Title: Masquerade

Author/Email: Jo. R PG-13

Spoilers: Minor for seasons 1-5. Nothing that would jump out at you for seasons 6-7.

Season: Season Eight.

Category: S/J Established relationship, Angst, NID storyline.

Warnings: None.

Summary: You can't hide forever.

Archive: Random Ramblings, SJA, GW, The Novel Archive.

Disclaimer: Sam, Jack et al aren't mine. Original characters, organisations and situations are.

Dedication: The sparkly t-shirt peeps: squeee, bounce, evil and not evil ;)

Adrenaline pumped through her veins, keeping her senses alert, her body tense. The gun in her hand was heavy but she barely felt it. It was just an extension of her body, something that was as familiar to her as an arm or a leg.

Something as vital as a heart or lung.

She slipped quietly from shadow to shadow, letting the darkness engulf her body. Protect her, hide her. The stealth she used had been well practised over many years, ever since her innocence had been stripped away.

Ever since her career had consumed everything else in her life.

Somehow she managed to keep her breathing under control, kept her nerves from overwhelming her. This case was different; this investigation had taken a very personal twist.

They knew who she was and would do whatever it took to keep her from exposing them. The blackmail she'd ignored, she'd done nothing she was ashamed of. The threats to her career had been laughed off – if they knew the full extent of her career they would've known she wasn't someone who scared easily, or someone the US government would let get away.

No, their earlier attempts at spooking her had failed.

It was the kidnapping of her partner that made her sit up and pay attention. It was the message left on her answering machine where the ever strong and never scared Captain Elizabeth Masters cried out for help with genuine fear in her voice.

She hadn't come unprepared.

She'd come alone, as per their instructions, but she'd been there five hours early, watching.


Her breath had caught in her throat when the single figure had exited the black car, then had reached into the back and dragged her partner out by the hair.

It figured.

The person she'd be up against, the one they'd sent to kill her.

It would be him.

It was a good thing she'd had another hour before she was meant to arrive to get herself together. She'd needed it. Of all the people she'd suspected, of all the people she worked with and didn't trust..

.. He wasn't one of them.

So much for her instincts.

She could see him now, from where she hid in the shadows. She could see Elizabeth, too, sitting on the damp floor in the centre of the warehouse. Her hands were bound as were her feet and there was a cloth in her mouth acting as an effective gag.

The man standing beside her didn't look at all nervous, or at all regretful. He looked as cool and calm as ever, a small frown of annoyance creasing his brow as he glanced at his watch and realised she was 30 seconds late.

It would've been so easy to just shoot him and have it over with.

She couldn't do that, though. Not to him.

She couldn't shoot him in the front anymore than she could shoot him in the back.

It seemed cowardly on one hand and didn't seem like enough punishment on the other. A bullet would keep it clean and simple. It was an effective tool when dealing with faceless enemies when there were no feelings involved.

There were feelings here. A lot of them.

He deserved a lot more than a bullet in the chest.

He deserved everything she could throw at him.

Taking a deep breath, she decided to make her presence known. He'd probably already guessed that she was there.

He had taught her everything she knew, after all.

"I have the disks," she announced, stepping out of the shadows with her head held high and her gun trained on his chest. Directly aiming for his heart. Although she would prefer to keep him alive, to punish him by being responsible for putting him behind bars for the rest of his life, Sam knew he couldn't be trusted. Not after betraying her like this. She could never trust him or anyone again. "Let Liz go and I'll give you all I have."

"You don't look surprised to see me, Sam. I'm disappointed." Darren Locksley threw her a grin, unperturbed by her sudden presence or by the gun pointed at him. "Now is that really necessary!

"All things considered, I'd say yes, it is." Taking a few more steps forward but being careful to maintain a healthy amount of distance between them, Sam cast her eyes briefly towards the dark haired woman on the floor.

"She's fine," Locksley answered casually, waving a hand to demonstrate his point. "She's been very cooperative, haven't you, Liz?"

The only response he got from the woman on the floor was a muffled sob. The only response he got from Sam was a heated glare as she ground her teeth.

There was a very good reason Elizabeth had been cooperative.

It stemmed from the fact she'd been living with him for three years.

"I want the disks and I want the hard drive from your both of your computers." All traces of amusement left his face. Locksley took a step forward, all but ignoring the woman by his feet. "I mean it, Sam, you have no idea who you're dealing with. This goes up further than you can imagine."

"You're underestimating how much I know," her voice was cool and calm when she replied. No traces of the anxiety building up inside her could be heard. "My hard drives stay where they are. You'll have to take my word that they're clean."

It was a bluff, a lie, and they both knew it.

"I get the hard drives or there is no deal," Locksley warned, reaching into his pocket for what Sam assumed was a gun. It wasn't. The blade of the knife glinted in the light of the singular bulb hanging from the ceiling above them.

"How am I supposed to explain that?" Sam countered, rolling her eyes derisively. "You know as well as I do I won't be able to do that without someone else finding out."

Locksley shrugged. "It isn't my problem. Say you had a virus or something, I'll cover for you."

"If you think I'm going to keep quiet about your involvement in this, you're wrong," she warned, trying to tune out the helpless weeping of the woman behind him. "I want you to resign, Darren. I won't let you stay with us knowing you're one of them."

"You have no say in the matter. We're making this deal on the understanding that you keep your mouth shut and forget everything you know about the NID." His eyes glittered as he ran a hand through his greying hair, the knife clutched in the hand he let hang at his side. "Now give me the disks and your word and I'll let you both go."

She wasn't fooled, not for a second. She knew him too well.

As soon as she handed over the disks that were burning a hole in the pocket of her jacket he'd kill them both. He would take care of her computers and any back up copies she had later but first he'd kill them. Probably slit her throat if he could get close enough, and then do the same with Liz. She knew him, knew his likes and dislikes. When Locksley killed someone he made it personal, made it intimate. He'd tried to train her into being the same way but Sam couldn't allow herself to form any sort of connection with her targets.

Unlike Locksley, she had a conscience. It was a difference she'd never noticed before but that now seemed important.

Locksley let himself get emotionally involved in his killings because he enjoyed it, because part of who he was fed off the ability to cause pain and suffering, to end a life with the flick of his wrist.

She didn't. She preferred to keep her distance, to stay professional. It was the only way she could sleep at night without wondering who would be grieving the life she'd taken. Her targets didn't have faces, they were shadows. Enemies. If she could avoid learning their names, she would. She didn't want to know, didn't want to remember who's lives she'd taken for the good of her country.

Locksley, she knew, would learn everything he could about those he was ordered to dispose of. He would memorise their faces, learn their names and the names of those close to them. On the few occasions it was mentioned in the press, he would tell anyone with clearance who would listen that the hit had been his. The triumph was his.

There was nothing triumphant in killing someone, nothing to celebrate.

"Let Liz go and I'll give you the disks," Sam countered, taking a step back when he moved closer. "There will be no deal until I know she's out of here safely."

For years afterwards, Sam would wonder if she could've handled it differently. If she could've done something to change the outcome of that night.

Locksley struck seconds before she anticipated he would make his move. His leg raised and he kicked the hand holding the gun, sending the weapon flying through the air before it landed with a clatter that echoed throughout the building.

She blocked the second blow he tried to deliver, managing to grab his arm before it got too close, warily eyeing the knife in his hand as she braced herself for his next attempt.

They fought for several minutes. Sam blocked each attempt he made at getting the knife closer to her flesh and eventually managed to successfully knock it from his grasp, kicking it from his reach just seconds before he landed a blow to her ribs, knocking her to the ground.

They were both breathing heavily, both aching and both bleeding from the mouth and nose respectively. It was hard to fight the person who'd taught you everything and hard to fight your best student when you'd taught them everything you knew.

The knife was nearer to her than it was to him, Locksley realised, muttering a curse under his breath.

Sam paused in wiping the blood from her mouth. Her eyes widened: the gun was within his reach.

Without hesitating, Locksley reached for it and grasped it in his hand.

There was nothing Sam could do, no way she could move across the floor in time to deflect the shot or to try and wrestle the gun away from him.

He'd fired before she was on her feet.

The crying stopped abruptly.

As blood gushed from the chest wound and spilt on to the floor, forming a red river, Sam charged. She knocked Locksley to the floor, kicking the gun away before hitting and kicking him for all she was worth. She'd pull him up, punch him and knock him down again. Kick him, then do the same thing.

Locksley tried to fight back but she had anger on her side.

"Don't.. you think.. you should see.. to Liz?"

His voice and the smug grin that accompanied it was the only reason she stopped.

Leaving him to curl up on the ground, Sam limped to where Elizabeth lay, picking up the gun and the knife on her way. She got down to her knees and removed the gag from her friends mouth.

Liz stared up at her with glassy eyes.

"No," Sam whispered, pulling her partner of four years into her lap, cradling her head even as blood poured from the wound in her chest. "Please, God, no. Not Liz. Not Liz."

She didn't know how long she'd sat there, how long she'd mourned. All she knew was that her best friend was dead and when she turned away, the man who'd murdered her, her mentor, was gone.

Eight years on and that night still played heavily on her mind. It was why she kept herself busy, why she forced herself to work so hard. Working kept her mind preoccupied so she couldn't dwell on it too much and it also meant she was moving just that little bit closer to getting justice and retribution for Elizabeth.

Although she worked primarily for the Air Force now in a position she loved, Sam could never forget her past and never would as long as he was still out there.

As long as the NID were still going strong.

When she'd joined the SGC, it had been solely for her at first. She'd wanted something different, wanted to get out from the shadier MIU. When she'd been reassigned, however, after the first two years of working on the program, she found herself dragged back into the Military Investigations Unit after suspecting that General West, her former Commanding Officer at the SGC, had ties with the NID.

Her decision to return to the SGC a year later was based partly on her desire to work on a project that would encompass both her scientific and military background but also partly because it gave her an opportunity to pursue the NID.

At the time of rejoining the program she'd had no idea of the future that lay in wait for her.

Nor could she have known that eight years on she would be sharing her bed with one of the men she suspected would help further her investigation and the thought of falling in love with her commanding officer had never crossed her mind.

She'd debated over telling him the truth about her past after their relationship had developed, but something had held her back. Although she was convinced he wasn't a part of the NID, she wasn't sure he didn't unwillingly work for him. The Special Forces team he had worked with had links to the NID but she wasn't sure if he was aware of who had been pulling the strings during those missions.

It wouldn't be something he would take lightly if he knew: the fact he had once worked for the people he considered to be the enemy or the fact she'd kept so much about herself hidden.

Even as she lay beside him in his bed.

His lips moved from her ear, along her jaw towards her mouth and it was all she could do to keep her own lips from twitching. She kept her own eyes closed, pushed all thoughts of her past out of her mind, allowing herself to give in to the sensations he was evoking within her.

It was only when his mouth covered hers that she let herself respond – and confirmed his suspicions that she was really awake. When the kiss ended, she opened her eyes and smiled lazily up at him, pushing aside the momentary twinge of guilt she felt on seeing the absolute trust and devotion in his gaze.

"Morning," Jack O'Neill leaned in for another kiss before rolling to his side, pulling her with him so that there positions were reversed.

"Good morning." For several languid moments, she let herself get swept away by memories of their time together, by the feel of his hands running soothingly down her back. Then she glanced away and noticed the clock on the bedside table, pushing away at the time it displayed. "We're going to be late for the briefing.."

"I don't mind if you don't." He drew her back in his arms when she tried to sit up, tightening his embrace and rolling her over when she tried to sit up. He kissed her temple and let his lips move to her ear. "We could stay here all day."

Laughing softly, Sam tried to disentangle herself. "It would be too much of a coincidence if we both called in sick."

"And..?" His mouth moved down her neck, leaving a trail of kisses in his wake. "Your point is..?"

"My point," she murmured, taking hold of his shoulders and drawing his face back up to hers, "is that this is still very much against regulations, Jack."

He rolled his eyes, determined not to let the cloud hanging over them spoil any of the downtime they got to spend with each other and reluctantly moved to the side so she could sit up. He propped himself up on one elbow, watching unabashedly as she got out of bed and slipped one of his t-shirts on. "The President doesn't care if we're together. Why should anyone else?"

"You know as well as I do some of guys we work with would have a problem with it," Sam reminded him unnecessarily, gathering up some clothes on her way to the adjoining bathroom door. Not to mention the other team she was a part of outside of the SGC. "Teal'c and Daniel don't have a problem but if anyone else found out about it, you know they'd complain about favouritism or something else that'll land us in trouble." She paused by the door, leaning against the frame as she looked back at him. "Are you going to join me or stay in bed forever?"

A wolfish grin crossed over his face in answer. He was just about to stand when the doorbell rang. And kept on ringing. A low-pitched growl erupted from his throat as the ringing continued and he reached out for a pair of pants to pull on.

"Stay right there," he told her, throwing her a glance over his shoulder that made her feel sorry for whoever had disturbed them.

She didn't know what it was that drove her to follow him out of the room. She watched walk down the stairs and followed, stopping halfway. She heard him open the door, heard the low murmur of voices and went down a few more steps until she could hear everything perfectly.

"Colonel O'Neill, long time no see." The man standing on the doorstep smiled at him even as Jack's blood ran cold.

"What do you want?" He demanded, taking a step closer and lowering his voice, fighting the urge to glance back over his shoulder and make sure Sam wasn't within earshot. "I told you I want nothing more to do.."

"One final assignment, Colonel, that's all we want." The man wasn't intimidated by him in the slightest. He reached into his jacket, grinning when Jack tensed, and pulled out a non-descript manila folder. "We have ways of making your life very uncomfortable if you refuse."

"I'm aware of that," Jack muttered, reluctantly taking the envelope from him. He made no move to open it, just tucked it under his arm and continued to stare at the man standing opposite him. "So what is it? What do you want me to do?"

The man shrugged, his eyes concealed by the black sunglasses he wore. "A simple assignation. You'll find all the information you need in there, along with details of where to find your target. Don't mess this up, Colonel, or you will regret it."

"Do I at least get a name?" Jack asked, calling out the question as the man turned and started walking away from the door. "I know you guys, it won't be included in here."

"Codename Phoenix," the man responded, his quiet voice carrying up the path towards the house. "That's all you need, Colonel. We'll be in touch once the job is done."

Jack watched him get into the car and drive away. He took the envelope in his hand and stared at it suspiciously through narrowed eyes. Shaking himself mentally, he turned and went inside, closing the door securely behind him. He left the envelope on the bottom stair and forced himself to put the contents of it out of his mind, concentrating instead on the woman waiting for him upstairs.

It was just a job, he repeated mentally. And as soon as it was over, as soon as they got back in touch, he'd make it clear to them it was the last one. He didn't care what they tried to threaten him with if they decided not to let him go so easily. For the first time in a long time he could see a future for himself and he wasn't letting anyone or anything, especially people from his past, screw it up for him.

"It was just the paperboy," he began, hating to lie but knowing there was no choice. "He wanted to know where.." His voice trailed off as he made it inside his bedroom, glancing around when there was no sight or sound of her. "Sam?"

Moving through the room, he noticed her clothes and her shoes were missing from where they'd been left haphazardly on the floor the night before. He walked into the bathroom, expecting to find her in there but instead finding no one.


