Title: "My 2IC is better than your 2IC"

Author: silver

Written: April 14th, 2005 – April 15th, 2005

Takes Place: Season 5'ish. Somewhere after "The Light", but before Daniel would have ascended.

Summary: Jack makes another bet. Somewhat J/S, but more team dynamic oriented than anything else.

Rating: Um…PG, I guess, for rather mild language.

Disclaimer: I still own nothing. Must you pound it into my head with a railroad spike?

Author's Note: Just a little bit of silliness that popped into my head whilst writing "Character", and I figured I should get it written down before becoming wrapped up in another four-month long fic. Oh, and points to anyone who gets the couple of Buffy quotes I tossed in here ;)

"My 2IC Is Better Than Your 2IC"

by: silver

"Carter!" O'Neill yelled again.

"Almost there, sir!"

Colonel O'Neill bit back a curse and sent another round of bullets pinging into the advancing ranks of Jaffa with the squeeze of his finger. He wasn't even aiming any more; at this point, he didn't have to. There were at least two dozen figures alternately running toward them, taking cover in the low, dense shrubbery, and pinning down his team with a crapload of staff weapon discharges.

He didn't recognize the symbol on the foreheads of the Jaffa currently trying to kill SG-1, which meant – ooh, yay! – that they were making yet another new enemy.

At least it's not Apophis again, he thought as he shot off another burst that chewed the legs right out from under a Jaffa warrior with a bead on Carter. That guy's like the Energizer Goa'uld.

Disturbed by the immediate mental image of a Goa'uld symbiote marching across the field of battle beating a little drum, O'Neill made a face and fired again. This was getting old, real fast. And if that shield wasn't up within the next thirty seconds…

"Oh Carter!"

"Just another minute!" she yelled back.

A minute. Of course.

He couldn't waste the time to turn around and spear her with an impatient look, and so just kept firing.

The alleged "shield generation device" that Daniel's translation had led them to this planet to find rested now at the base of the stargate. Carter had wanted to get it back to the base and – since they had reason to believe there were several system lords also actively seeking the football-sized machine left by the ancients – Teal'c and O'Neill had rigged a travois to drag it back to the gate. The thing may have been small, but it was damned heavy.

Then, naturally, they'd run into a problem. A big one. Or rather, about twenty five big problems, all sporting armor, fancy forehead tattoos, biceps that would have made Arnold Schwarzenegger envious, and the aforementioned crapload of staff weapons.

Apparently, several teams of Jaffa had come through the gate right after SG-1 and fanned out to locate the device. It had only been a matter of luck that they hadn't run into a scout team on their way back from the abandoned dwelling where the shield device had been located.

Lying flat-out in the scrub, peering through a pair of binoculars beneath his desert-cammo boonie hat, Daniel had idly mentioned that the translation he'd obtained from the Tok'ra may have been only a copy.

O'Neill had stared hard at him for a long moment. "You mean you knew one of the Goa'uld might have the same directions we do, and you didn't tell me before now!"

Daniel had grimaced in his "I realize it's important now" way, and O'Neill hadn't bothered to repress his growl of frustration.

And then there came a moment when the gate was clear. "Can we risk it?" Carter had asked.

"I don't think we have much choice," O'Neill had replied, eyes sharp as he scanned the surrounding area for signs of an ambush.

"It is possible that a team of Jaffa lies in wait," Teal'c said.

O'Neill pressed his lips together. "I know, T, but we can't stay here all day and chance them stumbling over us. Once they find out the device isn't in that hut back there, anymore, they're going to start looking around. Let's move out. Daniel, you dial."

They'd hurried down the embankment as quickly as their load allowed them to while Daniel ran ahead to begin punching in the address for Earth. As the archaeologist jabbed the fifth button, Teal'c and O'Neill arrived at the base of the stairs leading to the gate with Carter alertly watching their six. Her shouted warning to get down came a split-second before the first staff weapon blast, which struck the edge of the DHD and sent sparks flying.

