Stargate SG1 is somebody else's, probably MGM/Gekko Corp/Sci-Fi, and I freely admit that whoever's it is, I'm borrowing their show and they retain all rights, etc. Prologue taken from the teleplay of The Road Not Taken, written by Alan McCullough.

Author's Note: Missing scenes for SG1's S10 episode 'The Road Not Taken'. Spoilers for all SG1 but especially S9/10. I promised myself in my writing goals for 2010 that I would complete a story thats been a WIP for a while; this is it. I hope you enjoy. Established Sam/Jack and pre Daniel/Vala although the focus here is mostly team (which means there *is* ship even if its not the main thread of the fic).

Conversations to an Empty Room

'We took shifts keeping you company.' Vala said.

Sam was touched. 'You mean...'

'Yeah.' Mitchell confrmed somewhat sheepishly. 'We talked to an empty room.'

Some days before...

Cameron Mitchell leaned against the wall and waited for someone else to speak.

'I do not believe Colonel Carter is here.' Teal'c said firmly. He looked around the stark, empty lab and raised an eyebrow; a silent challenge for someone to disagree with him. Doctor Lee did not disappoint.

'How can you know that?' Lee demanded furiously. His eyes sparked with animation as he marshalled his arguments. He folded his arms over his crumpled white lab coat. 'OK, so the Sodan cloaking technology didn't work this time but we still have half a dozen tests and...'

'Knock yourself out.' Jack O'Neill's assertion held a shadow of its usual bite. Between Daniel Jackson's capture by the Orici and Sam's mishaps, he seemed to have aged ten years in the space of a month; a constant weariness set deep into his features. 'I'm with Teal'c; Carter isn't here.'

Vala sighed heavily, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder. 'I hate to admit it but I don't sense Samantha either.' She avoided Mitchell's gaze.

Mitchell looked from her to the General to Teal'c and back. His eyes finally settled on the SGC commander, General Landry, who stood watching with interest by the doorway.

Mitchell cleared his throat. 'She could have phased to a different dimension. It's only been three days,' and he ignored the voice in his head that said if Sam was phased, she'd already gone those three days without food and water, 'I think we should continue trying, sir.'

A sympathetic look gleamed from Teal'c's dark eyes briefly but Mitchell ignored it.

'Doctor Lee; complete your tests.' Landry ordered sharply. He left the observation room before anyone could argue.

Lee looked around the remnants of SG1 and quietly made his excuses; equipment to prepare, analyses to run, research to be done.

Mitchell turned to the others, unaware of the stubborn angle of his jaw or the resolute look in his piercing blue eyes. 'I'm not giving up on her.'

O'Neill bristled, his shoulders snapping back. 'Hey, nobody here's giving up on her.' He shoved his hands in his BDU pants and rocked back on his heels. 'We just don't think she's here here.'

'Colonel Carter would have found some way to communicate with us if she remained in his lab but out of phase.' Teal'c said.

Mitchell held back his churlish reply of 'so where the hell was she.' They'd already been over the theories; already explored the possibilities; other dimensions, parallel universes, transportation to another planet even though as far as they knew the device wasn't capable of doing that. But damn it – he'd lost one team-mate, he was sure as hell not losing another.

O'Neill must have read some of his internal monologue on his face because the General's stern expression eased into something much less definable. 'She'll be back.'

The certainty that tinged O'Neill's words almost made Mitchell believe it.

'And speaking of getting back,' O'Neill segued lightly, 'I have a flight to Washington to catch.'

'I will accompany you to the surface.' Teal'c offered.

'Safe trip, sir.' Mitchell said politely. He watched the original members of the team walk away with a hint of disbelief.

'I really do think they believe she's not here anymore.' Vala said softly.

He wondered if she had read his mind. Or maybe just his face, Mitchell realised as he turned to see her regarding him closely. 'You bailing on me too, pigtails?'

Vala lifted a shoulder and sighed dramatically. 'Well, there is a small chance you might be right.' She held up her fingers, demonstrating a miniscule amount of space.

'Gee, thanks.' Mitchell said. He sighed. 'I watched her disappear, Vala; I should have done something.' As it was he wondered if he had waited too long before raising the alarm, if he should have insisted on staying with her through the test...

Vala placed her hands in the back pockets of her pants and twisted her body, her head tilting. 'SG8 are due back.'

They'd gone to investigate a possible sighting of Daniel, Mitchell remembered. It wasn't just Sam who was missing. He nodded at her. 'Go. I'll stay with Sam.'

She spun on her heel and was out of the door so fast that Mitchell wondered that she had actually waited for his OK. He rubbed the back of his neck. He stared around at the empty space and sighed. 'Looks like it's just you and me, Sam.'

Mitchell made his way to the observation room. His nose wrinkled. It smelled like Vala's latest perfume and a faint undertone of male sweat. They'd been taking it in turns to stay with Sam and keep her company. He ignored the clutter that had gathered; the magazines stacked to one side, the discarded newspaper with the half-completed crossword; a book of poetry that was Teal'c's. He spun one of the chairs around, straddling it. He placed his arms along the wooden back as he gazed down into the lab.

The silence was loud.

He could hear his own breathing; the rasp of the material as he shifted; the air humming through the vent. The faint sounds of passing Airmen and scientists, the swift thuds of their footsteps and rapid murmur of their voices, travelled through the closed door. He cleared his throat noisily and wondered what the hell to say to Sam.

