title: Unreality

spoilers: PoV, TBFTGoG. It's set toward the end of Season 3.

category: AU, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Romance

pairings: Sam/Jack

warnings: Slight language. Angst.

disclaimer: I don't even own the computer this was typed on.

summary: When realities merge, which reality is of consequence?

A/N: I first wrote this fic way back in 2002/2003 and posted the first couple of parts. Because I was never particularly happy with the fic itself I never finished it. Generally, as a rule, I don't post WiPs, but for some reason with this fic I did.

I've been reading a LOT of AU fics recently (evasive-study-action-technique 1.03) and as such have been feeling strangely inspired to write again, and seeing as this fic was so unfinished, I thought maybe I could work on it again. Also, my au100 challenge made me feel like writing AUs, and I felt like I would be cheating to take the same plot of a story I'd already written, just rewrite it and then submit it. So I decided to finish the original, even though I'm not particularly impressed with it.

I'm reposting the first two chapters again because I've tweaked them a little and corrected a few little typos I missed the first time round (doubtlessly though I've missed a few again), and I'll try to keep posting this fairly regularly.

Hope you enjoy this one, and don't hold it against me! Remember, I initially wrote this YEARS ago!

---

PART ONE

---

It wasn't possible.

She knew it wasn't possible.

But yet...

She yawned, rubbed her eyes and then pressed her palms together, resting her fingertips against her chin so that anyone watching would think she was praying.

Her. Praying.

The two words together jerked the chords of her cynical heart and a small, humourless smile touched the corners of her lips.

She tensed as she heard the light footfall of a rubber shoe on the lino floor, and she opened her eyes slowly, willing the reality in front of her to disappear. But it didn't. It was still there. Starkly contradicting everything she thought she knew. Everything she had ever believed possible.

Another humourless smile touched her lips as she turned to the man next to her. She should have known. She should have known better than to doubt the possibility actually existed. She should have known better than to believe this was impossible, because, time and time again, things that may have seemed impossible had been all to possible and all to real.

The man didn't say anything as he stood next to her, but she knew that his old blue eyes were also focused on the unmoving evidence in front of them. She could feel the hesitation and trepidation rolling off him in waves, adding to the pounding dilemma of emotions already wearing away at her thin veneer of control.

"This shouldn't have happened," she whispered eventually, breaking the veiled silence between them.

"No. It shouldn't have," Hammond agreed softly, and then there was silence once more except for the constant hum of the machinery around them and the slow, steady beep of the heart monitor.

Her eyes started to burn and emotions clogged her throat as she allowed her eyes to trail over the face of the woman lying before them. A million times a week she would have given anything so see her again, to watch her smile, to be her friend. And now... now it was very nearly a possibility, and that thought rocked through her to the very core of her soul, scaring her so deeply that she was afraid to even give the woman her name.

She was just 'a woman'. A patient. Lying there so still, fighting for her life.

Janet closed her eyes again and ran tired fingers through her short brown tresses, once again turning to look at the man standing beside her.

"What are we going to do?" she asked eventually, her voice brittle and threatening to break.

"I don't know. I really don't know."

The complete bewilderment, the fear on his voice was merely an echo of the fear in her. But he should have known what to do, she thought desperately. It was his position, his duty to know what to do in times of crisis. It's what his position as their leader demanded, just as her position demanded that she should be able to heal them all.

But sometimes, both duties would be unfulfilled. Watching the woman lie there on the bed, she couldn't help but think that this may be one of those times.

This should never have come to pass. This should never, despite all their wishing and praying, it should never have been a possibility.

But it was. It had happened. And it went against the very rules of living that were ingrained on her heart.

Dead people simply didn't come back.

---

It was a perfect day. With the sun shining down cheerily and glinting peacefully off the tiny ripples in the water things seemed almost perfect.

Almost.

It would be a long time before he thought they were perfect again, if ever, but it was getting close. It had been too long since he had felt as free and relaxed as the breeze playing amongst the trees. But today… today he came close to remembering and feeling that freedom. To being happy.

