. You've seen everything that we've ever done." She looks at me, resignation in her eyes.
"And that's all we ever will do." She adds.

"Sam..." I hesitate, my eyes resting on her arm. "Don't throw him away now. Things are

"I *know* that!" She snaps, splashing water angrily. "I *know* they're different. And I hate
it. I want things to be the way they were. I don't want things to be like this." She closes the
tap and rubs at her arm furiously, flinching with each rough pass of the towel over the
shrivelled limb.

"They can't be the way they were." I remind her gently, taking her towel from her and drying
her arm for her. "They have changed, Sam, just like we've all changed."

"Why? Why does it have to be so hard, Catherine?" She whispers, leaning her head against my

"I don't know, sweetheart, I don't know." I fold my arms around her and hold her while she
takes deep, shuddering breaths.

She pulls back and picks up a brush from the cabinet. "It seems so ironic really." She's
composed again, but there is still a dazed look in her eye as she starts pulling the brush
roughly through her tangle of hair. "Just when I finally realised... I was happy." She


I close my eyes and lick my lips. "I was happy too." I admit, opening my eyes. "I thought...
while we were there I thought that if the opportunity of coming back ever arose then I wouldn't
take it."

"You did though."

"We all did." I smile slightly, letting my eyes roam over the clinical bathroom. "We made do
with what we had, Sam, we moved on and refused to let life sit on us and over-whelm us. We
*made* ourselves happy. We just have to do that again."

"It sounds so easy." She says wistfully.

"Think of all the good things." I suggest, smiling. "Friends, food, science for you, training
for Jack and Teal'c, family..."

She sighs and puts the brush down. "I know. I'm just... I don't know. I'm ungrateful, aren't

I snort slightly. "No. We're all ungrateful." I shake my head. "We're never completely happy or
satisfied. We want things to go our way, and when they don't we get angry."

"I know." She smiles slightly. "I told Thor he could heal my arm. I made a choice,

"Between your job and Jack." I understand the complete desolation in Jack's eye when he looks
at her.

"Yes." She agrees, swallowing. "I hurt him. I hurt him a lot..."

"He knows you, Sam, he knew that you wanted your job back more than anything..."

"That's not true." She shakes her head. "It's not about the job, about the military."

"Then what?"

"Look at me, Catherine. I can't even tie my hair up. I can't tie my shoe laces, I can't do zips
up, I can't even *cut* my food for crying out loud. He did that for me, all of it."

She hates it. She hates being an invalid, having to depend on others.

"It wouldn't have lasted. I would have ruined it because I'd have been ungrateful for him
helping me. I'm *still* ungrateful st him for helping me and angry at him because he can do
things I can't do." She snaps, hitting at the cabinet top.

"Then resign..."

"I can't." She shakes her head. "That's quitting for a personal reason, a weakness." She stands
up again.

"Now you're just being stubborn." I snap, irritated at both of their unwillingness to
acknowledge something between them.

"Maybe." She smiles slightly. "But if I resign then things will never be close to how they
were, and how they were was the best."

"So this is all about trying to fit back into the SGC where you left it."

"No. It's about getting my life back, Catherine. It's about being who I was before I left here.
I don't want people looking at me and remembering who I used to be, I want them to respect me
for who I still am." She's got everything so twisted up in that confused, scared mind of hers
that she's going around in contradictory circles, but she won't let me convince her otherwise.

"Sam... your arm might not get better." I remind her. She glares at me once more before
deliberately reaching down with her bad arm and hooking a towel over her fingers.

"Mind if I use the one on the left?" She disappears into the shower cubicle without another
word, and I feel a tiredness settle into my bones as concern for her blooms inside me like
daisies after the spring rains.


To say things aren't as chipper as they could be would probably be an understatement. Jackson
is skulking around the base with a permanent expression of loss on his face, Thomas is worse
than a bear on the war-path and Bester, Bester is already busy packing up his gear, sure that
the original SG-1 will be up and running again in a few weeks putting us all out of a job.

Me? I'm still my merry little self. I've caught sight of the O'Neill gang as I've decided to
call them, seen them from the distance once or twice, but there are so many curious people on
base and the rumour mills are spinning ahead more then a hundred times their normal speed
so I decided to let my curiousity stay ignored for a while and give them some privacy. I feel
sorry for them actually. It can't be easy being brought back in a few hours, ripped up from a
new life they've had to create. What I've been able to worm out of Jackson sounds pretty
impressive, so it's no wonder that the lot of them look bewildered and slightly wary of

I walk into the briefing room to be met with a sight that I'll never forget. Major General
George Hammond of the USAF, fully donned up in his dress blues with a hideously bright parrot
sitting on top of his head.

"Mason." He looks at me, his eyes daring me to comment about his...accessory.

"Morning Sir." I dip my head, trying *really* hard not to laugh or grin.

"Carter!" The bird screeches, and I lose it. I glance fearfully at the General while I try to
contain myself, and I'm quite relieved to see him smiling slightly.

"Mason, this is Bird." He says drily, placing his hand over the purple bundle and pulling it
off his head. "He's Captain Carter's."

Oh. No wonder the bird looked strange - it's from another planet!

"You're probably curious to meet SG-1..the other SG-1." He amends quickly, a shadow passing
over his face as he sets the bird down on the table and looks at me.

"Well, yes Sir." I admit, my eyes following the bird's funny walk across the table.

"This is going to be difficult, son." He leans back in his chair, studying me. "Colonel O'Neill
and Teal'c will more than likely rejoin the SGC, Captain Carter also depending on her arm."

I feel a bit of sympathy well up inside me as I think of the skinny, blond haired woman I'd
caught sight of from a distance. Sam Carter. One of Daniel's best friends, a great woman and
soldier by all accounts and an exceptional scientist. The rumours and reports I'd heard didn't
sound too great for her, her arm being busted up so bad that the Asguard Thor couldn't even
heal it.

"Yes Sir." The bird scrabbles around in sheets of paper, trying to grab a hold of one with his

"Until such a time as any of them are fit for duty again, SG-1 will be carrying on as normal."
He pauses and looks at me. "I've talked to Thomas already, Mason, and he would like to keep his
position as CO of SG-1."

I'm sure Thomas would, it's the assignment of a lifetime. Just being a *part* of the SGC is the
assignment of a lifetime.

"And I'm assuming that you'd like to keep your role on SG-1 as well."

"Yes Sir." I nod. I feel guilty as my head bobs up and down, but a flash of jealousy shoots
through me as well. I want to stay on SG-1, I want Thomas, Bester and Jackson on SG-1 as well.
We're a team now, a damn good team. I don't want to lose this friendship we've all worked so
hard on. But O'Neill, Carter and Teal'c are also SG-1. They also deserve what was rightfully
theirs in the first place until fate dealt them such a cruel blow. And Jackson? This will the
hardest for Jackson because he's one of us but he's also one of them, and ultimately, he'll
have to be the one making the most difficult decision.

"Good." General Hammond nods his head. "I'm not promising that you'll stay on SG-1, I'm not
promising that you'll stay in the same team you are in now, but rest assured Mason, you'll
still be with us at the SGC."

A weight lifts from my heart. Even if I do have to start afresh with a new team and lose my old
one, I'll still be a part of SGC which is better than nothing. Still...

"But, given Dr. Jackson's recent loss and the amount of leave SG-1 has owing, I'm going to put
you all on down time..."

"But?" He's watching me with a hopeful expression in his eye.

"Dr. Langford, Dr. Littlefield, Teal'c, Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter are all going to
need somewhere to stay for now. Now, I understand that Dr. Jackson still has hold of what used
to be Captain Carter's house and Colonel O'Neill's house."

"Yes Sir, but they're both being let."

"I understand that Dr. Lawson is staying in Captain Carter's house?" He questions slowly.

"Yes." I nod. "And Bester was renting O'Neill's place." It worked out quite well for everyone
involved, actually. Jackson was happy that the places weren't sitting empty and going to ruin,
and that the people letting them were friends and colleagues who he knew and could trust to
look after the places.

"Yes. Dr. Jackson has already spoken to Dr. Bester. Dr. Bester is willing to move out of the
Colonel's house and bunk with Dr. Jackson until he can find something else."

I'm quite surprised at the amount of attention and arranging General Hammond is doing for his
people. Judging by the eagerness with which he's trying to get things back to however close to
normal they can be, I'd say that he really liked SG-1, more than his average SG team. Even with
Jackson there's a special bond, a sort of friendship that exists beyond their working
relationship. It's never bothered me that Jackson had that with Hammond, it never will bother
me, it just makes me realise again how lucky these people were and how well liked before they
were left behind.

"So you want us to help move them in." I grin, realising where all this is headed.

"If you don't mind." He agrees, smiling slightly as the bird heads towards me suddenly.
"Careful, he either likes you or he doesn't."

I watch hesitantly as the stupid little sucker scuttles towards me, bobs once or twice and
screeches "Yes Sir!" At the top of his lungs in a very feminine sounding voice.

"He likes you." General Hammond relaxes again and looks at me. "I'm not ordering you, any of
you, but Thomas and Bester have already agreed to help. They're going to have to settle down
again, get used to life back with civilization and build up their fitness so that they can be
reinstated in active duty."

I nod. It was going to be tough for all of them, especially O'Neill. The older you are the
harder it is to build up your fitness if you let it slip.

"That's fine by me, Sir." I nod my head.

"Good. And seeing as Bird seems to like you so much, do me a favour and take him back to
Captain Carter for me? I think he misses her." I glance down at the parrot.

"What is his name?"

"Bird." General Hammond grins. "Dismissed."

"Yes Sir." I put my hand warily around the Bird and place him on my shoulder. His beak nibbles
on my ear and tickles me, causing a chuckle from both General Hammond myself.

I feel like a pirate walking down the hallways with this bird on my shoulder, Ferretti even has
the cheek to let off a very rowdy 'Hardy har har!"

"Walk the plank, Sir!" I snap.

"Yes Sir!" Bird squawks, flapping his wings excitedly.

"That sounded like Captain Carter!" Ferretti muses, astonished.

"It's hers." I admit, glancing over at the man looking at me with a hopeful expression. "Wanna
tag along?" I'm not stupid. I know he was good friends with both O'Neill and Carter, even
Tealc. Sometimes when we get together with some of the other SG teams then the 'old' ones, or
those who have been with the SGC from the beginning reminisce about the beginning. One of
Ferretti's favourite stories is of how O'Neill and Carter met.

"Sure. I'm surprised that General Hammond didn't send an escort with anyway, I mean, I know how
reliable you aren't." He quips.

"Well, he figured that seeing as there wasn't anyone capable anyway to send as an escort, why
bother? He had the cream of the crop already taking care of his mission."

"Which is?"

"Delivering Bird." I state, turning to look at the clashing colours on my shoulder.

"He's ugly." Ferretti laughs clapping my back. Immediately Bird swoops and latches onto
Ferretti's hand, his little wings fluttering a hundred times a second and his muffled screech
echoing down the corridor.

"Either likes you or he doesn't." I state knowingly, gently tugging Bird free from Ferretti's

"Mongrel." Ferretti glares at Bird.

"Yes Sir." Bird nods his head vigorously and climbs around my neck so that he's settled on my
other shoulder, away from Ferretti.

"What's going on out here?" Dr. Fraiser stomps out of her infirmary. Uh oh. Not good.

" for Captain Carter." I smile hopefully.

"Oh." She eyes the bird suspiciously.

"Wanna take him in?" I try not to grin. She glares at me and steps back so that I can pass her,
never once taking her eyes off Bird.

"Doesn't like you either?" Ferretti asks sympathetically, not complaining as she takes a hold
of his hand and inspects the bite.

"Come on, I'll dress that for you." She rolls her eyes and follows me into the infirmary.
"Sam!" She calls out.

"Carter!" Bird contributes.

"Hey, look who's back!" A man appears from behind a curtain, a slight smile on his face as he
looks at Bird. Colonel O'Neill.

"Carter!" Bird screeches and leaps off my shoulder, fluttering madly until he nearly crashes
into O'Neill, swerves at the last minute and lands on his shoulder, nearly tipping over and
falling off the otherside.

"Hey, Carter, he flew!" Instantly the rest of us are forgotten as the blond woman I recognise
as Captain Carter steps out from behind the curtain and reaches up to take her pet.

"Look what the cat dragged in." Ferretti grins, and they both snap their attention back to us.

"Ferretti!" O'Neill grins suddenly. "Never thought I'd see your ugly mug again..."

"Well, we couldn't have you missing out on the view now could we?" Ferretti grins and I stand
aside awkwardly as they clap hands and then pull each other into a rough hug that's over as
quickly as it started.

"Good to have you back, Colonel." Ferretti smiles. "You too, Captain." He turns to Captain

"Nice to see you." She smiles and lets him hug her. I feel like a voyeur but I can't help
myself staring at her arm. In the short black sleeved T Shirt she's wearing I can quite clearly
see that it's unlikely her arm will ever be healed well enough for her to remain in the
miliary. A ridiculous sense of relief washes over me, which I squash guiltily. I'm happy
because one less member of the original SG-1 won't be on SG-1 again, causing the possibility of
none of them re-joining to grow quite considerably. I'm disgusting.

"Where's Teal'c?" Ferretti demands.

"He's with Danny."

Jackson hates it when we call him Danny. This man obviously is allowed to call him Danny.

"So. How've you been?" Ferretti asks eventually, studying the two of them.

I follow his lead and take the time to study them as well. O'Neill is tall, but not as tall as
Thomas. Not many people are as tall as Thomas. While physically his face is still the same, his
hair a bit grayer maybe and a few more wrinkles lining his skin, I can see that *something* has
changed in it. In all of Jackson's photo's O'Neill has always had a very reserved look, as if
he was hiding a large part of himself from everyone, including himself. He'd always *looked*
like an Airforce Colonel, even in civvies, because of the way he carried himself and radiated
his authority - even in photos. Now I see a tired old man who's bewildered and unsure of yet
another change that's been forced on him.

Carter too. I don't see the excited, happy woman whose eyes always glinted mischieviously in
photos. I see a scared woman with a twisted arm who's afraid of everything. A more confused
person I don't think I've encountered, not even Jackson.

"Oh!! This is Mason." Ferretti suddenly seems to remember me. I blink slightly. I'd missed it,
all of it. O'Neill and Carter had been talking but I'd been too busy with my amateur psycho
analysis that's I'd missed it.

"Mason?" O'Neill cocks his head and I can see a spark of the man on the videos.

"Master Sargeant Eric Mason." I nod, snapping a salute. O'Neill returns the salute
half-heartedly and Carter just blinks, surprised as if she's just realised that she's in the
military again.

"Oh. Nice meeting you." She smiles slightly, a slight curiousness.

"He's on SG-1 with Jackson, Thomas and Bester. I reckon you'd like Bester, Captain Carter..."
Ferretti pauses, watching them.

Both people stiffened as he mentioned SG-1 and then turned to look at each other with fear in
their eyes. Fear. Of what? That we'd become SG-1 while they were gone and now they had no place
left in the SGC?

"I hear you've been doing a good job." O'Neill says eventually, looking at me.

"Well...depends on who you listen too." I shrug, shooting a glance at Ferretti. This is the
last thing I want to be talking to them about now, SG-1.

"Smart kid." O'Neill nods, and I bristle slightly. A kid. I'm not a kid... I look at him again.
I may not be a kid, but compared to what he's been through and the things I've heard he's done,
I definitely am a kid. Most of us here would be considered kids next to him. "Earth's still
here, so I'd say you were doing okay." He turns back to Ferretti.

"Really Jack, it is good having you back." Ferretti says seriously. I think I can count the
number of times I've seen Ferretti being serious on one hand. "When Jackson came back... the
Stargate wouldn't dial out..."

"That's because it was otherwise occupied." O'Neill smiles slightly as Carter rolls her eyes at
him and hits him with her good arm - a very non-subordinate gesture.

"Oh?" Ferretti looks at her curiously.

"He says I knocked it over." She sighs, turning to her Bird. "It fell on my arm." She shrugs.

Both Ferretti and I look uneasily at the mangled limb and then let our eyes flicker back to her
face. She can see our unease, or hesitancy and lack of knowledge how to deal with it, and it
makes her uneasy and even more scared.

Why am I so sure she's scared? Because she is. Her movements are jittery, her voice is strained
and she's standing so close to O'Neill she's nearly clutching at his jacket like a little child
in a large shopping centre.

"Thor said it might get better though." I want to cry all of a sudden. She reminds me of myself
when I was six and my Dad left. Everynight for at least a year I'd told Mom to leave the lights
on because he'd be coming home. I'd been so determined, so blindly confident that he *would*
come home that I had simply ignored the possibility that he wasn't coming home. She's doing
that now. She's denying what's so obvious to us, that her arm won't get better, and clinging
with a blind determination to the flimsy words of hope the Asguard had offered her.

"I... General Hammond said that when you were cleared to go then I could take Colonel O'Neill

"What about Carter?" He frowns, stepping backwards so that they're right next to each other,
almost as though they're saying they won't be separated, they're looking out for one another.

"Well... Jackson is letting her house to Alex at the moment, but I think Alex will be out of
there in a few days..."

"Alex?" Carter frowns.

"Alex Lawson. She used to be on SG-1 but... she had to leave." I state delicately, looking over
at Ferretti.

"Not a problem." O'Neill shrugs. "Carter can crash at my joint... it is *my* joint, right?" He
checks, hesitancy suddenly present.

"Yes." I nod. "Jackson bought both of your houses...I reckon he'll sell them back to you

"What about Catherine, Teal'c and Ernest?" Carter demands.

"There's plenty of room at my place." O'Neill reminds her. Three rooms. Plenty of room if one
of them doesn't mind using a couch.

"You sure?" She's hesitating, but there's more to her question than either Ferretti or I are
privy too.

"Yes." He nods his head defiantly, resting his hand on her shoulder. "Great. So when do we go?"


I *hate* the way they all stare at me. I hate feeling like such an invalid. I hate *being* an

"Carter?" The Colonel is watching me curiously.

"Sorry." I smile tightly. Leaving. We're leaving the SGC and going to his house. My house is
currently occupied, and quite frankly, I'm relieved. I don't want to be by myself. At least
we're all still together, except Teal'c of course. Teal'c has somehow managed to convince
General Hammond that he's okay and has gone off after his family. I'm scared for him because I
know he's wanted on Chulak.

"Come on." He takes Bird from me and puts his arm around my shoulder. I stiffen slighty. I
thought we'd agreed to stop it, to move on and acknowledge that it probably would never have
worked anyway.

"Colonel..." I wriggle out from underneath his arm, his protection and stand behind him instead
as we make our way out of the infirmary.

The halls are crowded, it seems, pressing down on us an threatening us. A tremour of fear runs
through me. I feel so vulnerable, so lost. I've come back to earth, but to what? Despite Thor's
hope that my arm would heal, no one else thinks it will.

I look down at the shrivelled limb. Shrivelled. Not just damaged, not hurt, not broken, it's
shirvelled and withered like a tomato that's been left in the sun for too long and twisted and
buckled in the heat. Shrivelled.

The lift carriage is small and the walls lean down on me. I press myself against the Colonel,
burying my head in his shoulder. I can feel Mason and Thomas watching us, I know Daniel's gaze
is resting on us, but I don't care. I don't care anymore, at all. All I want to do is curl up
in the Colonel's arms and sleep forever with him just holding me close.

His arm curls around my waist and I sigh in relief. I'd been scared that he wouldn't hold me
now, that he'd brush me off just like I'd brushed him off a few minutes ago. But he doesn't.

The lift stops just as suddenly as always and I feel sick suddenly. I haven't been motion sick
since I was little, and now I feel like throwing up because I was in a lift.

"Easy..." He steadies me as I stumble out of the lift and into the large corridor. It's
slightly better than the confining space of the lift, but not by much. I want out. I want to
feel the breeze in my hair, the sun on my face; I want to smell the trees and hear the birds
singing; I want outside.

"Nearly there." He can sense my agitation, my sudden claustrophobia because he feels it too.
His body is tense against mine, thrumming with an unspoken tension. The lift jerks to a stop
again and the buzzing in my head rises to an unbearable pitch.

We pile out of the lift quickly, all four of us and our escorts. I can see the same shock and
disappointment on Catherine's face that I know is on my own. It's not the same. I *knew* it
wasn't the same, but the cold, smokey smell mingling with petrol fumes and mist just reminds me
that we're back on earth. The scrunch of tyres on gravel replaces the birds singing and the
scent of rubber replaces the smell after the earth once the rain has fallen.

I want to go back.

I can't do this. I can't come back here and work under the ground for the rest of my life. I
can't travel through the gate protecting myself and my team mates. My courage is gone, it fell
along with the Stargate that night and just rolled over the edge of the chasm.

I pull away from the Colonel. I need to be by myself now. He lets me go, confusion on his face.

"Carter!" Bird's voice is taunting in the silence as he jumps off the Colonel's shoulder and
flies onto mine. "Yes Sir." A mockery. A mockery of everything the Colonel and I thought we
could have.

Deep down I've always held a respect for him, an admiration. There's always been this little
part of me that's ben determined to win his respect, approval and admiration. And now? Now I
don't stand a chance of winning that. My arm's pretty much guaranteed that and my sudden
cowardice cements the Sam Carter Chicken Syndrome into place.

I'm not a soldier anymore, I'm a has been. Burned out by a bad experience. A veteran. When
people see me walking past they won't think 'there goes Sam Carter, a soldier', they won't
wonder what experiences I've had. They'll see the fear and terror in my eyes, the hesitancy in
my walk and feel pity for me because I couldn't cope with what life threw at me. Just like all
those old world war soldiers who no one asks what they did because we don't *want* to know; and
we don't want to remind them.

The drive to the Colonel's house seems like hours. I watch mutely as the scenery flies past the
window. Catherine is sitting next to me, holding my hand comfortingly. She knows something is
wrong, she knows that I'm not happy.

Small changes have been made. There used to be a pizza shop on the corner where we always
bought our pizza for pizza and poker nights. It's gone now, a video arcade stands there
instead. The trees down one side of the road have disappeared...a new building I don't
recognise, another building with a face lift. A new store... newer cars... a slight shift in
the fashion world...

The Colonel's house looks the same though. The lawn has been mown recently, and the one window
we cracked playing hockey just before we left has been replaced, but other than that it's still
the same.

He's inside already, along with Daniel and Dr. Bester and Ernest.

Mason and Thomas get out silently, and Catherine and I follow them into the house. It's
changed. I hadn't been to the Colonel's often enough to say what exactly was moved, removed and
added, but I can see it has been changed. The Colonel is wondering around his loungeroom,
letting his hands trail over the backs of couches, fiddling with ornaments. He stops in front
of a shelf with a picture on it. Charlie's photo used to be on that shelf. I remember looking
at it once while he was on Argos and Daniel and I were fixing up his house for him. I
recognised the smiling face because of the entity's imitation, but the relaxed face of one Jack
O'Neill had looked like a stranger to me. He'd been so happy then, so relaxed. I'd never seen
him like that, until recently.

My eyes flit back to him, resting on his back. I love him. I love him so much it hurts.

But I can't love him. I *know* my arm won't be better, no matter how hard I try and believe it
will. I can't love him because we're back on Earth now and we each have our own lives to carry
on with. His life will probably include the SGC again, maybe mine too. But his will be in a
military capacity, and mine won't be. Mine would be purely scientific if I went back there, and
we all know how he feels about scientists. How can he love a scientist who can't even tie up
her own hair?

"Uh...I brought some stuff over for you guys this morning." Daniel says hesitantly, watching

"Thanks." I murmur and follow him to the dining room where he's dumped the packs.

I recognise one of the bags as mine, the pale blue material just as faded and soft as I
remember it. I pick it up slowly and open it. My clothes peer up at me, the salmon pink jumper
I loved, my denim jacket, jeans, shirts, pyjama's. Pyjama's. I don't even remember sleeping in
pyjama's, just clothes.

A tear trickles down my cheek. I'm crying because I'm staring at a bag full of my old clothes.

Daniel pulls me into a hug, holding me tightly against him.

"I missed you." He whispers, his fingers digging into my arms.

"I missed you too." I tell him, whipping my emotions back into line. I don't move though,
letting him comfort me as people come and go around us. I'm tired, I'm so tired. Last night I
didn't sleep. I lay awake, just holding Jack and memorising the way he held me because we'd
promised each other it would be the last time.

"Jack, which room is Sam taking?" He yells out.

