My husband seriously messed up our computer. He has tried to wipe it twice and it is still barely functioning. I can't currently access any There Was No Response. If he doesn't get it working soon I promise to pick up where I left off without usingthe chapters I have already written. Here is a new story while you wait.

Gone too Long

Jack washed his face in the sink without looking in the mirror. He knew he looked like crap and he didn't need a reminder. He hated this time of the year. Now that he paused to think about there weren't many parts of the year he didn't hate, he just hated this one more then most. Daniel and Teal'c were due to arrive in three hours. Jack needed to move faster, since it took longer now to get past all the Cheyenne security checkpoints. Two and a half hours later Jack was in General Landry's office, sitting stiffly in the guest chair.

"It's good to you see you again, Jack."

"Thanks, Hank." Jack glanced around the familiar office that no longer felt right. It still resembled the office he and George had worked in for so many years but if felt different, wrong.

"They're scheduled to be here in half an hour. Would you like to get some coffee or something while you wait?"

"If it's alright with you I'll pass. I'd rather just sit back and watch it all happen." Jack glanced out the glass wall at the people walking up and down the spiral stair that led to the heart of the operation.

"You miss it, don't you?" Hank's eyes followed Jack's.

"Sometimes, but not as often as you probably think." Jack turned back towards Hank. "It took too much from me. It's hard to love an enemy."

"It's hard, but it's possible. We've all proven that at least once." Jack glanced down at his hands as he pushed out of the chair.

"Thanks for letting me meet them here."

"You're welcome. I'll see all of you back here tomorrow at noon." Jack swallowed to push the rising bile back where it belonged.

"Absolutely." Jack left the odd feeling office and went to the control room, where he felt more secure. Walter was right where he'd left him, five years earlier. Siler popped in and said hello. Three colonels, four majors, and one captain said hello in the span of five minutes. Jack was sure of the time because his attention was focused on the clock.

At the exact time expected the gate rotated to life. Jack watched the kawoosh and the iris as it slid closed.

"Receiving Teal'c's id, sir." Jack restrained himself from answering, the same response he had every year at this time. Hank gave permission and the iris swirled open. A couple moments later Daniel and Teal'c stepped through the event horizon, looking as somber as Jack felt. He nodded to the pair as they stepped to the end of the ramp. Jack left the control room and headed to the infirmary to rendezvous with his old teammates, his friends.

The well-dressed middle-aged bureaucrat looked at the woman in the cell. Her hair was so filthy he only knew its true color because he'd read her file. She was wearing a graying smock, which had been white at one time, with pants that matched. Her feet were bare. She sat in the corner of the cell staring out the small high window. He imagined that from this angle the most she could hope to see were a few clouds.

"Get her cleaned up and put her in fresh clothes, something colorful. Be sure she gets fed and sleeps in a real bed tonight. I want her escorted to my office first thing in the morning."

"Sir?"

"You heard me." He spun to look at the guard, the one who'd questioned his direct and straightforward order. The man looked terrified and he knew why.

"You can get your wife and some of her friends to do it, just get it done." He stalked away; tired of the old ways he still encountered everyday. Change was hard and it took a long time, but that knowledge wasn't making it easier for him to remain tolerant.

"Hi, Jack. How's the year treated you?" Jack sat on the gurney across from Daniel's. Teal'c was being examined one gurney behind Daniel, smiling slightly as the nurse used an ear thermometer to take his temperature.

"Same old, same old. How goes it for you two?"

"The jaffa have a stable government, which has resulted in our settling twelve planets. There have not been any major threats to our security and only minor in-fighting." Jack nodded and was about to respond as Daniel took over.

"Eight of those twelve planets have significant dig sites and I've only been able to briefly visit five of them for any long period of time. There's no limit to how much we can learn."

"Whoa, Daniel. That all sounds great and I'm sure we'll have time to talk about in too much detail, but right now I just want to focus on getting out of here." Daniel sobered and nodded at Jack's forlorn plea. Daniel and Teal'c knew how many memories being in the mountain brought back for Jack. Neither of them felt comfortable here either.

Jack cooked steaks for dinner. Daniel watched the microwave cook some potatoes while Teal'c washed several bunches of grapes. After dinner Jack cut huge slices of chocolate cake for each of them. He handed the plates of cake to Daniel and Teal'c. Teal'c was engrossed in Star Wars but Daniel watched Jack take his seat.

"Chocolate, huh?" Jack and Teal'c looked up at Daniel.

"Got a problem with chocolate?"

"No." Daniel took a bite. He closed his eyes and savored the rich taste. He'd missed chocolate. He'd missed dessert. "In honor of Sam?" There was a long pause.