He sighed in contentment, and his companion gazed at him calmly from beneath a wide brimmed hat. He caught the glance and allowed a smile to break through onto his features, chasing away the shadows and the nightmares that had been thriving there for the last months.

"You are happy." The comment was said in the usual, quietly stated manner, and Jack allowed himself a moment to mull over the words.

"Yes, Teal'c, I think I am," he agreed quietly, once again casting his gaze out over the calm waters of the lake. The colourful plastic float attached to his fishing line bobbed merrily and as it jiggled slightly beneath his hands, and another smile touched his lips.

"It has been a long time," Teal'c observed quietly, watching as Jack attempted to reel in his fishing line.

Jack didn't answer as he pulled the hook up, brief disappointment shadowing his face as he realised the hook was empty. No fish in the lake after all. Still, he had been sure that time...

"It's better now," Jack said after a while, once his line had been cast again and a fresh bottle of beer had been opened and raised to his lips. "But I don't think it'll ever be the same again."

"No. It will not be," Teal'c agreed, relief settling over his heart as he turned his attention out to the lake. "There is still much to see, O'Neill. Much to live for."

"I know," Jack sighed, rolling his eyes before raising his beer to his lips again. "But... I'll be okay now."

Teal'c looked over at him again, and allowed a smile to tinge his usually expressionless features. Silence ensued as the men fished, only to be harshly shattered by the sound of flesh meeting flesh in an angry clap.

"What?" Jack turned to Teal'c, his eyebrows raised innocently as he glimpsed Teal'c's expression of distaste at the small smear of black insect over his hand.

"Have we not fished enough yet, O'Neill?" the Jaffa asked, wiping his hand on his trousers and glancing disdainfully at the water.

"Course not," Jack rolled his eyes scornfully, yanking on his fishing line. "We've hardly even got started yet..."

"I do not understand what is so pleasurable about fishing, O'Neill."

"Teal'c..." Jack sighed, well aware of the usual argument about to ensue.

"Dr. Carter also confided in me that she did not enjoy fishing." Teal'c watched O'Neill discreetly, observing the slight tightening of the jaw and the shadow that crossed his eyes. The Jaffa was happy to see that the usual indifference, the closed off expression was missing.

"She didn't come for the fishing," Jack stated after a while, once again flinging his line out as far as he could. It was true, she hadn't come for the fishing. Then again, when she'd started coming with him he hadn't really come for the fishing either. That's why it was easier fishing all day and staying away from the walks and the cabin. It was easier, because fishing didn't remind him so much of her as the other things did.

"Perhaps in time, you will not also come solely for fishing," Teal'c said consolingly, eyeing his friend almost warily.

"Maybe," Jack agreed, but his eyes showed he didn't really believe it. This was their place; his and Sam's, and every time he stepped into the cabin or set foot in the woods he remembered her. And it was too painful now. Maybe in time the memories would be more bitter-sweet than painful, but for now... it was still too new, too raw for him to come here for the memories. Now, he came solely for the fishing.

Once again they dropped into silence, each lost in their own thoughts until the silence was shattered by the harsh, intruding shrill of a cell-phone.

"You didn't." Jack stared at Teal'c in disbelief, disgust etched onto his features.

"I did," Teal'c replied calmly, delving into his 'pack' and pulling out what looked suspiciously like Janet Fraiser's cell phone. He passed it onto Jack with an almost amused smile to his face, and then turned back to his fishing rod.

"O'Neill." Jack snapped into the phone.

"Jack?"

"I said so, didn't I?" he sighed, his anger abating as he recognised Daniel's almost hesitant voice.

"Uh... Jack... "

"What is it Daniel?" Jack frowned, almost concerned by the tone of Daniel's voice. Almost.

"Um... Jack... you might want to head back down to the SGC... "

"Daniel, do you know where I am right now?" Jack asked sweetly, a long-suffering look in his eyes as he gazed over at Teal'c who was watching him with undisguised attention.

"Uh.. up at your cabin... I'm not sure I follow you though..."

"It's called down time Daniel, because usually you don't have to work during your down time."