"Which ever." The Colonel yells back. I don't want which ever, I want to sleep with him, with
Jack. But I can't, so which ever will have to do.

"Come on, you should get some rest." Daniel takes my hand and leads me up the stairs.

The room he shows me to is nice, tidy and spacious.

"Thank you." I smile slightly, shifting my bag slightly. "I'm going to take a shower first..."

My fourth or fifth one today already, but I can't help myself. I love standing in a shower with
the water stinging down on you, so hot that it nearly burns you but you know it's cleaning away
all the dirt.

My hair is squeaking before I even wash it, still clean from its wash an hour or so ago, but I
don't care. Standing underneath the needle like water bearing down on me, I feel my worries
being washed away, just soaped down the drain along with all the dirt.

I crawl into the bed, my pyjama's soft and cuddly. I feel comfortable and spoilt like I haven't
felt for years as I lie in the bed, just savouring the soft feel of the blankets and duvet.


Catherine and Ernest each went to their rooms a while ago, leaving me to talk to our 'guests'.

Standing at the doorway now and watching the car depart, it's hard to believe that I haven't
been here all along, that this is the first time in two years I'm standing in my own house. It
all feel so normal, so familiar all of a sudden.

At the SGC it felt strange awkward because I remembered who I was at the SGC, the soldier I
used to be. Here I can just remember myself, because essentially, I'm still the same person.

I jam my hands into my pockets, looking around and feeling slightly out of place suddenly. What
to do?

My eye catches sight of the clock. 1805 hours. Great!! Nearly dinner time.

A spark of happiness shoots through me. MacDonalds, here I come!! As if on cue my stomach gives
a large rumble. Looking up the stairs, I don't see any movement from anyone, so it looks like
I'll be by myself. Grabbing the cash and car keys Daniel left us, I head out of the house and
seat myself in the car, Bird happily enjoying his first 'field trip' on earth as he is seated
on my shoulder.

It's Daniel's old car, the one he's had since I've known him. The familiar little doll thing
dangles down from the rear-view mirror and he still has the really bad animal print seat
covers. I still don't know what posessed him to buy those...but that's just Daniel for you.

My hands rest comfortably on the steering wheel, but I can't bring myself to let go and start
the car. I stare out of the windscreen instead, letting my dull gaze focus on the cars driving
slowly past.

Across the road I watch a girl that looks strangely familiar. She's holding hands with some
guy, probably her boyfriend, and completely oblivious to the world around her.

Niki. I blink. Niki. Last time I saw my neighbour's kid she was fourteen, nearly fifteen, and
here she is, standing all grown up with her boyfriend.

My throat constricts as I watch her stroll along, laughing at something the guy says. When had
it all gotten so hard?

I stare at the house infront of me for a while, not really looking, just staring. When I blink
again and reality crashes in, the world has grown dimmer, darker. Cars are now driving past
with their headlights on and people are hurrying past instead of strolling. How long have I
been sitting here, just staring?

I open the car door and climb out, the keys jingling uselessly in my hands. Catherine is
standing on the doorstep, watching me.

"You coming?" She asks softly, her eyes understanding.


"Where were you going?"

"Felt like MacDonalds, but decided that it'd be no fun by myself." So that was another lie. The
truth is I don't want to be by myself. At all. I've gotten so used to the constant
companionship, always having either Carter, Catherine, Teal'c or Ernest with me that I'm
hesitant and scared to venture out without one of them with me.

"Oh. Well, Sam and I cooked up some frozen pizzas..." She offers.

Pizza. I haven't had pizza in how long... "Count me in."

~Twenty Five~


Thank you. Thank you. I sink into the couch, removing all of my weight from my feet, and
sighing in relief. Thank you.

A knock sounds on the door, rattling the window glass. No! I open one eyelid slowly, peeking at
the clock on the mantel. Great. Now what?

Despite the protests of my feet and the slight groan of frustration that escapes me, I stand up
and shuffle over to the doorway, kicking one of Angela's dolls carelessly out of the way. Right
now I'm too tired and too exhausted to even *contemplate* tidying up.

"Daniel." I'm surprised to see him standing there. His hair is stirring agitatedly in the
slight breeze and his eyes are slightly wild as he looks at me. "You okay?" He really doesn't
look that good...

"Fine." He waves his hand carelessly in the air and as he does so the stale smell of alcohol
assails my senses. He's been drinking.

"That's why you're standing on my doorstep with bloodshot eyes and enough alcohol in you to
fill up the local." I state pointedly, determinedly pushing down the fingers of fear that are
trying to grab hold of me. Daniel is *not* Rob. I've seen Daniel drunk before...he's an unhappy
drunk, not an angry one.

"Needed something to steady my nerves." He says, resting his hand on the doorframe for balance.
"This was dumb..." He shakes his head, obviously trying to clear his vision. I'm surprised he
can still stand, given that I'm pretty sure I heard the sound of his brain thunking against his
skull as it sloshed in a sea of alcohol induced misery.

"You should know better than to drink when you're makes it worse." I tell him
sympathetically, offering him a hand to steady him.

He accepts it wordlessly and allows me to lead him into the small house.

"Drink?" I ask as he half collapses onto the couch.

"A strong one." He states, his eyes closed.

"Fine." I head into the kitchen and quickly fix him a strong coffee.

"This is coffee..." He complains, screwing up his face.

"And it's all you're going to get." I tell him smartly. Daniel Jackson, refusing coffee?
Something must be wrong.

"Damn it Alex, I want to forget. Not sober up, I want to get myself so damn drunk that I fall
over and just forget." He complains, glaring at me.

"Forget what?"

"Everything." He waves his hands in the air dramatically. I'd forgotten how theatrical he got
when he was on the way to becoming well and truly sozzled.

"It can't be that bad." I tell him softly.

"Yes it can. I killed her." He whispers, his shoulders slumping.

"Who?" I frown stupidly.

"Sha're. My wife. The woman I love. I. Killed. Her." He repeats, his voice raising in pitch.

I blink.


"You heard me, Alex. Damn you!" He yells and curls himself over, cradling his head with his

"I..." I watch the man in front of me. His hands are shaking with grief as he rocks himself
violently, silent sobs wracking his body.

"Bester...she was going to kill him...I couldn't... Amounet..." He hiccups again, his voice
muffled against himself.

My heart stands still. He killed his wife to save a team mate. What can I say? How do I tell
him that one half of myself hates him for that, for having the ability to make the right
choice, but the other half feels admiration and respect for that same ability. How do I
know which half of me is right?

"I'm sorry." I whisper. The words are inadequate, meaningless really, but I still say them.
What else is there to say?

"That's not all though." He sniffs and a bitter laugh escapes him. He looks up at me with his
wild eyes and laughs again. "They came back, just like I said they would."

I frown. Who came back?

"I couldn't even talk to them, Alex. They were my best friends and I..."

They came back. SG-1. The first SG-1... "When?" I ask, my throat constricting. An irrational
spurt of fear shoots through me. They weren't meant to come back. As harsh as it sounds, as
cruel and uncaring as it comes across, they weren't meant to come back. Everyone had finally
let them go, moved on from the loss and put it behind them. This is... it wasn't meant to

"Yesterday afternoon..." He wipes at his face and takes a large swig of coffee, grimacing as
the liquid spills down his chin due to his shaky hands. "They're so... different." He says
eventually, his eyes struggling to focus with mine.

"They would be. You're different." I remind him. It's the truth. Even if O'Neill, Carter and
Teal'c had somehow magically not been changed at all, Daniel had still changed. He'd changed a
lot, the fact that he just killed his wife proves that. So even if *they* hadn't changed, their
relationship would still be different because *he* had changed.

He blinks slowly, thinking about my words. "It's so hard, Alex." He says eventually, drowning
the rest of his coffee and placing the mug on the table. Her table. Captain Carter's table.

"I know." No, I don't really know what it's like for him, but the words still force themselves
out. Cliche's, corny expressions that everyone uses to try and soothe someone.

"It's so hard seeing them..." He continues, his eyes now focused on some point in time that I
can't see. "Jack and Sam especially... " He glances at me. "When was the last time we spoke?"
He asks suddenly.

"About a month or two ago." I'm not sure really, things have been so hectic lately...

"Then you wouldn't know anything that's happened lately."

"Well, I know that General Hammond wanted me to come in at one stage because of some parrallel
universe idea..." I trail off.

"Why didn't you?"

"Angela was sick." I admit softly, pushing my hair off my face. "She's only just come out of

Immediately his face softens in concern, his blue eyes surprisingly lucid as he gazes at me. He
looks like the Daniel Jackson I got to know way back in the beginning. Always concerned about
everyone. "She okay?"

"Yeah, just a bad kidney infection. But she's fine now." I smile slightly. "What happened with
the alternate universe situation?"

"Oh. We had a visit...from Jack and Kawalsky." He states, the concern leaving him and his face
once again changing to the bewildered, haunted expression of the man who had stood on my
doorstep about ten minutes ago.


"Yeah...he died in this reality right at the beginning of the Stargate program...a Goa'uld
infested him..." Daniel shudders slighlty, obviously remembering the painful memories. "Anyway,
Jack suffered from Temporal Entropic Cascade Failure..."

"Which told you that *our* Jack, so to speak, was still alive." I realise, the scientist in me
completely over-ruling my personal side with the opportunity of getting more information.

"Yes. Then it was simply a matter of getting in touch with Thor..."

"And he brought them home." I finish up, feeling strangely satisfied that it had all fitted
together so neatly. An odd feeling, considering the problems Daniel seemed to be having now.
"Are they all okay?" What kind of a friend am I, only asking him *now* whether they're all

"Yes. No." He shakes his head, frowning.

"Yes no?"

"Well... Sam..." He hesitates, anguish on his face. "Her arm... she ah, well, so probably won't
be able to stay military." He says bluntly.

I feel sympathy in me for the woman who's house I'm living in.

"Why not?" I ask softly.

"Her arm..." He hesitates again, starting to cry softly. "Alex...they're not the people I

"Yes they are." I tell him, moving to sit next to him. He allows me to hug him while he cries,
burying his hot, tear stained face against my neck and crushing himself against me while he
cries. "You're still the same person, even though you've changed."

"No. I'm not the same person. I killed my wife, Alex. Before the Stargate program I never even
dreamt of holding a gun, not to mention *killing* anything." Valid point. The Daniel I'm
holding in my arms now is a seasoned soldier without the military rank and protocol and
regulations drilled into his head.

"Essentially, you're still the same person, Daniel." I remind him, rocking him ever so
slightly. His tears seem to be dissipating, but neither of us lets go of the other. "You still
care about people, you still have your compassion, your stubborness to resolve things the right
way..." I whisper. He shakes in my arms, his hot cheek pressed tightly against my neck. "You're
still the same person who forced us to become a team, who helped me when my marriage broke
down... who refused to let go of the belief that his friends were still out there..."

"I just... I didn't think it would be this hard." He says at last, resting his forehead on my
shoulder. "I just expected things to go back to being the way they were." He sighs.

"They won't though."

"No." He agrees, pulling away. His hands rest on my arms, his eyes strangely calm as he studies
me again. "We're friends, aren't we?" He asks hopefully.

"Of course." I nod. We've been through so much together, achieved to much, fought so hard to
become a team...

"I remember...I remember thinking something when you came to my house the night you left
Rob..." He looks at me hesitantly. "I remember thinking that Sam was sister and you were just
someone I worked with... but... but right now I feel closer to you than I feel to Sam."

"That's because you haven't seen each other for a while." I smile gently. A sister. I like
that. Daniel's little sister. He looked out for me like a big brother when I re-adjusted back
to life without Rob, and now I'm looking out for him like a little sister while he deals with
this new change in his life.

"I know but..." We both jump as the glass on the door rattles as someone impatiently pounds on

"Answer it." Daniel instructs, letting go of me and curling back into a little ball of misery.

I open my door to see three men standing on my doorstep.

"Well, come on in. Daniel's already here." I offer, smiling slightly at them all.


"So, how's Angela?" Mason asks as he sits down on a couch, picking up a discarded Teddy Bear.

"She's much better now."

"She was sick?" I blink.

"Yeah, kidney infection." Alex agrees.


"So, Daniel tells me that they're back." She says eventually, her eyes resting on Jackson.

Silence meets her statement, no one can really answer that, not that it was a question.

"What do you think of them?" Mason asks eventually, reclining back into his chair.

"He's nothing like the O'Neill we met." Thomas says, frowning slightly.

"They've changed." Jackson murmurs, rubbing at his face.

"Have you been drinking?" I raise my eyebrows.

"Just a whole lot." Alex informs me smoothly, rolling her eyes slightly.

"So what's going to happen now?" I ask eventually.

"Well, I doubt that you'll be kicked off SG-1, so there's no need to go packing your office
up." Thomas says somewhat mournfully. "Alex, do you have anything to drink?"

"I've got some coffee..."


"I'm not letting Daniel touch it." She warns, standing up and heading over to her cabinet. Only
it's not her cabinet, just like my house wasn't really *my* house. The cabinet belongs to
Captain Carter, just like this house belongs to Captain Carter and the house I lived in for a
few months belongs to O'Neill.

"Fine." Jackson yawns. "Don't want anymore anyway."

"Sure." Mason nods sarcastically, "That's why you're glaring at her."

"What do you think O'Neill will do?" I ask eventually, unable to tear my eyes off Thomas. Being
the only resident scientist - other than Jackson of course - my place on SG-1 is pretty much
secure considering that things don't look to bright for Captain Carter.

"I don't know." Jackson frowns, trying to clear his mind. He looks very...fuzzy. "He doesn't
look to happy to be back..."

"Maybe he didn't want to come back." Mason suggests.

"Why do you say that?" Alex frowns, confused as she sets the glasses and the alcohol on the

"Well... the O'Neill we met was married to Carter, right?" Mason starts to reason. "Maybe there
was something between O'Neill and Carter and..."

"No." Jackson shakes his head. "There wasn't."

"How do you know?" Thomas cuts in.

"Well... I *know* them. I was talking to Sam before...and I don't think anything happened
between them." He seems convinced.

"Well, maybe that's it then. Nothing will happen between them now so they don't want to be
here..." Mason suggests.

"And they accuse women of being hopeless romantics." Alex chuckles, shaking her head slightly.
"You've got your head in the clouds, Eric."

"I think that they've just got to settle down again. Looking at Carter's arm, I doubt that
regulations will stand in their way if they want something." I remind everyone softly.

"That still doesn't answer our question as to what O'Neill's going to do."

Another silence stretches on, only broken by the sound of empty glasses being replaced on the
table and filled up with more alcohol.

"I don't think they'll break SG-1 up." Alex says eventually, studying the near empty glass in
her hands.

"We can't *all* be SG-1." Thomas snipes.

"I know." Alex smiles slightly, a look of resignation on her face. I still feel slightly guilty
at moments like this because essentially, I replaced her on SG-1. But she, along with the rest
of the the team, welcomed me with open arms and have made me a part of their friendship. "But
who says they *want* to be on SG-1?"

"What else would they do?" Mason asks, sounding surprised. "I know that if I was given the
choice of staying on SG-1 or doing something else...I'd take SG-1."

"They've had two years of doing something else, Eric." Alex says softly, watching him
pointedly. "Daniel says they've changed...maybe one of the changes is that they've realised
there is more to life than the SGC..."

"Are you saying..."

"No, I'm not." Alex sighs, shifting her look over to the slightly indignant Paul Thomas. "The
SGC is incredible...I *know* that, but I also know that life doesn't stop being exciting or
interesting or any less wonderful if you're not involved in it anymore."

I look at Alex admiringly. Alex is what really draws this group together. Oh, sure, Jackson
gets along with everyone, Mason and Thomas have that 'military' bond, Jackson and I have the
'scientist' bond and we all share the common passion for Stargate travel...but Alex is what
*gels* us together, even though she's not on SG-1. When we have a problem, we come to Alex.
When we need someone to talk to, to listen to, we all come to Alex. How could her husband have
abused her like that?

"So what are you saying?" Jackson asks eventually.

"I'm saying that maybe things *won't* change. Maybe O'Neill *won't* want to re-join the SGC."

Her words raise my spirits slightly, as they always do. Maybe things won't have to change that

"Besides...if it is only O'Neill that wants to re-join the SGC, then Hammond will probably give
him command of a new team, not break up this team. We work too well together." Thomas agrees

"What about me?" Jackson whispers. His eyes are fearful as he gazes at all of us, finally
letting them rest on Alex, our continual source of comfort and encouragement.

"If you're settled in a team now, I don't see why you'd have to move..." Alex frowns slightly,
thinking. "Then again, you *were* the one who worked with O'Neill before..."

"And Teal'c." Jackson adds, an odd quirk playing around his lips.

A tremour of anxiety runs through me as I think of the large Jaffa. I'd only seen him from a
distance, but the way his gaze had moved around the room, they way he moved with an easy
confidence in his own abilities earned a lot of respect for him. He is a bit... scary, for lack
of a better word.

"It's funny, but looking at him I didn't picture him as a family kind of guy." Thomas states

"Me neither." Jackson agrees thoughtfully. "He's a great person, I mean, really, incredibly
good friend - very loyal... but he never told me."

"He obviously told O'Neill and Carter..." I can't stop the words slipping out.

"Yeah." Jackson sighs slightly. Another sign that things had changed, that fate had moved
Jackson out of 'their' lives and into ours, creating a slight chasm between the worlds that we
somehow had to bridge for everyone's sake.

"I can understand it though." Thomas says surprisingly.

"You can?" We look at him doubtfully.

"Well, yeah. If he admitted to family it's very likely the General wouldn't have let him join
the SGC because of the risk of his family being taken hostage and used against him... Given the
amount of time that passed and the logical conclusion they must have reached about not going
home, it makes sense for him to have told them."

I mull it over. Thomas is right, surprisingly enough.

"I myself think that the best course of action would be simply being their friends." Alex says

I look at her, confused.

"Think about it, they've just suddenly been thrown back into 'life' again after settling into
the belief that they *weren't* going to come home. Not only that, but everyone else also
thought they weren't coming home. It's going to be hard for them to re-adjust to a new
'familiar' way of living - they're going to need a lot of support."

She's right, as usual. Here we are, being selfish and self centered, only concerned about the
impact that their arrival is going to have on our working positions, while they have to
completely re-adjust themselves to fit back into real life. Not only that, but people who
thought they were KIA are suddenly going to realise they *weren't* KIA and want to know what

We are disgusting.

"I agree." I state, nodding in agreement. I'm relieved to see the others also nodding their
heads slowly, similar looks of personal disgust on their faces.

"Good. First things first, I'll imagine that Carter will want her house back so..." Alex looks
around. "Guess who gets to help me move!"

"I don't think Sam will mind crashing at Jack's for a while until you find somewhere. I
wouldn't start packing yet." Jackson shakes his head, confident enough in his knowledge of
Carter to be able to know for certain that she won't mind.

"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure because Sam's my friend and I know her." He states with finality, lifting his
glass in the air in a gesture of a salute. "And Jack and Teal'c and Catherine. I don't know
Ernest of course, but then again..." And with that our archaeologist passes out cold, his glass
falling harmlessly onto the couch and his head tipping to a strange angle. About time, I was
worried about the amount of alcohol he suddenly seemed to be able to hold. He *really* must
have been worried!


It has not been easy achieving Kel'no'reem of late. Ever since our return to Earth I have felt
unease and wariness descend upon me. Perhaps I have become 'paranoid', as O'Neill would say. I
do not, however, believe it to be so.

Opening my eyes I stare around the world that I was exiled to with my Mother when I was but a
young boy. Despite the dark, I still recognise the familiar outline of the city where it is
positioned among the hills. Lanterns and torches have been lit, creating a surreal aura of
warmth and light around the old stone buildings.

It is here that my son and my wife now live. It is here that she lies in the arms of my friend.
It is here that my son has forgotten me and turned to Froj'aC as his Father. It is here that
the consequences of my betrayal of Apophis have finally revealed themselves to me in the form
of being renounced by my family and my people.

For the first time in many years - since my Father's death - I can feel the salty heat of tears
making their presence known on my cold cheeks. The air around me is frosty, a customary
Chulakian night, but this does not deter me. From my vantage point I can let my eyes stay fixed
on the false brightness of the city while inside my mind and soul are in turmoil.

I will stay until I have regained sufficient control before re-joining my team-mates and
friends on Earth.

I believed that I did the right thing. I believed that I could help my people. I was wrong. I
failed my people; my family. I have spent the last two years of my life living on a forgotten
world and doing nothing.


Her hair is spilled over the pillow, the delicate curve of her eyelashes resting calmly against
her pearly white skin as her gentle lips are curved into a relaxed smile. How often do I just
watch her sleeping like this, thanking whichever deity it was that saw fit to bless me with

Tears burn at my eyes while I watch her sleep, her languid movements and soft little snores
tugging at the strings of my heart and pulling the knots she's tied into them just a little bit

I love her. I love her so much I'm willing to do anything for her.

Outside I can hear the quiet hum of cars going past, see their head lights casting shadows and
playing games over the walls while moonlight spills in through the window and tangles it's
fingers through her hair.

The muted sound of the phone downstairs ringing intrudes on my musing, and I quietly slip from
the room, carefully closing the door behind me.


[That you Janet?]

"Who else would it be, Alex?" I smile slightly, rolling my eyes.

[I didn't wake you up, did I?]

"No, I was awake." I tell her honestly, curious about the phonecall. "Have you talked to anyone
from the SGC lately?"

[Yeah, they're all here at my place.] She chuckles slightly.

"They are?" I smile slightly. "Oh."

[Yeah. We're thinking of having a barbecue tomorrow...] She's hesitant about it, I can tell,
but there's a surge of determination in her voice that reminds me of the Alex I remember
fighting to reclaim her life and refusing to let her husband control her again.

"And?" I'm waiting for it.

[Well...this is probably going to sound rude, but we were wondering if we could have it at your
place.] She blurts out.

I'm slightly surprised by the question, but I don't consider it rude. "Sure, I'm curious

[Sorry!] She laughs, a relieved sound. [We want them...the other come as well...] I
feel my respect for the woman grow even more. Over the course of the last while - since she's
gotten away from Rob and started her own life - she's been astounding everyone by the depth of
thought and the ability she has to just *help* people.

"Sure." I nod. I can understand, too, why they want it at my house. They can't have it at
Alex's because it's not really Alex's house. It's Sam's. They can't have it at Daniel's because
he has virtually no yard and both Mason and Thomas live in apartments.

[Great. You don't have to do anything. We should all get over there at about 1200
hours...that's about it.]

"Okay. See you then." I smile slightly.

I simply watch the phone on the hook for a while. The plastic is shiny and white, the slimline
receiver sitting snugly on it's hold. Little mundane, everyday things like this that I take for
granted. Sam, the Colonel, Catherine, Ernest and even Teal'c haven't had them for the last two
years. After living without they're suddenly thrown into the 'lap of luxury' again.

And, judging by their behaviour and general unease, I'm guessing that they're not exactly sure
what to do with their sudden return, where they're going to go and how things stand with

Can't say I blame them, two years is a long time. Sam doesn't even know I have a daughter. I
couldn't tell her, I don't know why, but I found it so easy to just announce it to Catherine.
Just another sign that two years is a long time. We're all going to have to ease ourselves back
into friendships and find out who our friends have become during their absence.


~Twenty Six~


I feel as though I've had a sand fight on the beach with Catherine and Carter and had my face
firmly rubbed in the dirt. My eyelids are clogged together, my mouth feels rough and tastes

I shift slightly and my old bones complain as the cold creeps in beneath the covers and reminds
me of the numbness in my shoulder.

When did I start to enjoy sleeping on the floor? I sit up slowly, easing the cricks out of my
back and working my stiff muscles. I *never* used to feel like this on Kaldroon when I woke up
after sleeping on the hard ground.

I glare over at my rumpled bed, condemning the twisted sheets to death.

I wonder how Ernest, Catherine and Carter slept?

Slowly I stand up, despite the protests in my legs and hobble over to the door. Coffee. Some
nice, hot coffee sounds really good about now.

The light is still that grim, grey colour that first starts to filter into the world just
before the sun rises and everything turns golden. With the whole house seeming to be suspended
in time, waiting for morning to really arrive, I make my way down to my kitchen. I've slipped
right back into the routine of domestic living. Last night, clearing away after we ate our
dinner of pizza, I didn't even need to think about where things went. My hands automatically
opened cupboard doors and stacked things. Sure, one or two things had been moved around,
different mugs occupied my cupboards, but other than that it was still the same.