Walking back through to the bedroom, he shivered in the breeze that swept through the room, his gaze travelling slowly to the point of origin.

His bedroom window was wide open, the curtain flapping in the breeze.

She ran all the way home, sometimes using short cuts, sometimes using the longer route just to avoid the chance of being seen. Halfway across town she'd kicked off her shoes and gone barefoot – god knows where her pumps were or if she'd ever find them again but Sam couldn't bring herself to care.

The voice she'd heard was running through her head, almost drowning out her racing heart but not quite.

Him. Locksley.

At Jack's house.

They obviously knew each other; she'd heard enough of their conversation to gather that they'd worked together in the past. That fact alone was enough to make her blood run cold, to make her doubt whether her instincts were working with her or against her.


She'd trusted them once, trusted him. And as repayment he'd killed her best friend.

The thought of the man she loved and the man she hated knowing each other, the thought of them working together.. It made her feel sick. Dizzy. Her whole world had been knocked off balance because she'd managed to convince herself her lover was innocent.

Yeah right.

She knew better than anyone the things Jack had done and been through on various covert and black ops missions. She'd read the reports, after all, once she'd found out he'd gone through to Abydos. Read them again when it became clear she'd be working with him at the SGC. The things he'd done.. They hadn't been pleasant but she'd managed to put them out of her mind, convinced herself he'd been following orders and that was that.

It was rarely that clean cut, never that simple. It wasn't a matter of black and white, with black being her enemy and white being her allies. She'd learnt that the hard way. There were too many people who fit neither category, too many who slid into the shadowy area in between and there were so many different shades of grey, too.

She shouldn't have let herself trust him, shouldn't have believed he was a good guy.

But she'd wanted to. Almost desperately so.

The thought crossed her mind that maybe Locksley and Jack were more alike than she'd imagined, that maybe just maybe Jack had enjoyed following orders as much as Locksley had and her stomach lurched.

She barely made it to the bushes at the side of the path she was running along before the contents of her stomach decided to make a reappearance.

No. She straightened when she was confident she could move without causing the nausea to return and wiped her mouth, her brow furrowed in disgust as well as thought. No. She would've known if he enjoyed killing. God knows she'd known him long enough, seen him kill countless Jaffa and other mutual enemies in battle. He didn't enjoy it, just like she didn't. It was just a job, just something they had to do.

Thank God. That would've been too much to try and cope with.

Sam glanced over her shoulder, her eyes narrowing as her gaze flittered over her surroundings.


The streets were as quiet as they should be given the time and the black car she'd seen parked outside Jack's house was nowhere in sight.

So. Either Locksley hadn't known she was there or wasn't interested in following her.

She was willing to bet all she had it was the former choice.

Deciding to carry on towards her house since she was almost halfway there anyway, Sam jogged at a more leisurely pace, using the momentarily peace and quiet to try and get her jumbled thoughts in some sort of order.

Jack knew Locksley. Locksley knew Jack.

They'd worked together, and when she thought about it in a calmer, more rational mood, she realised it wasn't such a surprise. After all, they'd been part of the same team on at least two missions she was aware of. Black ops missions. So.. It was possible Jack's mission was nothing to do with her, nothing to do with the NID. It could just be a black ops mission her team hadn't alerted her to yet. Maybe there was a message waiting for her at home, coded on her answering machine..

.. Or maybe, she thought with a sigh, it was a covert assignment from the NID that they were passing onto Jack. If it was NID business, it didn't mean Jack was aware of who he was working for. If he'd worked as part of Locksley's team before, it was possible he thought he was doing another covert mission for the government.

For the government he supported. Not the NID he abhorred.

The thought of him willingly working for the National Intelligence Division was enough to make her slow down again. It didn't make sense, didn't fit what she knew about the man. Colonel O'Neill hated them, and they hated him. He'd helped uncover too many of their missions for it to be a cover up of his true alliance. Harry Maybourne had trusted him, too, and if that was just an act then the former Colonel had definitely taken it a step further than Sam would've expected since he'd left his life on Earth behind completely.

No. Jack wasn't NID. Colonel O'Neill was an Air Force Colonel with a slightly shady background but he wasn't one of them.

He couldn't be. If he was, he'd know who she was. And he'd either have said something or done something.

If he was NID, he'd want her dead and he'd had plenty of opportunities over the years to kill her and make it look like an accident. Besides, he was the NID's enemy just as much as they were his. They'd even to.. No.

Don't go there.

The possibility sent a shiver down her spine but at the same time reassured her that her initial instincts to trust him had been right.

Until now.

She'd heard enough of the conversation to know what his mission was. To know who he'd been assigned to assassinate. The problem facing her was how to stop him without blowing her cover.

How to stop him without ending up dead.

There were three messages on her answering machine, one warning her that Locksley had slunk out from behind whatever rock he'd been hiding behind and two from Jack, the first demanding to know why she'd left without saying goodbye – and out of the window when he had a perfectly good door – and the second asking her to call him just to let him know she was okay.

She didn't return the call though she did feel slightly guilty for it.

Somehow, she managed to avoid seeing him at all before the briefing. She left earlier than she would usually and called General Hammond, alerting them to the fact there was a situation she needed to discuss with him. Fortunately for her, the General had met her in the parking lot of the SGC and escorted her from her car to the briefing room, giving Jack no chance to confront her had he come across her making her way to the room.

She'd ignored his attempts at getting her attention, pretending all of her attention was focused on Daniel Jackson as the archaeologist listed the many, many, many reasons he had for SG-1 going to investigate further on a planet SG-7 had visited a few days previously. If she'd been asked after the briefing what planet he was talking about or given the option of listing three of the twenty-seven reasons he'd given for why they should go she would have been found out.

Thankfully no one asked.

As soon as the briefing was over, General Hammond whisked her away into his office, much to the confusion and concern of her teammates.

"Start from the beginning and tell me everything," General Hammond told her sternly, resting his hands on the desk in front of him as he leaned back in his chair. He'd known for some time what her background was but nevertheless had been surprised to get a phone call from her that morning declaring her life was in danger – and from someone she worked with. "I gather this is to do with your role with the MIU."

"Yes, primarily to do with my on-going investigation into the actions of the NID," Sam answered, having decided to be completely honest with her Commanding Officer even though she was yet to gain full clearance from her line manager in the MIU. Getting clearance would take time and time was something they didn't have. Not if they wanted to emerge as the victorious party, anyway. She hesitated for a second and briefly wondered how to explain how she'd come to know what she did. "You'll recall from the first report I was allowed to copy you in on that when I first was assigned here the MIU suspected Colonel O'Neill of having ties with the NID."

"I remember," the expression on his face matched the curt tone of his voice. He hadn't been pleased to find out an officer under his command had been under suspicion of being an NID operative – let alone having been told that another office under his command was investigating. "If I recall correctly you yourself investigated and reported that those claims were 'unsubstantiated and improbable'."

Sam nodded and exhaled slowly. "At the time I thought they were. New information has since come to light." She put her hand up to prevent the protests she knew were coming, forcing herself to ignore the dull ache inside at knowing the fury colouring his face was aimed at her. She respected him, cared for him, she didn't want to let him down but she knew she was. "That's not what I came to talk to you about, Sir. We can hopefully resolve that matter later and later I'll try to explain how I came about the information I have but like I said this morning my life is now in danger. Darren Locksley, a known agent for the NID, approached Colonel O'Neill first thing this morning. He gave the Colonel orders to assassinate a MIU agent working under the code name Phoenix."

"You," General Hammond guessed, his anger subsiding into surprise.

"Yes, me. I doubt Colonel O'Neil knows who his intended mark is but the fact remains that he has been ordered to kill me by the NID." Sam crossed her hands in her lap to keep from fidgeting. "I need your help to keep the other members of SG-1 occupied until I can report back to my team and figure out a solution to keep the Colonel from killing me and the NID from killing the Colonel."

"We could always prevent that from happening by telling SG-1 and warning the Colonel of the situation," General Hammond suggested optimistically. He knew there'd be an explanation behind the orders Colonel O'Neill had apparently received and also knew telling the Colonel who his target was would make a big difference in his decision whether or not to go ahead with his assignment.

"I'm sorry, Sir, I can't let them know. We're too close to exposing the NID to risk ruining everything by blowing my cover. I don't even have clearance to tell you but I need your help so I'm bending the rules a little."

General Hammond leaned back in his chair and spoke when she paused to draw in another breath. "I'm willing to offer a compromise. SG-7 share Doctor Jackson's desire to return to p8x737. I could assign Teal'c and Doctor Jackson temporarily to SG-7, taking them out of the picture and giving you time to conclude your investigation."

"And what about Colonel O'Neill?" Sitting up straighter in her seat, Sam's eyes narrowed as she stared at him. She didn't like the direction the conversation was taking. "If you're asking me to tell him what I know.."

"I'm not asking, I'm telling. That's the condition, Major." The General's expression was stern. "Colonel O'Neill is involved in this. He deserves to know who is behind the orders he received this morning and quite frankly I think it's time he knew the truth about your real reason for being here."

The mistrust, the accusation in his voice hurt her more than she cared to admit. "I'm here because I want to be. I took this assignment because I wanted it, not because I had to in order to further my investigation."

"I'm aware of that, Major, if I thought for one minute you didn't want to be here I'd have had you assigned a long time ago." General Hammond's expression softened slightly. "It would make it easier for you if you could tell someone else about the situation. Colonel O'Neill had unwittingly helped you by exposing the NID's Stargate operation and by linking the organisation to Colonel Makepeace and Senator Kinsey. He could help you find the information you need to expose them once and for all."

"I appreciate that, Sir, and I've considered bringing him into it more than once but I can't. I'd need to get approval from the MIU for one thing and they're very cautious about bringing in insiders. I've been working for them since I graduated from the Academy, I know how paranoid they can be." The depreciating smile was directed at herself as well as the agency she worked for. It faded under his scrutiny, though, and she shifted in her seat. "For another thing I know bringing him in on this would be dangerous. Like it or not he does have ties to the NID and he isn't going to be happy when he finds out. All it would take is for him to try going after them himself or for him to confront Kinsey for them to decide he's too much of a threat and try to kill him again."

"Again?" It was one word, one word that slipped out of her mouth in the heat of the moment, one she regretted instantly but one he immediately picked up on. "The NID have tried to assassinate Colonel O'Neill?"

Lowering her gaze, Sam swore at herself internally. Of all the mistakes she could've made. "There have been one or two instances in the past where my team received intelligence reports that Colonel O'Neill's life may have been in danger. Those reports may have been exaggerated and if not, were obviously prevented."

General Hammond searched his mind and didn't like the red flags that her words had caused. "Would I be right in assuming that on those occasions it may have been coincidental that you asked me to call a briefing to discuss your latest findings or advancements in understanding the alien technology you've been studying?"

"If I've asked you to call a briefing that would result in the Colonel being preoccupied for a matter of hours on strange occasions, followed by perhaps going AWOL from my lab albeit unnoticed for the most part then yes, I would say it's very coincidental, yes." She met his gaze evenly, pushing aside the memory of one cold, dark night before Christmas when she'd sat in her car outside the Colonel's house for six hours while waiting for his would-be assassin to show up.

It hadn't been a pleasant night, though nights where she got no sleep rarely were. It'd taken an hour after she'd subdued him for her back up to arrive and she'd spent the following morning questioning the NID agent before exchanging the MIU holding cell for a briefing with SG-1.

"I wasn't aware of that." General Hammond replied slowly, his eyes studying her as though it were the first time they'd met.

"If you were it would mean I wasn't doing my job properly," came the instant reply. She allowed herself to relax slightly at the warmer look that came into his eyes. "The point is, General, I've lost people to the NID before. Colleagues and friends. I'm going to take them down before they can take anyone else from me. That includes the members of SG-1, Cassandra, my family, even you. If they knew how close I was they'd try anything to stop me."

"All the more reason to make Colonel O'Neill aware of the situation so you're not trying to complete your investigation as well as trying to protect us." General Hammond gave her a stern glance and she knew the conversation was effectively over.

She could sit there and argue until she ran out of things to say but she knew him. General Hammond was not the type of man to back down, especially not when he thought he was right about something.

"Doctor Jackson and Teal'c will leave with SG-7 at 1300 hours. I will expect you to brief Colonel O'Neill on the situation yourself either by or at that time." He leaned forward in his chair, picking up a pen and opening a file. "You are dismissed, Major."

He left her with no choice but to get out of her seat and leave. Taking a deep breath, Sam hesitated before slipping out of the room, half expecting the Colonel to be waiting for her outside but relieved to find he wasn't there.

She couldn't hide from him forever, though, and with that thought in mind, she started towards her lab, knowing she'd get no work done that morning. She was going to be too busy trying to figure out what to say to Jack when he came looking for answers.

Hiding in her lab was nothing new. She'd perfected the art of avoiding people in her first year at the SGC. All she had to do was turn on the lights and shut the door. And if anyone were brave enough to intrude after that, she'd keep her head bent over whatever she working on and answer their questions with distracted 'hmms' until they got the picture and left her to it.

Unfortunately, her friends had wised to her methods.

Daniel and Janet had been the first to ignore her when she was in one of her avoidance moods, patiently sitting opposite sipping their coffee until the weight of their gazes resting on her distracted her from what she was doing.

Teal'c was subtler. He'd simply stand in the doorway and wait to be acknowledged. She'd found out the hard way that he was a very patient man and would wait for as long as necessary. The longest she'd ever been able to make him stand there unacknowledged was fifty-seven minutes exactly. Then she'd given in, invited him to sit down and poured out as many of her troubles as she could.

There were some things she couldn't tell him, couldn't tell any of them. Things she couldn't say to any of them until now.

Colonel O'Neill – Jack – was usually the loudest, the hardest to ignore. Especially with the shift in their relationship. Even before that he'd been difficult to ignore. He'd walk into the lab whistling, sit down, make small talk for ten minutes or so and then start fidgeting with whatever he could get his hands on until she was forced to speak to him in order to rescue the object he was playing with from otherwise inevitable doom.

Recently, he hadn't needed to do that. She'd let herself get caught up in the excitement of their relationship, in the newness of it. In the danger at being caught. They hadn't done anything that could be construed as breaking the regulations on base – she had never let that happen – but he'd sit opposite her with that look on his face. The knowing grin. The hidden warmth in his eyes, reminding her of the times they had broken regulations. The times she'd enjoyed it, hadn't felt guilty.

Had been able to forget everything else and take shelter in his arms.

That'd been her mistake and she hoped it wouldn't be a fatal one. She should never have let herself get so close, get so involved. It was dangerous in a lot of ways, but especially with him. It was against regulations and her career with the Air Force meant so much. Had meant so much. Time and circumstance had changed her views on that. And then there was her career with the MIU, the past she couldn't tell him about. The career he was linked to even though he didn't know it.


'Yet' was the key word.

She had no choice but to tell him and what would happen then? How would he react? And once he knew, once it was over – if she was still alive – she'd have to tell Daniel and Teal'c, too. How would they react? She might be able to get out of MIU once and for all but in doing so would she have to turn her back on her career at the SGC too?

She didn't know what was going to happen. Had no way of predicting the thoughts and feelings of one very unpredictable man.