"I know that, Jack," Daniel said, annoyed now, "but this is different."

"Different how?" Jack demanded suspiciously.

"I don't want to talk about it over the phone." Daniel hesitated again and Jack immediately understood that whatever it was, Daniel didn't want to talk about it regardless of whether it was over the phone or not.

"Daniel."

"Please, Jack." It wasn't the fact that it was Daniel making the request, it wasn't the fact that Jack's curiosity was slightly aroused by all the usual cloak and dagger, it was more the desperation and complete bewilderment on Daniel's voice that made up Jack's mind.

"We'll start driving for the airport in ten minutes." Jack sighed into the phone. "Bye Daniel."

"Bye Jack. Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I... never mind. I'll see you soon." Jack stared at the silent phone in his hand with a measure of wariness and suspicion.

"Any idea what that was about?" he asked Teal'c as he snapped the phone closed and handed it back to Teal'c.

"I do not."

"Didn't think so. Come on, we're going back."

"That is most disappointing."

"Somehow, Teal'c, when you say that I find it really hard to believe you."

---

"So?" Janet looked up tiredly as Daniel entered the room again, his hair in disarray where his fingers had been pulled through it roughly.

"He's on his way," he stated edgily, unable to stop his eyes from straying to the bed in the far corner.

"How did he take it?" Janet followed the line of his eyes and almost reluctantly allowed hers to also settle on the unmoving figure.

"I don't know... I didn't tell him," Daniel admitted, tearing his eyes back to Janet in time to catch the myriad of emotions playing her face. "Janet... "

"Why not?" She knew the answer; she had known all along that he wouldn't be able to tell Jack over the phone. She knew that no one would be able to say the words over the phone.

"Could you?" Daniel asked softly, running a restless hand through his hair again. His hands were never restless, had never been restless. Until now.

Her silence answered his questions more than her words would have been able too, and he also understood with her silence that she didn't judge him for being unable to tell Jack why he was needed back at the SGC.

"I wished things were different a million times..." she said eventually, her eyes never straying from her vigil over the woman still lying motionless on the bed.

"We all did."

"I could have made them different... I could have done something... " She clutched at her fading hope desperately, fear of something greater than she understood driving her desperation.

"You couldn't, Janet. No one could."

"And in a sick, completely twisted sort of way, my wish has come true," she continued, ignoring his words. "I've been given a second chance to set things right..."

Daniel remained silent as her words hung in the air. "No," he said eventually, closing his eyes against the image before him. "No, you haven't been given a second chance."

She looked up at him then, breaking her watch over the woman and turning her agitated gaze towards him.

"It's not her, Janet. She's not the same person."

"I know that." Janet frowned, refusing to let her eyes turn back to the woman on the bed. "But it looks like her... everything..."

"It's not her, Janet. You know it's not her," Daniel stated firmly, ignoring the pain ripping through his heart as the words crossed over his lips. He was betraying her, the woman lying on the bed. And yet, if he didn't say the words, if he didn't acknowledge the truth of the situation then he would still be betraying her, if not on a far greater level. "It's not her," he whispered again, his words falling around them flatly and shattering the hope she had been trying to gather.

Janet swallowed roughly, and took a step forwards.

She had seen this picture a hundred, a million times before. The startling blue eyes hidden from view behind bruised eyelids, the golden hair spilling onto the pillow while her lips remained unmoving.

Janet had done this before - tended this person before, healed this person before. And she'd also lost this person. She'd watch the life slowly drain from the same body, unable to stop it from leaving as the flow of blood that had seeped from wounds and stained the white sheets red had been unable to be stemmed. She had failed this woman... these people. And yet... here it was, all over again.

"But it is her, Daniel," she whispered, and reached out a shaking hand to brush a stray lock of blond hair from the cool forehead. "It is her,"

And, watching Janet lean over the woman and accept her familiar features for who they appeared to be, Daniel felt a desire to also accept it tug through him. But he couldn't accept it, because appearances could be deceiving and the woman lying on the bed was not who she appeared to be. She wasn't who they all remembered, no matter how much it might seem like it now.

