"What can I say, guys? He likes me!"
Daniel frowned. "I still think I'm the better qualified person to give a series of lectures on 'everyday life on Earth' to the Asgard Parliament."
"Hard luck, Daniel. They specifically asked for me!"
Sam smiled to herself. The three of them stood in the gateroom, waiting for Thor to transport the Colonel up to his ship and then take him to the Asgard homeworld. She had to admit she had no idea why her commanding officer was so popular with the small, grey aliens. On the face of it, Daniel was the better man for the job. It had to be Colonel O'Neill's natural charm, she thought wryly to herself. Noticing a speck of lint on the shoulder of his otherwise immaculate dress uniform, she leant across and brushed it off.
Irritably batting her hand away, Jack turned to Daniel. "My wife used to do that. It drove me crazy then."
To cover her rapidly reddening face, Sam asked, "You have all the data disks and videos, don't you, sir?"
"Yes, Major," he said wearily, patting the bag slung over his shoulder. "All present and correct. I've even added a video of my own."
Sam's heart sank. Her and Daniel had spent days selecting the best and most informative encyclopedias and documentaries they could find and the Colonel had added... what?
Daniel appeared to be thinking much the same thing. "What have you put on the tape, Jack?"
Counting on his fingers, the Colonel said, "A hockey game, an episode of Star Trek and some music videos."
Sam groaned. She was trying desperately to remember if the 'Roswell Greys' had ever featured on Star Trek when there was a blue flash and the Asgard transportation device activated.
"Bye! See you in a few days," shouted Jack, as he disappeared.
Sam and Daniel stared at each other. "It'll be okay," said the archaeologist, not sounding like he believed what he was saying. "They like him."
"I hope you're right. But what happens if they think Star Trek is real?"
Daniel shrugged. "You get to be Captain Janeway and I'll be... Tom Paris?" he suggested.
Sam laughed. "I think they'll spot the difference!" She shook her head, there was no point in worrying about it now, there was nothing they could do. "So... what are you doing until the Colonel gets back?"
"I'm helping Nyan with some cataloguing. You?"
"Lieutenant Simmons and I are installing some new software on the main computer. It should enable us to dial the gate faster. I've just realised, I haven't seen Teal'c today. Do you know where he is?"
"Combat training with SG2."
Sam winced. "Is Janet on full alert for casualties?"
"Oh yeah!" said Daniel with feeling. He turned to leave the gateroom. "I'd better go find Nyan. See you later."
Sam watched him head off down the corridor, then she began to climb the stairs to the control room.
"Okay Lieutenant, we're going to have to uninstall it and try again. It appears to be conflicting with the palm scanner program." Sam puffed out her cheeks. What had appeared to be a straightforward job was turning out far more complicated than she'd expected.
"Yes, Major," replied Graham Simmons. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "We have an incoming wormhole."
"GDO signal?" asked Sam, beginning to get worried. As far as she knew, no-one was due back.
"Yes, Major. There's one coming through now." He paused, his eyes glued to his monitor. Then he swung round to face the Major, confusion written all over his face. "It's... SG1's signal!" he stammered.
Sam hit the alarm button. "Full security detail to the gateroom, NOW!" she yelled into the tannoy. She couldn't take her eyes off the revolving gate. Who was the incoming traveller? Her heart pounded as the gate stopped rotating and the wormhole stabilised. She knew they hadn't lost any GDO's and the codes were changed regularly. How could anyone get hold of SG1's code? She stared at the event horizon, willing someone, anyone, to come through, if only to break the suspense. There was total silence in the control room, everyone waiting for the inevitable arrival. The soldiers, now in position around the base of the ramp, raised their weapons.
The blue shimmering surface rippled, then a familiar figure appeared. Sam heard a chorus of exhaled breaths from the personnel in the control room. The relief was palpable. So the Asgard didn't like Trek? she thought to herself, a smile tugging at her lips as she looked affectionately at her commanding officer standing on the ramp. Giving the soldiers a wary look, he slowly raised his hands.
"Lieutenant Colonel Jack O'Neill requesting asylum," he shouted in the general direction of the control room. He tried to shield his eyes from the glare of the lights to get a better look at who he might be talking to.
"Lieutenant Colonel?" Simmons said quietly to Sam.
She looked more closely at the man standing on the ramp. Her relief at seeing a familiar face had blinded her to the obvious. This O'Neill was in torn, dirty combat gear, there was a nasty gash across his forehead, and, sure enough, he wore the insignia of a Lieutenant Colonel.
Sam licked her lips. "Call General Hammond," she whispered to Simmons. He nodded and picked up the phone. Taking a deep breath, she switched on the microphone. "Who are you?"
His eyes shot up to the control room. "Is that you, Sam? Oh my God, you're alive!"
"Last time I looked," she muttered under her breath. "Who are you?" she repeated firmly.
He pulled himself to attention, no mean feat considering he still had his hands in the air. "Lieutenant Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force, ma'am. I request asylum on the grounds that the Earth in my reality has been overrun by the Goa'uld and I just destroyed Cheyenne Mountain."
