IN BETWEEN DECISIONS

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Jack fumbled with the knot of his tie, thinking.
The burial and memorial services on Earth had run smoothly, and the Carter family — what remained of it — had used that opportunity to rekindle the ashes of almost extinct family ties. Mark Carter had actually been a surprise to Jack, after what Sam had told him over the years. The man had seemingly made peace with his father’s choice of career and had even been intrigued enough about Sam’s to be a pleasant guest at the wake afterwards. Now Sam was requested at the other end of the galaxy to attend the Tok’ra ceremony.

She’d just left and was due back the next day, he mused, putting his dress jacket on its hanger inside his locker. He sat on the bench to remove his shoes.

Aside from political matters, nothing really important should befall the SGC in the next few days. The System Lords — or what remained of them — would leave Earth well alone for a while, and the Replicator threat had been eliminated, so the future of the world was currently safe.
He still had an important matter to settle first, but his phone meeting with the president should see to the main of it, and after all, he hadn’t taken a vacation in more than two years. There was some seriously due downtime ahead!

He’d made up his mind, and as soon as he got a hold of Teal’c and Daniel, he would tell them.
He finished dressing in his more comfortable blue BDUs and exited the locker room.

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The wormhole activated and Sam stepped through.
Jack was awaiting her down in the gate room.
Her eyes searched his and fixated themselves onto him as she slowly stepped down the ramp.
She took a deep breath when she reached him and was surprised at the weakness in her voice when she said, “It’s done, Sir.”

Jack nodded softly, beckoning her to follow him into the corridor with a small movement of the head.

They walked silently to the elevator then waited together for the car to reach their level. As the door opened, Sam stepped inside, but Jack held her arm gently.

“Go change into more comfortable clothes, and then I’d like to see you in my office before you go home,” he said gently.

“I’m not tired, Sir. I can…”

“Ah-ah!” he interrupted in a soft voice. “Excuse me for saying this, but you look like hell, Carter. I want you to go home tonight. Or, if it’s too much of a strain to you, then take a VIP suite and sleep.”

“Yes, Sir,” she finally conceded.

Jack smiled briefly as the doors slid shut and retraced his steps to the stairs leading to the control room and his office.

About half an hour later, Lieutenant Colonel Sam Carter knocked on his door which was slightly ajar.
Seeing it was her, Jack rose from his seat and rounded the desk to go shut the door to the briefing room. “Come in!” he invited with a small smile. Sam entered the room fully and closed the door behind her as Jack slid the screen between the briefing room and his office shut, too.

“Sit down, please,” he said, offering her one of the two seats facing his desk and going to sit in his own. The chair rotated until he was fully facing her. He smiled briefly, then rested his forearms on his desk, folding his hands together.

“The ceremony was all Tok’ra, and surprisingly a lot of them attended,” Sam started. But as she saw him shake his head slightly in a negative manner, she stopped.

Jack smiled gently again, looking her in the eyes.
“ I didn’t ask you here to give me a report, Sam. These were private matters, and no one, not even the President, should know all the details of it. A ‘nothing to report’ on a clean official report sheet will suffice.”

“Oh?”

“Yep,” he resumed. “How long since the last time you even took a real day off, Carter?”

She shook her head dismissively. “Sir, I’m fine, I’m…”

“I know you are, Carter, I’ve never had any reason, as a commander, to doubt your ability to do your duty and what was necessary. Now I’m asking you as a friend. Doors closed, we’re alone in this office, and I even asked the surveillance team to turn a blind eye on this office for a few minutes…”

She sighed. “What am I going to do if I take a day off now, Sir? With all due respect, my house doesn’t need cleaning, my yard doesn’t need gardening; I could go see Mark and his family, but even if things seem to be better in that area, it’d feel a little bit awkward to go there right now. I…”

“Or you could go to Minnesota…” he interrupted calmly.

Sam looked down briefly, a small smile drawing itself on her lips. “With you?” she said, looking at him with an amused spark in her eyes.

“And the boys.”

“The boys?”

“Daniel and T’. They agreed on the condition that we all come, and I don’t want to go alone, Carter…” he left the innuendo hanging.

She shook her head, smiling in defeat. “That’s blackmail…” she murmured.

“Their idea, not mine… for once. Come on, Carter, I won’t bite, we won’t bite for that matter!”
She looked at him again and smiled, again. “Thank you, Sir.”

“For what?”

“You know what…” she said, standing up.

Jack smiled to himself and stood up too.

“How long till we go?”

“A week. There are a few things I need to sort out about a strange discovery recently made in Gizah, then we’re good to go… all of us. Special authorization from the President. Major General Hank Landry will be filling my shoes while we’re gone. He’s a nice guy and a good commander.”

“General Landry?”

“I served with him once.”

“Oh!”

“Carter?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Go to sleep!” he smirked.

She smiled tiredly and opened the door to the corridor. “Yes, Sir!” she said in a mock salute.

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“Is that correct?” Sam asked Jack.

“If it is, we don’t do anything?” he replied, disbelieving what his eyes had just seen.

“Apparently nothing we did affected the time line,” she resumed, matter-of-factly.

“But we didn’t do anything!” he exclaimed.

“Not yet! Apparently we were going to, two weeks from now, but… now we don’t have to…” she explained, getting slightly annoyed at her own words which sounded so illogical.
“ Excellent! That’s it! I like it!” Jack concluded in his usual enthusiasm, wanting to give his poor brain a break.

Daniel smiled and followed Teal’c out of the lab.
“ Okay, I’m going to get this up to the lab for analysis…” Sam said, grabbing the wooden case.