---

"Afternoon, Sir." The soldier on duty nodded at him politely as he held out the clipboard. Jack's pen scratched quickly over the paper, the angry, jagged lines on the white paper spoke of his irritation.

"Airman." He glanced up at the man almost absently, until he realised the man was watching him almost curiously.

"Back so soon, Sir?"

"Some emergency," Jack shrugged his shoulders, glancing down at his scrawled signature and flinching. Her name would have been scrawled right beneath his at one stage, or right above it. Now his was just scrawled by itself, along with a dozen other names that had no meaning to him at all. Except Teal'c... but then, he'd never quite thought of Teal'c in the same way he'd thought of her, and frankly, he didn't want too.

"Bye, Sir."

"Bye." Jack stepped into the elevator, a frown of confusion and worry clouding his features. At the lift doors opened again and he stepped out, he could almost taste the hesitation in the corridors.

"O'Neill." Teal'c stepped forwards, having gone down ahead of Jack.

"Teal'c." Jack frowned again, looking around. "Come on..."

"General Hammond requests your presence in his office, O'Neill," Teal'c cut in as Jack started off in the direction of Daniel's lab.

"Oh?" He gazed at Teal'c, trying to understand why an air of suspension was hanging in the SGC.

They walked quickly and firmly down the concrete corridors, and his eyes only strayed once as a nurse coming around a corner caught sight of him and watched him pass with open curiosity. He was starting to feel concerned now, at this rude halt to his down time.

He paused for a minute outside the General's door, hesitating. Shrugging off his concern he quickly raised a hand to the painted surface and rapped out a polite staccato on the door. Teal'c raised an eyebrow as he gazed at him. O'Neill never knocked. He just walked in and assumed the General wanted to see him.

Jack saw the look Teal'c sent him and offered a simple excuse. "Manners."

Teal'c merely nodded and joined Jack in the study of paintwork on General Hammond's door until General Hammond's voice was heard calling "Come."

George Hammond watched as two members of his flagship team entered his office, quickly letting his eyes flick over the Jaffa's usual tidy appearance, and Jack O'Neill's scruffy, casual clothes. Obviously his Colonel hadn't felt himself compelled to change into uniform.

"Sit down," he invited, forestalling the inevitable.

"You wanted to see us, Sir?" Jack cut to the chase, not really comfortable with the sitting idea. A sit-down usually meant a serious talk, a heavy conversation. He didn't want one of those now; he didn't wanted to be faced with another problem. He just wanted his two weeks down time to be resumed so that he could continue fishing and just forget everything.

But it wasn't going to happen, was it?

"Yes." General Hammond paused again, glancing down at the file in his hands. A file he never thought he'd have to open again. Her file. "Colonel..." He hesitated, screwing up his eyes in thought as he gazed at Jack. "Do you remember a few years back Dr. Jackson had a brush with an 'alternate reality?'"

"You mean that thing on the planet with the mirror?" Jack frowned, straining his memory.

"Yes." General Hammond smiled slightly as the familiarities of Jack O'Neill's behaviour were starting to show themselves again. He had been wondering if this man would ever return to them, if he would ever be making his smart comments again and getting simple planet designations confused.

"Sir?" Jack waited patiently as General Hammond shifted the papers in his hands.

"Well, Colonel..." the General's mouth went dry as he thought about forming the words, about speaking of the impossibility that had suddenly become a reality.

"General?" He was obviously confused now, concerned that his CO couldn't tell him what was on his mind.

The awkwardness, the heaviness in the air between them was forgotten momentarily as the phone rang and the General was given a postponement. "Yes, I understand," he nodded into the phone, his eyes refusing to meet Jacks'.

Jack felt worry suddenly make itself known in his gut. He hadn't felt worry for months now. Not since the accident. Not since he lost his reason to feel worry. And the all too familiar feel of his entrails doing 'the twist' reminded him with a sudden jolt that he was moving on now. Despite his beliefs that he wouldn't be able to move on, despite his certainty of his life being over, he was moving on. Just like he'd moved on after Charlie.

