Chapter fifteen

Sam bounded through the chest deep snow of a high mountain forest. The bright sun glinted and dazzled off of every surface, however it brought no heat. There were some unusual sounds in the background of this winter wasteland, but they did not concern her. The only sense she was concerned with at the moment was tracking down the source of the musky odor in the air.

Pausing for a moment Sam bent down to sniff at the new fallen snow. Her panting breath was forming little white clouds that condensed into ice on her whiskers. Now more sure of her direction she sprinted off once again.

Coming to the tree line of the vast mountain range Sam skidded to a stop. Throwing her head back Sam howled, her canine voice traveling far through the crisp dry air. Without waiting for a response Sam ran out into the clearing and began digging frantically at the mound of snow beneath her paws.

Jackson came racing through the trees to the clearing with River right on his heels. Now nearly a year old River was almost as large as her father, and twice his speed when she wanted to be. River began barking in excitement while Jackson began digging in the snow near Sam.

When Sam's paws hit something other than snow she stopped. Reaching down she sunk her teeth into the blue fabric she had uncovered. With all her strength Sam pulled back, slowly extracting one of the missing members of SG-3 from the snowy prison he'd found himself in. Seeing that he was unconscious she licked at his face until he stirred.

"Your aftershave tastes horrible." Sam complained as the man blinked.

Sam picked her head up and turned around as she heard the snowmobiles of the rest of the rescue team catching up to them. River kept barking, serving as a homing device. Jackson was trying to pull a young woman out of the avalanche debris. Sam rushed over and helped.

There were still two missing, but now the rest of the had arrived. Sam pointed out the two places they needed to dig and let them take care of it. The medical staff worked to get the ones already pulled from the snow stable and warm. Everything seemed to be under control.

Daniel knelt down in the snow to give River and Jackson praise for a job well done. It was hard to tell if River actually understood that this had been a life and death situation or if she simply saw it as a complex game of hide and go seek. Either way she was trilled to be getting the attention.

Excited to have all four members of the missing team found Captain Wilard of SG-5 stepped up to Sam and without thinking ruffled the fur on the back of her neck.

"Good girl!"

The moment the Captain had said the words he realized his mistake. Sam curled her lip to show off her dagger like teeth. His eyes wide with terror the young Captain put his hands up in passive surrender. Seeing the events Daniel came over to make sure that it didn't get out of hand.

"I…uh…I am so sorry, Colonel Carter…Ma'am." Wilard stuttered. "I wasn't thinking."

"I noticed." Sam growled. "Do it again and I'll see to it that you get demoted to back to Airman."

"Uh…" Wilard look to Daniel. "Dr. Jackson?"

"Sam says she forgives you…this time."

"Yes, Ma'am, won't happen again."

Sam glared at the Captain and then nodded her approval. One of the medical team called for Wilard and he was more than happy to make a hasty retreat. Daniel chuckled and sat down in the snow so that he could be eye level with Sam. The way everyone had to look down on her to talk to her was what bothered her the most at times.

"You know he didn't mean any harm by it, right?"

"I know." Sam nodded.

"It's not something everyone's used to yet."

"You don't have to tell me that."

"Yeah, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that."

Sam's toothy jaw opened into a smile. Daniel's translating talents seemed to even be able to cross the species barrier. He didn't always get it right, but it was nice to have someone who could at least come close to understanding.

While Sam was distracted with her conversation with Daniel River took the opportunity to pounce on Sam's tail. Sam was not in the mood to play and growled at the young mutt. River hung her head and just sat in the snow. Jackson came over and licked at River's ears to make her feel better and soon they were chasing each other through the snow.

Back at Base there was celebration and congratulations all around for the rescue. Sam was just glad when everything died down. She didn't like the way people spoke to her in a higher pitch or used simple words and repeated themselves. She had lost track of how many times she had come close to biting. She knew she they simply didn't know how interact with her.

Daniel and Janet were the only two that still talked to her the way they used to. Teal'c barely spoke to her at all, although when she thought about it that really wasn't much different than before. Jack on the other hand, he had become increasingly talkative, as long as no one was around.

Tired after the rescue mission Sam started heading towards the VIP room that she now called home. River was walking a few steps behind her, looking as though she was in trouble. Sam didn't have the energy at the moment to try and reassure the Wulf-mutt.

"Carter!"

Sam turned around and looked up at Jack expectantly.

"I take it you don't remember what today is?" Jack asked.

"Days of the week don't really mean very much to me anymore, Sir."

"Uh…anyway, I guess it's more important to River than you, but I'm sure it would mean the world to her if you were there."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Come on, let's go."

"Do I have too?"

Jack didn't seem to notice Sam's grumblings. He turned around and trotted back down the hallway. River didn't need a second invitation and bounded after him with her curly tail held high. Sam sighed and lowered her head in defeat as she followed them as though they were leading her to her death.

River was prancing around Jack as he stepped into his office. Sam wasn't sure where the young dog got all that energy. Sam looked around the office wondering why he had brought them here. Jack disappeared behind his desk for a moment and returned with small cake with a single lit candle in it.

"Happy Birthday River!" Jack beamed.