"I guess." Jack's voice was low and gruff. Daniel and Teal'c each took another bite.

"In honor of a great warrior and friend. She is missed by many." Teal'c raised his fork. Daniel followed the action. They both looked at Jack. Jack briefly raised his fork and quickly shoved the rich cake in his mouth. He never made eye contact with his friends. The only sound in the room was the sharp crack of lightsabers clashing as Darth Vader fought Obi Wan.

Jack finished his cake and cleaned up. He left Daniel and Teal'c in the living room discussing Darth Vader's true motivation and closed the door to his bedroom.

The director entered his office. He was surprised at how well she'd cleaned up. She wore a pale purple gown that went to her ankles. The sleeves were long and flowing. It was beautiful and it covered her scares. Her feet sported lovely sandals that laced up beyond the hem of the dress. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her feet were spread to shoulder width. The director dismissed the two guards and walked around her to his desk. He wasn't a fool, he knew even in her malnourished and weakened condition she was a warrior but he didn't want the guards to hear what he had to say.

"Please have a seat." She didn't move. She found a small spot near the top of a dark square on the wall; the paint had previously been covered by something that had prevented the normal loss of coloring caused by sunlight. It was one of several clues that the office had recently changed owners. She focused her eyes and her attention on that small hole.

"If you prefer to stand that's fine. Usually only my subordinates' stand when I address them. Based on what I've read about you, I wouldn't have thought you would assume a subordinate role." His reverse psychology didn't work. She remained standing, in the same position staring at his wall. It was unnerving him. He shuffled some papers on his desk before reaching for a file. He opened the folder and perused the pages.

"I was told about you two days ago. It took my three best researchers nine hours to find your location. I've had them digging up all the written files about you since. I read it all over breakfast and I must say it is compelling stuff." He glanced up at her. She hadn't budged.

"I either overestimated your sense of curiosity or underestimated your strength of will. It shouldn't surprise me really. Based on these notes you were interviewed daily during the first thirteen months of your imprisonment by none other then Director Friedricks. Did you know he was recently executed for the crimes he committed while he was in office? He was a brutal man, but I guess you'd know that better then most." He watched her lack of reaction, shook his head and sighed.

"The interviews tapered off over the next eight months, until he lost interest completely. It's been over three years since anyone visited you at all. There's no way I can satisfactorily apologize for what has been done to you." The director stood from his desk and turned his back to her. He looked out the window, staying aware of her reflection, just in case she did move and it was towards him.

"There was a revolution eight weeks ago. The seat of government has changed hands. When you first came here, you encountered a country being run by men who still ruled by the old laws. They refused to allow us to modernize, like the counties that surround us, because they didn't want to lose power. Many died to give us all the freedom to speak openly and worship freely. For the first time in my memory my mother, wife, sisters, and daughter are permitted out of the house unescorted." He turned to face the prisoner. He shifted to his left and stood before her. Her eyes passed through him but he knew she was aware of his presence.

"The brutality of those leaders held all of my people hostage. Now we are free and you shall be also." For the first time he saw movement in her eyes. She focused on his face.

"I speak the truth. Our records indicate that your people have used the stone ring hidden in the basement here in our military headquarters to contact us every fifteen months, to ask about your condition and demand your return. They even attempted to rescue you but they were pushed back after intense fighting." He watched her eyes mist but she held back any other reaction.

"Today is the day we expect them to call again. It was my job to find you and bring you to the ring. We plan on giving you back, in the hopes that we can build a friendship with your people." Her eyes widened slightly.

"I know that's a stretch but please understand we are different now. We are free and we need friends if we are to remain in power and show the people that the new ways are the right ways." He moved towards the door and looked back at her.

"I do not plan on cuffing you or forcing you to come with me. I do not want to bring the guards with me. Will you come willingly?" She turned and followed.

Jack didn't sleep much and based on how long he could hear conversations floating in from the living room Teal'c and Daniel hadn't even tried to sleep much. They only got together once a year and Jack hated that he'd wasted last night sulking in his room.

Teal'c appeared in the kitchen before Jack had even finished filling the filter with coffee. Jack woke Daniel by sitting a steaming cup of coffee beside the guest bed. They sipped their coffee in silence sitting on Jack's porch. The morning was cool but after the hot suns of Jerdoon Teal'c and Daniel appreciated the change.

"What time do we need to leave?" Daniel glanced in Jack's direction waiting for a response.

"Hank said they'd call at noon. We should probably leave soon. He'll want to spend two hours around trying to decide how to yet again ask politely if they could be nice enough to release our officer."

"You know they've tried, Jack. That gate is well defended and the director guy was a real zealot."

