AN: Since you've been patient, I decided to include the epilogue with this last chapter. Enjoy!
Carter dropped her hands and stopped walking, anger overtaking her humiliation. "You're lying! I would never!" But even as she stared at Jack, her outrage faded into mortified acceptance. If she was in an intimate, committed relationship with Jack, the way alternate Jack had insinuated, she knew she would have no qualms with flirting and making suggestive remarks to him when they were alone. Although, if alternate Jack had been any indication, alternate Carter most likely tried more than simply suggesting something. She recalled the way alternate Jack had touched her with every intention of taking it all the way. Her heart skipped a beat.
She turned on Jack in fear and hurt and anger. "You didn't. Tell me you didn't." She stared at him, unexpectedly crushed by the thought that he'd slept with, well, her. She told herself it was because she would have thought he'd known her well enough to know it wasn't her, no matter how close the other reality might have been.
He played innocent at her shocked expression. "Didn't what?"
Carter couldn't tell if he was being serious or if he really didn't know what she was talking about and she knew her own emotions, which couldn't choose between hatred and jealousy at the other her, had a lot to do with her inability to read him. "Please tell me you didn't have sex with her. Please."
"Of course I didn't, Carter. That would be in gross violation of regulations." He tried his best to look insulted, but he couldn't be sure that she was falling for it. "Why on earth would you think that?"
She was flustered - so much so that she failed entirely to see that was exactly his point. "But you said she had ideas and the locker room and -" She stopped talking abruptly when she realized that Jack could barely contain his laughter. She wanted to be mad, but it was impossible in the face of Jack's obvious amusement. "Jerk."
She turned away, her own words reminding her of the day before when they'd been flirting in the same shameless manner. The memory was vivid, so vivid she could almost feel his hands on her hips and his breath on her ear.
And then she realized it wasn't just a memory. His hands were on her hips and his mouth was once again against her ear. She shivered at the intimate contact.
"You don't really think I'm a jerk, do you?"
She leaned back, feeling the warmth of his body cradling her. She'd never been so tempted to forget entirely about her job and her commission and the regulations surrounding both. She turned her face toward his slightly. "Not at all, although this is hardly the place for such a discussion."
He turned his face so that his lips just grazed her ear as he spoke. "You might have to keep reminding me of that."
He withdrew immediately, the cold void left behind reminding her how much she wished she didn't have to remind him. She tried to recover her sense of duty, but she pretty sure Jack had accidentally taken it with him when he stepped back. "Daniel and Teal'c are probably wondering where we are." Her voice was half hearted and surprisingly, she saw understanding rather than reluctance in Jack's eyes.
"The sooner we get home, the sooner we can be not working, right?" He'd just had a glimpse of what life could be like with Carter and he sensed a lot less resistance from Carter than he ever had. He wasn't about to let another chance slip by. Some other Jack in some other reality could make that mistake.
They caught up with Daniel and Teal'c by the gate. Teal'c dialed home at Jack's request. Daniel kept a careful eye on the pair while pretending he wasn't. The attention didn't go unnoticed by Jack, although the older man tried to ignore it as long as he could.
"What, Daniel?" His voice revealed the frustration he felt at not being able to kiss Carter despite how evident it was to him finally that she was just as willing as he was.
Daniel winced at the harsh tone and fixed his eyes on Carter. "And we're sure he's the right one?" Carter nodded. "Because the other one was acting all mean when he got here too."
Carter smiled reassuringly. "It's him, Daniel." She knew, even though she'd thought otherwise at one point when she'd first realized that alternate Jack wasn't her Jack, that no one could flirt with her like her Jack.
Daniel glanced warily at Jack again before shrugging and turning back to Carter. "I owe you an apology." He checked on Jack, trying to make sure Jack wasn't getting angry. Daniel knew that apologizing to Carter in front of Jack was akin to painting a target on his chest. Jack got mad when people did anything to Carter that required an apology.
Carter's eyes darted to Jack as well, but not in fear for Daniel. She was afraid Daniel was going to say something that might embarrass her and, truth be told, she'd had about as much embarrassment as she could take for one day. "For what?" She tried to warn him off with her eyes, but Daniel, as usual, didn't quite know what to make of her expression.
"For yesterday. You told me that you and Jack weren't involved and I took his word over yours." Daniel paused, looking confused. "But he wasn't lying either. He was just the wrong Jack." He shook his head. "Anyway, I'm sorry I was angry at you for lying to me since you weren't lying."
Carter smiled wider than she needed, partly in appreciation for Daniel not mortifying her, but mostly because over Daniel's shoulder, she could see Jack's eyes had darkened with a look she took to mean her previously accurate statement about them not being involved was not going to be true for much longer. "Thanks, Daniel."
Daniel noticed the odd, distracted look from Carter and turned to check with Jack. He felt more than a little silly when he realized that Carter and Jack were staring at each other with heated glances and only barely even noticed he was still there. Annoyed, he cleared his throat and shifted into Carter's line of sight. It amused him to see the slightly disoriented look cross her face as she remembered where she was. "You would tell me, right?"
Her face burned from the heat of Jack's stare, but that only led to her being further embarrassed from her obvious reaction. "There's nothing to tell, Daniel."
Daniel shrugged, unconvinced by her words. He knew something was in the works. He stepped up to Teal'c's side and then entered the wormhole together.
Jack winked at Carter as they followed their teammates. "We're going to have to tell him, Carter. It'll hurt his feeling if we don't."
Carter gave him her best wide-eyed innocent face. "There's nothing to tell him, sir."
