Genre: Het, Romance, Drama
Pairings: Jack/Sam, Sam/Jonas H.
Notes: A Moebius AU, written for the Het Big/Little Bang Challenge 2013. While similar in many respects, this is not the AU that was shown in Moebius. Brilliant art by casper is over at AO3.
Warnings: domestic violence

This story has been nominated for Best Alternate Reality Fic at the 2014 Sam and Jack Multimedia Awards!


Colonel Jack O'Neill listened to his commanding officer with a sinking heart, knowing where this conversation was leading. He hadn't been serving under Major General George Hammond long, but he'd gotten a pretty good read on the man: competent, fair, and unwilling to suffer fools gladly.

The fool currently in question was some scientist who was insisting on staying in his nice, comfortable Pentagon office instead of making the trip down to the Antarctic site. Jack considered that it probably wouldn't have been an issue, except there had been almost no progress over the past two weeks. So he wasn't exactly surprised when he heard the general say, "Therefore, you, Colonel, are going to fly up to Washington, and you will personally escort Dr. Hershfield back down here."

"Me, Sir?" Jack weakly repeated. Dealing with the scientists was not his strong suit, and the thought of accompanying a reluctant one nearly 10,000 miles was disheartening, at best. Surely, General Hammond would look forward to getting out of this frozen base sitting under a mile of ice.

"Yes, you, Jack," Hammond replied with an air of amusement.

"Wouldn't he be more amenable to someone with more authority, maybe a higher rank. Like oh, say, you, Sir?" Jack said hopefully.

"Possibly, but I have complete confidence in your persuasive abilities, Colonel. Plus, my stars say it's your bird that will have the pleasure of his company on that long, long trip."

"Yes, General." Jack smiled ruefully. He knew when he was beat. "Tell me again, why we need an astrophysicist to figure out the power supply?" Never let it be said that Jack O'Neill went down without a fight.

"Because, so far, they are the only department to come up with any viable ideas on how to power the ring."

"Yes, Sir."

Hammond leaned back in his chair. "You'll have twenty-four hours in DC, Jack. Go visit Hershfield in the morning; the return flight won't leave until the following morning. You can go out, have yourself a real steak and a beer, relax.

"Now, get out of here before this gets around and everyone gives you their shopping list."

"Will do, Sir."

Despite Hammond's admonition, Jack had no problem checking in with everyone before he left to see if anyone needed anything. It wasn't like there was a mall just down the street. This posting was like none he had ever pulled before: riding herd on a lot of frustrated scientists and bored airmen. The Air Force contingent was particularly edgy - highly trained, specialized officers who had no clue what they were doing at the ass-end of the world guarding a bunch of geeks and a strange stone circle. So, agreeing to pick up candy bars, DVDs, and other sundries was a small price to pay to keep his people happy.

~~ ( O ) ~~

Jack walked the halls of the Pentagon, following some clerk's directions to a suite of offices that should offer up Hershfield. He couldn't get the elusive doctor on the phone when he called first thing this morning; instead, he had settled for scheduling an appointment just before lunch. He saw the room number he was looking and entered.

At a desk at the far end of the room sat a blonde woman in a bland business suit, peering into a compact and dabbing a puff across her cheek.

"Good morning, Ma'am."

He had a brief impression of blue eyes widened in alarm before she fumbled the compact, causing it to hit the floor with a clatter, then dove under the desk to retrieve it. Jack hid a smile as he stepped closer. When she reappeared, trying to appear casual at the same time she was trying to make herself invisible, Jack got a good look at the darkened area over her cheekbone that she had been trying to conceal. His suppressed grin turned to a scowl.

"Ma'am?" He winced at the tension clearly evident in his own voice, and the resulting flush that spread across her face.

"Carter. Doctor! um... Sam." Her blue eyes were wide as she threw the compact into a drawer then stood up, holding out her hand, which he shook. Her grip was firm, but her pulse was racing and she pulled her hand back quickly. She took a deep breath and tried again. "I'm Doctor Samantha Carter. Can I help you, Colonel...?"

"Jack O'Neill, ma'am. I'm sorry, Doctor," he amended. "I have an appointment with Dr. Hershfield."

"Yes, yes, of course." She glanced over at a closed door. "He's on a call right now. If you could just wait a few minutes, I'm sure he'll be right out." She smiled at Jack apologetically. It was kind of an engaging smile, and he wondered what she was like when she wasn't so flustered. He also wondered who the hell would hit a face with that smile.

"You all right there, Dr. Carter?" he asked, his eyes touching lightly on the bruised cheekbone.

She automatically raised her hand halfway to her face and then stopped it in midair. Finding some paperwork on her desk suddenly of vital importance, she took her seat and grabbed a pen while saying, "Yes, I'm fine, thank you."

Jack nodded. He wasn't going to push. Inward seething was obviously the much better option. He realized he was standing there watching her make careful notes on the pages; to avoid staring and making her more nervous, he quietly wandered away from the desk and looked at the meager decorations instead. Scattered inspirational posters, that never did anything to inspire anyone in his experience, a periodic table, a graphic of world flags for some reason, and on the wall behind "Carter Dr Sam"'s desk, several framed diplomas - a doctorate in astrophysics, a masters in the same and a bachelor's degree.

"Egregia cum laude," he read aloud.

She looked up with an accusatory, confused look, obviously already so lost in whatever she was reading that she'd forgotten he was there. "What?"

He nodded at the wall. "Your diploma says you graduated 'Egregia cum laude.' I haven't heard of that one."

There was a spark of that smile again, that disappointingly burned out almost instantly. "Oh, it's nothing. Really."

"Don't be modest, Sam." Jack turned to the now open door to find Dr. Hershfield standing there. Jack took an instant dislike to the smarmy attitude as the man said, "It's the absolute highest honor they can bestow upon a student. Usually that person goes on to extraordinary things."

Hershfield looked pointedly at Dr. Carter, who blushed and stared down at her desk. Jack looked back and forth between the two, wondering if this idiot was the one who'd hit her. He dismissed the thought promptly; Hershfield was a pompous ass who probably wouldn't have any problem running roughshod over most the world intellectually, but the kind of anger that resulted in physical violence? Hershfield would have to recognize her as a person, which Jack quickly surmised was far from the situation.

"You must be Colonel O'Neill. Why don't you come on in and we can have a chat. Sam, bring us a couple of coffees."

Jack swallowed his protest of Hershfield's dismissive attitude toward his... assistant? They needed this guy sweet and Jack had no way of knowing whether Dr. Carter was living up to her potential or not. All he really knew was that she had a sweet smile, brilliant blue eyes, and he'd bet a week's salary that her long blonde hair would look really good, if she'd just let it down.

~~ ( O ) ~~

Sam sat at her desk and watched the two men disappear into the inner office. As soon as the door closed behind them, she dropped her head down to her desk, carefully sitting back up as the pressure around her eye increased.

So, that was Jack O'Neill, she thought glumly. He had generated, or been copied on, all the reports coming out of the Antarctic in the past two months from the highly-classified, top-secret, eyes-only project that she was supposed to know nothing about; the project that she would give just about anything to be working on.


Because she was working on it already, in the sense that Dr. Hershfield kept running all the reports by her and calling her in to his office to be a 'sounding board,' and then taking any and all of her ideas and passing them on as his own. The project was so fascinating, she almost didn't care about the credit. It was just frustrating that she couldn't request an on-site visit. She was so close to solving the power problem, but reports and photos could only convey so much information. She needed to be there, to see the device, to touch it.

And what did she do with her shot? There was Jack O'Neill, second in command of the whole project and she could barely speak, much less impress him with her brilliance. He probably didn't even think she was capable of basic math at this point, or the alphabet. And she didn't even want to think about how she looked. He'd known from the instant he walked in; she'd been crazy to think she could actually cover it up somehow.

Sam twisted the ring on her left hand and tried to drag her mind back to her duties. She reopened the folder for one last check of her logic before sending it back to Hershfield. One of these days, she was going to stand up to him. One of these days. She sighed. Right.

~~( O )~~

Jack followed the impatient scientist into his office, immaculate to the point of sterility. After a morning of work, he would have expected at least a few papers out on the desk. He took a seat and waited while Hershfield settled himself behind the desk.

"So, Colonel O'Neill, I'm afraid I only have a few minutes to spare. What can I do for you today?"

Jack smiled easily. "Well, Dr. Hershfield, we've been very encouraged by some of the ideas you've offered and we thought that you might get a little farther in solving our problem if you were actually in the same location as the device. Kind of a hands-on approach, I guess you'd say."

Hershfield affected a deep sigh as he shook his head. "Oh, that's a fascinating offer, but I think that would be quite impossible."

"Doctor, this isn't so much a request as a... an extraction. We need you down there to figure out how to make your ideas work. I'm actually a little surprised that you aren't jumping at the chance to see it in person."

The other man scoffed. "This is hardly the most exciting thing I've ever done. Getting some hunk of metal to spin? I was spinning tops when I was in the cradle, Colonel." Jack raised an eyebrow, but didn't reply. "And you are mistaken if you think yours is the only project I am consulting on. I'm sure I can't possibly get away right now."

He stood and walked past Jack. The door opened and Jack heard him ask, "What's my schedule look like for the next few days, Sam?"

Jack swore he could hear a smirk in her voice as she replied sweetly, and loud enough for Jack to overhear, "You're actually completely free, Doctor."

Hershfield sputtered and turned back to see Jack's cocky smile. "So, Doc, you should probably head home and pack, get your notes together. I'll pick you up here in the South Lot tomorrow at oh-seven-hundred."

"We're a civilian consulting agency, here, Colonel. Not some of your Air Force lackeys."

"But you are on the Air Force payroll, Doctor." He stood and passed smoothly by the stunned scientist. "Oh-seven-hundred. Don't be late."

Jack closed the door behind him as he left the stunned Hershfield to stew in his own deflating self-importance. He paused as he was passing by Carter's desk. Her eyes stayed fixed on the paperwork in front of her, but the lack of motion told Jack that she wasn't actually reading it.

"So, I'm stealing your boss away for a week or so." She looked up, and he was taken aback at the look of distress and tried to cover with a joke. "No need to thank me just because you'll be able to get home on time, maybe play some hooky for the next couple of weeks." Right, O'Neill. And if the jackass who gave her that black eye is at home...? he thought. What the hell. It's not like I'm ever going to see her again, and maybe she needs to hear it.

He softened his stance a little, lowered his voice, and looked her in the eye as he said, "You should leave him, you know. No one deserves to be hit."

She shook her head. "I never said," she protested, but trailed off at Jack's expression. Of course he knew what injuries a fist would leave, as well as dozens of other weapons. She couldn't deny it. Instead, she set her face in the bland, implacable expression she had been practicing all day and said, "Thank you for your concern, Colonel. Do you know your way out, or should I have someone escort you?"

"Nope, I'm all set." She watched as he walked out of the office, strangely touched by the concern of this stranger.

~~ ( O ) ~~

Trying to shake the strange jumble of emotions that Dr. Carter had elicited - protection, comfort, even maybe attraction? - Jack headed for the commissary to grab some lunch. As he got his food, he saw Paul Davis sitting alone, reviewing the ever-present paperwork, a half-eaten sandwich to the side. Jack slipped into the chair opposite.


Davis looked up, his annoyance at being interrupted quickly morphing into a welcoming smile when he recognized the colonel. He had worked logistics on Jack's last few missions and the two had developed a comfortable rapport. Jack was never quite sure if the major was actually happy to see him; the man was very canny in his political dealings. He always seemed to be cultivating the right friendships, seemed to always be in the right place at the right time when opportunities came along.

"Colonel O'Neill, it's good to see you. Last I heard, you were stationed way down south."

"Yeah, near McMurdo."

Davis raised an eyebrow in interest. "Really? What are you doing in this neighborhood?" He busied himself with renewed interest in his sandwich, trying to pretend that it was just small talk. Nothing in the Pentagon was ever just small talk.

"I had a meeting with Dr. Hershfield. We need him to do a site visit."

"Hershfield, huh?" Davis looked less than impressed.

"He a problem?" Jack asked, leaning forward to keep their voices low.

Davis paused, weighing his answer. "Depends on who you ask, Sir."

"I'm asking you." Jack's tone left no doubt that 'asking' was simply a polite euphemism.

"Well, Colonel, I don't think he's all that he's cracked up to be. I'd lay money that the real brains in that office is his research assistant, Dr. Carter."

"Carter," Jack repeated dubiously.

"Yes, Sir." Davis seemed very sure. Egregia cum laude, Jack reminded himself.

"I met Dr. Carter this morning," he commented casually.

"Did you, Sir?" Paul replied noncommittally.