I don't even have to think about making my coffee now, my hands just habitually reach for the
jar, the teaspoons, the sugar, the milk... and a few minutes later I'm standing with a
streaming mug of coffee while my feet slowly get frozen to the tiles on my kitchen floor.

The floorboard still creaks just before you step onto the deck, and the one plank on the deck
still looks very dangerous - as though it'll break if you step on it. But my big wooden bench
is still wedged in beneath the window, probably only because it's so big, awkward and heavy
that no one could be bothered moving the ancient thing. I'm surprised to see new, bright
pillows on it, but I'm not complaining.

Carefully I lower my still stiff joints onto the soft pillows and lean back against the wall to
watch my first sunset back on earth in over two years.

I don't think I would have heard her if the flooboard hadn't creaked when she stepped on it.
Her movements are still as quiet and graceful as always.

"Morning Carter." I greet her, not even turning my head sideways to look at her. I know it
will be her.

"Morning Sir." She returns the greeting, and I can hear the slight smile on her voice. She
doesn't ask how I knew it was her because we both know it wouldn't be anyone else.

"So, how did you sleep last night?" I ask tentatively. It's a loaded question.

"Not bad." She's lying, I can tell by the way her eyes refuse to meet with mine as she settles
herself on the bench next to me, tucking her feet up underneath her and pulling her knees under
her chin.

"Oh. You look like shit." So I'm not known for my tact. "Are you sure you slept?"

"No." She admits ruefully, shaking her head at me. But I can see the gentle smile curving her
lips so I know she hasn't taken offence to my cruel statement. "And I'm going to guess that you
didn't either."

"Oh, I did sleep." I tell her truthfully.

"Then why did I hear you thrashing around the house at about 0300 this morning?" She asks
smoothly, her eyes daring me to argue with her.

"Well...that would be when I decided that the bed just wasn't working." I admit, sipping my
drink. "The floor seemed a lot more comfortable."

She smiles slightly, but doesn't say a word.

"Want a drink?" I offer, studying her profile.

"Thanks." She accepts my mug and wraps her slender fingers around it, trying to chase the chill
out of them.

"So." I lean back again and turn my face towards the garden that's starting to spring back to
life now that the world is starting to regain its colour.

"So." She echoes my words and returns the mug with a small smile.

"What are we going to do now?" I ask the question softly, not watching her but focusing my
attention on the small bed of roses that I don't seem to remember having in my garden.

"I don't know." She surprises me with the folorness of her voice. "I knew it would be hard,
coming back that is, but... I... I knew they'd move on but I still wasn't expecting it." She
leans her head against my shoulder and I put my arm around her silently.

"We moved on too." I remind her gently, letting my head rest on hers.

"I know." She whispers. "We shouldn't have."

"No. That's where you're wrong." I tell her, not letting her go. "We should have moved on a lot

"Then we'd have been breaking regulations..."

"No, we wouldn't have been." I take her arm gently in my free hand after placing my mug on the
armrest. "This... this effectively terminated any impact those regs are going to have on us."

"We don't know that for certain." She snatches her arm back, refusing to look at me. "We don't
know for certain that I'll have to resign."

"No, we don't, but it's very unlikely that you're going to make a full recovery, Carter."

"But Thor said..."

"I know what Thor said, Carter, but he did say that it might not work."

"It's not fair. It's not fair at all."

"No, it's not fair." I agree, letting my fingers trail down her cheek. What am I doing?

"I just's so hard, Jack. So hard." She presses against me, her trembling body melding
tightly to mine.

"I know." I squeeze my eyes shut.

"I just want to go to bed and sleep forever...with you." She whispers

"I know." Something snaps inside of me and everything feels better. I'm not the only one then.
"But then we'd be missing out on everything else."

"I don't know what to do." She shudders.

"We'll work it out." I pull her even tighter against me. "I... I don't want things to change,

"What things?" She tenses against me, I can feel her wariness.

"Between us..." My throat constricts. What on earth posessed me to say that? We had both just
agreed a few hours ago that there wasn't anything between us, and here I was telling her that I
didn't want them to change.

"But..." She pauses, pulling away to look at me.

"I... I still care about you." I whisper, tracing her cheek with my finger like I did on
Christmas so long ago. She leans into my caress, closing her eyes slightly and bringing her
good hand up to hold my hand against her.

"I know." She agrees gently. "I care about you too." Her eyes open and in the ever lightening
world I can see the confusion in their dark depths.

I'm tired of talking. Her skin is soft in my hands as I trace the delicate jawbone with my
thumbs. She's hesitant, I can see the conflicting emotions in her eyes but she doesn't pull
away. I lean towards her slowly. Come on Sam, come on.

Slowly she closes the distance between us, her eyes still focused warily on mine. Her breath is
warm as it washes over me, the whispering of the night gown she's wearing the only noise
between us. We hesitate for a moment again, searching each others' eyes.

"You outside, Jack?"

She pulls away from me, her movements jerky and her eyes panicking as she shifts away from me
on the bench. My heart plummets again. She won't talk again, won't share a moment like that
with me again. It's over now.

"We're on the deck, Catherine."

"Oh, goodmorning." Catherine steps onto the deck, shielding her eyes from the sun which has
crept up over the horizon during the last couple of minutes. I hadn't even noticed. "Been up

"About half an hour." I acknowledge, rubbing at my face. "I'm going to have a shower now,

"Sure." Catherine frowns slightly, I can see the confusion on her face as she looks at me. But
I don't feel like explaining things to her now, admitting to the new blow to my 'relationship'
- or lack there of - with Carter. Catherine's timing is just as bad as Thor's.


I feel like a little child, seated here on a barstool at Jack's kitchen counter, and sipping at
my hot chocolate while he bustles around the kitchen, whipping up a bunch of pancakes. I'm
amazed at the ease with which Jack has slipped back into 'life' again. Walking around his
kitchen, dressed in his casual clothes, he looks as though he's never left.

Sam, on the other hand, walks around with a guarded, wary look on her face. She's slipping into
herself, I realised with a start on the deck this morning, she's not going to let anyone or
anything get close to her again because she's scared.

"Do you like syrup with your pancakes?" Jack asks, eyeing me.

"Yup." I nod my head, still feeling very childlike. I glance over at Ernest next to me, and
watch as he seems to be absorbed with simply studying the squeeze-bottle.

"This is amazing." He states, looking up. "Who would have thought that polymers..."

"Ack!" Jack holds up his hand. "I have this problem when people slip into scientific mode." He
states pointedly. "I don't care *how* much you want to be involved with techno-babble, just
don't do it when I'm around."

Ernest blinks slightly and then his lips curve up in a smile. "When will you show me your
roller-blades?" He remembers.

"Later." Jack sighs. "Here." He places the pancakes on the counter-top and we all watch each
other for a minute. "I get the feeling I'm forgetting something."

"Someone." I answer him. "Sam's not down yet..."

"She'll be a while. She obviously likes her showers." Jack states airily, seating himself at
the counter-top. A knocking at the door evokes and irritated sigh from him and he rises to his
feet again. "You might as well start eating."

I dish up for Ernest, looking at the flat bits of dough criticisingly. Surprisingly enough,
they don't look half bad. Then again, I shouldn't be too surprised because Jack did do a lot -
if not most - of the cooking while we were on Kaldroon.

"It's changed a lot." Ernest says eventually, his eyes following the trail of golden sweetness
on his pancakes.

"I know." I glance over at him, watching the thoughtful look in his eye.

"It's amazing how far you've come in technology..."

"Not very far if we're talking about relativity." Sam's voice sounds from the doorway. Her eyes
look tired and her voice is strangely flat even though I can tell she's about to launch into a
discussion about her favourite subjects - science and technology.

"Well, still, when I was last here..."

"Look who dropped by." Jack reappears back into the room, a rather hesitant and awkward
archeologist following a little way behind him.

"Want some pancakes?" I offer, watching as Sam silently reaches for one and drops it on a

" thanks." He blanches slightly, looking a little green.

"Danny, we haven't been drinking, have we?" Jack raises his eyebrows ever so slightly.

"Long night." Daniel muttered.

"You too huh?" Jack sighs, casting a quick glance at Sam before making his way back around the
counter top and starts fishing around in the fridge.

"Uh..." Daniel blinks, shaking his head slightly as if to clear it. "We're having a barbecue at
Janet's this afternoon..." He focuses his eyes on me, probably because Jack still has his head
buried in the fridge and Sam is pretending to be absolutely amazed with the patterns the syrup
is making over the pancakes. "And you're all invited."

His words hang in the air. A barbecue. I wait for someone else to say something first. It's not
that I don't want to go, a part of me is actually very excited at having the opportunity of
going to a barbecue again. The problem is the fact that it just all seems too easy. Too normal.
Too simple. We've been back on earth for about 3 days now, and I can't help but feel slightly
sad and worried that we are all just stepping right back into life, as if we're trying to
pretend the last two years have never happened.

"A barbecue?" Ernest asks, grinning.

"Yeah." Daniel nods, turning his attention to the man.

"I'd like that." Ernest nods, satisfied that he gets to 'experience' a barbecue.

"Sam?" Daniel turns to her hopefully.

"Well, I don't..."

"What else will you be doing?" Daniel points out gently.

"We'll all come." I state firmly, daring them all to argue with me. Maybe just slipping back
into real life won't be such a bad thing after all, maybe it's something we should all try and

"Great. Come whenever." Daniel glances at the clock on the wall as he says it. I look as well.
9:00am. A whole day ahead of us and I don't know what we're going to do with ourselves.

"Want a drink?" Jack surfaces out of the fridge, holding a beer in one hand and Bird perched on
his other shoulder.

" thanks." Daniel turns slightly green again. "Well, I've got to go get some stuff for
this afternoon..."

"See ya Daniel." Jack shrugs slightly, disturbing Bird.

"Bye." We all chorus together as Daniel leaves just as awkwardly as he came.

"Well." I say, breaking the silence that's fallen on us.

"Well." Ernest echoes.

"Well breakfast." Jack states, closing the fridge after putting the beer away and turning to
attack the stack of pancakes.

~Twenty Seven~


This was a mistake. A huge, big, honking mistake - as Jack would say. He used to love that
expression. Does he still love it?

"Daniel, you okay?" Janet's hand taps me back into real life, her concerned brown eyes gazing
up at me.

"Yeah, fine."

Big mistake. *Very* big mistake.

"Sure." She nods knowingly and smiles slightly. "I remember when we first met Cassie." She says
softly, her eyes following her daughter around the yard. "She wouldn't talk to anyone."

"Yeah." I'm slightly confused where this conversation is headed, but if it helps me to avoid
thinking about Sam, Jack and Teal'c then I'll gladly follow it.

"The first time she spoke... I was so jealous." Janet whispers and I'm surprised to see tears
in her eyes. "It was when I was showing her around my house."

I'm curious now. Janet never really said what made Cassie start talking and we just all assumed
it was because she finally accepted that her new life was going to be here, on earth, with us.

"I... I had some photo's of them - of you all - when you were SG-1." She turns to me and I can
see the acceptance in her eyes. "There was also one of Sam and I, I had that one on my bedside
table." Her gaze returns to Cassie.

"She picked the photo up and looked at it, she studied it so long and hard... and then she
looked up at me and said, 'I miss my Mom.'" The tears start squeezing themselves out from
beneath her eyelids.

I put an arm around Janet, hugging her slightly for support.

"And then I told her 'I know' and I hugged her, and she hugged me back. She...she ah... she
took the photo again and sat on the bed just looking at the photo. She wanted to know who Sam
was, so I told her."

"What did you tell her?" I ask gently.

"She was my best friend, a beautiful person who loved to smile." She smiles softly. "She looks
like Cassie's Mom. She told me a while ago that she used to imagine that the picture of Sam and
I was actually a picture of her Mom and I, and because we were friends and hugging it was okay
for me to be her Mom too."

I let my gaze focus on the girl running around, squealing with laughter as Mason pretends to
chase her.

"And it hurt, Daniel, it really hurt that when Cassie was looking at that picture she was
seeing her Mom, and it wasn't me." Janet cries, shaking slightly in my arms.

"That was a long time ago, Jan." I tell her gently, rocking her. "She calls *you* Mom now. To
her, Sam is just a picture on a piece of paper, some stories we tell and the special smile we
all get on our face when we think of her." I smile that smile I'm thinking of - we've all got
it. Everyone loved Sam, she was such a wonderful person that just thinking of her happiness and
smiles makes a person smile.

"I know. Deep down, I know that. I'm just scared that when Cassie sees and meets Sam she won't
want to call *me* Mom anymore."

"That's stupid, Janet. Just because Sam looks like Cassie's mom doesn't mean she is."

"I know." Janet sniffs slightly, pulling away. "There was a purpose to all that originally, but
I don't remember what it was." She admits, smiling wryly.

"I hope you feel better now." I say, rolling my eyes. *I* feel better now, for some reason, I
don't know why. Maybe knowing that I'm not the only one scared of the new and unexpected change
in our lives, or maybe it is knowing that I'm still needed as a comfort by some of my friends
is the reason I feel better. Either way, watching Mason chase Cassie and tickle her, the same
feeling of contentment and peace that came over me last night before I passed out, descends on
me again.

We *will* be okay, simply because we won't let it be any other way.


"What's up?" I ask, falling into a chair next to Jackson and Doc Fraiser.

"We were just talking about Cassie." Jackson smiles slightly, his eyes following the subject of
their conversation around the yard as Mason continues to chase her.

"He's even more of a kid than she is." I sigh, watching as my 2IC yells out a war cry.

"It's why they get along so well." Doc Fraiser smiles slightly, wiping her red eyes. She's been
crying, but I won't pry into the matter. It's not my place.

"So." I rub my hands together for lack of something else to do. "When are they going to get

Bester isn't here yet, nor Alex, but the other two know perfectly well who I mean by 'they'.

"I don't know. I told them whenever, so they could show up anytime." Jackson admits edgily,
smiling tightly.

"Wanna drink?" I offer him.

"No thank you. My head is still spinning." He admits.

"You drank quite a bit yesterday, didn't you?" I grin at him.

"Daniel?" Doc Fraiser raises a delicate eyebrow and turns to the archaeologist with a
disaproving look.

"What?" He demands indignantly and glares at me slightly.

"MOM!" Cassie squeals suddenly, appearing onto the deck and launching herself into Doc
Fraiser's arms.

"What's wrong?" She asks, studying her daughter.

"Can I take Eric to the park and show him the nest we found?" She begs, her green eyes staring
pleadingly at Doc Fraiser.

"I don't know honey, they're going to be here soon..."

"Come on Janet, they'll still be here when we get back. We won't be gone that long." Mason
begs, his eyes shining nearly as brightly as Cassie's. Big kid, Mason is.

"Okay. But not any longer than an hour, okay?"

"Okay." Both 'kids' grin happily and set off, Mason yelling out his racing challenge as Cassie
tries valiantly to catch up.

"I'm thinking that you should probably start keeping a jar of lollies on your desk for when you
have 'kiddy' patients." I suggest softly, earning chuckles from both Doc Fraiser and Jackson.

"Here comes Alex and Alan." Jackson announces, catching sight of Bester and Alex making their
way up the pathway, each clutching various cartons and shopping bags.

"Hey guys!" Alex calls out, grinning to us. "They here yet?"

"Nope." I shake my head, jumping chivalrously off the deck and offering Alex some help with her
bags. "Where's Angela?"

"I thought she'd be better off at home today, she's still a bit under the weather." Alex
converses happily, dumping her packages. "Oh, where's Cassie and Mason?" She demands.

"You just missed them. They left out of the back gate about a minute ago."

"Oh. Pity." Alex sighs. "I brought a bag of jelly babies for them."

"See, she does it too. Mason is just a big kid." I nod, grinning.

"Jack likes jelly babies." Jackson inserts suddenly, grinning.

"Oh, he'll kill for jelly babies." Doc Fraiser agrees. "You should offer him some."

"I will." Alex agrees, looking down in her bags. "I also brought along some salads..." She
continues as I roll my eyes. Typical. Alex Lawson has always, since I've known her, brought
more than enough food along to any sort of social occasion.

"They're here." Jackson announces suddenly, standing up.

I turn my head to the front gate, and sure enough, there approaches a hesitant group of people.

"Good morning campers." O'Neill's voice rings out loudly and clearly over the yard. As he
approaches I can see a determined look in his eyes and a hint of a smile on his face.

"Hi Jack." Jackson says dryly, stepping off the deck. "Sam, Catherine, Ernest." He nods to all
the people in turn and they all nod back and offer a word of greeting.

"Hey, Sam, would you mind come and help me and Alex in the kitchen?" Doc Fraiser asks
hopefully, her eyes unsure as she gazes at the blond woman half hiding behind Dr. Langford.

"We haven't even made the introductions yet, Janet." Alex interupts, smiling over at the new
comers. "I'm Alex Lawson..." She introduces herself, stepping forwards.

"Jack O'Neill." O'Neill accepts her offered hand and shakes it firmly, a slight smile on his

"This is Paul Thomas." She adds, pointing at me.

"Hi." I shake his hand also.

"Sam Carter." O'Neill points at the blond woman. "Catherine Langford and Ernest Littlefield."

"Nice to meet you all." I smile slightly, glancing back at Jackson and the Doc for support.

"So. Anyone for a drink?" Jackson smiles tightly.

This is going to be a long day.


The sun is pleasantly warm on my skin, the slight breeze providing the coolness that keeps it
from becoming too hot.

"Hey, Jackson, come here for a minute." The man called Paul yells over to Daniel.

Daniel heads over to Paul, they exchange a quick word, a laugh and then Paul leaves the cooking
and comes over to where Jack, myself and another man called Alan are all lounging somewhat
awkwardly on chairs.

"So, how was your first evening free of the SGC?" Paul asks, falling onto what had been
Daniel's chair.

"It was fine." Jack shrugs slightly, a frown crossing his forehead as he thinks about it. I
look at him as his gaze seems to be focused on Daniel busy flipping the meat, but from
experience I can tell that he's not watching Daniel.

"We had pizza." I inform Paul.

"Yeah, hope you don't mind." Jack agrees, looking at Alan. "We used the frozen pizzas we found
in the freezer..."

"Not a problem." Alan waves his hand. "I used your house for who knows how long."

"So... you work at the SGC too?" Jack checks hesitantly.

"Yeah. We all do." Alan agrees. "Well, Alex used too, I took her place when she resigned."

"Oh." Jack frowns slightly. "What do you all do?"

"Well..." Paul hesitates and then decides to jump in with both feet. "I'm the CO of SG-1 at the

"So you've got that kid on your team?" Jack smiles after a tense silence.

"Mason?" Paul blinks.

"Yep. Red hair and freckles?"

"That's the one. He's with Cassie at the moment."

"Cassie?" Jack frowns.

"Doc Fraiser's little girl."

Jack chokes on his beer. "I beg your pardon?"

"Oh. A few months after you got stranded we established relations with a planet called Hanka. A
Goa'uld called Nirrti wiped the whole planet out with a plague, except for Cassie, and put some
bomb thing in her chest. Alex figured it out though and now Cassie lives with Doc Fraiser."

"Oh." Jack frowns in thought, mulling over the new information. "You surprised me for a minute
there." He admits, grinning again. "So, who else is on SG-1?"

"Well...Bester." Paul nods towards Alan.

"Scientist?" Jack frowns slightly.


"I'm guessing that makes Alex one as well?" Jack frowns again.

"Yep." Paul nods.

"So you mean to say that I'm at a barbecue with *3* astrophysicists and an archeaologist?"

"Afraid so." Paul sighs slightly.

"I'm a scientist too, and so's Catherine." I remind everyone, earning a groan from both Jack
and Paul and a grin from Alan.

"Really? Which field were you in?" Alan asks.

"If you don't mind, I think we'll go and talk to someone who speaks normal english." Paul and
Jack stand up and head off, leaving me with Alan.

"Thank goodness." Alan sighs, watching them walk off.

"What?" I frown, watching the two men discuss something as they leave.

"I was worried...we all were."

"About Jack?"

"And Thomas." Alan agrees. "We weren't sure how they'd get along - how they're going to get

"You mean who gets to keep command of SG-1." I realise, understanding the concern.

"Yeah. But, they seem to get along alright." Alan smiles slightly.

"I'm worried about Sam." I say softly.

"Sam Carter?"

"Yes. She doesn't seem like herself at the moment."

"I wouldn't worry about her." Alan says eventually. "She's in with Doc Fraiser and Alex at the
moment...and between those two woman they could solve the world's problems AND have time to

"True. Catherine also talks to Sam a lot." I agree, turning my attention to Daniel who looks
very lonely. "Let's go and talk to Daniel, I'm curious to see how these electric barbecues
actually work."


This sling itches. The guazy material scratches and irritates the back of my neck, tickling the
skin behind my ear and generally annoying me. I want my old sling back, the one that the
Colonel made for me a long time ago.

"Sam, would you mind just holding this for a second?" Janet thrusts a bowl of potato salad at
me and turns back to her job. I watch as her nimble surgeon's hands manipulate the plastic
spatula and scrape the last globs of mayonaise from the bowl.

Mayonaise. I haven't had mayonaise in oh-so-long.

"That looks really good, Alex." Catherine compliments, and I can tell that her mouth is
watering nearly as much as mine.

Despite all the tensions, all the difficulties and confusions that we're going through now with
our sudden return to earth, food has been the one thing that's made us all indescribably happy
to be back. After a diet that consisted of basically the same foods every day for over two
years, even an *apple* is a luxury.

Sugar. Syrup. Coffee. Even good old fashioned bread.

"A bit different to what you're used to, hey?" Alex Lawson laughs slightly, her black-brown
curls bouncing over her shoulders as the noise tinkles around the room.

"Oh yeah." Catherine agrees, dipping her finger into what looks a lot like coleslaw.

"Alex *always* makes too much." Janet says, rolling her eyes and grinning at me in a
conspiratol manner.

"Hope it tastes as good as it looks." I offer lamely, feeling awkward and out of place with the
sudden banter that's settled over the other three woman. I'm jealous of Catherine, jealous of
her ability to just suddenly jump right back in and act as if she's known both of these women
for a life time.

I've never been able to do that, to relate with woman just like that. I have to build up my
relationships with them, create a friendship. With men it's different, they either hate me for
my determination and brains or respect me for it - and usually their first reaction is the
lasting one. The Colonel is one of the exceptions, his attitude towards me changing over time.
It changed a lot.

"Sam?" Janet looks at me, frowning slightly.

"Sorry, I was just thinking."

"Now that's a surprise." Catherine grins slightly, sharing a smile with Janet. It's true,
everyone always used to tease me at the SGC for thinking too much, and things on Kaldroon
didn't really change in that aspect either.

"Well, I think we're just about done in here." Alex wipes her hands on a cloth and carelessly
throws it onto a counter-top. "What do you girls say we go and join those menfolk out there and
make sure that they're not burning our steaks to a crisp?"

"Sounds good to me." Janet and Catherine agree, and there's nothing I can do except follow them
outside into the warm sunshine and sweet-smelling garden.

Outside Daniel, Ernest and the other scientist (whose name I can't remember) are very busy
discussing the ins and outs of electric barbecues. Over the far corner of the yard, the Colonel
and Major Thomas stand together, locked deep in a conversation.

"Well, look like the boys have all hit off well." Janet states satisfactorily, smiling over at

"Yeah." I agree, shifting away from them.

I don't want to be here. I want to be off by myself for a while, have a chance to think about
things. I haven't really been alone since Kaldroon... and I haven't really wanted to be alone
either. I wanted to stay with the others, to try and keep that safety and security we all
created when we were together. But sometimes things aren't meant to be. The Colonel, Ernest and
Catherine all seem to realise that and are spreading out, once again settling themselves into a
new routine of life.

Why am I on such a stand still? Why don't I want to move on?

My eyes linger on the Colonel as we make our way towards the barbecue.

"Sam?" Catherine frowns at me, hanging back with me slihgtly as the other two women join Daniel
at the others at the barbecue.

"What?" I blink, forcing a calm look onto my face.

"You okay?"

"Fine." I smile tightly.

"Your arm giving you trouble?" She asks concerndly, her eyes telling me that she doesn't really
believe my arm to be the problem.

"A little." I agree. "I think it's going to rain soon." And it's the truth. My arm *has* been
throbbing a bit lately, but not much worse than what I'm used to. "I'm tired, I think I'll just
go and sit over there..." I point to a tree away from everyone else.

"Are you sure?" Catherine frowns.