Excited beyond being able to control herself River danced back and forth as Jack placed the cake on the floor. It looked like chocolate but Sam's acute sense of smell told her that it was frosted in liver paste. River didn't even wait for Jack to pull his hand away from the dish before chowing down on it.

"Uh…River, you're supposed to blow out the candle, not eat it." Jack pointed out. "Carter, haven't you taught this dog anything?"

Sam rolled her eyes and shook her head sadly. She looked over at River who was licking her lips and wagging in contentment. Sam had no idea that it was River's first birthday, and felt a little guilty. She stepped up to Jack and risked rubbing her muzzle on his leg.

"You're welcome." Jack smiled.

River started licking every last molecule of her treat off the plate. Jack sat down on the floor and leaned his back against his desk. He started at the far wall silently, the smile suddenly lost. He had the look he always got when he had something say that he really didn't want to.

"Sir?"

"Carter…" Jack hesitated "I know it's only been six months…"

"That's four years in my world."

"I know, I'm sure it seemed longer to you." Jack scratched the back of his neck nervously. "I've been fighting this for months."

"What are you talking about?" Sam asked, the fur on the back of her neck slowly rising.

"You've been…" Jack tried to find the words "the Air Force can't…"

"I've been discharged." Sam whimpered.

"Honorable, of course." Jack added quickly knowing she had understood. "I tried to convince the Brass that you are still fully capable of your duties as a Colonel, and that your condition was temporary, but yesterday they decided that…well…they simply can't have a Wulf serving as a Colonel."

"If anyone thinks for one second that I'm going through the Service Dog Training…"

"Brass understands that these are unusual circumstances, and I told them in no uncertain terms that I'm not sending you to 'training'. However you know how the Air Force is about their paperwork. Anyway…uh…long story short…officially you needed to have a handler on file."

"Sir, you didn't…" Sam's eyes widened in shock.

"I'm certain that Daniel won't dare give you any commands."

"Daniel?"

"You look mad. I guess I would be too if Daniel suddenly out ranked me."

"No, it's alright." Sam sighed.

Sam got to her feet, but then sat down again. She didn't know what to do. She had known that this was coming, but it was still painful. It added a terrifying finality to her new form. On paper they'd simply stripped her of her rank, in real life it felt more like they'd taken her humanity.

With her ears down Sam bowed her head in misery. After a moment's indecision Jack leaned forward and put his arms around her. Sam buried her face in his chest and whimpered softly. Jack smoothed out the fur on the back of her neck in an effort to comfort her.

"I'm so sorry, Carter."

"It's not your fault."

"I wish I knew what you were saying."

Sam pulled away and shook her head. She suddenly felt the need to be alone. Getting to her paws she turned to leave. River got up as well, but didn't follow right away. She looked at Sam retreating and then over to Jack. He was still sitting on the floor, he'd brought his hand up to his face to hide tears. River wagged her tail hesitantly and leaned forward to lick him. Jack pushed her away.

"Go away, River."

River tucked her tail between her legs and slunk out of Jack's office. She trotted down the hall to catch up with Sam. Walking with her head and tail hung low Sam made her way down to the VIP room that she had claimed as her own since she could not go off Base alone to go home.

Sam jumped up on the bed and pawed the covers back. She laid down without turning in a circle the way Jackson and River did. Putting her head on her pillow she just closed her eyes. River jumped up next to her and nuzzled her side. Sam looked up at River and sighed.

"River, I love you…but you've ruined my life."

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Epilogue

Jack had hardly slept. He'd worried about Sam all night. She had looked so dejected when he'd told her the news about her discharge. He hadn't really expected her to react any different, but it still hurt to have to watch.

Stepping into his office Jack rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. When he looked over at his desk he was forced to rub them again. He still didn't believe what he was seeing so he took a step closer. A pair of clear blue eyes slightly obscured by a errant lock of golden blonde hair was peeking over the far side of his desk.

"Ca…Carter?"

She responded by bringing her chin up on the desk and graced him with a smile brighter than ever he'd ever seen on her face. The fact that the face looking at him was human was startling in itself, however Jack gasped violently as she scrambled up onto his desk. She was only wearing her metal dog tags. However she didn't seem to notice or care as she launched herself at him.

"'Ack!" She cried in excitement.

"Aaa!" Jack cried in shock.

Jack found himself paralyzed as she wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace. Before he could get his heart started again a warm wet contact slid up the side of his face.

"R…River?"

River began wriggling in excitement. To keep himself from having a stroke on the spot Jack reached up and grabbed her shoulders to keep her still. River snuggled against Jack's chest and then licked his face again.

"Jack?"

Still stunned Jack looked over his shoulder and found Daniel leaning against the door frame.

"'Aniel!" River cried happily.

"Daniel…I…uh…this…this isn't what it looks like."

"Really?" Daniel raised an eyebrow. "Cause it looks like now that River has reached a year old she was able to switch bodies with Sam, made her human in the middle of the night, but she can't switch places again until I teach Sam how, so she was probably in here to steal your shoes, as she often does, when you walked in and she greeted you with her usual enthusiasm."

Jack stared at Daniel blankly for a moment. He looked back at River who was still smiling proudly. Jack blinked a few times and looked back at Daniel.

"Oh…um…well, in that case: this is exactly what it looks like."