Daniel had shied away reflexively, falling down and scrambling around to the other side of the DHD, which was being bombarded with staff blasts. Each of the other three members of the team had hit the dirt, squirming into positions of limited cover on their bellies. O'Neill and Carter took up position behind a pair of boulders to the right of the gate; Teal'c found shelter of a sort in a shallow ditch behind a mound of earth. All began returning fire, but the situation was bad. They were pressed between overwhelming numbers and a stargate that could open up and spit out enemy reinforcements at any time.

Cue Carter. "Sir," she'd called. Though she was lying right next to him, she'd had to yell in order to be heard over the cacophony of gunfire and staff blasts. "If I can get that device to work…"

It meant having to abandon her defensible position for the vulnerability of working out in the open on the machine. "Do it!" he'd ordered, and popped up like a whack-a-mole to spray a salvo of cover fire as she shoved to her feet and darted away from him. The Colonel's hail of bullets had mercilessly mowed down three warriors before one managed to get a shot back off at him. O'Neill ducked briefly, his back pelted by falling debris when the blast struck the tip of his boulder. Luckily, Teal'c had the enemy Jaffa in a crossfire from his position had had picked him off with a blast from his own staff weapon. From the back of the DHD, Daniel was lying prone, arms outstretched, choosing shots with his nine millimeter. The archaeologist's hat had fallen off in the action, and it rested on his shoulders now, supported by the string around his neck.

The DHD stood between Carter and the approaching enemy, protecting her for the moment, but sooner or later a shot was bound to get through. Their only hope was the shield technology. If their information had been accurate. If the device was still functional. And if Carter could get it working.

Even if all of that happened for them, it was going to be damn close. The Jaffa were closing in, their vanguard not more than five yards away from Daniel's position.

"Carter!" O'Neill yelled a fourth – the last – time.

"Got it!" he heard her triumphant reply, and a moment later a smooth, translucent orange field of energy sprang up like a wall of Jell-O between his team and the advancing Jaffa. It stood as a dome around the stargate and the cornered team. Great ripples in it appeared at blast points like stones tossed into the smooth surface of a pond.

SG-1 ceased firing, heads raising cautiously, watching the Jaffa gradually come to the realization that their shots were being absorbed by the shield. Experimentally, one forsook his cover and approached the force field.

O'Neill didn't even stop to think. He squeezed a solitary shot off at the Jaffa, expecting to see the large man spin and drop like a sack of potatoes. Instead he was rewarded with another ripple in the shield between him and his target, and while the Jaffa flinched, he remained unscathed.

Presumably emboldened by his newfound invulnerability, the Jaffa drew up before the shield and reached out a hand to touch it. Another wavering ripple originated where his hand made contact, but the force field remained unbreached.

A little miffed that his shot hadn't gone through, O'Neill was nonetheless impressed by the shield. He slowly stood and moved out from behind the boulder, glancing over to ascertain that the members of his team were all right. Carter was still crouched before the ancient device, a look of rapt fascination on her face as she stared up at the field being generated by the tiny machine. Teal'c had warily raised his staff weapon to a nearly vertical position as he too abandoned his cover and joined O'Neill and Daniel at the DHD.

Daniel stood with his mouth open, wearing an expression similar to Carter's. "That is…" he trailed off.

"Sweet," O'Neill finished, admiring the barrier. Taken by a sudden, childish impulse, he stuck his tongue out at the Jaffa warrior who had come forward to test the field's permeability.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Jack, don't taunt the Jaffa."

"Why not?"

"Because…it's tacky."


"Major Carter," Teal'c said, keeping both eyes on the enemy forces, "For what period of time will this shield remain active?"

"Not sure," Carter replied as she stood and dusted off her pant legs. "This thing didn't exactly come with an instruction manual."

