PART THREE

"He's what?" She stared at Hammond blankly, unable to comprehend what he was telling her.

"They've gone on a mission, apparently. Kanan held information that was vital to the success of this mission, and-"

"And he just went, like that, without even bothering to tell us?" she snapped, stalking across her lab, her hands clenched into fists as she fought to control her anger.

"They are on leave, Major," Hammond's voice was almost gentle.

"And my Dad went with him?" she questioned bitterly, already knowing the answer.

"Yes," Hammond said needlessly.

She sighed, meeting Hammond's gaze proudly, refusing to let the hurt at their actions show. "When are they due back?"

"I don't know," Hammond admitted uneasily, and she gazed him warily. He was hiding something form her.

"What else is there, Sir?" she questioned politely.

He shifted his weight, letting one hand rest on the metal of her bench top. "The mission wasn't exactly authorized by the Tok'ra High Council."

Sam raised her eyebrows. "So the two of them just ran off together?"

He chuckled slightly at her words. "I wouldn't put it like that."

She shrugged; how it sounded wasn't really an issue. It was the fact that both of them simply up and left without even bothering to let her know. It hurt, she realized dully, it hurt that neither of them thought she'd care if they just left with no idea on when they'd get back. But it hurt more because it made that abyss between them and her seem so much wider, so much harder to bridge.

They were Tok'ra, and she was not. And despite her general acceptance of the Tok'ra, and empathy with them, she could never be a Tok'ra. Not after Jolinar.

"Will you let me know when they arrive?" she asked softly.

He nodded his head and she smiled her thanks.

They were Tok'ra and she was not. What the Tok'ra did was no concern of hers. She would not waste anymore time, waiting for the impossible to happen. He was a Tok'ra now, and she had lost him despite trying to save him.

o0o

She had tried to sleep. Lying on the small cot in the dark, her mind had wrested images from her past and burnt them into the inky blackness of the ceiling.

O'Neill, telling her he liked woman. Her Dad, crying when he walked through the front door. O'Neill's back when he'd returned, his eyes glowing as she met Kanan for the first time. She shivered as she saw the white ice walls of the cave in Antarctica, a bitter smile touching her lips as she remembered her Dad's anger when he found her smoking behind the bike shed with Andy Michaels.

In the end, staying awake had proved easier than lying in the dark and facing the memories from her past, so she'd gone back to her lab, dutifully avoiding anywhere that Janet might be wandering, just in case she caught Sam up and about. For someone who was always so insistent that Sam needed sleep, Janet seemed to sleep very little herself, Sam mused as she let herself into her lab. The room was dark, and she didn't bother turning on the lights, instead seating herself at her bench and watching the way the small lights from her machinery cast a colorful glow around the room. The gentle hum of technology comforted her; it was something she understood, and that logic made sense to her.

Nothing else made sense to her anymore.

She sighed and rested her head in her hands. When had it all started to change? She'd been so happy at the SGC. The guilty pleasure flirting with O'Neill had been fun and slightly dangerous. The warm comfort of Daniel's friendship had held her tightly to reality, and Teal'c's solid presence had been her safety; she was never scared to fly when they were around.

Then Daniel had left.

And then she'd almost lost O'Neill. Almost lost the man that meant more than life itself to her. But she wasn't allowed to think those things; it was wrong.

When Daniel had left, he'd changed. Tried to hide his grief by turning it into anger. He'd scared her; the darkness which he'd shrouded himself in had seemed almost impenetrable, and she was scared that things were damaged forever. But things had been different before Daniel left, she realized with a frown. The tension had subtly changed; instead of flirting with the hope of a future promise, it had become darker between them. More serious. Intense. The flirting had almost died, the rare moments they did communicate without arguing or the shadow of the tension between them were scarce and far between.

Daniel had changed too; he'd grown bitter and cynical, too accustomed to the ways of violence and anger the Goa'uld carried everywhere.

Maybe it was time to get out, time to leave this place. It had become far darker than she'd ever imagined; Stargate command was supposed to be a place of discovery and adventure, not the darkened snake pit it was becoming.

Her phone rang, and she jumped, reaching for it blindly in the dark.

"Carter."

"They're back, Major," Hammond's voice informed her. "We just received word from the Tok'ra, they're back. You gate through in five minutes."