Jack nodded. "She was sporting one hell of shiner. Any ideas on who might have put it there?"

There was another pause, longer this time. "I don't have any direct knowledge of that, Colonel. What I can tell you is that she is engaged to Jonas Hanson."

That was as good as saying it was Hanson who had hit her. Anyone with any recent time in black ops knew of or had worked with Hanson. The man was tough, aggressive, and self-reliant. He had had all the hallmarks of a stellar black ops career until recently. He'd become a bit of a loose cannon and higher up was growing concerned. He'd recently been removed from the promotions list after he'd fubared a mission; a mission which Jack had been sent to salvage, as a matter of fact.

"I thought you said she was smart," he snarked, for lack of having anything constructive to say. Threatening the life of a fellow officer in the Pentagon mess was a surefire way to commit career suicide. Thinking it, on the other hand, could be very satisfying and Jack allowed himself one moment to indulge.

"She's so far beyond smart, I don't even know if there's a word for it, Sir. You and I both know that brains have nothing to do with relationships."

"Yeah, I guess we do." Jack stood to leave and Davis followed suit. "Enjoy your lunch, Major." Jack nodded his farewell and headed out to spend some free time where he didn't have to wear three layers of survival gear just to see the sun.

~~ ( O ) ~~

After an afternoon spent wandering around the Air and Space Museum and enjoying the sun on the National Mall, Jack headed back to Arlington to meet up with some old buddies for a drink. The bar was moderately crowded, and even without the uniforms on, it was obviously frequented largely by military personnel. Jack, Kawalsky, and Ferretti were still on their first round of drinks, second round of war stories, when Jack caught sight of Jonas Hanson walking in.

Kawalsky and Ferretti instantly went on alert, catching the subtle shift in Jack's demeanor. Their eyes followed his. Kawalksy gave a snort of disgust. "C'mon, Jack, don't let that jerk-off ruin your night. Ancient history, man."

Jack looked back at his friends, men he'd been through hell and back with, and nodded. He lifted his beer and said, "To ancient history." Downing it quickly, he stood. "Anyone want seconds?"

Kawalsky rolled his eyes and Ferretti smothered a grin. "We're good. Just don't get kicked out, okay? 'Cause we're not coming with you. There's this waitress that I've had my eye on and her shift starts in an hour."

Jack shot them a cold smile. "Just a little chat, gentlemen."

He wandered casually up to the bar and signaled the bartender for another. He placed himself a couple of stools down from where Hanson was holding court with his unit. Jack recognized most of the faces from the mission. There was one new face that Jack didn't recognize, probably the replacement for the young lieutenant who hadn't made it home.

It took less than ten seconds for Hanson to feel Jack's gaze and he turned slowly. The suspicious look on his face changed to a sneer when he saw who it was.

"O'Neill," he muttered.

Jack raised his eyebrows. "That's 'Colonel O'Neill' to you, Captain." Without waiting for the correction he knew Hanson wouldn't make, without taking his eyes off him, he spoke to the others. "Why don't you boys go get yourselves a table? The Captain and I have a little something to talk about."

He waited while they silently okayed the order with Jonas - that was a problem, Jack thought, running a superior officer's orders through their unit leader - and watched them troop away to the opposite side of the bar from where his guys were sitting. Fortune was smiling on him.

He moved in next to Hanson, and placed one elbow on the bar, hand loosely around the heavy glass holding his beer. He kept a casual, friendly smile on his face as he leaned in close to speak as softly as the place allowed. Anyone watching them would see just a couple of buddies talking, sharing a joke; no suspicions raised. However, Jack's voice, when he spoke, was full of unspoken threat.

"I met your fiancee this morning."

Hanson raised his eyebrows, a twisted smile appearing and disappearing in an instant. "Well, Colonel, that must have been interesting. Was she able to form complete sentences or did she just stammer and melt into the woodwork?"

Jack tightened his grip on the glass, the tension in his hand the only sign of his disgust. "If I find out that you're the one who's responsible for that shiner, or any other injuries she may sustain in the future, I will personally take it out of your hide before handing you over to Special Investigations. Men like you are a disgrace to the uniform."

Hanson's smile was back, bigger this time, his eyes focused beyond Jack at the entrance to the bar. Jack casually turned so that he was leaning back against the bar to see what Hanson was looking at. Shit. It was Dr. Carter, standing there with a stunned expression on her face. Even from this distance, Jack could see her eyes darting between the two men, taking in their friendly expressions and apparent camaraderie. A flicker of fear crossed her face.

"Well, gee, Colonel. I sure hope you weren't trying to be the white knight today. Who knows what she must think now, seeing us together like this." Hanson held out a hand and gestured to her to come over. When she neared, he put his arm around her waist and pulled her tightly against his side. "Sam, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, Colonel Jack O'Neill. Jack, this is my beautiful and brilliant fiancee, Dr. Samantha Carter."

The smile on her face looked sick as she held out a hand. "It's nice to see you again. I didn't realize that you knew Jonas."

He shook her hand; it was ice cold. He shrugged. "Yeah, well, we've been on a couple of missions together. You know how it is. I had no idea he was even engaged." Jack looked away as Hanson tilted her face toward his and kissed her.

"Shouldn't lose track of people, Colonel. All kinds of things happen when you're not around."

"Yeah, well, I'd better get back to my friends. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again, Captain." He held Hanson's eye for a minute, made sure he understood exactly how serious Jack had been, before turning and heading back to find Kawalsky and Ferretti breathing deep sighs of relief.

~~( O )~~

The party had moved to the apartment Sam shared with Jonas after a couple of hours at the bar. She had stayed up for a round of drinks, smiling and laughing when appropriate, before retreating to the bedroom as soon as she thought it likely that Jonas wouldn't give her grief about it. She automatically went through her nighttime routine, her thoughts still whirling through the day's events.

Were O'Neill and Jonas friends? Jonas had definitely implied as much, but the colonel's behavior didn't seem to bear that out. But if they were friends, what would that mean about this morning? Was it some convoluted joke that Jonas was playing on her? Some kind of trap, to see if she would say anything? She glared at herself in the mirror, her eyes drawn to the discolored area under her eye.

Sam had thought she was a good judge of character, once upon a time, before she had found herself stuck in this nightmare parody of a relationship. Jonas had seemed friendly at first, sympathetic to a military brat with an overbearing father, and all too willing to help her escape that life and make something of herself.

Only it turned out he didn't want her to succeed for her benefit, but for his: a beautiful, smart, and witty decoration for his arm, a hostess for the parties he imagined he would throw as he worked his way up through the ranks. That process had stalled out quite spectacularly in the past year when he was passed over for an in-the-zone promotion to major. He had never hit her before that. Criticized, chastised, and controlled her, yes. But never hit her.

But everything had changed when he lost out on that promotion. He'd never told her why, stomping about in a fit for days, slamming doors, kicking tables, and generally making her want to run and hide. She had clung to the hope that it would get better, but it hadn't.

Sam gingerly touched the bruise on her cheek. The pain went deep into the bone and she hissed, drawing her hand away sharply. This was new, too; just more proof that this was getting worse and not better. He was losing control; he'd never hit her where it would be visible.

She had to leave. Her expression in the mirror hardened into a firm resolve. She was going to leave. There were just a few more things she had to get into place before she could do it. She'd been siphoning money from her paycheck, building up a small savings account that was in her name only. It was almost enough that she could move out and get a place of her own. Just a couple more months.

With any luck, Jonas' team would get tapped for another mission, preferably long-term. But there hadn't been any new assignments lately. Whenever Sam asked, Jonas just said that they were breaking the new guy in, or he changed the subject completely.

Finishing up in the bathroom, she wondered if she could make it to the kitchen to get a glass of water without being noticed. Through the closed bedroom door, she could hear Jonas' voice loud and clear as he held court in the living room, and the answering laughs and encouragements from his buddies. She quietly opened the door and stepped barefoot down the short hallway, then edged into the kitchen. She quickly filled a glass from the pitcher in the refrigerator and was just about to head back to the bedroom when the conversation took an interesting turn.

One of the guys who had been working with Jonas the longest, Kurt, had said something about Jack O'Neill. Sam paused just inside the kitchen doorway, listening.

"I can't even believe that he had the audacity to talk to you, after what he did."

Jonas snorted. "Yeah, well, O'Neill's always had more guts than brains."

The new guy, Reynolds, sounded confused as he asked, "What's the deal? I've heard about him before. Most people say he's pretty badass."

There was a thick silence. Sam could imagine everyone's heads turning to stare at the FNG. Poor kid. She was pretty sure that Reynolds was too smart for this group. She didn't see him lasting very long before Jonas kicked him to the curb. He wasn't as willing as the others to just follow Jonas' lead blindly.

Jonas' voice was harsh when he spoke. "I was running an op about a year ago. Very black ops, very high profile in certain circles. Things were slightly off the designated plan, but I had everything under control. Next thing we know, Lt. Col. Jack O'Neill waltzes in, decides it's fubar, and takes over. 'Rescues' the op." Sam could hear the sneering air quotes even in Jonas' voice.

"What happened?" Reynolds asked.

"Instead of me getting my oak leaves, they made him a full bird. I did all the work; it was my op. That was supposed to be my promotion." Sam's eyes widened as she finally learned the reason behind Jonas missing out on major. She doubted that he was as much the injured party in that situation as he made out. But the barely controlled rage in his voice had her slipping back down the hallway as quickly and quietly as possible. She turned out the lights and slipped under the covers; best to be asleep before he came to bed tonight.

As she settled into her drowsy cocoon, she allowed herself to acknowledge the relief she felt as she realized that there was no way Jonas and Jack were the friends that Jonas had tried to portray. She wasn't completely hopeless when it came to judging people after all.

~~( O )~~

The trip back to Antarctica was exactly as tedious and aggravating as Jack had thought it would be. Hershfield whined the whole trip, from the time the car picked him up ('entirely too early, Colonel'), through the plane ride ('You'd think the Air Force could have sprung for first class.'), and even during the brief stopover at McMurdo and the trip out to the crevasse ('I work much better in familiar surroundings. This will stifle my thought processes.').

The more Hershfield whined, stammered, and equivocated, the more Jack wondered if Major Davis had been right about the doctor's usefulness not being worth the paper his numerous diplomas were printed on. If so, this was going to be a colossal waste of time... and of Jack's patience. Chain of command or not, Hammond owed him big.

~~( O )~~

Watching Hershfield 'work' was almost laughable, if Jack didn't know that this project was on the bubble and needed to produce results. He still didn't know exactly why this scientific project at the literal end of the earth warranted the presence of a two-star general and a special ops colonel, but he was used to not having the whole story. He had been told to do everything in his power to motivate Hershfield, and he had tried his best, but he was really running out of ideas.

After a couple of days of no signs of progress, Hammond called Jack into his office.

"Close the door and take a seat, Colonel."

Jack did as he was told. Hammond was quiet for a moment. He looked tense, sitting straight up in his chair, and Jack wondered what was coming.

"Colonel, do you see any indication that Dr. Hershfield is making any progress?"

Jack shook his head. "No, Sir." Major Davis' words and his own observations echoed in his head.

The general narrowed his eyes. "Is there something you want to say, Colonel?"

Jack blew out a breath. "Well, General, I'm not entirely certain that Dr. Hershfield is the man for the job."

Hammond's expression didn't change. Jack made a mental note never to play poker with the general. "May I ask why not? We've made significant progress so far based on his work."

"Yeah," Jack stretched the word out and shook his head. "I had a talk with a buddy of mine while I was in DC. He expressed some doubts as to whether Hershfield is the one actually doing the work."

"That's quite an accusation, Colonel. Do you trust this friend of yours?"

"He's in a position to know quite a few things, General. I think it's worth taking his thoughts into account."

Hammond nodded, his eyes still fixed on Jack as he leaned forward, settling his elbows on the desk. "If not Hershfield, who?"

And here was where Jack felt much less sure of himself. Hershfield not having figured anything out he could buy, but what to say about Dr. Carter?

"My friend suggested that Dr. Hershfield may be taking credit for work done by his assistant, a Dr. Samantha Carter."

Hammond nodded. "And what do you think?"

"I have no problem believing that Hershfield could take credit for someone else's work. The man is so full of himself, I'm surprised there's enough room in this base for anyone else. But I only met Dr. Carter briefly. I can't say whether it's her work or not."

Hammond sighed. "Colonel, we are under the gun here, so to speak, to produce results. The Pentagon is about ready to pull the plug on the whole project. I need you to give serious consideration as to whether we invite Dr. Carter directly to join the project team."

"General, Hershfield obviously wants her as far from this project as possible, at least on the surface. If we essentially make an end-run around her boss, it could have negative repercussions, especially for her."