"Are you trying to make me feel better?" Jack stared at the trees in his backyard. He'd considered moving to his cabin but every time he seriously thought about he decided to stay, in case there was a breakthrough. He also wanted to be close to the mountain for Daniel and Teal'c's yearly visits.

"Not like that, huh?"

"Indeed not. I have considered attempting a rescue on my own but the free Jaffa resources are low and I have not been able to procure a ship capable of such a flight." Teal'c grimaced.

"Have they thought about the Prometheus?" Daniel's eyes lit up.

"I've mentioned it more then once, but it was considered too great a risk and too large an expenditure of resources."

"AN EXPENDITURE OF RESOURCES!" Daniel stood up as he exploded. "How dare they even compare Sam to...a...a...I don't know what." Daniel sat back down and huffed.

"You should've heard how I reacted. I'm not allowed within ten miles of the Pentagon, not that I ever want to get that close again any way." Jack stood up and went to the sliding glass door. He put his hand on the knob and sighed.

"Let's get this over with and then we can go and have a few drinks." Teal'c and Daniel followed him into the house.

"We still have some time before we need to be downstairs. If you'd allow me I'd like to take you on a tour of the city. I want you to see the changes we're trying to make." She followed without providing a response. Her steps were slow and small, requiring him to cut his pace in half. There was carriage attached to a horse-like creature waiting for them in front of the building. The guards watched nervously as he climbed into the back of the carriage. She looked at him, the carriage, the driver, and the creature attached at the front for several minutes before hobbling inside and sitting beside him. He was glad she'd decided to sit beside him and not across from him. Her blank stare was making his insides crawl. He knew what his people had done to this woman and he was impressed that she was still functioning in any capacity. He was worried how her people would react when she returned. That thought more then any other, made him nervous. Watching her lack of reaction was a perpetual reminder they had robbed her of her life.

"That is the first public school for girls ever opened in the capital. Girls from the age of three to twenty-five may attend for free. They are taught religion, reading, writing, mathematics, and science along with job and homemaking skills." He smiled broadly at this accomplishment. He knew she was learned woman and hoped she would recognize the great achievement that had been made in opening such a school. As they watched a group of five girls round the far corner, headed towards the school entrance, three teenage boys on wheeled contraptions appeared from their right. The boys began throwing rotten fruit. The smell was awful and the girls began to scream and run. The director shot up and jumped out of the carriage.

"Stop it immediately! I will have you arrested and jailed!" The boys skidded to a halt at the sound of his threat. They looked at the man and began to laugh. Two of the large burly guards, who had been following at a distance, ran up and stood behind the director. The three teenage boys immediately shrunk and begging to be released. After many promises to follow the new laws and being forced to apologize to the girls the boys were released. The director climbed back into the carriage.

"It has been hard on my people. Change is never easy, but when you have spent decades being brutalized for free thought it is hard to ever accept that freedom can be real." He glanced at his companion as he realized how his words also applied to her. He drove her past the Minister's palace and told her about how the revolution was built and sustained. He showed her the new library and university, both replacements for ones that had been destroyed during the violent fighting.

They stopped for lunch but she didn't touch the fruit and cheese he provided. She sipped at the fruit punch and nibbled on the bread, a diet similar to what she had experienced during her long imprisonment.

As Jack had predicted, they spent over an hour discussing negotiating tactics, even though it had been obvious for the last three years that Sam wasn't going to simply be released. Jack was frustrated and annoyed by the time Walter began dialing. He, Teal'c, and Daniel stood towards the back of the control room, giving Hank and the new negotiator room to move.

"The seventh chevron is locked." The kawoosh appeared and the room grew silent.

"See if the MALP is still functioning." Jack was amazing that these morons let the darn machine just sit there year after year. If somebody had left a piece of advanced technology on their doorstep, Sam would've taken it apart and rebuild it sixteen times by now.

"I'm receiving video and audio transmissions." Hank looked up at the screen and saw green shoes.

"Pan up." Hank leaned down over the microphone. "This is General Hank Landry. I am contacting you to demand that my officer, Colonel Samantha Carter, be returned to us." The camera panned up to the smiling face of a large well toned man in his mid-fifties. Jack straightened his stance and puffed out his chest.

"We have been expecting you to contact us. I am Minister Gornan. I have taken over office since you last contacted us. I learned only a few days ago that I could expect you to contact us today. I am very interested in learning about you and your people. We would like to discuss a friendship between our worlds. In light of our desire to be friends, I will of course release your officer." Shocked glanced were passed around the control room. "I would invite you here, if that is acceptable. I'm afraid my people have not yet learned how to use the ring."

"Can we see Colonel Carter?" Jack and Daniel held their breath.