"Yes Sir."

o0o

The time difference between the planet was disconcerting; like jetlag without the long hours flying. It was just after midday on the planet the Tok'ra were on, the hot sun heating the air around them so that she was sweating before they'd even reached the rings. She ignored the uncomfortable stickiness, her leg muscles straining as she forced her way through the loose sand.

Behind her, Jonas was struggling to keep up and Teal'c brought up the rear, composed and competent as ever.

He was here. He was back.

There weren't many Tok'ra around when they reached the cool tunnels; the base oddly empty and quiet. They'd lost many of their people over the last year, she thought sadly; they were down to their last.

"Sam!" her dad's voice floated down the crystal passage, and she turned to see him jogging towards her. He looked tired; several scratches stained his face and his left arm was in a sling. But he was alive.

"Dad," she smiled tightly, and accepted his hug. He was warm and he smelt of grass, soap and the henna of his clothing. "How are you?" she asked.

"I'm fine," he smiled down at her. "So's Jack."

"What the hell were you thinking?" she exploded, and he stepped back in surprise.

"Sam?"

"You could have gotten yourself killed!"

He stared down at her after looking around the corridor quickly. "It's not me you were worried about," he said smoothly. "Besides, Jack is more than capable of taking care of himself."

She glared at him darkly, but his words scared her.

It's not me you were worried about.

"I was worried about you," she said softly.

He smiled gently. "Come on, he's this way."

He was lying across several blankets and pallets, curled around a small woman with dark hair. She pulled back, her mouth opening slightly.

"It's okay, Sam," her dad whispered, grabbing hold of her hand and anchoring her in the room. "It's not what it looks like."

"It doesn't matter what it looks like," she returned blandly, but she couldn't pull her eyes away from his body wrapped around the woman. Her head was tucked under his chin, her small fists curled tightly in the black material of his T Shirt. They looked so peaceful. "Who is she?" she asked softly.

"Her name is Shallan."

That wasn't what she meant, but Sam didn't press the matter. It was obvious by the way they were curled up together. She wondered when he'd met her, and how long it had taken.

"Is he coming back?"

"You'll have to talk to Jack," her dad brushed the question off. "They'll be out for a while. Let's go have a drink and catch up."

She nodded, stealing one last glance at them before she followed her dad out of the room.

"Why did you do it?" she asked, swallowing the last mouthful of flavored water before she replaced the cup on the table between them.

Jacob sighed, draining his cup as well before letting his eyes meet her again. "They weren't happy, Sam."

She sighed and watched her fingers tracing the edge of the cup, circling over the smooth stone. "He wasn't happy on Earth either."

"Kanan wasn't or Jack wasn't?" he asked her softly.

She stared resolutely at her drink.

"Sam?"

"I don't know."

"They're hoping this will solve the problem," Jacob admitted at last, and she raised her eyes to meet his.

"How?" she asked.

"He wants to tell you himself," Jacob shook his head. "So I'm not telling."

She stood up slowly, and then looked at her dad. "Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you happy?"

He raised his eyebrows curiously, studying her before carefully asking, "why?"

"He... he wasn't happy being blended. He accepted it, but he changed too much to be happy with it," she said softly. "I thought he was happy, you know? He seemed to be doing okay, wasn't angry at me for asking him to do it-"

"Is that what you're worried about?" he cut in.

"What?"

"That I'm angry at you for asking me to do this?"

She licked her lips. "Are you?"

He smiled. "No, Sam. I'm happy with Selmac. I'm also happy with the Tok'ra."

"So you don't regret it?"

He shook his head. "No. Not at all. The only thing I will regret is out- living you in the end, because I know you're like Jack. You'll never be happy with a Tok'ra."

The smile touched her lips briefly. "I think, that if I hadn't had my experience with Jolinar, I might have been," she confessed.

"Might have beens and what is are two different things, Sam."

"I know."

He studied her intently. "Just don't let everything in your life become a might have been, okay?" Her mouth was dry as she gazed at him. "You have to be happy too, sweetheart."

Her eyes blurred with tears and she nodded. He hugged her close, and she curled up against him, burning her head beneath his chin and letting him comfort her. He was Tok'ra, but he was still her dad.

o0o

She was sitting outside on a sand dune, when Jonas' voice sprang to life on her 2-way. "He's awake, Sam."

"How is he?" she asked.

"Good." Jonas sounded happy, she thought. She sighed softly.