“No! I’ll take it!” Jack interrupted her, cutting off her attempt in the same motion. “There’s a whole room full of geeks up there just dying to get their hands on this! You’ve got packing to do!” he reminded her cockily.

Sam smiled slightly as a soft blush crept up her cheeks… A whole week at his cabin, albeit with the boys, but it would be the first time she would step into his sanctum sanctorum…

“Carter? Packing!”

She turned her head and saw Jack at the entrance of the lab, grinning knowingly. She smiled fully and performed a small mock salute. “Yes, sir!”

“I’m not kidding!” he said raising an eyebrow.

“I know!” she replied with a fake serious look.

He rolled his eyes and disappeared again.

Sam smiled to herself and left in her turn.

When Jack came down from the science lab, he found Daniel pacing in his office. “Something I can do for you?” Jack asked, circling his desk to sit in his chair.

“Yeah, there are so many artifacts in that dig, I’d like to throw an eye at them before going to your cabin…”

“Ack!” Jack interrupted.

“But, Jack! Among those things is some stuff that’s going to be sent to Area 51 pretty soon! Some have already been sent! Jack, I must have a look!”

Jack sighed and raised his hands. “Okay, okay! One day.”

“One day! Jack, I’d need…”

“Ack!” he interrupted again, raising his pointer finger. “One day. Sam’s coming if you’re coming; you said yourself that you’d come if everyone did.”

Daniel sighed in defeat. “That’s blackmail, Jack.”

“How strange! That’s exactly what Sam said when I told her!” he grinned.

A half smile appeared on Daniel’s mouth. “So it’s ‘Sam’ now, eh?”

“I’ll deny everything…” Jack said, grabbing a pen and a few reports.

Daniel chuckled and exited the office. “I’ll call you when I’m at the airport…”

“No need to, just drive straight to the cabin; you know the road…” was the other man’s reply.

He had been signing and reading reports for about 30 minutes when there was a soft knock on his door.

“Come in!” he said without looking up.

“O’Neill!” came the unmistakable baritone of Teal’c.

Jack put his pen down and looked at his friend.
“ T?”

“I was just conversing with Master Bra’tac.”

“How’s he doing?” Jack smiled.

“He is well,” Teal’c replied, bowing his head in thanks.

“So? Hence? However?…” Jack asked, beginning to feel the vein on his temple pounding.

My presence is requested at the new Jaffa council. Important matters are being devised at the moment, and Master Bra’tac asked that I attend.”

Jack sighed heavily, looking up. “One day, T’, that’s what I gave Daniel. One day.”

Teal’c bowed his head respectfully. “Thank you, O’Neill.”

“Yeah, whatever… Ask Daniel to change the plane reservations for you, too… Sam and I will be expecting you.”

Teal’c smiled slightly and exited the office.
Jack rolled his eyes and rubbed his face with his hands. He looked at the piles of reports that were still in his inbox and checked the time, then put the cap back on the top of his pen and put his desk into order. ‘Let’s leave Hank Landry something to do…’ he thought a bit aggravated at his friends.

He went to the locker room and dressed in his civvies. Passing Sam’s lab on his way to the elevator, the dark room confirmed its owner had left the base. Checking his watch while waiting for the car, he decided he would warn her that Daniel and Teal’c would be a day late…

On his way to her house, he stopped at a Chinese take-out and bought a few items he could eat alone if Sam didn’t want to share. He finally reached her neighborhood, exited his truck with his arms quite fully loaded, and rung.

After a minute or so, the light in her hall flicked on and she opened her entrance door. “Sir?” she said in a surprised tone, stepping aside to let him come in.

“I brought bait,” he grinned, eyeing the paper bags he was carrying.

She took the hint and relieved him from one, starting toward her kitchen. “Is this a surprise dinner gathering at Sam’s?” she joked. “Are the guys behind you?”

Jack winced, laying the second paper bag on her counter.

“What?” she asked.

“Daniel wanted to analyze some of the Gizah findings and Teal’c was needed on Dakara…” he rubbed his nose.

Sam’s arms fell to her sides. “So this is a peace offering for telling me we’re not going?” she said, disappointment showing in her eyes.

“No, no…” he denied, “they’ll come the day after tomorrow…”

“Ah! That’s good then!”

“That means you’re still coming?” he asked warily.

“Of course I’m coming!” she replied smiling.

“You’ll be a whole day alone with me!” he exclaimed.

“So what? You thought I was going to freak out? That I don’t know how to defend myself against a trained Brigadier General’s advances?” she teased with a twinkle in her eyes.

He was speechless for a while. She used that opportunity to step toward him and almost came face to face with him. “Or maybe it’s you who should be worried… Sir!” she murmured huskily in his ear before stepping back abruptly, and starting to unpack the take-outs.

“Oooh, so not fair, Carter!” he finally recovered.

She giggled throwing him a look. “Gotcha!”

“That’s bordering insubordination, colonel!” he joked.

“Downtime, general…”

Jack chuckled before turning serious again. “So you’re okay with this? We could postpone a day, you know?”
“ No, my mind is set, my luggage is ready, you can pick me up tomorrow morning like scheduled, sir. In the meantime, these take-outs are going to get cold. How did you know I hadn’t eaten yet?” she asked, sitting on a stool at her counter.

He shrugged his jacket off and threw it to the back of a chair while sitting opposite her at the counter.
“ Sixth sense, Carter… What were you doing? Some research on the Internet about your new project?” he teased.