"Eh," O'Neill scoffed, waving a dismissive hand. "Who needs directions?"

Teal'c ignored him. "Then would it not behoove us to depart as quickly as possible, in the event that the shield's generation is limited?"

"Yeah," Daniel said slowly, "besides, we don't know if any more Jaffa are going to be coming through."

"Yeah," O'Neill sighed. He couldn't refute their arguments, but he would've really loved to stay and mock the enemy Jaffa some more. "Dial it up," he ordered.

Several days later, the bruises O'Neill had accrued whilst diving for cover on the planet where they'd located the shield technology had begun to fade to a sickly, jaundiced-looking yellow. He covered them with a standard issue black T-shirt, pulling his dog tags out to rest atop the cotton before sliding on the drab, olive green BDU top.

O'Neill closed his locker door with a clang and was in the process of doing up his boot laces when the door to the locker room opened. He looked up in time to see Colonel James Voss swagger in.

The other Colonel had recently been promoted to command of his own, newly formed SG team, and it had gone rather amusingly to the man's head. He was a puzzling mixture of wide-eyed, star-struck arrogance and O'Neill shook his head in response to his presence. He couldn't really find fault with the man…his pride in his spanking-new team was obvious. And he was a good soldier with generally good instincts. He just needed to settle into his position.

"Voss," O'Neill greeted him.

"Colonel," the other man responded. Though they now were technically of the same rank, O'Neill held superiority. "Are you ready for the mission today?"

O'Neill shrugged his shoulders a little. "Eh. You've been to one ghost planet with stuff abandoned by the ancients, you've been to 'em all."

In the few days since SG-1's return from P3X-9529, Daniel had translated the rest of the tablet he'd gained from the Tok'ra. While the shield device had been the biggest, most important item listed upon it, there were a number of other, smaller and less vital pieces of technology that the powers that be had decided should be retrieved, if possible.

Though today's objective – as far as O'Neill could tell, they were going after some sort of fancy, alien weather balloon – wasn't really the sort of thing O'Neill felt that the Goa'uld were going to be scrambling to get, General Hammond had decreed that SG-1 should take SG-23 for backup just in case there was resistance. The Goa'uld did, after all, possess the same information as Stargate Command, and could conceivably be waiting at any of the known locations just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting teams.

Voss opened his own locker and pulled off his civilian jacket, hanging it neatly inside. "I heard about that shield device you guys brought back from 9529," he said conversationally. "That was slick work of Major Carter's, getting it operational so quickly."

O'Neill shrugged again, his feigned indifference a mask that he had carefully cultivated over the past year to ensure that no one ever saw any deeper to the feelings he wasn't supposed to have for his 2IC. "Yeah, well…she's the best."

"For now, anyway," Voss smirked.

Having finished with his laces, O'Neill stood and turned toward the younger man. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Apparently seeing something, some hint of warning, in O'Neill's eyes, Voss hastened to clarify. "Oh, nothing against her! Everyone knows Carter's a bonafide genius."

Sensing that O'Neill was mollified, Voss allowed a little of his smirk to return as pride crept into his voice. "It's just that my new 2IC came very highly recommended from the Pentagon, if you know what I mean. A real up-and-comer. He's a little green, but with the right seasoning I think he might give your Major a run for her money."

O'Neill actually snorted. "I'm happy for you, really. I'm just thrilled that our fine facility has acquired yet another scientist."

Well aware of O'Neill's legendary impatience with all things technical, Voss chuckled as O'Neill went on. "But it'll be the day when you find someone smarter than Carter."

"You haven't even met Blackwood, yet!" Voss protested.

"I don't need to," O'Neill replied. "Carter's attached to the flagship team for a reason, you know."

"Yeah, well…you guys were here first," Voss said, and on the surface it sounded as if he were conceding a point. Military formality didn't allow him to take it any further. But O'Neill heard the unspoken thought that went with it. And that's why you're the flagship team now. But things change.