General Hammond hung up the phone slowly, his hand resting on the red receiver for a minute longer than necessary before he allowed his gaze to finally meet Jack's. He couldn't tell him. He couldn't verbalise the words swimming around his mind. No. He was a coward. Just like Dr. Jackson, just like Dr. Fraiser. They were all cowards, none of them could tell him.

"You should probably head down to the infirmary..." General Hammond sighed, pushing his old body to its feet and standing along with Teal'c and Jack. "You'll understand when you get there."

"General?" Jack frowned, fear at how scared the General looked lacing it's way into his heart and pulling it so tightly he wondered if he'd be able to breath again.

"I'm sorry, Jack," General Hammond said half-heartedly.

"Sorry?" Jack frowned. First Daniel was sorry, and now the General. Why were they all sorry? The last time they'd all said 'I'm sorry' was when...

He cut his train of thought of abruptly. He couldn't think of that now. Something was wrong. He needed to be able to do his work - whatever that was going to be - without having to battle his wayward emotions as well.

"Dr. Fraiser is expecting you." General Hammond looked down at his desk, shame flooding over him. He couldn't tell him. He couldn't tell Jack. He didn't know how to tell Jack.

Both men stood for a second, gazing down at the General who had once again seated himself and was now steadfastly refusing to look at either of them.

As their footsteps faded out of the room and the door clicked closed, General Hammond allowed himself to look up. And as he looked up his eye caught the photos he kept framed on the shelf next to the wall. One photo in particular stood out, the photo that had been standing out for the last three days now. The wedding photo.

And he felt a tear trail down his withered cheek and creep to the corner of his mouth where it crept in between the cracks in his lips and he could taste its saltiness on his tongue.

---

Janet hadn't expected it yet. She had been expecting it eventually, all the signs had pointed towards happening. But not yet. Not now. It was still too soon.

She watched the confusion in the blue eyes as they swept around the room sluggishly, she saw the throat movement as the woman fought to breathe past the respirator. What struck Janet the deepest was each time the woman allowed her gaze to skitter past her she saw only sadness and loss in the nearly forgotten eyes.

It was too soon for her to wake up, in more ways than one.

"What's happened to you?" she whispered, leaning in and brushing the persistently stubborn lock of hair from the now warm forehead. She smiled down at the woman as she continued to brush her fingers through the short strands of blond hair and offer her comfort.

After watching her warily for a moment, the woman allowed her eyes to close again and accepted the comfort offered by the doctor. Janet swallowed roughly.

She wasn't all that was different. Janet imagined that to the patient lying on the bed in front of her, she and all her companions were wrong as well.

This shouldn't have happened. But, no matter how many times she said that to herself and everyone else, it had happened, and now they all had to deal with it.

She gazed down at the woman again, her face once again relaxed in slumber. But a single line of wetness ran from the corner of one closed eye and led to a small, darker mark of dampness on the pillow next to her blond head.

Janet stopped stroking the woman's hair and jerked her hands back to herself. Janet never cried. But now, standing here and watching the woman sleep, the tears were suddenly flowing over her eyelids, refusing to be stemmed.

"Dr. Fraiser?" She didn't turn around as the nurse called her name softly; she refused to let anyone see her cry.

"Yes?" She was sniffing, her voice was just as teary as her eyes, but the nurse politely didn't comment.

"Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c are here, Ma'am."

Janet cursed inwardly as she wiped her eyes angrily with her white lab coat sleeve, leaving a streak of mascara on the otherwise spotless material.

"I'll be right there," she whispered, glancing one last time at the woman lying on the bed before spinning firmly on her heel and leaving the small room to wrestle with her demons of cowardice.

"Are you well, Dr. Fraiser?" The polite inquiry was only voiced by one, but the other's eyes also spoke of his concern.

"Fine," Janet lied through clenched teeth, making a show of looking down at her ever present clipboard while desperately fighting for control. "She... she woke up a few minutes ago," Janet whispered, not looking at them.