“No, sir, as ordered, I was packing…” she said truthfully.

“Good girl!”

“I can be sometimes…”

“And what about the other times?” he teased.

“That’s classified, sir…” she said, looking him in the eyes, wanting to push the game further, but at the same time not knowing exactly where she stood.
She saw in his eyes that he knew what her thoughts were at the moment.

He smiled enigmatically before resuming the conversation. “So, any particular bet on who’s going to win the hockey championship this year?…”

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The flight had been uneventful, and a rental SUV was awaiting them. Jack headed straight to the road he knew so well, content to be alone with Sam.
He was not going to push anything. She’d just broken up with her fiancée, her Dad had just died, and despite whatever had happened between them in that observation room, nothing had really changed, yet. He was simply happy to show her his place alone before the others arrived. Teal’c had been the first to come, then Daniel, and now Sam. Tomorrow both their friends would arrive, and they would be complete again… maybe for the last time.
Sam was silent. He caught a glimpse of her relaxed features and decided not to speak, so the rest of the drive to his cabin was silent.
At last, he turned onto the small forest road that ultimately led to the cabin. The sun was setting, casting its orange dying rays onto the mountains around them.

Jack parked next to the back door. As soon as the engine shut down, Sam unstrapped herself and practically jumped out of the car.

Jack was a bit puzzled by her actions until he saw her staring at the mountains. The orange glow made them look like they were on fire, with white rivulets of snow on top of some of them. It was a natural show he was used to, but Sam wasn’t.
He smiled to himself: he knew she would like it!

She heard the gravel crunch softly underneath his boots and turned toward him with a broad smile.
“ I’m glad I came!” she said, enthusiastically stepping toward him.

He smiled broadly in his turn and opened his arms in a demonstrating gesture. “Simple but beautiful, huh?” he asked.

He was not prepared for Sam jumping into his opened arms and wrapping her own around his waist. Reflexively, he closed the embrace and kissed the top of her head without thinking. He was even more surprised when he felt her answering one upon his neck.

He gently pushed her and put a finger underneath her chin to make her look at him. “What’s happening, Carter?”

She smiled enigmatically before answering, “When where you going to tell us, Jack?”

He looked at her, puzzled. “Tell you what?”

“That you have just been promoted to Homeworld Security?”

He was so surprised he pushed her and turned his back to her.

She let him have his space until he turned back with a serious look.
“ How did you know?”

She ventured one step forward and took one of his hands, entwining her fingers with his. “Hammond told me.”

“Spying on me, Carter?” he said in a hurt voice.

She chuckled. “He kind of had to, actually…”

“Why?”

She stepped closer and laid her head on his chest. “I asked him for a transfer.”

Once again he pushed her to look her in the eyes.
“ You did what?”

“I’ll be heading the research department at Area 51. It’s a good career move for me for now. I need to reassess my priorities, Cassie needs support right now, and then there’s you…” she finished, looking him straight in the eyes.

“Me?” he asked, disbelieving.

“Dad…” she started before rethinking her words. “Let’s just say I guess I was not as transparent as I thought I was,” she said sadly.

He sighed and drew her back in his embrace. “I can’t begin to tell you how mad I am at you right now,” he murmured, once again kissing slightly the top of her head.

She chuckled.

“Now, would you care to explain why you asked George instead of me, and why he told you…” he asked, frowning.

“I called him to tell him about Dad’s last wishes. We talked a lot. I was in a rather troubled emotional state, and General Hammond is not an idiot. He asked me how you were taking Dad’s death, and… I told him I was seriously thinking of transferring, for various reasons. He said that he would approve it and start processing my request, but that he couldn’t guarantee my transfer since he wouldn’t be the one signing the final papers.”

“Oh… That would be the top priority transfer he’s asked me to look at after my vacation then, along with Cameron Mitchell’s assignment to the SGC…”

“Cameron Mitchell? He deserves this; it was nice of you to think of him, Jack…”

“Aaah,” he dismissed. “I promised he could go wherever he wanted…”

“So now you know how I know…” Sam resumed. “But I was rather taken aback when I learned you were going to head Homeworld Security, and you hadn’t told us…” she said.

“There are several reasons why, actually, and it came with a promotion to Major General… But the main one is this hot blonde,” he said, looking her in the eyes, and liking the sweet smile she gave him. “The second is that George called me to say he was retiring and that he’d thought of me, and the third is that maybe it’s time for a change for me, a step back… I’ve come full circle, Sam. When Daniel and I first stepped through that ring, I was suicidal. Ten years later, I want to start living again…”

She smiled and hugged him tighter. “With me?” she asked softly.

He chuckled and kissed her hair. “Always…”

She leaned back and searched his eyes. He was relaxed, and for the first time she thought she saw the real Jack O’Neill in the tender way he looked at her. She leaned forward…

A flash of light enveloped them and left an empty spot. The trunk had yet to be unloaded and the house opened…

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Jack stumbled forward and almost knocked Sam off her feet.

"Aww! For crying out loud, THOR! So NOT the moment!" he groaned in frustration. He realized then that this was not an Asgard ship. His instincts on edge immediately, he drew out the small side arm he always kept at his belt, as Sam did the same.

A deep voice startled them.

"This will not be necessary, O'Neill."

A Jaffa stepped from behind the console of the Al'Kesh and bowed slightly as a means of greeting.

"O'Neill, Major Carter..."

"Colonel Carter! Who are you?!" she said, her grip on her gun tightening.

"Please accept my apologies for this misinformation, Colonel Carter. I am An'ok, former Jaffa of Anubis's."