"I just need to think, Catherine." I admit, sighing slightly.

"If you need to talk, I'm right here." She tells me, hugging me gently.

"I know." We both know she's there if I need to talk to her, but we both also know that I
*won't* talk to her.

I can't help watching the Colonel as he talks to the Major, his hands gesturing slightly. The
sound of his laughter reaches my ear and instinctively I reach into my sling and pat Bird where
he's hiding. All the new experiences and different people seem to be worrying him now, and he's
been hiding in my sling for nearly the whole day, refusing to come out.

My eyes turn back to the Colonel as he laughs again, glancing in my direction and sending me a
smile. I offer a slight smile back and then tear my eyes away from him, focusing them on Janet

She's different now, I'm not sure what, but she seems a lot more...settled, almost as if she's
found her place in life. That sounds pretty stupid, but if I didn't know better I would swear
that there is a special someone in her life again. The last time I saw her she was completely
and utterly focused on her work, now she seems a lot more relaxed.

I sigh.

We've all changed, and I seem to be getting hung up on all the changes that have taken place instead of just accepting them and moving on.

"Hey Mom, guess what!" A voice rings clearly across the yard and I see a chestnut haired girl sprinting across the yard to where Janet and the others are standing.

This must be Angela, Alex's little girl. I could have sworn though, that Angela was two...

"What?" Janet asks, stooping down to look at the girl.

"It's broken on the one side, but Eric said that if I put it in that small nest we found last time, no one would even know and it would be really pretty!" The girl chatters, showing her treasure to Janet.

"Sure honey. Where is Eric?" Janet frowns, looking around.

I blink.

"I don't know, Mom, I raced him here and took the shortcut I found the other day...look! Here he is! I beat you Eric!" She dumps her treasure in Janet's hands and sprints back to a man I recognise as Eric Mason.

"You cheated!" He accuses, catching her up and swinging her around, eliciting squeals of pleasure from her.

"Cassie." Janet calls, watching with a fond smile on her face. "There are some people here that I'd like you to meet..."

"They're here?" Cassie looks around, her eyes resting on the Colonel.


Cassie heads over to Janet then and stands hesitantly next to her.

"See, this is Catherine and Ernest..." Janet introduces them.

"Nice to meet you." Cassie says politely.

I look up to see the Colonel standing in front of me, looking down at me with raised eyebrows.

"Did you know about this?" He asks softly, offering me a hand while turning back to look at Janet and her 'daughter'.

"No." I shake my head, accepting his hand up.

"And this is Colonel O'Neill..." Janet and Cassie approach, but I'm standing behind the Colonel and can't see them all to well.

"Call me Jack." the Colonel instructs, and I recognise the voice he uses as the one he always uses with children. Well, the few children I've seen him interact with anyway.

"You're Jack?" Cassie's voice sounds slightly satisfied. "Daniel said you were a big kid, just like Eric." She announces.

I try *really* hard not to giggle at that, but fail miserably.

"And this is Sam, Cassie." I can hear the hesitation on Janet's voice as she introduces me, but I'm not sure why it's there.

The Colonel moves out of the way and I get my first look at Cassie.

She stares at me, her eyes large and hesitant.

"Nice to meet you." I offer unsteadily, confused.

"Nice to meet you too." She whispers, backing towards Janet as she gazes at me. I can't help but feel slightly embarassed and hurt as the girl obviously shies away from me.

"This is Cassie, my daughter." Janet says softly, resting her hand on Cassie's shoulder and letting the girl lean on her slightly.

"Food's nearly ready!" Daniel hollers suddenly, and I could have kissed him for breaking the awkward and strained silence that had suddenly fallen over us.

~Twenty Eight~


"You left us." She accuses, and I can see the tears glistening in her eyes as she looks at me.

"I have returned." I answer, despite knowning that she is fair in her anger towards me.

"But it is too late, Teal'c." She whispers, and I can see the great sorrow in her eyes as she gazes up at me. "It is too late."

"You could return with me." I reach a hand out and touch her cheek, feeling the softness of her skin beneath my fingers. I have longed for this, for a time where I could touch her and remind her of my love for her.

"I can not, Teal'c. You know this."

"You are my wife, Drey'auc."

"I am Froj'ac's wife now."

"No. I am alive, your marriage to him is not right." I argue, dropping my hand to my side. "Do you wish to remain with him?" My voice is low, the anger barely contained.

I left them to fight for a better future for my son. Now that I have returned I find that they have turned their backs towards me and labelled traitor as did the other Jaffa.

"No." She shakes her head, tears glistening in her eyes. "Teal'c..."

"I would see Ry'ac before I return to the Tau'ri." I step away from her.

"You can not." She shakes her head, fear in her eyes. "Apophis will know, he will curse us again and..."

"He will not know." I scorn.

"He is a god." She argues, lowering her voice and casting her eyes around as though Apophis could hear her blasphemy.

"He is not." The anger escapes, and she glances at me in fear.

"Teal'c, why do you do this? Why?"

"I am fighting for our freedom, Drey'auc." I tell her gently. "What is a life lived in slavery to a false god?"

"Better that than a life spent in eternal damnation." She returns, but I can see the hesitancy and confusion creeping into the depths of her eyes.

"Do you not remember Velar?" I ask softly, shifting my staff weapon from one hand to another.

"Yes." She shudders again, in fear, and casts her eyes around warily. "Speak of this no more, Teal'c."

"I must speak of it. I will speak of it." I say firmly, refusing to be silent for her sake.


"I have fought the Goa'uld, Drey'auc. I have heard of Goa'uld being killed by Jaffa such as I, by the Tau'ri. They are not gods, Drey'auc."

"We can not leave Chulak, Teal'c."

"Why not?"

"Where will we go? Where will we hide?"

"There are many worlds the Goa'uld have no power over." I insist gently, touching her face with my hand once again. "The Tau'ri will help us, they too believe in freedom, as do I."

"I..." She casts her eyes towards the ground and the morning sun catches the dark strands of her hair.

"Please, my wife, believe in me."

"You must wait for me... I can not tell Froj'ac." She chokes over the words, fear present in her movements.

"I will. Tek'ma'te Bra'tac has opened his home to me for hiding. When the time comes, I will be there and he will help us leave."

"Teal'c..." She looks up at me, her lips curved in a slight smile of relief.

"What is it, my wife?"

"I have missed you."

"And I you." I hold her gently, letting the familiarity of her body become real against mine, and not just some near-forgotten memory of long ago.


As he enters the house, my staff weapon descends upon him and his skull cracks with the might of a large rock splitting open on the ground.

"Where did you go?" I demand of him, my anger evident but my relief at his return well hidden.

"I saw Drey'auc." He makes no move to check for blood on his head, facing me calmly instead.

"Why?" I demand harshly, afraid of his foolishness.

"She is my wife, Bra'tac." He stands tall, refusing to let me win the battle.

"She is Froj'ac's wife, as I told you last night." I remind him. He is angered by my words, but other than the flashing of his eyes he does not acknowledge my words.

"She will meet me here, with Rya'c, and together we will leave Chulak for the final time." He states calmly, still watching me.

"What you speak of is foolish, Teal'c. For one Jaffa to betray Apophis is enough to warrant many deaths and punishments on the remaining Jaffa. For a family to leave, to betray Apophis... He will be greatly angered."

"It will seem as though I have stolen them away, not as though they left of their own free will."

"You are risking a lot, old friend."

"As are you." He turns to me. "Will you help us?"

I stare at him. His years of isolation, of being lost on a deserted world seem to have affected his judgement.

"There are many Jaffa here, Teal'c. How will we leave this world?"

"The Stargate is not under heavy guard." He reminds me, a glint of satisfaction in his eye. "There are two, perhaps three Jaffa keeping watch. For you and I, Master Bra'tac, this will be no match."

I allow a small smile at his confidence. It is true, few Jaffa have Teal'c's skill and ability.

"Very well. When are they coming?"



The Stargate has always been a source of concern. Whether the concern be an alien invasion or a simple malfunction of the Stargate itself, each time a team steps through that glowing blue ring the chances that not all of them will return are far higher than ordinary mission chances.

The number of people I have lost through the Stargate since the program began is nearing on 60 now. 57 to be exact, it used to be 61 but due to the return of Teal'c, Dr. Langford, Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter, the loss has been reduced to 57.

Each name, each face, each person who's been under my command that I've lost is emblazoned on my memory. Each loss is felt as heavily as though it were a member of my own family that had died.

But now, standing and watching the gate and waiting for Teal'c's return, I can allow myself to bury all the lost members of the SGC in the deep recesses of my mind where they haunt me, and think about the return of the first SG-1.

They have all changed, there is no doubting that, and their futures are all unsure, unsteady and unimaginable at this point in time. Will they rejoin the SGC? Will Captain Carter's arm heal? Will Teal'c still want to be on Earth? Will his family want to live on Earth?

I glance at the watch on my wrist for the umpteenth time, but it is only 1314 hours, precisely 8 minutes since I last looked at it. Time drags its feet when a team is over due and you have no way of knowing if they are okay. Time drags its feet when you are anxious for something to end. Time drags its feet and keeps you dangling in suspense, until you can't seem to take it anymore. I think Time has an awfully strange and cruel sense of humour.

~Twenty Nine~


"That was good. I haven't had a barbecue in... well, yeah." I grin over at Thomas who offers me a slightly merry grin back. I'm guessing that Catherine's going to be driving us home.

"I think I could get used to this again." Catherine agrees, lounging back in her chair.

A comfortable silence falls over us, until Alex breaks it by giggling.

"What?" Daniel, Bester, Mason and Thomas all demand together.

"Nothing. Just watching you boys all get drunk together..." She giggles again.

"That's rich, coming from little miss 'I'll-just-have-one-beer-and-then-pass-out'." Mason retorts shamelessly.

"Hey, I haven't passed out yet!" Alex denies hotly, giggling again.

"She'll giggle non-stop for another ten minutes and then she'll be gone." Thomas informs me bluntly.

"Will not." Alex argues, running a careless hand through her hair. "I only had half a one anyway." She states, trying desperately not to giggle. "I'm a happy drunk, so sue me. Besides, I'm not drunk, just tipsy."

"After half a bottle?" I ask incredulously.

"Well, once we tried to build up her tolerance, took her drinking nearly every night for a month. We got it up to two before she passed out, but then Doc Fraiser put a stop to it." Mason agrees cheerfully.

"What about Daniel?" I ask curiously as the archaeologist shoots me a dirty look.

Todays' been good. Despite the initial awkwardness, everything has settled down and here we all are, sitting in a sort of circle, a few of us well on the way to becoming drunk together and the others laughing at our conversation. Glancing around at everyone's relaxed faces I can feel my own fears and inhibitions start to dissolve.

One face catches my attention, and through my slightly too relaxed mind I feel a decided pang of grief and despair.

Carter. Sam.

I blink and try to tune back into the conversation, but right now it doesn't interest me anymore. Only the woman sitting a little to one side and leaning against a tree interests me. She seems lost in thought again, her eyes clouded and far away as she stares vacantly at the ground.

I feel Janet's gaze on me and look up to see concern and worry on her face. I know the concern isn't directed at me, but rather at Carter, and for some strange reason all three women think that *I'm* the one who can talk to Carter.

The fact is, I know Carter well enough to know she's a lot like me. Too much like me in that way. She won't talk to anyone. Sure, you can try and talk to her but you'd have better luck talking to a brick wall.

I look back at Janet and see the urging in her eyes. What? She wants me to go over to Carter and try to talk to her? Yep, the way she's nodding her head and angling it slightly at Carter definitely sends a message along those lines.

I shake my head, but she sends me a mini glare and I can almost hear her telepathically promising me *another* really big needle.

Sighing I get up and start shuffling towards Carter. I doubt the others have even noticed my departure.

Someone beats me to Carter though. A small red headed someone who I'd forgotten all about.

Cassie. Janet's daughter. The girl from another planet.

I pause in my mission long enough to watch the hestitancy and fear on the girl's face as she approaches Carter.

"Sam?" Cassie asks her voice tentative and her fingers fidgety. She's scared. The girl is about to take cover and run for it.

"Yeah?" Carter blinks, looking up. I can tell she's just as surprised as I am that the girl is here, initiating a conversation with her given Cassie's previous reaction during the introductions.

"I... I'm sorry." Cassie whispers.

"For what?" Carter blinks again, confusion evident on her features. I love that expression, I realise with a jolt. The way her brow srunches up in cute little frown and she tilts her head slightly to one side, her blue eyes searching desperately for some answer as you can see the wheels in her brain spinning madly to try and come up with a solution.

"I... I hurt your feelings before." Cassie admits.

I shouldn't be doing this, 'eavesdropping' or 'spying' on their semi-private conversation, but I can't help myself.

"It's okay." Ever forgiving Carter.

"'s just..." I'm amazed to see Cassie angrily wipe a tear away and her shoulders shake slightly.

"You okay?" Carter asks, sitting up straighter and looking at the girl. She still hasn't noticed me; neither of them have.

"You look so much like her..." Cassie whispers, taking a step backwards.

"Like who?"

"My Mom." Another angry wipe from a balled fist and a tensing of small shoulders.

"No I don't." Carter sounds surprised.

"Not Janet, my *real* Mom." Cassie whispers, her shoulders suddenly slumping.

"Oh." Carter tries to think of something to say, but like me, she's not to great on the confiding and comforting department. "Well...what was she like?" She asks.

"She looked like you." Cassie admits, smiling slightly through her tears.

"Come and sit down." Carter invites, patting the ground.

I'm dumbfounded. How did she just do that? How did she just *talk* to the kid like that? How did she think of that question and ask it in a way that brought a smile to Cassie's face?

Cassie sits down hesitantly next to Carter, also leaning her back against the tree.

"She smiled a lot." Cassie continues, and I feel myself stepping forwards, drawn to their conversation like a moth to a flame. "And she drew. She was always drawing pictures."

"Was she good at it?"

"Yeah, the best. Everyone always asked her to draw pictures for them, and she did." Cassie sighs, leaning slightly against Carter. I watch, a strange feeling in me as Carter's good arm slides around Cassie's shoulder's and hugs her slightly.

"Do you like drawing?"


"Were you the person who drew those beautiful pictures that were stuck on Janet's fridge?"

"Yeah." Cassie sounds slightly embarrassed with the praise, but smiles beautifully as she rests her head on Carter's shoulder. "Sometimes we'd take the river and we'd make crowns out of the grasses and decorate them with flowers. She said... she said the fairies wore them."

"You know about fairies?" Carter sounds surprised.

"Yes." Cassie nods. "Daniel says he thinks it's because..."

"Carter!" An indignant voice sounds out.

Carter's head jerks up and her eyes catch sight of me, surprise on her features.

"Yes Sir?" She asks, and I start laughing, my laugh strangely echoed by the sling she's wearing on her arm. "Bird!" She scolds, also seeing the funny side and starting to chuckle.

"I'll take him." I offer, delving into the sling and closing my hand over one annoyed Bird.

"Is that your bird?" Cassie breathes, her eyes wide with amazement.

"Yup. I got him for Christmas." Carter agrees, a tight smile crossing her face as she looks up at me. I don't have time to wipe the longing from my face as I remember that Christmas evening when we agreed to...

"Can I hold him?" Cassie asks hopefully.

"I don't know, it depends on if he likes you." I answer, cutting off that train of thought before I have time to let it complete, time to remember what I so nearly had and lost out on because of lousy timing by other people and aliens.

"I hope he likes me." Cassie states.

"Careful, he might bite." I warn as I take Bird closer to her. Thankfully, Bird doesn't seem to mind the young girl and allows her to pet his head. "Hold out your hand..." She complies and within a second Bird is happily sitting on her shoulder and chewing at her hair.

"He tickles." She grins, petting Bird with a finger. He nearly purrs in pleasure.

"He's spoilt." I say dryly as Carter rolls her eyes at the familiar argument. We all know he's spoilt, but that doesn't stop us from spoiling him even more.

"I want a bird." Cassie sighs slightly.

"Won't Janet let you get one?" I ask sympathetically.

"No." Cassie shakes her head. "One of the girls at school has a bird, a cockatiel called May, and she brought him to class for show and tell. He bit someone's finger!" She giggles, remembering.

"Bird nearly bit your Mom's finger." I tell her. A frown of confusion crosses her face slightly, until she realises that I'm talking about Janet.

"It's probably because he knows that she doesn't want me to have one." Cassie grins cheekily and settles back against the tree.

"So how long have you been here?" I ask casually, settling myself down on the ground.

"Nearly two years." Cassie answers promptly.

"So you came just a little bit after we left." I deduce.

"Yeah." Cassie nods again, looking at us with curious eyes. "Everyone was so sad..." She hesitates, looking at us and then glancing over at the others before continuing. "I remember one night Mom and I went to Daniel's house and Alex and Angela were there... and Mom and Daniel were talking about you." She pauses again, obviously mulling over what to tell us. "They were sad...but they were angry too."

"Angry about what?"

"I don't know." Cassie shakes her head, looking back at Carter. "Daniel didn't want to make new friends because he was scared when you came back that you'd be mad at him for forgetting you
guys...and Mom told him she didn't want to either but that it was time to move on."

I watch as Carter's eyes fly to mine, fear in them as she gazes at me. "They did the right thing, Cassie." I tell her softly, not looking away from Carter. "Just like you moved on because you live here now, they had to move on too."

"Did you move on?" Cassie asks curiously, and I look at her. She's so mature in some ways I forget that she is still only a child.

"A little." I admit, not looking at Carter. "We started too, but then we came back home."

"Are you happy to be back?" She asks.

I frown. She's the first person that's asked me that, I don't know about the others.

"I don't know." I say eventually. "I guess so, yes. But now things have to change again." I sigh.

Carter knows what I'm talking about, she's not stupid.

"So you want to go back and get stuck again?" Cassie frowns.

"No. I just wish...things don't always go the way you want them too, Cassie, and when they don't you wish stupid things would happen so that you can be happy." I know that didn't make sense, but I don't know what to tell her.

"What about you?" Cassie asks Carter.

"Same for me, I guess." Carter frowns. "Even though I'm back now, I can't do the same things I used to do..." She trails off, glancing at me quickly before looking back at Cassie.


I hold my breath.

"Because of my arm." She whispers, closing her eyes and breathing out slowly.

"What happened to it?" Cassie asks, her childish curiousity just bashing its way through any barriers that Carter is trying to erect between them.

"I...the Stargate fell on it." She admits. I have to admit, that does sound pretty funny, even if it isn't funny.

"That must have hurt."

"It hurt a lot." Carter smiles tightly, absently kneading her withered hand with her good one.

"Does it still hurt?"

"Not as bad as it used too." Carter sighs.

"So what will you do now?" Cassie continues, watching unabashedly as Carter works with her deformed arm.

"I don't know, honey." Carter swallows, and I can see the struggle inside her as she fights to remain calm. I've never heard her give such straight and personal answers to *anyone* before.

"Maybe you could be my baby sitter." Cassie suggests hopefully, pleasure at her idea shining through her eyes.

"I don't think so." I feel obliged to insert there, earning looks from both females. "Carter's *very* smart, Cassie. *Very* smart."

"Like Alex?"

"Like Alex." I nod, thinking of another scientist busy giggling in the background. Sounds like Thomas was wrong, fifteen minutes later and the good scientist is still giggling.

"Oh. Will you work where Alex works?" Cassie asks, watching Carter.

"I don't know, Cassie." I can feel Carter's agitation by the way her movements are becoming slightly jerky and her eyes are starting to dart around, searching for some excuse, some reprieve from the innocent questions being asked.

"Maybe you could work at the SGC. Alex worked at the SGC too, she was a scientist on Paul and Daniel and Eric's team." Cassie suggests, her brow pursed in thought. "I think you can be a scientist there and not have to use your arm too much."

"Cassie..." I hesitate, unsure of what to say, "There are lots of options out there, we don't need to make up our minds today."

"Oh." Cassie blinks, and then grins again. "If you worked with Alex then you could come visit me with Alex too." She carries on, regardless of the sudden tension and anxiety radiating off of Carter.

"I'm sure I could." Carter agrees, her voice strained.

"Hey, Cassie!" Mason suddenly yells. "Alex has jelly babies!"

"Jelly babies?" Cassie sits bold upright, startling Bird on her shoulder who begins squawking with annoyance. "Can I have some?"

"Sure. Bring the Colonel over too!"

"You coming?" Cassie jumps to her feet. Bird dislodges himself from her shoulder and flaps straight onto mine, still muttering in annoyance.

I want to. I'm torn between having a jelly baby or staying here with Carter and talking to her. Talking to her. About what? She wants to be alone now, I can tell.

"Give me a few minutes." I decide, not moving.

"Go have a jelly baby, Colonel." Carter smiles sadly, watching me with resignation on her face.

"Are you okay?" I ask gently, ignoring her order.

"I'm fine, Sir." She sighs again and leans back into the tree. "I just don't know what to do." She admits.

"Like I told Cassie, there are plenty of options out there. Someone with a brain like yours is always going to be in demand."

"But I don't *want* to be a lecturer. I don't *want* to just be a scientist who doesn't have to use her arm much." She starts out, them clamps her mouth shut.

I know what she wants. She wants things to be like they were. Me the CO of SG-1, and her my 2IC, my trusty side kick, the one who always kept us out of trouble - well, usually anyway. I want that too. A small part of me wants things to go back the way they were, but another part of me, the more logical and realisitic part of my mind knows that's not possible, and that helps me to accept it.

Carter's a dreamer, despite being a scientist. She may look and sound like she's got her feet firmly planted on the ground, but looks can be deceiving and a lot of people don't always hear what's behind all the big terms and technical mumbo-jumbo. She dreams, it's what makes her so good. She's not scared to imagine anything. To her, nothing is impossible; anything is achievable if you put your mind to it.

I learnt the hard way that things aren't like that. When Charlie died I realised that no matter how hard I tried to do *anything*, he simply wasn't going to come back. And Carter's going through that now, with her arm. While a part of her still has that hope that her arm will be fixed she won't allow herself to accept a temporary life, to create a life with her arm messed up.

"And I don't want to lose you." I tell her quietly, before standing up and ruffling her hair the way she hates because it makes it untidy.

She glares at me from beneath her tousled strands of hair and reaches up angrily to pull the tie out of the blond mane, allowing it to fall free around her shoulders. With her hair spilling messily over her shoulders, framing her face, she looks more delicate and vulnerable
than I've ever seen her.

"Want a jelly baby?"

"No thanks." She shakes her head and I know the end of a conversation if I've ever heard one.


"May I have one, please?" A very polite and proper voice asks me the question and one large hand it held out hopefully.

"Of course."

"Why, thank you." He grins as I place a couple in his hand and then slowly, almost reverantly bites the orange baby's head off. "Oh, wow." He sighs, closing his eyes as he sits down on his chair again.

"Good, huh?" Catherine agrees, holding her hand out for more.

"I take it you didn't have many of these." I grin at them, just giving them the packet.

"Oh no." Ernest agrees, also sucking happily on the small jelly baby.

"It's quite amazing the things we've been missing out on. I only realised what a lot of them were when we got back. Couches, for instance, I never really *missed* having a couch as such, and now..." Catherine sighs again, placing another jelly baby into her mouth.

"Well, glad to be of service." I tell them. "Would Sam like one?" I glance over to where the scientist is sitting beneath a tree, her face creased in thought.

"Sam's not really a big jelly baby fan." Daniel states as the others all shake their heads.

"Oh." I smile. Even after all this time, he can still remember a lot about their habits, likes and dislikes. I think it surprised him as much as it surprised all of us.

"She does, however, love ice cream." Janet adds, nodding.

"Who doesn't?" I sigh dreamily.

"Women and ice cream, please." Eric rolls his eyes. "I thought you were all supposed to be like that over chocolate."

"We are." Janet tells him promptly.

"I'm going to offer her one anyway." I state when I get the bag back and I stand up and make my way over to her. "Hi." I sit down in front of her, studying her face. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." She sighs, and I know that she wants to be alone right now.

"What are you doing?"


"About?" I'm not deterred easily. Sometimes it's a blessing, but in times like these it's a
curse and the way Sam's glaring at me now tells me I'm being nosy.

"My future." She says eventually, realising her glare is having no effect on me what so ever.

"Oh. Anything in particular?"

"Yeah. I was wondering what I was going to do with my life." She states, obviously not taking
her anger out on me anymore.

"Well, I've read some of your work...seen some of it and you're brilliant." I tell her

She smiles slightly and sighs. "Was."