The general's eyes narrowed briefly. "Yes, it could."

Jack took a deep breath. Okay, it was out of character for him to spend much, if any, time worrying about someone else's career or personal life in the middle of an assignment. All the same, it seemed like Sam Carter had enough people pulling on her strings already, and he didn't want to make life any harder for her than it already was.

"I guess what I'm asking, General, is: is it that important?"

He braced for the inevitable lecture about orders and need-to-know and just get the damn job done, Colonel, but instead Hammond smiled and nodded. "Yes, Jack, I believe it is that important.

"What you don't know, what almost no one down here knows, is that there were two bodies located in the ice not far from the ring." Jack sat up a little straighter, shifting mental modes to log incoming mission data. "They weren't human, Colonel. Each being had a type of pouch in their abdomen, and one of them contained a creature. A similar creature was found not far from their location. We suspect it left the pouch in an attempt to survive on its own."

Hammond was silent for a minute, and Jack took the time to try to deal with the fact that his world view had taken a sudden, and very serious, hit. Not human creatures.

"Aliens, General?"

"Yes, Colonel. The physiology of the beings that were uncovered, coupled with the fact that the material this ring is composed of is not found anywhere on Earth, leads us to believe that we are indeed dealing with extraterrestrials." He smiled comfortingly at Jack's stunned expression. "It takes a while to get used to saying it, but you'll get there.

"That is, if this project continues. There is a disagreement among Higher Up as to the wisdom of pursuing this matter."

"They're scared of what we'll find."

"Yes, some are. There is a very vocal contingent that wants to destroy the ring and pretend that we never found it. And the longer we go without learning anything about what the ring is for, the more vocal they get, and the quieter our supporters get. I am of the opinion that this may be one of the most significant moments in human history, if we can just unlock it. So, if you think that there is someone out there who can help us, I don't give a damn about hurt feelings or career advancement."

Jack nodded slowly. "I understand, General. Let me take one more pass at Hershfield. I'll have a recommendation for you by this afternoon."

"Thank you, Colonel. Dismissed."

~~( O )~~

Jack took a few minutes to wander slowly about the base and let his mind try to make its peace with everything he had just learned. Aliens were real; they had been to Earth at some point in the distant past, and left this device. He stood in front of the ring, standing huge and still in the icy cavern.

What the hell was it? A weapon of some kind? Maybe the two -or should it be four?- aliens were trying to set it off, but were killed before they could. Would activating it cause it to arm itself? Or was it for data collection, like some kind of stationary probe? Communications, transportation... ideas were still rocketing around his brain as he turned and headed over to the labs. In general, they'd divided the labs up according to scientific discipline. No one got a private workspace other than the general, but whenever Hershfield was in present, it seemed everyone suddenly had to work in the other lab.

Sure enough, Jack passed by Lab A to see a dozen scientists squeezed in, and found Hershfield alone in Lab B. He was on the phone and Jack paused in the doorway.

"I don't care if you haven't typed them up yet. Just fax me whatever you have and do it now!"

Hershfield was agitated when he hung up the phone, planting himself in front of the fax machine and tapping his foot impatiently. He didn't notice Jack move quietly in to the lab and wait a few feet behind him. About a minute later the machine started to whir and spit out several pages, which Hershfield was grabbing as they came free.

"Whatcha got there, Doc?" Jack asked, taking great pleasure at making the man jump. The pages he'd been holding fell to the floor. Jack quickly bent to pick them up.

"Just some notes that I left at the office. You made me leave in such a hurry, Colonel."

Jack shuffled through the pages. "My, what beautiful penmanship you have, Dr. Hershfield." The carefully written equations and notes matched the glimpse of Dr. Carter's handwriting that he'd seen before. And it was definitely, not Hershfield's.

"Very funny, Colonel," he replied acerbically. "My assistant collated my notes for me. I get rather scattered when I work."

"Ah." Jack nodded. "Then why don't you tell me what's on here." He held the pages up.

Drawing himself up so straight, he was practically sticking his nose in the air, the scientist answered, "I'm sure you wouldn't understand any of it, Colonel." Jack gritted his teeth at the sneering tone with which Hershfield emphasized his rank.

"Oh, I might be able to catch the gist. I do have a master's degree in aeronautical engineering," he mentioned casually, smiling at Hershfield's discomfiture. Didn't know that, didya, Doc? "Why don't you give it a try?"

Hershfield's silence was deafening. He stared at Jack, no doubt trying to seem imposing. Jack just smiled, and waited.

After another minute with no answer, Jack said, "You know, I think we should maybe invite Dr. Carter down here and see if she knows what all this is about." He held up a finger at Hershfield's indignant sputtering. "Ah, ah. You had your chance. And I'm not kicking you out. You can continue to work. But I'm afraid you'll have to recreate your thought processes, 'cause I'm keeping these for now."

He saw the other man's eyes dart to the fax machine and then quickly away. "Oh, and I'll also be taking this." Jack swiftly took the power cord, unplugging it from the outlet and the machine. "We don't get that many faxes anyway."

"Colonel!" Hershfield finally managed to get a word out.

Jack just waved as he walked away to put the confiscated items somewhere very safe, and give Hammond his official recommendation to request Dr. Carter's assistance. "You keep plugging away, Doctor. I just know you'll do extraordinary things!"

~~( O )~~

The next few days were tense. Dr. Hershfield must have sensed the change in the atmosphere, and suddenly, as soon as no one cared if he was there, he decided to throw himself into his 'work.' He achieved the same nothing as before, except now he was driving everyone else crazy, always in the way. He even provoked quiet Dr. Rothman into raising his voice, and Jack would have sworn the only thing that man knew how to yell for was a taxi.

Finally, Dr. Carter arrived, confused and subdued, as Jack led her in to the complex. They were still outside the main chamber when Jack noticed she wasn't following him anymore and turned to see what the problem was.

"Colonel O'Neill, why am I here?"

"Well, we were kind of hoping you'd help us with the power problem we're having."

Her brow creased in questioning doubt.

"Hershfield said you'd be able to help us."

She shook her head and looked even more confused. "I'm sure he's already given you the solution."

Jack shrugged noncommittally. "But can you?" he asked.

"I don't understand. Was it wrong?"

Jack walked the few paces back to where she had stopped and waited until she looked him straight in the eye. She really had stunning eyes. "Can you do this?" he asked slowly.

She straightened up infinitesimally, and her eyes seemed to lose the cloud of unease. "Yes, I can, Colonel."

He gestured to the doorway leading to the ring chamber. "Get to work, then," he ordered with a grin.

Jack allowed her to precede him through the doorway, just so he could watch as she slowly came to a halt as she looked up at the huge metal ring that dominated the room. He walked up alongside her.

"Oh my god," she whispered. "It's really real."

"Yep," he agreed, rocking back on his heels. It was an impressive sight, almost as much as the way her face had lit up when she saw it.

She hurried over to the makeshift power station they'd set up and started sorting through the mass of cables, checking the interfaces. "Can I get the printouts from the most recent tests?"

Jack nodded to the technician that happened to be sitting there - Davis, Harriman, he couldn't remember the guy's name. She was already moving on to the now-defunct control mechanism that they had found with the ring. It was still sitting, partially dismantled, and she touched the crystals inside with reverence.

"This is amazing," she said softly, then looked back at Jack. "How many times were you able to use the control mechanism?"

Jack looked at the technician - Harriman, that was it, he was almost sure - who had been here when they had started the experiments.

"About five times, ma'am. It would cause the inner ring to spin as we pressed the first six buttons, but the seventh always seemed to reset the system."

She bit her lip and stared at the crystals. Jack cleared his throat. "As much as I admire your enthusiasm, I think we should just stick to the power alternatives that you, that Dr. Hershfield has been working on." He indicated the labs beyond the main chamber.

"Yeah, yeah. I can..." She looked longingly at the control device before heading in the direction Jack had pointed. "Later, I guess."

Grateful that Hershfield was taking a day at McMurdo, Jack found her a free workstation and Sam sat down immediately, simultaneously turning on the computer and the desk lamp, then pulling a pad of paper toward her. In less than half an hour, she had recreated the notes Hershfield had received on the fax exactly. Jack went to take the sheet and she batted his hand away. "No, no, no, not yet," she muttered. "This is just the analysis. The solution is..." She looked around as she trailed off and her eyes lit up when she saw the white board standing nearby.

Jack made himself comfortable in a nearby chair and watched as she kept running through multiple equations, going back when they led her somewhere she didn't want to go, humming and doing a little dance he was sure she was completely unaware of when it worked.

Jack was astounded as he examined her work. He hadn't been lying to Hershfield, he was no slouch when it came to some of this, as much as he liked to play dumb in front of the kids (it was always better to have people underestimate you), but what she was doing was so far beyond anything he'd even attempted to study that he had no clue what she was talking about.

The other scientists wandered in and out of the lab, stopping to examine her work, and nodding with approval. Jack wasn't sure she had any idea that they were even there. Eventually, he left to see what the mess was serving. He brought her back a tray, and she ate absently as she continued to work, bouncing back and forth between the white board, the computer, and her notebook. Every time Jack tried to make her take an actual break though, she just waved him away irritably. "I'm onto something, here."

He grabbed a couple of hours of sack time and woke up to find her still hard at work. He wasn't sure what she was trying to figure out, but it sure as hell looked more productive than anything Hershfield had even come close to achieving. And speak of the devil...

Sam was so deep in her work that she didn't seem to hear it, but Jack could hear Hershfield's garrulous voice echoing down the corridor. He slipped out of the room and headed toward the disturbance, hoping to find a way to head him off.

He found Hershfield in the ring chamber, along with Hammond and several techs who weren't doing a very good job of appearing to not pay attention to the scientist screaming at their CO.

"What do you mean, 'She's here,' General? Why did you bring that woman down here?"

Hammond's face was an interesting shade of red as he tried to keep his emotions reined in. Jack pursed his lips; he would have just let the ass have it.

"Dr. Hershfield, we felt it would be advantageous to have as many minds working on this project as possible. I'm sorry if you feel that your contribution is being minimized, but..."

"Minimized? You can't do this without me, and I will not work with that woman."

"You work with her all the time, Doc," Jack offered, making Hershfield jump, before turning with a sneer.

"And you saw how well that works. I don't know what she's told you, Colonel, but she's a no-talent hanger-on who will do anything to try to elevate her own status in the community. And, General," he turned to Hammond. "I can't believe that you are taking his word over mine. He's obviously been turned by a pretty face and a nice pair of legs."

Jack felt a flush of anger prickle across his neck, although he wasn't sure on whose behalf. Before he could say anything, Sam came running in, waving her notes. "I can do it."

"You fixed the power differential?" Jack asked.

Hershfield made a grab for the notes, but Jack intercepted, and handed them to the tech. Sam barely even noticed Hershfield, leaning over the tech's shoulder to ensure that her work was input correctly.

She was practically glowing as, at Hammond's okay, Harriman began yet another dialing test. There was a whoop of victory from almost all present as the inner ring slowly rotated, hitting the designated test chevrons. After six, it spun to the seventh, and blacked out.

Jack turned back to assure Sam that this was not a problem, that they had come farther than they had since the control device had gone kaput on them, only to find that she had displaced Sgt. Harriman from his seat and was already absorbed with examining the data on the display.

He grinned at the general and Hershfield. "I guess we got our answer, huh?"

~~( O )~~

Sam was elated. This was better than her wildest fantasy. No reports could ever have conveyed the pure thrill of actually seeing the ring, of touching it, of making it work! She grinned to herself, then blinked, realizing that the screen in front of her had gone blurry.

She was trying to make sense of the data they'd collected when the ring had spun, trying to figure out the magic combination, trying test after test, but it always seemed to reset after the sixth symbol. She'd probably spent hours already examining energy readings, trying to create a testing matrix and program sequences, slowly gathering evidence that she hoped would allow her to build a credible theory.

She looked around to find the area mostly deserted, except for Jack, playing solitaire at a table off to the side.

She looked at her watch, blinked, and shook her head. "Four o'clock?"

"That would be AM, by the way," Jack commented, continuing to turn over and place cards with rapid efficiency. "So if you're wondering where everyone went, that would to bed." The rhythmic slap of the cards hitting the table faltered. "To sleep," he amended.

"I didn't realize it had gotten so late," she said aloud, while she was wondering why the hell he hadn't passed babysitting duty on to someone else. She felt bad keeping him up all night; surely there were other things he should be doing. Pushing herself to her feet, Sam bit back a groan as her muscles made her expressly aware of how long they had been sitting in the same position in this very cold 'room.' She stumbled a bit when she tried another stretch. Jack was on his feet and heading toward her instantly.