Jack had slowly stepped sideward and was now directly opposite Sam, pointing his weapon at the other man. Unless there were others hidden somewhere -which he doubted: knowing Jaffas, they would have been all here to neutralize them if need be- he had no chance to escape their shots if it came to that.

"Anubis's gone, what do you want?" he snarled.

"I know, and please, lower your weapons, I will explain everything. You need not fear me."

"We'll be the judges of that," Sam said before Jack could.

An'ok bent his head for a moment, then resumed.

"When the fleet of my former master attacked Earth, I was at the commands of an Al'kesh –this one. I barely escaped the glowing weapons before I made the jump to hyperspace. There was nothing to be saved, and he whom I thought was a god had been destroyed. There was another Jaffa with me, after some time drifting through space and going from planet to planet, he suggested we try to join the ranks of the Jaffa rebellion, since it seemed that the Shol'va had chosen more wisely that the rest of us..."

"That's Teal'c to you!" Jack growled.

"Yes, my apologies... My partner and I landed on a planet where we hoped we might find members of the rebellion, and we did. My partner was killed at the battle on Dakara."

"Nice story, but this is an abduction we're talking about!" Jack said unmoved.

"A long time ago, Anubis found an outpost of whom you call the Ancients. There was a laboratory there, which held a broken machine. Anubis knew what it did, and I was among the few Jaffa he trusted enough to reveal its goal: that machine has the power to accelerate or stop the growth of beings. We had to know because we were in charge of the supervision of the works needed to repair the machine. Anubis had captured scientists all over the galaxy to do so. He killed them one by one because they could repair the mechanism, but could not make it work, while apparently, O’Neill can operate Ancient machines. When there were no more scientists to kill, Anubis rendered the machine useless again and left."

"Why did he need that machine?"

"He needed larvae to mature to a certain degree because he wanted to create an army of super Jaffa..."

"The Kull warriors?" Sam supplied.

"In the end it was them indeed," An'ok confirmed. "When he could not use the machine, he found another way around the difficulty."

"And we're headed to that machine?" she asked. "You want me to fix it, and General O'Neill to operate it? Why?"

"I think that if we can stop the larva's growth, we can free all Jaffa from the dependence to the Goa'uld and keep the benefits without having to bear the terrible consequences."

"There's tretonin for that," Jack said warily.

"Indeed, but how long will the Tok'ra supply us with it? It would be switching dependencies, even for a while. Besides, the alliance is shattered and I would not trust my life to them either. The Free Jaffa need to find their own way."

"He's right, sir," Sam said, finally lowering her arm.

"And that excuses the fact he's literally abducted us? That he was tracking both you and I?... I don't buy that!"

"I did not track you both, O'Neill. I intended to transport you to my ship indeed, and to convince you to let Colonel Carter come," An'ok said to O'Neill.

"So you admit it!" Jack pushed, irritated.

"The Asgard device that transported you to my ship has your bio signature. I could know where you were if needed, so in a manner of speaking, yes, I was tracking you down, but only with the intention I stated before."

"That doesn't make this any less despicable!"

"Sir!"

"Carter, tell me why I shouldn't kill him right then and there?!"

"Because if he's right, this machine could indeed be a huge step forward to free the Jaffa," Sam replied calmly.

Jack's animosity wavered a bit. "How do we know he's telling the truth? How do we know the machine works?"

"I will be the one you test it upon. Soon, my symbiote will be ready to take a host. If the machine does not work, then I shall die anyway."

Jack, who had lowered his aim for a minute, tightened it back.

"If you want, take my zatnick'atel. You can use it on me if you think I am not trustworthy."

An'ok held the weapon to Jack who carefully took it, still aiming.

"That's very generous of you, An'ok but call that a pathological paranoia, I don't think a zat is enough for me to trust you," Jack snarled.

"This is my only weapon," An'ok replied, still utterly calm.

"Sir, I don't think he's lying," Sam resumed. "What would be the purpose?"

"You forget my old buddy Baal's still on the run, he could be one of his Jaffa," Jack said, still not loosing his aim.

"Unlikely, sir. Most of Baal's Jaffa joined the Rebellion. I really don't sense any malice in him."

"We didn't sense any malice in Kitano either," Jack reminded her. "Show me your symbiote!" he asked An'ok.

An'ok bowed his head and raised his tunic, allowing the larvae to come out, making both Jack and Sam squirm.
Jack sighed and finally dropped his arm, putting his weapon back in his belt.

"I'll trust you, Carter, but you" he said pointing to An'ok, "I don't," Jack walked up to Sam's side, a silent communication taking place in their eyes.

"I'll set a course to the planet we need to go to. The resting areas are not as comfortable as you might wish them to be, I am sorry, but they have all the necessities required," An'ok said.

"How long will the trip be?" O'Neill asked.

"About three of your days," An'ok replied flatly.

"You know our friends down there are gonna send search parties?" Jack asked, annoyed.

"I do, but for the sake of this mission, I would prefer if we kept silent until we know for sure the mission is successful."

"And if it's not?" Jack challenged.

"I will be dead, the Al’kesh will be yours, as well as its communication devices and all the data its memory contains," An'ok said, staring at him.

"Fair deal," Jack murmured then turned to go sit next to a wall.

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Teal'c and Daniel finally turned on the forest path that led to Jack's cabin.

“So? Any bet on what they have been doing in the day they waited for us?” Daniel asked playfully.