A man who was standing in the doorway, his gaze burning a hole in her back.

She didn't need to look to know he was there. She just knew he was.

"Daniel and Teal'c left with SG-7 five minutes ago. Hammond said you'd be able to tell me why."

Sam swallowed hard and turned on her stool. The expression on his face was carefully guarded, reminding her more of the Colonel O'Neill she'd first met eight years ago than the one she shared her bed with.

"We should go somewhere quiet," she murmured, getting up and avoiding his gaze. "You're not going to like what I have to say."

They walked together through the corridors, exchanging polite smiles with the people they passed on the way. Sam didn't know where she was leading him so was as surprised as he was when they ended up outside her quarters. It was the only place she could think of that they could talk undisturbed – and the only place she could think of on base where he wouldn't be able to make too much of a scene.

She checked the corridor both ways before opening the door and motioning him inside, checking again before following him in. She took her time in closing the door behind them, taking a deep breath to calm herself before turning towards him and opening her mouth, having no idea of what she was going to say but knowing she needed to keep control of the conversation.

Too late.

His hands were in his pockets, his expression suspicious, his gaze accusing. He spoke before she had a chance at getting her brain to tell her mouth to say something. "You want to tell me why two members of my team were sent off-world without consulting me? Or did you take over and forget to let me know?"

"I can explain everything, Sir." Her shoulders tensed and she forced herself to hold her head up under his scrutiny. "But you're going to have to give me the chance."

"I'll give you one chance, Carter, before I take this to Hammond again." His expression didn't alter, his tone of voice as cool as it had been since he'd entered her lab. "He said I owed you that much but personally I don't see how."

Taking a deep breath, Sam fought the urge to close her eyes and decided to just tell him. There was no way of sugar coating it, no way she could make it seem like less of a betrayal. But she might as well start with a positive and work her way from there. "He was probably referring to the fact I've saved your life more than once due to the responsibilities I carry from the MIU."

The look on his face would have been comical under any other circumstance.

Shock, surprise and disbelief had him gaping at her like a goldfish trapped in a bowl.

"I've worked for the MIU since I graduated from the Academy," Sam started to explain, taking advantage of his stunned reaction to get as many words out as possible before he interrupted with questions and protests. "It was little things at first to fit in around my career with the Air Force, computer hacking, tracing information, tracking other operatives.. During the war I was enlisted as a part-time MIU operative and I spent some time investigating the activities of various government and military associated groups. Because of my work then I was promoted to the IAID and worked for the MIU full-time after it was explained to my superiors in the AF."

"Hold up." Jack held up a hand and stared at her, slowly sitting on the bed and tilting his head to the side. "That's a lot of letters, Carter. MIU? IAID?"

"The MIU is the Military Investigations Unit," she gave him a tolerant smile, relieved to find the rancour had all but disappeared from his gaze. "It's basically an agency created by the government consisting of various military officers from all sectors such as Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines to investigate the on-goings of various government operations and military projects to check everything's running by the book and to take care of things if they aren't. The IAID is the Internal Agency Investigation Division, the section that investigates individual organisations when they're suspected of being a drain on government resources or when it's suspected they're actually working for someone else against the rest of us."

"So the MIU is like the NID?" The distrust was back in his eyes and a faintly disgusted expression arranged his features.

She swallowed a sigh and told herself it was a good thing he appeared to be disgusted at the thought. At least it meant he wasn't NID, not consciously. How he was going to react when he found out he had actually worked for them more than once she didn't want to guess. "The MIU and the NID are nothing alike." Although she tried, she couldn't keep the edge from her voice. "Through my work at the MIU I investigate the NID. We've been trying to get enough evidence against them to get them closed down for good, and to have as many of the NID agents we know of taken in for questioning."

"Right." He schooled his features into a neutral expression though his gaze was still wary. "So are you here to investigate the SGC as well and what's it all got to do with me?"

"I.. No." She bit down on her lip and clasped her hands in front of her. "I chose this assignment because I wanted to work here, not because of the MIU. I do love it here, I would be stupid if I didn't but I won't lie and say it hasn't helped me to progress further in my investigation into NID activities. You've helped me yourself by exposing the off-world project and tying Makepeace and Kinsey to them. I just need to find some concrete proof that isn't going to disappear when I try to confront them and my job'll be done. Then maybe I can retire once and for all from all MIU activities."

He nodded slowly, digesting her words. "I'm still waiting to hear how I'm involved in this, Carter."

Taking a deep breath, Sam exhaled slowly and wandered across the room, pacing as much as the small space would allow. "You're not going to like this, Jack. The NID have been using your past to get you to carry out various assignments on their behalf, making you believe you're following orders on a regular black ops or covert mission approved by the government. They've suspected you were getting close to figuring it out once or twice because of your determination to expose them and that's when they've assigned someone to assassinate you."

His face changed colour. At first it went pale, then it slowly darkened before setting on a dark red flush. She watched his fists clench and resisted the urge to reach out and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. He wouldn't appreciate it. Nor would he appreciate the sympathy she was trying to conceal. "In case it's escaped your attention, Carter, I'm very much alive so.. Why should I believe that they've tried to assassinate me or that I've been working for them just because you say so? For all I know the MIU is just as bad as they are."

The accusation hurt but not as much as the betrayed look that briefly passed over his face. "You're alive because myself or a member of my team has prevented their attempts. I could detail three occasions where I've personally taken out your would-be assassin. The MIU are good people, Jack. The NID.. You know as well as I do what they're capable of."

"You still haven't convinced me I've worked for them or helped them in anyway." Jack responded calmly though she could tell by the way his knuckles whitened that he wasn't as calm as he wanted her to believe.

"The man who came to your house this morning." Her spine stiffened when he looked up at her, his eyes locking with hers. "His name is Darren Locksley and he was MIU. He was my mentor, he taught me everything I know. Until eight years ago he was someone I respected and admired. Someone I cared about. Then I discovered he worked for the NID and was using the MIU to track down our progress in investigating them, to sabotage our efforts whenever possible. I confronted him and the consequences weren't pretty. I don't know if he knew I was there this morning but I know he'd have got a kick out of it if he had."

"Why?" His face was returning to its normal colour, his gaze more curious than suspicious. "What have you and your past with him got to do with him coming to my house this morning?"

"You were given orders to take out an MIU operative, Jack." She held his gaze, letting her arms drop to her side. "I heard everything. You were given a codename instead of a name, codename Phoenix. He would've got a kick out of knowing I was there, Jack, because he basically gave you orders to kill me."

The dumbfounded expression was back, as was his imitation of a goldfish. Several moments passed before she realised it was going to take some time for him to regain his composure.

"Your reaction proves what I've been reporting back to my team that you didn't know about me and didn't know you were working for the NID." The relief outweighed the satisfaction she had at being right. "I know this is hard for you but General Hammond said it was time we should let you know, especially since I'm going to need your help and your cooperation."

"My cooperation?" He repeated it with a raised eyebrow, his confusion written all over his face. "You want my cooperation?"

"Yes, Sir," she answered quickly, resuming her pacing and missing the look that flittered across his face as she reverted to the Sam Carter of old. The one who wasn't sharing his bed, the one who still didn't let herself use his given name. "The NID will be watching you to make sure you do what they've told you. If you don't, they'll kill us both. I'll need your help to stage my assassination, to make them believe I'm really dead so I can hopefully wrap up my investigation and finally put an end to the NID." She turned slightly, caught the look of horror on his face and managed a small smile. "You won't really be killing me, Jack, it'll just look that way. It's the only way we can get their attention away from us both."

"I might not actually be killing you but they'll think I did. Everyone else.. They'll have to be told you're dead."

Sam shrugged and let her hands join behind her back, unwittingly standing at attention. "Daniel and Teal'c will be occupied for the next two weeks. I've called Cassandra and she'll be staying in New York for the next month and knows not to believe everything she hears and not to believe anything about me unless it comes straight from you or General Hammond. My father's God-knows-where, they're not going to be watching my brother because Locksley knows we're not close and the only other people who'd miss me are you and General Hammond. And since you know I'm not dead, just pretending to be, it'll be okay. No one's going to get hurt."

"You will if they find out you're still alive." He stood up, either because he couldn't sit still any longer or to stop her from being able to pace across the small room. "I need to think about this, Carter."

"You haven't got time to think about it," the argument left her lips before her mind had had a chance to warn her arguing with him wasn't the wisest thing to do. "They've given you a time limit, Jack. I don't know if you've read the information they gave you but they mapped out a time and a place. Tomorrow night. You know those friends I said I was meeting tomorrow night? They're members of my team. We have an unofficial debriefing scheduled to take place in the back room of the bar on West Colorado Avenue. It's scheduled to end at ten-thirty. If you've read the information Locksley gave you, you'll know that's where you're supposed to be. You're supposed to be in the parking lot waiting for me to exit the building and you're supposed to kill me with a single bullet to the heart in front of the other members of my team so it's something they have to live with. So it's something they'll never forget seeing."

"You know a lot of detail about a file I haven't even looked at." Jack muttered, staring at her with solemn eyes. He hadn't imagined the colour drain from her face, hadn't missed the way she swallowed nervously after making her impassioned speech. "How do you know exactly how it is they want me to do it?"

"I know Locksley." She answered with a shrug and turned away, wrapping her arms around herself as she sunk down on the small bed. "I wasn't exaggerating when I said he was my mentor. He taught me most of what I know and I know him very well. I know he likes making it personal, I know he likes making it hurt not only the person he was assigned to take out but he also enjoys inflicting whatever he can on the people around his target. He hates me. I blew his cover. Can you think of a better way for me to die than to be around the people I've been working with for twenty years? To be killed by you? I don't know if he knows about us, if he does I'm surprised the NID haven't made an issue of it but it could be because of this. Because of their plans. Maybe he wants you to kill me because he knows that makes it a hundred times worse or maybe they see using you as a convenient way to stop us both from being threats to their precious organisation."

"What did he do to you?" He softened his voice but made no move to get closer, no move to comfort her. He gave her a one-shouldered shrug when she looked up. "I'm not saying I'm okay with this, I still need to think about everything. But this guy, Locksley, he hurt you, didn't he?"

"Probably not in the way you're thinking," Sam answered immediately, recognising the glint in his eye and needing to put that one fear to rest – it was the least she could do, after all. "I don't make a habit of getting involved with the people I work with. This.. You're the first person I've worked with who I've become personally involved with, too. Locksley.. Darren was a very good friend of mine, partly because he was my trainer and partly because he was dating my partner. They were living together, had just gotten engaged.. When I found out about him he took her hostage. He'd been using her the whole time to keep track of what we knew. He said he'd kill her if I didn't bring him all of the information I had."

She couldn't help but remember that night perfectly. Relive the whole devastating event.

"I agreed to meet him, took along copies of what I had. I knew he was going to kill us both but I hoped I'd be able to change his mind or take him out before he got the chance. I was wrong." She shrugged her shoulders, stared down at her hands. "We started fighting. I lost my gun, he lost his knife. I fought harder than I've ever fought in my life but it wasn't good enough. I eventually got the knife but he.. He was closer to the gun. He shot her. I attacked before he could shoot me too. I thought I'd secured him and turned my attention to Liz but there was nothing I could do. I don't know why he didn't kill me when he had the chance, probably because he knew back up was on the way but he left us alone. Liz died in my arms, a bullet wound to her heart." She lifted her face and met his gaze. "I know how he wants you to kill me, Jack, because I saw him use the same method on her."

He swallowed once, then nodded and put his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching for her. Although he wanted to be the one to offer comfort he couldn't. Not now. Not with so many thoughts running riot in his head.

Sam sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes. Her shoulders slumped, her energy drained. "Why don't you go and think about it. I'll need to know by tomorrow lunchtime if you're going to help out."

Jack nodded again although he knew she wasn't looking at him and silently let himself out, slipping into the corridor after instinctively checking both ways to make sure there was no one around. Sinking down into her bed, her head resting on her hands, Sam tried to control her breathing, inhaling slowly and deeply, telling herself it would all work out.

And if it didn't.. Well.

She'd probably be dead.

A small part of her hoped he'd come back. That they'd talk more about it and he'd come to terms with what she'd told him.

He didn't.

She spent the afternoon sitting in her lab staring motionlessly at the bits and pieces on the worktop, wanting to do something but not knowing what. She could've got on with her work – there was certainly plenty of it to do – but she just didn't feel motivated.

She didn't feel much of anything.

It felt as though she was in a cloud, drifting through time and space without really being aware of what was going on. She only left her lab for her quarters when a technician on the graveyard shift gently reminded her General Hammond had requested her presence the following morning at 0800.

Just over seven hours away.

With heavy feet that seemed to drag and meant she had to put more effort than usual into walking, Sam slowly made her way to her quarters. She glanced up and down the corridor before slipping inside, half hoping him to be there.

Half expecting Daniel or Teal'c to show up and ask what was wrong.

But Daniel and Teal'c didn't come. They could hardly drop by for a midnight chat when they were light years away with SG-7.

And he didn't come. He was nowhere in sight.

With a tired sigh, she shut the door behind her and stumbled over to her bed. She felt exhausted, almost like she'd run a marathon or had to withstand an attack from a fleet of Anubis' soldiers. Not at all like she'd had her first serious argument with her partner.

It wasn't as if they hadn't argued and fought and disagreed before. That was what she told herself as she crawled under the thin comforter after kicking off her boots. She couldn't work up the energy to do much else.

She'd disagreed with him before but it had been different. They'd been colleagues, friends. Nothing more, nothing less. He'd been her commanding officer and she'd had to go along with what he said.

She didn't now.

Her past with the MIU ensured that they were on equal footing – or that she was one step ahead of him and that made her feel uncomfortable.

Who knew what Jack was feeling?

With a tired groan, Sam buried her face in the faintly scratchy material of the pillow and squeezed her eyes shut firmly.

She'd lied to him by not telling him. Betrayed him by holding onto her secret even after they'd evolved from colleagues to friends. Even after they'd evolved from friends to lovers. He wouldn't get over that easily. Not if he was the man she thought he was.


.. It wasn't like she was the only one with secrets. Fair enough, she knew some of his – she'd found out quite a lot about him when she'd had to run a background check to clear his name from being linked with the NID – but he still had some she didn't know about.

Some she wasn't sure she wanted to know about.

And she had secrets. So what?

Was it different because she was the woman? Because she was supposed to be the less experienced officer, the one with a little more innocence than he had?

Well tough.

She wasn't the person he thought she was and if he couldn't accept the real her then.. then..

A growl burst fourth from her throat and the top pillow was forced to withstand the brunt of a mildly violent attack.

It landed on the other side of the room but Sam couldn't drag herself out of bed in order to fetch it.

Rolling over with a sigh, she lay on her back and stared unseeingly up at the ceiling. She didn't see the different shades of grey that decorated the plaster; she didn't see the slightly faded areas or the patches that had been recently repainted by maintenance in an attempt to refresh the décor.

Two hours later she fell into a restless sleep, her fears at the forefront of her mind, playing havoc with her unconsciousness.

At 0600 hours she woke up feeling as though she'd had no rest at all but grudgingly accepting that if the worst did happen, it would be her own doing.

Her own fault.

