It would have made her laugh, if it weren't so infuriating.

If everything weren't at risk—her rank, her reputation, her career. Not to mention the relationships she'd nurtured over the past four and a half years. The deep friendship she had with Daniel, the mutual approbation she'd found with Teal'c, the caring mentor she'd found in General Hammond.

The—whatever it was—that she'd thought she'd had with the Colonel.

That part was the hardest. She'd come through the 'Gate from Verona trailing well behind Colonel Reynolds and the rest of his team. She'd had to rely on SG-16 and their IDC to get home. Orlin hadn't thought to make her a GDO before he'd been forced to hurl himself through the 'Gate inexplicably alive in her basement.

Colonel O'Neill had been in the Gateroom when she'd emerged through the event horizon. He'd stood at the foot of the ramp, although well away from the action, his hands thrust deep in his pockets and his lips thinned into an impossibly tight line. He hadn't caught her eye, although she'd tried. He'd merely ordered her to the medical facilties and then to her private quarters to await a briefing.

Colonel Reynolds had not been particularly happy to see her on Velona—hadn't understood the sacrifice Orlin had made when he'd saved them from their own arrogance. Hadn't known the pain Carter felt in seeing him die. She'd been hurt—emotionally, as well as physically, and exhausted as well. Sam hadn't felt for Orlin what he'd claimed to feel for her, but his death—his leaving—had wounded her profoundly.

Martouf's death had affected her the same way. Not that she had been in love with him, either—but she had loved him. Most men couldn't understand the difference. Many women couldn't, either. She'd enjoyed the company of both Orlin and Martouf. They had treated her with a sweet sort of respect—allowed her to be the woman that she often missed in herself, hidden as it normally was behind the cammies and explosives.

Both Orlin and Martouf had been kind—caring. Kind men proved hard to come by. In her line of work, they were flat-out rare. And she'd been cosseted by their attention—felt feminine and cared for and wanted. She'd been Sam rather than Major Carter, and been able to imagine just for those moments, hours, days, that she could possibly love someone who wasn't off-limits.

Wouldn't it figure that they'd both been aliens.

And wouldn't it figure that no matter how hard she'd tried, she couldn't feel for them the same blatant need that she felt for the Colonel. And while a relationship with an alien wouldn't have broken the frat regulations, she'd only felt comfortable with them—and established easy, sweet friendships.

What she wanted with the Colonel wasn't easy, wasn't sweet. Her feelings for him seared her to the core—were as necessary as light, as blood, as breath. The irony is that she could never allow herself to reach out and take what she so desperately needed.

She'd denied herself the Colonel because of rank and career. She'd denied herself Orlin and Martouf because of the Colonel. Doing the right thing had gotten her exactly nothing.

But as platonic as the time spent with Orlin had been—as righteous her intentions had been through it all, she was still here. In this room. This gray cell with its single light, its metal table and its folding chairs. Still being cross examined by Simmons—that fine-dressed pig of a man.

Still with her life, her reputation, and her career on the line.

Knowing that the people she'd trusted the most had thought the worst of her. Had abandoned her.

It was like an old time police show—this interrogation room. All that it lacked were the cigarettes and the bars.

She would have laughed if it weren't so infuriating.

"You still haven't answered my question, Major Carter." The voice velvet and ice.

Sam jumped imperceptibly. She refused to look at Simmons, focusing instead on a patch of peeling paint on the wall directly adjacent to the door. She hadn't even heard the question, and wasn't going to ask to hear it again.

Simmons must have sensed her drifting attention. "I asked you how much aid you gave the alien in manufacturing the 'Gate in your basement."

"I didn't even know he was making it, Sir." She knew her voice was weak—too quiet. She just couldn't seem to be able to speak past the ache in her throat. "I did not help him. Didn't aid him."

"I find that hard to believe, Major. This alien built an actual Stargate in your basement—using materials he found largely in your home. And you expect us to believe that you didn't help him?"

"You have the tapes, sir. You can watch them yourself. I had not entered my basement in nearly a week. I only go in there to do the laundry or put things into storage."

"Yet he used your household items to construct it. He ordered supplies using your credit card and internet connection."

Her eyes flickered shut and then opened to focus again on the wall next to the door. "I didn't give him permission to use the items, sir. And he used my credit card against my knowledge as well." She didn't say that she would have ordered the items herself had Orlin asked. Would have aided him had he needed it. "I did not help him."