Irked, O'Neill stalked the corridors of the SGC, frightening a pair of nurses and causing several airmen to swerve well out of their way to avoid him and the grouchy expression on his face.

Who the hell did Voss think he was, insinuating that his fresh new team had anything on O'Neill's? SG-1 was a well-oiled machine. They had taken down numerous Goa'uld system lords all by their lonesome and had seen more action together than half of the other SG teams combined.

Okay, yes, Daniel still occasionally forgot to impart vital information, frequently got himself injured on missions, and always argued, but he was a damn valuable asset. If it weren't for the bespectacled archaeologist, O'Neill was certain they wouldn't have made favorable contact with half of the races they actually had with Daniel on the team. O'Neill sure as hell wouldn't have had the patience to sit down and go through every freaking cup and dish and blanket and rock in a nomad's camp to learn what their words were. Carter would probably have given it a shot, but let's just face it…how many people speak over twenty languages? O'Neill bet Voss didn't have anybody on his team who spoke twenty languages.

And Teal'c…well he was just one of a kind! The man's steadfast loyalty was unimpeachable. And there was no one else he'd rather have beside him in a fight. Sure, there was that pesky thing where he'd go deaf, dumb and blind whenever he got caught up in one of his little Jaffa-Revenge-Snits, but surely that was a small price to pay for a man who would give up his family, his entire world, in order to ally himself with those who were fighting the good fight?

And Carter…well…her biggest problem wasn't her fault, it was his. But it was better to just leave that alone. As a team member and subordinate, she was – in O'Neill's opinion – irreplaceable.

She also had a knack for being the one to understand him. Frequently, while on missions, Carter was the only one who was right there with him. He loved Teal'c like a brother, really, but the man just had no sense of humor. Things that were supposed to be funny just went right over the Jaffa's shiny, bald head. Daniel could get the Earth humor, but more often than not, he was off becoming impassioned by his latest discovery. That left Carter as the only member of his team with whom he could really share the little things like that.

Additionally, Carter generally didn't kick up a fuss about things. Oh she'd disagree, for sure. But the difference between her and Daniel was that Carter – despite being a scientist – was military, through and through. She may not like the options, but she always knew what needed to be done. Daniel did too, really, he just required a lot more convincing. Carter was…simpler, in a way. Less stress. He didn't feel the need to constantly be on top of her.

Er…well, not in that way, anyway…

Anyway, where had he been going with this? Oh yes…Carter didn't stress him out. Carter was full of intriguing, stimulating conversation and was a soothing balm, all at once…which was part of the reason he was now walking into her lab. He could think of no better diversion – no better remedy – for his general state of agitation.

Of course, as far as diversions went, he hadn't been expecting an explosion the second he entered through the doorway.

Luckily for him, it wasn't the sort of explosion that creates scorching, flesh-engulfing flames and ever-expanding shock waves that could have sent him flying from the room. Actually, it had been a pretty small explosion, all things considered, and the lab was for the most part untouched. Carter, however, was another matter, and O'Neill rushed forward, his insides seizing up in something close to panic as she leaned heavily over her desk on one hand; the other was raised to her eyes.

He grabbed her arm and whirled her toward him, checking for bruises, cuts or burns. All he saw were wide, surprised and confused cornflower blue eyes as she finished taking off the safety goggles she'd been wearing and tossed them on the desk. "Colonel?" she asked searchingly.

"For crying out loud, Carter," O'Neill said, releasing her with relief, "I thought you'd blinded yourself, or something. That explosion…"

Carter shined a mega-watt smile at him. "I'm fine, sir. Actually, I shouldn't have been standing so close, but it was supposed to do that."

O'Neill let his gaze rove over her face, feeling an amused smile trying to break through in response to her state of disarray. He considered asking her if the explosion was supposed to leave all of her skin soot-black except for the two big circles of white around her eyes and the little horizontal line across the bridge of her nose where the goggles had shielded her. He thought not.