'So, you probably heard the discussion just now.' Mitchell began tentatively. 'They don't think you're here.'

He rested his chin on his arms and stared thoughtfully down into the empty space. 'And I'm sure they believe that because I can't see them leaving if they didn't. I know the General's right; they're not giving up on you – they just don't think you're in this room.'

Maybe they were right, Mitchell mused, stroking his lips thoughtfully with his thumb.

'I figure they think you're somewhere trying to get home.' Mitchell said out loud. 'I wish I could believe that.'

He really did. It would mean she was safe wherever she was; that she wasn't slowly starving to death and suffering from dehydration. After the first twelve hours they had brought food and drink to her which had depressingly remained untouched. Lee had observed that Daniel hadn't required food and drink during his dimensional experience with the crystal skull and perhaps whichever dimension Sam had transported to might be the same.

'It's just...' Mitchell gestured down to the room. 'I saw you. I saw you disappear and...' he stopped abruptly.

He reigned in his churning emotions; the guilt that swarmed through his gut, the helplessness that ate away at his insides.

'I think the General wants to shoot me.' Mitchell confessed miserably, not entirely sure which one it was to whom he was referring. He was certain both Generals were pissed at him; O'Neill had lost two of his family but both had lost two of the most valuable members of the Stargate programme. Mitchell tapped his fingers restlessly. 'Daniel went missing on my watch. I made the call to get back through the 'gate. Hell, I had to drag Vala and you weren't much better.'

He shook his head at the memory; the last fleeting glimpse of Daniel, white light extending from his hands as he held off Adria to let them escape. If he closed his eyes, he could almost smell the cloying scent of charred flesh and gunshot in the air. He'd been the one to stand by and watch Daniel take the download and try to cope with Merlin in his head. Mitchell liked Daniel; admired him. He hadn't wanted to leave the other man behind but he had done it to get the rest of them home, and he knew Daniel would have agreed with him.

'And then you got shot.' Mitchell sighed heavily. That had been his fault. He'd left Sam without someone watching her back; he hadn't been quick enough to work out the enemy was trying to outflank them. Not that Sam had blamed him; she had pointed out she had made her own mistakes.

Had it just been a few weeks before that Sam had spat out his macaroons? Her simple thank you had eased his lingering unhappiness with what had gone down; lifted him. It was important to him that she thought he was doing a good job. He was only too aware that, while he held the title of SG1 leader, they were of equal rank and, hell, on experience she trumped him several times over, not to mention she had led the team before her reassignment to Area 51 and his appointment.

She had been nothing but gracious about the whole thing on her return, shrugging when he'd raised the issue and telling him she didn't miss the paperwork. But he had struggled to know how to handle it; how to handle leading a team where he didn't lead because he was the most senior or the best. Landry had told him once his role was to keep the team together; Mitchell didn't think he was doing too good a job of it given he was two team members short right at that moment.

His mind drifted to another conversation he'd had with Sam the day after she'd rejected his baking efforts; she had told him that day she wasn't going to change the password to her personal files. He shivered, remembering how defeated she had sounded on the planet when she had told him. She had been in pain, dying. She had told him there were letters. He wondered if there was one for him; one that would try to absolve him in some way for whatever ultimately happened to her.

'I know you believed that someone should know and with Daniel gone, I was it.' Mitchell said slowly. 'But I'm not going to use your password, Sam.'

Not yet.

No. Mitchell's lips firmed. Not ever. Sam would make it. He hadn't given up on her on the planet and she had saved them all and he wasn't going to give up on her now.

'I'm going to tell you what I told you before; you can't give up.' Mitchell stated. 'I've lost Jackson and I can't...I can't lose you.'

He straightened and glared down into the room. 'You can't give up. No matter what. You just have to believe you're going to make it.' He just had to believe she was going to make it.

Like he had believed he'd make it in Antarctica when his 302 went down; like he had through the months of painful rehabilitation. Just like he had when he'd tried to get SG1 back together.

'I believe you're going to make it.' Mitchell said firmly. 'I can't believe anything else, Sam. And you know why?'

He paused, waiting but there was nothing but the heavy silence of the empty room.

'Because you promised me that if the universe needed saving you'd be here.' Mitchell continued. 'And I'm holding you to that.'

Silence filled the space.

Mitchell dropped his forehead onto his arm and gave a groan. He was losing it.

o-O-o

'...and that's when Barry Gubridge revealed that it was him who had kissed Patricia in the elevator!' Vala took a large bite from her apple and waved it around in emphasis as she chewed enthusiastically. 'I knew it! I mean, it's unfortunate for Major Stanley who is the better specimen with those muscles and the thing he does with his tongue – not that I know from personal experience but Jane in linguistics swears by it. I've put money on them being married by the end of the year.' She paused, tilting the chair backwards while she reviewed what she'd said in her head.

'Barry and Patricia obviously not Stanley and Jane although...' she considered the idea for a moment and dismissed it. 'No. They're not right for each other. Now Jane and Perry of SG9 that I can see.'

'Really?' Mitchell's question caught her by surprise, and she turned her head to see him silhouetted in the open doorway of the observation room. He leaned one shoulder on the jamb, his arms folded against his chest and his body angled diagonally across the space. 'I thought Perry was seeing Harriet from SG17.'