"You need to go lie down, Dr. Carter." He stopped a couple of feet away, near enough to steady her if necessary, but not quite encroaching on personal space.

"Sam, please," she corrected. "And actually, I'm starving," she admitted.

He laughed. "I think the kitchen is closed, but come with me. I'll see what I can rustle up."

In the small mess, she paced around, trying not to let her muscles seize up while he heated something up on the small camp stove that was left out. After a few minutes, he handed her a warm mug.

"Chicken soup," he pronounced. "It's good for what ails you."

"Thank you, Colonel." She took a cautious sip and smiled as the warmth spread through her.

He cleared his throat. "Feel free to call me Jack, when we're not working anyway." He wasn't sure why he had offered that; he certainly hadn't taken steps to get friendly with any of the other scientists assigned to this project. Assets, tools. That was how he saw them, but Sam Carter was... very different. He watched the ecstatic look on her face as she took a big sip of the soup.

"I'm glad to see you've healed up nicely." She looked at him, startled, then back down to the table. "No problems getting down here?"

"No," she replied softly. "No problems."

"I can't imagine Hanson was too thrilled about your last minute trip." Without being obvious, he was assessing her movements, trying to see if Hanson had sent her down here with any reminders. Nothing that he could identify.

Sam chewed her lip and put the mug down. It seemed pointless to deny Jack's suspicions, but a combination of habit and pride kept her silent. She had been worried when Major Davis appeared in her office out of the blue requesting that she accompany him back to Antarctica. She had been wracking her brain, trying to think of some way to avoid going back to the apartment, just not able to foresee how she would explain it if Jonas lost it again when he heard she was leaving, albeit temporarily. On the other, she had considered that it would make a good dry run for when she really left him. For good.

Paul had insisted on accompanying her to gather her things, however. And he had insisted on coming up into the apartment with her. A matter of expediency, he had said. Time was of the essence and he would help her carry her things back down to the car.

Jonas had gone rigid with fury when she had told him she was leaving, immediately, for Antarctica, duration of trip yet to be determined. Once upon a time, she would have thrown it in his face; how many times had he done the same thing to her, only without even the courtesy of a heads-up? Now, she couldn't be bothered.

She had left Jonas and Paul standing in the living room surrounded by a cloud of antipathy while she threw clothes and the few reference books she kept at home into a suitcase. When she had returned, they were in the exact same positions, still silently glaring. Jonas had taken one look at her with her suitcase and pivoted sharply, heading into the den that served as his office, slamming the door shut behind him.

"Not real thrilled, no," she agreed with Jack. "Major Davis was quite helpful. He came up and helped me get my stuff together."

Jack nodded, mentally upping Davis' point tally in his mental rolodex. He saw Sam trying to stifle a yawn and tapped the table. When she looked at him, he cocked his head toward the dormitory hallway. "Time you got some sleep, Sam."

She looked almost embarrassed as she nodded agreement, her hand covering another yawn that refused to be contained. "And where would I do that?" she asked.

He stood and offered her a hand up. "Come on. I'll show you the way."

Sam slept for nearly twelve hours, protected by Jack's warning that spread like wildfire that anyone who disturbed the scientist would have to answer to him. But as soon as she was awake, she was right back at the terminal, plugging in yet another series of code.

Jack grinned as he dropped an MRE on the table next to her. "Don't you ever quit?"

"I had an idea while I was sleeping," she answered, still typing.

He shook his head. "That figures. You even work in your dreams. Guess it's that egregia cum laude thing, huh?"

She shrugged and hoped that the blush spreading across her cheeks wasn't as obvious as it felt. This new approach to dialing the ring hadn't been the only thing she had dreamt about.

Trying to distract herself, because once she started to feel embarrassed about blushing it would just get worse and worse, she started talking. "I get a lot of ideas, usually at times when my brain is otherwise occupied. Driving to work, sleeping, in the shower." She stopped typing. Showers were not the thing to think about in this situation: strong, wet hands; warm air surrounding them; oh god, she had to stop.

"And working out!" Jack was startled by the sudden, vehement addition. "I get a lot of ideas at the gym."

Sam looked around and sighed. "Probably not so much workout equipment around here, huh?"

"No. Push-ups and sit-ups are about the extent of what I've been doing down here." Sam started opening her food, spreading it all out very neatly. "If you're looking for exercise though, I'd be willing to work with you on some hand to hand."

Two birds, one stone, he thought. Give her some time away from the computer, and give her some techniques to maybe counter some of the shit Jonas might throw at her. Three birds, if he wanted to be brutally honest and include 'getting to spend more time with Sam Carter,' but Jack tried to avoid brutal honesty except for very special occasions.

She smiled widely and Jack was almost too captivated by the way it changed the whole look of her face, the way she almost radiated happiness from teeth and dimples and glittering eyes. "I'd like that."

~~( O )~~

The conference table was crowded the following day, scientists squeezed shoulder to shoulder around every available space. Jack and the few other uniforms in attendance stood along the walls, with the exception of General Hammond, seated by himself at the head of the table. Even 24 hours after they'd successfully rotated the ring for the first time, there was still a celebratory feeling, looks of euphoria on everyone's faces. Jack wondered what the rest of them were happy about; none of them had figured it out.

Hammond cleared his throat and the excited chatter slowly petered out. Faces turned toward him expectantly as they waited to hear how the news had been received by Higher Up.

"Firstly, people, I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of your for all of the hard work you have put in on this project and to publicly acknowledge the work of Dr. Samantha Carter. The Pentagon was extremely pleased with the progress report I submitted yesterday."

Another burst of excited chatter erupted as several people simultaneously reached over to shake Sam's hand or pat her on the back. Jack smiled as he watched her stammer her thanks, already overwhelmed by the response. If her work kept pace with what she'd already done down here, he thought she'd better get used to this kind of geek adoration.

"That being said, I think we only bought ourselves a few more weeks, maybe a month, before termination of this project is seriously contemplated. We have the power, we have control over the inner ring. What we need now is to know what those symbols mean, what the ring itself is for, and, if practical, how to use it."

Everyone seemed to be avoiding the general's eyes, staring at their hands or doodling aimlessly, except Sam, who was writing furiously in the notebook she'd brought with her.

"Ideas, people?"

A few shrugs, some muttering, and the scratching of Sam's pencil were the only answer for a minute. Then she looked up. "General, I'd like permission to try activating the ring a few more times, so that I can take some readings off the device itself when it's in motion."

"Certainly, Doctor." Hammond looked around the table. "Okay, people, back to work."

The crowd broke up. Most of the scientists just looked perplexed as they walked by Jack. He was heartened that at least a few had that 'I'm getting an idea' look. Sam was back to writing in her notebook. And one of the soft science guys had wandered over to stare up at the ring. Jack followed.

"Hey there," he stretched out his greeting as he searched his memory for the correct name, "Dr. Rothman. Whatcha' doing?"

The other man shook his head. "Nothing about these symbols make any sense. I don't even know what I'm doing here." With a huff, he turned and headed back to the table to pack up his stuff.

Sam looked up with a smile. "Hi, I'm Sam Carter," she said, extending her hand.

Robert gave a short laugh. "Believe me, we all know who you are. I just wish we could help you."

Jack grabbed one of the chairs and angled it so he could prop his legs up on a second one. "I believe the correct response is, "Hi, I'm Dr. Robert Rothman. Good to meet you.'"

"What's your speciality, Dr. Rothman?"

He reluctantly took a seat. "Please call me Robert. My PhD is in anthropology with an emphasis in Classical Civilization. It seems to be fairly useless here."

"Come on, Rothman. You can't hazard even a guess as to this thing's purpose?"

"If it were terrestrial, maybe I'd make a guess. But all the test results are saying it's from nowhere on Earth. That is, that is so far out of my range of knowledge..." he trailed off morosely.

"Well, what about the symbols," Sam asked. "Can you see any relation between them, anything to give us an idea of whether it's an alphabet or maybe a numbering system of some sort?"

"No, I can't."

Sam started tapping her pencil on the table, looking almost as gloomy as Rothman. "Sam?" Jack prodded.

"Colonel, it's just that without some idea of what all that means," she waved a hand toward the ring and sighed. "We're just shooting in the dark."

Robert sighed and muttered something to himself, then looked up at them with an unhappy face. "There is someone who might," he stressed the word again, "might be able to help. He's kind of brilliant when it comes to languages."

Both Sam and Jack focused on him, Sam looking expectant and Jack looked frustrated.

"You're just telling us this now?" Jack growled and Rothman shrank into himself. Jack took a deep breath and tried to dial down his intensity, reminding himself that scientists weren't really ever exposed to a Military Training Instructor screaming in their faces during Basic Training.

Sam was already asking gently, "Who are you talking about, Dr. Rothman?"

"Dr. Daniel Jackson. I worked for him in Chicago while I was getting my doctorate."

In a quieter, but no less imposing voice, Jack asked, "Then why do we have you down here, instead of him?"

Robert seemed more comfortable talking to Sam, so he directed his answer mostly to her. "He's not very good at playing politics."

Jack snorted a laugh. "And you are the consummate politico."

"Trust me, he's worse than me. Daniel, he's brilliant, too brilliant for most people. He just doesn't know when to stop talking, when the world is just not ready to hear what you're saying."

Sam got a thoughtful look on her face. "I think I remember reading something about him. He gave a speech a couple of years ago basically throwing out everything we ever knew about ancient Egypt?"

"See, that's what I'm saying."

"That he's a fruitcake?" Jack interrupted Robert.

Robert looked sourly at Jack. "Just the kind of response I'd expect from you, Colonel. And the same type of response he got from most of the academic community." He took a deep breath. "But his research was sound. I don't know if I agree with his conclusions, but they definitely merited further investigation. Instead, he was drummed out of academia and, last I heard, was teaching ESL at a community college."

Sam looked at the ring and then back to Robert. "But isn't he an archaeologist?"

"PhDs in archaeology, anthropology, and philology. And still younger than I am."

"Wow," she replied. "And he's really good with languages?"

Robert nodded. When she looked at Jack, he was surprised to find that she wasn't asking permission. "How do we get him down here?"

"I'm on it," Jack answered. He got the pertinent details from Robert and took a minute to his marshall arguments for Hammond as to why they needed to get this academic reject, community college dweeb down here ASAP. He sensed motion behind him, and looked back to see that Sam had walked up to the ring and was staring at it with wonder, one hand softly touching the raised designs. Her sense of awe in the face of what looked to Jack basically like a hunk of metal made him smile, and he wondered how such a meek little scientist had taken such ownership of a project that she had just walked in on two days ago.

~~( O )~~

Sam smiled as she touched the ring. This was really happening; it wasn't just some dream teasing her with what she couldn't have. This whole project was amazing, groundbreaking, and she was a part of it. She couldn't believe her luck.

She felt like someone was watching her and turned her head in time to see Jack heading for the general's office. Sam sighed. She hoped she hadn't overstepped already. After upstaging her boss in a very public way, just now she had all but ordered Jack to bring Daniel Jackson onto the project. She could hear her father now, "Always respect the chain of command, Sammy." And Jonas would have hit the roof if anyone had challenged his authority.

But Jack had seemed okay with it - surprised, a little amused, maybe - but overall, it was a positive response.

Sam was staring at the ring, but her head was filled with Jack. That smile just warmed her right through. She shouldn't be thinking about him that way. It wasn't Jonas; she didn't consider herself still engaged, just waiting a bad situation out. She just really didn't need to be thinking about jumping into another relationship right now, if he could even be interested in a geek like her.

"Dr. Carter!" She jumped as Robert's voice cut through her thoughts. She turned to see him staring at her, irritated.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Rothman. What did you say?"

"I was asking what tests you were thinking about running on the ring?"

"Oh. Yes, of course. I want to try to measure the levels and types of radiation being produced when we spin the ring. I think it might give us a place to start on determining what the device is for."

~~( O )~~

Jack sighed and turned over restlessly. It had been a good couple of days: Sam had gotten the ring powered and spinning, they'd put Dr. Hershfield on a plane headed back to Washington, and Jack had actually located this Daniel Jackson and gotten the the political wheels spinning to get him down to the site. But sleep was eluding him and it didn't take a genius to figure out why: Sam Carter.

He hadn't felt like this about a woman in years, not since his aborted engagement to Sara. It had become apparent to both of them, thankfully before the wedding, that his job did not allow for him to be the type of family man they had both hoped for. The long hours, the extended missions, the secrecy; Sara had tried to be understanding, but the strain it put on their relationship had turned out to be too much.

Since their breakup, he had dated, even had a couple of long-term relationships, but never felt that spark. He was married to his job, and quite happily so. And he had never been seriously tempted to stray, until the past few days.