The best part was, she had no idea. Her eyes shone up at him in excitement at the – presumably positive – results of the experiment she'd been running, and the white of her teeth stood out starkly against her coal-colored skin.

O'Neill bit his lip, all traces of his former bad mood having deserted him entirely. She was just so…damn…adorable.

In fact, she was so irresistibly cute just then that he figured it would be a good idea if he created some space between them. He stepped over to the desk and peered inside the box resting atop it. Inside was more black grime from the explosion, and a lump of burned "something" square in the middle.

"Whatcha doin'?" he finally asked, knowing that she was expecting it.

Still utterly oblivious to the mess on her face, Carter stepped up beside him. "I'm running trial-sized tests of naquada-enhanced explosives for field use…for times when it wouldn't be practical to carry that much C-4."

"Cool," O'Neill said. He did enjoy blowing things up. "I figured you'd still be working on the shield thingy, though."

Carter made a face. "I was, but I have to wait for approval from the joint chiefs on my designs for a portable, more lightweight version before continuing."

"Cool squared," O'Neill said, and was rewarded with another bright-toothed smile from his 2IC. Again he had to fight back a grin. This time some of it must have shown through, however, because her expression turned curious.

"What are you smiling at?" she asked, startling him with the echo of the exact same question she'd asked him a year ago after the time loop in which he'd kissed her.

He figured that since his policy of full-denial had worked for him then, it would work for him now. "Nothin'."

She didn't look like she believed him, but that was okay because he was about to make good his escape. "Actually, I just came up here to remind you that we've got that briefing with SG-23 in twenty minutes. I know how you get caught up in…all of this stuff." A vague wave of his hand took care of everything in her lab.

"Yes, sir," she said, her thoughts clearly already returning to the experiment. "I'll be there."

"Ah, Carter…" O'Neill started, regaining her attention. "You might want to…go get ready now."

She frowned at him, not understanding, and despite his best efforts, a broad smile broke out on his face. "You know, get cleaned up and stuff," he added.

Her confusion deepened and, before he could totally lose it, he beat a hasty retreat.

Left alone in her lab, Carter sat for a moment puzzling over his words. Then, belatedly, she caught sight of the tip of her nose on the edges of her vision. She crossed her eyes at it briefly to bring it into focus, immediately noticing the soot. Aghast, she rubbed a hand over one cheek, her mouth dropping open when she pulled it away to reveal her black palm. Her eyes immediately shot to the doorway, but the Colonel – coward that he was – had fled.

The dual suns shone hotly down on the two SG teams from the moment they stepped through the stargate. O'Neill began roasting immediately and knew that in about fifteen minutes he'd be just as grateful for his ball cap and sunglasses as he would be irritated over the heavy BDUs and equipment vest. "Oy," he muttered, automatically scanning the empty horizon for any signs of a threat. He really, really hoped they'd be able to find what they were looking for quickly. He did not want to cook in this desert all day.

He'd seen the pictures and video feed of the barren landscape that the M.A.L.P. had sent back, of course, but they hadn't done justice to the miles and miles of utterly lifeless, baked earth. The sky was blue, but the brightness from the suns was so powerful that it hurt to look up. It hurt to look down, too; the soil had long ago been bleached and sapped of all moisture. Its white, cracked surface radiated visible heat waves that undulated in a wavy dance over the wide, open terrain. The whole place made O'Neill thirsty.

"All right, campers, let's move out," he said, spotting in the distance the only structure the M.A.L.P. had located.

His team fell in line as Colonel Voss turned to his. "Michaels, Wade, keep an eye on the gate."

The two members of SG-23 nodded acknowledgement of the order and took up sentry duty as the others headed off.

The trek was longer than O'Neill had expected; the perfect visibility caused by a lack of atmospheric interference such as haze (and moisture) had given them a false impression of nearness. Instead of the ten-minute hike he'd anticipated, it took close to a half-hour. By the time they reached the M.A.L.P. and low building, they were all sweating.