'Everyone knows that's not going to last.' Vala gestured with the apple and wondered whether she should take her feet off the table. She stayed where she was. 'She's way out of his league.'

Mitchell pulled a face and gestured towards her apple. 'Should you be eating?'

The implied criticism that she was thoughtless had her stiffening. 'I'm using it as bait.' She shot back. 'If Samantha's hungry this should motivate her.'

'Or torture her.' Mitchell pointed out caustically.

Vala felt the sting of his harsh tone and glared at him. OK, so maybe it had been a little thoughtless of her to bring the apple with her on her shift to stay with Sam but she hadn't meant to torture her team-mate.

He walked forward into the room, taking the chair beside her and staring out into the room below. 'Sorry.'

'No, you're right.' Vala said with a sigh. If Sam was with them and hungry, she probably wasn't appreciating the presence of an apple. Vala tossed the half-eaten fruit into the refuse bin beside the table.

They both looked down at the empty lab.

'It's just...she's been gone for five days.' Mitchell commented despondently.

She reached over and patted his hand, leaving a faint residue of apple juice on his skin. Mitchell surreptitiously wiped it off on his shirt.

'Teal'c's convinced she's not here.' Vala commented, trying for a breezy tone. Their Jaffa team-mate still took his turn at staying with Sam but she figured he was doing it more for their sake than any real belief that Sam was in the room below.

'Maybe he's right.' Mitchell sighed.

Vala looked at him surprised. It was the first time the SG1 team leader had allowed that Sam might not be in the room anymore.

Mitchell glanced at her and flushed. She could see the tide of red travel up his neck even in the dim lighting of the observation room. 'It's been five days.' He repeated. 'If she's going to survive this, she has to be somewhere else.'

Otherwise their team-mate was dying in front of them only they couldn't see her, Vala surmised. The thought made her shudder violently.

'Anyway,' Mitchell said suddenly, 'I came to tell you that we've had a sighting of Jackson on P9Y653.'

Vala's eyes widened and the small kernel of hope she kept hidden that Daniel would be found and returned to her – them, bubbled to the surface as it did every time they had heard of a sighting.

'Teal'c and I are going to head out with SG11 in an hour.' Mitchell said.

She realised from his wording that she wasn't invited. Mitchell evidently expected her to stay on duty watching over Sam – or probably more accurately an empty room.

He sighed even as she opened her mouth to protest. 'This is probably another wild goose chase for Jackson, and I know that Sam's probably not down there,' he said, motioning beyond the glass partition, 'but there's a small chance that she is and...'

And if Sam was slowly dying in the room below, someone should be with her, Vala completed the thought. She nodded slowly. 'I understand.'

Mitchell slapped her shoulder and left with another long look at the barren lab.

Vala sighed heavily and lowered her feet to the floor. She swivelled and leaned forward, her nose so close to the glass that her breath fogged it up. She inched back. 'I really hope that you're not dying down there, Samantha, because that's just...' She screwed up her nose. 'Ewww for a start.'

The room remained empty and silent but Vala felt strangely reassured by that.

'I don't think you're dead,' she continued conversationally, 'I think Teal'c and your yummy General are right; I don't think you're there at all.'

She propped her chin up on her fist and gazed into the stark space below.

'But I do think it's really bad form for you to leave when Daniel is already missing.' Vala complained out loud. 'So you should come back immediately.'

She waited hopefully for a long moment but the lack of response had her sighing again.

'You probably heard Cameron. They think they've seen Daniel on some other planet.' She sniffed. 'I heard Walter saying that he was getting more sightings than Elvis, whoever he is.'

Vala felt the faint stirrings of the same panic that had gripped her in the wake of Daniel on a planet faced off against her daughter. She knew what Adria was capable of; she knew how much danger Daniel was in. If Mitchell was wrong and Adria hadn't kept Daniel alive...

She bit her lip and shook herself, trying to erase the thoughts. She had to think positively. Daniel and the others hadn't given up on her when she had gone missing a few months before and she wouldn't give up on him. They'd find him. Just like they'd find Samantha – or more probably, Samantha would find them.

Vala shifted restlessly on her chair. 'You're supposed to be here.' She said accusingly. 'You're supposed to be here to help me through Daniel not being here.'

Sam had come to her room the first night they'd been home after leaving Daniel. She had poured them some wine and promised Vala that it would be OK and that Daniel would be back. Sam had told Vala that she shouldn't worry, that the rest of SG1 was there for her; that Sam was there for her and would help her through everything; she had promised.

'You know I didn't like you the first time we met.' Vala remembered suddenly. 'Daniel was always talking about you.' How smart Sam was; how brilliant. Whereas Vala at the time had felt she was nothing more than an irritant to him; a con artist and thief who had chained herself to him for profitable gain. 'I might have been the smallest bit jealous.'

OK, Vala acknowledged silently, she had been a lot jealous.

Sam had been beautiful, respected and every bit as brilliant as Daniel had said. And she had been dismissive of Vala's presence. But who could blame her, Vala reminisced; if she had been Sam she wouldn't have been happy with her being around either – a woman who had held her friend hostage and unwittingly risked his life.

It had genuinely surprised her on her return from the Ori galaxy that Sam had been so welcoming. Sam had helped Vala with so many different things since she had joined the SGC; she had been a truly supportive friend.

'I've never had a female friend before.' Vala pulled a face. Even as a child, she had preferred the company of boys. They had been so much more fun than the girls. And then there had been Qetesh.