There were plenty of reasons not to get involved with her. First and foremost, she was engaged. He wouldn't even have given her a second look when he ran into her at the Pentagon if it hadn't been for that damn black eye. But since she had arrived down here, away from the influence of both Hanson and Hershfield, she had become almost a different person. She'd bloomed in her work and become attractive rather than just beautiful. Jack had found himself finding excuses over the past two days to swing by the lab, getting more on-the-spot updates than was, perhaps, strictly necessary. Certainly, more than he had before she had turned up.

It hadn't escaped the others' notice. He should probably keep an eye on that; he didn't want to make things harder on her by seeming to either be singling her out, or favoring her. Things would be better tomorrow, when this Dr. Jackson arrived. It would change the dynamic, give Jack a legitimate reason to hang around as he helped the new guy get acclimated.

He rolled over again, trying not to think of Sam's smile when he'd told her the arrangements were set for Dr. Jackson's travel. It was really the most beautiful smile. He had thought for a minute there that she was going to hug him, but she had pulled back. He was more than a little disappointed.

~~( O )~~

It was going to take several days to get Jackson down to the site. While Sam recognized the practical constraints of getting someone from the US to Antarctica, she was frustrated at the delay. She occupied herself in the meantime by collecting data and analyzing, hours flying by as she immersed herself in the readings.

She was well into one of these marathon research sessions when Jack came by and settled himself on the edge of her workstation.

"You said you wanted to get some exercise?"

It took a second for her mind to disengage from the test results she was reviewing, but then she smiled widely. "That sounds great!" she said with relief.

They started with some basic stretches and Jack was pleased to see that she definitely had been working out as she had indicated and was in fairly good shape. They quickly moved into some basic hand-to-hand and self-defense techniques, several of which she was already familiar with.

"My dad insisted I take some classes when I was younger," she explained shortly, but didn't follow it up.

Since she had the basics, Jack decided to step it up a bit, try to assess where they should be concentrating their efforts. Things were going well - he showed her a few moves when they ran into things she didn't know how to counter - until Jack went for a frontal assault. He pinned her against the wall, leaning into her with his forearm across her chest.

The panic in her eyes alerted him just quickly enough that he had begun to step back before she reacted, pushing against his chest and kicking out. His half-step back was the only thing that kept the kick from sending him straight to the floor. As it was, even the grazing brush he had sustained had him bent double in pain.

"Jack, are you okay?" Her face was stricken with guilt. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry."

He waved a hand, trying to get enough breath to speak. "Fine," he wheezed. "Don't worry." He looked up and gave her a weak smile. "Not the technique I was going to show you, but pretty effective, all the same." He stood and winced at the movement.

A nervous giggle escaped despite her best efforts. He gave her a sour look, and suddenly she paled.

"Hey, Sam, it's okay. You did exactly what you were supposed to. You fought back."

She thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah," she said with a small smile, fighting through the nerves. "I guess I did."

Jack was careful from that point on to make sure to give her the complete rundown on any new moves he was going to demonstrate before demonstrating them.

~~( O )~~

Sam wasn't sure what she'd expected in Daniel Jackson, but he was a pleasant surprise. For someone who'd been chased out of academia, he was very self-assured but extremely kind and approachable. When Jack had escorted him into the main chamber, his eyes had fixed on the ring and a look of amazement settled on his face. Sam was elated to find someone as entranced by the object as she was.

And he was brilliant, particularly in his own specialties, but able to converse intelligently on a whole range of topics. He had reviewed most of the material on his trip down, and threw himself into his work immediately. Though he got along well with almost everyone down there, he seemed to be most comfortable working alongside Sam and, usually, Jack.

"I'm nearly certain that it's meant to create a wormhole. All of our knowledge on wormholes is theoretical at this point, but the radiation signature is consistent. There must be something in those symbols that will tell us how to use the thing, if we could just read it." Sam said after yet another day without progress. Both she and Jack tried not to look too hard at Daniel. It had been a couple of days already and he had examined the ring, checked resources, and still hadn't presented any theories. Daniel nodded and smiled without ever looking up from the book he was reviewing.

After Daniel had been there for three days, General Hammond decided an impromptu status report was in order, just to see where his thoughts were regarding the device. The poor man looked slightly overwhelmed when he looked around to find himself suddenly surrounded by General Hammond, Jack, Sam, and Robert. Sam had waved the other scientists off. Jack was once again impressed by the level of authority she seemed to exert over the others.

Hammond took the one seat that was clear of books and notes and smiled warmly. "Dr. Jackson, I was hoping to get some of your initial thoughts on this project."

Daniel shrugged uneasily. It had been a long time since he'd had to present findings of any type. He had really been hoping for a little more time to get everything in order.

"Firstly, what are we looking at here? Alphabet? Numeric notation?"

He took a deep breath and erased all thoughts of that echoing, empty auditorium and answered. "No, General, it's not an numbering system."

They all looked at each other. "How do you know that?" Sam asked.

"There are too many different symbols." He stopped and got a thoughtful look on his face. "Unless they are using a base 38 system. But no, that seems unlikely."

"Unlikely," Sam agreed.

"But at the same time, it's not an alphabet."

Again, they looked at each other and waited. When no further explanation was forthcoming, Jack asked, "And how do you know that?"


"Oh." Jack shot Sam a look that said maybe this guy was as crazy as everyone said, and she gave him a little plea with her eyes to just give him a minute to make them understand.

Sensing Jack's impatience, Daniel amended his answer. "Because of my years of education and experience?"

Jack nodded. "Okay, I'll take that."

"So, if it's not numbers and it's not letters, what is it, people?" the general asked.

Daniel smiled excitedly. "I don't know."

"Yet!" Sam added. "We don't know yet."

Hammond nodded and tried to figure out how he was going to phrase this week's report. They had gone out on a limb getting Dr. Jackson clearance for the project. While it was irrational to expect results so soon, he had really hoped that Jackson would come in and solve the riddle, or at least give him something more to report to his superiors than what things weren't.

Sam and Daniel were sitting just inside the entrance to the complex, sharing a thermos of coffee and looking at the seemingly endless sea of stars overhead. She had finally run out of data to analyze, until she got her next brainstorm anyway. Daniel had been slaving away for hours, comparing the symbols against yet another translation matrix, and looked half-dead, so she had dragged him along with her to get some fresh air.

He took a long sip of the coffee and moaned with delight.

Sam laughed. "You are such a coffee slut, Daniel."

"Guilty. You know, that's always the biggest risk for me when I go somewhere: that they won't have any good coffee."

"I hope it wasn't too much trouble, pulling you away so suddenly, dragging you 10,000 miles from home with no notice."

"Oh, no. I kind of hope my neighbor is remembering to feed my fish, but otherwise," he sighed, thinking of his cramped apartment and his pay-by-the-class teaching job. "Well, there wasn't a whole lot of life to disrupt, I guess you could say."

Sam held her coffee cup in her hands, welcoming the warmth even through her gloves. "No one special wondering where you've run off to?" she asked.

Daniel shook his head. "What about you?" he countered. "What does Jonas think about all this?" He had noticed Sam's ring when they started working together and asked her about it. All she'd mentioned was her fiance's name and that he worked for the Air Force. At the time, Daniel had put it down to her being distracted by work, but as he felt the tension settle over their quiet little haven, he suspected that there was something more there.

"He's not happy you had to come down here?"

"He's not happy, period." She bit her lip. "It's over between us. I just, well I just haven't told him yet."

Daniel looked closely at her. "Sam, are you scared of him? Has he hurt you?"

She opened and closed her mouth without a word, then nodded. "That's why I'm leaving. I was just waiting."

"For what?" Daniel asked gently.

"Getting my finances in order, mostly. I think I'll be set when I get back from here." She stopped and her eyes widened. "Assuming I still have a job. Oh god, do you think they would tell me if I was fired?"

"I'm sure they would tell you." He wasn't so sure that Hershfield would tell them however. Daniel had heard the stories about her boss and his attempts to take credit for her work. But there was nothing she could do about it from here.

"So, you're going to end it when you get back?"

She smiled, relieved to finally have it spoken out loud. "Yeah. I am." Her fingers automatically moved to rotate her ring, a nervous habit she'd picked up, only to find her finger bare under her glove. She had taken the ring off a few days ago when she was looking at the control device, and just hadn't put it back on. She hadn't even noticed until now.

Daniel butted his shoulder gently against hers. "Well, I think I know someone who might be happy about that."

"Oh. Uh, Daniel," her cheeks flushed even redder than the cold air had made them. "I mean, you're really nice and all, and..."

"Stop, Sam. Please." He tried not to laugh. "I was talking about Jack."

"Jack?" she repeated blankly.

"Yeah, Jack," he answered patiently. He leaned close to her with a knowing look. "I think the colonel is rather smitten with you, Doctor."

"No, he couldn't... Really?" she asked.

Daniel nodded, then turned back to sky-watching, giving her some privacy to absorb the news. The entire team thought they were involved already; it was about time that someone clued her in.

After a while, he spoke again. "You know, I've been here almost two weeks already, and I don't think I've been outside until now."

"It's beautiful, isn't it? You can never see the sky like this back home."

"It kind of reminds me of growing up in Egypt." He felt her interested glance. "My parents were archaeologists. They did a lot of field work and took me with them. The desert sky is a lot like this."

"That sounds like a fantastic way to grow up," Sam commented.

Daniel gave a half-shrug. "It was, for a while. They died when I was eight."

"God, I'm sorry."

He pulled something out from under his shirt. "This was the last thing they ever gave me." Sam looked at the golden pendant with an engraving of a stylized eye on it. "It's the Eye of Ra. I don't know where they found it, but my mother told me that it would bring me luck. I've worn it on every expedition or dig I've participated in."

"It's beautiful."

Daniel tucked the pendant back under his clothes and rezipped his parka. "So, tell me about these stars. What can I see here that I can't back in the states?"

Sam grinned and immediately starting pointing out some of the astronomical phenomena particular to the South Pole. She had just started on the constellations, when Daniel grabbed her arm, and looked at her with shining eyes. "Sam, I figured it out."

~~( O )~~

No one could miss the air of suppressed excitement when Sam and Daniel reappeared and headed directly to one of the computers, practically sitting in each other's laps as they leaned forward to look at something on the screen. Jack wandered over.

"Whatcha lookin' at?"

Looking over their shoulders, he could see that the screen display was split between star charts and the ring symbols. He stared between the two for a second, feeling like there was something he just wasn't getting.

Sam turned to Daniel with a wide grin. "You're right. This is it."

Daniel's head kept swiveling between the computer monitor and the ring, with a kind of overwhelmed expression on his face. He gave a disbelieving chuckle. "Yeah, I think we did."

Jack had let them have their fun. Now he wanted answers. "Did what?" he asked.

"Jack, Daniel's figured out what the symbols on the ring are."

She sat back and let Daniel scoot in front of the monitor. His finger traced a pattern on the star chart which was identical to the ring symbol up on the other half of the screen.

A short time later, they were explaining their findings to General Hammond and the rest of the science team.

"So they're constellations. What does that mean to us?" someone asked.

"Well, given Sam's working theory that this device may be designed to create a wormhole, I think that maybe these provide a kind of a map, something to tell the device where you want to go."

He illustrated on the nearby, sketching a quick six-sided cube. "Six symbols to delineate a specific point in space."

Another voice spoke up. "But we've tried all kinds of combinations of six symbols. Nothing's happening."

Sam answered, "Well, for one thing, I think that there must be a corresponding device on the receiving end as well, and the wormhole will link the two. So, it's possible that we might never randomly hit the correct combination to another device." She looked around. "It would be like picking up the phone and just dialing numbers. You might get a connection, you might not."

Daniel picked up. "But there's another consideration. We think you need a seventh symbol." He held up his hand to forestall the questions. "A very specific symbol..."

"...representing the home device," Sam finished.

Jack had to concentrate to keep the goofy grin off his face. Sometimes, he would swear that the two of them were sharing a brain - a gigantic, super-powered brain - and it was very entertaining watching them use it. Even more entertaining, watching the rest of the team try to keep up.

"So, we still can't use it." Jack rolled his eyes; there was always someone to point out the cloud around the silver lining. "We don't know what the home symbol is. And even if we did, we still would be just randomly dialing numbers."

"First things, first," Sam said calmly. "If we can figure out what the home symbol is, it will drastically reduce the combinations we could try."


"Enough," interrupted Hammond. "Thank you, Doctors, for your efforts. This is quite an encouraging development. Now, back to work everyone"

Jack smiled at Sam, who was beaming, and then looked toward Daniel, whose brow was furrowed in consternation.

"Daniel?" he prompted.