"You are brilliant." I shake my head. "You can do anything, have the pick of the crop when it
comes to jobs."

"No, I can't." She snaps. "I can't have the pick of the crop because the one job I do want is
the one I can't do anymore."

I freeze, my eyes straying to her arm.

"It's stuffed. Completely and utterly useless. Might as well just get the stupid thing cut off
and thrown away for good. At least it wouldn't hurt then."

"You can still work at the SGC..." I start again, but I know it's not what she wants.

"No. I can't stand in there and watch them go through the gate each day, knowing that I should
be with them." She sighs, looking at me. "Why am I telling you this?"

"You're sorting it out for yourself, it helps if you do it out loud." I shrug. "Give it time,
Sam, you've just got to..."

"No. I'm not going back to the SGC." She shakes her head and I can see finality in her eyes.
"It's over. That part of my life is over now, and the best thing for me to do is to just forget
it. Forget all about it."

"You can't do that..."

"Yes, I can and I will." She cuts me off, standing up and looking around. "Like you said, I can
have the pick of the crop of jobs. I'll just pick one that has nothing to do with the Stargate
program, and that shouldn't be too difficult to achieve."



The knock on the heavy wooden door is light and uncertain, as though the one knocking is ready
to flee. I can not allow that to happen.

I pull the door open quickly and silently and her eyes meet with mine, uncertainty and fear
glistening strongly in their depths.

"I was beginning to believe that you would not come." I tell her, not moving from the doorway.

"I am scared, Teal'c." She lowers her gaze.

"Where is Rya'c?"

"He is here." She turns and beckons to a figure in the shadows.

He approaches steadily and slowly, and as each soft footstep falls onto the loose stones of the
path, brining my son closer to me, my heart gives a painful lurch. For two and a half years I
have not seen my son, spoken to him nor heard of him. Will he remember me?

"Father?" He stands on the step next to Drey'auc and the dim light from the lanterns inside
flood over his face. For the whole of today I have been waiting for this moment, the moment
when my son would speak to me.

"My son." I carelessly let my weapon fall against the wall and drop onto my knees as I pull him
towards me in a close embrace.

"I missed you." He whispers, his strong arms holding me against him.

"As I have you." I let him go and take the time to look at him in the light. "My heart soars,
Rya'c. You have grown while I was gone, I can see strength in your eyes." Indeed, my heart does
feel as though it is soaring. Standing with my son in front of me and my wife gazing at me with
a smile I can only call tender, it feels as though everything has become right again.

I know that not everything is right, that there are still grave and dangerous battles to be
fought, but this peace and joy that is upon me now at the reunion of my family is a memory that
I will now always have to guide me through my darkest battles.

"We must leave immediately." Bra'tac steps out from the shadows, greeting both my wife and son

Once again the air is cold and our breath forms crystallised clouds of powder white in the
still darkness. Our feet scrunch softly over the loose soil and the whispering of Drey'auc's
cloak washes over me like a familiar covering.

"Wait here." Bra'tac instructs as we reach the small rise before the Stargate. Inside my chest
my heart is pounding, the fear that I might lose my family threatening to rise up and suffocate
me. But I will not let it win.

I nod farewell to both Drey'auc and Rya'c and silently follow Bra'tac over the small rise.

Within minutes we have fired and killed the three guards around the Stargate, but the pounding
in my heart and head increases tenfold. "Come. Quickly!" I yell, running towards the forms of
Drey'auc and Rya'c as they run towards me. Together we run, low to the ground, towards the
Stargate, our breathing coming in laboured gasps and our feet stumbling over the dry, uneven

The Stargate activates loudly in the quiet sky, and I pause only long enough to dial the GDO
code and look at Bra'tac.

"Farewell, Teal'c. May we meet again soon." He nods his head and I echoe the gesture. Though I
will never say it, and he will never acknowledge it, Bra'tac has over the years become the
father I lost as a child, and I have become the son he never had.

"Farewell, old friend."

And I step through the Stargate, my family on either side of me.



During my years here, the short sprint from my office to the control room has become a
normality, I don't even find myself short of breath anymore.

"It's Teal'c, Sir."

"Open the Iris." I instruct, my eyes focused on the smooth grey shield over the Stargate. With
a whispered grate it slides away to reveal the deceptively calm and refreshing looking event
horizon of an artificially created wormhole.

Airmen tense, guns readying as the surfaces ripples slightly, and
then three figures stumble through the opening.

"Close the iris!" I bark, relief flooding over me as Teal'c looks up at me and nods, a look of
relief and amazement on his face as he gazes at me. "Welcome home, Teal'c."

He nods his acknowledgement of the greeting and slowly leads what I can only assume is his
family down the ramp. Remembering my manners I quickly head towards the 'gateroom and wait for
them at the doorway.

"General Hammond, this is my wife Drey'auc." He says, resting his hand on the small of a
woman's back. She gazes at me with fearful eyes, a wariness in them that I recognise well as
the gaze of someone who has yet to take in the full magnitude of suddenly being on a new

"It's an honour to finally meet you." I tell her, nodding slightly.

"And this is Rya'c, my son." The look on Teal'c's face can only be described as love. The love
and pride and completely devotion a parent has for their child.

"You should be proud of him." I tell Teal'c, smiling at him. "If you'd all like to come this
way, Dr. Warner will give you all a quick check-up in the infirmary." I encourage. I watch as
Teal'c takes his wife's hand and she in turn take's the boy's hand and together they leave the

A swell of emotion bursts inside me, and as I glance at the 'gate I remember why it is so
important to us. It's not just a source of excitement and discovery for us, a danger where we
lose close friends; the Stargate is a link between us and humans all over the galaxy, it is the
way for us to share our knowledge, offer our help and to gain new friendships.

The colourless concrete walls seems oddly friendly and homey as I make my way towards my office
and pick up the telephone.

[Janet Fraiser]

"General Hammond here, doctor." I smile to myself, the euphorium of having SG-1 - *all* of SG-1
back and safe and sound on earth still with me.

[What can I do for you, Sir?]

"I understand that Colonel O'Neill and his team are at your place." I start out.

[Yes Sir. So's Major Thomas' team.]

"That's good. Well, I've just phoned to say that Teal'c arrived back safe and sound about five
minutes ago with his family. Will you give them the news?"

[Will do. General?]

"Yes Doctor?"

[If it's not too presumptious of me, would you care to join us?]

"Well..." I glance at the clock. "Yes."

[And Teal'c and his family?]

I pause. Should I? "Yes." Yes. After all that everyone's been through, I think that they
deserve small things like this.

[I won't tell them then, Sir, let them find our for themselves.] I can hear the glee on the
doctor's voice as she smiles over the phone.

"I'll see you all soon then." I smile into the phone and hand up. Yes. Today is an unusually
good day, and it looks like it's going to get even better.


"So, Colonel." Thomas looks slightly hesitant, but it's obvious to me that the amount of
alcohol he's consumed is giving him the courage to ask this question.

"Major." The Colonel waits, his eyes not really focused on us, but rather the two women sitting
together under a tree. A few minutes ago we'd heard Captain Carter arguing with Alex, but now
they seem to be sitting in a companionable silence, even if Alex still gives the occassional

"What are you going to do now, Sir?"

"Drop the Sir, Thomas. I'm not your CO." O'Neill sighs, his eyes darting towards my CO.

"Still, you're a higher ranked officer..."

"And we're on down time." O'Neill points out, rolling his eyes. He's stalling. He doesn't know
how to answer the question.

"You're not answering the question, Jack." Jackson so graciously points out, raising an
eyebrow. From what I've seen, Jackson is the only person alive who's allowed to talk to O'Neill
like that and demand answers who's still alive afterwards.

"I don't know, Danny." O'Neill shoots back, his eyes glinting in amusement as Jackson rolls his
eyes at the use of the nickname.

"Are you staying on at the SGC?" Doc Fraiser asks softly.

"I don't know." O'Neill glances towards Carter again, and then back at Thomas. "If I did stay
on at the SGC, I'm not exactly sure what Hammond will do with me." He sighs.

"You'd probably regain your command..." Thomas starts off.

"No, I wouldn't." He shakes his head, smiling ever so slightly but there's a sorrow in his eyes
as he gazes respectfully at Thomas. "From what I've heard about you folks, you seem to be doing
a damn good job of saving the world already. Hammond won't split that up. Besides, out of the
original SG-1, only two members remain."

"Two?" I blink. "I thought is was three."

"Like I said, Hammond won't split up a good team like yours, so that leaves only me and Teal'c.
Hammond could just as easily split us up and assign us to new teams." He shrugs slightly.

"Isn't that like a demotion?" I frown.

"Maybe." O'Neill sighs. "I don't even know if I'm staying on though."

"What else would you do?" I ask, and then cringe as I realise how it sounds.

"I don't know. When you get stuck on a planet for two years... there's more to life than the
SGC, Mason."

I glance over at Alex. Hadn't she told me that too? As much as both of them believe that, I
don't think it would be possible for me to be out of the action and still be happy.

"If you didn't join, what would you do?"

"I don't know." O'Neill says again, getting frustrated with the questioning. "I'll probably
hang around the SGC for a while though, depends on Hammond, and then who knows." He states

I look to where his eyes are focused - once again, it's Captain Carter. The way he keeps
sighing and looking at her, I'm guessing that a lot of his future depends on what she chooses
to do with hers. Something inside me says that if Captain Carter chooses to quit the SGC, then
so will O'Neill. If she stays, then so will O'Neill. A lot depends on that blond scientist.

"What about you, Catherine?" Doc Fraiser looks at the old woman who is sitting on her chair,
leaning against Ernest.

"I don't know." She grins over at O'Neill, a secret smile on her face. "Ernest and I were
thinking of buying a small house somewhere and living happily ever after."

"It's about time." O'Neill grins at them, but no one says anything else to help the rest of us
to understand the hidden exchange between the words.

"And Sam?" Doc Fraiser frowns.

"I don't know. I don't think she's going to go back to the SGC." Catherine says slowly, her
eyes still locked on O'Neill. When his eyes turn hard again and he offers no contradiction to
Catherine's words, we all know that Carter won't be re-joining the SGC.

"I wonder what General Hammond will think when he finds out that Sam won't be coming back."
Jackson says after a while.

"Why do you say that?" I frown, confused.

"Uh...Sam's Dad and General Hammond were good friends, apparently. I don't know if she was
aware of it - probably not, given her relationship with her father, but General Hammond does
have an almost paternal relationship with her." Jackson admits.

I cast my mind back, remembering those home videos that we watched with Jackson. Carter and
Hammond had seemed close; then again, they'd all seemed close. But there was that bond that
Hammond shared with the original SG-1 that I don't think any other team has with Hammond. Maybe
it was because of Carter, or maybe it was just the General's strange fondness of O'Neill, but
none of us have come close.

"Does she know?" Doc Fraiser asks suddenly, her eyes wide in concern.

"Know what?" O'Neill demands.

"That her father passed away nearly a year ago." Jackson says gently.

O'Neill glances over at Carter and then back at us. "I don't think so." He looks back at her
again. "Oh crap."

"I think General Hammond should tell her." Jackson says eventually, and I feel myself
unconsciously relax. As cruel as it sounds, I'm relieved that I don't have to deliver the news

"That's not right." Bester speaks up, frowning.

"Why not?" Thomas asks.

"We all know. We're hiding it from her because we're too chicken to tell her ourselves." He
points out.

"I'll do it." Catherine sighs, swallowing.

"Wait a minute..." Fraiser inserts, holding a hand on Catherine's arm. "I think Daniel's right.
I think that General Hammond should tell her..."

"She's not seeing him for another week though..." Catherine argues.

"Yes she is, he's coming right up the path now." O'Neill disagrees, standing up slightly. "With
Teal'c! Hey! Teal'c!" O'Neill heads over, a slight wobble to his walk.

"O'Neill." Teal'c nods, and even from this distance we can all see the smile on the man's face.
"O'Neill, this is my wife, Drey'auc." He pushes a woman in front of him and then a small boy.
"And this is Rya'c."

"Pleased to finally meet you two." O'Neill states. "Teal'c's been talking about you non stop...
about time we set eyes on you!"

"You are Colonel O'Neill?" The small boy asks, gazing up at the Colonel.

"Indeed." O'Neill cocks his head to one side, obviously imitating Teal'c.

"My Father has told me about you also. And Captain Carter, and Catherine and Ernest..." the boy
frowns, trying to remember something. "And Daniel Jackson."

"Well...come on then. Cassie? Janet, where's Cassie?" O'Neill leads them over, completely at
ease and relaxed, even in the presence of Hammond. I think that's what made Hammond so close to
SG-1. They weren't just some team to them, and he wasn't just a CO to them; they were friends.


"You coming?" Alex holds out a hand to me, acceptance in her eyes. She knows I've made my decision, and she isn't judging me for it. Not like the others will.

"No." I have to speak to General Hammond, I have to speak to him alone. I know he'll come and see me if I wait here, away from everyone. It's just in his nature.

"Okay." She hesitates a second, her eyes now very lucid and seemingly sober. "I'll send him over when they've finished with the greetings."

How did she know I wanted to talk to him alone? I watch her retreating figure, and feel respect for her replace the animosity I felt towards her. She has everything I want - the ability to re-join the SGC. But she won't rejoin because of her daughter. I feel cheated somehow, when I think about that.

As I sit here beneath my tree, I watch as as Teal'c introduces his family, keeping his arm securely locked around his wife's waist. The Colonel is standing next to him, laughing at something Daniel has said, and I feel the irrational burst of sorrow flood over me like a
river. I love him. I want to be with him, I want to be able to stand next to him like Teal'c's wife is standing next to him, and have his arm curl protectively around my waist, pulling me close. I want to be able to lie curled up in his arms again, instead of lying alone in a big bed beneath countless blankets.

But I can't. Maybe it's my own fear of relationships, maybe it's a fear of the relationship not working because of changed circumstances, or maybe it's just me not wanting a relationship with him in particular. No. I know that last one isn't the truth. I've never met anyone like him, never met anyone who so completely understands me at the same time as being completely confused by me. I've never met anyone who makes me feel the way he makes me feel.

He must know I'm watching him, because he looks over at me and his gaze locks with mine. I want to stand up and run to him, to throw myself into his arms and just let him hold me forever. But I won't. I won't because I've made my choice and I'll stand by it because it's the right one. We both know a relationship won't work, there are too many reasons why it won't work.

He smiles slightly, and I can tell by the way he's nodding his head ever so slightly that he knows I've made my decision, and he won't try and change my mind. I thank him for that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart because I'm finding it hard enough by myself to stick to my resolution.

"Sam." I look up and General Hammond is standing in front of me. "Dr. Lawson said you wanted to see me." He smiles down gently at me.

"Actually, Sir, there's something I wanted to talk to you about." I lick my lips. How do I continue with this?

"What's on your mind?" He lowers himself to the ground slowly, his old body not as lithe as it used to be.

"Well... my future." I say eventually, my eyes straying to Bird who is still perched on the Colonel's shoulder.

"You're leaving us." He says it softly, but I can see the understanding in his eyes.


"You don't have to." His eyes flick down to my arm, and I can see the pity in his gaze as he looks at me.

"I know that." I nod. I do, I know that he'd go to the ends of the earth to try and let me stay on the SGC, but if it's not what I want then why should he bother? "But..."

"I know." He pats my good hand gently, and then looks at me hesitantly. "Sam... I know that right now you feel like just forgetting it all, just running away and creating a new life for yourself, but you must know that..."

"General, with all due respect, Sir, I don't want to be at the SGC. I don't want to watch other teams go through and know that I did that once... I'm not even sure I want anything to do with the Stargate anyway, even if my arm *wasn't* ruined."

"Why not?" He's surprised, if not confused.

"I've just gotten my life back, Sir. It was this close to being taken from me, and I've had my brush at tempting fate. It was only luck that brought us back home, and I don't intend on tempting fate again." I admit, closing my eyes. I'm a coward. I'm scared of having to go through something like that all over again. So what. I'm tired of always having to be brave, always having to be tough, always having to be in control. Right now, I simply don't care.

"That doesn't sound very much like the Sam Carter I know..."

"No, it doesn't Sir, because I'm not her anymore. I've changed..."

"I know that, but you're a Carter, Sam, and Carters are supposed to be fighters..." He trails off, looking at me.

"What do you know about Carters?" I demand, remembering my dad's teasing that Carters were fighters to the end.

"I knew your Dad, Sam."

"You did?" I frown, confused.

"He... he tried to fight..."

"What are you saying, Sir?" A cold hand wraps itself around my heart. I haven't spoken to my father in years. Not since I got engaged to Jonas, and I haven't spoken to Mark in nearly that long either...

"He had cancer, Sam."

"When did he die?" I whisper, sparing him having to say the words out loud.

"Nearly a year ago." He admits, resting his hand on mine again for comfort. "Jacob was sorry..."

"He was alone, wasn't he?" I swallow roughly. Don't lie to me now, General, I can see by the look in your eye that you know he was alone, that you know neither of his children had spoken to him in years.

"No. I was with him..."

"You were?"

"We served together in the gulf, kept in touch..."

"He knew I was under your command?"

"No, not at first. I told him though, that you were."

"And the Stargate?"

"No. I just said you had been under my command and a pleasure to work with. Why?" He frowns.

How can I tell him? How can I tell General Hammond that I had been scared my father had once again arranged things for me and pulled strings so that I could get the position I wanted?

"Nothing." I shake my head.


"General...I'm still resigning. As soon as I'm discharged I'll resign from the SGC."

"I see." He looks at me, sorrow in his eyes. "I don't think you're doing the right thing, Sam, but it's up to you. If you do, however, change your mind then please feel free to come and see you and we'll see what we can do."

"Yes Sir, thank you, Sir, but it won't be necessary." I shake my head, watching as he rises to his feet slowly, his muscles straining in protest.

"Just don't be a stranger, Captain."

"No Sir, I won't." I sigh, watching him walk away.

It's done. The deed is over. I've quit.

Now what?


~Thirty One~


To say this feels odd would probably be an understatement. To say that I never thought I would be doing this again would be a bit closer to the truth.

"Ready?" Daniel looks over at me, a disbelieving grin etched on his face also.

"Just about." I grin back, snapping the final buckle together with a satisfying click.

"Well then, off we go." Thomas heads out of the changeroom and falls into step with Bester beside him.

"You know, I'm not so sure if I'm sane." I admit to Daniel as we trudge along the corridor.

"Why not?"

"Well, the last time I did this..." I trail off, watching Daniel. He grins slightly at me again and then looks ahead.

"Well, you know what they say, lightening doesn't strike the same place twice."

"Meaning?" I ask, feeling the old fingers of excitement starting to course through me. I'm doing it again. I'm finally doing it!

"It's highly unlikely that you'll get stranded for a second time, Jack. And, even if you do, there's always the Asguard or Tollan who can just whip out there with their ship and bring you home." Daniel jokes.

"True." I agree, but despite the excitement and adrenaline coursing through my veins, the fear is also kicking. I'm scared. I'm damn scared of stepping through that ring again because I'm damn scared that this time I won't be so lucky. That this time I *won't* be coming home.

"Colonel." Thomas pulls me off to one side as we enter the 'gateroom.

"Yep?" I ask, forcing the casual nonchalance onto my voice. Can't show anyone my anxiety; my fears.

"Are you okay with this?" He asks hesitantly, eyeing my suspiciously.

"Okay with what?" I frown. Is he onto me? Does he know how much I'm dreading stepping through that gate again?

"Being under my command, I mean, you are a Colonel and I'm only a Major..."

"Not a problem with it." I tell him honestly. To be truthful, I'm glad that Hammond's giving me this chance of going through the gate again and getting used to things without having to worry about being in charge of others as well.

"You sure?"

"Positive." I say sincerely, glancing over at Daniel. "I'll just be tagging along, familiarising myself with everything again." I reassure him.

"Okay then."



"Are you okay with this?"

He grins at me and I grin back as the 'gateroom is suddenly filled with the whooshing noise the gate makes when it locks on and the blue glow falls over us.

"And we're off to see the wizard." I say aloud, turning and saluting the General half way up the ramp.

"Send him my regards, Colonel." General Hammond smiles to me, saluting in return. I don't think he expected this either, to tell you the truth, to be saluting to my sarcastic comments as I make my way up the ramp. It sure does instil respect in a person, being missing for a while, respect for what the Stargate is capable of doing to your life.


"And this is Laira." I introduce the brunette to Jack, watching as she openly sends a flirtatious smile to him. Jack being Jack though, seems to either not notice it or decides to completely ignore it. I think he's ignoring it, because despite the fact that neither Sam nor
Jack have spoken in the few months that have passed since that barbecue at Janet's when she moved in with Janet and Cassie, they're not over each other yet. Not by a long shot.

"It is my pleasure." She smiles at him, and he merely nods in return.

"So, Laira, when is this fire rain supposed to start?" Bester asks, immediately jumping in and questioning Laira about the secondary purpose of our mission, the primary purpose being establishing a diplomatic relationship with these people involving the mining of Naquadah in their soil.

"Tonight." She states softly, still smiling only at Jack.

"How do you know?" Bester frowns, confused, and I can understand his confusion.

"It starts on the same night every year. Come, we will have our evening meal and then when darkness falls we will watch the fire rain from the hill." She finally turns her attention to Bester, obviously dragging her attention away from Jack with great reluctance.

"The same night every year?" Bester questions further.

"Yes." Laira nods agreeably. "Come, we are all eating together tonight to celebrate the start of the fire rain."

And we follow her to the 'village' square where her people have all gathered. My eyes stray around, taking in the homes and tools that have been fashioned by these people living here. The tales of their ancestors relayed back to me by SG-4 who originally established contact with this world still ring in my ears, but now isn't really the time for discussing their background.

The food we eat is simple but tasty, remarkably satisfying especially when compared with our MRE's. Even though the chatter is light through out the meal and most of the villagers seems to accept us as 'the good guys', I can't seem to stay focused on the conversation.

Instead, my eyes keep drifting to Jack who also seems slightly preoccupied, despite Laira's best attempts to involve him in the conversation. I don't have to be a genius to figure out that his thoughts aren't on a brown haired woman, but rather a blond one that's right at this moment on the other side of the galaxy probably working out some way to improve some company's product.

I wonder how she is, where she is, what she's doing with herself. Janet says she's doing okay, but seeing as Sam has basically cut off ties with everyone, especially Catherine, Ernest, Teal'c and Jack, it's hard to believe she's okay. The only people she really has contact with lately are Alex and Janet, simply because Alex is now paying *her* the rent, as opposed to me, and she only sees Janet because of Cassie.

Having watched Sam with Cassie a few times before she moved out and started a new life, I've started to wonder if she ever thought about having kids. Looking at Jack, I wonder if he wants to have kids again, but it's not my place in either case to ask those questions, it's simply me being too curious for my own good.

"The fire rain will start soon." Laira suddenly says, standing up. She offers a hand to Jack, and he accepts it almost absently, his thoughts obviously still far away. It's hurt him, the way Sam's just disappeared out of all of our lives, it's hurt him a lot more than he'll ever admit because he wasn't supposed to have feelings for her in the first place. And I find that sad that for some reason the two of them believe they are better off apart.

The hill we settle ourselves on is about ten minutes walk away from the village. I watch as Jack glances at the moon and smiles almost fondly.

"Jack?" I wait, watching him look at me with a mildly surprised look on his face.


"You were smiling then..." He smile slightly, hoping I wasn't prying.

"I was just thinking about Carter..." He starts off. "On Kaldroon we were discussing names for the moons and the planet itself and..." He stops abruptly, grinning. "It was just one of those things, Daniel." He sighs slighlty and takes his cap off, scrunching it between his hands and settling himself on the ground.

"So when is this fire rain supposed to start?" Mason sighs, already bored.

"The wait is killing me." Jack adds, sending a conspiratol smile towards Mason.


"Soon?" Mason blinks. "You said that...a minute ago." He checks his watch to confirm.

"Soon." Laira says firmly, smiling at Jack. For some reason, he notices the smile she's sending towards him and smiles right one back, almost as if he is encouraging her. I send him a glare, but he's too busy smiling at Laira to even notice.

"There!" Laira points to the sky a few seconds later, and we watch as a falling star shoots across the sky.

"Fire rain." I breath. "On earth, we call those falling stars."

"There's another one!" Thomas says excitedly, pointing to the sky.

Almost as if in slow motion the 'fire rain' explodes into a fireball and the earth seems to tremble with the noise as it bounces off the atmosphere.