There was an odd silence, and when she looked up she was met by two very confused pairs of eyes. "Who woke up a few minutes ago?" Colonel O'Neill asked slowly, studying her face intently.

"You... you don't know, do you?"

"Don't know what?" Jack felt anger grow in him as he stared at Janet. Anger. Anger was good. It had been so long now that he'd been without emotions. He was beginning to wonder if his ability to feel things had died right along with-

"He didn't tell you then," Janet spoke, more to herself than to the two men who were watching her with a growing air of impatience and fear.

"Janet, What. Is. Going. On?" Jack demanded, taking her shoulders firmly with his hands and forcing her to meet his eyes.

"I... I... " Her eyes started to burn with tears again, the hot droplets of water splashing down onto her cheeks and scalding her ice cold skin. "It shouldn't have happened. I'm sorry Jack..."

He let go of her as though she had hit him and stepped backwards, his whole body jerking with shock. Sorry. They were all sorry. They'd only been sorry when-

Abruptly he pushed past her, ignoring the half-hearted plea she called after him, and entered the small room she'd stepped out of only minutes ago.

He remembered this room. This is where they brought her after- They'd all spent a lot of time in here, not just watching over her but also being watched over themselves when they were injured or sick. This was - had been - their unofficial room. All of them. SG-1. And her. Her. That was the last time he'd set foot in this room. They'd brought here here to die.

He swallowed roughly and pushed forwards, wondering at the dimness around him. Instinctively he headed towards the far end of the room where the machines were playing their steady beat. This beat had haunted his dreams for months. But the silence was worse. The complete silence that came after the beeps- A shiver ran over him.

It occurred to him, as he caught sight of a figure lying in the faint spill of light and his stomach twisted into a terrifying knot, that this was all like a weird sense of dejavu. The last time he'd been here, it had been an eerily similar act as the one he now found himself in. They'd all looked like him with expressions similar to the ones they were wearing now; frightened, disbelieving, but mostly it was grief. Janet had had the same, shell-shocked appearance, the complete inability to comprehend what had just happened. And then she'd said 'I'm sorry', and he'd known. He'd known as he ran into the room, as his footsteps broke the silence in the room...

But the room wasn't silent now. The machines were chorusing together steadily, just as they had for weeks before...

He stepped closer, and a strangled gasp caught in his throat, but not a word passed over his lips. He wanted to run then, he wanted to turn and bolt away from the vision lying before him. But he couldn't move. His traitorous legs held their ground and forced him to torture himself with the memories. He stared with a horrified fascination at the woman lying before him, his lips struggling to form one syllable.

And, with the uttering of that syllable, everything he had been striving for since it happened, every new foundation, support and wall he had carefully erected in order for him to begin his new life, to live without her, collapsed in a shuddering heap that was the remainder of his world.

"Sam. "

---

They stood in silence, neither of them moving. Teal'c watched her, confusion written clearly on his features as he observed the pallor of Janet's cheeks and the haunted fear with which her eyes gazed at the doorway through which O'Neill had disappeared.

He contemplated speaking to her, breaking the crystal silence which had fallen over them, but then discarded the idea as she shook her head abruptly, snapping her thoughts back to reality. She gazed over at him with undisguised sorrow in her eyes.

"I should have told him," she said eventually, her shoulders straightening themselves as she gathered control of her wayward emotions.

Teal'c tilted his head to one side, observing the shaking fingers holding onto the clipboard.

"What should you have told O'Neill?" he asked eventually, linking his hands behind his back and feeling his muscles relax. Dr. Fraiser was once more in control of herself, and this reassured Teal'c more than her words possbily could.

"We... we have a visitor, Teal'c," Janet said slowly, meeting his solemn eyes with her own. "It's Sam."

"But Dr. Carter..." Teal'c stopped, the half smile flitting over Janet's face halting his sentence and leaving the unspoken words hanging in the air between them. Dead. Dr. Carter was dead.