"Of course." The minister stepped aside and pointed to his left. The camera panned to woman standing at parade rest wearing a light purple gown. She was thin and haggard looking but it was without a doubt Sam. Jack's heart leapt and he unconsciously moved his hand up to his chest. Daniel smiled and a tear escaped one eye. Teal'c even grinned, a large very unjaffa-like grin.

"Colonel Carter, this is General Landry. How are you?" Sam didn't move. A man stepped forward and looked at the MALP camera.

"Colonel Carter has not spoken since her release. I would be happy to fill you in about what I know of her captivity but I think that is a conversation best done in person."

"I'll send a team in less then an hour, if that is acceptable to you." The minister stepped back into the picture, interrupting the view they had of Sam.

"I look forward to meeting and discussing our future relations." He nodded and Walter ended the transmission and closed the gate.

"Which teams are on stand-by?" Hank looked at Walter. Walter scanned the computer monitor.

"SGs five and eight, sir."

"Have SG-5 in the briefing room in twenty minutes." Hank walked out of the control room, with Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c close on his heels. He knew they were there and he just hoped they could wait until they reached his office before demanding to be included.

After fifteen minutes of yelling and five minutes of quiet cursing, not necessarily in that order, Hank escorted Daniel, Teal'c, and a fuming Jack out of his office and into the briefing room. SG-5 stood and then sat as the General assumed his place at the head of the table. Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c also took seats around the table.

"SG-5 is to go to Valnar and escort Colonel Carter the alpha site. If she is determined to be free of any alien influence, and not deemed a threat, then you may escort her back here for a full medical screen. Any questions?"

"Yeah, why can't we go?" Hank sighed as SG-5 looked at Jack, slumped in his chair.

"You know the rules Jack, hell you wrote most of them. You're no longer deemed fit for gate travel. Teal'c and Dr. Jackson are no longer associated with the SGC. This is an SGC mission."

"She needs to see somebody she knows."

"We've been over this enough. Colonel Mitchell is at the alpha site. He'll take good care of her."

"I'm sure he will." Venom dripped off his words as Jack pushed up out of his chair and stalked from the room.

SG-5 arrived on Valnar within forty-five minutes after the original transmission with the minister ended. Sam was still standing at parade rest as the government officials bustled around the room, trying to provide refreshments to their guests. SG-5 made it clear they had one mission and that was to return with Colonel Carter. The director gave them a copy of the files he had collected and briefly spoke with them about the morning he had spent with Sam. SG-5 promised future contact; although they knew the chances were slim anyone from Earth would call on these people again. They dialed the alpha site and submitted their code. Sam followed the major and lieutenant through the gate. The colonel and captain brought up the rear.

Colonel Mitchell was waiting as she stepped through on the alpha site. He reached out to hug her and she stiffened. Her eyes scanned his face but she didn't respond to his questions. The alpha site doctor cleared her for travel back to the SGC in under an hour. Colonel Mitchell decided to return with her and SG-5.

He stepped through the gate first, followed by Sam and SG-5. Daniel, Jack, and Teal'c were in the observation room when she stepped through and walked down the ramp. Her gait was different, slower and stilted. She held herself stiffly. Her face was blank, emotionless. She turned towards the infirmary without being directed. Colonel Mitchell looked up at Jack and his former teammates. He shook his head, letting them know it wasn't good.

Sam sat on the gurney without being prompted. Her feet dangled over the edge but she didn't kick them or fidget. The doctor watched her quietly, without revealing his presence. He watched how she didn't interact with any of the SGC personnel in the room.

Jack entered the infirmary followed closely by Daniel and Teal'c. He walked past Colonel Mitchell towards Sam. He walked around the gurney and stood right in front of her. He gently lifted her face. Her muscles stiffened and her eyes didn't focus on him.

"Carter?" He felt a jolt move through her. She focused on his face. Her mouth slowly slid open and her eyes widened.

"Sir?" Jack smiled, just slightly.

"I retired not too long after you were captured. You can officially call me Jack now." His thumb rubbed her cheek.

"Real?" Jack's brow creased in confusion.

"Yeah, this is real." Tears welled in her eyes and her lower lip trembled.

"Home?"

"Without a doubt. You're home to stay." Sam collapsed onto his chest as she lost control of her tears. Jack enveloped her in his arms and held her head to his heart. He leaned his head down and whispered "you're home" over and over. Daniel came up beside him and placed his hand on Sam's hair. He was crying as freely as Sam. Jack even let a couple small tears escape, but he hid them in Sam's hair. Teal'c came up on Jack's other side and placed a hand on Sam's back. The doctor decided her exam could wait a few more minutes. Colonel Mitchell left his friends in the infirmary. He knew he would have time with them later.