Stages

By

Denise

"You're going to be fine," the nurse reassured him, applying pressure to the heavy pad over the wound on his leg. He gasped and she winced. "Sorry."

She looked up, trying to catch sight of the faces of the other refugees as they poured through the gate. He turned his head and idly watched the parade of refugees, recognizing some of the Jaffa and Tok'ra that were mixed in with the SGC personnel.

Two men came through, carrying a drooping figure between them. "I'll be right back," she said, scrambling to her feet and hurrying over to the injured man. It was organized chaos in the gate room and he could see that she was one of three nurses doing triage as the injured were brought back from the Alpha Site.

They laid the man down and looked up, searching for help. She knelt beside him. "He's bad," one of them said.

She checked his pulse, frowning a bit. "You're right," she said. "Corpsman!" she called out, motioning for one of the orderlies to come over. "He needs to get to the infirmary, now," she ordered.

The orderlies carried the man off and she turned looking around the room. "How bad?" he heard her ask, catching one of the rescuers just as he was turning to leave the room.

"Huh?"

"How bad is it?" she pressed.

The man paused, his eyes skittering away for a second before returning to hers. "They used the self-destruct," he said. He shook his head. "There's aah…it's bad," he said, his voice shaking slightly.

"How many more do you think are alive?" she asked.

"Not enough," he said tersely.

The gate shut down and he turned, looking up at the control room. "They're redialing," his partner said. "We gotta go back."

The nurse nodded, stepping back as the gate opened and all the healthy rescuers lined up, ready to return and bring back more of the injured and wounded. In just a few minutes, they were gone and the nurse made her way back over to him. She knelt down, taking his wrist in her hand. "We'll get you to the infirmary. You're going to be ok," she promised, her reassuring smile seeming false to him.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A shadow fell across her desk and  Doctor Emily Brightman blinked, looking up with eyes that were a lot blurrier than she'd like to admit. "Angela?" One of her nurses stood before her, the woman's face just as drawn and pale as Emily knew hers was.

Angie Willows had been working non-stop for the past twenty-four hours, just like the rest of the medical staff.

Unfortunately, they just weren't staffed to handle mass casualties so many of the injured had been farmed out, the humans to the Academy Hospital, the Jaffa and Tok'ra to the Beta Site to be treated by their own healers or to simply recover on their own.

The infirmary was now spookily empty, which only added to the surrealism of the situation. It was almost as if the past day hadn't even happened.

But Emily knew it had, she remembered treating the injured, stitching their wounds together, wrapping gauze over their burns. Her eyes burned and she knew that it wasn't just because of the lingering stench of scorched skin or burned clothes.

"These are the last of the transfers, ma'am," Angie said, handing the charts over.

Brightman nodded, taking the charts from her and setting them down on her desk. "Thank you." She looked up, frowning slightly at the woman's slightly mussed hair and drawn features. "Angela, you should go home. You look exhausted."

Angela shook her head. "No more so than you, with all due respect, ma'am."

Doctor Brightman smiled grimly. "That's what they pay me the big bucks for."

Angela made a face. "Umm, ma'am, do you think they're going to find any more survivors?" she asked.

"I don't know," she said honestly, sighing. "Honestly, if the destruction is as bad as they said, it's a miracle they found as many as they did."

"But, ma'am, they haven't accounted for all of them," Angela protested. "There's still at least two dozen missing—"

"Have you ever done battlefield medicine?" Emily interrupted.

"Doctor?" Angel frowned at her.

"Have you ever done battlefield medicine?" she repeated.

"No, but—"

"Angela, the phrase 'blown to bits' unfortunately has some basis in reality," she said, trying to forget the horrific images her words brought up. Emily knew full well that they would never recover all the bodies and that the rescuers didn't have the time to try and retrieve every bit of 'organic matter' they came across. "They may never find them."

"I've heard that the Alpha Site is heavily wooded, maybe they  got away, took to the hills and are hiding," Angela said, her voice optimistic.

Brightman frowned. "How do you know so much about the Alpha Site? Have you ever been there?"

"Umm, no, I haven't but, you know, sometimes the returning teams talk."

Brightman stared at her for a few seconds. "Angela, are you sure—" The klaxons blared and they both tensed, Brightman getting to her feet. "It's just an off-world—"

"Medical team to the  gate room!" they heard over the intercom.

Angela spun, hurrying out of the room, Emily hot on her heels. They both dashed through the corridors, the well trained personnel of the SGC clearing a path.

They arrived at the gate room just as the stargate snapped shut. She recognized Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill standing protectively over a figure on a stretcher. There were two more stretchers and three more wounded people, the latter three looking to be moving under their own power. "Here!" O'Neill said, motioning them over to the one stretcher.

Angela followed Brightman and knelt beside the stretcher. She recognized the unconscious form of Major Carter, the woman's blond hair distinguishable even under all the dirt and blood. "She was conscious when we found her, but passed out pretty soon after that," O'Neill said. "We got her back here as quick as we could."

"The others?" Brightman asked, checking the field dressing on the woman's leg as Angela checked her pulse.

"The last of the wounded and the last two KIA's," O'Neill said.

"Doctor?"

Emily looked up. "She should be fine. But I won't know for sure until I complete a full examination," Emily said, slightly frustrated with being asked for a diagnosis fifteen seconds after examining the patient.

"Let me know," he requested. "Colonel?"

"Reynolds is doing the last of the clean up," O'Neill said. "We'll be ready to abandon the planet by morning."

Two orderlies appeared at their side and Angela moved away, letting them pick up the stretcher and put it on the gurney. "Take care of them," Brightman ordered Angela.

"Ma'am?"

"We have Carter, you take care of them." Brightman and the orderlies hurried from the room.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

General Hammond moved to the side, stepping out of the way of the orderlies as he watched the nurse make her way over to the three wounded. "Sirs?"

One of them, his name tag said Burke, shook his head. "We're ok," he said. "Just spent a crappy night in the woods."

"Can you make it upstairs on your own?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yeah."

The three of them left and she turned her attention to the two stretchers on the floor, both bearing tragically still figures. He watched her as she carefully checked the first one, ascertaining that there was no pulse and no respiration. Confirming his death, she gently reached under his shirt, pulling out his dog tags. She removed one and placed it into her pocket before moving to the second man.

She reached for the man's wrist before looking up at his face, her movements stilling as she stared at the casualty. "Lieutenant?" Hammond asked, moving to her side, hoping that the woman wasn't going to pass out. He knew that she and the rest of the medical staff had been working non-stop since the attack.

She gasped, startled. Working quickly, she reached under the man's shirt and pulled out his tags, snapping one off before getting to her feet. "Sir." She handed the tags over to him, her face coloring.

He took them solemnly. "Thank you, Lieutenant" he said gently, hoping to put her at ease. "I'll take care of the notifications."

"Yes, sir." She stared at him for a few seconds. "Um, we'll get them down to the morgue, sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." He nodded his thanks and turned, retreating to his office. At least these two families would have some closure, which was a lot more than other members of his command were going to get. And Carter was back, that was certainly going to put three men and one Tok'ra in a better mood.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Doctor Sidney Green carefully catalogued the last of Sergeant Chen's personal effects and sealed the bag, setting it with the rest to be returned to the families or next of kin.

There were so many, and not enough.

Many of his patients had already been removed from the facility, the medical examiner at the Academy Hospital lending her assistance in performing the autopsies and cataloguing the dead.

The door opened and he frowned as a nurse came in followed by orderlies pushing two gurneys.

"I don't know if I'm glad to see you or not," he said, walking over to greet them.

"These are the last two, sir," the nurse said, her voice quivering a bit.

Sidney's mood softened. Most of his patients were strangers to him. His office was on the Academy grounds and he rarely met the men and women who served – and died – here. He found that he much preferred it that way. Far too many friends crossed his table as it was.

"You can put them over there," he instructed. The orderlies hurried to do his bidding, leaving the room with a near comical haste. Sidney shook his head, retrieving his clipboard and making his way over to the first gurney. "You'd think it was contagious," he muttered, pulling out the man's dog tags so he could fill out the toe tag.

The nurse ignored him, still standing beside one of the men. "It's probably a good thing I'm a bit anti-social," he said, enjoying the novelty of having a warm body to talk to.  "I could develop a real complex if I let myself," he chattered.

He wrote down the name, his eyes darting back and forth as he assured that he had the right spelling. He filled in the man's date of birth, clucking as he did a bit of math. "Damn, he's only twenty-three."