"Okay," Daniel said as he stepped forward to compare the M.A.L.P.'s photos of the structure with the actual building itself, "according to the inscriptions on the door, the device we're looking for is inside."

"Wonderful," O'Neill said. "Open 'er up."

Daniel pursed his lips and stepped forward. His eyes scanned the door, then the panels to either side of the door, then up to flick back and forth over the area above the door. He had reached out a hand automatically; now he paused. "Uh…where's the doorknob?"

O'Neill's fixed, determined-to-be-pleasant-in-the-face-of-this-overwhelming-heat expression slipped a little. "Daniel," he said with a hint of warning.

The archaeologist tried pressing his palms flat against the metal door and pushing, with no result. "We have a little problem," he acknowledged.

He stepped back and shrugged off his backpack, kneeling to pilfer through it until he found the notebook that contained his translations. "Maybe I missed something," he mumbled to himself, sitting back and rifling through the pages.

Colonel O'Neill blew a rude breath out between his lips. "Carter," he barked, waving a hand at the door, "pick it."

His second-in-command stepped forward, bent over and peered at the door. "Not that kind of lock, sir."

"Then…I don't know, short it out or something!" he said, exasperated.

Teal'c, who had thus far remained silent, stepped forward and addressed the woman currently running her fingertips over the area of the door where a knob would be. "Major Carter," he said, indicating a large rectangle of metal fitted into the wall in the recessed doorway. "Might I suggest this panel?"

Carter straightened and turned toward the Jaffa. "Yeah, that's a possibility. There are several panels like that around that might be controls to the door. What makes you think it might be this one?"

Teal'c tilted his head in the manner he did when he was about to impart useful information. O'Neill had seen it plenty of times before, and thought that the Jaffa might be unaware that he did it. "On the original Death Star – as well as at both Cloud City and the bunker on Endor – the vertical, perpendicular surface immediately adjacent to mechanically-powered doorways housed the location of the door's controls."

Everything went quiet. Voss and Blackwood stared in open-mouthed disbelief at the imposing warrior before them. Daniel had paused in mid-scribble to raise his eyes to his teammate. Carter's mouth was open as if frozen in the moment before speaking. No one moved. There was no wind, and the suns continued to beat tirelessly down upon the planet. If it weren't so blisteringly hot, O'Neill would have half-expected to hear crickets chirping in the utter silence.

"Uh," Carter finally said. "Star Wars?"

Either unaware or simply unmindful of the reactions around him, Teal'c gave a dignified nod and smiled, apparently pleased that Carter had made the association. "Indeed."

"Um, well…" Carter shot a glance at O'Neill, who shrugged. Her gaze returned to Teal'c and she managed a bright smile. "It's certainly a place to start."

Course of action decided, the Major slid her own backpack off and lowered it to the base of the door. She dug around in the pack until she produced a set of tools. When she began to pry at the panel, Colonel Voss waved his 2IC in her direction.

"Blackwood," he said, "help her out."

The two scientists got to work, pulling off the panel to reveal a bed of gently glowing crystals beneath. Before long they were elbows-deep, thoroughly immersed in their task as Daniel continued to peruse his journal while Teal'c loomed over him like a tree, providing shade.

While they waited, the leader of the other SG team strolled over to Colonel O'Neill in the course of pacing the perimeter. "Hot enough for ya?" he asked.

O'Neill rolled his eyes and Voss grinned. Where O'Neill was fighting hard not to wilt, the younger man seemed to be thriving on the intense heat. There was a spring in his step and a smirk on his face, and he appeared to be hell-bent on taking his cheery disposition out on his fellow Colonel.

"Betcha Blackwood figures it out first," he remarked.

O'Neill's expression didn't change. "It's not a race, Voss."