"Bester?" Both Thomas and Jack speak at the same time, worry on their voice.

"Yes?" Bester also turns around, watching the near miss fly out into space.

"How close was that?" Jack demands.

"Close." Bester states.

"How big?" I demand.

"Big." Bester looks up at me.

"Is something wrong?" Laira asks, concerned.

"Laira, that's what is termed as very nearly a disaster." Bester says smoothly.

"And this happens ever year?" Mason says.


"Laira... has the Fire Rain ever hit the ground?" Bester asks slowly.

"Not in my life time... but there is a story that is told among my people, that when the Ancestors were here on the second day of the fire rain there was an shaking of the earth and in the distance the sky burned red as though the sun never set." She says softly.

"I'll have to make some more observations tonight, Thomas." Bester says eventually.

"I'll check the geological surveys." I add, frowning in concern. If my growing suspicions are right, then Laira and her people are in a lot of trouble.

"I'll make a wish." Jack says softly, casting his gaze out over the sparkling sky. And I'm sure I know what wish Jack is making.


"Anyone else see that?" I demand into the radio, the adrenaline starting to pump.

"I did." A voice responds.

"Who's speaking?" I sigh. They all do this, Bester and Jackson in particular - never identify themselves when they talk on the 2-ways.

"Bester here. Thomas, I went over those results that I collected last night and did some work back on base..."

"Get to the point, Bester." I snap.

"It appears that this planet's orbit goes through an astroid belt which is why the fire rain starts on the same night ever year. Also, the belt isn't uniform so every so often it goes through a particularly bad patch which results in the planet being bombarded..." He trails off as another flash lights the sky and the ground shakes slightly with the impact.

"Jackson, Mason?" I demand into the 2-way.

"We read you Major. Jackson is just busy collecting his gear and we'll head down to the villiage. It looks like this happens every 150 years or so..."

"Get moving, we have to get these people out of here. Colonel?"

"Yes Thomas?"

"Are you in the village?"

"Yep. Want me to gather the people?"

"Yes. I'll meet you there in...five minutes."

I take off at a run, the villiage visible through the trees up ahead. As I enter what could be termed as the main road, I'm happy to see that O'Neill has started on his given task and already most of the people are standing around, looking slightly annoyed and bewildered.

"Okay..." I stand a minute, waiting for them to be quiet so that I can be heard over them. "The fire rain is busy hitting the ground as we speak, so I guess that pretty much speaks for itself. It's gonna get pretty dangerous here soon, so if you want you can all come back through the Stargate with us and then when it's over we can send you back..."

"They are after our lands!" A man yells out.

I open my mouth, but before I can speak further O'Neill jumps in, unconsciously taking command. I remain silent as I watch him, remembering the conversation in the 'gateroom. He isn't taking my command, he is just simply doing what comes naturally to him, and that is leading. Besides, he's a much better speaker than I am, and as he argues with a stubborn man I can only admire his quick wit and sarcasm. No wonder Jackson is so good at being sarcastic; he had a good teacher.

"I have come to know these people, and I trust them. I will follow them through the stone circle because though it seems far it is only a step away. Those of you who wish to come with us can meet us at the stone circle." I blink as Laira backs down, but her speech seems to have convinced a fair few people that we are right.

"Here come Jackson and Mason." Bester announces by my side, and sure enough the two men are stumbling towards us.

"How's it look?" Jackson breathes, panting heavily.

"We've got most of the villagers coming wih us." I inform them, checking my watch again. Another shake of the earth and right before my eyes a hill is engulfed in flames. "That was close..."

"Too close." O'Neill agrees.

"Have you seen Garan?" Laira comes running up to us, here eyes fearful as she gazes at us.

"They should be here..." Mason looks around, slightly confused.

"The caves." Jackson breathes, relisation dawning on his face.

"Okay... all of you get these people through to earth, we'll go find Garan." I state, taking Laira's arm.

"I'll come with you." O'Neill says, trading looks with Laira. I'm confused, but I won't argue because it's obvious that Laira wants O'Neill along and given her sudden near panic, I won't argue with her.

"We'll see you at home." I wave the others off, and the three of us set off at a quick jog up the well-worn pathway.


"Is this all?" Jackson looks around, worry in his eyes.

"About a third of them didn't want to come, those are the last ones going through now." Bester announces.

"You go through, we'll wait for O'Neill and Thomas." I instruct, and with a reluctant nod, Bester steps through the wormhole.

Time and time again the earth rumbles and rattles as the fire rain hits the ground. The horizon is a hazy red, the dust hanging over the hill-tops like an eerie curtain, illuminated by the red glow of fires in the distance.

"Thomas, Thomas, do you read?" I try desperately to reach my CO, but the 2-way remains silent.

"Jack? Jack, where are you?" Jackson mutters into his 2-way, his eyes gazing around fearfully.

A fireball strikes the ground not even a kilometre away, and a tremour runs through me. Close. It was even closer.

"We can't hang around much longer, Jackson. They'll just have to dial through when they get here." I start saying, but Jackson isn't looking at me. His attention is focused on the sky, which has suddenly turned into a blinding ball of light. We stare, mesmerised for what feels like an eternity, but is only a few seconds, until the fear hits us and we dive through the Stargate in perfect synchronisation. I'm aware of the whole world roaring around my ears and a searing blast of heat before I'm pulled into the wormhole.

"Where's Colonel O'Neill and Major Thomas?" General Hammond demands, stepping forwards as I pull myself to my feet. "Mason?"

"They're still there." I swallow, pulling the cold air into my burning lungs. "Sir, that last hit was right on top of the Stargate." I whisper.

"General Hammond, I would attempt to go back and search for Colonel O'Neill and Major Thomas." The Jaffa steps forwards, his features blank.

"I'm sorry, but if a meteorite just struck the gate, then you'd be walking into a firestorm. There's no chance that you'd survive." Bester says, his brow creased in thought.

"What are you recommending?" General Hammond asks, his voice unnaturally emotionless.

"We wait oh... 24 hours and send a MALP through."

"Very well then." He turns to go, but then stops and puts a hand on Teal'c's shoulder. "I'm sorry, son." He says quietly before stepping away and leaving the four of us looking at the Stargate in bewilderment.


"Mason? Mason, do you read?" Thomas sighs, his shoulders slumping.

"It could just be interferance." I remind him, turning to go back into the cave.

"Or they left because it was getting too hot." He returns, his spirits seem to climb again.

"Which means we just have to go dial home when it's over." I add.

We step back into the warmth of the cave and look around. My eyes rest on the boy, Garan, and I can't help but feel a stab of pride. He'd believed there was no hope, so he'd decided to create a hope for himself and his girlfriend. Not a bad attitude, but considering that we already had a better plan *which* he apparently knew about...

"Can you see the village?" Laira asks, her voice hopeful.

"No." I shake my head. No need to lie to her.


"It is raining though." Thomas adds, sitting down on 'his' rock. "That should put out most of the fires."

"I'm scared." Garan is looking at me. Why is it I feel so much affection for him? Probably because he reminds me a bit of Charlie, like most boys.

"Me too." I say softly, not looking at Thomas. I'm scared. Not that I might die, because I'll die when it's my time. Not scared that we'll be stuck here, because we can always be rescued, just like my stint on Kaldroon proved. No. Suddenly I'm very scared that something will happen and I'll never see Carter again, that I'll never be able to tell her she's wrong and that I want to be with her, that it *will* work. I want to tell her that I love her, I don't care about her arm being ruined, I still love her.

I look up to find Laira suddenly sitting next to me, leaning all over me. I look up helplessly at Thomas, but the woman is scared stiffless. That's why I have to put my hand over hers, offering her the comfort she wants. And if I close my eyes and make sure I don't smell the soft scent of her hair or feel the difference in the shape of her fingers against mine, I can pretend it's Carter sitting here next to me, holding my hand and burying her head against my arm.

~Thirty Two~


"Chevron seven... locked." I close my eyes in a quick prayer of relief. It the Chevrons lock and the wormhole establishes, it means that the Stargate did survive the hit. We have a chance of them being able to return home.

"The MALP should reach its destination in three.... two... one. We're not receiving a signal, Sir." The gate technician frowns and I close my eyes.

"That means the 'gate must be buried, there's no other explanation." I close my eyes, my shoulders slumping.

"Dr. Bester?" General Hammond waits for an explanation.

"The MALP was destroy, it didn't have time to re-integrate. That means the gate must be buried..."

"So now what?" Jackson asks, desolation in his eyes.

"Can we bring them home?" Mason asks hesitantly.

"I don't know." I admit somewhat reluctantly. "If nothing is given a chance to re-integrate, then I don't know how we can possibly unbury the Stargate from this end. It's probably up to O'Neill and Thomas to unbury the gate on their end." The words stick in my throat. There has to be another way, someway to get them home.

"Then I'm afraid I'm going to have to declare them MIA..."

"Wait a minute, Sir." Jackson jumps in, determination in his eyes. "What about our other allies? Allies capable of space travel? The Asguard helped us last time. Maybe the Tollan will help us... or even the Asguard again." He suggests. I feel hope in me rising.

"Very well." General Hammond nods his assent. "See what you can do, Dr. Jackson."


The village seems eerily quiet. I can see a burnt patch a little way away, still steaming, with rubble lying strewn around it. It doesn't look too good.

The house we enter is one I recognise as Paynan's, the man who put up such a complaint when we offered to take the villagers away and keep them safe. Inside people are sitting around, their faces smudged black with soot and some sporting burns. But all of them just sit there, not moving, not reacting, not even responding to our arrival.

"Paynan?" Laira leaves her constant position at O'Neill's side and dashes forwards to a dirty figure, leaning against a wall.

"Laira? Is that you?" He sounds slightly drunk, his eyes seeming unfocused as he gazes around and moans slightly, his head seeming to loll lifelessly from his neck.

"What happened?" Laira asks. I can feel the Garan and his girlfriend Maya shift slightly beside me, and I glance at them. There is horror and fear on their faces, but I can't do anything now.

"One stuck Telmar's home. Three families were inside." He whispers, closing his eyes in sorrow. I feel something lodge in throat and swallow roughly to try and dislodge it. A waste. A waste of lives. That should never have happened.

"See, that's why we said you should have come with us, but you had to go and open your mouth, right?" O'Neill jumps in, taking his anger out on Paynan and blaming the man. I can understand Paynan's reasoning, our offer to them did seem too good to be true, he felt he was only doing the right thing in protecting his people.

"On the third day it grew to much, so we gathered our belongings and fled to where the stone circle used to be..."

"Used to be?" Both O'Neill and I chorus at the same time, turning to each other in horror.

Without another word we get up and run out of the house, ignoring the burnt and smouldering landscape around us. The path disappears beneath our feet, and instead of running in a green landscape where the grass is thick and lush, we are stumbling over rocks and small boulders that are still warm enough to make our feet sweat inside our military issue boots. And then we stop running, because there Stargate is nowhere to be seen, and we are standing in a huge crater where a meteorite must have struck.

O'Neill starts laughing slightly, but it's *not* a happy laugh.


"And Daniel said that lightening doesn't strike the same place twice."

"It was a meteorite."

"I know *that*."

"Then what?"

"Jack..." Laira followed us, but he ignores her.

"He said chances that I'd get stranded again were basically none.:

"And the Gate's been destroyed once again."

"It could be buried, Thomas." He reminds me, kicking at the rocks.

"It doesn't matter either way." I remind him.

"It's gone." Laira whispers, and we turn to look at her. "My people, they can never come home now." Her eyes are large and frightened as she gazes at us. "And you can't go home."

Yes. We can still go home. It will just take time. A few weeks, a month at most. The Asguard or the Tollan will come get us... that's for certain. We won't be stuck here all that long.

But we don't say anything. We just gaze at each other and then cast our eyes around the empty land around us.


"The Tollan can have a ship somewhere near Edora late next year." I whisper, the words clogging my throat.

"And the Asguard?"

"Well, we haven't made contact with them yet, but the impression we got from the Tollan said that the Asguard are currently too busy fighting their enemy to spare a ship to rescue Jack and Thomas."

"Well, unless someone can offer me an alternative I'm going to have to declare Colonel O'Neill and Major Thomas MIA." General Hammond says softly.

I nod slowly, closing my eyes. I told Jack that it wouldn't happen, that he wouldn't get stranded again and looked what happened. Once again Jack O'Neill is stuck on a world with no quick way of getting home. He'll never let me hear the end of it when he gets back.

"I'll inform Major Thomas' family, Sir." Mason says softly.

"Very well." General Hammond agrees.

"What about Jack?" I demand.

"What about Jack?" General Hammond frowns.

"His family..."

"I don't think they even knew he was back, son." General Hammond smiles gently and then turns to his book. "You might want to think about informing Sam, Catherine and Ernest though." He adds as an afterthought.

The General's not stupid, he knows that Jack and Sam haven't seen each other for months. So why should she be told? Because, I realise, she has a right to know. Her and Jack... well... she still has a right to know.

I don't want to make the phonecall, I don't want to be the one to tell Sam, but I know that it's only fair if I tell her. Checking my clock, I realise she'll probably be at work now so I only have to look up the phone number of the company she works at.

"Uh...hi. I'm looking for Sam Carter." I explain as the receptionist picks up the phone.

[Just a minute, I'll put you through.]

I wait patiently while the classical music winds itself around me, pulling my tension even tighter.

[Hello?] A voice answers. It doesn't sound like Sam.


[ Marie actually, I work with Sam. You looking for Sam?]

"Uh... yes."

[She's just gone out for a second, should be back in...a few minutes.]

"Oh. I don't mind waiting." Not true. I don't want to wait. I don't want to sit here and tangle my fingers in the phone wire, running different apporaches, tactics, speeches and scenarios through my mind and then discarding them the minute they stop playing like a bad movie.

I rub my sweaty palms on my trousers, watching as the sweat marks streak over the drab green colour and turn them a darker green.

[Hello?] Her voice still sounds the same, if slightly subdued and not quite as distracted as she normally sounded on the phone.

"Hey Sam, it's Daniel."

[Daniel.] I can hear the surprise on her voice and know that she must be wondering how I got the number.

"How have you been?" I ask, stalling for a few minutes.

[Fine. You?] This is tense. Awkward. Incredibly difficult.

"Me? I'm fine. I'm fine thanks." I stutter, rubbing my hands on my trousers again. How do I tell her? How do I tell her Jack's once again stuck on a planet due to a Stargate being buried, lost or destroyed and the possiblity that he'll be missing for months *if* he survived...

[You sure? You sound a little tense.] I can almost see her frown of concern over the telphone, picture the way her face will scrunch up and tilt to one side while she studied you to confirm her suspicion. She never misses anything.

"I'm fine, Sam..." I swallow. "Uh... well... "

[What's wrong?] Her voice is also strained now, obviously picking up on the fact that the hesitation in my voice isn't good.

"It's Jack." I whisper.

There's a silence on the other end of the line, I can't even hear her breathing. [What happened?] She's fighting for control, fighting to stop from showing how much she still cares about him. I can hear someone asking her if she's okay in the background, but she ignores them and demands, [Daniel? What happened?]

"We... I can't tell you Sam, you know that." I hate this, her having to be left out of the loop because she's no longer got the necessary clearance.

[I'm sorry.] She whispers, and I know she's not just sorry because I can't tell her. Those two words were delivered with such a complete desperation that I know she's not apologising to me. She's apologising to Jack.

"He... he should be back in a few months." I continue, struggling not to cry as her words hang in my ears.

[A few months?] She sounds completely shocked, confused even.

"Yeah. The best we can do..."

[It happened again, didn't it?] She realises, and I swear there's relief on her voice.

"Sam..." I'm not supposed to tell her anthing, excpet that Jack's MIA. "Yes."

[Why's it going so long?] She demands.

"I can't tell you, Sam, you know that." I try, trying to convince myself of the fact also.

[Damn it Daniel, I don't care. Why will it take so long?]

"The Asguard are busy. We're asking some others for help and it's the best they can do." I relent, hoping General Hammond won't kill me.

[Daniel... please. I just need to know what happened.]

"We were on a planet called Edora, watching a meteorite shower. The planet got blasted and in the confusion a boy went missing. Jack and Thomas went to find him... we don't know for certain that he's alive, Sam." I admit.

[So why can't he come home?] She demands, desperation on her voice. I do believe that if Jack appeared in front of her this minute she'd see sense and throw herself into his arms, and I don't really think that you'd be able to separate them after that.

"A meteorite struck the gate and we're pretty sure it was buried..."

[You mean it survived a direct hit?] She sounds shocked.

"Yes. Unfortunately nothing can get through though..." I start out.

[Daniel... I want you to get every single mission file out for me, okay?]


[And get Alex called in. I'll be there within the hour.] And then she hangs up, and I'm left standing with a dialing tone beeping in my ear and the distinct uneasy feeling in my gut that General Hammond is going to kill me or severely maim me for telling Sam as much as I did.


"So... how long do you think it will be before we go home?" Thomas asks, sniffing at the bread on the table in front of us.

"I don't know. Thor's ship only took an hour or so..."

"We had to wait for them to contact us first though." Thomas points out, placing a chunk of the food into his mouth.

"Who else do we know?" I ask, straining my memory. The Nox? Nope...

"The Tollan." Thomas says after a while.

"You mean those guys you saved from the Goa'uld a while ago?"

"Yep." Thomas nods again, his face calm as he swallows his mouthful. "We helped them out, they shoud help us out."

"Stands to reason." I agree, finishing off my own food.

"Jack. Paul." We turn to look as Laira heads over to us, her face hopeful.

"What's up?" Thomas asks cheerily, moving over so that she can sit down next to him.

"Winter will come soon, and we have much to do before that. The fields must be harvested... and there are not many of us now." She hesitates. "Would you help us?"

"Sure." I nod. It's the least we could do. While we're waiting to be rescued we might as well help these people that are sharing everything they have with us.

Thomas nods his assent and stands up. "What do you want us to do?"

"Once you have finished the morning meal I can give you some work clothes." Laira offers, her eyes hesitating as the words pass over her lips. "I have some shirts..."

"That'd be good." I say softly. Her husband, I remember, died a few years back. Judging by the way she turned so quiet when she mentioned him yesterday, I have no doubt that they loved it each other a lot.

"You believe you are going home." It's not a question, it's a statement.


"And my people?"

"Chances are they'll be brought back here." Thomas agrees while I lean over and pat her hand comfortingly. I know how it feels to be seperated from everyone you care about, everyone you know. I am going through what she's going through.

"So, what's on the agenda for today?" I ask, also standing up.

"Plenty." She smiles slightly and stands up, leaving the room without another word.

"She doesn't believe you." Thomas says after a while.

"So?" I look at him. "We're going home, Thomas. Give it a month, two at most. We're going home."

~Thirty Three~


"Hey there, Graham!" I grin at the young man, watching as a smile lights up on his face. "Haven't seen you for a while."

"How are you?" He asks, glancing around to check that no one of much consequence is watching.

"Great. You?" I give him a quick hug and start off down the hallway again, motioning for him to follow me.

"Fine." He falls into step with me and watches me curiously. "What brings you to our base for the day?" He asks curiously.

"Been roped in by General Hammond to help Captain Carter..." I say, not quite clear on the specifics.

"Oh." He frowns for a second, his eyes darting towards me.


"She's grasping at straws." He says eventually.

"Why do you say that?" I come to a halt outside General Hammond's office.

"Bester and the other scientists are pretty certain there's nothing she can do."

"About what?"

"Good morning, Dr. Lawson." General Hammond appears out of his office, raising an eyebrow at Graham Simmons who immediately snaps off a quick, jerky salute and disappears back up the hallway.

"General." I greet him, waiting for an explanation. "May I ask what this is about?"

"Colonel O'Neill and Major Thomas are stuck on a planet..." He starts out.

"I beg your pardon?" I blink. This is a joke, right?

"A meteorite struck the Stargate, and as the wormhole still connects everyone is satisfied that it's still functional. The only problem is we can't send a probe through, so Dr. Bester thinks the gate is buried..."

"And Captain Carter is trying to think of a way to unbury it." I frown.

"Right. Now, I won't lie to you Alex, according to all the scientists on base this one is a lost situation. We have asked the Tollan and they can have a ship near Edora - the planet O'Neill and Thomas are on - by next year."

"That's too long." I shake my head, already agreeing with the Captain's determination.

"I thought you might think so." He smiles slightly.

"How long have they been there?"

"Four, nearly five days." He admits, frowning slightly. "We don't have any way of knowing if they're alive, Alex." He says gently.

"As long as it's a possiblity, Sir, I think we should put in every effort."

He smiles at me, his eyes twinkling at my determination. "I have every bit of faith in both you and Captain... Doctor Carter." He frowns slightly, but it's gone before I have any grounds to ask him about it. It saddens him, I think, that the daughter of one of his friends isn't in the military anymore, that she isn't in the position that was rightfully hers and is now held by a civilian.

"Great. Where is she?"

"She's taken over Dr. Bester's lab..." He doesn't have to say the words, 'her old lab' because that lab used to be mine after it was hers.

"Great, I'll head straight down to her." I smile at him and depart quickly, my mind spinning. If the gate is buried, why don't the men just dig it out? Unless, they don't know *where* it's buried, or they can't get to it.

I frown. How can we dig it out from this end if we can't even get anything sent through... the matter must be unable to re-integrate as it comes out of the wormhole, which means there must be some sort of iris over it... how to penetrate that iris?

"Morning, Dr. Lawson." The SF on duty looks very familiar, but I can't place his name as I nod my greeting to him and step into the lab.

She's sitting at the table, that Bird perched firmly on her shoulder while she scratches furiously through the piles of paper on the desk. I don't think she's even noticed I'm here, and judging by the furious mutterings coming from her I don't think she'll notice for a while yet unless I make my presence known.

"Morning Sam." I greet her.

Her head whips up, surprise clearly written in the blue depths.

"Did I scare you?" I grin.

"What?" She blinks. "Oh, no. Is it morning already?" She frowns. I nod at the question, quickly taking in the dark circles under her eyes and the empty coffee mugs strewn around the place.

"I take it you've been here a while." I say, making my way over to her.

"What? Oh yeah." She nods, then looks at me. "Alex, I need you to think for me. Has there been *any* instances where something has penetrated the iris?" She asks, turning back to her scratching.

"The iris?" I blink.

"Yeah. I figure that something, probably naquadah given the soil samples, was melted when the meteorite struck. Because the wormhole was open, it set *over* the even horizon and formed a shield, like our iris." She explains quickly.

"I was thinking somethign along those lines." I admit.

"Good. Now, I'm not aware of anything being able to penetrate the iris, and neither is the SF out front."

"Well, about a month after I left they gated to a planet with a black hole..." I start, frowning to remember that incident. General Hammond had me called in, and in the end Bester and I had come up with a way...

"I read something somewhere, but I didn't think anything useful would be in there..." She admits, digging through her papers. She resurfaces a second later, clutching a bundle. "Yep..." She waits for me to continue.

"The gravity & time distortion both came through even though the iris was closed." I offer. "The time distortion ahead of the gravitational effect though..."

"Really?" She blinks, amazement in her eyes. "That's incredible. I'm going to have to go through all of these soon." She decides. "That doesn't really help us though..."

"No. It doesn't." I sigh. "How about we go through all the reports after I left?" I suggest.

"That might be good." She agrees.

There's silence for another while as we both start flipping through the reports, our eyes skimming the matter, searching for anything to help us.

"HERE!" She squeals suddenly, causing Bird to mutter angrily. "A particle beam generator!" She grins.

"What?" I blink.

"Somehow this Sokar bombarded the iris with particles. They were small enough to reintigrate and then release energy when they hit the iris..."

"How do we do one of those?" I take the report from her, skimming the bit she's highlighted.

"I don't know. But it's possible, now it's just a matter of doing it." She sounds satisfied with herself.

"You do realise we're going to have to do some serious law changing when it comes to the physics of the machine?"

"I know." She shrugs, sitting back in her chair. "But it's possible, Alex, which means that we can do this."

I gaze at her for a second, impressed by her sheer determination. "Yes, we can do this. As soon as you've had some sleep."

"Alex..." She starts.

"You want Janet in here waving her needles around?" I demand. "There are *two* of us working on this, Sam. We can do it, as long as we get some sleep." I remind her.

"I know, but..."

"No buts. I'll go call Janet myself if you don't get up and go find a bed *now*."

She glares at me before tidying up the desk and getting to her feet. "Fine."

"We will get him back you know." I break the silence as we walk towards the VIP rooms where she's been stationed.