"I'll be down soon, Jonas."

There was a pause. "See you soon, Sam."

Sam pulled her knees up under her chin, watching as the sun flared, dipping closer and closer to the horizon. It turned the sand to fire, a hot red light that warmed her despite the cooling in the air. Already, above the last defiant ribbons of light turning the clouds pink the sky was blue velvet, black ink and crystal stars. The sun disappeared and the planet was plunged into darkness, the light from the twin satellites casting an ethereal glow over the sand and freezing them into sheets of silver ice.

She sighed, staring ahead at the landscape.

"You okay?"

His voice was soft behind her, and she scrambled forwards onto her feet, training her gun on him before she realized who it was. "I'm fine," she said, not lowering her weapon.

In the silver light she saw an eyebrow arch. "Carter, you're pointing a gun at me."

"I..." she lowered the dark mass in her hands, staring at him. "You startled me."

He grinned, his teeth seeming to dance in the darkness as they gleamed. "Remind me not to do that again. Next time you might shoot."

"How are you?" she asked him, breaking the awkward silence that was settling over them like a mold of glass.

"I'm fine," he nodded. "So's Kanan."

Her heart clenched. "And Shallan?"

"She's good," he said mildly, shifting his weight from foot to foot. She stared at him for a few seconds, frowning. And then she realized.

"Where is Kanan?" she asked softly.

"He's with Shallan." He looked up at her hesitantly. "It wasn't working, Carter."

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

He shrugged. "It was... different. But I'm kinda happy to have my head back to myself."

She smiled. "I'm kinda happy to have you back too," she whispered softly.

And then she was in his arms, his fingers digging into her back as he pulled her against him. She breathed him in like perfume, the skin on his jaw scraping against her cheek as she buried her face against his neck, her arms wrapping around him like a vice.

"It's okay," he whispered as she clung to him, smoothing her hair with his large hands, holding her close. "It's okay, Carter."

She sighed and pulled back, but his hands held onto her shoulders as he gazed down at her, unwilling to let her go. "It's good to have you back, Sir."

"Carter..." he hesitated, and she watched him warily. "Did you mean what you said?"

Her mouth went dry, and she swallowed roughly, finding it hard to meet his eyes. But Sam Carter wasn't a coward, and she stilled the nerves in her body that screamed for her to run. "Yes," she whispered, "I did mean it."

He looked almost shy; she half expected him to cross his arms behind his back and sweep his foot in half circles on the ground. "You know the same goes for me, right?"

She smiled gently at him, watching the moons highlight his silver hair. "I know," she agreed simply.

He linked his fingers with hers, and together they walked back to the transport rings.

She stared in dismay at her car, disgust etched clearly onto her features.

"Carter," his voice sounded far too smug for his own good, she thought darkly to herself, "you're not having, car trouble, are you?"

She turned to face him defiantly, raising her eyebrows as she regarded him. "And if I was?"

"I'd advise you to buy a new car," he smirked, "one with a decent amount of leg room."

She shook her head in resignation, slapping her hand against the cold metal of her disappointing car. "Looks like she's going back to the garage," she sighed. "Again."

"Why don't you fix her?" he asked.

"Time, Sir," she pointed out dryly.

He shrugged. "Need a ride home?"

"If you're offering."

"I'm parked that way."

She followed him silently. He wasn't that much taller than her, but his strides were that much longer. She had to really move to keep up with him. Then again, it had always been that way. He was her leader, and she followed obediently.

The silence between them was almost easy as they drove, and she relaxed back into the seat of his truck.

"Sir?" she ventured, casting a sideways glance across at him in the dark of the cabin.

"Yes?"

"That night, when you came to see me..." She stopped and bit down her lip. "I'm sorry for the way I acted, Sir. It was very... wrong of me."

He continued to look ahead, and she watched the expressionless features focus on the road. "I shouldn't have pushed you," he said eventually.

She shook her head. "No. What I did was unforgivable. I treated you like... like someone I couldn't trust."

"No, you didn't trust Kanan. I've never doubted your trust in me, Carter." She watched him, surprised, as he glanced over at her. "Don't look at me like that, Carter. You've always trusted me, and I've always trusted you."

He was right, she thought absently. "I shouldn't have made you choose," she whispered. He didn't answer, and she felt the silence between them thicken. She shifted uncomfortably on the seat. "Did... did you like him?" she questioned curiously.