"Stars," Daniel muttered. "Travel through the stars, and never... seen?"

Sam turned to Daniel. "What are you talking about?"

"These symbols looked familiar when I came in. Now that we've connected them with the stars... God, where did I see it?"

He thought for a moment, then called Robert over to join them.

"There was a dig, in the early '30s, near Giza. We referenced the work in our grant proposal that last year I was working for Dr. Jordan. Who was it: Langton, Langley..."

"The Langford Dig?" Robert asked.

Daniel jumped up excitedly. "Yes, that's it."

"But Daniel, that was useless. Just leftovers from some obsure Ra cult, who kept talking about..." Rothman stopped, poleaxed.

"Travelling through the stars," Daniel finished for him, then hurried over to the general's office, crashing through the door without even knocking. Jack and Sam followed in time to hear Daniel's excited plea. "General, I need all the artifacts and data collected from Paul Langford's dig at Giza. Um, 193...4, I think."

"That'll take some doing, son. Why?" Jack had to hand it to Hammond. The general didn't even bat an eye.

"I remember seeing something there when I was studying the material a few years ago. There were some tablets with inscriptions. Everyone thought it was some type of early astronomy, or a short-lived sect branching off the mainstream Ra-worshippers. But there were these symbols interspersed throughout that no one could translate. If I'm remembering it right, those symbols match the symbols on the ring."

"I'll put in the request."

"Good, great." Daniel left as quickly as he had entered, his brain already churning through memories, trying to pull up the symbols he had seen.

Jack nodded at the general. "I'm sure he meant, 'Thank you,' Sir."

"I'm sure he did," Hammond replied with a smile.

~~( O )~~

Jack and Hammond stood in the lab doorway, surveying the work area. It was 0500 hours. Most of the team was grabbing some food or a couple of hours sleep, a couple were huddled in front of the computer, inputting what amounted to random guesses at destination addresses.

But Sam and Daniel were still at it, pouring over the grainy facsimiles of the reports from the Langford dig. Jack couldn't remember when they had last slept or stepped away to eat; they'd been surviving on coffee and some sort of hyped-up granola bar that Daniel swore got him his last PhD.

They were sorting through papers with a quick glance on the theory that anything with symbols like those on the ring would stand out. Every now and then, Daniel would mutter, "I know I saw it," and stop what he was doing and go kind of blank-faced as he tried to remember where in this massive amount of data he had seen a couple of sentences a decade ago.

Hammond watched them with an indulgent smile. He spoke without worrying about distracting them; their ability to focus to the exclusion of all else was legendary. "You know, I only came on this project a few months ago. Basically, my orders were to run the timeline out and to wrap it up."

Jack looked at his commanding officer with an quizzical look. "And yet..."

"It's not in my nature to just sit back and give up. And see what that got us." Hammond nodded toward the conference table. "A few personnel changes and we're so close to solving this riddle. I don't mind saying I think it's damned exciting."

"It sure is, General. And bringing them on board was a very smart move, Sir."

Hammond's smile widened. "I was actually referring to you, Colonel. West and his men had the scientists down here so tied up in red tape that nothing was getting done. That man has no imagination. I wanted you here both because you are an outstanding Air Force officer, but also because I believed you had the skills to think beyond, and around, the regulations." A slight twinkle in Hammond's eye made Jack wonder how much he'd guessed of what was left out of some of Jack's mission reports.

"You brought them on board, son." Hammond clapped him on the shoulder. "And now you need to take care of them before they drop. The clock is ticking and they won't be any good to us if they're both comatose from exhaustion. I'll be in my office."

Jack nodded. "Yes, Sir."

Hammond walked away and Jack headed toward the table, clapping his hands loudly. "Okay, kids, it's break time. Let's go get you something to eat and some sack time."

Sam looked wearily at her watch, then sighed as she rubbed her bleary eyes, but Daniel kept his focus on the papers he was shuffling through. "Not just now," he answered absently.

"Come on, Daniel," Jack wheedled. "Human brains need rest and food."

Daniel pointed to the mug near his hand. "I have coffee."

"Daniel," Sam started, but he shook his head.

"Seriously, you guys go ahead. I'm just going to try to finish this stack, and then I promise I'll get some sleep."

She patted his hand. "Okay. But please try to remember that coffee is not actually a food group."

"Says you." Daniel's response was automatic, and he was already scanning the pages in front of him.

"Food?" Jack suggested as he led Sam away. She nodded tiredly. He directed her to a table in the mess and went to grab trays for both of them. When he set them down on the table, she started up from where she had been resting her head on top of her arms.

"Sorry," Jack apologized for waking her.

"That's okay. I'm really hungry, actually. I'm pretty sure we skipped dinner."

He nodded. "Yeah, remember when you said, 'Just another hour, Jack'?"

She quirked her face in the endearingly cute, unapologetic apology expression Jack had come to know quite well. "It's just so exciting. If we can find the home symbol, if this does what we think it does... We'll be making history, Jack."

"Yes, we will." He just hoped that it was the kind of history she was hoping for.

Her face fell at his less than enthusiastic response. "You don't think we can do it?"

"No, I'm absolutely positive that you can, and you will."

"Then what's the problem? You seem... worried."

"I guess I am. Once we create that wormhole, who knows what we're going to find."

She slowly spread some butter on her toast as she considered his words. "That's the beauty of it, though. We could find other worlds, intelligent life, to learn from and share with. There could be a cure for cancer just one step through the ring."

He smiled at her. "Seeing the ring and all its wonderful potential, that's your job, Sam. You and Daniel and the rest of the geek patrol around here. Seeing the less than wonderful possibilities - hostile aliens, weapons we have no defense against - and preparing for them, well that's my job." That and protecting her from ever having to deal with those possibilities coming to light.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Jack felt bad about dampening her excitement, but come the day they actually activated the ring, she was going to see a very different Jack O'Neill. It was only fair to give her some warning.

"But, you still think it's a wormhole, right?"

She nodded. As usual, talking about the ring lit her up, and pulled her away from the doom and gloom thoughts he'd put in her head. "Obviously, I can't say for certain. All of our theories on wormholes are theoretical at this point. But everything I've observed so far is consistent with what we think would have to be present to create one. You know, Weyl posited..." She trailed off contritely. "But I'm sure that you don't want to hear about this."

Jack shrugged. "It's pretty interesting."

She looked confused and shook her head. "Really? It's just, usually, no one wants to listen... well, to me, I guess."

The desire to cause Hershfield and Hanson massive amounts of pain flooded Jack once again. "Well, everyone down here wants to hear what you have to say."

"Wow. I just... I'm a research assistant."

"No, I think you're a whole lot more. You are smarter than anyone here, with the possible exception of Daniel, and you are lightyears more intelligent than that waste of space Hershfield and he knows it. Why do you think he's kept you getting coffee for him all this time? He knew if he let you loose, you'd surpass him in an instant. And you did."

"You really think I'm smart?" By this point, she knew she was fishing for the compliment, but she couldn't seem to help herself.

"Smart, charming, beautiful..." Jack stopped when he saw her eyes widen in surprise.

Before either of them could say anything, Daniel came racing into the mess clutching a piece of paper and shouting, "I found it. I've got it."

He skidded to a halt next to their table and slammed the paper down, pushing it in front of Sam. Jack quickly moved her tray to prevent any spillage.

Sam looked at the page Daniel had pulled. There in the middle was a hand-drawn rendition of the cartouche Daniel had remembered seeing. Six symbols within the oval. Daniel was pointing excitedly to the single symbol beneath.

"This is it."

She looked at it closely; she knew every symbol on the ring by heart and this didn't match exactly, but if you took the little figures to the sides away... Sam looked up at Daniel, the excitement in her eyes matching his as they both tacitly came to the same conclusion. She looked at Jack.

She looked back down at the page before her, looked at the other six symbols.

"Jack, he did it. We don't just have the home symbol. We have an address."

~~( O )~~

Everyone was gathered as Sam and Daniel explained what they had found. Jack watched the others as they listened, seeing a mix of reactions: excitement, disbelief, a little jealousy. And caution, as exemplified by General Hammond.

"Dr. Jackson, can the Langford collection tell us anything more about this ring, about its purpose?"

Daniel shifted uncomfortably. Sam watched him in surprise, which Jack didn't take as a good sign; he had thought those two were joined at the brain stem. If Daniel had kept something from her... Well, Jack didn't have to speculate anymore because Daniel was already talking.

"There isn't much, General, but there are some writings that had been believed to be part of belief system that never gained true acceptance, and so were discounted. In light of what we now know, I've spent a little time looking them over once again."

"And," Jack prompted when Daniel paused to gulp down some more coffee.

"And, well, there is a reference to Ra taking people from Egypt to somewhere else to do his work. The original translations of this made the assumption that this was a metaphorical journey, some sort of religious devotion."

"And what do you think it means, Dr. Jackson?"

"I think there's a good chance that thousands of years ago, human beings were taken through this ring, were abducted for lack of a better word, and sent to another world, possibly to build some sort of slave labor force for whoever created that." He gestured at the ring.

Hammond sighed. "All right people, thank you. We will plan for the test dial in one hour. In the meantime, I have a phone call to make."

~~( O )~~

"Hammond got the go-ahead from the Pentagon for a test dial," Jack announced as he entered the science lab. Everyone present stilled as his words sank in. Sam and Daniel exchanged looks that Jack couldn't quite read. He walked over to where they were sitting.

"This is primarily based on your analysis," he said quietly to the two of them. "Are you certain you want to do this?"

Sam paused a moment, then nodded vehemently. "I just can't believe it's really happening."

"Daniel?" Jack asked.

Daniel started as Sam kicked him under the table. "What? Oh, oh yeah, yeah, we should be fine to activate the device. I'm just thinking, I can't even imagine what's on the other side."

Jack smirked. "Well, you won't have to try for long. Hammond wants everybody in the room ASAP." He raised his voice. "All right, campers, this is the moment you've been waiting for. Single file to the right, and, please, no pushing." He squeezed Sam's shoulder quickly before he wound his way through the half-dozen scientists heading for the door.

An electric silence filled the cavernous room as everyone's attention fixed on the loudly spinning ring. Sam was seated at the computer, monitoring the feedback as the ring set into its sixth chevron. Daniel leaned over her shoulder. They both had identical looks of eager anticipation. Jack stood off to the side, between the horde of science geeks and the airmen settled into defensive postures, weapons aimed at the ring.

Sam held her breath as the seventh symbol moved into place and the locked with a loud click. Immediately an enormous energy vortex blossomed outward from the ring. Even Jack startled a bit, she noted with amusement, which quickly faded to awe as she looked at the phenomenon.

"Oh my god, we did it."

When nothing happened - no hordes of aliens pouring through the ring, no world ending catastrophe - Jack finally breathed a sigh of relief. He the go ahead to send the probe through. Within seconds of its disappearing into the surface of what looked amazingly like a vertical pool of water, Sam uttered a small gasp of excitement.

"It's transmitting!" She tapped at the keyboard in front of her. "We're receiving data."

All the scientists moved to gather around the bank of computers, assessing the incoming data. Jack could hear fragments of their assessments. "...Earth-like atmosphere... Dr. Rothman, Dr. Jackson, you do the Egyptian stuff, right? Look at this... There is absolutely nobody there..."

As they were all chattering excitedly, Sam eased her way through and started walking toward the ring. Jack moved to intercept her and stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Sam, we still don't know that that thing is 100% safe."

Her lips pursed into a tiny pout, but she stopped. Instead, she just looked at it, her eyes reflecting the shimmering undulations. "It's amazing, Jack," she almost whispered. She turned to look at him directly. "I just... Thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of this."

"Letting you?" he laughed. "We're the ones who should be thank you. You and Daniel made this happen."

Sam pivoted a bit, so that she could look at the event horizon again, this time standing next to Jack. One little half-step to the side and she was, well not quite leaning on him, as that would be inappropriate in a room full of people he commanded, but pressing her arm firmly against his.

She smiled when felt him shift his weight and sway into her for a moment. Happiness. This was what happiness was.

~~( O )~~

It was a long, but exciting, afternoon. Each of the three subsequent dialing attempts replicated the results of the first dial. They had a stable wormhole!

Through the impromptu celebration, Sam watched the looks exchanged between the general and Jack, the serious whispered conversations, and, finally, their disappearing into Hammond's office, closing the door behind them. It didn't take a genius to infer what they were discussing.

Or maybe it did, she thought, as she looked around at the oblivious faces of her colleagues. Except for Daniel, whose eyes kept catching hers then pointedly staring at the general's door. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head in invitation.

He was already knocking on the door by the time Sam had hurried over. "They're going," he muttered. His voice carried an edge she hadn't heard before. "They're going to go through without us."