'Qetesh had Athena,' she mused, idly thinking back to her time as a Goa'uld host, 'not that they were friends so much as rivals.'

She shivered at an old memory of Qetesh with Athena laughing as they tortured some poor boy before the more recent memory of Athena torturing Vala slid into replace it.

Vala forced herself to breathe. She was safe. Well, as safe as one could be in the midst of a war against an intractable enemy.

'We never talk about it, do we?' She murmured idly. 'We're both ex-hosts but we both ignore that we know when one of us is in the room; the way our blood tingles at the presence of naquadah.' She paused. 'I never told you before but it makes me feel safe knowing that you're there. It makes me feel less alone.'

Her eyes widened as she registered her own words and she straightened, trying to give a breezy laugh to cover the vulnerability that she'd revealed. 'Not that you need to know that or probably wanted to talk about it. Not that I want to talk about it either. But I mean if you wanted to talk about it than obviously I would and...' she stumbled to a halt.

The room was empty and she couldn't sense Sam. Vala was alone. She had been alone for so long and somehow, SG1 had lulled her into a false sense of security that she wouldn't be alone anymore.

Vala reached forward and placed her hand flat against the window. 'I really wish you were here, Samantha.'

o-O-o

Daniel stretched out in his large bed and stared up at the unusual ceiling of his quarters on the Ori ship. He rested one hand on his firm plane of his abdomen and placed the other behind his head. He was tired. Every muscle ached; his head pounded.

Merlin was asleep. The other presence in his head was quiet and it was a balm to Daniel's soul. His sharing a body with the Ancient was taking its toll on him physically, emotionally, mentally. There were times when Merlin controlled him that Daniel didn't know where he began and Merlin ended. The Ancient had lived three lives and there was a jumbled mass of memories and knowledge that all intruded upon Daniel's like a wave crashing against a shore. And with every crash, Daniel mused, it felt like the shoreline – him – was eroding just that little bit more.

He sighed.

The more disturbing moments were when Daniel remembered his own life as an Ascended being. It had all been tidied away into his subconscious by Oma and he usually barely remembered anything more than glimpses. But Merlin's Ascended knowledge had unlocked his own. He shuddered. He remembered everything he had done – or rather not done.

How had Jack ever forgiven him for standing by and watching Ba'al torture him? How had Teal'c thanked him for simply remaining with him when the Jaffa and Bra'tac had been dying at Kresh'tar? And Sam? All those times he had watched her grieve for him and had never shown himself because he had been too cowardly to face her pain. He wasn't sure he liked his Ascended self. It had underscored to him that he'd made the right decision to return.

Merlin had told Daniel he wouldn't remember his Ascension again once the reset happened and Merlin left him. He raised his hand and felt over his changed face; the mottled skin of a Prior under his fingertips. Merlin had told him it was necessary for the plan to work.

Daniel grimaced and shoved the cover back. He lurched into a sitting position and stuffed the heels of his hands into his eyes before he lowered them and stared at the pieces of the Sangraal, gleaming in the faint light, on the table across the room.

He grabbed a blue silk robe and shucked it on, tying it loosely. He imagined, with fleeting amusement, the teasing if his SG1 team-mates ever saw him in the robe as he walked over to the table. It was the device laid out on the surface that held his attention as he sat down and picked up a thin crystal.

'Sam, you would love this.' Daniel muttered under his breath. He could understand the technology perfectly in his head but he wouldn't know how to explain it. 'You'd probably have a million questions and I wouldn't be able to answer a single one.'

In fact he was sure Sam was going to be asking him questions the minute they found him. Which would have to be soon. The device was almost complete and the second half of the plan would go into action.

Sam would understand and trust him, and so too would Teal'c and Jack. He was confident of that. They had all been through too much together not to trust each other implicitly. He really wasn't sure about Mitchell though. And Vala? He sighed.

He figured Vala would want to trust him but wouldn't. She had been alone a long time and she knew the Ori better than the others. It didn't matter, Daniel mused, as he turned the crystal over in his hand and refused to acknowledge the small nagging voice that said that it did. At the end of the day, he just needed Jack to believe him and agree to the plan.

The really insane plan.

Daniel rolled his eyes and set the crystal down. He moved over to the window and watched the distorted waves of light. He missed his team. He had Merlin but he'd have preferred to have had his team-mates.

He wondered what they were doing. He crossed his arms tightly around his torso. Probably they weren't wasting time talking to their non-existent team-mates in an empty room.

There had been a moment when Merlin had muttered something about Arthur's mantle being activated after Adria had taken a report from one of the Priors about an incident on another Ori ship. She had been furious; almost incandescent with rage that the Prior had allowed the device to slip through his fingers but more furious that he had somehow allowed Vala to escape. She hadn't allowed the Prior to blame Tomin. It seemed the Orici had a soft spot for the man the Ori had placed in the role of her father.

Daniel let himself smile proudly. He was pleased that Vala had escaped. And he knew that despite the Prior's report that he had destroyed everything on the planet that somehow Sam had gotten the device to work and saved everyone.

'Merlin says you're brilliant, Sam.' Daniel murmured softly, his voice so quiet. 'That he hadn't expected any human would be able to comprehend how to sustain the phase field for any length of time.'