Jack smiled. "Yet." He was still smiling when they emerged on the other side, home at the right SGC finally. "But that is so going to change."
Carter recalled Jack's comment about preferring emphatic agreement and grinned at him. "Oh, yes, sir, absolutely."
The medical exam and briefing that followed were interminable, as both tended to be when Jack either wanted desperately to be somewhere else or had endured some injury or alternate reality type event. It seemed even more so than normal because, Jack figured, both circumstances were true for once.
Just as Jack believed the briefing was wrapping up, General Hammond spoke up. "In order to prevent future mix-ups, we're going to need to take some measures to ensure the personnel who come here are, in fact, the personnel who left here. Does anyone have any ideas?"
Jack's forehead creased in consternation. "Isn't that the point of the IDCs, sir?"
Teal'c appeared concerned. "In the future we should simply not allow exceptions if personnel have incorrect codes."
Jack turned to Carter, fearing Teal'c's next suggestion would be to shoot anyone who didn't have the right code. Teal'c's black or white view of reality was more than a little disconcerting to him at the moment.
Carter smiled. "IDCs are only updated every few weeks, allowing a large number of realities that could interact if that is the only safe guard in place."
Jack glared at her and leaned over to give her his best stage whisper. "You're supposed to be on my side."
Carter just smiled at him. "I'm trying to ensure that I'm really on your side and not just anyone who happens to look like you, sir."
Jack's glare shifted to Daniel who'd had the nerve to laugh at Carter's comeback. "So how about passwords whenever we're leaving for a mission?"
Hammond nodded. "That's a good suggestion." He glanced at Carter. "Do you think that would be helpful?"
Carter wiggled uncomfortably in her seat, wishing anyone else ever paid enough attention to get it. "Well, it would narrow down the number of realities because the time during which realities could branch off would be smaller, however, even the act of choosing a password would create multiple additional realities. Not to mention that every decision made following the selection of the password would result in additional realities, all of which would share the same password, which, if allowed to interact, would have little to no hope of ever unraveling." She shook her head and closed her eyes for a moment. "I think I need to some sleep."
Jack, who'd completely lost any idea of what she was saying about the password thing short of the idea that she didn't seem to like it, picked up on the sleep comment. "Are you ok, Carter?"
"I'm starting to confuse myself, sir."
The general looked upset by that statement. "Perhaps we'll revisit the issue at a later date. Dismissed."
As soon as he was out of hearing range, Carter looked at Jack. "Today's password is don't touch any mirrors."
Carter crashed in her quarters for a few hours and felt much better when she got up. She told herself it wasn't that she was confused, but that it was her attempts to break down the complex idea into parts small enough to explain to others that made her feel confused. Making a silent promise to herself that she was never again going to admit to being confused, she opened the door to head for her lab.
Jack was waiting outside her quarters, leaning against the opposite wall. He'd been too keyed up to sleep and, after bugging the crap out of Daniel and Teal'c for quite a while, he'd decided he would simply wait for Carter to wake up. She looked positively adorable with her hair all disheveled. "Hey, sleepyhead."
She was too happy at the idea that he was actually waiting outside her door to even care how rumpled she was. She just grinned stupidly at him. "Hi."
Jack made a big show of checking his watch. "So, since it's dinner time, I was thinking maybe we could skip the mess and go somewhere nice."
She tried to suppress her smile, but she couldn't. "Do you have somewhere in mind?"
His smile matched hers. "I've heard good things about Giatelli's."
"I hear they've got cake good enough to make me moan."
"That's something I'm just going to have to find out for myself." Jack grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the elevators.
And it turned out, the cake really was that good.
Carter awoke very early the next morning to an incredibly annoying tickle on her cheek. Her eyes blinked open, years of practice being alone making her forget there was someone there to tickle her. But as her eyes met his, she remembered that she was so very happy that she didn't mind if he was being annoying.
"I'm trying to sleep."
He smiled as he leaned down to kiss her lips. "You can go back to sleep in a minute. I need you to help me understand this better."
Shaking off the last remnants of sleep, Carter shifted around to face him. "What?"
Jack, who'd been up thinking about it most of the night, couldn't get his mind off the realities. "Just how many realities are there anyway?"
"There are an infinite number of realities, Jack. Every millisecond that goes by creates infinitely more realities. It's actually incomprehensible. That's how many."
"Even for you?" He pulled her closer, weaving his fingers into her hair.
"Especially for me when someone wakes me up in the middle of the night." She snuggled against his chest, wrapping her arm around him and closing her eyes.
"Carter, please?" He sounded so pathetic that she sat back up and looked at him. "How many?"
"The biggest number you can think of. Squared." She leaned down to kiss him, hoping it would distract him, but he still seemed perplexed. "And then some."
"What's the biggest number you can think of?"
She giggled. "Infinity."
"Is that a number?"
"Go back to bed." She narrowed her eyes, knowing full well that being in bed with him most likely rendered such a glare futile. "Or go home." Of course, she had no intention of letting him leave, but she didn't think that was going to be a problem.
"Carter, please just give me a number and I'll leave you alone."
"Fine. A bajillion. There are a bajillion realities." She snuggled back against him, feeling his arms curl tighter around her.
"Is that a technical term?"
She sat up, yanking the blanket with her as she rolled out of his reach. "It is now."
A moment later she felt him spoon up behind her, snaking his arm around her waist and pulling her flush against him. "Well, I like this reality better than all the other bajillion realities."
Carter grinned into her pillow. "Me too."