~~( O )~~

"Now, just calm down, Dr. Jackson." Hammond's raised voice finally cut through Daniel's seemingly unending list of reasons why he and Sam should accompany whoever went through the ring, which had begun the moment the door opened and showed no signs of ending anytime soon. Daniel stopped, drew in a deep breath, blinked, and finally sat down, quietly. Sam took the second visitor's chair, as it seemed that Jack was content to slouch against the wall. She couldn't read his expression; he seemed almost unrecognizable as the man who had stood by her side only hours before. This, she thought, was Colonel Jack O'Neill, USAF, a very, very different man from her 'Jack.'

The general sighed. "Dr. Jackson, as much as I would love to send both of you, a balance of resource allocation and risk management precludes that." Sam sat frozen. She knew where this was going; it was really the only reasonable course of action. She understood, but that didn't mean it didn't still sting. She looked over toward Jack to find him looking intently at the general.

"The colonel has provided his recommendations for the team that will go through the ring." The general shifted his attention to Sam. "Dr. Carter, while both you and Dr. Jackson are an integral part of this project, we feel that only Dr. Jackson's expertise will be required on this trip. That is, if you still feel confident that you can determine the return address once you get there." He looked back toward Daniel.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Of course, I can. The pictures that we saw show a structure that is very much in use. There must be some sort of, I don't know, user manual around there somewhere. That's not my point, though. What if something goes wrong with the ring itself? We'll need Sam to fix it."

"Daniel," she said quietly. "Go. You're the linguist and the archaeologist. That's what they need." He shook his head quietly, but with less conviction. His eyes met hers with a kind of mute apology. "Go," she forced a smile through the disappointment as she repeated herself. "It's okay."

Daniel sighed. "Damn. Okay, when do we leave?"

Jack spoke for the first time since they'd entered the room. "Three days."

"Three days?" Sam questioned. "Why so long?"

"We're waiting on a couple of my guys to get down here. Should take a couple of days, then we're good to go."

"Well, that was... not at all surprising," Jack said of Daniel's barging in, once the two scientists had finally left the office. He looked at the closed door and sighed. "But back to the matter at hand."

"Colonel, the nuclear device is a last resort, to be used only in a worst-case scenario to protect this planet. Dr. Jackson believes that the planet you're travelling to may still be inhabited, possibly by descendants of people abducted from Earth by an alien posing as Ra. We have no idea what type of welcome you'll receive, if one or more of the aliens are still in power."

Jack nodded. "Yes, General. I understand. I still don't like it, though. Bombs and civilians don't mix real well in my experience."

~~( O )~~

The next few days passed quickly - there was lots to do. They gathered as much information as possible, including verifying that the control device was present and seemed to be in one piece. That was as much as they could do from this side of the ring to ensure that Sam's expertise wouldn't be needed. She and Daniel gave repeated lessons and lectures to all the members of the team that was going on everything they could think of that might be pertinent: basic wormhole theory, a crash course in Egyptian history, Sam's ideas on how the control crystals worked as compared to Earth's conventional power systems, communication.

Daniel was uncomfortable around Sam, feeling guilty that he got to go and she didn't. And it was made worse when he found himself pulled away several times for his own crash courses in weapons, uniforms, and operating protocols. And Jack had distanced himself from both of them, which was working really well for him until a few hours before they were scheduled to depart when Sam cornered him having a last look at the Earth's sky.

"Jack," she said softly. She knew he was perfectly aware of her presence - she couldn't startle him if she wanted to - but it seemed to be a quiet moment.

He looked back at her and she thought she caught a glimpse of sadness in his eyes before he turned back to his observations. "Hey," he said shortly.

She came up even with him and stood a short distance apart. "You're avoiding me," she said out to the night sky.

He grunted. "Well, I just figured I'd make it easier for you."

"What? Why?"

A corner of his mouth quirked upwards in a wry grin. "This way you don't have to go to all the trouble of avoiding me."

She turned to look at him, wondering if this was some bizarre joke. He seemed pretty serious. "I'm not . . . Why would I be avoiding you?"

Jack's jaw tensed as he faced her. "Because I'm the one who chose Daniel for the mission."

Sam stared at him, waiting for more, but there was apparently nothing more forthcoming.

"I know that, Jack. It was the right decision."

He blew out a heavy sigh. "I just . . . I know how much you must want to go through."

"Of course, I do." He winced and looked like he was holding himself there by sheer force of will. "But I'll be honest, I'm not really looking to walk into an completely unknown, unsecured situation."

Jack nodded slowly. It wasn't the whole truth; they both knew that Sam would go through in an instant, if she were given the chance. But there was enough truth there for them both to accept the reality of the situation. There was just one more thing she had to ask.

"Just tell me that you chose Daniel for the good of the project and not because of anything . . . you know." She gestured back and forth between them.

"I can honestly say: yes, it is best for the project. I'm not crazy about taking even one civilian; there's no way I could take both of you. And Daniel's language skills are likely to come in very handy."

Sam hadn't realized how worried she had been about Jack's motives until she started relaxing as he spoke.

His voice dropped a bit as he continued, "But I can't deny that I'm happy you won't be going into danger. And so . . ."

"And so, avoidance." She shook her head and muttered, "You big dummy."

He grinned sheepishly. "That's Colonel Big Dummy, ma'am."

Colonel Dummy, indeed,he thought. He'd spent the last two days avoiding her when she wasn't angry at him at all. They could have been . . . He stopped his train of thought right there. They couldn't have been doing any of the things that were sending warm sparks along his skin right now, because she was engaged.

Sam watched the emotions fly across Jack's face, tracking his thinking as best she could. Regret, excitement, arousal; she was definitely with him there. But then he shut down. Hard. It took her a long moment to extrapolate the connection to soon-to-be-terminated engagement to Jonas; he was so far from her thoughts.

Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced back out into the dark. "Anyway, good to know that you're not mad. I'd better go check on . . . things."

She watched him retreat quickly into the complex, her heart beating even more quickly than his steps. When the team returned, when they all went home, when she had finally broken things off with Jonas - maybe then they could revisit this conversation.

~~( O )~~

The entire room was lit with the shimmering not-water surface of the wormhole. Jack and his team, including the recently arrived Kawalksy and Ferretti, were geared up and standing at the foot of the ramp leading up to the ring. Daniel stood next to them, fidgeting under his bulky, military uniform. A mobile pallet loaded with equipment and more gear sat to the side.

The science team and the airmen who hadn't been tapped to go through the gate were ranged along the walls, watching quietly. Hammond looked proudly at the team assembled before him.

"We are about to do something never before done in modern human history. We are going to travel to another planet. All of you in this room have made this possible. You have my gratitude and my respect for your vision, your perseverance, and your courage."

"All due, of course, to your brilliant leadership, General." Jack's lighthearted tone was countered by his solemn expression.

Hammond nodded his understanding. "Colonel. You have a go."

"All right, boys. Last call. Anything you don't have with you is not making the trip."

The team began a final gear check, and Sam approached Daniel with a smile. "You've got your good luck charm?" she asked as she grabbed him a tight hug.

"Yep." He smiled at her. "I really wish you were going too." He snuck a look at the rest of the exploratory team. "It would be nice to have someone to, you know, talk to."

"Maybe next time," she said.

"You think there will be a next time?"

She shrugged. "I hope so. I guess it all depends on what's out there."

Daniel nodded. With another quick hug and a smile, Sam said goodbye, leaving Daniel to Kawalksy, who was wasn't satisfied with the way Daniel's pack was sitting. She walked over to where Jack stood, still and silent, watching the undulations in the event horizon.

She was hesitant to disturb him, but then he looked over at her with a grin. The warmth in his eyes reminded her that no matter how cold and distant 'Colonel O'Neill' was, Jack was always somewhere inside.

A broad smile crossed her face. "I just wanted to say..." She trailed off, biting her lip, all the things she had dreamt of saying the night before now seeming outrageously inappropriate to the situation. She took one of his hands in hers and squeezed gently. "Be safe."

She felt a slight pressure in return and he nodded. "I always am. See you in a couple of days."

And then he pulled his hand back, straightened up, and barked out, "Let's move out."

Sam stood next to General Hammond, one eye on the computer display and one on Jack as, without hesitation, he stepped through the event horizon, followed one-by-one by the rest of the team.

For about a minute, there was silence. All indicators in the program that Sam had set up to monitor the wormhole, and objects travelling through it, were green, but she still couldn't quell the churning in her stomach.

Then the radio crackled to life and Jack's voice came through. "It was a hell of a ride, General, but we're here, safe and sound." Someone retching could be heard in the background. "Well, mostly."

"Good to hear, Colonel. If we haven't heard from you in twenty-four hours, we will reinitiate the wormhole for an update."


"Godspeed, Colonel."

After another minute, the wormhole collapsed, leaving Jack, Daniel, and the rest of the exploratory team on the other side of the galaxy. Slowly, the base personnel headed back to their workstations and assignments. Sam stood for a while, staring at the empty ring, feeling lonelier than she had in years. Eventually, the need to start analyzing the data from their travel pulled her away. If something went wrong, she wanted to be as prepared as possible.

~~( O )~~

Sam glanced at her watch anxiously and tried not to notice General Hammond's carefully modulated expression as the minutes ticked down to, and then passed, the appointed check-in time.

"Okay, let's try calling them." He instructed Sgt. Harriman to dial the ring.

She held her breath until the surging energy indicated that a wormhole was establishing.So far, so good, she thought, watching the general activate the radio.

"Colonel O'Neill, come in."


"This General Hammond, trying to reach Colonel O'Neill or any of his team. If anyone is receiving this, please come in."

Sam walked over the main control section. "Sergeant, please see if the MALP video feed is still active. Display it, if it is."

A moment later, one of the monitors was showing an image of the room they had all found so fascinating only days before. As she looked at it, the scorchmarks on the pillars, the equipment and gear strewn haphazardly around the room, she sat suddenly, her legs unable to support her.

"Oh my god."

Hammond's hand rested on her shoulder. "We don't know the whole story, Sam. It could be that they were chased out of there and are laying low for the time being. We'll continue to try to make contact. Every twelve hours, Sergeant, understood."

She dimly heard Harriman's acknowledgement, was vaguely aware of the monitor going dark and the wormhole shutting down as she sat there. The general patted her shoulder before he headed back to his office. It didn't actually comfort her, but it was nice of him to try.

Shaking her head, she set the alarm on her watch for twelve hours. She intended to be here for each attempt at contact until they either got them home or knew what had happened.

~~( O )~~

Three more successfully established wormholes netted zero communications. Sam was sitting a far corner of one of the labs, poring over data that she'd looked at a dozen times before. There was nothing she could do here, except wait. She had attempted to start a plan for discovering further addresses, although it amounted to little more than sequential random dialing, but she couldn't focus long enough to even do that.

All she could think was that she should have said something to Jack before he left. Let's go for coffee when you get back. That wouldn't have been so hard, and it wasn't actually inappropriate, and he could have read between the lines. But she hadn't, and now he was, at best, stranded on an alien world half a galaxy away.

"Dammit!" She shoved the pages away from her, a large portion of them floating to the floor.

She noticed everyone turn toward her and winced. The last thing she wanted to do was to cause a public scene. But then she saw that they were looking just past her. She turned around to see the general standing in the doorway.

He kindly didn't say anything about her little outburst. "I'd like to see everyone in the main conference room in ten minutes, please."

That couldn't be good. They couldn't be giving up the search this soon, could they? Of course, it wasn't exactly a search. More like a waiting game. Still, what did it hurt to wait?

Sam silently filed along with the rest of the scientists and took a seat at the table. Looking around, she noticed that none of the military officers were present. A few minutes later, General Hammond came in, a somber look on his face.

"Thank you for taking the time for this meeting. I'll get right to the point. It has been decided to put the Antarctic Project on hold for the time being."

No, no, no, no. Murmurs and angry whispers echoed her thoughts. She stared at the general, who didn't seem to be any happier than any of the science team was.

"Now, I understand that you all have put in a lot of work on this project, and that there is a lot of work yet that could be done. I also understand that you are just as invested in the safe return of our people out there as any of our military personnel. Which is why I want to assure you, we are not shutting the ring down. A skeleton staff will remain here for a reasonable length of time, in order to give Colonel O'Neill and his team every opportunity to return. But all civilians are to return home, and all military science personnel will be receiving new assignments.

"The plane leaves in two hours, so I suggest you start packing."

This couldn't be happening. Sam waited until the room was cleared before knocking on the general's door. "Sir, may I speak with you?"

A wan smile greeted her. "I thought you might want to," he answered. "Come in and have a seat."