Merlin had also been impressed that Sam had worked out how to circumvent Morgan's obelisk and find a way to dial out to escape from Adria. The Ancient had also been impressed at how much SG1 had achieved together.

Together.

Daniel felt loneliness wash over him again, a longing to be home and for his pretence with Adria to be over already.

He closed his eyes briefly before with a final look out into space he made his way back to his bed. He threw off the robe and crawled under the cover. He should get some sleep. There would be another meeting with Adria the next day; another game of cat and mouse with his mind.

Daniel closed his eyes. 'I really miss you.'

His words drifted away into the silence.

o-O-o

They weren't going to allow her to go home to her own universe.

The realisation took her breath away but Sam was too furious to panic. Her gaze shot across to their version of General Hammond. He avoided her accusing gaze. She turned around and swept out. She didn't know where she was headed; she just strode angrily through the corridors until she found herself back in the lab where she had appeared.

Sam hovered in the doorway for a long moment before entering the empty room. She closed the door behind her. Sam pressed her lips firmly together; if she opened her mouth she'd scream or worse, cry. She could feel the tears threatening and her throat and chest locked tight to prevent a sob from escaping.

She had saved this world, saved them using the very device that they were keeping from her. And what a world it was where 302s bombed villages; where civil liberties were eroded all to hell.

Where her counterpart was married to Rodney McKay.

Rodney McKay.

Divorced, Sam corrected smartly. Divorced. Her counterpart was divorced from McKay and in the scheme of things, it was a very minor blip compared to the rest. She had visited McKay and he was genuinely upset at the news of his former wife's death and he seemed different somehow. He had some of her universe's Rodney McKay's annoying traits but he was more personable. Or maybe she just needed him to be so she could work with him and get home.

She shoved her hands in the pockets of her overcoat. Her mind slipped back to the moment the week before when she had initiated the force shield and pressed the button.

It felt like a lifetime had passed since then.

She felt a moment's grief for Major Samantha Carter who had been obliterated when Sam had travelled across the inter-dimensional bridge. It had been a freak accident. Sam could probably have calculated the odds but she wasn't really inclined.

Sam slumped back against one wall and slid down until she sat on the concrete floor. She stretched out her legs, crossing her boots at the ankle. She let her head fall back against the hard wall. She closed her eyes. The hush of the air vent was all she could hear. The smell of dust on the floor made her want to sneeze.

What she really wanted though was to go home.

At least she was alive, Sam mused. With the death of her counterpart there was no complication of entropic cascade failure. The question was could she survive in this universe?

She was alone.

Major Carter had been alone too. Her counterpart had lost SG1 long before Sam had literally been sucked into her world. Daniel had been taken by the Ori; Teal'c had left for the Jaffa; Vala was in prison; Mitchell wasn't in the programme, and Jack...

She sighed.

She'd been too scared to ask about Jack. She had even resisted the temptation to look him up because if he was alive and he wasn't fighting for their civil liberties she didn't really want to know, and if he was dead or more likely frozen in Antarctica, she really didn't want to know that either.

God, she missed her Jack. He was probably going nuts at her disappearance. She felt a surge of guilt. They'd only just gotten over her almost dying. She shoved the thought away and wrestled her emotions back into the recesses of her mind. She couldn't allow herself to think about Jack; she missed him too much and she had to focus on getting home but...damn it, it wasn't just Jack; she missed every single one of her own team, and everyone at her own SGC.

By comparison, President Hank Landry was too much of a player and a politician; she preferred her own brusque General Landry who fought for what he believed in. The SG1 leader, Evan Lorne was a nice guy, very much like their own Lorne, and it was evident that he'd gotten along well with her counterpart. They were avoiding each other and Sam figured he was grieving for the friend he had lost. Hammond had been kind but he reminded her too much of her Hammond because they were so spookily the same and it just made her more homesick.

What was her team doing right then, she wondered. Were they even searching for her? At least Cam had been around when she had pressed the button and disappeared. He would know that something had gone wrong. If she had been alone, it might have taken hours before anyone realised she was missing.

Poor Cam. Her disappearing act was the last thing he needed with Daniel gone. Sam flashed back briefly to when she and Teal'c had left Daniel behind. Maybe if they had carried him; maybe there was something they could have done...

Daniel would make it. Sam believed that. She had to believe it because the alternative was thinking he was gone for good and she wasn't prepared to do that. Daniel would make it, just like he'd made it every other time they had thought they'd lost him. She wasn't alone in that belief: Jack believed Daniel would show up and so did Teal'c. The three of them knew Daniel too well.

It was harder for their newer team-mates. She knew Vala was struggling. Daniel was Vala's main anchor on Earth and the former thief wasn't certain of her place enough to believe that they'd all accept her without him being around to support her.

Sam grimaced. She had promised Vala she would be there for her. 'I'm sorry.' She whispered into the empty room as though Vala would be waiting a universe away in another empty room to hear her.

She probably owed Cam an apology too. She knew he carried the responsibility for what happened to them on his shoulders as the team leader. SG1 team leader. She opened her eyes and stared at the wall. She had been thrilled to carry the title after Jack had become the SGC commander; she'd been so proud. Coming back to the team and losing the leadership had been hard. It hadn't been Cam's fault and she hoped, prayed, that he had no idea how hard it had been for her.

