Carter bent over her laptop, adjusting the firing sequence of her latest
virtual naquada reactor design. A knock on the door startled her and the
laptop clattered to the floor unnoticed.
Suddenly, Sam was back
with the Replicators. As if she were a spectator watching a movie in
which she held the starring role, she watched the scene unfold.
Jack's evil bug twin,
Thing One stood at the door of her lab, leaning casually on the door, a
smirk on his face.
"Whatcha doin', Carter?"
He stepped into the room,
and Sam gasped. It wasn't her Jack. It was Thing One. Jack's name for
them had been very appropriate. As usual.
"Don't call me that," she
instructed, her voice harsh with strain and. . .fear?
"What?" His, no, 'Its'
eyebrow quirked upward, so familiar, and yet so bizarre.
"You aren't him, so don't
call me Carter," that said, she stood, eyes boring into its artificial
face. Whether this act of defiance was meant to convince herself or that
THING that she was strong enough to resist whatever they had planned,
she had no idea. Maybe it was best not to think about right now.
'Yeah, follow Jack's
advice, Samantha. Don't think so much.'
It chuckled, a hollow
sound that had no warmth or humor in it. "Ya think? By the way, welcome
to your brain. You like?"
"You mean. . . ?" She
looked around wildly.
"Yeah, sure, yabetcha.
All this is taking place inside that cute little blonde head of yours."
It tapped the side of its head and smirked mockingly.
Its words echoed inside
her head. "All brought to you courtesy of your not-so-friendly
neighborhood techno-bug-man. So, are you a happy camper . . . happy
Sam flinched and squeezed
her eyes shut; her arms grabbed the side of her head as if in pain as
the mocking words echoed surreally inside her brain. The flashback had
seemed so real; as if she were back there experiencing everything all
over again. One hand reached down to her thigh and she pinched the skin
hard between her fingers. When it hurt, she sighed in relief. Pain was a
distracter that grounded her to the reality of her rescue from the
horrors of the Replicators.
'I used to feel safe
here, deep within the SGC. It was my safe haven, my favorite place to
lose myself in my work, my retreat from real life problems, like
relationships, or the lack of one. No anymore though, not since
She recognized the voice
immediately, and that too helped ground her to the real world.
"Sorry, sir. You startled
She ducked her head away
from him and bent over to retrieve her laptop from the floor. If she
were lucky, nothing had been broken and no data had been lost, but with
the way her luck had been running, she wouldn't hold her breath.
From the sound of his
footsteps, Sam could tell Jack was walking toward her and she
deliberately turned her body so he wouldn't be able to see her
Jack knelt down next to
her, foiling her strategy. "I can see that. Hasn't that sort of thing
been happening to you a lot lately?"
"It has? I hadn't
noticed." Sam kept her head down and concentrated on the retrieval of
the fallen computer.
"That's probably because
you've been burying yourself in your lab." Jack tugged the laptop out of
her hands and scooted it away from her feet. Then he helped her
"Did you need something,
sir?" Sam shrugged away from him.
"Nope, just wondering
what you're doing still working at 0230 in the morning, that's all."
Jack tapped the face of his watch, which caused Sam's gaze to jump to
his hands and then his face.
Jack was still dressed in
the same fatigues he'd worn all day, and the black circles under his
eyes told the story of sleepless nights.
"I could say the same
about you, sir." Sam smiled, and hoped he didn't notice the bags under
her eyes. She suspected he'd been sleeping as well as she'd been since
they'd returned from their latest escapade with the Replicators, in
other words, not at all.
Jack shrugged and stuck
his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, well, I'm beginning to think that sleep
is overrated. You?"
It was Sam's turn to
shrug. "Oh, you know. A few hours here, a few hours there . . ."
Jack nodded and rocked
back on his heels. "I'm not surprised, considering all the crap you've
been through lately. As if meeting up with Fifth wasn't enough, you had
to put up with a week of being debriefed by General Hammond and the NID.
Just that alone would be enough to keep you up at night."
"I seem to remember you
being there too, sir. I'm not the only one they put through the
wringer." She bit the inside of her mouth thoughtfully. "Any idea when
they'll release us back to full active duty?"
Jack looked pensive and
shrugged. "When the new Doc feels we're back to normal, whatever that
is. She told me that you're not eating or sleeping."
Sam looked down and
caught sight of the temporarily forgotten laptop. She knelt down and
cradled it carefully in her arms, grabbing it as a delaying tactic that
would give her time to think of an excuse he might believe.