He triple checked the information then looped the tag through the man's boot laces. It would be securely tied to his toe once Sidney undressed him.

He made his way over to the second gurney standing beside the woman.  Sidney repeated his actions, noticing that she was still just standing there, the dead man's hand clutched in hers. Her eyes were fixated on his face and Sidney frowned, puzzled by her reaction. "Lieutenant, is everything ok?" he asked. Getting no response, he reached out, touching her arm. "Was he someone you knew?"

She shook her head. "No, I mean, yes, I aah…I know a lot of them," she stammered.

"Yeah, I'm sure you do," he said, trying to comfort her. He knew what it was like to lose a friend.

"What's going to happen to him, I mean them?"

Sidney sighed. "Since there's only two, I'll do the autopsies, then release them to their next of kin."

"Autopsy?"

"It's procedure I'm afraid."

She nodded, the man's hand still wrapped in hers. "His mother lives in Cleveland. I should call her," she mumbled.

"The chaplain can take care of that," he said, reaching out to take the dead man's hand from her grasp. "I'm sure Doctor Brightman is wondering where you are," he said, slightly unnerved by her behavior.

She blinked, shaking her head slightly. "You're right, she probably is. I'm sorry." She hurried from the room.

Sidney stared after her for a few seconds before turning his attention back to his patient. "Well Sergeant," he said. "She certainly was smitten with you."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jacob Carter sat in the chair, realizing that the rhythmic beep of the heart monitor was one of the loveliest sounds in the world.

Sam was sleeping peacefully, or at least he told himself that she was asleep.

'Asleep or unconscious, her body is healing,' Selmac chided.

'It's got a lot to heal,' Jacob said, his eyes studying her face intently. She was pale and the cuts and bruises stood out in stark contrast to the rest of her skin.

His stomach still lurched when he remembered hurrying into the infirmary the day before, relieved that he'd heard they'd brought her back alive and scared that he'd also heard that they'd  carried her through the gate. He remembered pushing the limits of the doctor's patience, forcing his way to Sam's side, not content until he'd seen her with his own eyes and felt the warmth of her skin with his own fingertips.

'With the exception of the wound to her leg, the rest are superficial,' Selmac consoled.

'She was lucky.' Jacob closed his eyes, memories of the attack washing over him.

"We gotta get out of here!" He grabbed Sam's arm, pulling her around the bench and through the doors. Screams penetrated the air as Jacob reflexively ducked, seeking to keep out of the line of fire.

"The gate!" Sam shouted, pointing across the compound. He nodded, falling in at her side as they both ran, zigzagging around the dead and dying. He wanted to help them, but knew that hey had a far more important task to carry out. Their prototype worked and they and to keep it out of Anubis' hands.

An Alkash swooped low and Selmac surged to control, forcing Jacob to tackle Sam to the ground. "Sel!"

There was a loud roar and Jacob hunched over, trying to shield his daughter as a blast wave washed over them. He looked up, staring in amazement as the stargate wobbled on its pedestal, swaying back and forth before falling over with a deep boom.

"Oh god," she gasped.

"We need cover." Jacob scrambled to his feet, pulling her up. He ran back the way they'd come, his eyes searching for some sort of shelter. He knew the SGC would send help. And if they didn't, Tok'ra and Jaffa agents would come, if for no other reason than to see what they could scavenge.

He regretted that they both were unarmed, although it was probably a good thing, he noted grimly as he ran. If they were armed, Sam would want to fight and that instinct would just get her killed. This wasn't an attack, it was a massacre. So far he'd seen no attempt to take prisoners, just nightmarishly efficient and casual murder.

An energy blast tore through the dirt to his left and Jacob turned, horrified to see a Kull Warrior on their trail, the creature's heavy footsteps marching relentlessly forward.

"Dad?"

"We can lose him in the trees," he gasped, hoping that he was telling the truth. Worst case scenario, maybe if they could get  it away from the others he could use the last few shots in the weapon to kill it. He ran, knowing that it would be hard for Sam to keep up but also knowing that if she fell behind, she was dead. And that was unacceptable.

Jacob sighed, opening his eyes, one hand coming up to massage his forehead. 'You survived, she survived, many others did not,' Selmac said pragmatically.

'I remember the self-destruct going off, Sel,' he said. 'I can still see her getting knocked over—'

'Jacob, she is alive,' Selmac interrupted.

'I never realized just how fragile humans are.'

"Jacob, you ok?" A warm hand settled on his shoulder and Jacob lowered his hand, glancing up to see Jack standing beside him.

"Jack, yeah, I'm fine," Jacob said automatically. Jack nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets and rocking back on his heels.

"How's she doing?"

"She's gonna be ok," Jacob said, still trying to reassure himself that he was speaking the truth.

Jack stood there for a few minutes. "You know, she's got a bad habit of doing this. I think she likes the attention."

Jacob looked sharply at Jack. "Bad habit?"

"We got a dose of radiation sickness a couple of years ago. She went down first and got up last. Same thing with a zat. But tranquilizers, that's another story. It takes twice the normal dose to affect her, sometimes more." Jack shrugged. "Just one of those things."

"I know you're trying to reassure me, Jack. But listing all the ways my kid can be rendered unconscious isn't one of them," Jacob said.

"I'm just saying, sometimes I think she decides to sneak in a nap while she's in here."

One of the nurses came over and started checking Sam's vitals. She looked up at them. "I need to check her dressings, sirs."

"Yeah." Jacob got to his feet and they stepped away, allowing the nurse to draw the privacy curtains."

"Her leg won't keep her down for long," Jack said. "And she's a damn sight luckier than that other guy we brought back yesterday."

"What do you mean?" Jacob asked, his eyes riveted on the curtain.

"I read the autopsy on the sergeant we brought back. He had a piece of shrapnel in his leg just like her. He made it to the trees, just like her."

"And?" Jacob prodded when Jack trailed off.

"The shrapnel shifted, tore a hole in his femoral artery and he bled out," Jack said softly, looking Jacob in the eyes.

Jacob sighed. He knew what Jack was doing and knew that the man meant well. It still didn't change the fact that his baby girl had nearly been killed. "As soon as she wakes up, I have to go," he said.

"Afraid we'll stick you with the bill?"

Jacob chuckled. "If there's any  hope of salvaging anything of this alliance, I need to get back and start kissing ass."

"You could stay," Jack suggested.

"If I do that, they will cut me off totally. And we need the intelligence."

"We?"

"Jack, I know you don't like the Tok'ra and those feelings are probably warranted, but Earth still needs the intel. I stay here, we get nothing."

"You go, we might get nothing."

Jacob shrugged. "I gotta try. Selmac knows that our best chance to win comes from all of us working together and there are other Tok'ra that feel the same way. I just need to find out who they are."

Jack nodded, unable to argue with his logic. "You know, the door's always open," he said.

Jacob nodded, grateful that Jack didn't argue with him. In one way, he didn't want to go back. Didn't want to spend his time bashing his head against a brick wall, trying to overcome millennia of prejudice.

 But he had to. Because he knew just how he'd feel if Earth suffered some preventable loss because they'd had no warning. "Thanks."

"Angela?" Doctor Brightman stuck her head out of her office, apparently looking for the nurse. Jack glanced over at her, pointing at the shrouded bed. "Angela?"

"Yes, Doctor." The nurse pulled back the curtain. She had an odd look on her face that Jacob attributed to her being caught being less than efficient and speedy.

"I need to get over to the Academy Hospital. Doctor Warner is on his way in to cover for me. Will you be all right here for about an hour?" she asked. "No one is due back, so nothing should be happening, especially since Sergeant Siler is off today."

"I'll be fine," the nurse nodded.

"Ok," Brightman nodded. "You can page me if you need me." She hurried back to her office, sliding her lab coat off her shoulders as she walked.

Jacob made his way back to his chair, rolling his shoulders as he sat down. "You're gonna stay here, aren't you?" Jack asked.

"Yeah."

Jack nodded. "Ok. I'm gonna go grab something to eat, want me to bring you something?"

Jacob started to shake his head. 'You need to heal too. Eat,' Selmac said. "A sandwich?" he suggested.

"You got it," Jack said. "I'll be back in a bit."