Sam exchanged a look with Graham Simmons. "Your reality?" she asked their visitor. "You can't be from an alternate reality. We destroyed the quantum mirror."
The familiar drawl replied, "The quantum mirror? You think there's only one? Sorry to burst your bubble, Major...." He hesitated. "You are a major, aren' t you?"
"Yes, Major Samantha Carter," she answered, then wondered if she should have given that much information to the man on the ramp. She grimaced.
He continued, "As I was saying, sorry to burst your bubble but we've found four quantum mirrors at the last count. There are probably more."
"Oh," she mumbled, at rather a loss for words. She hoped the General would show up soon.
Squinting up at the control room, he said, "Major, much as I'm enjoying our little chat, I think it's time you took me to your leader, don't you?"
"Stay where you are, I'm coming down." Sam raced out of the control room and down the stairs. When she was almost at the bottom, General Hammond burst into the gateroom, closely followed by Daniel and Teal'c.
"Jack?" exclaimed Daniel incredulously.
"Kind of, buddy," their visitor muttered wearily. "Can I take my arms down now, they're starting to ache?"
Sam took the opportunity to study him more closely. He certainly looked like their Jack O'Neill and he sounded like their Jack O'Neill. He even had the same questionable attitude as their Jack O'Neill. It was then that he saw her standing at the foot of the stairs. His gaze instantly filled with a look of such naked desire it took her breath away. As he mouthed, "Sam," she found she couldn't drag her eyes from his. She felt herself getting hotter, her mouth went dry, the blood pounded in her ears. Time seemed to no longer have any relevance. All that mattered was the man in front of her, the intensity of his deep brown eyes and the promise they held. She knew with total certainty he wanted her.
"Sam!" hissed Daniel. "Sam! The General's talking to you!"
"What?" She came back to reality with a bump. Tearing her eyes reluctantly from Jack, she pulled herself to attention and turned to face the General, who repeated his question.
"I asked how our visitor could have travelled from an alternate reality when we'd destroyed the quantum mirror, Major."
Sam nervously cleared her throat. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jack smirking, apparently amused by her discomfort. Shooting him an annoyed look, she answered the General. "Lieutenant Colonel O'Neill says there are at least four quantum mirrors, sir."
"Fascinating," murmured Daniel. "But I guess there aren't necessarily four in this reality. There could be more... or less. There may only be the one you've used. There could be dozens."
Sam noticed Jack had a 'Danny's off again, I wish he'd shut up' look on his face. So, some things were the same in his reality, she thought wryly to herself.
"I believe this is a cause for concern," interrupted Teal'c. "Do the Goa'uld possess this knowledge?"
"And have you found a way to detect the mirrors?" asked Daniel.
General Hammond stepped up to Jack, who had given up waiting for permission and had lowered his arms. They shook hands. "Welcome to this SGC, son. The questions can wait until you've paid a visit to Doctor Fraiser and got yourself cleaned up. Report to the briefing room in one hour."
"Yes, sir," replied Jack.
The General turned to Teal'c. "Would you escort our visitor to the infirmary, please?"
"Certainly, General Hammond."
Sam and Daniel watched them leave. The archaeologist took a deep breath and looked at his friend curiously.
"What?" she asked, uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
"Back then... what was that all about? It was like a scene from a bad romantic movie." He clutched his hands to his chest in a theatrical gesture and proclaimed, louder than Sam liked, "Their eyes met and held across a crowded room, electricity sparking between them."
Sam found herself looking over her shoulder to check no-one had overheard. Thankfully, the soldiers were heading out the door and the couple of technicians present were at the far side of the room. "Keep it down, will you?" she hissed.
Daniel grinned. "Okay, sorry. I don't think anyone heard me. But that doesn't alter the fact that you two couldn't keep your eyes off each other."
"I know, it was weird. It's him but it's not him, if you see what I mean. The Colonel's never looked at me like that..."
She let out a long breath. "Put it this way, Daniel. I think we've found another reality where 'Carter' and 'O'Neill' are involved."
"That's three for three now, isn't it?" Daniel asked mischievously. "Ever thought someone up there..." He pointed at the ceiling. "...is trying to tell you something?"
"Daniel!" Sam swatted him on the arm.
"So, do you want our Jack to look at you like that?"
"Doctor Jackson, you're treading on dangerous ground! And anyway, 'electricity sparking between them'? What have you been reading?
He laughed. "Now that's my little secret! I ought to go find out what Nyan's up to. See you later."
"All right, people, let's bring this meeting to order." General Hammond glanced round the table at Teal'c, Daniel, Sam and Lieutenant Colonel O' Neill. He addressed their visitor. "Perhaps you could tell us briefly how you came to be here?"
"It started a couple of months back, sir," Jack replied. He licked his lips and looked across the table at Sam, then back down at his hands, clasped on the table in front of him. Sam watched him swallow and take a deep breath, apparently trying to steady himself.
When his eyes flicked up towards the General, Hammond said quietly, "Take your time, son. I appreciate this is difficult for you."