"I know that..." She hesitates.

"Sam, I promise you, we'll get him back for you."

She offers a watery smile and then disappears into her room. Right now, I need to go talk to Bester and find out exactly how long Sam's been here, working, and what exactly he knows about a 'particle beam generator.' Something tells me this could be a very big project we're undertaking.


"Hey, Colonel!" I catch sight of the man I'm looking for standing in his usual haunt, the riverbed. Judging by the way he's always heading here on his 'off' time, I'm guessing that he's very much a water person.

"Thomas." He doesn't look at me, but by the nod of his head I can tell he doesn't mind my presence.

"Escaping Laira?" I tease him, watching him frown slightly.

"What do you mean?" He asks eventually, throwing the last of his stones over the water. I watch as they skip along the surface, finally splashing into the water and disappearing from view.

"You know what I mean. Someone likes you." I tease him again, watching as his cheeks colour slightly.

"What can I say? I'm irresistable."

I roll my eyes and wait until he turns to face me.

"What?" He demands, narrowing his eyes.

"Uh... I don't intend to pry here Colonel, or stick my nose in where it isn't wanted, but if you're not interested in her then you probably shouldn't lead her on like that."

"How do you know I'm not interested in her?" He retorts, digging in his pocket and revealing another handful of stones.

"Well... you don't go looking for her company, you don't initiate anything between the two of you, you seem slightly awkward when anybody so much as mentions something along those lines..."

"What's your point, Thomas?" He snaps, annoyed.

"Nothing. I'm just saying that I think she's getting the wrong idea."

He's silent for a while, throwing another stone across the pond.

"Maybe I *am* interested in her." He says, but it's half-hearted.

"You're not." I know that, for a fact, it's a certainty.

He spins around, anger blazing in his eyes. "And just how do you know who I'm interested in and who I'm not interested in?" He demands angrily.

"You're only interested in Sam Carter." I state bluntly, watching him. His eyes widen slowly and I can see his jaw muscles clench once, but that's the only indication he gives that I've hit on a sore spot.

"How do you know that?" He asks quietly, but I can hear the steel and tension in his voice, ready to snap.

"I'm not stupid, Colonel. Neither's Daniel or Bester or Mason or Alex or Janet or even General Hammond." I take a quick breath. "You won't speak about her. You won't let anyone else speak about her in your presence, you act as if you couldn't care. Which is all a lie."

He stares at me, his jaw hanging open slightly as his shocked eyes take a few more minutes to process the information.

"Well, Thomas." He says eventually, regaining his control. "Even though this has *nothing* to do with you, there isn't a chance in hell that Carter and I will ever get together."

"How come?" I ask, watching. He scrunches his face up slightly, almost as if he squashing any emotion out of the way.

"We talked about it and she made her choice."

"What about you?"

"What I want doesn't matter." he says simply, turning away from me again. "It's the moving on thing again, Thomas. I learnt on Kaldroon that you have to move on cos life just keeps going. Same thing with Carter. I'm getting over her now and moving on."

"So, what? You're encouraging Laira because you're on the rebound?" I accuse.

He stiffens slightly, but he doesn't deny it.

"That's not very fair." I state softly.

"Life isn't very fair either." But he's not being sarcastic or witty or defending himself, he's just stating a fact and as yet another stone skims across the water and sinks from view I can't help feeling that Laira will drag him down into the river just like that stone sank from view.

"It's only been two weeks, Colonel. We'll be going home soon, and then you can go and talk to Carter..."

"No." He shakes his head.


"No. I told you, I'm moving on from Carter."

"Well, wait until you've moved on then before you ruin things with Laira." I frown, confused and slightly annoyed by his attitude.

"And just who do you think you are, ordering me around?" He lashes out.

"Your CO." I remind him icily, daring him to argue. He opens his mouth, ready to whip me to pieces, when he realises I am right. So what if his situation breaks all the usual military regulations, so what if I'm a lowering ranking officer than he is. So what. I am the CO of this mission, and he knows it.

"Last time I looked, CO's can't order their subordinates how to live their private lives."

"This isn't your private life, Colonel O'Neill. You are still under my command on a mission, however extended it may be." I reply scathingly.

He glares at me for a minute.

"Permission to be dismissed, *sir*."

"Granted." I manage through my clenched teeth as he salutes me and marches off stiffly. Jack O'Neill is the first person I've who can turn respect into an insult.


The numbers and equations seem to be swimming on the sheet of paper in front of me, dancing an incredible dance that my eyes can't follow and, in return, no sense can be made of what is happening on the page.

"Here." I start slightly, turning to find Janet standing next to me. "I brought you some coffee."

"Thanks." I accept the steaming beverage and watch her slyly from beneath my lashes as I sip at it.

"You know what I'm going to tell you, don't you." She sighs slightly, her eyes defeated as she looks at me.

"Go to bed?" I guess, knowing I'm right.

"Yes." She sighs again, shaking her head. "Sam, you're not going to do him any good if you collapse..."

"I'm not going to do him any good either if I sleep." I point out tiredly.

"All I'm trying to say is, we all know you're going to solve this, it's just going to take time."

"Yeah, well if I allow myself to think like that, Janet, then it's going to take months."


"What's the time now?"


"Alex should get here around 0800, right? I'll go to bed then. Promise."

"And you'll sleep?"

"Yes." I nod, knowing that I probably won't but willing to play along for some peace and quiet.

"Okay. I finish my shift just before then, so I'm going to hang around for a while anyway, just to make sure." She tells me, standing up and turning to walk away.

"Janet?" I hesitate, watching as she turns back around to look at me. There's a long suffering look in her eyes as she gazes at me, obviously tired of the same arguement we've been having for the last month, but I can't just go to sleep like that. They make it sound too easy. The last time I went to sleep easily was our last night in the infirmary months ago, when we first came back from Kaldroon, when I slept with the Colonel.

"What is it?" She waits for a minute.

"I... I'm sorry, okay?"

"For what?" She frowns, confused.

"Being difficult, arguing with you..."

"You should go to bed if you want to apologise."

"I can't, Janet, even if I did go and lie down, I wouldn't sleep because..."

"I can give you something." She offers gently.

"No." I shake my head, swallowing roughly. "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Okay." She agrees softly. I know she's not happy with me, but I can't help that.

I rub my eyes and open them wide, glaring down at the paper in front of me. Why? Why can't I find the answers? I've got so much stuff, so much *knowledge* floating around in my brain at the moment... but it's all fuddled, blocked by the emotions swimming around in me as well.

Fear. Anger. Hope. Anxiety. Love. Regret. Determination. All these things are surfacing now, and they're forming a frosted glass shield over my knowledge, letting me glimpse it but not letting me see it clearly enough to access it.

I sigh again, finishing the last of the drink and placing the mug on a stray sheet of paper. I watch as the paper underneath it slowly turns soggy as the little bit of moisture clinging to the bottom of the mug gets absorbed.

I was horrible to him. I don't deserve him. I don't deserve any of them. I don't deserve the friendship they're still giving me, the support... even the scoldings to take better care of myself. I don't deserve any of it, not after my treatment of them and literally cutting all ties with them.

But they still give it to me. They give me the love I haven't felt from any one for a long time, they give me support by bringing me coffee while I work, sitting next to me, doodling on bits of paper, scolding me, just being there for me.


I stare down at my ruined arm lying limply in my lap. I've taken to wearing a long sleeved top all the time. It's a pain in the backside - or Mikta as Mason would say - in summer, because I get so hot, but it stops the sympathetic stares and looks I get from my new work colleagues, and it also helps me to forget sometimes because I can easily hide my hand from view and just pretend my arm is still fine.

This arm... this ruined arm of mine is simply mirroring what's on the inside. All the bad things I feel, I've seen, I've done... they're the little withered bits on my soul. Now, the bad bits are becoming visible on my physical body, in the form of this arm.

Everyone knows that we all have withered bits on our soul, the only thing is that most of the time we don't see each other's withered bits. The only difference with my arm is that everyone can see it. I didn't simply close off my existance and run away every time something bad happened to me and withered my soul a bit more, but I'm running away because something bad happened to me and withered my arm.

I snort in disgust as I tear my eyes away from my arm. I'm getting tired. Too tired. My brain is busy spinning out whacky, lame metaphors that make no sense whatsoever... but still...

I frown, glancing back down at my arm.

That's all it is. It's my arm. It's not who I am, it's not who I've become... it's just a part of me.

I blink, and then for the first time in months I feel the first real stabs of acceptance shoot through me, adding to the emotions in me. My arm is ruined. So what? My brain is still fine... I can still bring him home and apologise to him.

With a slight smile hovering around my lips I turn back to the sheet of paper. The writing is still swimming, the answers are still hidden behind that shield of frosted glass, but instead of the hopeless despair I'd been feeling moments before, a determination sets in and I *know* that we'll suceed.


"Laira, can I talk to you?" I ask hesitantly, watching her bend over the basket of washing.

"Of course." She smiles up at me and straightens, clutching a faded shirt in her hands.

"I need to talk to you about the Colonel. Jack." I state, glancing around guiltily. If he caught me having this conversation... I don't even want to *think* about that. He won't accept the fact that I'm trying to do him a favour.

"What is it you want to speak about?" She frowns, obviously unsure of why I'm doing this behind his back.

"Well... uh... this is hard. Could we go somewhere?" I ask hesitantly, watching her warily.

"Of course. We will go to the river." She states calmly. I wait a few seconds as she folds up the shirt and places it on top of the neat bundle and then turns to look at me. "Come."

We walk in silence for a while, until we reach the shores. I watch as the river aimlessly toys with the reeds and grasses as it passes, the colour slowly being leached out of them. That's how I feel, slowly but surely my hope of us returning is being leached out of me. We've been here for a month and a half already... surely it won't be much longer.

"You wanted to speak to me?" She waits, her eyes focused calmly and expectantly on mine.

"Uh... back on Earth, at home..." I start out.

"Your home is here now, Paul." She points out gently.

"No Laira, it's not. This isn't my home, and it's not the Colonel's home either."

"You can't go home, Paul..."

"We've told you already, Laira, we are friends with races who can travel through space, from world to world without the Stargate. They'll come and fetch us, it'll just take time."

"What of my people?" This is an old arguement, we've covered this ground what feels like hundreds of times.

"I don't know, Laira. I'm sure they'll be brought back here as well."

She's silent for a while, her eyes now focused on the river. "What is it that you want to tell me?"

"Laira... I... I don't want you to take offence... but.." I stutter helplessly. How do I tell her? How do I tell her the man she's flirting with and who's flirting back with her so shamelessly has already got someone back home. Okay, so maybe they're not together as such, but things can always change in that aspect.

"I will not." She says calmly, concern now present on her voice.

"Well... The Colonel doesn't really talk much about how he feels... but... he already cares for someone, Laira." I stumble over the words, watching her face. "They had an argument just before he left... and they didn't part very well."

"Why are you telling me this?" She whispers, pain on her face.

"He's hiding Laira, running from something because he's scared." I say carefully. "It's not that he doesn't like you, it's just that when we go home..."

"I cannot believe that you will go home, Paul." She says softly. "It has been nearly a season, and yet they still have not returned for you."

"I know that. It just takes time. The Colonel was on a world for two years before he was finally taken home..."

"How do you know you won't be here for that amount of time also?" She demands, anger on her face.

"I don't, Laira. All I do know is he's not over her yet, he's trying to hide his feelings for her by developing feelings for you." I stumble around. This was stupid, it was a dumb idea. I should just order the Colonel to ignore Laira... but I can't do that. Not morally and not really with any grounds other than my own personal beliefs that just happened to be shared by nearly everyone who knows the two of them.

"A hundred days." She says softly, her eyes lost on the river again.


"When my husband died, I mourned him for a hundred days. I did not speak, I did not leave my house..." She trails off.

"And then?"

"I spoke to people. I left my house."

"I know what you're saying, Laira." I frown, still struggling to make her understand. "But Carter isn't dead, she's very much alive... just like the Colonel is very much going to go home again."

"He must choose by himself, Paul. It is not for you to decide." She says softly, her eyes determined but strangely saddened as she gazes up at me.

"I know that. I'm just telling you that you should know these things." I agree eventually. It is up to the Colonel. It is up to him to choose who he would rather love and commit to. It's not my choice to make for him.


"I'm worried about her, Sir." I let my eyes bore determinedly into the General and he nods slightly.

"I understand that, Doctor Fraiser... but both her and Dr. Lawson believe that they're nearly there."

"They'be been at it for nearly two months now, Sir!" I snap, glaring at him. "In that time, I'm only aware of Sam going to be every second night and only remaining there for a few hours. I don't know if she sleeps or not, and I have no idea how she functioning with less than five hours sleep for every two days... but the fact is, it's going to catch up with her, and by the looks of it, sooner rather than later."

"Janet..." I pause as he looks at me, his eyes accepting. "You know that even if we *do* order her to sleep, she'll just lie there and brood or think of ways to improve the machine..."

"I could sedate her, Sir."

"No." General Hammond shakes his head, rubbing his face with his hands. "I can't order her to be sedated, and you know that."

"Sir, with all due respect!" I flare up. Doesn't he understand? Doesn't he understand that this could *kill* her? Literally!

"Dr. Fraiser, I understand your concern and I will speak to Dr. Carter, but I can not authorise you to sedate her anymore than I can order her around now. She's not military anymore." He reminds me softly, a sorrow in his eyes that belies the one in his heart.

"Yes Sir." I accept it reluctantly, this order - or lack of one - going against *everything* in my principles of being a doctor. Can't she see what she's doing to herself?

"Dismissed." He says gently, and I don't say anything as I let myself out of his office.

Maybe I should take her some food... sneak something into it... I shake my head slightly. No. I can't do that. Not to myself or to her either.

I stand in the doorway of the labs for a second, watching as Alex and Sam work together, both oblivious to my presence. I'm happy to see that Alex, for once, has a sense of mind and goes home every night for sleep, food and her amenities.

"Samantha Carter." I snap, catching sight of an untouched plate of food from lunchtime.

"Janet?" She looks up at me innocently, dark circles and hollow cheeks telling the truth about her state of well being.

"You didn't eat lunch." I sigh, pointing to the plate.

She blinks in surprise and then glances at her watch. "Oh, sorry, I guess I just lost track of time."

"Again." I sigh. "Alex..."

"I told her, Janet..." She says guiltily.

"But then you forgot too, huh?" I sigh and enter the room. "That's it. The two of you will go to the comissary *now* and get something to eat. A *proper* meal for the two of you, more so for Sam than you, Alex. And then you *will* go home Alex, and Sam you will go to your quarters and sleep. And if I don't find you fast asleep when I come to check on you..." I let the sentence hang, hoping my threat works.

"Janet..." Sam hesitates, eyeing me hopefully. "We're nearly there... all we need to do is..."

"Ack!" I shake my head and act very much like a certain Colonel used to. "I don't want to hear it. Commissary. NOW." I bark, pointing down the hallway. Like two guilty school girls caught giggling they traipse past me, heads hung low and shoulders slumped apologetically. Good.

I decide to follow them, just in case they decide that they're not going to listen to me, and together we enter the commissary.

"Food." I remind them as they pause for a minute. "And no coffee, Sam. Milk. Warm milk."

"Janet..." She turns to me, disgust on her features.

"I don't want to hear it Sam. You say you won't sleep. I'm not entirely surprised, given all that caffeine floating around in your system. Warm milk." I raise my eyebrows, daring her to argue.

She opens her mouth to protest, but then catches sight of something that causes her to grin widely instead. "Teal'c!" She exclaims, catching sight of the Jaffa.

"Dr. Carter." He dips his head, but the slight smile on his face shows he's happy to see her.

"Teal'c, maybe you can convince Sam to have some rest." I suggest, my eyes still focused on Sam.

"I believe it would be beneficial to both yourself and Colonel O'Neill if you were to rest, Dr. Carter." He says, and I can tell by the way he tilts his head and watches her that he's serious about the statement.

Sam glares at me again before accepting the food Alex puts down next to her. "Thanks." She looks down at the food and sighs.

"Don't even think about telling me you're not hungry." I warn her, watching.

She sighs this time, and her shoulders slump suddenly in exhaustion. "I'm tired, Janet." She whispers softly, burying her face in her hands. "I'm so tired..."

Food forgotten, I go over to her and pull her gently to her feet. "I know. Come on." She walks slowly, half staggering between myself and Teal'c. She doesn't even make it to the door before she sways and nearly collapses, only saved from dropping on the floor by one ready and waiting Jaffa.

"Let's take her to the infirmary." I sigh, checking her vitals quickly before letting Teal'c carry her out of the commissary.

I knew this would happen. I knew she'd collapse. I think the only reason this didn't happen sooner was because she wouldn't let herself think about it, she purposely ignored sleep and food because she knew that if she acknowledged them she'd lost the battle.

Once I've got her settled on a bed, I place a phonecall to General Hammond, and tell him in no uncertain terms that I'm the base CMO and I'm over-riding any further orders he is going to give concerning Sam's health. Feeling very annoyed at myself and Sam for putting us in this position, I station a nurse on watch duty to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid when she wakes up, and go make sure that Alex goes home, with orders to stay away for five days at least.

"Janet..." Alex protests, but I can see her heart's not really in it. She's just protesting for Sam.

"Alex, Sam has just worked herself into a state of exhaustion... you will go home and take some time off. I don't want to see you in here until Tuesday, okay?" I watch her.

"Janet..." Alex hesitates. "We talked..."

"About?" I frown.

"Well, not much." Alex studies me, her eyes pensive. "You know she loves him, don't you?"

"Well, she's never said anything to me." I'm not stupid, I know who Alex is talking about.

"Me neither." Alex shrugs and continues. "She apologised at any rate."

"For what?" I'm confused now.

"Treating me the way she did." Alex has a funny smile on her face. "She never treated me badly, I don't think she treated anyone badly. Did she?"

"Not that I know of."

"She thinks she did, running off like that." Alex pauses before continuing. "She apologised for it, and then when I said it didn't matter she smiled slightly before working again. Janet..."

"What are you thinking?" I pounce, knowing that look in her eye all to well.

"You don't think she's like this because she thinks it's her fault..."

"How could it possibly be her fault?" I nearly laugh.

"Well, maybe she thinks that if she talked to the Colonel, to all of us... I don't know. She's desperate... she gets so frustrated and worked up when things don't work..."

"I know." I smile again, remembering other times when Sam lost her temper with bits of machines that wouldn't work.

"It's stupid... but I think that she won't stop until she's got him back."

"I know that. I knew that from the beginning."

She pauses again, watching me narrowly. "How did you know that?"

"Other than the desperate, driven look in her eye and the way she completely threw herself into work?" I ask, raising an eyebrow and earning a smile from Alex as she realises my words are true. "I saw the alternate reality's Jack O'Neill. To judge by the level of his grief I'd say the two of them were completely devoted to one another, if that word describes it adequately.

"She died for him, didn't she?" Alex whispers, her brow furrowed in thought. "Do you think Sam would...?"

"Yes. She nearly did. Twice now." I agree.


"She threw herself into a river after him..." I admit. "And now this... I'm worried about her Alex, this could have serious effects on her permanent health, not just her present health." I watch her pointedly. "Please, Alex, don't let it get to this again. Okay?"

"Okay." Alex agrees, subdued. No one had taken me seriously, and Sam's collapse just proves that. I think they were all more concerned about getting the Colonel and the Major home. And while I'm not angry at them for not trusting my judgement, I do think that they should *all* have been paying more attention to Sam's health and state of well-being also. Myself included.

"See you on Tuesday." I hug her briefly, showing I'm not still angry at her, and then we part.

~Thirty Four~


He's not happy with me. He's *really* not happy with me.

Then again, I'm not particularly happy with *him* either.

"Colonel..." His voice hesitates, but I don't turn to look at him. Instead, I scratch irritably at my stomach. Despite assurances from Laira and every other woman in this village that these shirts and pants are very good quality and will last for 'several seasons of hard work', they are itchy and uncomfortable as anything.

I'm not making this easy for him, and I'm pretty sure that he's trying to hold out an olive brother. Another olive branch. This would be... oh, about... number eight, I think. Maybe it's nine. I don't know, don't really care either.

"Jack." He sighs, and I raise an eyebrow even though he can't see it because I'm facing the river and he's facing my back. Jack? Since when is it *Jack*?

"Paul." I return smoothly, still not facing him.

"I shouldn't have said anything..."

"I know that." I agree with him, skipping another stone across the river. Wow! Six jumps. That's pretty damn good, even for me!

"You're not making this easy."

"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that I was supposed to make this easy for you."

"Would you shut up for a minute so I can talk to you?" He sighs.

"You not going to make that an order?" I can't help myself. I'm angry. Not so much at him, more at myself than anyone else, but he's the only person who I can really take my anger out on.

"Why do I even try?" He snaps, and I can hear the grass crunch under his boots as he turns to march off.

I turn and watch him walk off, and I feel a smidgeon of disgust and anger at myself for treating him like this. It's not fair on him... but I can't bring myself to apologise to him.

"Jack?" A feminine voice asks, intruding very rudely on my brooding.

"Laira." I'm not particularly nice or encouraging to her either, definitely not very good company but for some strange reason she seems to persist on talking to me.

"You were arguing with Paul, I could not help over hearing." She says gently. No, I don't suppose she could help over hearing given the fact that our voices were probably a lot louder than a normal speaking tone thanks to my orinariness.

I don't say anything, not even as she comes up to me and slips her hands around my arm, leaning against my side.

"Are you coming to eat?" She asks gently.

"No, I'm not hungry." I shake my head, flinging another stone with venom.

"You are lying." She's not accusing me, must telling me she knows that I'm not being honest with her.

"Laira..." I hesitate, looking down at her brown head resting on my shoulder.

Brown. Brown curls that bounce on the breeze and glow slightly red in firelight.

Not blond. Not short and touseled, not smooth and silky, not even long and tied back with a leather strip.

She's not Carter. Who am I trying to fool? Only myself and everyone else, apparently.

"Yes?" She looks up at me, her eyes questioning.

"Paul's right." I admit, looking back at the water. I can feel her become slightly wary, but she doesn't let go or move from her position.

"About what?" She asks, almost as if she doesn't really want to her my answer to the question.

"About me." This is hard. I never admit to things like this.

There's silence for a while, and I'm aware of her fingers tracing patterns on my arm, almost absently. It's nice, having a woman who wants your company, who obviously admires you and finds you funny... but it's not the same as having the woman you love near you.

"I'm sorry, Laira." I don't make any move to let her go, I want her to do it herself. She doesn't seem to share my ideas though, and presses herself a little closer to me.

I look down at her, to try and let my 'expressive' eyes tell her that she's only a friend and that's all she'll ever be, but as I turn my head she reaches up and touches her lips lightly with mine.

It's.... nice. That's all. Nice. Nothing explodes inside me, no huge emotions are triggered... nothing. It's just... nice. Pleasant even... but that's all.

"Laira..." I pull away, shaking my head slightly. "I'm sorry." I tell her. She studies me, and I can see the slightest traces of tears in her eyes, but she won't cry. Laira is strong, I'd even go so far as to say nearly as strong as Carter, which is probably what drew me to her in the first place.

"Me too." She whispers and licks her lips slightly, nervousness and awkwardness settling over both of us. She lets me go then, and steps away slightly, focusing her eyes on the water. I follow her lead and look out over the water. "Will you come and share a meal with us?" She asks eventually, still not looking at me.

"No, I'm not hungry." I repeat my lame excuse, but this time she accepts my words with a quiet nod and then softly retreats away.

I rub my face with my hands. I've screwed up. Big time. What was I doing, fooling around with Laira? I turn around and catch sight of Thomas watching me with a disgusted, if not slightly resentful expression before he also turns on his heel and marches off in the opposite direction to Laira.

Oh damn.


"Hello." I pop my head around the corner and am greeted by an empty bed. Okay. So the last I was aware, she was still supposed to be in that bed.

"Looking for Sam?" Janet's next to me all of a sudden, having done her quiet 'doctor/military' walk thing and snuck up without being heard.

"As a matter of fact, yes." I nod my head. "I thought she might appreciate some cookies..." I hold the bag up, and she grins.

It's a tradition from the old days. If Sam was laid up in the infirmary, I'd bring her Chocolate Walnut Cookies. If I was laid up, then she'd bring me some. Everyday for the last two weeks that she's been in official 'bed rest', I've been bringing her the snack despite protests that she'll get fat. Huh. She's still so skinny that I can count the bones in her hands and get a first hand view of how they all move and work as she moves her hands.