He left and Jacob turned his attention back to Sam, reaching out to tug the blanket higher. Suddenly, he didn't mind if she slept a bit more.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam flipped through the magazine, sighing as she idly scanned the pages. She knew Daniel meant well when he brought her some journals from her lab to read. Usually, she'd thoroughly enjoy having time to just sit and read. Of course, usually she wasn't trapped in an infirmary bed, her head aching slightly from the pain killers and the rest of her aching more than a little from a various assortment of cuts and bruises and itching from the stitches there were definitely getting to the annoying stage.

What she really wanted was to be ensconced on her sofa, snuggled securely under one of her quilts and spending her days catching up on the recent video releases. She finally realized that the colonel was right about one thing, the infirmary was not the place to get rest.

Between the nurses coming and going and the various teams getting their pre and post mission check-ups, not to mention the klaxons going off every time the gate opened, it was rare for Sam to get more than a few hours sleep at a time.

Now she knew why the colonel fussed so much every time he was a patient here. How was she supposed to rest when she had no privacy, no peace and quiet and was deluged with endless 'how are you?' inquiries?

She'd never spent this much time in the infirmary before and she was definitely not in any hurry to repeat the experience.

To make things worse, she was starting to have nightmares about her time on the Alpha Site and that was something else she didn't feel like sharing with all and sundry.  Bad dreams were normal, she knew that much. And it would actually be quite odd if she didn't have any nightmares. She just hated the feeling that the whole nursing staff was lurking in the corner, ready to document every single time she woke up in a cold sweat or, god forbid, screaming with the same intense interest they expressed for her every move. They wrote down when she ate, what she ate, what she drank, how many times she went to the bathroom and she knew they probably kept a log on how fast her stitches were healing and had a color chart of the Technicolor bruises that painted her skin.

She just wanted, needed some privacy.

"Angela, I'm sorry but I can't," Doctor Brightman said, following the woman as she walked out of the doctor's office.

"All I need is a couple of days," the young brunette said, turning to face the doctor.

"You don't have a couple of days. You used all your leave two months ago."

"I get days off. Give me my weekend tomorrow and I'll make up the time," she bargained.

"It's not just that," Brightman said. "We're on a skeleton staff right now. Everyone I can spare is at the Academy Hospital helping out with the wounded from the attack."

"I'm sure the hospital can deal. Bring someone back."

"No, they can't. Not with staff weapon injuries. You know the protocol. We have to minimize exposure," Brightman said.

"So bring some of the patients back and—"

"We're not staffed for—"

"But Major Carter—"

"Major Carter's blood chemistry demands that she remain here," Brightman interrupted. "Angela, my decision is final. Your request for time off is denied." She paused a moment, taking a deep breath. "Now, Major Carter has an appointment with the physiotherapist. Will you please take her up to level fourteen?"

Angela stared at the doctor and Sam could see her hands clenching at her side. "Of course," she finally said, her jaw clenched.

"Thank you," Brightman said evenly before turning on her heel and going back into her office.

Angela stood there for a few seconds and stalked over to the corner, retrieving the wheelchair. She pushed it over to Sam's bed and maneuvered it close. "Ma'am."

"Right, umm, thanks," Sam said, pushing back the covers, knowing that there was no way she could deny witnessing the whole scene. She carefully edged to the side of the bed, trying not to jar her left leg. The drugs were helping to take the edge off, but it still did hurt, especially now that she had little to do other than think about how much it hurt.

She still couldn't bear much weight on it and the stitches pulled whenever she tried. She got into the chair and was more than a little grateful that, at least, she wasn't stuck still wearing the annoying gown she'd spent the first couple of days in.

The pants were a bit awkward, she had to wear a larger size to leave room for the bandages, but at least they afforded her a bit more modesty.

Soon, she was settled and they made their way out into the hall. Sam fought the urge to huddle down in the chair. She felt the nurse's displeasure and embarrassment in the measured steps of her stride and the cold efficiency in how she turned around the corner and maneuvered around the other personnel in the hall.

Sam couldn't help the guilt that swirled around in her gut. Even though she knew the nurse was doing her job, she still couldn't deny that if she hadn't been hurt then the woman could have her time off.

Of course, being denied leave was nothing new. Sam herself had had more than one planned long weekend fall victim to someone else's definition of important.

She wanted to apologize, but what did you say? Sorry I was almost killed and ruined your plans?

Just when Lieutenant Willow's continued silence was starting to get on Sam's nerves, they arrived at Captain Neilson's office. "Ah, Major Carter. Right on time," he said, getting up from his desk.

The nurse pushed Sam forward, almost bashing her feet into the unforgiving metal surface of the doctor's standard issue desk. "Ah, don't go too far, Lieutenant," Neilson said. "This won't take long."

"That's ok, I can—" Sam spoke up.

"If I understand right, there's not much else going on down there," he interrupted, retaking his seat behind his desk.

"Maybe she'd like a break," Sam suggested.

Neilson shrugged. "That's fine," he agreed, waving his hand negligently.

Sam heard her leave the room and she relaxed slightly turning her attention to the true purpose of the meeting, Captain Neilson's plans for her rehabilitation.

It wasn't too different than the last time they'd met, two years ago when she'd dislocated her shoulder. Her injury was enough to lay her up for a bit, and she'd have to prove her fitness before she was returned to duty, but it wasn't also severe enough that she'd require any formal rehab. The appointment was more along the line of him lecturing her to exercise – walking, eventually jogging and stair climbing – and maintaining a healthy diet to 'give her body the fuel it needed to heal'.

She listened, her satisfaction at being out of the infirmary enough to stifle her irritation at the man's slightly patronizing tone. She knew he meant well and was just doing his job, but he was also starting to get on her nerves.

She started to tune him out, hopefully nodding in just the right places to keep him from knowing that she was ignoring him. It was nothing personal, far from it. He was just doing his job. It was just that she was used to his words coming from a far different source – namely a 5'2" brunette with a wicked sense of humor and a heart the size of Texas.

She missed Janet. Missed her teasing harassment and well intentioned lectures. Doctor Brightman tried. She was a good doctor and a nice woman. She just wasn't Janet.

Captain Neilson's voice trailed off and Sam looked up, afraid that she'd been caught daydreaming.

He was staring past her, his eyes wide and his mouth open. Sam turned, her heart lurching at the sight of Lieutenant Willows standing there, a berretta held in her quivering grasp. Sam froze, acutely aware of just how helpless she was in the wheelchair. She was trapped, with no quick way to move or even duck.

"What the hell is going on?" Neilson demanded, snapping out of his shock and standing up behind his desk.

Willows startled, the pistol shaking even more violently. "Don't!" she warned.

"Lieutenant, what's wrong?" Sam asked, maneuvering the chair around so that she could face the woman.

She was pale, her hands shaking and her eyes darting quickly about the small room. Sam knew that she knew how to handle the gun, every officer was taught the basics, but the way she wrapped and unwrapped her fingers around the butt told Sam that her control was shaky at best. The safety was off and Sam could see her finger twitching on the trigger.

"Wrong?" she asked. "What makes you think anything is wrong?" she demanded.

"Lieutenant, why don't you just put down the gun and we can talk about this?" Neilson edged out from behind his desk, trying to put himself between the two women.

"There's nothing left to talk about."

"If this is about your leave, maybe I can talk to Doctor Brightman—" Sam offered.

"Leave?" Willows chuckled, the discordant sound setting Sam's nerves on edge. "This has nothing to do with my leave." She cocked the pistol. "You killed Troy."

Sam slowly shook her head, instinctively raising her hands even though she knew the gesture was useless. "I don't—"

The singing sound of a zat cut across the room and Sam hunched over, barely catching out of the corner of her eye the sight of Willows collapsing. She landed in a heap and Sam just sat there, slowly straightening up.

Colonel Reynolds swept into the room, followed by the rest of SG-3. "Clear," he said, kicking the pistol out of the woman's slack hand. "You two ok?" he asked as his men rolled Willows over, securing her hands behind her back.

Sam nodded.

"How the hell did she get a gun?" Neilson demanded, huffing a bit as he straightened his coat.

"She snagged Jerry's sidearm while we were in the elevator. Fortunately, Mikey remembered her," Reynolds explained.

"Yes, fortunately," Neilson said drolly.

"Do you think she's an alien?" one of Reynolds' men asked, looking oddly enthused at the idea.

Sam slowly shook her head. "I don't think so. Right before she brought me down here she was asking Doctor Brightman for time off and was denied."

"That's no excuse to go shooting up the place," Reynolds said, glancing at the door as more SF's arrived, followed by Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c.

"Reynolds?"