Jack nodded imperceptably, then began, "Just over two months ago, the Asgard were defeated by a race of technobugs. Replicators, Thor called them. The little grey guys just couldn't beat them.... We never found out what exactly happened in the end. They just went quiet. No more messages." He shook his head sadly. "What we didn't know at the time was that with Thor and his buddies out of the way, the Goa'uld, led by Apophis and Sokar..."
"Together?" interrupted Daniel.
"Yeah, it's the stuff of nightmares, isn't it? Somehow I doubt the alliance will last but it's too late for my reality now...."
General Hammond asked, "So what did the Goa'uld do?"
"Yeah, sorry. As I was saying, with the Asgard out of the way, they decided it was open season on Earth."
"They attacked?" asked Sam quietly.
Jack looked across the table at her and nodded sadly. Sam had noticed that ever since the briefing had begun, he'd kept glancing at her, as if he was checking she was still there and not some figment of his imagination. And always, his eyes were full of love and tenderness, betraying his feelings towards her.
He took a deep breath and carried on with his story. "We didn't get any warning. Our best guess was that they had some new stealth technology. God knows what. I guess we'll never know." He pulled his eyes away from Sam's and stared at his hands. She swallowed as she watched him struggle with his emotions. When he began to speak, his voice was much quieter and she found herself leaning over the table to hear properly. "We didn't know they were there until they entered Earth's orbit. All personnel were called back to base immediately." His eyes closed as he relived the memory, then he whispered, "Sam and Daniel were in Colorado Springs visiting Cassie, when they got the call. They were within half a mile of the SGC when their car took a blast from a death glider. They didn't stand a chance."
"Oh God," muttered Daniel.
Sam's heart lurched. Jack looked so sad, so totally bereft, she just wanted to run round the table, take him in her arms and hug him, to try and somehow make it better. She murmured, "I'm sorry," the platitude sounding hollow and meaningless to her in the face of such obvious pain.
Jack seemed to pull himself together a little and looked up at the General. "Since then, we've watched as the Earth has been taken over by the Goa'uld. We holed up in the mountain, hoping we were impregnable. We weren't. They broke through a couple of days ago." He glanced at Teal'c. "Your counterpart died in the first wave of fighting, the General soon after. We had to retreat downwards." He stopped and looked back at Hammond. "To the best of my knowledge, sir, when I came through the mirror earlier, I was the last member of the SGC left alive. The self destruct should have activitated less than a minute after I came through. By now the mountain should be a pile of rubble with that son of a bitch Apophis at the bottom of it."
Everyone sat in silence, unsure what to say, no-one except Sam looking at the Lieutenant Colonel. A faint smile crossed Jack's face as he glanced round the table. "Could I ask something?"
"Sure, son," the General replied.
"Where's your Jack O'Neill?"
"He's on a mission," answered Hammond carefully.
Jack nodded. "Need to know, huh? I understand. I could be my evil twin, couldn't I?"
The General shrugged. "You know the score, Lieutenant Colonel." Then he asked, "Why did you come here, to this particular reality?"
"The planet with the mirror, P4C455, in this reality, wasn't overrun by Goa'uld and looked peaceful. And I didn't think we'd been here before." He twisted his fingers together nervously. "I know I took a pretty big chance gating here, I couldn't be sure the iris code would work. Lucky for me it did." Then he looked straight at the General. "Will I be able to stay?"
"Is that safe?" asked Daniel quickly. "What about entropic cascade failure?" He looked across at Sam.
"The Lieutenant Colonel is safe for now. We've got at least forty eight hours before it starts becoming a problem but staying here much longer than that isn't an option." Sam found she couldn't look at Jack while she was talking. She needed to concentrate, and she couldn't think straight when she was looking at him. All through the briefing, she hadn't been able to get their first meeting out of her mind because every time their eyes met, his gaze softened and made her breath catch in her throat. Sam was even more sure now, if that was possible, that Jack had been involved with her in his reality.
"I know!" Daniel slapped his hand down on the table, making everyone jump. "Why can't this Jack go to the reality that Doctor Carter and Kawalsky came from? The Jack in that reality is dead." He stared at Sam hopefully. "Will that work?"
"Well, it's a better option than staying here," Sam began carefully, "but theoretically, entropic cascade failure is brought on by being in the wrong reality, it's just made worse when there are two..." She looked at Jack in confusion. "....whoevers in the same reality."
Jack interrupted. "So you're saying I'll get entropic cascade failure wherever I go, unless I go back to my own reality?"
Still unwilling to meet his eyes, she nodded. "All I can suggest is you go to another planet in your reality. How about the Land of Light, or Adora, or Argos?"
"Yeah, I've been to all of those. I said once that I'd retire to Argos, perhaps I will. Could I have a while to think about my options, sir?"
General Hammond nodded. "Let me know what you've decided by this time tomorrow, please. I think we've covered enough for now. Major Carter, perhaps you could escort our guest to his quarters?"
Daniel raised his hand. "Can I just ask one last thing?"
Jack nodded wearily. "Okay. Fire away, Danny boy."
"You said you'd not visited here before. How many other realities have you been to?"
"At the last count I think we'd got to 42."
"Am I dead in all of them?"