"She's gone to the labs..."

"Already?" I blink.

"Yes." Janet nods, but I sense there's a catch.

"Oh?" I wait for more information.

"Two hours in the morning, then rest and lunch, two hours in the afternoon and then sleep, dinner and sleep again."

"She's not going to be happy about that." I grin slightly, but able to understand Sam's frustration.

"Daniel... I don't care." Janet states pointedly, daring me to argue.

"I'm just saying..." I hold up my hands innocently. "Well, want a cookie?" She smiles at me and shakes her head, wrinkling her nose at the thought of walnuts in the cookie. I grin in return and then head off to the labs.

Even with Sam being out of action for the last two weeks, work hasn't gone to a standstill on the generator. Both Bester and Alex have been putting in a lot of time on the device, and according to reports I've heard they're not far off from completion.

Sure enough, I enter the lab to see Sam, Alex and Bester very busily involved in a discussion.

"Tea - break." I announce, holding up my little bag of cookies.

"More?" Sam asks, smiling slightly as she looks at me.

"More." I agree and head over to the percolater they've relocated into the labs. Yum... coffee and cookies. My favourite.

"So how's it going?" I ask as we all munch on cookies and sip on our beverages. All of us, that is, except Sam. She took a bite out of a cookie and a sip from her coffee before her eyes suddenly opened wide and she nearly jumped with excitement.

Sensing her excitement, Alex also gulps down last mouthful of coffee before she also puts her mug down and joins Sam at the generator. I listen with half an ear to the excited babble going on between the two women, not really understanding much of it, while Bester stands and nods agreeingly while still chewing thoughtfully on his biscuit. This could be good.

"So..." I wait a second. "What exactly have we discovered then?"

Sam looks up at me, grinning. "Another three hours and we should be done."

"Done as in done done?" I check, surprised.

"Yes." She nods eagerly. "We should have them back home within a day!"

"Well... I'll leave you to it then." I grin, relief shooting through me.

A day. One more day and then Jack should be safely back on earth, in the briefing room yelling at me. I can't wait.

I stand aside for a minute, watching as Sam starts working on the generator again. How can someone so incredibly intelligent and amazing be so completely stupid when it comes to dealing with emotions? I've watched her this last month and a half, completely devoting herself to bringing him home. She feels guilty. The way she's apologising not only to me but everyone else as well... she feels guilty and that guilt coupled with her feelings for Jack...

There's nothing I want more right now than to have Jack walk back down that ramp and have the two of them tell one another that they love each other. I *know* what they're missing out on, I can see what they mean to each other simply by the way they say the other's name, the looks in their eyes... even their body language... and they deserve some happiness. They deserve to have the same kind of love that I had with Sha're... and even though I don't have Sha're anymore, I still want them to have it, even if it's only so that I can experience the warmth of that emotion through them because I'm their friend and their love will spill into my life.

"Bring him home, Sam. Bring them both home." I whisper before leaving the room, the three of them probably unaware of the fact that I've left.


I catch sight of him in the corner of my eye. In one fluid movement I rise to my feet, bringing my bread and drink with me, and step out of the dim room where we all eat and make my way out into the fields to sit and eat in peace beneath a tree.

I want nothing to do with him.

I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed, not only for myself, but for Carter too. How could he?

Fair enough, there isn't actually anything going on between O'Neill and Carter, but to kiss *Laira*? Right after refusing to listen to my apology?

A twig cracks behind me, and I know that it's him. Fair enough, he has black ops training, but he *wants* me to know he's there.

"What do you want?" I demand.

"To apologise." He says stiffly, but I don't budge from my position beneath the tree. It's not the most comfortable position in the world, scratch that, it's one of the most uncomfortable positions I've ever had the misfortune of putting myself into. The dumb nobbly bits are digging into my back and the roots are...

"For what?" I derail my aimless train of thought and turn half of my attention to the man grovelling behind me. Well, not grovelling *yet*.

"For my treatment of you." Geez, the man sounds so stiff and formal you'd think that this was a forced apology.


There's a tense silence for a while, and suddenly he's sitting half next to me, his shoulder brushing against mine as he also parks himself against the tree. Ha. Now he gets to be uncomfortable too.

"You were right." He says eventually, and I have to be careful that I don't suddenly choke on the piece of bread in my mouth.

"I was?" I manage, swallowing my water roughly.


"About what?" I'm not making this easy for him, but then, he didn't make things easy for me either, did he?

"Everything." He sighs. "It was a stupid mistake, Thomas."

"What? Arguing with me. Of course it was."

"No." He's getting frustrated, ready to flee from this apology, I can tell. Maybe I'm pushing it too much; O'Neill isn't usually an apologetic man or someone who's willing to go into his life - both mistakes and successes - in great detail. "Laira. Encouraging her." I can almost see him spitting that out through clenched teeth.

"Oh." I finish off my bread.

"For what it's worth, Thomas, I was an idiot."

"You mean that?" I check, trying not to grin.

"I'm not putting it in writing... but yeah... I'm an idiot." He sighs.

I shoot him a look over my shoulder. "And Laira?"

"That was her, not me." He says, and I believe him. "I was wrong to play along... but I admitted that to her and then she kissed me."

"Oh. Admitted what?" I don't really have any right to this, but I am taking full advantage of this grovelling, and he knows it *and* there's nothing he can do about it. He owes it to me.

"That I didn't love her."

"No one expected you to love her in a month." I point out, digging for more.

"You want me to say it, don't you?" He sighs, but I can almost hear the hope on his voice.


"I love her. I love Carter. I love Sam Carter." He repeats it, almost like a mantra, and with each uttering I can hear the strength, conviction and happiness grow in their tones. "I love her, Thomas, and when I get home I'm gonna make damn sure she knows that."

I smile silently to myself as we finish off our lunch and just sit together in silence for a while. "O'Neill..."


"When we get home, you owe me a beer."

"I owe you a whole damn case of beer." He says vehemently.

We stand up slowly, stretching our legs when I catch sight of Laira coming towards us slowly, a look of apprehension on her face.

"Fair day, Laira." I greet her, feeling happy again.

"Fair day, Paul, Jack." She greets us and then glances over at Jack before looking at me again. "I have not seen either of you since this morning." She starts out.

"Were you looking for us?"

"Yes." She nods again and bites her lip slightly, nervous. "A while ago, before our midday meal, I was cleaning when I thought I heard a sound come from this..." She pulls a 2-way out of the folds of her skirt. "Perhaps a voice."

"You did?" I snatch at the 2-way and look over at O'Neill. "This is Major Thomas, is there anyone out there? Repeat, is there anyone out there?"

"Major Thomas, it is I, Teal'c."

I nearly drop the 2-way; my mouth drops open and I stare dumbly at O'Neill. Teal'c. How did Teal'c...?

"Teal'c? Is that you?" O'Neill snatches the 2-way off me and heads off at a run towards the houses.

"Indeed. It is good to hear your voice, O'Neill."

"Yours too." O'Neill pants as we skid to a halt. "Where are you?" Why were we running?

"At the Stargate. It was buried, O'Neill..."

"We've got you... hold on Teal'c."

Not a word is spoken between the two of us as we gather up picks and shovels, and then following the signal on the 2-way, we head over to where the Stargate used to be.

The blood running through my veins is humming with excitement, adrenaline coursing through my body which seems to have found an incredible strength because with each swing of my pick stones and debris shower over O'Neill and myself, and the hole we've started digging grows visibly deeper.

O'Neill releases a sudden shriek of excitement and drops to his knees as a small hole appears in the ground. He shoves his hand through and the dirt crumbles away, sending a shaft of light down into the inky blackness and illuminating Teal'c's eyes as he gazes up at us.

"Teal'c! You are one stubborn son of a bitch!" O'Neill laughs, our hands scrabbling desperately at the hole and digging it wider.

Home. We're going home.

~Thirty Five~


That sentimental lump of emotion is back in my throat as I stand at my post, watching the silent stone circle in front of me.

Twice it's tried to steal some one from us, one man, and for a second time it's being cheated of its victory. Thanks to Sam Carter's stubborness and ingenuity, Jack O'Neill will be brought home for a second time, along with Paul Thomas.

I'll be damned if the lump doesn't raise itself a bit higher and brings on a certain burning sensation in my eyes as the red Chevrons engage and the wormhole engages.

"Receiving and IDC, Sir. It's SG-1." The technician announces, and I can even hear a faint trace of relief on his voice.

There's a flurry of movement from behind me, and I don't even have to look to know that despite the strict orders of Dr. Fraiser, Sam Carter has abandoned her assigned chair and fled down the stairs to be in the gate room.

A smile tugs at my lips as I glance over at the doctor who is staring at the doorway with a look of disbelief and complete and utter defeat etched on her features. Feeling my eyes on her, she turns around and returns my gaze evenly.

"I take it Dr. Carter didn't adhere to your orders." I say somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

The good doctor glares at me and then comes and stands beside me, her eyes also focused on the wormhole that is still rippling calmly.

"Despite collapsing and causing some serious concern for her health, she still doesn't seem to understand that she needs to rest." She sighs eventually, her eyes trained on the wormhole. "She promised me..."

I smile to myself. We both knew that Sam wouldn't keep that promise and stay off her feet today if she was allowed to work and extra hour on the generator to bring O'Neill home.

Any response I might have felt compelled to give to her comment is forgotten as the 'water' ripples suddenly and then five figures as spat out of it's depths. "At ease." My words are not necessary as the Airmen in the 'gateroom have already dropped their weapons and are closing in on O'Neill and Thomas to welcome them back.

I smile myself as both of my returned soldiers look up at me and salute, and I offer them a salute and smile in return.

I watch then as O'Neill's attention is diverted and an almost cliched hush falls over the 'gateroom. He's seen Sam then, and he's obviously watching her given the smile on his face.

I can't hear the words that leave his lips as he walks down the ramp, and I can't hear or see if she's saying anything, but it seems to take less than a second for the two fo them to walk up to each other. They pause then... hesitating, before he suddenly and fiercely wraps his arms around her and she clings to him just as tightly while he kisses the top of her head. And where I stand here, I can hear her sobs echoeing off the walls and see the smiles on everyones' faces as they watch the reuinion. The lump in my throat grows bigger, he's crying too.

Once again my eyes are prickling, and as I turn discreetly to look for an excuse to blow my nose, I catch sight of Janet Fraiser wiping her eyes as she also watches their reunion.

"It's about time." She states, her voice trembling slightly with emotion. And I agree with her.


"Well... everything looks fine, Colonel." Jack grins at Janet as she finishes off her examination, closing her folder with a snap.

"So I'm clear to go home then?" He asks hopefully, and I can't help but smile at his usual behaviour. It's good to have him home. Again.

"Yes." She nods, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Do me a favour, would you?"

"Sure." He nods. "You haven't needled me yet and letting me go with relatively little fuss. Why wouldn't I do you a favour?" He tells her cheekily, and she smiles inspite of the news she's trying to keep from him.

"Sam's sitting outside. Would you send her in?"

"Sure." He hesitates. I can see his train of thought. 'Why does she want Carter?' Unless it has something to do with the fact that Sam looks like a skeleton and has panda rings under her eyes.

Janet catches his hesitation, and does a little hesitation of her own which prompts him to ask the question... "Why?"

Once again she does that famous little hesitation thing. "Colonel..." She's not really supposed to tell him, the whole doctor/patient/confidentiality thing coming into play again, but she
*wants* to tell him, just like I also want him to know what she did for him.

"What's wrong with her?"

"She's run down, Colonel. She's been working non-stop since you went missing..."

"You mean she..."

"She built the generator with Alex's and Dr. Bester's help... but she barely ate or slept in that time and her body simply could cope with the stress..."

"What are you telling me?" He frowns.

"She collapsed about two weeks ago... exhaustion and the likes." Again she hesitates.

"She's okay though?"

"She will be. If she behaves herself and actually rests properly for a period longer than five minutes." She sighs.

"Oh." Jack stands up. "I'll send her in before I leave. Janet?"

"Yes?" She looks up at me, a smile on her lips.

"Tell her not to leave without talking to me, okay?" Jack persists, but she doesn't look at him, knowing her eyes will betray her. She's just as glad as all of us to have him back, but she won't let herself show it.

"Okay. It's good to have you back, Colonel." She grins at me and surprises me by giving me a quick hug. I smile briefly and follow Jack into the hallway.

"Doc Fraiser wants to see you." We tell Sam as she looks up at him expectantly, her eyes shadowed and slightly scared for some reason. I feel fingers of concern tugging at me, but it's not my place to ask this time.

"Okay. Colonel..." She pauses.

"Where's Bird?" Jack asks suddenly, avoiding a serious conversation. I know my presence is probably the reason, but I'm still annoyed at him for interupting her like that..

"Bird?" She blinks, thrown by the question.

"Yes, Bird. Our yellow and purple parrot."

"Oh. He's with Cassie. She's been looking after him..."

Jack grins slightly. "I'll see you soon, Carter." He promises, and I feel worried at the awkwardness I sense between them suddenly.

"Yes Sir."

I watch her almost slink into the infirmary and direct my frown of confusion at the wall. Before we got back, I was determined that the first thing Jack'd do when he saw her was sweep her up into my arms and kiss her until she relented and admitted she loved and him and would marry him. Well, that's the impression I got from Thomas anyway.

He didn't though, and they still haven't talked or, to my knowledge, confessed how much they mean to each other. That *really* makes me mad.


"Yes Daniel?" He looks at me expectantly, his eyes hiding any emotions other than interest in my words.

"You're doing it again." He doesn't have to pretend not to understand because we both know what I'm talking about. He sighs slightly and starts walking up the corridor to where the others are waiting for the debriefing.

I rub at my face with my hand. Maybe they'll talk after the debriefing. Yes. When they both have time and he doesn't have to rush off the the debriefing anymore.

I smile slightly and follow them into the debriefing room.


Never has a debriefing felt so long. Never have I more yearned to escape from the formalities of the Tau'ri. My eyes shift towards the clock. We have been here for nearly an hour now, and I wish to leave.

My family is waiting for me. In the Land of Light where they now live in safety and without fear.

"Teal'c?" General Hammond is looking at me, and I am ashamed to say I do not know what his question is.

O'Neill is staring at me with an amazed look on his face, and I almost smile. He had not thought it possible, that I would not pay attention to a conversation.

"Have you got any other thoughts you'd like to add?"

"No, General Hammond." I shake my head and turn my thoughts back onto the debriefing. They are now discussing what occured after we righted the Stargate, and Dr. Bester, Daniel Jackson, O'Neill and Major Thomas are all correct in their descriptions of our activities.

Despite my resolve to pay attention, I once again find my thoughts slipping towards my family, and I feel a small smile playing around my lips once more. Drey'auc is with child again, and she will give birth to our second child. This child will bear no prim'ta, it will be free, just as I am, and as my wife is, and as my son is.

I look over at O'Neill and Daniel Jackson who are once sitting side by side, squabbling over a detail that is not relevant. Both men are different, and yet, I am proud to be able to call them both my friends. They have both known loss in their lives, yet they both understand and still have the ability to love. While Daniel Jackson has lost his wife and has no one to call his own, I know that he will one day find another.

And O'Neill? He has found another, but I am scared, as are the others, that through their own foolishness and pride they will lose one another. I have watched them grow together during our time on Kaldroon, and their seperation has caused my much sorrow, but it is not for my to take it onto myself. It is something between the two of them only, and for them only to resolve. And, watching O'Neill glance impatiently at his watch, I believe that it will not take long before it is solved.

"Very well then, dismissed. Teal'c, I'll have them dial up the Land of Light for you now." General Hammond offers.

"Thank you, General Hammond." I stand along with the rest of the people in the debriefing room and nod my farewell.

I am going home, for now, and will enjoy my 'downtime' with my family. When I return changes will have been made, and more of my friends will have developed subtle changes during my short time away from them. I can only hope the changes will all be well and beneficial to not only themselves, but to their family and friends also.


What feels like fifteen hundred years later - although it's only really an hour and a half later - I step from the debriefing room along with Thomas, Daniel, Bester, Teal'c and General Hammond.

"You coming for a drink, O'Neill?" Thomas asks me, his eyes almost daring me to say yes. But I can't say yes. I've got something more important to deal with than coming good on a simple debt repayed with beers.

"No thanks." I shake my head.

"Well... have fun." He grins at me, and I am ashamed to say that I nearly feel myself blush at his deliberate jibe. I send him a dirty look - thankfully no one else seems to have picked up on what we're not talking about out loud - and head off back down to the infirmary to where Carter is no doubt long finished with Dr Fraiser.

"Hey, Janet!" I catch sight of the doctor and grin at her, joy at the thought of smoothing things over with Carter starting to get to me.

"Colonel." Janet looks slightly apologetic as she gazes at me.

"Where's Carter?" I demand. This isn't good... she looks almost as if she's going to say...

"I'm sorry, Sir, but she left."

"I beg your pardon?" I swallow and check to make sure I've heard correctly.

"She left already."

"Oh." Now I'm confused. "Didn't you say that she was exhausted?" I frown. Surely Janet wouldn't let her drive like that...

"She asked Alex to take her home. I couldn't keep her here against her will."

"Oh." I swallow, the blow crushing me but not killing me. "What's her address?" I'm embarrassed that I don't know it, but it's time I changed that.

"Colonel...with all due respect, Sir, I think you should leave it for tonight." She says apologetically.

I stare at her. Leave it? I've left it for, it would be seven and a half months now. I'm not leaving it any longer.


"Colonel, she needs to sleep, to rest. If you go there now and upset her..."

Me? Upset her? I nearly laugh.

"Sir... please." I sigh. Maybe I've gotten soft in my time off-world, maybe I'm a coward and looking for ways to prolong this, to stall so that I don't have to do it.

"Okay." I sigh, my shoulders slumping.

"I'm sorry, Sir." She whispers, genuine sorrow in her eyes as she gazes at me.

"It's okay." I smile at her, but I know it doesn't reach my eyes. "I think I'll head home too... get some rest."

"Yes Sir." She pauses. "I'll give you her address... for tomorrow." She swallows slightly, and I know she's not happy but I'm guessing that Carter didn't want her to give me her address at all.

I wait the few seconds as she scribbles some letters and numbers down on a piece of paper, but I don't even glance at them before I screw the paper up and shove it into my pocket. "Night Janet."

"Night Colonel." She doesn't say anything else as I leave the infirmary, and I can understand that. I don't feel much like talking either.

Outside I stand a moment and just inhale the smell that is uniquely earth. Pollution mingled with pine trees, gravel and dew. Yum. Never thought I'd miss this smell until I came back from Kaldroon. This time I am more experienced, and appreciate it just as much.

I catch sight of Carter's little silver car sitting in its usual spot in the parking lot, and something catches in my throat again. I haven't seen her car sitting in this park since the day we left for Kaldroon. The day we became marooned and things in both our lives changed forever.

That sounds dramatic.

Thinking about it, it was pretty dramatic. Not many people can say they spent two years marooned on another world with four other people - well, three people and a Jaffa - and were rescued by some aliens that look an awful lot like Roswell greys and fell in love with their 2IC who had her very promising military career cut cruelly short because of fate's unique sense of humour, and even *fewer* people can claim to have been marooned for a *second* time on another planet due to a meteorite shower.


Guess my life is pretty dramatic.

But it's over now.

Looking at Carter's car sitting there so quietly, so inconspiciously, a little flash of knowledge comes to light. I've lived through two strandings. I'm not tempting fate a third time... who knows how tired she might be of letting me escape.

No. Even if things don't work out between Carter and myself, even if everything in my life is suddenly turned upside down again for some reason, my time with the Stargate is over. I had fun, a wild ride, but it's time for me to move over and let Thomas get on with commanding his team, just like Carter has to accept that her military career is also over.

And, funnily enough, the prospect of retiring doesn't fill me with dread. It doesn't fill me with horror and the thoughts of boredom. Instead, I can see days ahead of me where I might be bored, might be looking for something to do but I know that I'll be happy, no matter how much I complain, because I'll only have to look around and see the world around me and remember how lucky I am that I had two chances at returning home.

My decision is made.

I sigh again as I look at the car. I'm standing here, looking at her car and sighing. I shouldn't be looking at her car, I should be looking at *her*. I told myself, no, I *promised* myself on Kaldroon that the minute I caught sight of her the first thing I would do is kiss her so thoroughly that she agrees to marry me when I ask.

What did I do?

I hugged her. Oh, it was a very nice hug. More than nice. It was something more incredible than a simple kiss would have been. The hug had been... an acknowledgement by *both* of us that we needed the other. The way she'd leant on me, buried her face against my shoulder and held me tight with her good arm... And she'd cried. Great, hiccupping sobs that left no doubt in my mind that she was unhappy about things. And, I'd cried too. Cried with relief at being back, at being able to hold her in my arms again and at being given the opportunity to make things right with her. But I hadn't used that opportunity, and now that she's running I doubt whether I'll ever have that opportunity again.

I shake my head to clear it, feeling my eyes misting over again. What is it with me, crying for the second time in a day? In less that two hours.

I'll try to sort through this later, figure out why things are suddenly so *funny* between us and try and set things straight tomorrow. I *will* set things straight tomorrow. Tomorrow, after I've gone home again and just let myself forget everything for a while.

I climb into my car slowly, letting myself enjoy the dusk as the light slowly fades from the world. I can hear the chorus of birds singing over time in the trees ahead, I can hear cars in the distance, and I feel contentment well up inside of me. This is the place that I live. Now I've just go to go home.

The drive home is slow, my usual aggressive style of driving ignored for the moment and instead I take the time to notice what I normally took for granted. I look at the carefully tended gardens along the road and acknowledge the efforts their owners put in to making the plants so alive, so vibrant. I watch the children still lingering in their yards, playing in sandpits or riding bikes.

And I think of Charlie.

I think of how lucky I was to have had a son like him. I remember the way he used to sigh in his sleep if I tucked him in and kissed him on the forehead, I remember the way he used to whoop for joy while he was playing. And I remember the hugs he gave me, the kisses, the way he looked up at me as if he admired me. And I remember how he loved me.

I feel strange. As though all of this is a dream. An incredibly good dream where I'm just floating and all the good things that have happened in my life are pushing to the fore front of my dark and murky mind, tracing bright patterns over the blackness of my past and eventually just hiding the inky darkness with their goodness. For the first time in a long time, I feel free.

My house is like I remembered it. A little dustier, a little musty maybe, but my house none the less.

I'm tired, it's been a long day. Tomorrow is also going to be a long day, but now I don't mind. I'm going to lie down and go to sleep, and relax in my new-found contentment. I just hope this feeling doesn't leave me soon.

I pull my bedroon door open quickly and step inside, my hands already busy shedding my jacket. And then I stop.

The curtains are still drawn, just like I left them, but the light in the bathroom is on. I never turned the light on before I left. I swear it. My eyes flicker to my bed, and my lips curve into a smile. Silently I continue pulling my jacket off, soundlessly my shoes and socks join it on the floor and as carefully and gently as possible I crawl onto the bed.

She turns almost immediately, cuddling herself against me as if she never stopped doing it, and wrapping her arm around my waist just like I put mine around hers. Smelling in the sweetness of her hair and feeling her slightly frame next to me, I close my eyes and press a kiss to her forehead.

She sighs against me and I just lie there for a while, watching her sleep. My fingers traces a gentle pattern along her forehead, down over her nose and along her jawbone, feathering over her lips and lingering on her temple.

I love her.

The world turns dark as I lie there, until finally only the light spilling through from the open bathroom door illuminates her peaceful form, but I don't shift or make any attempt to fall asleep. Tomorrow's going to come, and things are either going to turn good or bad between us, I'd like to think that they'll be good, but I don't know. I'd like to think that we are, like Catherine and Ernest, finally going to be able to just be together and have a 'happily ever after' that has it's fair share of ups and downs, but I don't know.

All I do know is that she's here with me now, lying in my arms and sleeping against my chest is that I'm going to do everything in my power to make things right between us, to convince her that it'll be okay. But for now, lying here in the semi-dark I know that for tonight things will be okay because we're home.

Home. We've both come to a place we call home.


Warm. So warm and soft. Gentle. Warm. Lips smile. Eyes dance. Warm. Gentle rustling, sweetness. Warm. So warm, so safe.

Warm. Close. Silk. Sunsets. Warm. Comfortable, soft blankets. Careful arms, secret smiles. Smiles. So warm. Safe. Happy. I'm happy.

I'm home.





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