And in the end, she couldn't help him. And now he was gone.

Simmons shifted in his seat, unfastening a glossy black button on his coat. "You expect us to believe all this, Major Carter?" He smiled his viper's semblance of a smile. "You're an intelligent woman. Surely you don't think that we're naive."

She remained silent.

"Surely you don't think that we're all as gullible as—well—you?"

For the first time, she glanced at Simmons' face. It was sharp, outlined in that single overhead lamp. And condescending. His mouth twisted into a gloat, his heavily hooded eyes narrowed with something beyond mere dislike. He sat easily, relaxed in his chair, one leg crossed fully over the other, his shiny, expensive shoes winking in the lamplight. How would it be—to be filled like that with such tranquil hate?

"I don't know what you are, sir." Submissive, she refused to defend herself. Although she knew that there wasn't anyone else to defend her.

"I am determined, Major, to find out the truth." He drummed his fingers on the table. "And you will provide it to me."

"Am I in official custody, sir?" Sam breathed deeply for the first time in hours. Her hands lay lifeless in her lap—as immobile as if she were actually shackled. "Am I a prisoner?"

Simmons smiled then—his full lips twitched. "Not yet, Major." He stood. "I'll inform you if that changes."

He turned and aimed himself for the door. "Although, if I were you, I wouldn't leave the mountain without permission from a superior officer. From someone authorized to decide what to do with you."

Sam raised her eyes to his. "And that would be—" Her voice trailed off. She really didn't know. Almost didn't want to know.

He grinned. Nodded his head wryly. It wasn't until he'd opened the door and stepped partially through it that he answered.



Sam hadn't tried to exit the room after Simmons had left. She knew that her legs wouldn't support her. And she hadn't wanted to leave while she still had so little control over her emotions. She could feel the tears rising, and fought them back. Whatever else happened, she wouldn't cry in front of the sycophantic guard that Simmons had left on the other side of the wall.

When the door opened again, she was still sitting in exactly the same position she'd been in when Simmons left. She thought she really didn't care who came in. Caring required too much energy. And it didn't matter anyway. Nobody mattered.

"I got permission for you to leave the SGC."

Except for him. O'Neill stepped into the room and let the door shut quietly behind him. He took a few steps into the room, then stopped, turned, his hands at his sides.

"Simmons isn't as all-powerful as he seems to think. He can't confine you to base."

She glanced up at him, but found it to be too painful and dropped her gaze to her hands.

"Look, Carter. I know that you're—upset."

Sam closed her eyes, waiting.

"I realize that you've had a tough few weeks." He shoved his hands in his pockets. She knew that the Colonel did that when he needed something to do and didn't have a doohickey to play with. "I know you've lost something important to you. Someone important."

He cleared his throat, she heard him shuffle his boots on the floor.

"And I know that you think we've failed you."

Sam snapped her gaze up to him. She felt herself frown. "You didn't trust me, sir." The tear she'd been holding back broke through and trailed slowly down her cheek. "Nobody believed me, and nobody trusted me."

"I know." The Colonel swallowed. "You deserved better."

But he didn't sound convinced. She shook her head and refocused on the peeling paint.

"For the record," he paused, and she looked up at him through her eyelashes. "For the record I didn't know about the surveillance. I didn't know they'd left a camera."

Sam lifted a hand to wipe at her eyes. "But if you had known, sir? Would you have told me?"

O'Neill regarded her steadily for a long, silent moment. "Honestly, Carter?"

"I think I deserve that much, sir."

"Then honestly, I don't know."

Sam squeezed her eyes shut and forced back a sob. When she finally could, she spoke again. "I'd like to go now, sir." She stood, wobbled, but righted herself. She rounded the table and headed for the door, expected him to step away and give her some space.

Instead he moved himself between her and the exit, stopping her with his body. He lowered his gaze, studied her.

"Carter—I don't know how to make this better."

"You can't make it better, sir. No offense intended."

"I value your contribution to the team." He spoke in measured tones. Evenly, without inflection.

"The Team." She nodded. "Yes—well, which team would that be, sir?" She raised her face and caught his eye. "The team that we were—or the team we've become? You know, the one that spies on each other."

"It's not like that, Carter."


"I didn't know." But he sounded unconvinced. Skeptical.

She pushed past him and threw the door open wide. "Tell that to the cameras, sir."