"Apart from the three that had never heard of you and this one, yes."
A mischievous smile tugged at Daniel's lips. "And in how many realities are you and Sam an item?"
Sam felt her face reddening as she found herself studying her hands intently. She'd kill Daniel later.... slowly and painfully.
"All of them," answered Jack. "But of course I don't know about this one...."
Yes, very painfully.
"So, this is it?"
"Yeah," said Sam, as she opened the door. Jack walked past her into the room, taking in his surroundings. She followed him, then asked, her voice tight and nervous, "Are you hungry? I could get something sent down."
"Thanks, but no thanks." He sat down on the bed and patted the space next to him. "I'd like to chat if you have the time."
"Sure." Sam closed the door, and made her way over to him. She carefully lowered herself onto the bed, leaving a small space between them. Her mouth had gone dry and she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this nervous. Nervous and confused. She stared at the floor. This Jack had been his Sam's lover, she was sure of that. Her feelings for the Colonel were complicated and she knew deep down she wanted him to be more than a friend but they'd never progressed beyond flirting and a few friendly hugs. She'd always accepted that nothing would ever happen between them, except in her fantasies, yet sitting next to her was living proof that it could. Sam shook her head, she didn't know what to think any more.
His voice penetrated her thoughts. "Why are you so nervous around me?" Before she had chance to try and deny it, he carried on. "You and him... you aren't, are you?"
His cryptic statement needed no more explanation. "No, we're not. We're friends, colleagues. He's my commanding officer."
"Ah... the ever-present regulations!"
"And in any case, he doesn't think of me like that," Sam added quickly.
"Oh, I think he does." Sam had opened her mouth to protest when he cut her off. "Don't forget, I'm him... or he's me... we're both Jack O'Neill." She smiled at his description despite the emotions churning inside her. Looking at her thoughtfully, he added, "I'm betting we've shared a lot of the same past."
"I guess so. What are you getting at?" Sam was intrigued.
"Well, for instance, did the two of you get infected with a virus from the Land of Light?"
She cringed at the memory. "Yes."
"And you jumped him in the locker room?"
"Yes." She felt her voice getting quieter as she shifted uncomfortably. This wasn't a subject her and the Colonel had ever discussed.
"What did he say?"
Sam couldn't understand where this was leading. "Excuse me?"
"No, wrong answer!" He smiled. "In my reality, I said, 'No, not like this'." He looked at her questioningly. She nodded in confirmation. "What I meant by that was, 'Yes, I want you, you're beautiful, intelligent and desirable but I don't want our first time to be on the locker room floor when you're obviously not yourself'. But at the time I was in kind of a hurry, so I abbreviated a little."
She smiled weakly, wondering what was coming next.
"And when you first met, he said, 'I adore you already'?" he continued.
"Yes, as we were leaving for Abydos. He was joking. He's always making smartass comments like that."
"He does that to hide his feelings." Jack's brown eyes bored into hers. "He meant it. He adored you from the minute he set eyes on you in the briefing room." Sam found herself in the unusual position of not having a clue what to say. Taking in her shocked expression, he said quietly, "You two belong together. Like we did." He turned away and roughly rubbed his hand across his face.
Sam's heart went out to him. Everyone he knew and cared about was dead. His friends, his family, his lover.... Which brought her back to the one question she couldn't get out of her mind; his Sam was military, yet they'd been together. Had they disregarded the regulations? How had they got together? Where was the fork in the road? She softly bit her bottom lip, then asked, "How did the two of you...?"
He slowly turned to face her and smiled, happy memories softening the hurt in his eyes. "It was after I got rescued from Adora." Jack looked at her for confirmation of their shared past. She nodded. "Sam had been all I'd thought about while I was stuck on that godforsaken rock. It turned out she felt the same. She worked night and day for three months to get me home. My Sam couldn't wait a year for the Asgard to collect me, no, she wanted me back yesterday."
"But what about Lara?" She stared at the floor, unable to look him in the face.
"Who?" He frowned. "You mean that woman who acted as our guide when we first arrived. The one that kept making eyes at me?"
Sam's heart lurched. So this was their fork in the road. If he couldn't remember her, they couldn't have.... "Yeah," she mumbled.
"Why do you want to know about her? She was on Earth stranded with the other Adorans who'd escaped. I was stuck on that planet with a few teenagers and old folk. The conversation was less than stimulating."
It was the fork in the road. "Lara was with the Colonel on Adora. They became..." She swallowed. "...close."
"Oh," Jack said quietly. "So there was no welcome kiss that made Daniel blush and Teal'c raise both eyebrows?"
"No. He walked away while I was talking to him. In the middle of a sentence, actually. He went to her."
"Don't be. It'd be against regulations, it can't ever happen. It won't ever happen."
Jack leant across and squeezed her hand. "But you care for him, don't you?"
Glancing up at him, she realised she was tired of denying it, even to herself. "I guess," she whispered.
"Then... screw the regs!"
She stared at her hand in his and said ruefully, "Easier said than done." There was an uncomfortable pause. Sam carefully removed her hand from his grip and stood up. "It's getting late, I should be going."