Jack might never be able to look her in the eyes again, their relationship might be over before it'd really had a chance to begin but that didn't matter.

Not really.

What mattered was getting justice for Liz.

What mattered was keeping Jack alive.

What mattered was ridding the world of the NID, no matter what the personal cost.

General Hammond looked as though he'd had a marginally better night than she had but not by much. Sam stood at attention in front of his desk, every muscle in her body tensed and on alert.

"At ease, Major," he said eventually, motioning to one of the two chairs she was standing beside. "Take a seat. I'm sure Colonel O'Neill will be here momentarily."

She did as he said – always following orders – and sat, letting her hands rest in her lap. "I wish I could be as confident, Sir. Colonel O'Neill wasn't exactly pleased when I spoke to him yesterday and I don't think he'll be feeling inclined to help out. With your permission I'd like to leave early so I can arrange something with the other members of my team."

"We'll see if Colonel O'Neill shows up," General Hammond stated decisively, giving her a look that told her he had more faith in the absentee than he did in her. "I assume you told him everything?"

"I probably told him more than I should have done," Sam responded tightly, her fingers curling into her palms. "General, there is something you need to be aware of. Something that will explain why Colonel O'Neill isn't going to turn up for this meeting and why I won't be staying with the SGC once this is over."

General Hammond looked up from the files he had been perusing, an eyebrow raised. "I don't think that will be necessary, Major. It may take Colonel O'Neill some time to get used to the idea but I'm sure it won't come to your leaving the programme.."

"It's more than that, Sir." Her fingernails bit into her palm. "Colonel O'Neill may be able to accept what I've done, what I am, on a professional level but not on a personal one. It's because of that that we won't be able to work together after this is over. He won't trust me anymore and eventually the team will begin to suffer because of it."

"Major Carter.. Are you implying that there is something between Colonel O'Neill and yourself on a personal level?" General Hammond leaned forward slightly, his brow furrowed. "Something that would cause me a great deal of trouble if I were to officially become aware of it?"

"Yes, Sir." She kept her head held up, fighting the instinct to lower her gaze and stare at her hands. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

General Hammond sighed and sat back in his chair, staring at her with cool, assessing eyes. "Would I be right in assuming this has been going on for a while? Without any detrimental effect to SG-1 or its other members?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Would I also be right in assuming that had this situation not occurred you wouldn't be sitting there telling me this?"

"Yes Sir?"

"And would it be fair to say that you and Colonel O'Neill thought very long and very hard before entering into this relationship? That you agreed to separate your working relationship and your personal relationship beforehand to prevent it from interfering with matters pertaining to this base?"

Sam nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. "Again, yes Sir. It wasn't something we entered into without discussing all of the possible outcomes. We were both aware of the risks but thought they were acceptable. We agreed that should the relationship come to a natural end we wouldn't let it interfere with our working relationship since that came first."

"Then I see no point in continuing this conversation any further," General Hammond decided, looking down at the open file on his desk momentarily before glancing up to look at her. "This situation may be the demise your personal relationship, Major, and I assure you I don't wish to know either way, but it will not be the demise of your professional one. SG-1 is the flagship team of the SGC. Yourself and Colonel O'Neill are valuable assets to this programme and I'd like to believe you're both mature, capable adults who will not let this matter become an issue professionally. End of discussion."

She didn't think it was but chose to stay silent for now. Hopefully there would be time later to argue with General Hammond over her future at the SGC. If she had a future at all. She would love to stay there, love to continue working – finally – on a project she chose than on one she was assigned to and although she was confident they could pretend there was nothing wrong between them – they'd had a lot of practise in pretending over the years – she wasn't sure she wanted to.

It would be hard working with him and trying not to remember the times they'd shared. It would be harder still to work at the SGC but not be a part of SG-1, to have to sit back and watch her teammates leave without her.

If they couldn't put it behind them then she'd have to leave. The MIU would have an opening for her for sure, although she suspected she'd still retire and go wherever the Air Force wanted to send her.

"Now," General Hammond's voice brought her back to the present and she looked up to find him staring at her. "In the event that Colonel O'Neill doesn't show up and refuses to go along with whatever plan you've concocted, what are you going to do about the NID's plan to assassinate you?"

Pleased the conversation was back on vaguely more comfortable ground, Sam sat up a little straighter in her chair and tried to relax her tense fingers. "Originally we'd planned for Colonel O'Neill to be the shooter as per the instructions of the NID. The plan was going to be that I'd be the first to leave the venue tonight, wearing a bullet proof vest, and that he would aim for my heart as stated in the details Locksley left with him. It would've been best to have Colonel O'Neill be there in person because I know Locksley will either be watching personally or he'll send someone there. As the Colonel is evidently not going to take part in the set-up, I'll need to arrange for someone else to take his place. Preferably someone of a similar height and build so the NID won't know it isn't him."

"If they realise Colonel O'Neill isn't the shooter, what will they do?"

Sam sighed and let one shoulder rise and fall in a reluctant shrug. "If they find out he isn't following orders, they'll probably send someone to dispose of him. Then they'll try to prepare for the MIU and be ready to take me out as soon as I officially return from the dead. That's why I need to meet my team as soon as possible, General. If Colonel O'Neill isn't going to cooperate I need to put certain measures in place to protect both him and myself from the NID."

The door opened and Sam turned slightly in her chair to follow the General's gaze. She knew who it was even before she looked but couldn't quite believe he was there. "Maybe that won't be necessary," General Hammond murmured to her, even as he motioned to the other seat. "Please, take a seat, Colonel."

"Sorry I'm late, Sir." He didn't look very apologetic. In fact he didn't look at Sam at all. "So, what'd I miss?"

"Major Carter and I were discussing the plan of action for tonight." General Hammond gave her a pointed look, telling her to stay quiet. "Have you any thoughts to put forward on the matter?"

Jack shrugged but still wouldn't look at her. "I'll do what I have to do, just fill me in on the rest of the plan and I'll be there to help pull it off."

"You don't have any questions or queries?" General Hammond raised an eyebrow and stared at him hard. When the Colonel only shrugged again, he started to speak again. "Very well. I assume whatever questions you have can't be asked in my presence. Major Carter, will you please run through the planned events for tonight and then you can go and do what you need to."

"Thank you, Sir." Sam nodded in acknowledgment and took a deep, calming breath before continuing. "At 1900 hours my team will arrive at the agreed venue on West Colorado Avenue. We'll go in and debrief, ending the meeting at 2100 hours. At 2200 hours we will start to leave. I'll be first out after saying our goodbyes inside. I'll start towards my car on the far side of the parking lot. Colonel O'Neill will be stationed several metres from my vehicle concealed by a white van you'll find is there before you are, Sir. I'll start to get into my car but pause, as though I've heard something, at which point I'll turn towards you and that's when you fire. The bullet will be stopped by the vest I'll be wearing but will pierce the external lining. Inside that lining will be animal blood, which will lend to the authenticity of the scene. My teammates will come over while you take your leave. I've told them to allow you a five-minute start before looking for you. It's all they can afford without alerting Locksley or anyone else from the NID to the fact we're prepared for the attempt on my life."

"Sounds like you've thought it through though I don't know why that surprises me." Jack turned his head then, looking at her. His eyes were guarded, showing nothing of what he felt. Giving her no hope. "What'll happen to you after I'm gone?"

"It's all taken care of, Colonel, you don't need to bother yourself with the details." She sat a little straighter in her chair under his scrutiny, her back stiffening.

"I might not need to know but I want to. It involves me as much as it does you." For a moment she allowed herself to believe it was because he cared. A moment was all she got as he continued speaking. "My life's on the line if you guys screw it up and the NID realises it's a scam."

Her eyes stared straight ahead, focusing on a point on the wall just to the side of General Hammond's curious expression. "It'll look like an ambulance has been called when in fact it'll be an MIU team waiting a few blocks away. All radio contact with the ambulance will be done on open lines so the NID are under the impression it is a genuine call to 911. It'll be announced over the radio that I died on the way to the hospital. A dummy will be removed from the ambulance in place of my body in case we're followed and we'll wait in the ambulance in the parking lot under the hospital until we get the all clear signal before heading to a temporary MIU base established for the purpose of this operation. I'll work there with the other members of my team over the course of the next week or so gathering all the data we can on the NID that will be delivered to the President, the Joint Chiefs and selected members of the press to ensure that they can't get away with it this time. Then I'll become officially undead in time for the arrests and questioning of various NID operatives, getting as much information as we can from them in order to take out everyone else involved."

"Very thorough," General Hammond commented, his tone on the verge of being complimentary. "I don't suppose there's anything more to discuss so good luck, Major, and I look forward to your briefing once this is all over."

"Thank you, Sir." Sensing that a truce of some sorts had been struck, Sam allowed herself to match the warm look in his eyes with a small smile and stood when he did.

"If you'll excuse me, I have a briefing with SG-9 I need to prepare for." General Hammond ushered them towards the door, silently noting the tension between them. "You're both on downtime for the remainder of the day. I suggest you use the time wisely to resolve any outstanding issues before this evening."

He closed the door behind them before either had a chance to comment. Sam sighed softly and started down the corridor towards the elevators, barely realising Jack was following her until he stepped in and pressed the button for level 25 first and stood in the way of her pressing any of the other buttons.

"You told Hammond about us." It was more of a statement than a question but Sam couldn't hold her tongue and stop herself from responding.

"He doesn't know anything officially," she said stiffly, standing with her back ramrod straight as she waited for the elevator to reach the right level. "I thought he had a right to know why SG-1 probably won't be working together after this is over."

"Shouldn't we have discussed that first?" The elevator stopped and the door opened. He stood over the threshold, waiting for her get out. Giving her no chance to go to level 11 so she could ride to the surface. "We have things to talk about, Carter. Like the General said, we need to resolve whatever issues we have before it happens."

"Fine. Whatever." She stalked passed him and started down the corridor. "Make it quick."

She slowed down as they approached her quarters and opened the door, slipping inside without checking to see if there was anyone watching – and without waiting to see if he was following her in.

The sound of the door shutting behind her told her he was.

"You told Hammond we were sleeping together," was the first thing that left his mouth. He didn't sound angry but he didn't sound happy either.

Sam shrugged and sat down on her bed, letting her head fall forward to rest in her hands. "He didn't want to know the details if that's what you're worried about. He didn't really seem to care. He just wants us to resolve whatever issues we have so SG-1 can get back to work as normal when this is all over."

"Is that even possible?" The bed dipped as he sat down beside her, jostling her so their shoulders brushed for one brief moment but she didn't react in the way he'd hoped. She didn't look at him. "Can things go back to the way they were?"

"You tell me." Her voice was muffled, her eyes tightly closed. "Decide whether you want them to go back to the way they were before you found out about the MIU or decide whether you want them to go back to the way it was before we happened. Then let me know when I get back. You'll have a week, maybe longer. That should be enough time for you to think it through."

Jack clasped his hands and stared down at them. "It isn't just my decision, Carter. You'll have to do some thinking, too."

"Not as much," she admitted wearily. "I entered into this relationship knowing everything you do now. Nothing's changed for me. Well, not a lot anyway."

There was nothing he could say to that, knowing she was telling the truth. He let silence fall over them, trying to get his thoughts into some sort of order all the while knowing she was trying to do the same.

Eventually, sitting and doing nothing got to him. He got to his feet and paced the small space of the room, mimicking her actions from the day before. "Everything's planned and taken care of, right? You've checked the vest and it hasn't been tampered with?"

"I trust the members of my team not to supply me with a dud if that's what you're asking." Sam looked up, leaning back and watching him complete his journey across the room then stop, turn, and walk back. "I'll be checking everything out this afternoon to make sure it's all working. The van that'll be your cover should be arriving at its location in an hour's time and everything else will be taken care of tonight. It'll work out. As far as the NID are aware I will die tonight on my way to the hospital after taking a bullet to the chest."

"And I'll be named as your killer." He stopped pacing, the colour in his face fading.

"Actually an unidentified gun man will be named as my killer," she corrected him with a ghost of a smile. "The NID aren't in the habit of naming their assassins, even if they don't care much for them. They're not trying to set you up, Jack, not this time. Naming you will only link them to me and that'll serve no purpose. In fact that would help my investigation and they're not about to do that."

"I'll still be firing the gun." His expression was distant, his eyes haunted. Sam knew what he was thinking and stood, hesitantly covering the distance between them.


He was thinking of his son.

"I won't be hurt, Jack, I promise." She tentatively reached a hand to him, touching his arm. "You're not really going to be shooting me, it's just an act. When you're standing there tonight don't think about it as being real. Keep reminding yourself why we're doing this. Think about how good it's going to feel when the NID are taken out of the picture for good. Don't think about anything else. Anything."

Their eyes met for the first time that day and a dozen messages were passed between them. There was forgiveness, there was concern, there was love and there was hope. There was guilt, there was pain, there was doubt and there was fear.

"Don't think of Charlie, don't think of me. Don't think of us and don't feel guilty. It's what you have to do. What they're making you do. If you want to get angry with anyone, get angry with them. Do it because of how it's going to affect them in the long run."

His arms went around her in a loose embrace and she went to him willingly, allowing herself the luxury of forgetting the distance between them.

Nothing else was said. Five minutes later Jack let her go and left the room. Sam gathered her belongings together, casting one last glance around the quarters that had become her second home over the years and closed the door behind her, wondering if she'd ever be back.

She left the SGC with a sense of sadness, a sense of foreboding hanging over her like a heavy rain cloud just waiting to burst.

It was still there as the hours rolled by. Sam sat at the table in the corner of the dimly lit bar, watching the minutes tick passed. She could sense the apprehension radiating off her companions but was in no position to reassure them the plan would work.

She wasn't convinced herself.

She adjusted the vest she wore under her clothes as discreetly as she could and stood up silently when the clock on the wall told her it was time to go. Her companions stood up and she glanced around at the faces of her teammates, her friends.

Caitlin Adams, a former Commander in the US Navy. Forced to take early retirement due to a back injury but kept on by the MIU due to her computer skills and above average intelligence. They'd known each other for ten years.

Andrew Mason, a Colonel in the Marines. Despite the friendly rivalry between the Air Force and Marines and the difference in their ranks, he was one of her most trusted team members. He'd been her surrogate brother for almost fifteen years, had been inducted to the MIU at the same time as her and Liz. He'd taken Liz's murder personally and always vowed they'd get revenge.

David Riley, an Air Force Captain and the newest member of her team. She'd helped train him, helped him make the decision to stay with the MIU by encouraging him. By instilling a sense of morality into him. He was like a younger brother but his lack of experience made him no less vital. It was his enthusiasm, his passion for getting justice that had breathed new life into their investigation seven years ago.

Annie Bartley, the final member of the group. She was the eldest, the one with the most experience. She was a former Colonel with the Air Force, had been given the opportunity to be General but had declined the promotion knowing it would limit her time with the MIU. She had no problem being led by Sam although at first she'd protested at such an important investigation being given to someone younger than herself. She'd changed her mind after their initial meeting, after seeing Sam's passion and determination to get the NID. Annie had understood it, shared it. She was personally involved, too. She was the one who'd brought Locksley into the MIU although she didn't know Sam knew that.