“I am not sure” Teal'c replied. “O'Neill probably taught Colonel Carter the art of fishing” he said in a serious tone.

Daniel snorted.

“Yeah, right, the art of fishing…”

They came into view of the truck Jack had rented.

“’looks like they’ve just come back,” Daniel casually remarked as Teal'c came to a full stop. He opened his door and walked up to the truck.

“Jack? Sam?” he called.

He turned to Teal'c raising his eyebrows upon hearing no response, and went to the front door of the cabin.

“Daniel Jackson!” Teal'c called as Daniel tried unsuccessfully to open the door.

Teal'c rounded the building and met Daniel with a worried face.

“It appears their luggage is still in the vehicle, the engine is cold and…”

“They haven’t been to the cabin, the door’s closed,” Daniel finished. “I’m calling the SGC…”

Teal'c nodded.

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Jack groaned as he sat up from his lying position.

Sam woke up from her daze.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing you can fix unfortunately, unless you have found the secret to everlasting youth,” Jack replied, rubbing his backside painfully.

She looked at him with sympathy.

“Back to business,” he said, leaning against the wall. “You found anything unusual abroad this ship?”

“No, I tried to conduct as full a survey as I could given the circumstances and the lack of instruments, but so far, An’ok has spoken the truth,” she replied.

“I can’t shake this gut feeling out…” he murmured.

Sam sighed.

“I understand, Sir, but like you said on the first day, the risk is manageable, don’t you think?”

He grinned at her.

“Admit it, you can’t wait to put your hands on this thing.”

She smiled back, acknowledging his words by a slight nod.

“I’m rather excited at the possibilities this might bring, actually. Another ancient discovery we could put to good use to free the Jaffa nation from the drawbacks of their symbiote.”

“See, that’s what I don’t get, why didn’t he bring Daniel and Teal'c along? They’re as important to this mission as we are. Daniel can read ancient, and Teal’c is on Tretonin…”

“Well Sir, with all due respect, you don’t know if you can’t read ancient. You’d retained a bit of it from your previous experience and…”

“That was Latin, Carter,” he interrupted “and it came from the time loop.”

“Oh…” she said, wincing “and Teal'c like you said is on Tretonin, he wouldn’t be of much help without a larva…”

“I’ll concede that point,” he nodded.

“I guess we’ll know about the Ancient reading when we get to it, right?”

“Yep…”

Their conversation was interrupted by An’ok’s arrival in the section of the Al’kesh they had elected as their quarters.

“I brought in food supplies if you wish to eat,” he announced. “We will be arriving tomorrow. The temple where the machine is located is in the middle of a village. We will set our camp there.”

“Nice,” Jack smirked.

An’ok bowed his head. “I shall leave you now, and return to the ship’s commands. If you require anything, please do not hesitate to ask me.”

“How about you bring us back to Earth so we can actually R & R?!” Jack said under his breath, making Sam grin.

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“Hey Teal'c,” Daniel said tiredly to his friend who was eating breakfast at the commissary.

“Daniel Jackson…” the big man acknowledged.

“Has General Landry managed to contact the Asgard?”

Daniel shook his head.

“You made any progress with the Jaffa?”

“Bra’Tac is investigating as we speak.”

“One thing is for certain, it’s not the NID. I managed to contact Barrett, he has no clue of their whereabouts, and has promised to help us the best he could.”

“The Trust has been eliminated, has it not?”

“For all we know, yes,” Daniel said, sitting down with a pensive look.

“O'Neill and Colonel Carter’s disappearance was abrupt…” Teal'c started.

“Yes, it points to an Asgard beam or something like that,” Daniel finished.

“Then we will soon know.” Teal'c concluded calmly.

Daniel looked at him quizzically.

“The only beings who know how to use that technology are either Asgard, or close to Anubis,” Teal'c stated simply.

“The only problem is that Bra’Tac has not reported in yet, and we have yet to contact Thor or any other Asgard for that matter.”

“It is only a matter of time before we do.”

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The Al’kesh landed softly in the middle of a wide square in the village.
The hatch opened and An'ok exited, followed by Jack and Sam. An'ok guided them through the streets to a cluster of small buildings in relatively good shape.

“Those were the quarters where Anubis kept the scientists. You may take whatever one suits your needs best. You will see that the accommodations are not uniform, for a reason that is unknown, some of the buildings were in extremely good shape, as if their occupants had just left, while some others looked liked they had sustained some heavy damage from bombing,” An’ok informed them.

“That often happens with the Ancients… It’s as thought their incorporeal presence watches over those ruins,” Jack said.

“Despite lacking comfort, I trust you can find one that will suit your needs, some are equipped with a working well, and there is wood in the forest nearby. As for the food, I shall endeavor to provide you with fresh fruit and meat from hunting. The area is well supplied in rodents and edible herbivores, and I have learnt to know which plants are consumable.”

“How convenient,” Jack mumbled only for Sam to hear, earning himself an aggravated glare.

“We will leave our supplies here. I will show you the temple, and then you can search for a house to stay before starting your work,” An’ok stated.

“So that’s what it is? We’re your slaves?” Sam asked with a trace of anger in her voice.

“I am sorry, Colonel Carter, I did not mean it that way,” An'ok amended himself.

“Well, if you want us to collaborate, I’d suggest you try and be less authoritative,” Jack said, “remember that we didn’t come on our own volition. We will search for a house first.”

An'ok bowed his head in apology as Sam and Jack peered around them to check the houses.

“I’ll go pick the last of our equipment from the Al’kesh, take your time,” An'ok said before leaving them.