She owed him her life. He had saved her on their last mission. He'd not only looked after her wounds, giving her good enough field care so that she'd survived until Carolyn Lam had been able to get her back to the SGC and into surgery, but he'd also kept her will to live going; encouraging her not to give up despite the pain and the fear that the wound was too severe for her to survive it.

Sam grimaced. She'd worried everyone with her injury. She'd woken up in the infirmary to find Jack asleep beside her in a chair; his hand clasping hers. Jack had accused her of making his hair turn white. Not thinking about Jack, Sam reminded herself as she closed her eyes tightly for a moment.

The silence of the room grated on her. She huddled in her coat. The last time she remembered being so alone, she'd been on the Prometheus with a head injury. Was it wrong to want to see the hallucinations she'd seen then?

'Where are you guys?' Sam murmured. 'Can't you turn up and talk to me?'

Had they given up fearing she had died back in her own universe? Sam couldn't imagine Jack and Teal'c giving up on her, but it would be tough for them handling her disappearance on top of Daniel's. Sam didn't know how Vala would react to her disappearance. She liked the other woman and thought they were on their way to building a friendship but it was all too new for Sam to guess Vala's reactions. Sam rubbed her nose. She doubted Cam would give up until he was ordered. Cam.

'Maybe if I can't speak to my Cam,' Sam murmured, thinking about his counterpart in the universe she had found herself in, 'maybe I can speak to the Cam here.' She got to her feet and brushed the dirt off her clothes and the palms of her hands.

It was a plan. Her lips twisted. It was the only one she had.

o-O-o

'I'm sorry.' Carolyn Lam settled back into the black leather chair and clasped her hands over her belly. 'But, if Colonel Carter is out of phase and she has been unable to obtain food and water, it is highly unlikely that she's alive at this point.'

Teal'c lifted his eyebrow as no-one else in the briefing room spoke following the pronouncement. It was not unexpected. The SGC's Chief Medical Officer had outlined the timeline for Samantha Carter's life expectancy soon after her disappearance. They had all been counting down the days. Teal'c had discussed the issue with O'Neill that morning.

General Landry cleared his throat. The SGC commander clasped his hands on top of the polished wood of the briefing room table. 'Doctor Lee?'

Lee shook his head sadly. 'We're no closer to finding Colonel Carter.' He tapped the folder in front of him. 'We've come up with some theories and there are other tests we would like to run...'

'To what end?' Richard Woolsey, the IOA Overseer, leaned forward. He gazed at Lee sternly. 'You've had days of testing already without results.'

Disgust had Mitchell grimacing. He crossed his arms and glared at the other man across the table. 'Your point being?'

Woolsey's gaze moved to Mitchell but he didn't seem perturbed by the glower on the young Lieutenant Colonel's face. 'My point being, Colonel, that this base has finite resources. In my opinion we have already expended enough of those resources in this fruitless search for Colonel Carter not to mention the hours that you and your team have spent idly keeping watch over an empty room.'

'You can't be serious.' Mitchell snapped.

'I am serious.' Woolsey rejoined. 'It's my opinion that we should reopen the lab to other experiments and, regrettably, declare Colonel Carter killed in the line of duty.' He paused. 'I very much regret her death.'

Teal'c was used to containing his own anger in front of the Tau'ri but he wished momentarily that he was back on Chulak where he could have torn the man limb from limb without consequences.

'Your opinion is noted.' Landry intervened before Mitchell could make another remark. 'However, as you are aware, Mister Woolsey, Colonel Carter is only part of the equation. We're also missing the phase device and the Joint Chiefs believe we should make every effort to continue our search for it given that it is our best bet for a defence against the Ori.' The General smiled tightly, his piercing eyes gleaming. 'It seems to me that the best way to do that is to continue our search for Colonel Carter.'

Woolsey closed his folder and sat back, defeated.

Mitchell immediately sat forward, his body language projecting his inner urge to move; to do something. 'So, what now, sir?'

Landry looked at him as though it was obvious. He turned to Lee. 'Continue with your tests.' He shifted his attention back to Mitchell and Teal'c. 'A word in my office.' He stood, causing Mitchell to spring to his feet. Landry swept his briefing folder from the table. 'Everyone else is dismissed.' He strode away without waiting to see if his order would be followed.

Teal'c got to his feet and caught up with Mitchell as he made for the office. He was curious as to the reason why the General had requested to speak to them.

Landry waved them in and signalled for Mitchell to close the door. He sat down with a soft thump and picked up a pen on his desk as he waited for them to take standing positions in front of his desk. 'I need SG1 back out in the field.'

Mitchell stiffened almost assuming an attention pose before he forced himself to remain at ease. 'Sir?'

'Doctor Lee will continue working on finding Colonel Carter.' Landry said briskly.

'But, sir...' Mitchell began to protest.

'Forgive me for being blunt here, Colonel,' Landry interrupted, 'but Carter is either not in that room or she's dead. Woolsey's right about one thing; a twenty-four hour vigil no longer serves any purpose.'

Mitchell paled and he rocked back as though punched. Teal'c held his ground but he clasped his hands a little tighter behind his back.

'You go back on rotation tomorrow.' Landry concluded.

Mitchell glanced at him but Teal'c kept his face impassive. Teal'c believed that Colonel Carter was not in the room. He understood the General's decision. As General Landry had said, spending time in the observation room served no purpose.

'Dismissed.' Landry said softly.