"Maybe not," the other Colonel said, "but isn't that what Major Carter's famous for? Doing the impossible, impossibly quickly?"

"Hey, you mess around with these alien thingamabobs the wrong way, and we could all end up human-flavored jelly."

Then his eyes lit upon Teal'c. "And…Jaffa Jam," he amended belatedly.

Voss looked singularly unimpressed by the threat of doom. "It's a door," he stated, "not a bomb. Besides, don't you want to get out of this heat? This place is like hell, and Blackwood's going to deliver us."

"Not a chance," O'Neill countered despite his intention not to be drawn into Voss' obsession. "Besides, I've been to hell. And you know what? Carter got us out."

"Yeah?" the younger man asked. "Care to make a wager?"

"Not really."

"Oh come on, if she's as good as you say she is, you've got nothing to lose. Come on…I bet you that my scientist will figure out how to open that door before your scientist does."

"That's so mature, Voss," O'Neill said. "What, are we on the playground, here? Next you'll be trying to start a fight over whose dad can beat Superman in a fight."

"All right, all right," Voss said, nodding his head as his squinting glance darted away to scan the horizon. "I can see you're an intelligent man, despite the rumors."

O'Neill shot him a dirty look, but Voss went on. "I understand…you just don't want to back a losing horse."

All right, that was it. "Fine," O'Neill said.

"Yeah? You sure?"

"Oh, you're so on," O'Neill said again, with feeling.

The other Colonel's triumphant grin was delighted. "How much?"

"How much do you want to lose?" O'Neill asked.

Voss cocked an eyebrow. "You're that confident?"

What a dumbass question. They were talking about someone O'Neill trusted his life with every day. "What're we talking," O'Neill wanted to know, beginning to enjoy the diversion now, "five hundred? Six?"

For the first time, Colonel Voss showed signs of hesitation. His mouth opened slightly before he paused and re-thought whatever it was he'd been about to say. He blinked, then started again. "I was thinking more like twenty bucks."

"Pfaw!" O'Neill snorted. "Chicken scratch. Come on, Voss! Where's your conviction? Don't you have any faith in your own second-in-command? That doesn't bode well, son."

Voss did a fair job of looking unintimidated…except that he was chewing on his lower lip. "Okay, how about a hundred?"

"That's all?" O'Neill said, laying on the surprise. "Ah well, all right. You've got yourself a bet." He then turned his head to shout at the two scientists in the structure's doorway. "Carter!"

Her blonde head popped up, her hat having evidently been discarded along with her heavy vest and long-sleeved BDU top. "Sir?"

O'Neill made a show of checking his watch. "You've got ten minutes."

That certainly got her attention. She bounced up from the ground like an inflatable clown punching bag, her face screwing up in immediate protest. She didn't even wait until she reached him to begin objecting. "Colonel, that's not going to be enough time! We've barely even scratched the surface; it's crystal technology, but it's not like there's a handy diagram available telling us what everything's for."

"Carter, in case you haven't noticed, it's hotter than blazes out here. Now, it's not that big of a deal. It's just some weather instrument in there, anyway, right? It's not like we're taking about milk that's about to expire. So we'll go back to the SGC and get something to set up that'll provide some shade while you work on it. There's no hurry."

She was gaping like a fish. "But sir, if I could just have a little more time…"

O'Neill checked his watch again. "Nine minutes and thirty one seconds. That's how long you've got to figure out how to get that door open, because we're not staying any longer than that."

"Sir, there's no way…"

O'Neill shook his head once. "Ah!" he interrupted her, "Too bad. If you want your weather thingy, you're going to have to get it before we leave. But don't worry about it; if you can't, Colonel Voss and his team'll probably figure it out while we're gone."

Carter shot him one last desperate look before sprinting back to the doorway. Blackwood had moved away from the original panel and was working inside another. Once she was away from him, O'Neill allowed the grin he'd been repressing to surface.