"We don't quite know what happened yet. Apparently the lieutenant here was a wee bit pissed that she couldn't get some time off."

"She was angry at Carter for some reason," Neilson piped up. "Something about killing Troy."

"Carter?"

"I don't know, sir."

"We'll figure it out when she wakes up," he dismissed. "Take her to the brig. T, you wanna get Carter back downstairs?"

Teal'c nodded and stepped forward, taking the handles of the wheelchair and easily maneuvering it from the room.

Sam remained silent during the short trip, her mind replaying the past few minutes.

'You killed Troy.'

Who was Troy? She hadn't killed anyone. Not unless you counted Jaffa and she couldn't imagine a nurse at the SGC getting too upset about that. And anyway, Troy was not a Jaffa name.

"Major Carter, do you require assistance in returning to bed?"

"What?" Sam shook her head, realizing that she'd spaced out the whole trip. "Oh, sorry," she muttered, feeling warmth creep up her cheeks.

Teal'c locked the wheels and Sam kicked up the footrest with her good leg, bracing her hands on the armrest. She levered herself up and limped to the bed, feeling Teal'c behind her, staying close to catch her if she lost her balance.

She maneuvered onto the bed, carefully sliding across the cool sheets. She leaned back against the pillows and sighed, taking a moment and closing her eyes.

"Major Carter?"

"Do me a favor, Teal'c. Can you hand around for a few minutes?" she requested, keeping her eyes closed.

She heard him push the wheelchair across the room and return to her side, claiming the chair by her bed. "Do you wish for some conversation?" he asked.

Sam shook her head, opening her eyes and looking at him. "Just be here," she said, taking no small amount of comfort in the knowledge that if there were anyone other people out there wielding weapons, they'd have to get through Teal'c first.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack sat in the security office, his fingers drumming mindlessly on the desktop as he watched the small black and white monitor inset into the console. Willows was lying on the bunk, still unconscious, right where the SF's had left her.

He heard the door open and glanced up, not surprised to see Daniel step into the room.

"Hey," he said, moving to stand at Jack's shoulder. "That's who tried to shoot Sam?"

"Yep. Know her?"

Daniel shook his head. "Just in passing. I think she transferred here seven or eight months—"

"Fourteen."

"What?"

"She transferred fourteen months ago," Jack said.

"Wow, that's aah, a while ago."

"Well, you were dead at the time. It's easy to lose track."

Daniel shrugged, unable to argue with his logic. "Any idea why she had it in for Sam?"

Jack shook his head. "We ran her through the MRI, she's not a goa'uld. She's never been off-world so it's not likely that she's a Zatarc. They're still running her blood to see if she's high on something," he said, listing the possible reasons for the woman's behavior.

"There's always the possibility that she's simply nuts," Daniel suggested.

"Do you know a Troy?" Jack asked suddenly.

"What?"

"Neilson said that Willows accused Carter of killing Troy. Ring any bells?"

Daniel slowly shook his head. "I doubt she's talking about the movie so…" He shrugged. "I have no idea."

Jack nodded and sighed, expecting the answer. "Do me a favor, look into it for me."

"Look into it?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Check into Willows' past, see if there is a Troy somewhere."

"That Sam killed?"

"Oh please. The guy may be dead, but I sincerely doubt Carter had anything to do with it. Just give me something to work with," he requested.

"Ok. What are you going to do?"

Jack looked at the monitor again, noting that the nurse was starting to stir. "The lieutenant and I are going to be having a little chat." Jack pushed his chair away from the console and stood up. He walked past Daniel, ignoring the speculative look on the man's face. He knew that Daniel would probably take a seat and watch the interrogation and he didn't mind that. Maybe he'd gain some insight that Jack didn't have.

As he walked down the short corridor between the surveillance room and the cells, Jack fought to control the emotions roiling in his gut. His job was to interrogate the woman, not take his anger out on her for threatening one of his friends.

There was a part of him that knew there had to be a rationale explanation for her actions. But that part was currently outnumbered by the part of him that remembered that the nurse had held a gun on a helpless woman, who wasn't even capable of maneuvering under her own power at the moment. That was one thing Jack couldn't tolerate, someone picking on the helpless.

He nodded at the SF and the man opened the door, letting Jack into the room. Willows was lying on a bunk in a large cage set against the far wall. The room was a near identical duplicate to the one where they'd brought Carter after stopping her and Jolinar from leaving Earth.

Willows slowly opened her eyes and Jack sighed, moving where she could easily see him. "Get your ass out of that bed," he said coldly.

She looked over at him and frowned for a second before her features settled into a  disdainful mask. "I should have known," she drawled, pushing herself up and swinging her legs over the edge of the cot.

"Known what? That you'd end up in a cell?"

"That you would come to defend her," she countered, getting to her feet.

Jack ignored her taunt. "You wanna tell me why you stole Captain Denozo's sidearm and tried to shoot Major Carter and Doctor Neilson?"

Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Does it matter?"

"It could be the difference between twenty years hard labor and a simple dishonorable discharge," Jack countered.

She chuckled. "You are so blind. You just don't see it."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Enlighten me."

"She's a murdering bitch. I'd have done the world a favor had I shot her."

"Carter? A murderer? Are we talking about the same person here?" Jack asked, slightly disturbed by the anger in the woman's eyes.

Willows sat back down on the bunk, glaring at him. "You won't listen to the truth, so I'm not going to waste my time."

Jack sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He was not in the mood for this right now. He turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, hoping that Daniel would have something that could help him get through to her.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Teal'c slid the chess piece across the board, his mind more on his friend than the game. She was playing poorly, clearly distracted. He knew that she was troubled, preoccupied with Lieutenant Willows' accusations.

Teal'c knew that they were groundless, he had never witnessed Major Carter killing anyone who was not threatening either her life or the lives of one of her friends. She did have it in her to murder, all humans did, yet that impulse was so smothered by her conscience and personal values that he knew that it would take desperate circumstances indeed to bring it to the surface.

He knew what it was to be a murderer, it was a designation that applied to him. He had taken innocent life upon more than one occasion and he knew the stain that transgression left upon one's soul. It was a blemish that he did not see in her eyes. She was innocent, and she knew that she was innocent, in her heart. Her mind still held some doubts.

He could see that the woman's accusations were like a puzzle to her, and she was fascinated by puzzles. "Lieutenant Willows' accusation bothers you," he said, moving his pawn.

"Yeah," she said, moving her own pawn. "A little."

"You did not murder anyone."

"As long as you don't count Jaffa and the random alien." She reached out to move her knight then stopped, dropping her hand. "What do you think she was talking about?" she asked him.

"Of that I am not aware," he answered. "However it is something she believes in most passionately."

"Passionately enough that she was ready to kill me over it." She leaned back, raising a slightly shaking hand to push it through her hair. "I guess I'm just not used to people on Earth trying to kill me," she said, quirking a small grin.

"That is indeed an uncommon occurrence," he agreed, relieved when she shook her head slightly, coming out of the pensive mood she'd been in. She looked up and he turned, acknowledging O'Neill as he walked into the room.

"Sir."

"Carter," he nodded, grabbing a chair and dragging it over to her bed, turning it around backwards so that he could straddle it, his arms resting on the back. "How ya doing?"

"Fine, thanks." She tugged at the blanket, pulling it up a bit higher at her waist.

"Have you learned anything of importance from Lieutenant Willows?" he asked.

O'Neill shook his head. "Nope. Other than she has a bad attitude. I'm hoping Daniel can dig something up."

"Daniel?"

"He's looking into Willows' past, seeing if he can find out who this Troy person is," he explained.

"What's going to happen to her?" she asked.

O'Neill shook his head. "Don't know yet. Hammond's off until tomorrow, so I can't do much beyond keeping her locked up. Which she is, by the way," he stressed, looking her in the eyes. "And her butt is staying in that brig for the foreseeable future."

"So what now?" Carter asked, smiling a bit at O'Neill's reassurance.

"I need to get the statements from you and Neilson, have them ready for Hammond when he gets back. Castleman's working on getting the security camera footage of the whole thing," he said.

"And if she has a sufficient explanation for her actions?" Teal'c asked.

O'Neill shook his head. "She's gone. Hammond will transfer her, presuming she's not up for a court-martial next week," he promised.

"She might be, but probably not for what you're thinking of," Daniel said, joining them. He had a sheaf of papers in his hand, some of which he handed to O'Neill. "It took a little doing and some name dropping but I think I found Lieutenant Willows' Troy."