"I know," Janet agreed, the words slicing fresh wounds over her heart. Her friend was dead because she couldn't save her. Couldn't help her. "She's from an alternate reality, Teal'c," Janet explained gently. And, strangely enough, as the words passed over her lips for the first time and became solid around her, acknowledging that the impossible had happened, it felt as though a weight had been lifted from her heart and that perhaps, just maybe, things wouldn't be that bad after all.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, allowing the words to drift around in his mind until he could decide whether they were words that should elicit happiness or sorrow. He studied Dr. Fraiser carefully. She didn't seem happy. She seemed scared. Wary. Unsure of how to proceed.

And, Teal'c realised as Daniel entered the room wearing an expression similar to Dr. Fraiser's, that for now, everything was going to be uncertain. While the woman was, for all intents and purposes, Sam Carter, she wasn't the Sam Carter they had known. She wasn't the woman they had loved, no matter how similar they may seem.

"Where's Jack?" Daniel looked around, shadows hovering over his face as he gazed at Teal'c from beneath a dishevelled mop of hair.

"He's in with..." Janet's voice caught again in her throat. Could she do it? Could she call the woman by her friend's name? "With Sam," she whispered, closing her eyes as the words rolled off her tongue with the ease of a breeze stirring a leaf.

Daniel froze, looking at her.

Sam. No. That woman wasn't Sam. She couldn't be Sam. And yet... Once again the desire to accept the woman for who she wasn't made itself present in him, and the tug that it gave was stronger and harder to resist this time.

"How'd he take it?" he asked, ignoring Janet's words.

"I don't know," Janet admitted, hiding her eyes from view again by looking down at her clipboard. She had to admit, that over the years she had become attached to her clipboard. It allowed her an excuse, a reprieve if you like. It gave her a reason to hide herself from her patients and colleagues until she had a grip on her runaway emotions and could look up again without revealing too much in her eyes.

"O'Neill entered the room before Dr. Fraiser had a chance to explain what had occurred." Teal'c said before Janet had time to think of an excuse. She shot him a grateful look, and his eyes were understanding and sympathetic as he gazed at her. He didn't judge her for cowardice, just as she didn't judge Daniel for cowardice and General Hammond didn't judge anyone for cowardice either. They all understood.

"How is she doing?" Daniel asked eventually, his eyes also straying to the silence doorway through which Jack had disappeared a few minutes ago.

"She woke up for a few seconds before the Colonel and Teal'c arrived."

"Already?" Daniel's eyes opened a little in surprise. "I didn't expect that. "

"I didn't either. In all truth, I didn't think she'd make it, Daniel," Janet confessed, relieved to have moved the conversation off the woman personally and onto the injuries she had sustained. Injuries, medical problems... they were easy to discuss clinically without involving the patient. She could do this. She was a doctor. And the woman – Sam - was her patient.

"Dr. Carter is injured?" Teal'c questioned, concern in his eyes.

"Yes. Severely," Janet answered. "Staff burns to her hip and lower back, another one to her elbow. Several ribs cracked, a punctured lung, blood loss, she's obviously been tortured too..." she trailed off as she glanced down at the clipboard in her hands again. She didn't need the list to be able to tell Teal'c about the woman's injuries. She knew them all off by heart. Each scratch, each bruise, each burn was engraved on her memory. Every spare moment she wondered why, with this severe injury list, this woman had made it, while the other woman had died with far, far less.

"How did she acquire these injuries?" Teal'c questioned after a while, his mind also wondering why this woman had managed to survive and pull through with all those injuries.

"We don't know. When some airmen found her she was lying unconscious in a storage closet, the same one where we keep our Quantum mirror. Obviously, in her reality they know how to work theirs. We're guessing that her reality has been invaded..." Daniel hesitated again, his eyes flicking back towards the door. Movement.

They dropped into silence as Jack stepped back out of the room. His face was pale. More pale and shocked than Daniel ever remembered it being. Even when Sam died. They'd been expecting her to die. They knew she'd die, that there was nothing they could do.

But this. They hadn't been expecting this. No one had been expecting this, least of all Jack. And it had happened. Always expect the unexpected to happen.

"What the hell is going on?" Jack demanded, his throat constricted as he gazed at Janet.