Next to him, Voss was shaking his head and smiling with a slightly confused expression. "I don't get it," he said. "You just upped the odds in my favor."

O'Neill shook his head in mock sadness. "Clearly, Colonel, you've never seen Carter in action." He shifted, rocking back on the balls of his feet as he contemplated how best to explain his 2IC to someone who had never worked with her. Most of what ran through his head wasn't too personal to reveal, but he ultimately decided to just keep it simple. Need-to-know. "She gets it done," he said finally. "Whatever it is, she'll get it done. And if we're pinned down, and she's racing the clock to save our asses, she just gets it done faster. Or," he said after a moment, a smile breaking across his face as he watched Carter replace the panel as the door to the low structure slide open with a clunk, "when threatened with separation from her precious doohickeys."

Voss' jaw had dropped, causing O'Neill's smile to grow broader. He briskly clapped the disbelieving man on the shoulder, twice. "Don't worry about it, Colonel. You can settle up when we get back to the mountain."

Voss nodded wordlessly, his eyes on Carter, who had approached while O'Neill was speaking. Her own eyes were narrowed, and O'Neill realized that she'd probably overheard.


Professionally overcoming the faint annoyance he could sense in her demeanor, Carter reported, "Sirs, we're in. I recommend we move everyone inside and out of the suns while we locate the device."

"Good idea, Major," Voss replied, and O'Neill was amused and gratified to see an expression of awe on the younger man's face as he passed by Carter on his way to the structure.

That left O'Neill alone with his huffy 2IC, and he decided that he should probably attempt to smooth her ruffled feathers. "So…I figure you should get a cut."

Okay, obviously that hadn't been the right thing to say. Her head cocked to a confrontational angle and her lips thinned as if she were having to restrain herself from what she really wanted to say. The expression was extremely similar to one his ex-wife had been fond of wearing when he'd done something wrong. He wondered if all women possessed the ability to mimic this exact same expression as some sort of genetic memory, or something. Carter herself might have had a theory, but this was so not the right time to ask. Still, it was eerie how the same look on two different women unsettled him in an identical fashion.

Finally, she came up with something neutral enough to be permitted to say. "How much was I worth?"

"A hundred bucks," he answered, then winced as her expression grew even more offended. Women! First she was mad that he was betting on her; now she was mad that he hadn't bet enough! "I wanted to go higher," he hastened to explain, "but Voss chickened out. Not…uh…not that it was my idea in the first place. Because it wasn't," he emphasized quickly. "But he had to be taught a lesson."

"And what lesson was that, sir?" she asked, her voice the coolest thing on the planet. And not in a refreshing way.

O'Neill spread his hands out slightly, sure that the answer to her question was self-evident. "That you don't mess with the best."

She shook her head slightly, as if to throw off the entire conversation, still appearing dissatisfied. When she turned to head back toward the open doorway, he fell into step next to her. "I mean come on," he continued, "everybody knows you're the best at what you do. What was he even thinking, betting Blackwood could get the door open first? Like there was a chance in hell."

He stopped in surprise when Carter came to an abrupt halt beside him. Her eyes were clear and startled. As he watched, they gradually gentled into something considerably warmer and her lips curved up into a small, soft smile.


Sincerely clueless as to what had just happened to make Carter not be mad at him anymore, O'Neill wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not even the winning one. He smiled back, enjoying the way the glare from the suns that made everything else painful highlighted the glints in her hair. His eyes were drawn, however, to the fair skin on her bare arms. "Come on, Major," he said, putting one hand briefly on her shoulder to turn her as he started moving toward the structure again, "let's get you inside before you fry."

"Yes, sir," she acknowledged.

As they stepped into the blissfully cool shade, O'Neill's tone was buoyant. "So, I'm thinking team night with the pizza, beer and movies on Voss. Whaddya say?"

Carter's smile flashed in the gloom. "Sounds perfect, sir."