Jack nodded, then asked, "Do you think they'd let me out of here for a few hours tomorrow? I'd like to see a world that hasn't been devastated by the Goa'uld. Breathe some fresh air again."
"I'll ask. I don't see why not, if someone's with you."
"You," he said quickly, smiling at her.
She smiled back. "I'll see what I can do."
"Goodnight..." She hesitated, unsure what to call him.
"Jack," he whispered.
"You have to twist it sideways, then press this...."
As she walked down the corridor, in search of Jack, Sam heard voices drifting through the open door of Daniel's office. When she reached the threshold, she stopped and smiled. The two men were sitting at the table, heads bowed over something they were studying intently. Daniel swivelled round when she tapped on the open door. "Hi Sam. Jack's just showing me how to detect quantum mirrors."
Sam's heart skipped a beat when Jack put the control device down and turned towards her. The look in his eyes was a carbon copy of the one he'd given her in the gateroom the day before. He grinned, breaking the spell, and said, "Daniel's a quick study. He'll soon be running all over the galaxy collecting the little gizmos."
"Is that what the General's ordered?" she asked.
"Yes, he wants them on Earth. I think they'll probably be destroyed." Daniel sighed. "Shame really, the opportunity for study that's going to be wasted."
"I think the General's more concerned about the opportunities for Goa'uld invasion," said Jack. "We've suspected for a while that they've been using them too." He turned away from Daniel and looked curiously at Sam, then motioned towards the holdall she was carrying. "What's in the bag, Major?" he asked mischievously.
"Our picnic, Lieutenant Colonel," she retorted. "I'm afraid the General won't let you go far, but he has consented to you going topside for a while as long as you're accompanied by an SGC officer."
"Which would be you?"
"Guilty as charged."
Jack stood up and held his hands out, wrists together, as if he was expecting to be handcuffed. "Your prisoner, ma'am," he said, snapping to attention.
Daniel stifled a laugh. "Don't give her ideas!"
"I think she's got some of her own," said Jack, winking at Sam, who blushed crimson.
"Let's go, we don't have long," she muttered, trying to cover her embarrassment.
As she walked down the corridor, towards the lift, Sam knew she was still blushing. Totally unable to look at Jack, she'd suddenly found the floor very interesting. When they reached the lift, he touched her gently on the elbow. "Sorry," he whispered. "Sometimes I forget you aren't... my Sam. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
"It's okay. Sometimes I forget you aren't my commanding officer, so I guess we're even."
When the lift arrived, they stepped in and turned round, standing side by side. Sam selected the button for the surface. She quickly glanced up at Jack, who's eyes were riveted to the rapidly descending numbers above the doors. He seemed to sense her watching him, looked down at her and smiled. That look again... She had to turn away, her stomach was turning somersaults.
"So... have you decided where to go yet?" she asked, trying yet again to cover how awkward she felt.
"Yeah, the Land of Light. At least to start with. Teal'c's family's there and they deserve to know what happened to him. They're nice folks, I might stay."
"Not tempted to go to Argos, then?"
He smiled. "No, I think Kynthia would wear me out."
Sam laughed. "You'd probably be all right if you stayed away from cakes."
Jack shook his head, then said, "I decided against Adora too, after what you'd said about Lara. I really don't want to get into anything... personal right now. And, as I told you before, the conversation on that planet was less than stimulating." He turned to face her. "Why don't you come along? Danny and Teal'c are coming with me to P4C455 so they can retrieve the mirror. I don't see why you couldn't come too."
"I..." She hesitated, wanting to go, but knowing she shouldn't. "I... can't. I have to finish reprogramming the dialling software. Graham Simmons..."
"Does this version of him have a massive crush on you?" asked Jack, trying and failing to look innocent.
Sam glared at him, deciding his question wasn't worth a response, and carried on, "Lieutenant Simmons can't do it on his own, he needs my help."
"He could just be saying that, so he can get you alone and have his wicked way with you."
Sam burst out laughing. The idea of her and Simmons was so ridiculous, she couldn't stop giggling. The lift doors opening brought her back to reality. "Well, here we are... the surface!" she said, gesturing towards the exit.
Jack grinned. "Fresh air, here I come!"
"I think that cloud looks like Teal'c."
Jack gestured directly overhead. Sam leant in towards him to try and see which cloud he was pointing to, her head resting lightly on her shoulder. "That one," he said, shuffling nearer to her to make it easier for her to see. "The one with the three bulges."
"Oh... I get it! Two eyes and a tattoo!"
Lying on her back on a blanket in the warm sunshine next to Jack, Sam felt totally contented as she stared at the sky, looking for shapes in the clouds. The birds were singing, the grass was lush and green, a myriad of wild flowers bobbed their heads in the gentle breeze and somehow everything felt right with the world. She reflected that she had no idea how long they had been there and she didn't want to go back just yet. It felt so good just to enjoy one another's company and relax. They'd eaten the food and then laid back and basked in the summer sunshine.