"Who is he?"

"It wasn't something obvious. First I looked through her personnel files, thinking that maybe he was a brother or father even though most children don't tend to call their parents by their first names. But that didn't pan out, so I just did a search for Troy in the SGC's personnel files…there were surprisingly more than I thought there would be so I had to narrow the search and rule out all the ones she never would have known and—"

"Daniel!" O'Neill interrupted.

"One of the victims of the attack on the Alpha Site was Sergeant Troy Kirkpatrick." He handed each of them a print out. Teal'c took it and studied the small picture.

"I recognize this person."

"Yeah. He was one of the last we brought home," O'Neill confirmed. He looked up at Carter. "We found him while we were looking for you. He had a leg injury and bled out."

Teal'c nodded. "He had been dead for many hours when we discovered him. It is likely that he perished soon after the attack."

"But what does that have to do with Lieutenant Willows?" Carter asked.

"On the surface, nothing. Until I noticed that he'd updated his will recently and I played a hunch." He handed each of them another piece of paper. "Four months ago, he bought a marriage license."

"They were married?" Carter asked, reading the copy of the license.

"Is it not common for female Tau'ri to assume the surnames of their mates?"

"Not if you're trying to hide it," O'Neill said.

"Lieutenant and Sergeant," Carter said. "Enlisted personnel are not supposed to socialize with officers, not to mention getting married. If anyone found out—"

"They'd both be court-martialed," O'Neill said, sighing.

"So, she's right. I did kill him," Carter said, dropping the sheets of paper down on her lap.

"He was KIA, Carter. He got caught in the same ambush you did."

"Anubis only attacked because of the weapon—"

"Information he probably tortured out of the Jaffa he caught. Or any one of those
Tok'ra that were hanging around were spies. You didn't kill him. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Just like you were," Daniel said.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "If you desire to place blame, then it is likely that his injuries were caused by the self-destruct. Therefore blame would rest upon Colonel Riley."

Carter sighed, accepting but not believing their words. "No wonder she was so upset. Her husband died and no one knew."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Angela sat on the bunk, absently digging under one fingernail with another. Occasionally, she could see one of the SF's walking in front of the door to the room. Sometimes they looked in, giving her a glare before returning to their post.

They were mad to her too. Still more idiots who'd fallen under Carter's spell. They didn't know. They had no idea that their precious Major Carter had more blood on her hands than anyone should have.

Angela wondered if they'd feel the same way once they found out the truth, once they realized what she really was. Of course, Carter wasn't the only one. O'Neill and the others were just as bad. They chose her over Troy. They let Troy die so that they could get their precious Major Carter safely back. The little darling of the SGC. It was sickening sometimes to watch everyone pander to her, to flock to hear her every word and try her every theory.

They all thought she was so smart, so special. A national treasure.

She was no treasure, she was a manipulative bitch. She twisted and maneuvered her way around everything. And she was so special to all of them that they'd let anyone, everyone else around them die just to spare her.

The door to the room opened and she looked up, not surprised to see O'Neill and Doctor Jackson walk into the room, trailed by one of the guards. She fought the urge to get to her feet as protocol demanded. It wouldn't do any good. Getting to her feet was a sign of respect, and she didn't respect these men. Not when they were willing to let Troy die for her sake.

"Lieutenant, we need to have a little talk," O'Neill said, motioning the SF forward. The man unlocked the door and pulled it open then left as O'Neill gave him the signal. "Is there something you'd like to tell us about Sergeant Kirkpatrick?"

"He's dead, what's there to tell?" Angela said, her jaw set as she met his gaze. She tried to ignore how her stomach clenched at the mention of Troy's name.

"How about the fact that he's your husband?" Doctor Jackson asked.

"How about the fact that he's dead?" she shot back.

"So are three dozen other officers and enlisted personnel," O'Neill said.

"But Carter's not."

"Excuse me?"

"Did you look him in the eyes as you walked right by him? Did he ask you for help? Did he beg you to save his life?" she asked, stepping out of the cell and moving closer to the colonel.

"What the hell are you talking about, Lieutenant?" O'Neill demanded.

"They found him, not half a mile from where you found your precious Major Carter. But you couldn't help him, could you? Couldn't let anything keep you from finding YOUR friend," she accused, giving into the anger welling up in her chest.

"You are out of line—"

"NO! YOU are out of line!" she yelled, jabbing O'Neill in the chest with her finger. "You think no one notices how you treat her? How everyone in this base panders to her. Major Carter this, Major Carter that. Hell, she might as well be running this base the way she has everyone wrapped around her fingers," she ranted.

"That is ENOUGH!" O'Neill roared, glaring her down. "Stand at attention!"

Angela instinctively squared her shoulders, fixating her eyes on the far wall. "You might have read some of the reports," Doctor Jackson said. "But you haven't read them all." He stepped in front of O'Neill, putting himself between them. "According to the autopsy on Sergeant Kirkpatrick he bled to death about an hour after the attack. He was already dead when Jack and Teal'c found him."

Angela shook her head, forgetting the colonel's orders. "No, he—"

"Even if he'd been in the camp, it took SG-3 six hours to get the gate upright. With his injuries, he would not have survived," Jackson said.

"You're lying," Angela insisted, not wanting to believe his words.

Doctor Jackson slowly shook his head. "No, we're not," he said softly. She shook her head, taking an unsteady step back. "There was nothing anyone could have done," he continued. "You're a nurse, you tell me how long it takes someone to bleed to death with injuries like his."

"No, I—"

"How long?"

Minutes, her mind supplied. People bled to death in minutes when their femoral artery was compromised. "It still doesn't change things," she insisted, clinging to her belief like a limpet. Doctor Jackson couldn't be right. Because if he was—

"Why did you take the gun?" O'Neill asked.

"What?"

"Denozo's sidearm, why'd you take it?"

"I don't know I just—"

She hurried down the hall, her face hot and her pride stinging from Doctor Neilson's dismissal.

She hated doctors like that, ones that treated nurses like some sort of lower class citizen. Doctor Frasier hadn't been like that. Neither was Doctor Brightman. They were even nice to the enlisted personnel, never forgetting the basic reality that without a support staff, the base wouldn't run. She reached the end of the corridor and summoned the elevator, wondering if she really dared to take the break that had been offered to her. Were they serious, or would she be getting an angry page in a few minutes, wondering where she was? Right now, she wouldn't put anything past any of them.  In fact, it would be just like Doctor Neilson to tell her she could take some time, then 'forget' that fact.

"Come on, you jarheads. We don't have all day." Colonel Reynolds hurried into view, followed by the rest of SG-3. His men were in their fatigues, dressed and ready to go off-world. Angela vaguely remembered that the team's regularly scheduled mission had been postponed after their mission to the Alpha Site. They'd been given a long weekend, just like several other members of the SGC.

But not the medical staff of course. Nobody cared about them. Cared that they needed time off or—

"Why the hell are we doing a mineral survey, boss?" one of the men asked Reynolds as they joined her in waiting for the elevator.

"Cause you need to start doing something to earn your keep," Reynolds said, rolling his eyes.

"This planet got reassigned to us," his second in command said. "It was originally SG-1's. But they're out of the rotation until Carter's back on her feet."

The elevator opened and Angela stepped in, finding herself crowded to the back by the four burly Marines kitted out in their bulky gear. "Yeah, so. Just assign someone  to cover for her," the sergeant said.

"Denozo, that's not how it works," Reynolds said.

"That's how it works for us."

"O'Neill's team, O'Neill's rules," the colonel said with a shrug. "Besides, he's got a batch of funerals to go to."

Funerals. Like Troy's. He could go to the funeral of a man he didn't even know while she couldn't get time off to go. It wasn't fair and it wasn't right, Angela thought as one of the Marines stepped back and crushed her against the wall. His sidearm poked her in the thigh and she looked down, glaring at the matte black metal. Typical, just typical.

Save the world a couple of times, and all of a sudden, everyone's kneeling at your feet. She's special, so special that the normal rules don't apply. So special that everyone else had to be inconvenienced to cater to her. So special that people died because of her. So special that the whole infirmary was put at her beck and call.

Denozo shifted again and his  sidearm poked her thigh for a second time. Angela stared at it, fascinated as it wavered slightly, shifting as the Sergeant moved his weight from one foot to the other. An image flitted through her brain and Angela smiled.

Reaching out, she carefully released the strap, sliding the Sergeant's weapon from his holster just as the elevator doors opened to level twenty-eight. The four Marines marched out, leaving Angela alone in the elevator.