"She's from an alternate reality, Jack."

"And no one thought it prudent to warn me?" he demanded.

"We tried..." Janet defended, dropping her eyes once again to the clipboard.

Jack didn't argue with them. He understood. He understood all to well why they couldn't speak the words out loud. It sounded fantastic and implausible and ridiculous. And yet, it was true.

"How long?" he whispered, closing his eyes and reaching a hand out to lean against the wall until his world stopped spinning and the waves of shock crashing over him settled down to mere wavelets constantly lapping at him and wearing away at his strength.

"Nearly three days," Daniel answered, studying his hands.

"Three days," Jack echoed. They looked at him. They'd expected anger. A sarcastic comment maybe, but this emotionless, tired Jack that faced them now? He closed his eyes again and swallowed deeply. And then he opened his eyes.

And still, he felt nothing. He felt empty inside. As though some great, cosmic being had come along with a nifty little vacuum cleaner and just sucked everything out of him until he was just left standing there, only supported by his hand on the wall. He looked at his hand. If that hand moved, if that hand let go of the wall, then he'd fall. Collapse into a small pile and crumple together so tightly he'd be like a black hole, just sucking everything in with him.

Come to think of it, he thought as a rushing noise over took him and the world turned a funny greeny-yellow colour, he was going to collapse anyway.

---

Every time she closed her eyes to sink into the supposed bliss of oblivion, they were there. She remembered the fear on their faces, the blood staining their cheeks. She remembered seeing their lips moving, screaming for help. But she didn't hear anything. It was silent. Noiseless. It was as if she was underwater and everything around her was moving slowly and soundlessly.

But she knew there was noise.

She remembered watching them fall; she remembered the way she flinched with each thump as another limp body thudded against the unforgiving concrete. She remembered each droplet of blood sprayed from each injury, and she remembered the agony on their faces as each blast tore into their body and stole their lives.

And still she heard nothing.

And then she remembered seeing his face. She remembered the way the sweat was running down his cheeks, the way his stubble made his face look dirty; streaked with blood and soot. And she remembered the way it felt beneath her fingers, the shock and surprise in his eyes as her hands found his face that quickly turned to an expression of longing that mirrored only her own. She remembered his hands on hers, the burning feel of his lips pressing a quick, hidden kiss into her palm. And then she saw his lips moving; the words that formed there were ingrained on her memory.

But she couldn't hear.

And then she left.

"Easy... easy..." Her eyes flew open. Sound. She could hear. Relief rocked through her and she choked back a sob as soundless tears streamed down her face.

Failed. She failed them.

"It's okay. It's okay honey, you're okay," she looked around again and met those strangely familiar eyes that were looking down at her.

And then she became aware of the pain. The burning pain in her lungs had followed her. She ached, everything throbbed with pain. Closing her eyes she swallowed, trying to cool her inflamed throat, but the simple movement sent waves of pain rocking over her.

"You want a drink?" The voice reached her ears over the roaring of pain, and she desperately tried to say yes. But her voice wouldn't work, her mouth wouldn't work. Nothing worked.

"Here..." The woman disappeared and then reappeared, and then a second later she felt the cold wetness of an ice chip against her lips. Gingerly she parted her lips, and the relief slid into her mouth. Closing her eyes she lay there, savouring the temporary relief that the soothing coolness gave her.

It was gone eventually; she knew that it wouldn't last forever. And with the disappearance of the ice chip the fire in her throat returned, but she was relieved to note that its intensity had been lowered.

"Sam..." The woman stopped talking, her voice jerking to an unnatural halt.

Janet. Sam looked up at Janet, studying the face in front of her. Janet. It was Janet.

But it wasn't Janet. Janet had died. Sam had seen Janet die. She'd watched as the doctor died. She'd held her bleeding friend in her arms until what had made her Janet had left her pain riddled body and gone to a safer, happier place.

So how could Janet...?

And then reality came crashing down over her in a wave of horror.

What had she done?

---

So be nice and review? It's likely to keep me motivated to actually finish this time!