She turned and placed it
on the bench, well away from the edge. "Haven't been feeling hungry
lately, that's all. Plus I've been trying to catch up on all the work
that piled up while we were gone."
Sam's eyes snapped to his
"I don't believe you. Did
you keep your appointments with Mackenzie?"
"Yes, but then, you know
that, sir." Sam's lips thinned as she grimaced with distaste.
"You're right, I do." He
paused and licked his lips. "Did it do any good?"
Sam looked down at the
toes of her boots and wrapped her arms around herself in a hug.
"No," she whispered.
"Didn't think so." He paused. "Bad dreams?"
She kept looking down and
rubbed her arms, savoring the sensation it brought. "You might say
that." Sam looked at Jack noting how tired he looked. "You?"
For a moment, he looked
startled, then sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. "Yeah, me
Sam looked away, not sure what to say.
'I'm not really
surprised Jack is having nightmares, not after what he went through at
the hands of Fifth and my own evil twin. My God, how can he stand to
look at me after what that Techno-bitch did to him? It's a wonder he can
stand to be around me after I left him there with those THINGS! God, why
do I have to care so much about that man! He's my CO! Why won't these
feelings just go away? All this "stuff" is not only against the regs,
but it's damned inconvenient. God, now I'm even thinking like Jack. Ya
Sam sighed in frustration
as her eyes darted to Jack's face and then away again. Her CO didn't
look so good. In fact, he looked like he'd lost weight since their
return and she knew he'd been ordered to see Mackenzie too.
'Admit it, Samantha
Jean Carter; there is no way you can stop worrying about this man. Not
after all you've been through with him. Not after all the times he's
sacrificed himself for you.'
She scrubbed her arms
again, reveling in the reality of the rough texture rubbing against her
'So go ahead and worry,
not that it will do any good. This man is at least as stubborn as Dad
when it comes to accepting help, even when he needs it. I wonder if he
kept his appointments with Mackenzie. I'll bet he couldn't talk with
that shrink either.'
Raising her gaze off the
floor, Sam peeked from under half-closed lashes at the man standing in
front of her. As usual, he'd picked up something and was fiddling with
it. She smiled and held her hand out to him in a familiar gesture. Jack
smiled apologetically and placed it in her hand, his fingertips brushing
ever so gently over her palm. Despite herself, she shivered as his
fleeting touch sent tingles all the way to her groin.
To distract herself, she
turned away to place the purloined object back where Jack had snagged
it. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face him with her hands laced
safely behind her back. It was safer that way, for both of them, in that
it prevented her from grabbing him right there and kissing the smirk
right off his face. She smiled despite herself at that mental picture,
and then felt a stab of guilt.
'You're not exactly
acting like you're engaged to be married, Sam. How can you be thinking
like this when Pete is waiting for you right now? Is that why you're not
Totally oblivious to the
man in front of her, Sam bit her lower lip as she continued her inner
'But then again, Pete
hasn't exactly been supportive of my job, and me since I came back. And
then there's always my relationship, or lack of one, with Jack. What am
I supposed to do about that? Why does life have to be so damned
complicated? Why can't life be as easily managed as one of my
Jack cleared his throat
noisily. "Earth to Carter?" He waved his hands in front of her face.
Sam blinked her eyes and
then wrapped her arms around her middle again. "Oh, sorry, sir. I was
"So what else is new?
Anybody ever tell you that you think too much?"
Sam looked startled and
then smiled when she saw his smirk. "All the time, sir."
"You want to go for some
coffee?" Jack smiled almost apologetically. "I mean, since we're not
going to get any sleep tonight anyway. You look like you could use a
"Sure, maybe the
commissary will have cake." Sam smiled. "Just give me a minute to close
this program." She tapped out some commands on the laptop and then
Jack sipped his coffee
and eyed the woman sitting across from him. Despite the fact that she
looked like she hadn't slept in two weeks and had lost ten pounds, she
looked beautiful. A black dot floating on the surface of his coffee
grabbed his attention and he dipped one finger disdainfully into the hot
liquid and then wiped it on a napkin.
Sam's snicker caught his attention. "What?"
"Has anyone ever
mentioned that you're finicky with your food, sir?"
"No . . . not lately." He
shrugged and looked at the stained napkin. "Oh that. Just don't like
stuff floating in my cup of Joe, that's all."
Sam snorted, and then
choked on her piece of pumpkin pie. Her hand clamped over her mouth as
her eyes watered, gasping for breath. Jack watched concerned as her
coughing subsided. He slid her cup of coffee near her elbow so she could
take a sip when she was ready.