Jack turned to Sam.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“About what?”

“An'ok.”

Sam sighed.

“I must admit I have mixed feelings,” she said, observing the Jaffa from afar as he unloaded crates from the ship and laid them next to the ship before going back in to pick more.

“Well I don’t like him, at all,” Jack mumbled. “Teal'c, I knew he was on our side at once, this one…” he shook his head. “We’d better try and search for a place to stay…”

Sam smiled.

“One preferably with a king sized bed?” she teased.

Jack turned sharply, his eyebrows almost touching his hairline.

“Carter?!”

She burst out laughing.

“Gotcha!”

Jack rolled his eyes.

“Smartass!”

“That was too tempting, Sir…” she joked.

“Ah see, if you’re gonna share a kind sized with me, I think ‘Jack’ is better suited than ‘Sir’,” he smirked.

Sam glared at him.

“Gotcha back!” he retorted with a cocky smile.

Sam shook her head and strode past him to the first buildings.

They visited several before settling in a small but functional one.

All were made in sort of red sandstone bricks, but despite their rustic aspect, the inside was an intricate mixture of basic and advanced technology. In the one they had elected as theirs, there was a sort of fountain that Sam activated just by brushing past it. Pure water soon flowed into the basin, which itself flowed pipes that led to several sanitary items such as a rudimentary shower and less rudimentary bath.
Upon exploring the building, Sam found what she thought was a fireplace next to a small tank that was slowly filling with the water.

Jack on his part found a large room in a secluded part of the house, where two people could easily lie down. Now the tough part was that there was only the hard rock ground as a mattress, and he just knew his poor bones would make him pay dearly if he submitted them to this torture.

Sam entered the room.

“Here’s what I suggest… We go find An'ok and see the temple and the machine, to assess the situation. Then apparently, there’s still time before the night comes, so we could go and find some wood for the fireplace,” she stated.

“Tired of roughing it in, Carter?” Jack asked, amused.

Once again, she glared.

“Hey, I’m just sayin’!” he raised his hands in surrender. “I’ll admit I’ll be happy when I can sleep in a good bed and not on the ground like this… We can always smuggle those slim groundsheets in the Al’kesh but…”

“That could work…” Sam agreed. “Let’s hope we’re not staying too long… There are showers, by the way…”

“Sweet!” Jack said, wiggling his eyebrows.

Sam shook her head rolling her eyes.

“Hey! What’s a man got to do?!” Jack defended himself “Surely after you suggested we share a king sized…” he wiggled his eyebrows.

“You go and find some wood, I’ll take care of the sleeping arrangements,” Sam interrupted, half laughing.

“Yes, Sir!” Jack snapped to attention, causing Sam to immediately blush in embarrassment.

“Sorry I… I should have…” she stumbled.

Jack stepped into her personal space and put a finger under her chin.

“Just kidding, Carter…” he murmured, making her look into his eyes.

They stared at one another for a couple of seconds before slowly getting closer.

“O'Neill, Colonel Carter!” An'ok called from outside.

Jack sighed, rolling his eyes.

“I’m going to kill him, I swear!” he muttered under his breath.

Sam chuckled.

“He probably wants us to take a look… come on,” she said, brushing past him towards the entrance.

Jack and Sam exited the ‘house’ and found An'ok waiting for them outside.

“Shall I show you the temple?” he asked politely.

“Lead the way,” Jack said in a slightly dejected voice.

“The sooner we manage to make it work, the sooner I will take you back to your friends,” An'ok stated calmly.

“What? And not keep us in this exquisite resort?!” Jack smirked.

“I do not understand…” An'ok stopped, clearly surprised.

“That was sarcasm, come on, we still have to go into the woods after that.” Jack said aggravated.

An'ok raised and eyebrow but Jack waved for him to resume walking, which he did.
He had to admit These Tau’ri people were most difficult to understand. They were easily offended and often said things which he had trouble understanding.

Soon they came in view of a huge building with Ancient carvings on the pediment.

Jack and Sam stopped, taking in the size of it.

An'ok stopped too, waiting for them to follow him.

“You say it’s a temple?” Sam asked.

“That was our assessment when we discovered it. Its size, and there are a lot of statues inside.” An’ok replied.

“All right, let’s see what’s inside,” Jack announced, stepping past An'ok.

They entered the building, admiring the walls which were laden with ancient writings, carved into the stone, and remarkably untouched. An'ok led them to a wide room with several glasslike panels behind which a large console could be seen, and in the center of the room, a sort of huge chair surmounted by an arch. The arch was terminated with a knob that was directly above the area where the head of one who would sit in the chair would be. In front of that chair, there was a large glass case inside which the subject of the experiment probably stood.

Taking in the sight of the system, Sam’s eyes finally settled on the console. She stepped towards it while Jack looked at the walls frowning.

The console showed signs of staff blasts, but surprisingly enough, considering the number of them, it didn’t look too much damaged.

“Anubis had a dozen Jaffa fire upon this for several minutes when he left,” An'ok explained.

“I can imagine that he wouldn’t want to leave such a device in order of working…” Sam said pensively, her mind already at work and trying to assess if she could repair it or not.

“That is the problem actually,” An'ok said. “The device was in order of working when we discovered it, but none of the scientists ever managed to make it function.”

“Anubis knew it was Ancient,” she stated simply. “He just didn’t know one has to have a special gene to make it work. That’s why general O'Neill can operate Ancient devices.”

Jack was coming back to them. She rounded the console to meet him.