Mitchell came sharply about and headed out through the door to the corridor. Teal'c kept pace with him easily despite Mitchell's furious speed. They got into the elevator.

'You agree with him.' Mitchell accused him as soon as the doors slid shut.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

'Don't give me the eyebrow.' Mitchell pointed his finger at him.

'Colonel Carter is not in the room.' Teal'c turned his attention to the floor indicator.

Mitchell's frustration vibrated like a physical thing within the small confined space. 'So you're OK with this?'

'I am.' Teal'c said. 'Doctor Lee will undoubtedly find Colonel Carter or she will find him.' He allowed himself a small moment of amusement. 'Most likely it will be the latter.'

'Funny.' Mitchell remarked with a long sigh. He rubbed the back of his neck. 'It feels like we're giving up.'

Teal'c inclined his head in understanding. The elevator halted and they exited. They walked back down the corridor to the observation room where they had left Vala.

Vala sat in a chair, her upper body slumped over the table top; her face flat against a stack of glossy magazines. Her dark hair was strewn over her face but they could see her mouth was open, a shiny sliver of drool making its way down her chin.

Mitchell paused by the doorway and folded his arms as he regarded her. 'Jackson would want us to take a picture.'

Teal'c sent him an admonishing look but silently agreed with his assessment. He cleared his throat loudly.

Vala jerked upright; her hair askew. 'I'm awake.'

'Right.' Mitchell pointed to his own chin. 'You have a little...'

Vala used the cuff of her BDU blouse to rub the drool away before smiling at them sheepishly. 'So what's the news?' Her hands started to pat at her hair, tidying it into place.

Mitchell shrugged. 'We've been told to pack it up. The General wants SG1 back in the field.'

Vala's mouth twisted. 'What about Samantha?'

'Doctor Lee will continue to search for her.' Teal'c explained. His eyes were drawn to the badly lit room below. It pulled at him unexpectedly; the emptiness of it; the starkness. It had him taking an unconscious step towards the glass. He tuned out Mitchell explaining the detail of why they being asked to give up their vigil to Vala.

Was Samantha Carter's phased body lying in the room below?

The question disturbed him. He had not allowed himself to consider the possibility of her death. He believed that she had left the room; that she was working to find a way back to them. But, he was suddenly assailed by doubt.

'Teal'c?' Mitchell's sharp inquiry intruded on his thoughts.

He did not turn to look at his team-mates. 'I require a moment alone.'

He heard them gather the debris of the past few days and leave, quietly shutting the door behind them. He remained standing by the window looking down.

She was not there. He could not believe anything else.

Because if she was, and she was dead, he had failed her. He had not been by her side when she had disappeared just as he had not been by her side when she had been injured on her last mission. It did not matter to Teal'c that he had been elsewhere for a reason only that he had not been present to prevent her from harm. He knew Samantha Carter would not appreciate his thought but he had been raised in a culture that did not value women as warriors. He had altered his view after serving with Colonel Carter but he had never lost his innate belief that he had a responsibility to protect her. She was his sister.

Teal'c stared into the dark corners as though he would find her there.

He had welcomed Colonel Carter's return to SG1 the year before. He was aware of the personal sacrifice she had made in returning; the compromise to her career despite the assurances that the Air Force would reward her in time; the personal issues that made her return all that more difficult. He and Daniel Jackson had seen her struggle with assuming a position on SG1 instead of leading it. Daniel Jackson had also been disappointed at remaining on SG1; he had been eager to head for Atlantis and a city of the Ancients to explore. He had not anticipated discovering another enemy and feeling duty bound to remain.

Teal'c felt another pang at the absence of his friends. Silently, he admitted that he had struggled with returning himself. He had been torn between his duty to the Jaffa and his loyalty to his SG1 family. He had ultimately been unable to reconcile the two and the Jaffa had made the decision for him. Returning to SG1 had been most difficult. In truth, it had not been until the aftermath of the battle at the Ori Supergate that Teal'c had felt that they had all truly regained their equilibrium. He had never spoken about it.

The quiet disturbed him. He had seen his team-mates talk with Samantha Carter but he had remained silent during his own sessions alone in the observation room. He had believed she was not in the room. But he suddenly could not shake the thought that she was and that he had not spoken with her. Perhaps it was finally time to talk.

'I would speak with you, Samantha Carter.' Teal'c said softly.

o-O-o

Jack opened the door to the observation room and stopped, using the moment to scan the small space. It looked different to the last time he'd been there. The table was free of clutter and there was only Teal'c sat quietly watching the empty lab.

He stepped inside and closed the door before he made his way over to the Jaffa. He took the seat next to him and clasped his hands on top of the thin ledge as they looked out into the room below.

Jack didn't bother saying anything. For a long moment, he just relished the quiet and the knowledge of the steady presence beside him. There was always someone talking in Washington, chattering on in his ear under the mistaken assumption that he was interested. He couldn't even have cake without someone wanting to talk about something.

Washington sucked.

Of course, Washington hadn't been his choice but with Hammond's heart attack and speedy medical retirement there had been no-one else. Jack had assumed responsibility for Homeworld Security out of duty and necessity. He secretly enjoyed most of the job; the part where he got to determine the strategy for keeping Earth safe; the execution of the plans to support that. He grumbled mostly because it was expected and partly because he just enjoyed grumbling. But he didn't like the politics of it and he didn't enjoy all the talking. Besides, it was supposed to have been a short term gig until his own retirement but that had been put on hold when Daniel had fallen over the Ori.