None of them looked back and Angela reached out, pushing the button for level fourteen. They never did, they only noticed the pretty nurses. Most of them were like that, except for Troy. Troy noticed her. He smiled at her, talked to her. He treated her like a person, not just an officer.

He brought her flowers and took her to lunch. He cared for her and took care of her. He was a kind and sweet man and now he was dead. He was dead and it was all Carter's fault.

He was being buried tomorrow and Angela couldn't even go and say goodbye, and it was all Carter's fault. It was full military funeral and she couldn't be there. The honor guard would fold the flag and give it to someone and salute them and that someone wouldn't be her.

The elevator door opened and Angela automatically stepped out, her fingers wrapped tightly around the heavy metal weapon in her hand. An odd sense of peace swept over her and she slowly walked forward, retracing her steps to Neilson's office.

No. That someone WOULD be her. She didn't need anyone's permission. She was going to Troy's funeral. She just needed to take care of something first.

"I don't know," she repeated, knowing that O'Neill would not understand. Suddenly everything seemed wrong. What had she done?

O'Neill sighed. "I need a better answer than that."

She slowly shook her head, looking him in the eyes. "I don't know, I just…" She looked down at her hands, still able to feel the heavy coldness of the pistol against her palm. She remembered holding it up, aiming it at Carter, taking no small amount of pleasure in the look of fear that passed over the woman's face. She'd reveled in the moment, feeling strong, powerful…noticed. "I don't know," she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper.

O'Neill shrugged. "Hammond's back tomorrow. I honestly don't know what he'll do with you." He motioned for Doctor Jackson to step back. He stepped forward and Angela stepped back, crossing the threshold into the cell. "You're staying here until then," he ordered, pulling the door shut. "I'll tell the SF to bring you whatever you need—within reason. You come up with a better answer than 'I don't know' or a reason why you shouldn't spend the next ten years in Leavenworth, have them call me."

He turned on his heels and left the room, Jackson trailing in his wake. As soon as she was alone, Angela sank down on the bunk, her knees no longer wanting to support her. She stared off into space as the enormity of her actions sank in. What the hell had she done?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"All the arrangements are in here," George said, handing a folder over to Jack. "You fly out of Peterson in two hours and you'll be met at the other end by the base chaplain."

"Yeah, we've met before," Jack said, taking the folder. "Too many times."

A flash of movement caught his eye and George Hammond looked up, frowning a bit as he saw the bulky form of a wheelchair appear in the doorway to his office.  "Sir?"

"Come on in, Major," he said, waving her in.

She rolled around the corner, a folder balanced on her lap as Jack got up, moving one of the chairs out of her way. "Brightman know you're playing hooky?" he asked.

"Daniel's distracting her," she quipped. "You wanted my report on what happened yesterday," she said, holding out the folder. Jack took it and handed it to George.

"There was no need to deliver it personally," George said, taking it from Jack.

"I aah, it wasn't just that," she said. Catching the tone of her voice, he sat down, perching on the corner of his desk as Jack settled down into one of the chairs. "I wanted to ask you, what's going to happen to her?"

"You're talking about Lieutenant Willows?" he confirmed.

"Yeah."

He shrugged. "Part of that depends on you."

"Me?"

"Whether or not you're wanting to press charges," Jack clarified.

She slowly shook her head and sighed. "No."

"Carter, she tried to kill you," Jack reminded her.

"Her husband died four days ago and no one cared," she shot back.

"If she hadn't have lied to us, things would have been different."

"Sir, I think we all know why she didn't say anything."

"Regardless of that, Major, the fact still remains that Lieutenant Willows and the late Sergeant Kirkpatrick deliberately broke the  fraternization regulations, then lied about it and she ended up assaulting two officers. Those are some very serious charges," George enumerated.

"And I'm not denying that," Sam said. She trailed off and looked away, staring out the window into the briefing room.

Jack sighed. "Carter, we're not going there." He got up from the chair and paced the room slightly, finally settling for leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Colonel?" George asked, not getting the subtext of his question.

"One of the things that Willows threw up was that the whole attack was Carter's fault," Jack explained.

"Colonel," she protested, her glare telling George that Jack had just stepped into forbidden territory.

"How did she come up with that?" George asked.

Jack shook his head, shrugging. "Ya got me. No matter how you look at it, the woman's a couple sandwiches short of a picnic."

"She was upset," Sam protested.

"Upset people don't try to kill other people."

"Grief makes people do funny things," she shot back, staring at Jack until he sighed and looked away. She turned back to George. "Sir, right before it happened, she'd asked Doctor Brightman for time off to go to a funeral and was denied."

"Kirkpatrick's funeral?" he asked, putting the pieces together.

"I think so. She obviously didn't say, but it fits."

George thought for a moment, considering what he'd just learned. There was a better than average chance that Carter's words did come from a bit of guilt. Rationally, he knew that she had nothing to do with the attack. His own decision to test and tweak the weapon off world had less to do with security and more to do with making things easier for Jacob. His old friend was still taking a lot of criticism for spending too much time with the Tau'ri. However, it was a little easier to explain if he used checking in with the Tok'ra at the Alpha Site as his excuse.

George also knew that the woman was dealing with a simple bit of Survivor's Guilt as well, all of the refugees from the attack were. But he still didn't think that those emotions were the sole motivation for her decision not to press charges.

In fact, he'd be a bit disappointed in Carter if she did.  No one had suffered any physical injury and while he didn't plan to let Willows get off unpunished, he also knew that court-martialing the woman wouldn't solve anything.

"Colonel, I'm amending your orders," he said, making his decision in a flash.

"I hope you're not going to say what I think you're going to say," the man said, pushing away from the wall.

"I want you to escort Lieutenant Willows to her husband's funeral," George ordered, steeling himself for the man's protest.

"General, with all due respect, that woman—"

"Is going to her husband's funeral," George interrupted. "Then, when you return, you and I will discuss her future."

Jack stared at him and George stared back, daring him to refuse. George had his own motives and they were less about what Jack wanted and more about what Jack needed.

Jack O'Neill was an irreverent, cocky and quirky bastard at times. And he was also fiercely loyal to those he cared about.

George himself had been on the receiving end of that loyalty four years ago when the NID forced him to retire. And he knew that didn't hold a candle to someone physically threatening a member of Jack's team. Right now, the colonel's anger towards Willows was definitely coloring his perspective and George could think of no better way to get the colonel to broaden his horizons than to force him to spend some time with the woman.

"Daniel's coming too then," O'Neill spoke up.

"Colonel?"

"If I'm going to be babysitting Annie Oakley, I want Daniel along. He can help me keep an eye on her."

"I'll call and amend your orders," George said, giving into the man's request. "Your flight leaves in two hours. That should be enough time to found up some appropriate attire for Doctor Jackson and Lieutenant Willows."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Daniel sat in the back seat of the car, glancing over at his fellow passenger. Lieutenant Willows sat ramrod straight in the seat, her hands held loosely in her lap and her eyes fixated on the back of the driver's head.

Jack was seated up front, also staring straight ahead, his face set and his eyes hidden by his dark glasses. To say tensions were high was an understatement. Daniel honestly didn't think that either the lieutenant or Jack had said more than ten words the entire flight.

"Where are we going?" Daniel said, leaning forward in the seat.

"I'm afraid you missed the main memorial service, sir," the driver said. "The grave side service starts in about half an hour. They're going to wait for us."

Daniel nodded. It's what he was expecting after a thunderstorm over Kansas and Nebraska necessitated them taking an alternate, longer, flight path. Daniel fell silent, turning his head to watch the scenery flash by. They were driving through the outskirts of Cleveland having landed at a nearby air strip and, presumably, driving to the cemetery where Sergeant Kirkpatrick was to be buried. Farm houses and tended fields lined the side of the two lane highway, punctuated by picturesque barns and large stone silos.

It looked peaceful, parochial. There were a few small towns along the way and Daniel knew that they were the sort where everyone knew everyone else. Where people didn't lock their doors at night and where being a good neighbor was the cardinal rule.

It was an openness and friendliness that bore little resemblance to the secrecy of the SGC.

The car slowed and pulled into the drive of a rural cemetery. A simple chain link fence marked the boundaries and separated the cemetery from the field that surrounded it.

A large bus was parked nearby, the words painted on the side identifying it as belonging to the nearby base and Daniel guess that it belonged to the honor guard he could see standing beside the open grave.