"It was great seeing you guys again," Sam started, keeping up the pretence of their meeting just in case the bar had ears as well as eyes. "I'm sorry I can't be more actively involved but keep me updated. If anything new comes up, you know where to find me."

"Yeah, you'll be buried in the mountain doing God-knows-what." Mason winked and grinned but to those who knew him it was obviously forced. He embraced her warmly, lingering for just a second longer than normal. "Take care of yourself, Major."

"Likewise, Colonel." Almost as soon as she stepped away she was engulfed by another set of arms. Annie. Smiling into the older woman's shoulder, Sam allowed herself a moment to relax. It was amazing how Anne could do that, how calming the older woman could be even in the tensest of circumstances. "Annie, always good to see you."

"Hmm." Annie pulled back and stared at her critically – as she always did when it came to saying goodbye at the end of a briefing. "I'd be happier if next time I saw you the suitcases under your eyes are reduced to hand baggage."

"I'll take it under advisement," Sam smiled and moved onto Caitlin, giving the other woman a brief hug. She didn't trust herself to speak to Caitlin, not because she was afraid she'd get emotional but because she could feel the other woman trembling as they hugged.

She wasn't surprised. Caitlin had been one of Liz's friends, too, and it wasn't easy for them not to think of her death when the night was going to end seemingly with Sam following in her footsteps.

David was unusually subdued – but no less enthusiastic when he took his turn in saying goodbye. He didn't speak either but squeezed her a little tighter than necessary, biting his lip when she stepped back.

Taking a deep breath, Sam picked up her purse and squared her shoulders. Without giving them another glance, she weaved her way through the stools and tables and approached the exit. She paused when she reached the door, took a deep breath and pushed it open.

Then she stepped alone into the night, prepared to look death in the eye.

It was cold, it was damp but the shiver that worked its way down his spine had nothing to do with the weather.

He could feel them out there, concealed by shadows, watching him.


He'd gotten there early, wanting to find his place and needing to prepare himself. When his watch had told him it was 2200 hours, his heart had skipped a beat and he'd moved into position behind the van.

From his vantage point, he could see both her car and the exit to the bar.

Every time the door opened his heart skipped a beat and his breath caught in his throat. Every time he realised it wasn't her and started to relax the door would open again and someone else would make an exit.

The seconds ticked by.

1, 2, 3, 4.

The door opened.

Even though the light was dim he knew instantly it was her. He would recognise her anywhere, knew her form even from a distance.

She walked across the parking lot, his heart beating in time with her steps.

The sickening sensation in his stomach increased ten-fold as she approached, the nausea bubbling away inside.

He watched her unlock the car door and steadied his gun. Saw her turn slightly through the viewfinder.

For a split second she looked right at him.

Then he fired.

And watched her fall.

His mind replayed the moment at least once every two minutes.

The shock on her face, the way she'd fallen.

The way she'd landed and stayed still.

He hadn't been able to see much more but his imagination filled in the gaps, supplied him with all of the gruesome details his heart desired.

There would have been a lot of blood, he decided, spilling out from her chest onto the pavement beneath her. A river almost, oozing from the cooling body spreading onto the concrete. He'd watched her friends approach, saw them kneel in it.

But it was too late.

They couldn't help her.

His orders had been followed and Sam Carter was dead.

He sat in his darkened office, the expression on his face one of peace. One of triumph.

Finally she was dead and he had his revenge.

Locksley propped his feet up on the desk and closed his eyes, picturing it again.

It had been so perfect, better than he'd imagined. Better than he'd planned. The anguish on his former colleagues faces, the fear in their voices as they'd tried to save her. The anger that had spread through them when their searches for the gunman had turned up nothing.

Jack O'Neill was good, Locksley decided. Very good. If only the man wasn't so inclined to hate the organisation he worked for.. O'Neill would make a good addition to the NID, even more so because of his ties to the SGC.

Even more so because he'd gunned down a friend and colleague in cold blood.

Sure, he hadn't known who his intended hit was – at least Locksley didn't think so. From the reports he'd received he had been as surprised as the others at the SGC to find Major Carter had been murdered on her way home from a night out with old friends. In fact, Colonel O'Neill was said to be so distraught that the base commander had confined him to the SGC.

Shame, really. Locksley had reported that he would've made a fine addition to the NID and his superiors had agreed. So much so that they'd decided to approach him in a few weeks time, after the initial grief had passed and the anger was in full force. They wouldn't tell him they'd been responsible for giving him the orders to kill her, they'd tell him there had been a terrible mistake. They'd offer him the chance to join them, to avenge her.

And if he did..

Well. There was no reason he'd ever have to know that they had known all along who they'd ordered him to murder. There was no reason why he'd have to be told that the people he'd be assigned to kill were her trusted colleagues and friends.

Locksley laughed, a happy, triumphant sound that bounced off the walls and filled his ears. It had been so perfect.

So right.

Oh to have caught it on film.. That would be the only way to make it better. Being able to watch it physically instead of being forced to imagine it..

That would've been the only thing that could improve his mood further.

Two days.

Two whole days.

He'd hoped the memory would fade in time but it didn't. It only got stronger. It invaded his dreams every time he tried to sleep and forced him to give up on the notion of getting a good night's rest.

At least until she was back.

Jack had done a lot of thinking over the course of forty-eight hours and he'd decided that Sam's revelation wasn't a good enough reason to end their relationship. It wasn't a good enough reason to give up, not after everything they'd been through to get to where they were.

Sure, she had secrets. So did he. Did it really matter her past was as colourful as his? As many different shades of grey?

No. Not really. It didn't change how he felt about her.

It didn't stop him from wanting her beside him.

He leaned back in his chair, his feet propped up on the desk, his yoyo in hand. It would be easier to handle the waiting if Teal'c and Daniel were there. At least he'd have someone to talk to, someone to bug until she was back and it was over.

Not that General Hammond hadn't offered him the chance to talk. He'd done that yesterday, taken him aside after finding him beating the crap out of the punching bag in the gym. Unsurprisingly, Jack had declined the offer. It wasn't that he didn't trust the General, or think of him as a friend, it was that there were some things a man didn't want to be saying to his commanding officer.

How hard it was to sleep without his second in command at his side being one of them.

How shooting her had dredged up unwanted memories of his son for another.

The yoyo fell and climbed back up the string in a smooth, undisturbed motion. He didn't even have to think about what he was doing anymore having had so much practise.

Having done so much waiting.

He looked at the phone on his desk, half expecting it to ring just to scare the crap out of him and make him look like an idiot if anyone passing noticed him fall out of his chair.

It didn't.

And the unease he felt rose another notch.

She'd said she'd keep in touch. She'd said it would take a week at most, maybe a little less. But she should've been in touch, just to keep them updated, to let them know how she'd progressed.

Damn it.

An email would do! Just something to let him know she was okay.

Something to let him know the NID hadn't figured it out and she wasn't lying dead in a ditch somewhere.

A shudder worked its way down his back. He didn't know why.

With a sigh, he let his legs drop to the floor, catching the yoyo when it climbed up its string again. He put it on the desk beside him, let his elbow rest on the desk and let his chin rest heavily in his palm. With his other hand he reached for the mouse, double clicking on his email program and waiting.


Impatiently, he moved the mouse to the 'send and receive' button and double clicked it.

And again.

'Connecting.. Authorising.. Checking.. No new email.'

And again.

After the fourth or fifth time he decided to give up and leaned back, swinging his feet back onto the desk. He crossed his arms over his chest, tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

Willing his mind to stay away from the darker areas.

Hoping for a few minutes peace.

He didn't get what he wanted.

Half a minute later, the scene replayed itself over and over in his mind. Sam leaving the bar, Sam walking towards him.

The way she'd paused after opening the door, looking every bit as though she'd heard or sensed something was wrong.

She was a very good actress, very good.

He remembered it as though it had happened just a few minutes ago. The way she'd turned towards him, her gaze shifting through the darkness.

Eyes locking on his.

Then he'd fired.

A split second his finger had moved on the trigger the noise of the gun going off penetrated his thoughts. He watched her fall, the shocked expression on her face adding to the authenticity of the moment.

If he didn't know better he'd have said she'd really been shot.

He hadn't been able to stick around and watch – and for that he was grateful. He left without a backwards glance, wishing he could to go her but instead having to make a swift exit before any of her colleagues came looking for him.

It wouldn't look good if he allowed himself to be caught even after they'd given him a head start.

It wouldn't look convincing and he wouldn't do that to Sam. Couldn't risk it.

So he'd made his way around the building as stealthily as he could, slipped into his car and drove off into the night.

He hadn't slept.

He'd been awake the following morning when the note had been slipped under his door.


One word. He'd crumpled it with one hand, shattered the glass of water he held with the other.

He remembered driving to the SGC, remembered the pity in the eyes of the people he'd passed. He wasn't sure if was supposed to know at that stage she was supposedly dead so he'd greeted them with what he hoped was a puzzled expression and gone to Hammond's office when he was summoned.

Then the act had really begun.

He let his mood swing in various directions, sometimes displayed irrational anger, sometimes locked himself in his office with the light off..

He was just playing a part. It wasn't real. None of it was real.

He just had to keep reminding himself.

Sometimes he forgot. When he tried to sleep, when he remembered in his dreams. It took him five, sometimes ten minutes after waking up to realise it wasn't just a dream but at the same time it wasn't as bad as it seemed.

He stretched his arms over his head and sat upright when the images refused to back away. What was the point in sleeping if he was only going to dream? He wouldn't get any benefit from it.

He checked his email again and growled low in his throat when again there was nothing.

What was she playing at? Didn't she know he'd be worried about her?

Damn it.

So what if they'd had an argument before she'd left? They'd made up – sort of – and even if they hadn't he'd still want to know how she was!

He wanted to know how she was doing, how much progress her team had made. He wanted to know how much closer they were to seeing the smug grin leave Kinsey's face once and for all.

He wanted to be there when it did.

Leaning over his desk, he picked up a pen in one hand and a handful of folders in another.

Reports. From Daniel, Teal'c and, of course, Carter.

Sighing, he opened the first one, rubbing his forehead at the sight of page upon page of neatly typed small text.

Might as well do something.

They'd taken it in turns to sit with her until Doctor Stewart had forcefully shown them the door. They had work to do, he said. Work she would want them to focus on and get done so she'd have less to do when she woke up.

When she woke up.

It wasn't an option, she had no choice.

It would all go to hell if she didn't.

Annie and Andrew tried to follow the good doctor's advice. They sat at their desks in the makeshift base, collating the information they had and scouring various sources for more. The file they were putting together on the NID was pretty convincing, even without Sam's input, and they wanted to get as much of it done as possible so they could give it to her when she was ready for it.

Caitlin was trying to concentrate on hacking into Sam's computer with little success. It wasn't easy trying to break through the defences built up by one of her own – especially not someone who was as good if not better at making them as she was herself. After trying for the eight consecutive hours, she slammed her hand down on the desk and pushed her chair back.

"I can't do this," she declared when the others glanced in her direction. "I can't get into it, it's too heavily protected."

"What else would you expect from Sam?" David tried to grin but even he was beginning to show signs of strain. He glanced towards the door separating them from Sam's quarters and chewed his bottom lip. "Do you think we should.. I mean.."

"There's nothing we can do," Annie cut him off sternly, her voice sharp as her gaze pierced him. "Concentrate on your work, David. Put together every single bit of evidence you've gathered on the NID together in one report, list the possible weak links you think might break easier than the others. Do your job. It's what she'd want."

David shrugged and lowered his gaze. He might have been part of the team for a while but he still felt like the new guy and he'd be damned if Annie didn't intimidate him as much now as she had done at the beginning.

"He's only showing his concern," Caitlin chided the elder woman on his behalf, giving him a sympathetic smile when his gaze flickered briefly to her. "And he's got a point. Sam talked highly about Colonel O'Neill and the people she works with at the SGC. Maybe we should let them know."

"Let them know what?" Andrew argued, instantly siding with Annie. It was an old routine – the more experienced members of the team against the newer members, leaving Sam in the middle to make peace and reach a compromise. "That we're all screwed unless we get this finished? That this whole thing will have been for nothing if you two don't stop mopping around and do your damn jobs?"

Only Sam wasn't there.

"They'll be waiting for her to get in touch." David kept his voice low, his eyes focused on the computer screen in front of him rather than anyone else in the room. "We don't know what arrangements she made so we don't know when they started expecting her to call or email."

"It's irrelevant," Annie said with a sigh, shaking her head impatiently. "We can't waste time thinking about them. We've got one chance here, people, and we don't want to blow it."

"What if they blow it for us?" Caitlin countered. She held her chin high and refused to look away when both Annie and Andrew glared. "Think about it. What if they start worrying and make some enquiries of their own? What if it alerts someone in the NID and we don't get the chance to make our move?"

It was a valid point. A very valid point.

Andrew shrugged under Annie's gaze, command of the team having fallen to the Air Force officer since she was the most experienced of the group.

"Fine." Annie sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'll make the call."

Caitlin and David said nothing, turning their attention back to their work and hoping their monitors could hide their expressions. Andrew gave Annie a helpless look and also returned his attention to the matter at hand, leaving the former Colonel with the unenviable job of reaching for the phone.

He took his time walking from his office to the elevators, lingered for as long as he could making small talk with the officers he passed before eventually completing the journey and ending up at the Colonel's door.

Taking a deep breath, General Hammond clenched one hand into a fist at his side and lifted the other to rap gently.

He half hoped there'd be no answer, that the moment could be delayed for a little bit longer.

Luck wasn't on his side.

"Come in," came the none-too-enthusiastic response.

Stealing himself, General Hammond opened the door and stepped over the threshold, watching as Jack's eyes widened and the colonel jumped to his feet on seeing him. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Hammond took his time in closing the door behind him.

"Have you heard something?" was the first thing Jack asked. "Has Carter been in touch?"

"I think you should sit down, Jack." General Hammond walked slowly across the room, a hand on Jack's shoulder gently ushering him back down into the chair he'd so recently vacated. He saw the colour drain from the younger man's face and saw no reason in drawing the moment out. "I had a phone call from a Colonel Bartley, she's a member of Major Carter's team."

"It's not good, is it? Do the NID know it was a set up?"

"No, Son." 'I wish it were that simple.' General Hammond sat down in the other chair, slightly concerned his legs would fail him if he tried to stand. "It wasn't as good a set-up as we thought. The vest Major Carter was wearing only managed to deflect the bullet, not stop it. She was really shot, Jack. That's why we haven't heard from her."

'Really shot.'

'I shot her,' Jack thought numbly, no longer seeing the General sitting opposite him. 'I shot Carter.'

Three words that turned his world upside down and extinguished the light from his eyes as easily as breath to a flame.

General Hammond had wanted him to stay at the SGC but for once he felt claustrophobic working inside the mountain. It was like the walls were closing in on him, the corridors getting narrower but at the same time longer with no end or turn in sight.

He had to get out. He couldn't breathe.

Reaching the surface made no difference. The feeling followed him no matter where he was. No matter how much space he surrounded himself with there was just never enough.

He hadn't been able to ask how it had happened or what her condition was. Even if he had he doubted General Hammond would've been able to answer. If the MIU were anything like he thought they were they wouldn't have told him much.