Sam cleared her throat
and loosened her collar before sipping at her now lukewarm coffee.
"Sorry, sir. Went down the wrong tube."
Jack peered dubiously at
the inside of his cup again, sighed and then set it down. "It happens.
You up for a barbeque at my place this weekend?"
Sam's eyes widen in
surprise. "Me?" She squeaked, and then cleared her throat.
"Yes, you, along with
Daniel and Teal'c. I was thinking about inviting Josh and Kay too."
"Josh and Kay?"
"You know, the couple
from the prison. I'd promised to invite them over sometime, and since we
were planning to have a cookout, I thought it might be fun to have them
over too." Jack waggled his eyebrows. "Hey, it was Daniel's idea for the
cookout. He said there'd be cake."
Jack smiled and leaned on
one arm, cradling his cheek with one palm. "I can make sure it's
chocolate with butter cream frosting," he wheedled.
Sam took another sip of
her coffee and watched him over the rim before setting it down. "It's a
deal, sir. I'll be there."
"That's great." Jack sighed. "Yep, just hunky dory."
"Isn't Kay a counselor?"
Sam looked at Jack quickly and then back down at her empty cup.
"Yeah, I think so. Is
there a problem with that?" Jack's fingers began drumming nervously on
the tabletop, then stilled when he saw that Sam had noticed.
"No. Not a problem with
me, sir. I was surprised, that's all."
"No crime in having
someone over for a cookout that just happens to be a counselor. Is
there?" Jack raised an eyebrow in an attempt to look innocent; he had
the feeling that she wasn't buying it though.
No, sir. No problem at
all." Sam smiled nervously. "I think I'll try to get some sleep after
all. It's kind of late, you know."
"Yeah, sure. Get some
sleep, Carter. I'll go and um, tackle that stack of requisitions on my
desk." Jack smiled and rubbed his hands together in mock enthusiasm.
"Yep, that's what I'll do. That'll put me to sleep in no time."
Sam smiled and shook her
head, pushing her chair back under the table. Then she picked up her
dirty plates and balanced them in one hand. "That should do it, sir.
I'll see ya later."
Jack stayed seated, his
thoughts a million miles away from the commissary. He was worried about
Carter; she looked like she'd been in the middle of a flashback when
he'd come to visit her at the lab. From his own experience, he knew how
real they could seem, and how disconcerting they were.
He scrubbed at his face
and sighed. Jack had gone home only once since Thor had beamed them back
to the SGC, but had returned after only a couple of hours, unable to
remain there because of the jittery feeling he'd felt. He'd avoided
leaving the base since that one attempt. It wasn't something he was
proud of, but he couldn't face going home right now. His memories of
their most recent misadventures with Fifth and his bug twins kept him
from being able to relax there.
He wondered what the
night sky looked like, if the stars were out. In the past, he'd spent
hours stargazing through his telescope. His rooftop observatory had been
the one place where he could escape from the horrific reality of his
life, his safe haven. Fifth had robbed him of that, and he hated him for
He'd attempted finding
peace there during his one visit home, and had frozen on the ladder,
caught in the vision of the Techno-bitch cornering him and touching him.
He scrubbed his face again, reliving it all for a split second and
shuddered as his skin quite literally crawled. Resolutely, he pushed
those thoughts away. He had a job to do. He was General Jack O'Neill and
no freaking Bug Person was going to make him less a man than he already
Jack glanced around the
commissary, and checked out its occupants. It was empty, no one had seen
him zone out, thank goodness. He pushed back from the table and headed
to the coffee urn with his cup. After that, he had a date with an
'No doubt about it,
Walter will make sure that inbox of mine always stays full. How did
Hammond ever do this? He made it look so damned easy. There are some
times when I love being at the helm of the SGC. I've even grown to love
being "the man" and dodging those pricks who are out to stick it to me.
On days like this, though, I wonder why the hell I didn't retire a long
time ago. If I had, maybe I'd be the house husband for Carter and we'd
be working on getting her knocked up.'
'Instead, I'm still
here and so is Carter and we're both miserable, I have the feeling that
she hasn't been able to bounce back from this latest debacle either. Not
that either one of us have. Maybe Kay could help. I'll bet Josh would be
just the ticket to help out with maintenance at the SGC. Siler's got a
workload that would kill an elephant, so I know he wouldn't turn down
any help I could round up for him. So, now I just have to convince them
both to join our happy band of campers.'
Armed with hopeful
thoughts and a brimming coffee cup, Jack headed for his office.
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