She sat stiffly on the chair he indicated. "General, I'd like to stay. We still don't know if they had any problems attempting to dial Earth, and if they need to get out of there fast, I should be here."

Hammond sighed. "I understand your argument, Doctor Carter. And to be honest, I made a similar argument myself only hours ago. The decision is firm. You must be on the plane. I'm sorry."

She dropped her head for a second, trying to rein in her emotions. The general had his orders and that was that. He'd even requested that she stay; that must mean that he had some hope of them making it of this alive.

"I understand. If I may ask a favor, though?" Hammond nodded. "Can I be informed... when they return?"

A sparkle appeared in the older man's eyes. "I'm fairly certain that nothing I could do could prevent certain parties from letting you know that they are back."

"Thank you. I guess I'd better go pack." She started to leave and then paused at the doorway. "General, what do you think the odds are?" She rushed the question out in a quick jumble of words. not really wanting to ask it any more than she wanted to know the answer.

"If anyone can get them back alive, it's Jack O'Neill."

~~( O )~~

George Hammond had overseen the evacuation of the bulk of the personnel from the Antarctic base, the consolidation of the electronic data, and subsequent shipment of the computers and other devices. It was obvious that they were being shut down, whatever Higher Up wanted to call it. He sat in his office and wondered how long before Dr. Jackson, O'Neill, Kawalksy, and the rest of them were declared MIA.

It had been nearly a week since he had heard from the exploratory team that they had made it safely through the wormhole. He hated losing men, but, try as he might, Hammond could not see where any of them could have done anything differently. Sometimes, everything went wrong, even when you did everything right.

He sighed and was just shutting down his computer for the night when he heard Sgt. Harriman's excited shout, nearly lost under the sound of the ring turning. He strode out of his office and into the main chamber, pleased to note the airmen carefully arranging themselves in a defensive posture. He watched as the ring spun until the sudden blossoming of energy settled into its shimmering state.

They waited.

A voice came over the radio. "This O'Neill. Anyone there?"

~~( O )~~

Jack materialized through the event horizon, shaking off the numbing cold that was apparently a side effect of travelling through a wormhole, and heading down the ramp. Kawalsky and Ferretti came right behind him. He had already given Hammond a quick report, detailing the deaths of most of his team at the hands of the soldiers of the Ra-imposter-alien.

Hammond stood at the bottom of the ramp to welcome them back. He was still looking up the ramp, when the wormhole closed. "Dr. Jackson isn't with you, Colonel?"

Jack sighed tiredly. "Well, Daniel decided that he wanted to honeymoon on Abydos, Sir. That and there's this building there with a room where the walls are filled, floor to ceiling, with what we think are addresses, General. He sent a tape back for Sam to start trying."

He looked around. The base seemed emptier now than when they had left. It felt like a lifetime ago, but he was relatively certain it had only been a few days.

"Honeymoon, Colonel?" Hammond repeated, accepting the tape and immediately handing it off to Sgt. Harriman.

"Ah, yeah, a nice local girl. Name of Sha'uri. He'll be contacting us soon," Jack said slowly. "Where is everybody? I mean, I wasn't expecting a parade, but no one cared that we were coming back?"

"There have been some changes, Colonel. I'll fill you in as soon as you've gotten some sleep." He looked behind Jack to Kawalsky and Ferretti. All three men had the twitchy, haggard look that came after missions that pushed you too close to the edge.

"That goes for you two as well. We'll debrief in twelve hours."

Jack looked for a moment as if he were going to argue. Instead, he just said, "Your command is our wish, Sir. Good night."

~~( O )~~

The debriefing was long and difficult, as the three men recounted their experiences of the past week. Hammond shook his head; it was like something out of a science-fiction movie.

"And you're certain that this alien, Ra for lack of a better name, is dead and poses no further threat to Earth?"

"Yes, General. Ra is dead. But if Daniel is right, and those walls are full of addresses, who knows what else may be out there. Which is why it was one of the more boneheaded bureaucratic moves for the Pentagon to pull the plug on this." Hammond had filled Jack in on the personnel reallocation before the debriefing.

"In light of this new information, they have been rethinking that decision. The current plan is to relocate the ring to the United States and study it there."

"Well, that would be a great plan, General, if we hadn't just pissed off our entire scientific team!"

"I'm fairly certain that we can get most of them back on board," Hammond replied. "Although, I may need your help with that."

"What can I do, Sir?"

"Well, you must be aware of how much respect Dr. Carter earned while she was here." Jack nodded, smiling at how easily she had assumed a leadership role. "I'm sure that if we can get her to sign on, most of the others will follow. And I can't think of anyone better suited to invite her back than you, Colonel."

"Well, I, um... I would be happy to, Sir."

"I know it's a lot to ask when you've just returned, but if you could possibly stop by DC before you take your R&R, it would take a load off my mind."

Jack wasn't certain, but it looked like Hammond was almost grinning.

"Anything you need, General. Anything you need."

~~( O )~~

Jack was humming as he approached the Office of Aerospace Research for a second time. He hadn't called prior to his visit, wanting to surprise Sam. He entered the office and stopped short, seeing an unfamiliar face behind the desk. His eyes quickly took in several other changes, most notably that Sam's degrees were no longer hanging on the wall.

The young woman looked up at him and smiled. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for Sam Carter. Did she move to another office, or...?"

Hershfield appeared in the other doorway. "Colonel O'Neill. I thought that might your voice I heard. No, I regret to inform you that Sam is no longer working here."

"Why not?" Jack's voice was icy.

"Incompetence." Jack clenched his jaw. "I mean, that's why your team sent her back, right? Overreaching; it was always a problem with her."

"Can I please get her phone number? Or an address where I can find her?"

"Are you going to ask her for a date, O'Neill?"

"No, I'm here to offer her a job."

That seemed to shut the good doctor up for a minute. But only for a minute. "But why? If she couldn't... complete the project."

Jack just stood there, his eyebrows raised. Hershfield's access to the project status had ended when his stay in Antarctica had. Obviously, Sam had kept quiet about their success, but Jack wasn't above a little wink wink, nudge nudge.

"Did she?"

"I need Dr. Carter to head up a new science division in Colorado. Now, can I get her contact information or not?"

~~( O )~~

Jack had ended up needing to navigate through Human Resources in order to get the information. Perhaps he had goaded Hershfield just a little too much. The man had turned red and retreated into his office, slamming the door behind him. But now, Jack had the address and was walking up to the apartment building.

He slipped through the door as someone was leaving and headed up to the third floor. Locating the right apartment, he had his hand raised to knock when he heard a thud and a muffled cry. It took only seconds to force the door open and find the source of the noise.

Sam, pinned to the wall by a livid Jonas Hanson.

"Hanson!" Jack bellowed. "Stand down."

The other man started to look over toward Jack, and Sam took full advantage of his distraction, bringing her arms up between his, and pushing outwards, dislodging his grip. With a kick that Jack remembered all too well, she skirted past Hanson and straight to Jack.

Jack had his personal weapon out in case the captain tried anything, but Hanson was too busy rolling around on the floor in pain to be an immediate threat. He looked at Sam, took in the ripped sleeve and the bruises already coming up around her neck, and reholstered his sidearm before he was too tempted to use it.

"You're back?" she asked. He was a little concerned at how dazed she seemed, but he couldn't be certain whether it was from the attack or the fact that Jack had just shown up in her living room.

"Surprise," he said. He led her to the dining table sitting off the living room and settled her into a seat. After a quick search, he located the phone and gave her the handset. "Call the police," he instructed.

Her eyes cut to Hanson, now sitting and glaring at them. "Go ahead. I've got him if he tries anything."

She nodded slowly and dialled. Jack went over to Hanson. "You armed?" he asked.

The man refused to answer. Jack might have enjoyed it a little too much when he pulled the captain roughly to his feet, slammed him against the wall, and frisked him. No weapon. Jack pointed to the couch. "You, sit. Don't move."

"The police are on their way," Sam said quietly.

"Don't try to talk too much," Jack advised. She nodded.

Jack stood vigil over Jonas until the police arrived. They took statements from both Sam and Jack, and then they took Hanson away in the squad car.

Once everyone had gone, she leaned against Jack, tired beyond belief, and still not certain that she wasn't dreaming. Jack was here, on Earth, in DC, in her apartment!

"It's really real," he whispered.

She took a seat on the couch and motioned for him to sit as well. She curled up against him immediately. "They won't really be able to hold him long, you know."

"I know. But they will be obligated to inform Air Force Special Investigations, which will inform his CO. It will count against him. Maybe if you're lucky, he'll get reassed to Timbuktu."

She giggled, then groaned as the muscles in her throat protested.

"That's assuming you want him out of your life," Jack commented.

She nodded against his shoulder. "That's how this started today. I told him I was leaving. Signed the lease on my new apartment yesterday."

"Good for you." Jack smiled and tightened his arm around her. "How long a lease, exactly?"

She looked up at him quizzically.

"It's just that, I have a job offer for you."

~~( O )~~

"Okay, I think does it, Dr. Carter. Anything else I can help you with?"

"No, Sgt. Siler, I think that's everything for now." She smiled at the friendly Master Sergeant, who was dusting himself off, after spending a couple of hours helping her to run the various cables and cords, powering and connecting all of her shiny new equipment.

Siler looked longingly at the workbench she'd just finished setting up. "Well, don't hesitate to call."

"Thank you, Sergeant."

With a polite, "Ma'am," he excused himself, leaving Sam alone in her new office. She sat down with a happy sigh. Her office. Her department. She still couldn't believe the turn her life had taken in the past half-year.

From a timid little office mouse, one of a million cogs in the Pentagon machine, she had helped to develop a project that had changed humanity's world-view, at least for those who knew about it. And now, she was running the Astrophysics and Engineering Department of the newly minted Stargate Command. She was still having trouble calling the ring, the stargate, but based on Daniel's subsequent research, it seemed as accurate a name as any.

She'd been to Antarctica and was now working 28 floors underground. She had actually stepped through the ring - the Stargate- and visited with the people of Abydos.

And she had left Jonas behind while she achieved all of this. It had been three months since he had attacked her in their apartment when she announced she was leaving him. She hadn't seen him since.

Now, she hoped she might be on the verge of something new. Jack had been wonderful during all the chaos of the past few months - the move, the breakup - giving Sam time to examine her life and to start to plan for the future. He had been wonderful, but frustrating, refusing to let their interactions progress beyond friendship, until earlier this week, when he invited her to dinner.

Speaking of which! She grimaced when she looked at the clock on the wall. There was no way she was going to be able to go home. change, make up, and get back here to meet him on time.

"Damn," she muttered.

"Problem?" Jack was leaning in the doorway, with a cocky grin. She had no idea how long he'd been watching her.

She stood and looked down ruefully at her outfit: old jeans, a now very dusty shirt, and the lab coat she'd put on to protect her clothing earlier.

"I meant to go home and change before ... well, now." She sighed. "Do we have a few extra minutes to swing by my place?"

Jack took a few steps into the room, considering. "I don't know," he said slowly. "The absent-minded scientist thing is kinda working for me."

She swallowed as he stopped just a few inches away from her. She could feel his body heat, could swear she heard his heart beating, although that could have just been her own pulse echoing in her ears.

He smiled at her. His face calm and relaxed, but his eyes were dark, serious. And when he spoke, his voice was slightly lower, a bit more gravelly. "We have all the time in the world, Sam."

"Doesn't mean I want to spend it all waiting," she commented, resting her hand against his cheek, and stepping in, till they were just touching. His breath caught, and his eyes asked if she was sure. So she tilted her head up slightly and touched her lips to his.

With a relieved sigh, Jack immediately snaked his arms around Sam's waist, pulling her into the kiss. The feel of her mouth on his, the delicate sweep of her tongue, her body pressed against him was everything he had been dreaming about these past few months.

Of course, the one remaining rational part of his brain reminded him, it wouldn't really do for someone to come in and find the base 2IC making out with the lead of the science team. So, he was stopping... in a minute, he thought, as he met her tongue with his own and, finally, ran his fingers through that long, blonde hair that was just as soft and silky as it looked.

Ultimately, it was Sam who pulled back first, breathing heavily and slightly flushed, as she looked up at him. "I was beginning to think we'd never do that."

"I didn't want to push," he said softly, loosening, but not releasing, his hold on her.

"No pushing. You've been a perfect gentleman, Colonel."

"Glad to hear that, Sam. It wasn't exactly easy."

She grinned mischievously. "Well, then I think you deserve a reward." Looking around at her office, as if surprised to find them still standing there, she added, "But I think maybe we should move this to a more private location."

"Dinner?" he suggested.

She took his hand and started out of the office. "I was thinking we'd start with dessert."