For what felt like hours, he drove around and around in big circles. He couldn't seem to settle on one particular thought, couldn't get the image of her falling out of his head.

Couldn't stop her face from morphing into Charlie's.

Couldn't stop seeing the blood.

The shock.

He'd killed them. He'd killed them both.

It was only when he was circling back towards her house that he realised he wouldn't be able to rest without knowing what was going on. And it was then he decided to do something.

She hadn't told him much about where she'd be; just that it would be a temporary MIU base that suggested it was somewhere that was otherwise abandoned. Somewhere the NID wouldn't think to look for them.

He'd be willing to bet it wasn't somewhere too far away. That it was close to her house, close to the mountain. Close to the bar her team had their meeting in and not too far away from the hospital – just far enough to give them the chance to shake off anyone who might be following them.

He parked his truck haphazardly on the curb outside of her house, fished the key to the front door out of his pocket and jogged up the path. He glanced around before deciding he didn't care if anyone was watching him and unlocked the door, letting himself in.

He knew exactly where he was going, exactly what he wanted. Jack moved through her house, as familiar with it as he was his own, and went straight for the study, pulling out the map of Colorado he'd seen her staring at more than once before she'd hurriedly stored it away in the top drawer of her desk.

The drawer she kept locked whenever she wasn't at home.

He was relieved to find the drawer in question was still intact meaning that the NID hadn't been there.

Meaning they believed her to be dead.

He rummaged around on her desk, lifting up paperweights, looking under coasters and studying photographs until he finally found what he was looking for on the inside of a photograph frame.

The key.

Jack sat down at her desk, unlocked the drawer and pulled the map out, spreading it across the wooden surface regardless of what it knocked over.

Studying it, he could see tiny red dots in certain places. There was one at the SGC, one at her house. The hospital was marked on there with a thin line going from it to the bar. Or from the bar to the hospital. He stared at it intently, trying to find another line from the hospital but failing to do so.

There was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

He wracked his brain, trying to remember what little she'd said about the MIU base.

'We'll wait in the ambulance in the parking lot under the hospital until we get the all clear signal before heading to a temporary MIU base established for the purpose of this operation.'

'Heading to.'

Not 'driving to.'

Jack rolled up the map and shut the drawer. His jaw was set in a grim line, his shoulders squared. He strode out of her house, a man with a mission.

Determined to find her.

Determined to make it right.

It was a hunch, and an hour later he wasn't sure it was right.

He'd parked his truck a ten-minute walk away from the hospital, just in case he was being followed, and had walked the rest of the way, taking various false turns and doubling back on himself in places.

Finally, he reached the parking lot.

The white van from the bar was parked there, next to an ambulance.

There was no one else there. He weaved through the parked ambulances and cars, located two entrances to the hospital and decided there was nothing else he could do but wait and watch and see if anything jumped out at him as being suspicious.

Another hour passed and he was just about to leave and head back to his truck when a movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

A man had appeared apparently out of nowhere – and not only did he look familiar but he was heading Jack's way.

"Colonel O'Neill." The stranger greeted him with a curt nod, his gaze wary as he looked around. "You don't give up."

"You were at the bar," Jack responded, his eyes narrowing as the pieces slid into place. "One of Carter's friends."

"Colonel Mason, US Marines," Andrew confirmed. "Annie sent me to get you. Said you'd give us away if we let you hover for too long." With his piece said, he turned on his heel and started back the way he'd come, leaving Jack with no choice but to follow him.

They reached one of the entrances to the hospital but instead of opening the door, Andrew turned and led Jack to a darkened corner. Once there, he reached into the darkness and opened another door, one that had been concealed by the shadows.

"Old storage facility," Andrew explained once the door was shut and secured behind them. They faced a long and narrow grey corridor, dimly lit by the occasional bulb. "When the hospital was expanded they built their storage rooms inside the main building so no one comes down here anymore. Most people forgot it exists." He led the way, turning left when they reached a T-junction and opened another door, flooding the corridor with light. "Let me introduce you to everyone, then I think Sam wants to kick your ass for turning up here."

"Is she in a position to be able to do that?" Jack felt something flip over in the pit of his stomach and followed him eagerly, watching as Andrew secured yet another door behind them.

Turning back to the other colonel with a lopsided grin, Andrew motioned Jack ahead of him. "Sam's not in a position to do it herself but there are four of us who'd do it in a heartbeat if she asked."

They walked further into the room and Jack could see what were the beginnings of an elaborate set up. There were five computers, various tables with files and folders covering up most of the available surfaces, an area with monitors of security cameras – one showing the parking lot he'd been in just minutes ago. And sitting in various places in the room were three people he vaguely recognised from that fateful night, two of them smiling politely and a slightly older woman with a scowl on her face.

"You're lucky you weren't followed," the scowling woman spoke up, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked him up and down. "Then again if you're really working for the NID, you wouldn't need to be followed. Have you checked him for any tracking devices?"

"Give the guy a break, Annie, he's not NID. Sam proved that years ago." The second woman in the room stood, crossing over from her chair with her hand held out. "It's nice to meet you, Colonel, we've heard and read so much about you. I'm Caitlin Adams, former Navy. The woman glaring at me is Annie Bartley, Air Force. You've met Andrew and this is Captain David Riley, also Air Force. Sam's with Doctor Stewart, she shouldn't be too long."

"She shouldn't be out of bed," Annie grumbled, still glowering at the newcomer. "She was shot, she needs to recover."

"It's not the Colonel's fault, Annie," Caitlin rolled her eyes at Jack, pleased Annie couldn't see anything but her back. "We shouldn't have let Sam test out the new design on a mission like this." She gave Jack a reassuring smile. "Sam's okay, in case you're wondering. Annie's just very overprotective of us. Her bark's a lot worse than her bite, I promise."

David snorted but said nothing, ducking his head under the heat of Annie's scrutiny when her eyes flickered in his direction.

"Colonel O'Neill." The voice was new, the man it belonged to unfamiliar. Jack looked in the direction it had come from and saw someone else standing beside another door out of the compound. "Major Carter is insisting on seeing you now. She said, and I quote, she wants a damn good explanation for why you risked screwing up her operation."

From behind him Andrew chuckled and in front of him Annie got to her feet, approaching the newcomer swiftly and decisively.

"How is she?" Annie all but demanded, her cool composure wavering slightly under the weight of the concern she felt.

"Lucky," Doctor Stewart replied grimly. "She's lucky the vest deflected the bullet even though it couldn't stop it. One inch to the left and we wouldn't be having this conversation. She wants to work, Ann. You're not going to be able to talk her out of it but I want her to get at least 12 hours rest. No working till all hours. Understood?"

"Understood." Annie nodded in acknowledgment, wrapping her arms around herself. She turned slightly, stared appraisingly at Jack again and then reluctantly moved to the side. "You're a good shot, Colonel O'Neill. I'll say that for you. Doctor, would you mind showing him to Sam's quarters? Then you can go and get some sleep. We'll call you if we need anything."

Doctor Stewart nodded and turned, giving Jack no choice but to follow. Again. He led him out of the main room along a shorter corridor, passed six other doors, three on either side, before eventually stopping at the last door along the corridor. "Don't keep her talking for too long. And she needs to get at least three hours sleep before she's allowed to go and do some work."

"Got it." Jack gave him a brisk nod and knocked on the door before slipping inside. He shut the door behind him and turned to face her. Pausing when he saw her sitting on the bed with an expression on her all-too-pale face that clearly said 'I am not amused.' The relief made his legs weak and he reached out for the single chair at the desk near the door for support. "Carter. You're.. You look like crap."

"Given the circumstances I'd have expected you to go for something a little more complimentary." Her tone was dry, her expression didn't change. Her eyes did, though. They softened slightly, warmed towards him. "It's not your fault, Jack. You did what you were supposed to. The prototype vest let me down but it's not as bad as it could've been."

"I could've killed you." The relief gave way into anger and he took a step closer, his legs feeling a lot sturdier than they had when he'd first entered the room. "You knew I was going to shoot you and you were wearing a prototype vest? Are you stupid?"

Sam smiled wearily, tilting her head to the side as she shrugged, and then wincing when the movement disturbed her injury. "I'm usually the smart one, I know. But it'd been tested already. It was a fluke that it didn't work properly for me." She wanted to stand and walk over to him, to be able to be more imposing but knew the odds were stacked against her. If she tried to stand she'd probably fall over and that wasn't something she wanted to do. "Now that's out of the way would you mind explaining to me why you decided to jeopardise the entire investigation by looking for us? And while you're at it I'd love to know how you knew where to find me."

"The map you keep locked away was a bit of a give away." He took another step closer, his eyes locked on hers. "Did you really expect me to stay away after finding out I'd really shot you?"

"No, but I'd like to know who told you I'd been shot. I certainly didn't." She looked up at him and arched an eyebrow. "I take it someone phoned General Hammond. Did he tell you which member of my traitorous team it was?"

He had done but for the life of him Jack couldn't remember. Instead he shrugged and closed the distance between them until he could sit on the bed beside her. "You shaved a couple of years off my life, Carter. I just want you to realise that."

"I'm sorry." She meant it when she said it. "Obviously this wasn't meant to happen but in a way it's helped us a lot. We've been monitoring the NID and they don't suspect a thing. I guess it was as convincing as it needed to be. We're behind in our plans but we should've caught up in a few days. David's found us a couple of NID Agents he thinks will fold easily under questioning so they're going to be our first targets. Andrew and Annie are going to take care of that the day before I come out in the open. Caitlin has compiled most of my reports and cross-referenced them with Annie's and Andrew's so we've got a good start on gathering evidence to take to the President. Annie's busy sorting through it and deciding with Andrew what's suitable to be leaked to the press, just in case we need a little more back up.."

"That'll help put the pressure on the NID," Jack agreed, reaching out to take her hand when she opened her mouth again. "Stop babbling, Carter. Doc Stewart said I wasn't allowed to let you talk too much and you're not allowed to even think about work for another two hours or so."

"I either talk about work or I yell at you for being here." She threw him a sidelong glance, the corners of her mouth curving upwards. "It's your choice."

"Then I choose option C."

"There wasn't an option C."

Jack grinned what felt like the first grin in days and moved his arm to drape lightly around her lower back. "There is now." Gently, carefully, he shifted them until they were both lying down, Sam on her back and him on his side facing her. "You really do look like crap, Sam, and I haven't had more than an hours sleep in days so.. Why don't we do what the good Doctor says and get some rest? You can yell at me later, I promise."

Yawning, Sam let her eyes slide shut, her hand searching for and finding his. "Okay. But the only reason I'm agreeing is because I'm tired. You're not always going to get the last word you know."

He grinned again, closing his eyes and letting his lips brush her temple. "I'm counting on it," he assured her quietly.

She was alive and he was determined to keep it that way.

The first time she woke up he was still asleep. She let herself watch him for a few minutes, allowing herself to be pleased that he was there before reminding herself she had to get him to leave.

The second time she woke up she found he was looking at her. More specifically, he was lying propped up by an elbow, gazing at the bandage he could see through her shirt. Watching him, Sam reached up slowly and undid the top three buttons of her shirt, giving his eyes better access to the slightly stained gauze.

"You didn't hit my heart," she told him softly. "You didn't kill me. I'm still alive, Jack."

Almost hesitantly, his hand moved to touch her cheek. His finger left a trail along her jaw, down her neck, pausing for a split second before going lower. It stopped short of touching the gauze and his gaze lifted to hers.

The look in his eyes stole her breath away, then his gaze flittered downwards again.

"It's not your fault." She forced the words passed the lump in her throat, reaching her hand up to take his. She moved his hand so it rested over her injury and covered it with her own. "You did what I asked you to do. If it's anyone's fault it's mine."

"I could've killed you." His voice was rough and uneven, his eyes dark with regret. "If the bullet hadn't been deflected I would have killed you."

"But you didn't, it was. You can't live in the past with what could've beens, you'll never move forward if you do that." Sam tightened her grip on his hand, forcing him to look at her. "Don't dwell on it, Jack. We're both alive and we've still got a chance to finish this before Teal'c and Daniel get back." When his expression didn't change, Sam sighed. "Don't make me have to kick your ass. Or waste my team's valuable time getting one of them to do it for me."

His lips quirked ever so slightly but the serious expression didn't fade from his eyes. Sam eased herself up into a sitting position, forcing herself to focus on the professional side of their relationship. "Sam..?"

"You're going to have to go, Jack." She winced a little as she stood but did her best to keep it from him. "The longer you're here the greater the chance of the NID tracking us down and ruining everything. You'll have to go back to the SGC today, act like you haven't seen me.."

"Act like you're dead." He followed her example and stood up, stretching as he looked down at his wrinkled clothes. "Act like I killed you."

"No." Her voice softened slightly but she refused to turn around and face him. She refused to give in and let him stay. "Just stay in the mountain where they can't see you. Join Teal'c and Daniel if you have to but you can't stay here and you can't give them anything that'll make them think we're onto them. I just need a few more days. Give me today to catch up on everything and another two to finish it off. I can do this, Jack, but I need you to help me and the only way you can do that is to leave."

"I'll go," he answered slowly, waiting for her to turn around, disappointed when she didn't. Annoyed when she didn't. "Damn it, Sam, I'm not going to screw up your precious investigation. I'm not some Goddamn amateur you know. I have had some experience in matters like this or do I really have to remind you."

Sam sighed and let her hands drop to her sides from where they'd been fastening a fresh shirt. "You don't need to remind me, I know." She turned to face him, her expression apologetic. "I'm sorry. This.. It means a lot to me that this works. I have to get the NID out of the picture, for the SGC, for us but most importantly for Liz."

"You're making it personal." He opened his arms for her as she approached, holding her gently when she nestled into him.

"It is personal," came the muffled reply. "They're a threat to too many people I care about, both with the SGC and the MIU."

"Just don't let it distract you. Do whatever you have to to make sure you're on even ground with them." It was the only warning he could give her, the only piece of advice she would accept.

He just hoped when he left three hours later that she would remember it. That she wouldn't let her judgement be clouded by emotions, that she wouldn't end up like the woman she was working so hard to avenge.

David looked at Caitlin. Caitlin looked at Andrew. Andrew sighed and glanced at Annie to find the Air Force Colonel already gazing in concern at their leader.

Colonel O'Neill had left the day before and Sam hadn't stopped working for more than five hours since he'd gone. She had sat at her desk, going through their briefly written reports before calling a formal briefing and asking them to verbally confirm what they'd written and expand on it. Then she'd switched their tasks: Caitlin was to go through her notes and David's to see if she could find any other NID agents who could be easily broken down, David was to compile a list of agents outside of the Colorado Springs area to distribute to other MIU operatives. Andrew was researching the NID agents he'd be interviewing with Annie and Annie was in charge of gathering together all of the information they had so it would it on as a few disks as possible.

That left Sam with the job of coordinating their efforts, deciding what should be leaked to the press and passing on anything else she found from hacking into the NID database onto Annie. She also had to update their superiors every twelve hours and was under immense pressure to authorise the next phase of the operation, which was letting the MIU operatives nationwide know they could go and take their assigned NID agents in for questioning.

"Doctor Stewart said you shouldn't work so hard," Annie started mildly, trying to keep her tone strict rather than motherly. She arranged her features into a disapproving expression when Sam glanced up at her. "We have everything under control, Sam, we don't need you watching us to make sure we do our jobs properly."