The two of them had compared their realities and their lives, their likes and dislikes, talked about anything and everything, until she had finally stopped feeling nervous and begun to enjoy herself. Sam found it difficult to remember he wasn't her commanding officer. She had sometimes dreamed of spending time like this with the Colonel. In a strange way, it felt like those dreams had come true.
Sam propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at Jack. There was a faraway look in his eyes. "Penny for them?" she said quietly.
"I miss her," he said. "It's been two months and it doesn't get any easier."
When Sam saw the tears beginning to form in his eyes she looked away, fixing her gaze on a delicate pink flower struggling up through the grass. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I should go. All I do is remind you of her."
He glanced across at her, a smile fleetingly crossed his face, then he went back to staring at the clouds. "No. Don't go. You do remind me of her, but only the good things, the things I want to remember. Not the end. You know, I can't believe how peaceful it is here. It's wonderful." He turned to face her. "Don't ever take it for granted. I never thought I'd see anything like this again. It's strange seeing people walking around alive and well that I saw killed right in front of me. It's hard to deal with." Raising his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, he whispered, "You're beautiful, Sam."
Blushing, she sat up and turned away.
He lightly rested his hand on her arm. "Don't be embarrassed. It's true."
Still unable to look at Jack, she shook her head.
"When did someone last tell you how beautiful you were?" he asked quietly.
"Not including my Dad?"
"No. Dads are notoriously biased in these matters." He smiled. "Well?"
"Can't remember," she mumbled. "Probably Jonas Hanson... when he wanted something." Sam glanced down at Jack as she spoke and saw a look of hatred pass over his face at the mention of Hanson's name.
"So, he's never...." Jack left the question hanging.
Sam knew he was talking about the Colonel. She shook her head.
5"He's more of a fool than me, then. I almost left it too late. Sam and I only had a couple of months. We could have had much longer if we hadn't danced around each other, making excuses. It took those three months apart to make us realise how we felt about each other."
Sam lay back down and stared at the white fluffy clouds being pulled along by the wind. She couldn't help being curious about the other 'her'. How alike were they? And why had she decided to 'screw the regs'? She decided to ask. "What was she like?"
Sam smiled. "She couldn't have been exactly like me. Did she have her hair the same? Did she dress like me?"
Jack turned his head to face her. They were inches apart. She could feel his breath on her face. He studied her critically for a few moments then said, "I think her hair was a little different here." Reaching across, he touched a few wisps of hair in front of Sam's ear. "But she dressed like you. I guess BDUs are the same, whatever reality you're from." He smiled softly and she realised his hand was still touching her face, gently stroking her cheek. "Sam?"
He smiled, lost in thought for a moment, then his face was split by a mischievous grin. "My Sam was ticklish. Are you ticklish?" He took her completely by surprise, moving with astonishing speed, rolling over her and pinning her to the ground, instantly finding her most sensitive spots.
She soon found herself gasping for breath. "Stop! PLEASE!" she squeaked, through her laughter.
"Okay, considering you asked so nicely." He stopped what he'd been doing and lay still, looking down at her. She became very aware of the closeness of their bodies, his scent, his dark brown eyes staring into hers. Their faces almost touched.
"Oh, Sam," he murmured. He kissed her very softly on the lips, then gently kissed the tip of her nose. Looking at the familiar face, Sam found it difficult to remember this wasn't Colonel Jack O'Neill, her commanding officer, the man she'd become close to over three years. Jack looked like him, he sounded like him, he even smelt like him. She knew if she kissed him, part of her would imagine he was the Colonel, that her dreams really had come true.
He stroked a strand of hair back off her forehead. "You are so beautiful," he whispered. Sam licked her lips and studied his face; the smile lines round his mouth, the scar on his eyebrow. All familiar, so familiar. She reached up and touched his cheek, rough under her fingers. Slowly, inevitably, he lowered his lips onto hers. It was a gentle exploration, the fulfillment of a dream. Sam ran her fingers through his short hair as the kiss became an expression of love lost and love not yet found. She wanted it to be him so much, she almost believed it was. But in her heart she knew it wasn't, it couldn't be. She put her hands on his chest and gently pushed him away.
"No," she said quietly. "I'm not being fair to you."
He rolled away and sat up. "In what way?"
Sam found herself tonguetied, totally inarticulate. She just wanted to run away and hide. "I... I... I think we'd better go in now...." she stammered. Not meeting his eyes, she began fussing with the picnic things, putting them in her bag.
Jack touched her elbow. "It's him, isn't it?"
Sam stopped what she was doing. He could read her like a book. She briefly wondered if the Colonel could do that, then pushed the thought away angrily.
"Sam?" His voice was full of concern. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Pulling away from him, she threw the last few things into the bag with more force than was necessary. Flinching at the noise, then hoping fleetingly nothing was broken, she yanked the blanket off the ground and stuffed it in the bag on top of everything else. "Not now," she snapped. "I think I need to be alone."
His look of hurt and disappointment made her heart lurch but when he gestured towards the entrance to the base and said, "All right then, shall we?" she didn't have the strength to argue.