"Sometimes," O'Neill admitted guardedly.

"Oh?"

"He was still a Tok'ra, Carter."

"But you didn't want him to leave," she pointed out.

"I don't know what I wanted," he admitted. "I didn't know what I wanted myself, and then I had all Kanan's emotions to deal with, as well as his previous hosts... and I don't generally deal with my own emotions very well."

She chuckled hesitantly, grateful for his attempt to lighten the situation. But she didn't want to joke now; she had to clear this up. "If it came down to it, would you have chosen?"

He shifted uneasily on his seat, glancing at her sharply. "Why are you pressing this, Carter?"

"I... I just don't understand why you chose him over me," she whispered.

He sighed loudly in the car. "I didn't choose him, Carter. I chose you."

She waited for him to continue.

"He saved my life, Carter. He was in my head for almost two months. That's a long time, you know," he said wearily. "On one hand, I became used to him. He was always there; he was funny sometimes. He reminded me of Daniel, he was always arguing with me."

She smiled slightly.

"But he was a Tok'ra, and he knew how I felt about the Tok'ra. He wasn't any different to them. Do you know, Carter, that they think we are genetically, emotionally and mentally less complex than them, and therefore less advanced, simply because we aren't born with the same genetic memories that they are?"

It felt strange to hear something with so many terms coming out of his mouth, but she didn't interrupt.

"He said the Goa'uld's biggest flaw was their inability to accept and acknowledge that we are complex 'creatures'. What he doesn't realize, Carter, is that the Tok'ra also think so, even if it is to a lesser degree. They think that we 'improve' when they blend with us, as if we are incomplete and not as good if we aren't blended."

"I'm still sorry," she said softly.

He shrugged. "It's done, Carter. He's with Shallan now; they love each other. They'll be happy."

"And you?" The words were out before she could stop them, but once she uttered them she realized she wanted to know the answer.

"I think I'll get there eventually."

She smiled to herself, watching the lights stream past the window.

They'd both get there, eventually, and that was enough for now.

As she tightened the straps of her Kevlar vest and clipped the P-90 into place on her waist, Sam Carter slid a glance from under her lashes at her fellow team mates. Jonas, Teal'c and O'Neill were standing in a semi-circle at the gate ramp, deeply engaged in a discussion about the latest episode of the Simpsons. She let her eyes linger on O'Neill, watching the way he moved his hand and his face, the expressions flitting across his features with a lightening fast intensity. As she watched, his face broke into a grin and he chuckled, shaking his head at something Teal'c had said before looking up and catching sight of her.

He smiled at her, and Sam smiled in return, unable to stop the grin from spreading across her lips. He was back. Things were still a long way from being better, but change wasn't all bad. They'd lost Daniel, but they'd gained Jonas. They'd lost their easy friendship with one another, but they'd gained something else. Something deeper. Something she hoped would grow until one day they could act on it.

She watched him now, as he turned back to Teal'c while the Jaffa spoke, a small smile still touching his lips. He missed Kanan, she knew that, though he'd never admit it. And she knew that there was still a long way to go before she could forgive herself for asking him to go through with the blending, and before he could entire reconcile her making him choose between herself and Kanan, but things looked to be going okay.

Sam rolled her eyes in resignation as she heard the familiar tones of one of his 'witty' comments, and stepped across the room to join them.

"Carter!" O'Neill exclaimed, grinning at her broadly. "I was just trying to explain to Jonas why Krusty-"

"You'd have to explain it to me too, Sir," she interrupted dryly.

He shook his head in mock pity. "I don't understand how you could not like the Simpsons," he told her, his voice pained.

She shared a look with Jonas who shared her disdain for the yellow cartoon characters, while Teal'c raised an accusing eyebrow. Somewhere along the line of his earth education he had developed a very strange sense of humor, and Sam was almost 100% sure that it was all O'Neill's fault.

In front of them the wormhole locked into place, and for a second she looked at it, watching the way the event horizon shimmered and swirled, remembering her first amazement at the sight. It wasn't any less awe- inspiring now than it had been then; she had just stopped seeing the magic in what they were doing.

"Let's move out, campers!" O'Neill ordered loudly, turning back to salute Hammond who was watching as always.

She walked up the ramp with him by her side, Jonas and Teal'c following behind. And this, she thought, is how it's supposed to be.

FINI