"I never said you did, and if this is where you usually point out that you and Andrew have more experience than I do I'll give you some friendly advice: don't waste your breath. We're not stopping until this is finished." Sam turned her attention back to her computer screen, resisting the urge to rub her tired eyes. "I'm not letting them get away with it any longer."

"She never said you should," Andrew chimed into the conversation, keeping his voice gentle although the warning note lurking beneath it was unmistakeable. "If we lose our tempers with one another we'll mess up and they'll win. Do you really want that to happen?"

Her head shot up and she fixed him with a heated glare. "You know damn well I don't. I wouldn't be here if I wanted them to win, would I?"

"Then take a break before you're forced to. You're no good to us or to Liz if you work yourself into an early grave." Annie's tone was harsh, her green eyes flashing as Sam turned to look at her. "For God's sake, Sam, you're recovering from a serious injury and you're acting like your Super Woman. You're not perfect, no one is. You can't push yourself through it and hope you're going to be okay when it's over. Start acting like the grown up you are and stop being so selfish!"

"Selfish?" Sam was on her feet in an instant, her vice-like grip on the desk the only thing that kept her from falling back down. "You think I'm being selfish? I'm not the one sitting here watching over everyone picking fault with everything they do. I'm not the one sitting here regretting the fact that I could've made something of myself if I hadn't screwed up twenty-five years ago and brought that bastard into the fold. If you want to blame someone for Liz, for the situation, go and look in the mirror."

"Stop right there." Her voice as cold as ice, Annie also got to her feet. The stress of the situation had got to them all and tempers were rapidly reaching boiling point. "If you're looking to blame someone for Locksley then fine, blame me, but don't blame me for what happened to Liz. You're the one who screwed up there. If you'd followed procedure and reported it she wouldn't be dead. Face it, Sam, you're so determined to do this because you've got a guilty conscience. Because you got your best friend killed and don't know how to deal with it."

The colour drained from her face. The verbal blow was like a physical slap.

"Fuck you and your precious procedures," Sam murmured, her voice low and dangerous. "And you can get the hell out of here, too, because we don't need you. I don't need any of you. I'll do it myself if I have to. I'd probably do a much better job."

She stalked out of the room before Annie could respond, before Caitlin or David could jump in.

Annie slowly lowered herself to her chair, her breathing ragged and uneven. She ran a hand through her greying brown hair and swore under her breath.

"You shouldn't have said that," Caitlin spoke up after a long, pregnant pause. "I know Sam said some hurtful things but you should never have blamed her for Liz's death. You know how long it's taken her to forgive herself. You know what she's been through." Shaking her head, Caitlin stood and stared at Annie's lowered head in mild disgust. "Congratulations, Annie, you've probably just set her back a good five or six years."

The former Commander left the room stiffly, following their absent leader. She wondered on her way to Sam's quarters if her words had been too harsh but when she opened the door and found the normally strong, normally so together Sam Carter in a heap on the floor sobbing her heart out she wondered if perhaps she'd been right.

And worried. Not only for the future of their operation but for the future of their friendships.

For the future of her friend.

On Sam's orders, Caitlin had fetched her laptop and files from her desk, taking them to Sam's quarters where she could work away from the others. The morning after their argument, Annie decided it was time to make peace and knocked softly on the door, entering when there was no response.

What she saw made her throat ache and her eyes sting.

Sam sat at her desk, her head resting on the wood next to the laptop, her eyes firmly closed. In her hand was a tightly clasped photograph and as she walked closer, Annie could clearly make out two beaming faces.

Liz and Sam.

On their graduation from the Academy if she wasn't mistaken.

She remembered that day with mixed feelings. It was one she'd enjoyed, purely because of the youthful excitement both young women had radiated on being told not only had they graduated from the Academy but that they'd been chosen for enlistment into the MIU as fully-stated operatives. Because of the display of friendship, because of the obvious devotion between them.

She was the one who'd decided they would be partners when the situation called for it. She'd seen then that they would do anything to protect each other, die to save each other. They had the commitment and the loyalty the MIU required, and they had the enthusiasm and the innocence it desperately needed.

It had taken a few years but she had slowly watched as that innocence and enthusiasm was drained away, sucked out of them more and more as their experience grew.

That was the bad side about being MIU. The consequences, the ramifications.

The fact that all that was left at the end was a shell of the person they'd once been. That it took away hopes and dreams, that it would leave them with nothing.

Like it had left her with nothing.

No husband, no children. An Air Force career she'd put on hold and waited too long to go back to.

She hadn't wanted that for Sam and for Liz. She'd taken them under her wing even though neither of them had been aware of it. She'd chosen Locksley to be their trainer, knowing he was the best. Knowing he'd teach them what they needed to know but believing he'd do it in a way that wouldn't tarnish the glow they each had about them.

She'd been wrong.

Locksley's methods, his teachings, he hadn't just tarnished the glow, he'd slowly extinguished it. Testing them to see if they were NID material, she knew now. And when he'd realised they weren't, he'd set out to destroy them.

He'd almost succeeded, too.

"Sam?" She pushed those thoughts aside and moved closer, gently resting a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "Come on, honey. Time to get some real sleep."

"Liz?" The sleepy murmur made a tear in her heart.

"No, honey, it's Annie." Careful not to disturb her too much, mindful of her wound, Annie shook her until her eyes fluttered open. "Let's get you to bed, okay? You're exhausted."

"I'm okay," Sam protested, struggling to keep her eyes open even as she sat up straighter. "I'm fine. Just closed my eyes for a second.."

"And you need to close them for a lot longer that that." Annie kept her voice soft but let a stern edge creep into it. "I don't want you to get hurt anymore than you have been, okay? Just a few hours sleep then I promise I'll come and wake you up and we'll try and wrap it up today."

"Promise?" Back to being half-asleep already, Sam let Annie guide her across the room to the bed, barely noticing the photo she still held in her hand. "I wanna go home," she slurred sleepily. "Wanna go back to Jack. Miss him. Miss them all."

A soft smile curved her mouth even as her eyes grew misty. Elizabeth could never be replaced but Sam had found herself some new friends, a new family, and although she was saddened that it didn't include her, Annie was pleased for her.

"Tomorrow morning," she decided as she spoke, tucking the almost unconscious major in as she would a child. "Tomorrow morning we'll have enough evidence for you to take with you to the SGC. We can trust General Hammond to deliver it to the President, he's a good man. I'll go out with Andrew and round up some of our suspects and Caitlin can move to headquarters with David and monitor the whole thing from there."

"I get Locksley," Sam mumbled, turning her head into the pillow. "I get to take him down."

"Absolutely," Annie agreed and smiled at that. She couldn't think of anyone better to bring the man to his knees than his very own protégé. "Just give him a hit from me, okay?"

"Always." Curling up under the light blanket as much as she could without hurting herself, Sam was already dreaming of all the possible ways she could enact her revenge. "Bastard."

Annie chuckled on her way to the door, glancing back over her shoulder before slipping out of the room. "I love you, Sam. I don't always show it but I do. I've lost one daughter to that bastard and I won't lose another."

She was standing out in the hallway when the voice drifted out towards her, slipping through the door just seconds before she closed it softly.

"Love you, too, Annie."

With a soft sigh and a strained smile, Annie straightened and slowly made her way back to the main room. "She's still asleep," she said in explanation to the curious expressions that greeted her on entering the room. "We'll wake her up in a few hours." Taking a deep breath, she walked over to her desk and lowered herself into the chair. "Let's get back to work. I want this finished by this time tomorrow."

Sensing something had happened, that some form of peace had been forged, the team nodded in agreement and got back to work, each hoping the new day would bring with it the resolution they each desperately needed.

When Annie set herself a deadline she usually always met it. Despite knowing they were getting close to the end of what had been one of the most difficult operations of her career, it was with a heavy heart that Sam took the files and disks offered to her and stored them safely in her backpack.

It wasn't because they were reaching the end that was the cause of her sadness, it was that it would be the last time her team would be together in one place.

She had always said after the case on the NID was closed she would resign from her position at the MIU and concentrate on her career. It was a decision Annie had encouraged and one David and Andrew were going to mimic.

At the same time as feeling exhilarated by the freedom she could almost touch, she was disappointed that their time together was finally at an end.

"We'll keep in touch," Caitlin promised, giving her the tightest hug she could manage without causing her any discomfort. "Annie and me will probably need your help at some stage."

"And we expect to be kept updated on what's going on with you," Andrew agreed, taking her into his arms as soon as she'd stepped out of Caitlin's. "I'm considering a transfer to the SGC," he whispered as he held her. "David, too."

"That'd be good." The smile she gave him was genuine, as was the hug she bestowed on David when he moved forward. "I think you'd fit in there, both of you." She moved away from David and looked to Annie, chewing on her bottom lip. "Hard to believe it's almost over."

"We've waited a long time for this," Annie responded. She opened her arms and smiled over Sam's shoulder when the younger woman walked straight into them. "We deserve this, Sam. For us and for Liz. And you deserve to put it behind you and get on with your life while you still can."

'Assuming I have a life to get on with,' Sam thought to herself as she stood back, keeping the thought to herself so not to ruin the moment.

"Well I guess this is it," she murmured, shouldering the bag gingerly. "It's been an honour and a pleasure working with you all. You're the best, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"We make a good team," David corrected with a grin. "Maybe we'll get the chance again someday."

"Maybe we will." Sam smiled tightly and took a deep breath. "Take care, guys, and good luck."

Those were her last words to her team, the group she'd worked with for eight years. The next time they saw each other they would only be friends, former colleagues, and although it wasn't an altogether happy thought, she thought it was for the best.

For all of them.

They needed to get on with their lives and put this nightmare behind them.

To say they were surprised to see her was an understatement. Sam didn't let their reactions phase her, she just smiled politely at the SF's and officers she passed, making her way as quickly as she could to General Hammond's office.

Once there, she knocked on the door and waited patiently outside until she was acknowledged.

"General Hammond, I need to talk to you.." Her voice trailed off and she noticed both Jack and Senator Kinsey occupying the chairs opposite the desk. On seeing the Senator, a smile she couldn't hold back broke out across her face – especially on seeing the utter shock on his. "Senator Kinsey, what an amazing coincidence. You're partly why I'm here."

"Major Carter." His face turned several shades of pink before settling on a shade of burgundy. "I thought.. You.. What?"

"Senator Kinsey was just expressing his condolences," Jack supplied on seeing her raised eyebrow. He stood up and motioned for her to take the seat he'd vacated. "Take a seat, Carter. I think the good Senator could do with an explanation."

"Oh, he'll get one." The smile on her face sweetened and she sat down primly. Feeling Kinsey's eyes on her, she took her time in removing the file and disks from her bag, placing them on General Hammond's desk just out of the senator's reach. "Senator Kinsey, on behalf of the US government it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you're under arrest for charges of treason and conspiracy for withholding vital information from this government and manipulating the facts to suit your own personal agenda. General Hammond, could you please have Senator Kinsey taken to one of the holding cells? I'll arrange for someone to pick him up shortly."

"On what grounds?" Kinsey stood up and would have made it to the door if Jack hadn't moved to stand in the way. "You have no proof.."

"I have ten years of evidence built up against you, Senator, tying you to the NID. You took money from them knowing what they were doing and you conspired with other members of the organisation to mislead and deceive the President of the United States and the American people." She saw his gaze fall on the disks and couldn't stop herself from smirking at him. "It's over, Senator. I have everything I need to bring the NID and everyone connected to it down."

"Locksley should have killed you when he had the chance," Kinsey snarled, taking a menacing step towards her.

Sam didn't flinch. She didn't do anything but smile. "I'm sure he'll agree with you when I catch up with him."

Two SF's arrived and Jack forcefully shoved the senator into their arms. He grinned as the door shut behind them, turning back to sit in the recently vacated chair. "Now that's a mental picture I'm going to want to keep."

General Hammond smiled but his hand was clasped around the documentation Sam had brought with her. "Is this everything I need to take to the President, Major?"

"How did you know I was going to ask?" Returning the smile, Sam sat back in her chair and let her hands rest lightly on the arms. "Everything we've got is either in that file or on those disks. It's enough to make sure Senator Kinsey and his shadier colleagues won't see daylight for a long, long time."

"What if the press gets involved? Senator Kinsey has a lot of support.." General Hammond's voice trailed off at the expression on her face. "I assume that's been taken care of, too?"

"Let's just say Senator Kinsey will be lucky to have any support by the time the public learns what they can about his dealings with the NID. Of course we won't say he's connected to a government agency but there'll be enough information leaked to the press for people to realise he's not as squeaky clean as he wanted them to think." She held her head high, proud of the accomplishments her team had made. "It's over, Sir. The President is waiting for you to deliver that information to him but for the most part, the NID will have fallen long before you put it in his hands. MIU teams combined with CIA and FBI are moving in as we speak and taking as many agents as they can into custody. Those who escape arrest this time around won't get very far either."

"Good work, Major," General Hammond smiled then, his face lighting up. "Excellent work. My congratulations to yourself and your team." He glanced between the two officers sitting opposite him, his smile fading ever so slightly. "Now I have to ask what you're plans for the future are. Are you planning on staying with the SGC or will you be moving on with the MIU?"

Sam cast a quick glance at Jack before answering, crossing her hands together in her lap. "If it's possible, I'd love to remain here at the SGC. I decided a long time ago I would resign from the MIU as soon as this was wrapped up. I'd still like to do that. If I can't stay here, I still want to be part of the Air Force either at the Academy or at the Pentagon.."

"You'll be staying here, of course," Jack said it matter-of-factly, earning himself a look from the General and a small smile from Sam. "Come on, General, you're not going to let her go now, are you? She brought down the NID. God knows what she'd do to this place if.. Ow!"

Appearing as innocent as possible, Sam turned her attention back to the General Hammond as Jack rubbed his soon-to-be bruised shin. "General?"

"You're welcome here for as long as you're happy here," General Hammond answered, an almost approving expression on his face though Sam couldn't be sure if he approved of her decision to stay or if he approved of her method of getting Jack to stop talking. "Though I was under the impression there might be an issue with you staying on SG-1..? Would I be right in thinking that matter has been resolved?"

"Yes, Sir." Jack answered when Sam remained silent, rolling his eyes at her speculative glance. "There's no issue that I'm aware of, anyway."

Hammond looked back at Sam. "Major?"

"No, Sir." She couldn't help it; she smiled again. "I don't see there being a problem."

"Good." He gathered the file and the disks together and sat back in his chair. "If you'll both excuse me I have to make some travel arrangements." He watched quietly as they stood up, dismissing them with a nod. "It's good to have you back, Major."

"Thank you, Sir." Sam smiled and let Jack usher her out. "It's good to be back."

They walked along the hallways of the SGC, waiting until they were in Sam's lab before they looked at each other. Jack grinned at her before taking her into his arms, squeezing her as tightly as he could.

"I knew you could do it," he told her, the grin still on his face when he released her. "I'm proud of you, Carter."

She wanted to share his enthusiasm but as she sunk down onto her stool she couldn't stop herself from issuing a warning. "It's not completely done yet, Jack. I've got to find Locksley and it's not going to be easy."