“Well this place is definitely not a temple,” Jack said. “Yes, there are statues all over the place, but I believe it’s more of a homage to dead people or something like that, than anything else.”

“How do you know that?” An'ok asked.

“I can understand most of what is written on the walls, and these are not prayers or mantras,” Jack said.

“You can?” Sam said, excited.

“I can, yes, but don’t ask me to translate it into English. I understand it *intrinsically* if you will, but I cannot put into words what I understand.”

“But you can explain what you understand?” Sam asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Sir, it’s no use to our current problem if you can understand what the machine does but cannot explain it to me…” Sam stated.

“I can tell you nothing on these walls is about the machine itself,” Jack said, shaking his head.

“Then what is it about?” An'ok chimed in.

“Oh, the wonders of science and other crap; if you want to find a modus operandi for the machine, I think we’d better search for a sort of library or something,” Jack concluded.

“Modus Operandi, Sir?” she asked, with a smile.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Yeah well, like you pointed out I remember some of the Latin I learnt during that time loop!”

She chuckled.

“Carter…!” he said, a bit exasperated.

“Right,” Sam said seriously “in any case, the machine’s not going to work given its state at the moment. While I try to fix it, you can search for that library?” she suggested.

“We will do that now, Colonel Carter…” An'ok started.

“Wow, wow, wow…” Jack interrupted, shaking his finger negatively. “This fellow” he said, pointing at himself “is tired and hungry. Why don’t we do this tomorrow when we’re all fresh and ready, huh?” he finished, raising an eyebrow.

“You don’t understand how close my symbiote is to maturing!” An'ok exclaimed, then calmed a little “I am sorry, but it is only a matter of weeks, maybe even days,” he said.

“Well *you*’ve got to understand that we humans don’t have a snake powering up our batteries!”

An'ok looked at him with fury in his eyes.

“This can be arranged soon!” he said menacingly, the meaning of his sentence very obvious.

“I’d like you to try…” Jack started, his eyes incredibly black.

“Enough!” Sam interrupted forcefully. “There’ll be no work done on this today, and that’s that! We still have to collect some things from the forest to settle down properly, albeit temporarily, and quite frankly, I don’t have the energy to either start raking my brains over that piece of Ancient technology or see you fight until death do you part!”

An'ok and Jack looked at her not knowing what to think.

“We’re here now, a few hours is not going to make a huge difference! Sir, I’d like a few words with you in private!” Sam resumed.

Jack stepped towards her and they both went to a corner of the room while An'ok set forth to the entrance of the building.

“Carter?” Jack asked softly.

“You really needed to set him off like that?!” Sam asked, her eyes blazing with anger.

“I don’t like his manners!” Jack replied defensively.

“I don’t like his manners either, I’m just not going to give him another excuse!”

Jack looked her in the eyes a moment before raising briefly his eyebrows in agreement.

“I may have pushed a little…”

“A little?”

“Okay, a lot, but that’s not the point. He’s gotta stop doing what he does, and giving us orders. We’re NOT his prisoners!”

“Well technically we are, Sir.”

Jack sighed.

“Okay, I’ll try to be less pushy in the future,” he conceded.

“You do that,” she said firmly, starting towards the entrance in her turn.

“And Carter?!” Jack called with an amused smile.

“What?”

“I won’t ever doubt your commanding abilities!” he smirked, making Sam roll her eyes smiling. He always had the ability to diffuse the tension with sarcasm or irony, and turn the situation to his advantage but… That was Jack…

She shook her head, smiling, and resumed her walk.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

An'ok was waiting for them at the entrance of the building.

Sam came up to him tiredly.

“Look, An'ok, like General O'Neill said, we *are* tired. It’s been a long and eventful few months, and the fact that we are here now with you is not something we first wanted…”

“I understand” he interrupted, “I am sorry, the urgency of my situation made me lose focus in the real purpose of this.” He paused “I shall now endeavor to provide nourishment while you get settled better,” he said with a little bow. “My Zatnickatel might prove useful, if you could convince General O'Neill…”

“Convince General O'Neill of what?” Jack’s voice asked as he reached their position.

“Of giving me back my Zatnickatel so I could go hunting,” An'ok deadpanned.

Jack sighed, then took the weapon from his belt and gave it to the Jaffa wordlessly.

An'ok grabbed it with a bow of his head and disappeared into the streets leading to the forest.

Jack turned to Sam.

“I’ll go fetch some wood…” He turned on his heels and he too disappeared through the street leading to the forest.

Sam sighed and went to their ‘house’. She would explore it further and try and understand the intricacies of the heating and watering systems which, according to her calculations and the last known active signs from the Ancients, hadn’t worked in more than 10,000 years.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

“I understand your frustration, Daniel Jackson, but unless we actually know where to look, it is very difficult, even for us, to track down O'Neill’s bio-signature” the disembodied voice of Supreme Commander Thor’s hologram said.

“But can you confirm no Asgard abducted O'Neill and Colonel Carter?” Teal'c asked.

“As of yet, this issue is still unresolved but in all honesty, I don’t believe any one of us would do that. We are rather busy with the reconstruction of the Asgard Empire on Orilla, and Loki’s experiments were isolated as far as we know,” Thor resumed.

“Well can you at least try to scan our galaxy for some signs of them? They’re probably in a space ship or on a planet with no gate…”

“Scanning has already started, Doctor Jackson, we will keep you informed if we find anything.”

“Thanks…” Daniel replied dejectedly.

“I shall now tend to my primary duties, please give my regards to General Hammond,” Thor concluded with a slight bow of his head.

