A/N: I've got my fingers firmly in my ears as to whether 'A Matter Of Time' is properly the second time they save Earth. (Message In A what now?)


Every time felt like it was the first time.

Jack raised his heavy head from the pillow, and looked tiredly at Sam. "We did it again, Captain."

Sam gave him her perfect, toothpaste-commercial smile. "Yes, sir." She patted his arm reassuringly, and he slumped back to his view of the ceiling.

"Oh, yeah. We're the best, Sam."

Her smile flickered uncertainly, and then came back full force. "We did just save the world, I guess."

"Again!" added Jack. "And how many people can say that? Not too damn many." He was feeling a little light-headed, but then until fairly recently he'd been unconscious. And before that, he'd nearly been sucked into a black hole, and then sorta blown up - so he had an excuse. He'd had a few hours proper sleep - as opposed to being unconscious - and that had taken the edge off, but he still felt like he needed a week in bed. Every time he'd startled awake, one of his team had been there with him. It was kinda sweet - but damned if he was going to say that out loud. It looked like Captain Carter had drawn the short straw, and was on night watch. She'd got her laptop with her, and was busily tapping away - a surprisingly soothing sound - her chair pulled up close to his infirmary bed.

Yeah, so he and Sam had just saved the world. Again. She'd come up with the plan, and he'd implemented it. And then Teal'c had saved his life. And Daniel had... what had Daniel done again? Oh, yes - he'd sat this one out, trapped on another planet. If they hadn't succeeded (not that he'd doubted. Of course not. But he'd... had a couple of moments of concern), the SGC personnel trapped offworld would have been the sole survivors of Earth. It was sort of reassuring - in an incredibly bleak way - to know that Daniel would have been one of them. "Hey, Sam?"

"Yes, sir?"

"How come Daniel's near-death world-saving experiences don't result in hospital stays, and mine do?"

Sam blinked at him, understandably confused. It was possible he was rambling a little. "Sir?"

"This world-saving thing. First time we did it, Daniel nearly died. But then he was fine. This time, I nearly died. I ended up with burns, stitches, and a concussion. Why can't I have the kind of near-death experience that involves me getting totally healed straight after?"

Sam looked dubious. "You wouldn't want to be put in a sarcophagus, would you? Not after what it did to Daniel."

Jack shivered, remembering Daniel's horrific recovery from that addiction. "No, I guess not. But maybe, if it was a matter of sarcophagus or death. That'd be worth it." He sighed. "It'll be a broken leg and a month in traction for me, next time - you mark my word."

"You might want to place a bet, sir," Sam remarked, lightly. "I hear Siler's the person to go to for that."

Jack looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "I just might, at that. I guess winning some money on it would soften the blow a little."

"I guess so," she agreed, sounding like she was laughing at him. He let it slide, though, because he was too tired to be Colonel O'Neill right now. Right now, he was just Jack. Just good ol' Jack...

"Hey, Sam?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Colonel Cromwell..." Funny how that name still stuck in his throat a little. "How... how long d'you reckon it'll..."

Mercifully, Sam understood what he couldn't ask. "It's hard to say, sir. From our perspective, it could take months - years even."

Jack swallowed, feeling nauseous. "He didn't deserve that," he said quietly - slightly surprised to find that he really meant it. His feelings regarding Cromwell, although softened somewhat over the years, had never been forgiving - until now.

"From his and SG-10's perspective, though, it'll be very quick. Over in seconds, I should think. I don't think they'll-" Sam broke off, but resumed valiantly, a moment later. "They won't suffer much, sir. Think about what it was like when we were caught in the time distortion. We couldn't actually feel the time slowing down - but above ground, two weeks passed by."

"That relativity thing again?"

"Yes, sir."

"Oh." Well, that was... sort of reassuring. Jack's dreams had been edged with dark visions of Frank Cromwell, Henry Boyd, and the rest of SG-10 slowly being stretched out like taffy, inch by agonising inch, over hours - days - years of torture. They'd been left behind, however unwillingly - however guilty Jack personally felt about that. There was nothing he could do. And wasn't that exactly what Cromwell had been telling him? For a moment all Jack could feel was empathy for the years of guilt and regret Cromwell must have had.

But the world was safe again, at the cost of those few lives. He wondered what Hammond would write to the families. There weren't any words to compensate for that sort of loss - but it would be all the harder, never to know exactly how your loved one had died.

Damn, he was getting morbid. He stared blankly at the ceiling, trying to think of something else. "Hey, Sam?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Do I get, like, two weeks' overtime pay or something?"

"Well, if you think about it, it's more like two weeks have passed, and you've only done a day's work."

Jack frowned at the ceiling, trying to work that one out. His brain felt like treacle. More so than usual, even. "Really?"

"I'm afraid so. If anything, they should dock you two weeks' pay."

"Damn. Don't tell Hammond," was Jack's conclusion, trusting that she was right. And she was always right, it seemed - even when the Pentagon's best scientists had hours more time at their disposal to think on a problem. Yeah, if only this weren't all so darn classified, he could brag more about his 2IC's brains. He could just imagine chatting to the guy at the lure shop down near his cabin. 'Yeah, did I tell you about the time the Gate got connected to a black hole, and Sam had to rewrite the laws of physics - again?' It'd be great - so long as no one called him on his understanding of how, exactly, she'd gone about it. All this time distortion, wormhole physics... it was all very confusing. "Hey, Sam?"

"Yes, sir?"

Her voice sounded tolerantly amused, and now it occurred to him that maybe those painkillers Doc Frasier alleged she'd given him were kicking in at last. "Tell me again about wormholes." He'd liked the apple metaphor. Hadn't quite understood it, but he'd liked listening to her explanation, all the same.

"Thank you, sir," she said, quietly.

Crap. He must've said that out loud.

"Yes, sir."

Ah, nuts. Better stop that, or he'd say something embarrassing, like tell her how pretty he thought she... He forced himself to shut up, and after a long moment of embarrassed silence, Sam began her explanation again.

"You see, sir, if you imagine the galaxy is an apple..."

Jack drifted away on a gentle wave of complex words and ideas, into half-formed but compelling dreams of apples, giant blue worms, and his 2IC in a Supergirl outfit.