"You'll do it." His confidence in her was touching, as was the concern that entered his eyes. "If you need back-up you know where I am. I'd love to have a few words with him myself."

"Thanks, I appreciate it. But it's something I've got to do myself." The smile that accompanied the words softened any blow they might have dealt him. "The plan is to wait for a few days, give him time to run scared. Then he'll make a mistake and I'll find him."

"Part of me feels sorry for when you do." He didn't sound very sorry but she accepted his words with another smile. "So if you're not going anywhere for a few days.. why don't we meet at your place tonight and talk? I'll make dinner?"

"You'll make dinner?" An eyebrow raised and she stared at him suspiciously. "Why? What did you break?" Her gaze flittered over the workbench, searching her memory in an attempt at recalling what should have been there – and what was missing.

Jack chuckled and shook his head. "I didn't break anything. I'm on downtime so I figured I'd have time to make something for when you're done catching up here. If you don't want me to, just say and I'll watch The Simpsons instead.."

"Feel free to make dinner." She shrugged but her gaze was still roaming the counters in her lab.

Rolling his eyes, Jack stared out of the room, only to backtrack and re-enter five minutes later. "One more thing.."


"I've been wondering.. " He gave her his most disarming grin when she looked up, the expression on her face not one of amusement as she reached for the first item in her in-tray. "Why Phoenix?"

For a split second her expression was blank. Then a sheepish smile lit up her face. "No matter how many times they tried kill me I always came back to make them regret it. Annie said I was like a phoenix, always rising from the ashes stronger and more determined than before. It kind of stuck."

"I like it," Jack decided, throwing her another grin. "Suits you."

With that he was gone and Sam was able to start catching up on what had happened in her absence, willing her mind not to dwell on the fight she knew was yet to come.

The half-full bottle hit the wall and shattered on contact, showering the room with shards of glass and droplets of beer.

"Bitch. Goddamn fucking bitch!"

Locksley kicked everything that was in range, picking up the lighter objects and throwing them across the room where they landed with a thud on the floor.

She'd done it again.

The bitch had done it again.

He'd really thought – really hoped – that she was gone this time. Had thought his problems were over, thought he'd never have to see her face again.

But no.

She was always that one step ahead, always taking the game that one bit further.

Bitch. He'd never hated anyone as much he hated her.

He'd taught her too well, he mused. He'd thought he could use her, could get her to join his side. That had been his mistake. His big, life-changing, life-threatening mistake. She was too loyal to the good guys, too focused on getting justice to see the big picture.

Not like him.

She had no vision, no motivation. No desire to better herself in not-so-moralistic ways.

And she was always ruining everything. Damn it!

Always coming back.

Well, she wouldn't do it again. And she wasn't taking him down.

Not without a fight.

Locksley grinned and reached for another bottle – one of the few things in the motel room to escape destruction. He took a long drink, throwing it against the wall when he was finished.

Now, how to get her to come to him on his terms..

The grin grew and a bitter laugh burst free.

Easy: just use bait.

And he had the perfect bait in mind.

It was late when she made it home but she wasn't too put out by it. In fact she was pleased – it felt like things were slowly getting back to normal. That she was starting to become a part of the SGC again instead of working for the MIU.

She let her bag drop to the floor as soon as the door was open, kicking off her shoes as she shut it behind her.

The first thing she noticed was that it was dark.

The second was that it was quiet. Almost too quiet.

"Jack?" She walked along the short hallway from her front door to her kitchen, frowning when there was no response. "Hello? Jack?"

The kitchen was empty but there was a flashing light on her answering machine. The feeling in the pit of her stomach bubbled up and she pressed the button as she exhaled slowly.

She heard her own voice and turned to the refrigerator, pulling out a cold bottle of water as the door closed with a soft click behind her.

Then she heard his voice and froze.

"Sam, honey, I hear congratulations are in order. Well done, you did good. I'm proud of you." There was a laugh, a sound she'd hoped never to hear again, and the sound of a scuffle. "There's someone here who wants to say hi. Go on, Jack. Say hi to Sam. It's the last thing you're gonna get to say to her so you might as well do it."

"Fuck off, Locksley."

He laughed again and her grip on the bottle tightened, the pressure pushing the water up and out over the floor. "Now, now, now, that's not nice. You should've taught him some manners, Sam. I can't guarantee he'll be alive when you get here because he's been so damn uncooperative. Now listen up. This is what I want and you better not think of screwing me around. Otherwise it's bye-bye to your dear Colonel."

She took note of what he said and told herself to breathe deeply and calmly.

Five minutes later, she was back in her car on her way to relieving one of the worst nights of her life.

Hoping for a different ending. Knowing what had to be done.

The shadows were like old friends, the darkness a constant companion who could sometimes deceive and sometimes protect. She hoped they felt like helping her now, hoped her long time companions wouldn't let her down.

Warehouses. It was always a damn warehouse. He had a thing for holding their confrontations in damn warehouses. It was such a cliché, but then again, Locksley liked clichés. He always had done if she remembered right. Just like he'd always enjoyed manipulating people.

Train them, in the guise of working for the good guys, test the waters to see if they could be tempted away. Use them when they couldn't, go as far as to sleep with one and get engaged when they started to get suspicious.. All to keep them close and monitor what they knew.


The day he died would be one of the happiest of her life. And hopefully he'd be the one to die first.


They weren't going to walk away after their fight, not both of them. Not again. One of them was going to die and she knew there was a chance it could be her. If it was.. Well. She was going to do her best to take Locksley with her.

It was an all too familiar scene as she crept through the night, her body tense and her senses on full alert.

She could see them. Both of them.

Locksley and Jack.

Locksley was pacing, his face pale. He kept switching the gun from hand to hand, looking around as though he sensed she was near but couldn't quite pinpoint where she was.

Jack, for his part, was silent. He was sat in a chair, his arms and legs bound. There was a gag in his mouth but unlike Elizabeth he wasn't fighting it. He didn't look like he was at all afraid. If anything he looked bored. And unharmed.

Relatively unharmed.

There was a bruise forming at his temple the shape of the butt of a gun and his lip had at some point been bleeding but other than that he looked fine.

Thank God.

"Game's up, Locksley," she called out, fixing her gaze on her enemy, reminding herself of Jack's warning, of his advice to do whatever she had to to put herself on even ground with the bad guy.

It was good advice, advice she planned to take.

She just hoped he'd understand how she was going to do it.

"The game's just beginning, sweetheart!" She knew as soon as he spoke that he was running scared and that he'd taken advantage of getting some Dutch courage. Good. She needed as many advantages as she could get. "Come out and play, Sam. I've got nothing to lose! That makes me a worthy competitor. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. What could be more powerful than that?"

"Try someone with nothing to gain and everything to lose," she returned instantly, reaching or the knife at her side as she stepped out of the shadows and into the light.

"Sammie, hi." Locksley grinned at her, manoeuvring himself so he could use Jack as a shield when she saw the knife in one hand and the gun in the other. "It's been a long time."

"Nowhere near long enough." She flexed the hand holding the knife, her gaze moving temporarily to Jack. "I have to do this," she told him softly. "This doesn't involve you."

The knife had left her hand before Locksley could respond. It flew gracefully through the air before reaching its target, embedding itself in the flesh it found.

Locksley stared at her in stunned surprise as his hostage slumped to the side, the knife protruding from his shoulder. "Interesting move, Sam. I didn't see that one coming."

She didn't doubt him and she knew he would never be able to understand why she'd done it. Jack was out of the picture, though, she'd taken him out of the game.

There were only two players left, both of them armed but neither of them ready to shoot.

Shooting him would be easy but it wouldn't be personal and their fight was nothing if not personal.

"It's over, Darren." Walking slowly, keeping her eyes on him at all times. "The NID doesn't exist anymore. That means you're nothing. You had you change to make good but you blew it. It's over. You've got nothing to lose and you've got nothing to gain. Accept it and come quietly or make me force you. I really don't care either way."

"For Liz," Locksley mocked. "You do it all for Liz, don't you? I don't get why. She was nothing special, wasn't half as good as you. I always thought I'd made the right choice when I chose her. I thought since she was the weakest she'd be easier to control. I should've been braver, should've realised you were the better option." He leered at her, shrugging casually when she didn't react. "We could've made a great team, Sam, you and me. And I bet you'd be good in bed. Better than Liz ever was. Like I said, she was nothing special. Just a convenience, always so damn eager to please."

She heard the words and saw red.

Locksley didn't see it coming. He took the first blow having had no time to prepare himself after realising she was going to lunge. Her second blow, the one that would've disabled him, was diverted. He recovered quickly, brought an arm up to stop her at the same time as lifting a leg and delivering a well aimed kick to the top of her thigh.

Sam fell and he took advantage, bringing his foot down on her chest, unwittingly scoring points by catching her earlier injury. She coughed and spluttered and Locksley foolishly thought he had won.

Her leg shot out before he could anticipate it, catching him just below the knee, knocking him off balance. Sam pushed herself up and stood on unsteady feet, every breath a painful wheeze.

She waited, biding her time. Locksley stood and charged She pivoted quickly, avoided contact and swung back around in time to catch his back with her raised leg, sending him crashing back down to the floor.

Breathing heavily, she reached down and took hold of her gun, managing to keep hold of it even as her feet were knocked out from under her.

Turning over so she was lying on her back instead of her stomach she watched in what felt like slow motion as Locksley got nearer, a knife he'd stashed someone on his person in hand.

She didn't hesitate in aiming, didn't hesitate in pulling the trigger.

Her only regret was that it had ended so soon.

The force of the bullet knocked him backwards and Locksley landed in a stunned heap on the floor. The blade in his hand glittered in the light as his grip slackened, clattering on the stone floor, the noise sounding impossibly loud.

She watched him, watched him die. Watched as his expression changed from stunned to horrified. Horrified to defeated.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she was dimly aware that his wound was identical to the one he'd inflicted on Elizabeth. How fitting that he'd died exactly the same way.

When it was over, Sam pushed herself up onto her knees with a pained groan. Using what little strength she had before it deserted her, she crawled across the cold floor and collapsed beside the chair. With hands that trembled, she undid the ropes binding Jack and stared up at him as he moved.

His eyes were glazed but at least he was conscious. At least he was alive.

"Phone. Right pocket."

Three words were all she managed before her eyes rolled back into her head and darkness claimed her as its own.

Familiar noises, familiar smells.

She didn't need to open her eyes to know where she was.

SGC Infirmary. Great.

"I think she's awake," came a familiar, mock-whispered voice. "Do you think she's awake?"

"I do not know," came the also familiar response. "O'Neill, however, is and he does not look amused, Daniel Jackson."

Then she heard Jack's voice and let her eyes slowly open. "Keep it down, will you? We're trying to get some sleep!"

"Sam, hi!" Daniel was the first to notice her eyes were open, standing at the end of her bed as Teal'c stood at the end of Jack's. His expression was concerned but his eyes showed his confusion. "How are you feeling?"

She tried to sit up and groaned, falling back onto the pillows with a soft sigh. "I've been better. When did you guys get back?"

"We got back yesterday." Daniel sat down on the end of her bed, looking from her face to Jack's. "General Hammond didn't say what happened so.. What did happen to you?"

Sam glanced at Jack and Jack glanced back at her. "It's a long story," she answered eventually. "We'll tell you about it.. Later." She managed a small, reassuring smile then let her eyes slide closed, sensing more than seeing the glances Teal'c and Daniel exchanged.

"So, how was the trip with SG-7?" She heard Jack ask the question in some distant part of her mind, knowing that he'd done it to give her time to compose herself.

She faded out as Daniel started to answer with the occasional input from Teal'c, letting her mind wander to other, less pleasant things.

Locksley was dead. The NID were, as far as she knew, gone. It was all over so why did it feel like there was still something left to do?

It was an anti-climax. She didn't feel the relief she'd expected to feel, didn't feel the triumph or the satisfaction.

Locksley was gone but so was Liz.

Killing him hadn't brought her back.

It was hard to believe that her work of ten years was at an end. That she was free to do whatever she wanted to do. Hard to believe everything she'd done and been through had finally paid off.

But had it?

If it was really over, if she'd really achieved everything she'd set out to achieve, why did she feel like she was at such a loss?

Why did she feel like there was still something she need to do?

Sighing softly, Sam let herself fall into a restless sleep, hoping it would provide her with the answers she needed and the closure she desperately sought.

It was a beautiful day, one of the nicest Colorado Springs had seen in a long time. The sun was shining, the birds were singing. The grass where she knelt was slightly damp with morning dew.

Sam didn't see any of it. Didn't feel the sun on her back or hear the trees around her sway softly.

She saw nothing but the smooth grey stone in front of her and the yellow roses she'd laid upon it.

"It's over, Lizzie," she whispered, clasping her hands together as she knelt before the grave. "Locksley's gone, he finally paid for what he did to you. The NID are all but gone. There are a few people we haven't found yet but the President issued warrants for their arrests. It's only a matter of time before all the loose ends are tied up." She sighed softly, felt the tear fall from her eye but did nothing to stop it. "I wish you were here, Liz. I wish you could've been around to see it happen."

She fell silent and heard the soft sound of footfall. Jack put a hand on her shoulder and she leaned into the touch. "I'm sure she was watching. Wherever she is, I'm sure she was with you."

"I'd like to think so," she admitted with a sigh. "She didn't deserve to die, Jack. All she did was love him and it got her killed."

"It got him killed, too. You did it, Sam. You made him pay for her death and it's time for you to let it go." His hand moved down her arm and his hand latched onto hers. When he rose he brought her with him, lifting her hand to his lips and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. "It's time we put it behind us and moved on."

With another sigh, Sam let him lead her away from the grave, resisting the urge to glance back over her shoulder. He was right, she had to let go. No matter how hard it was. "I still have secrets, Jack." She leaned in him as his arm slid around her waist, letting her head rest lightly against his shoulder. "There are still a lot of things about me you don't know."

"The same is probably true for me." He gave her waist a gentle squeeze and kept the pace slow. Leisurely. They were still recovering, were on downtime for a week. He didn't want to rush or waste any of the time they had. "I don't know how much you know but I'm pretty sure there are things you don't. Things that were sealed by the very people who supplied you with your information."

"So what do we do now? We both have secrets, not all of them pleasant." She stopped walking and turned to face him, her eyes searching his for some sort of sign, for a hint at what he was thinking. "Are we going to be okay with that?"

He lifted his hands and cupped her face, leaning in to brush her lips lightly with his own. "We're going to be okay with it," he murmured, his tone reassuring. "Why don't we take it in turns to share one of our secrets? Then eventually, one day, we'll know everything there is to know about each other. Does that sound okay to you?"

"I suppose so." She closed her eyes when he kissed her again, managed a small smile when he pulled away and started them walking again. "So who goes first?"

Jack searched his mind, found a memory that was still a secret and smiled to himself in recollection. "I'll go first," he volunteered. "I think it's time we concentrated on something nice so.. I've got one."

"I'm listening." And she was. The nicer the secret the better.

He chuckled warmly, the sound a welcome one, and Sam leaned into him, waiting for him to speak.

"You remember when I was trapped with Teal'c in those time loops? Well, there's something I didn't tell you.."