The driver parked and turned to look at them. "The procession should be here any moment, sirs," he said.

Jack nodded, undoing his seatbelt and opening the door. Daniel followed suit as Willows did the same, her and Jack putting on their hats the second they were out of the car. Willows walked around the car and joined them, her posture tentative and unsure. "He died in a training accident," Jack said, deliberately not looking at Willows. "If you say anything else, it'll just be more ammunition for your court-marital."

"I understand, sir," she answered, her voice low.

"Daniel is your watchdog. You do not get more than two feet away from him at any point in time. Any attempt to run will get you shot," he continued, still avoiding her eyes.

"I'm going to be good, sir, I promise," she said, just as the procession pulled into the cemetery.

"You better be," Jack said, stepping away to take his place among the other military officers.

Daniel stood there for a minute. "Umm—"

"Can I say hi to his mother?" Angela asked.

"Of course." Daniel followed her as she made her way across the thick grass to the limousine that was following the hearse. The door opened and an older woman stepped out. She was dressed simply in a black skirt and jacket. She had sensible shoes and, as Daniel got closer, he could see callused hands, the knuckles swollen with arthritis and adorned by a single gold band.

"Mrs. Kirkpatrick, I'm—"

"Angela, hello. I'm so glad to see you," the woman interrupted her, reaching out to give her a hug. "I missed you at the funeral."

"I'm sorry we—"

"We ran into some turbulence," Daniel said, stepping into the conversation. "Hi, I'm Daniel Jackson, I…work with Lieutenant Willows," he introduced, holding out his hand.

"Mister Jackson, did you know Troy?"

Daniel shook his head. "Not as well as I would have liked. I'm sorry for your loss, ma'am."

"Thank you." She looked over towards the grave site. "I think they're waiting for me. Join me, please."

"We aah—"

"I don't want to sit there alone," she interrupted. "Please."

Angela nodded and they followed Mrs. Kirkpatrick under an awning, each taking a seat in the small folding chairs that were perched awkwardly on a small piece of carpet.

Daniel sat and watched as the ceremony progressed, the words of the Air Force chaplain flowing over him.

It was odd the things that varied cultures had in common. Creation myths, marriage rites, funerary rites. Many were essentially different, yet most had some similarities. The reminder of a person's life accomplishments, the wish for them to move on to a promised future of peace and happiness.

This funeral was a little different, the rituals of the military meshing with the rituals of a religion. Daniel watched as the chaplain concluded and the honor guard stepped forward and took their places around the flag shrouded coffin.

They folded the crisp flag with perfect precision and handed it off to Jack, who stepped smartly over to Mrs. Kirkpatrick, bending down to present it to her.

She accepted it, her hands shaking as she wrapped them around the flag, clutching it to her chest. Angela reached out and took her hand, trying to comfort the woman. Daniel heard the clatter of rifles and steeled himself, knowing what was to come.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick jumped when she heard the shots, gasping with surprise. Angela's grip tightened as the woman began to cry, tears streaming down her care worn face. The salute finished and an eerie sense of quiet settled over the cemetery, filled only by the mournful sound of a single bugle playing the sad, slow melody of Taps.

The ceremony concluded, the mourners got to their feet, lining up to pay their respects to Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Daniel got to his feet and slipped to the back of the tent, feeling distinctly out of place seated with the family. Jack joined him, his hat off but his shades still on, which Daniel knew was the man's defense mechanism, a way to keep people at a distance. "I thought you were keeping an eye on her."

"Where's she gonna go, Jack?" he asked, watching as the two women talked to the few gathered mourners. The funeral was small, maybe less than fifty people so Daniel knew that it wouldn't take long for the last of them to finish and leave. "Ya know, I don't think his mother even knew."

"What?"

"She obviously knew the lieutenant from the way she greeted her, but I don't think she knew that they were married."

"So?"

"So, it was obviously one hell of a secret."

"Daniel—"

"Jack, come on. If they didn't even tell his mother—"

"They get bonus points for keeping secrets. It still doesn't change what she did." The last mourner finished speaking with the two women. "We got a plane to catch."

Jack stepped forward, ready to corral the woman. Daniel sighed and followed him, resigning himself to the fact that his friend just wasn't going to forgive the lieutenant. She saw them coming and met Daniel's gaze for a second. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Kirkpatrick, I have to go," she said.

"So soon?" the woman asked. "The ladies of my church are going to put on a lunch."

"I know, and I'm sorry, ma'am. We have to get back to Colorado."

"It was important, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Ma'am?"

"What Troy was doing. It was important?"

Angela looked to Jack then nodded. "Yes, it was. Very important."

Mrs. Kirkpatrick nodded. "Were you there when he died?"

Angela shook her head. "No, ma'am. I'm sorry, I wasn't."

"He died a hero," Jack said, unexpectedly speaking up.

"Colonel?" She turned as Jack pulled off his glasses.

"I can't say where, and I can't say how. But I can tell you that your son died a hero," he explained.

"They said it was a training accident, colonel," she challenged.

"I am truly sorry for your loss, Mrs. Kirkpatrick. And I wish I could tell you more, but I can't," Jack said.

"It was the same with my Henry," she said, clutching the folded flag to her chest. The fingers of her right hand played with the ring on her left finger, rolling it around. Daniel could see that the ring was too big for her, fitting loosely on her finger, held on only by the swollen knuckle. She turned to face Angela. "I want you to have this." She held out the flag.

"Ma'am?" Angela stared at it, taking a small step back. "I can't, I—"

"I'm dying, Lieutenant. Weeks or months, the doctors can't say. Troy was the last of my family. This won't mean anything to anyone else. But I think it does to you. I'd like you to have it."

Angela hesitated, then stepped forward, taking the flag from Mrs. Kirkpatrick. "Thank you, ma'am. It does mean a lot to me." She pulled the flag to her chest, holding it tight as her eyes filled with tears.

"I can see that it does," Mrs. Kirkpatrick said. She turned to Jack. "Thank you for coming, Colonel."

"It was my honor, ma'am," Jack said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. "If you need something, please call me."

"Thank you."

"Jack?" Daniel interrupted, motioning towards his watch.

Jack nodded. "Yes. We do need to leave, Mrs. Kirkpatrick."

"I understand." She turned to Angela. "Good-bye, my dear," she said. The two women embraced, then separated.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Kirkpatrick," Daniel said.

"It was nice to meet you, Mister Jackson."

"Ma'am, it was an honor to serve with your son," Jack said.

"Thank you, Colonel."

They stepped out of the tent, Jack donning his hat as they stepped out from under the tent. Daniel glanced behind him as they made their way to the car, noticing that several of the other mourners moved closer, surrounding Mrs. Kirkpatrick and Daniel took solace in the knowledge that even if she didn't have any family, she wasn't alone.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack sat in the too small seat, carefully stretching out his legs. The constant thrum of the plane's engines should have been enough to lull him to sleep, but his mind refused to shut down, despite the fatigue burning behind his eyes.

Daniel was seated across the aisle, his glasses slightly askew and his mouth open, snoring slightly. Jack supposed he should consider himself lucky that he'd lasted as long as he had, considering that Daniel had pulled one of his all-nighters yesterday and had been far from enthused when told he was going for a trip.

Willows sat across from Daniel, the folded flag still clasped in her hands, her gaze riveted out the window. The most astute man in the world he wasn't, but Jack knew that she didn't find the setting sun all that fascinating.

"You never did answer my question," he said, surprising himself when he spoke to her.

"What?" she said after a few seconds, first looking to Daniel, obviously thinking that Jack was talking to him.

"You never did answer my question," Jack repeated.

She looked down to her lap and shook her head slightly. "It doesn't matter," she said softly, one finger tracing the seam on the flag.

"Why don't you let me decide that," he said.

Her fingers kept worrying the seam and Jack thought that she'd ignore him. Finally, she sighed. "He was going to get his degree this fall."

"What?"

She looked up at him. "Troy. He was just one class away from getting his degree. Which is kind of remarkable considering how often he went off world. He was going to enroll in OCS."

"Officers Candidacy School is quite an accomplishment," Jack said.

She nodded. "We were going to get married when he graduated."

"Why didn't you wait?"

"They had a close call a few months ago. I don't know if you remember it. They ran into some Jaffa and Yu and—"

"I remember," Jack interrupted, recalling the details of the mission. SG-6 and 12 had been captured and three of them died from torture before they'd managed to escape, thanks to a sympathetic rebel Jaffa.