Sam ran her hand through her short blonde hair and sighed. This was ridiculous. She couldn't even analyse the decay rate of naquadah properly. She got erroneous reading after erroneous reading, caused, no doubt, by her preoccupation with Jack O'Neill... times two. Their kiss the day before was preying on her mind, as was the way he looked at her. Why didn't her Jack look at her like that? Whoa! Her Jack? That way lies madness, Sam, she told herself. Her musings were interrupted by a tap on the open door.
"Can I come in?"
He looked at her like he always did, as if she was the most desirable woman on Earth. She smiled, and, as usual, like a rabbit caught in headlights, was totally unable to look anywhere other than at him.
"I came to apologise," he said quietly. "For yesterday."
"There's no need. Really. Honestly. You don't have to... at all. Totally unnecessary...." She was gabbling but she couldn't seem to stop herself. "...I should apologise to you..."
"There is. You'd got over being nervous around me, now you're strung so tight I can almost hear you twanging."
Sam tried to steady herself, just to prove him wrong, but failed miserably. She thought she might manage it if she couldn't see his face, so she turned away, then mumbled, "I'm fine, really."
"No, you're not." He came up behind her and put his hand gently on her shoulder. Carefully turning her to face him, he whispered, "Tell me."
"When you kissed me...." Her voice was barely audible.
"I enjoyed it."
"So did I." He smiled sympathetically at her. "That is the general idea under those particular circumstances, you know. You're supposed to like it!"
"But I shouldn't have... I wasn't thinking of you. I was thinking of...."
"Him." Jack finished for her. "I knew that. But I don't see the problem. Neither of us is seeing anyone else. Perhaps we did both have our minds elsewhere but who's to say we can't have some fun?"
"I guess you're right," she agreed reluctantly.
At that moment, she lifted her head to look at him and their eyes locked. He put his hand gently on the nape of her neck and slowly pulled her towards him. Sam didn't resist. Their lips met, gently at first. The touch was tentative, exploratory. She ran her hands down his back, wanting to feel more of him as the kiss became deeper, more intense. Slipping her hand under the hem of his shirt onto the smooth skin of his back, she heard him inhale sharply. He put his arms round her and pulled her even closer, pressing his body against hers. Sam groaned when he trailed kisses down her neck, then suddenly, without warning, there was a flash of blue light. They sprang apart. A very familiar figure appeared, his back to them.
"For crying out loud! I said 'the gateroom'!" He swung round and his mouth dropped open in horror when he saw Sam and Jack. "What the hell are you doing, Carter? That's not me! I'm not him, he's not who you think he is... Oh hell..." He drew his sidearm and pointed it at Jack. "Hands up, buddy!"
During this tirade, Sam and Jack had remained rooted to the spot, their arms still around each other. When he drew his gun, Sam noticed the Colonel's eyes seemed riveted to the hand she still had under Jack's shirt. She yanked it out quickly, throwing Jack off-balance and making him stumble towards the Colonel's drawn weapon. She saw his trigger finger tighten.
"Sir, no! It's all right. He's from another reality. I know he's not you. I wouldn't do this if I thought he was you. Oh help! No, I didn't mean that. He's not you and you're someone else and he's not even pretending to be you. He's him, okay?" She took a deep breath while the Colonel looked on doubtfully. "Please put the gun down, sir." She winced. That hardly qualified as a 'Sam Carter' clear, concise, scientific explanation, did it?
The Colonel slowly lowered his weapon, still eyeing his counterpart suspiciously. "Well, what's a guy supposed to think when he's transported back to base, by an Asgard with no sense of direction I might add, only to find his second in command being mauled by his evil twin?" He glared at Jack. "And how did he get from an alternate reality? I thought you'd destroyed the quantum mirror, Carter?"
"I did, sir."
Jack interrupted their conversation. "You guys are obsessed with this 'we've destroyed it' idea, aren't you? What on Earth made you think there was only one? Did it have a label on it saying, 'I'm unique'? Wake up and smell the roses, Jack, there are at least three more!"
The Colonel glared at him, then peered at his uniform. "That's sir to you," he snapped, then turned to Sam. "Three more?"
"We believe so, sir."
There was an awkward silence as the Colonel reluctantly put his gun away. Sam decided to try and change the subject. "So how did the lectures go, sir?"
"Great. Fine. The Asgard seemed... well, it's difficult to tell with them, but I think they're happy. Thor asked for a full set of Star Trek tapes."
Sam shook her head in disbelief.
Jack looked curiously at Sam. "Star Trek?"
"I'll explain later," she muttered.
"Thor sent something for you." The Colonel fished in his bag and produced a transparent container, about the size of a jam jar, filled with small yellow objects. He handed it to Sam. "He says they've improved the recipe."
Sam opened the jar and sniffed it experimentally. She wrinkled her nose. "Ugh! I think he's added aniseed and garlic."
The Colonel winced in sympathy, then looked thoughtful for a moment. "Hey, won't one of us get that distortion thing where your head looks like it's about to explode if he stays here?" He waved his hands around his head in demonstration.
"You could leave," muttered Jack under his breath. Sam dug him in the ribs.
"You mean entropic cascade failure, sir. And no, you're quite safe. Jack will be gone before that becomes an issue. Daniel and Teal'c are taking him back to his reality later today."