What was it with Daniel and alien bad guys anyway, Jack mused, pursing his lips. He wondered briefly if his old friend was OK. Daniel was in the hands of the enemy so who knew yet...Jack knew Daniel. He knew Daniel would be OK. He'd probably show up before too much longer. Jack was hoping Daniel would land naked in Hank's office just for the sheer amusement factor.

Not that he would probably be at the SGC to see that.

The thought brought another wave of despondency. Washington sucked majorly.

He wasn't even supposed to be at the SGC right that minute. The Odyssey had beamed him in and the Odyssey would beam him out as soon as he had handled the reason why Landry had called him: Teal'c. Or rather Teal'c's sudden refusal to leave the observation room above the lab where Carter had disappeared days before.

Jack's lips thinned as he stared down into the empty space. Damn it. She was supposed to have been taking things easy; she had still been recovering from the gaping wounds inflicted by the Ori staff weapon. And he so did not want to remember that because that would mean remembering how close he had come to losing her for good; remembering the helpless panic that had invaded him when he'd received the call from Hank...

'You need to be prepared.' Carolyn Lam had said when she'd come of surgery; Carter's blood smeared on the scrubs. 'It's going to be tough but if she makes it through the twenty-four hours, she has a chance.'

Carolyn had said the same thing when she'd issued the literal deadline for Carter to find a way back before being out of phase without food and water killed her. 'You need to be prepared.'

As though anyone could prepare for losing someone they loved. Which actually brought him neatly back to the reason why he'd been summoned to the SGC: everyone thought Teal'c was grief-stricken at the realisation Carter was dead.

Jack snorted out loud.

Teal'c stirred beside him. 'General Landry called you.'

Jack didn't bother denying it. 'You want to tell me what's going on?'

There was a long moment of tense silence.

'I believe Colonel Carter is not in the laboratory below us.' Teal'c said finally.

'But?' prompted Jack impatiently.

'I was not here before.' Teal'c continued incongruously.

'Ah.' Jack nodded sagely but his brow creased with confusion. 'And that's important because...'

'I was not here when Colonel Carter disappeared.' Teal'c expanded.

And suddenly, Jack understood. Teal'c was blaming himself for not being there to prevent her disappearance as though his presence would have stopped Carter doing her test and pressing the shiny button that had taken her who knew where. And somehow that guilt had become a need to stay in the room just in case Carter was there.

Jack sighed. He knew everyone liked to believe Teal'c was immovable like a rock; the one they could lean on; the one who anchored them. And the truth was that Teal'c was that most of the time but it didn't mean that he wasn't affected; that he didn't feel anything. Sometimes, Jack believed that out of all of them, Teal'c actually felt things the deepest.

And it had been a tough year for Teal'c. The Jaffa were a mess after the loss of Dakara; Daniel's capture by the Ori one blow, almost losing Carter another...her disappearance yet another. Even with a belief in their team-mates to make it home – which even Jack had to concede sometimes walked a fine line between faith in Daniel and Carter's abilities and outright lunacy, it seemed there was only so much a Jaffa could take.

Jack knew it was useless to argue the point. Namely because he had the same argument with himself on a regular basis and there was just no way to get around the fact that crap happened. It probably wouldn't have made any difference if Jack had been at the SGC that day; if he'd been the one inveigling Carter to head for breakfast instead of Mitchell. She probably would have still done the test, still pressed the button, still disappeared. There was no point second guessing it. Jack had long ago learned that way led to madness and suicide missions.

'She's alive.' Jack said, because he knew Teal'c needed to hear it; hell – he needed to hear it.

Teal'c tilted his head.

'There's a sighting of Daniel.' Jack said bluntly. 'SG1 are the only team without a mission already on the schedule.'

It was a crappy move, Jack mused; making the Jaffa choose between remaining in support of one team-mate or heading out in search of another but he knew it was the only way.

Jack felt the moment Teal'c gave in. The Jaffa moved slowly back from the window. He pushed his chair back and got to his feet with a grace that belied his size.

'You are with her now.' Teal'c said. It was clear that he would relinquish his place to Jack.

'Yes.' Jack's throat closed up as Teal'c's words took on a deeper meaning than simply Jack's presence in the observation room.

Jack remained where he was while Teal'c bowed to the empty lab solemnly and made his way out without another word.

Jack sighed heavily and pushed a hand through his short grey hair. He itched to get rid of the suit he wore; itched to change into the more comfortable BDUs he usually favoured when he was at the SGC. But he was only there for a few more moments.

Briefly, he flirted with the idea of simply doing what Teal'c had done. Maybe he could refuse to leave the observation room. He wondered who they'd call to talk him out or maybe they wouldn't bother with the talking and they'd just beam him back to Washington.

It was a depressing thought.

The silence soothed him. The four walls and concrete floor below was strangely hypnotic; restful. Carter wasn't there. She wasn't dead. Wherever she was, she was fighting to get back home. She was just taking too long about it.

'You're driving Teal'c nuts here, Carter.' Jack said out loud. She was driving him nuts. He wanted, needed, her back like yesterday.

Jack got to his feet and headed for the door. He cast one last look toward the empty lab. 'Get your ass home, Carter. That's an order.'

The door closed behind him with a dull click that echoed in the empty silence of the room.

The End.