"Life's too short, that's what he told me," she said.

"So you got married."

"Yeah."

"You know, you could have gone to Hammond. I'm sure he could have done something," Jack said.

"And he could have said no," she replied.

"That still doesn't explain why you tried to kill Carter and Neilson," he pressed.

"Tell me the truth, sir. If I hadn't have…lost it, would you even know that I exist?" she asked.

Jack frowned, her words not making much sense. "Lieutenant?"

She looked down at herself, shrugging slightly. "Would you even know that I exist?" she repeated, pointing to her chest. "Do you even see anything but my uniform? Think of me as anything but a nurse?" Jack stared, taken aback by her words.  "You probably don't even see it," she said. "The SGC is better than some places but…to the officers, the enlisted personnel don't matter. They're just bodies in green. Just like I'm nothing more than a white dress."

Jack shook his head. "I don't—"

"You probably don't," she interrupted. "It's been so long since  you've been nobody that you probably don't even remember it. But Troy was different. He'd see people, he'd talk to people. He talked to me," she said. She looked down, her fingers again tracing the seams on the flag.

He looked at her, really looked. She wasn't ugly, not by a long shot, but she wasn't what he'd call really pretty either. Her hair was pulled back into a regulation bun, the stark style doing little to soften her features.

She wasn't fat, but she wasn't skinny either, her slightly thick waist and her lack of height making her look rather stocky. Her nails were short and he could see rough spots on her hands, undoubtedly caused by the frequent hand washing her job required.

He could see why people would look over her, or just see the uniform. And he understood just how important it was that someone would notice her, talk to her. He understood because he did remember what it felt like. "We land in half an  hour," he said, glancing at his watch.

"Yes, sir," she said, setting her flag aside. "Excuse me, I'm going to…umm…" She gestured towards the small restroom in the back of the plane.

She got to her feet and slowly made her way to the restroom. Jack watched her go, then sighed, leaning back in his seat. Why the hell couldn't it be easy?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam limped down the short hall, slowly making her way from her kitchen to the living room. She'd been released from the infirmary the day before, finally proving to Doctor Brightman that she was mobile enough to be on her own.

She was still massively sore. She'd suffered several deep bruises during the attack, which was one of the reasons she really hadn't complained about spending the past four days confined to a wheel chair. In all honesty, she simply ached too much to let her pride get in the way.

But now that the bruises, and aches, were fading, she was finally home, and finally able to relax and rest, which was practically impossible to do in the infirmary. She knew that the guys would never believe it, but she was actually looking forward to some quiet time at home.

Maybe the colonel was right – even though she'd never admit it to him – she did need to slow down a bit. Of course, relaxing wasn't the only reason she wanted to be home. She could finally have a little privacy.

She could get away from all the well wishers and avoid the accusation she could see in their eyes.

The last of the funerals were this week. She'd missed the memorial service, it'd been scheduled while she was still in the infirmary and, while a part of her had wanted to go, another part didn't. She'd have drawn too much attention, wrapped in bandages and ensconced in her wheel chair, which would have defeated the purpose of the whole service. The people gathered to mourn the dead didn't need a reminder of those that survived…and to raise the question of precisely that. Why had she survived?

She carefully sank down on the couch, maneuvering to avoid the sore spots as much as possible. How had she survived?

A lot of those two days were very much a blur. She knew she'd hit her head during the explosion and she'd fought nausea and double vision while she'd been running.  And she knew that she'd blacked out more than once but she still couldn't come up with an answer to the question. Why had she survived?

Was it luck? Fate?

And why had the colonel and Teal'c worked so hard to find her? Would they have looked so hard for anyone else? And were they looking for her, or just to find the power source?

In her heart, she thought she knew the answer. The power source was important, it was the key to the whole weapon working and without it they had absolutely no chance of stopping the Kull Warriors.

But she also knew that they were going to look for her. That was one thing that had kept her going, even after her body screamed for her to stop. The fact that the colonel WOULD keep coming. He, and Teal'c and Daniel wouldn't stop until they found her. Just like she kept looking for a way to rescue the colonel from Edora, or to find out where he and Harry Maybourne went, or how she'd kept trying to find a way to get Teal'c out of the stargate's buffers, or how they just KNEW that Daniel wasn't dead and would find a way to come back to them.

That level of faith and trust was something new to her, and it both scared and emboldened her. She'd drawn strength from that trust, strength to keep going, to keep running, keep fighting.

At the same time, it scared her. It frightened her that they'd trust her that much, that they'd care that much. It was an awesome responsibility, to know that they'd follow her to the ends of the earth, that they'd even die to save her. She didn't want to ever be the cause of their deaths.

It was bad enough that so many people at the Alpha Site had died because of her, because of what she was working on.

The doorbell rang and she jumped, the sound dragging her out of her maudelin thoughts. "Damnit, guys, I said no," she muttered, pushing herself up off the couch. Daniel had offered to stop by this evening, bringing Teal'c and dinner and maybe a movie, but she'd refused, citing the need to recharge her batteries and have some solitary time. She should have known that he wouldn't listen. Daniel could be damn stubborn when he set his mind to it.

She picked up her crutches and made her way to the front door, debating whether or not she should just play possum. Course, if she did that, Daniel would just use his key and then hang around even longer…just to make sure she really WAS ok. Better to get it over with.

"Hold your horses," she said as the bell rang again. She pulled open the door and stepped, staring at the last person she expected to see. Despite her best efforts, she felt her heartbeat speed up and her hand tensed on the door knob. Her other hand tightened on her crutch, ready to swing it up to defend herself. "Lieutenant," she said, happy when her voice remained even.

"Major Carter, I'm sorry to bother you at home, and this will only take a minute," Lieutenant Willows said. Sam was glad to see that the woman kept her distance, seeming to sense Sam's discomfort.

"What do you want?" Sam asked, ignoring the manners her father had drilled into her. She was not going to invite this woman into her house. Right now, she sincerely regretted not letting Daniel come over.

"I just wanted to…I wanted to apologize," she said. "And it's not lieutenant now, I resigned," Willows said, smiling slightly.

"Really?"

She nodded. "That was aah, it was part of the agreement. A resignation instead of a dishonorable discharge. It's actually for the best, I never fit in well in the military anyway," she rambled. Sam stayed silent, not sure what to say. This was certainly the last thing she'd ever expected. "Anyway, I just, ahh, I just…I wanted to come by and…I wanted to say that I'm sorry for what I did. I know that it doesn't make it right but I just…"

"Thank  you," Sam interrupted, unable to keep silent and just let the woman keep talking.

Willows nodded.

She turned to leave, then turned back. "Major, that thing that you were working on, it's important isn't it?"

"Yeah, yeah it is," Sam said.

"And it'll save lives?"

"We hope so."

Willows nodded again. "That's good. I'm glad it, aah, I'm glad it worked out."

She turned her back to Sam. "Lieutenant—"

"Angela," she corrected.

"Where are  you going?" Sam asked, ignoring the woman's invitation.

"Ohio, actually. Troy's mother can use some help and…well there's always a need for a nurse so…I'm moving to Ohio." She smiled. "General Hammond called a friend of his and there's an opening in a hospital there …" She shrugged. "I'm meeting the moving van in about half an hour so I have to go and…"

"Good luck," Sam said, surprised to realize that she meant it.

"You too." Willows turned and hurried down the walk, quickly getting into her car and pulling away from the curb.

Sam watched her go, waiting until she was around the corner and out of sight before closing the door and making her way slowly back to the couch.

'I'm sorry.'

It was amazing how those two simple words had changed her. She tried to remember the last time someone had apologized to her, apologized and meant it, not one of Daniel's hurried 'sorry Sam's' that he muttered when he bumped into her. Or one of the colonel's fumbled invitations to the commissary that he used when he knew he should apologize but just couldn't get the words out.

A real, sincere, heartfelt apology.

Acting on impulse, she picked up the phone, dialing the number without even looking. "Hey, Daniel," she said the second her friend picked up the phone. "You still in the mood to grab Teal'c and a movie?" She listened, smiling as he mumbled into the phone. He was obviously busy, probably catching up on the work he'd missed going to the funeral. "Cool, tell you what, I'll call in the pizza and have it here in an hour. Is that enough time?"

Getting an affirmative answer, she hung up the phone knowing full well that from the second she issued the invitation what the answer would be. That was the other great thing about having friends, she knew she could count on them when she needed them.

Fin