"Okay." The Colonel still seemed doubtful but after thinking for a moment, added, "I guess I better report to the General. Will you be all right here, Carter?"
"I'm fine, sir."
With one last glare at Jack, the Colonel left the room on his way to find General Hammond.
Jack shouted, "See you later!"
Sam could have sworn she heard the Colonel mutter, "Not if I see you first," as he disappeared from view.
"I'm sorry about him," said Sam. "He can be a little..."
"Possessive, jealous, homicidal...?" suggested Jack.
Sam frowned. "I was going to say 'strange'. I don't think he's the jealous type."
"Oh yes he is! For crying out loud, Sam, he pulled a gun on me! And if looks could kill, you'd be ordering a coffin." She looked at him doubtfully. "And you must have noticed how he behaves when Marty's around!" He paused and took a deep breath. "And don't forget, I'm him...or he's me..." He waved his hand vaguely in the air. "...whatever. I know what he's really like!"
Sam shrugged, perhaps he was right and the Colonel was jealous. She was beginning to think perhaps she didn't really know him all that well. Sam decided to change the subject. "I'm surprised at Thor, getting the destination wrong."
Jack looked at her with sympathy. "Come on, Sam. That was intentional." Taking in her incredulous expression, he continued, "The guy's an incurable romantic! He wants to see the two of you together... and he's got a very strange sense of humour!"
She giggled. "Thor has a sense of humour?"
"Yeah, he knows some great jokes."
"Can you give me an example?"
"Okay... An Asgard walked into a bar. What did he say?"
Sam smiled and waited for the punchline.
"Ouch!" said Jack with a flourish.
She laughed. "Are you sure that's an Asgard joke?"
Jack grinned. "Well, he may have heard an Earth version and adapted it." He smiled and took one of her hands in his, squeezing it gently. "Look, I'm sorry, but I've got to go. Daniel wants to see me about something. He has more questions!" Jack rolled his eyes. "I'd better not keep him waiting."
Sam smiled and nodded. "I'll see you in the gateroom later."
"I'll be there," he said as he bent down and kissed her on the cheek. Giving her hand one last squeeze, he turned and left the room.
Sam stood next to Jack waiting for Lieutenant Simmons to dial the gate address for P4C455. Daniel and Teal'c were a few yards away, giving them some privacy. Looking up at him sadly, she realised that yet again, she didn't know what to say. Of course, she was going to miss him, she knew that. Just as Jack turned to face her, their attention was distracted by the Colonel marching into the gateroom. Jack glanced across at his double and said, "Excuse me a moment, I'll be right back."
She nodded and watched him walk over to the Colonel. "A word with you, sir," he spat. Grabbing the other man by the elbow, he dragged him over to the wall where they wouldn't be overheard. Sam looked on as Jack appeared to be giving him a lecture about something. She couldn't shake the feeling their 'conversation' had something to do with her, particularly as both men kept glancing in her direction, as if to gauge her reaction to something. Shaking her head, she reflected there was something truly bizarre about watching a man arguing with his double.
"Seventh chevron locked," announced Simmons.
Jack walked back to Sam, the Colonel following a few steps behind. "I had to explain a few things," he said quietly, jerking his head in the Colonel's direction. "I think he's got the point now." He paused and put his hands on her shoulders. "Well, I guess this is goodbye, Sam."
"Yes," she whispered, tears threatening to come. She looked down at the floor, unwilling to meet his eyes.
He put his hand under her chin and gently pushed her face up so he could see her properly. "Goodbye, Sam," he whispered as he leant down to kiss her. Her arms instinctively wound round his neck as he cradled her head in his hands. The thought that the Colonel was watching them flitted briefly through Sam's mind then she gave herself over to sensation and lost herself in the kiss. After what felt like forever, Jack gently pulled away. "I've got to go." he whispered. "And don't forget what I said... 'screw the regs!'"
She nodded sadly, as the tears came at last. "Goodbye Jack."
Jack turned to the Colonel. "And don't forget what I said to you either!" Giving Sam one last kiss on the cheek, he joined Daniel and Teal'c at the bottom of the ramp.
"See you later!" shouted Daniel to the two members of SG1 staying behind, as they walked towards the Stargate. Just before they went through, Jack turned round and blew a kiss to Sam.
"Goodbye Jack," she whispered under her breath.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, the Colonel and Major watched them disappear through the event horizon. As the wormhole disengaged, Sam took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes then looked up at the Colonel curiously, wondering if she dare ask what Jack had told him not to forget.
He smiled shyly down at her. "He said I was to... 'screw the regs'. You?"
Sam laughed with relief. "Me too."
Shifting nervously from one foot to the other, he said, "Perhaps we should take his advice."
Her stomach was full of butterflies, in anticipation of what was to come. "Perhaps we should," she agreed, a smile spreading across her face.
He licked his lips nervously. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"
Glancing across at the now silent Stargate, Sam had the feeling she was going to be eternally grateful to Lieutenant Colonel Jack O'Neill. She turned back to her Jack and smiled up at him. "Yes please," she said.