Daniel turned to General Landry.

“What now?”

“We are still expecting news from Master Bra’Tac,” Teal'c said.

“Maybe you both should go to Dakara, and try to find out,” Hank Landry suggested. “That at least, would keep you busy,” he added with a forced smile.

Daniel looked at him raising an eyebrow.

“Jack was the one to recommend your posting, right?”

A ‘cat ate the canary’ smile spread over Hank Landry’s face.

“I now see why…” Teal'c deadpanned.

Daniel sighed.

“I’m sorry, General, I am so used to Jack that I’ll admit I can be a little disrespectful of military protocol sometimes” Daniel said.

“My statement was also intended to make you inquire about Master Bra’Tac’s whereabouts and the well being of the New Jaffa Nation…”

“The Jaffa Nation is well,” Teal'c started, with a touch of annoyance in his voice.

“No offense meant, Teal'c,” Landry resumed hastily, “It’s just that I want to be sure the Ancient weapon is truly destroyed, and that Master Bra’Tac does indeed have the upper hand at the moment.”

Teal'c bowed slightly, acknowledging the man’s words.

“In this case, we shall indeed go to Dakara…”

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Jack stepped inside the Ancient house carrying some wood he had collected and bundled into a tarp he must have found in the Al’kesh.

“Sam?”

“In here!” came the muffled sound of her voice.

Jack laid down his burden and walked in the general direction of her voice.
Sam was crouched under the fountain, with mud all over her face.

“Fancy a mud struggle?” he smirked.

She glared at him.

“I was trying to fix that pipe…”

He smiled.

“Got any luck?” he asked.

“Got any tape or chewing gum?” she replied disgusted.

“Actually…” he searched his pockets before extracting a pack of strawberry Chewing gums, and tossed it to her.

“Strawberry?” she asked, surprised.

He shrugged.

“Yeah well, I have a sweet tooth…”

She smiled and took several gums to chew. When she managed to have the consistency she desired, she used the ball as a patch on the defective plumbing.

“There… that should hold for a while at least…”

“Carter, can you explain to me how a village built by a civilization that has normally disappeared 10,000 years ago can still be in a shape good enough for scavengers like us to inhabit it, and the water system still functional?”

She pulled herself up from her crouching position and shrugged.

“I can only say that I believe the plumbing held because it’s not plastic or lead… It’s a foreign alloy that seems to be very resistant. I’d suspect it’s something similar to the Stargate alloy, minus the Naquada…”

“So what else did you discover?”

She treated him with one of her wide smiles at that moment, took his arm, and led him to what they had elected their “room”. It was fully equipped with what he would actually call a king sized bed, or rather mattress, and blankets of sorts.

“What the…” he started, taken aback.

“I went searching for replacement parts in other houses while you were gone, and I found one that was probably used as a storage area when Anubis was here.”

“Anything cool?” he asked.

She shook her head negatively.

“Only material supplies, no weapon nor anything that could be used as such… I found tables, canteens, crates, blankets, mattresses…”

“I inform you that I brought some fruits from my hunting session and meat is roasting above the fire,” An'ok’s voice interrupted her.

Jack jumped at that.

“An'ok!” he started, aggravated “You have to STOP sneaking up on us! Just ring or knock or whatever! Announce your presence!”

An'ok looked a bit taken aback, then composed himself.

“I am sorry, I did not mean to…”

“Ah for crying out loud, forget it, it’s done anyway,” came Jack’s gruff interruption, “Let’s go to eat” he said before exiting the house.

Jack definitely didn’t want to know what the meat was or how it looked like –alive- despite having eaten many strange things in his life, but he had to admit it was well cooked and tasted delicious.

He looked over at Sam, at the exact moment she was planting her teeth in a Mango-like fruit and had to look elsewhere for it did things to his mind that went in all the wrong directions.

He swallowed and decided to make small talk with An'ok.

“This is great, thanks.”

An'ok looked at him surprised, and bowed his head in acknowledgement.

“This is the first time you say something nice to me,” he replied calmly.

“There’s one for everything,” Jack replied laconically.

“I may not have been the perfect host and I apologize for that,” An'ok resumed. “The urgency of my situation may make me forget about proper behavioral rules.”

Jack sighed.

“We all have our problems. You try and respect both the colonel’s and my privacy and we’re okay.”

“I shall endeavor to try and do that from now on,” An'ok replied.

“Carter? You finished?” Jack asked her.

“Yes, Sir,” she nodded, licking the fruit juices off her fingers, and making Jack groan inwardly.

“Then we should go get some rest, you keep watch, An'ok?” Jack asked.

“I will Kelno’reem, you may rest.”

“Thanks,” was the only comment he made before standing up and heading down the street to their house.

Sam stood up too, muttering a “thank you” before following Jack.

An'ok observed them slowly melting into the shadows, frowning. Those humans proved to be what he had been told they were: strong minded. He might have to influence things more drastically to get what he wanted…

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Jack shut the ‘entrance’ door behind him, and caught Sam’s hand as she was headed to the sleeping area.

The turned towards him, a questioning look in her eyes.

He tugged her hand gently, bringing her close, and encircled her shoulders with his free arm, pulling her in a gentle hug.

They remained silent in the soft light of the night illuminated by bright stars, before she pulled back slowly, smiling.

“What was that for?” she asked softly.

“I wanted to make sure it’s still real” he said with a trace of regret at their current situation.

She looked at him, understanding, and pulled gently on his hand as she started back towards the room with the cots.

They silently divested themselves down to their underwear and lied down, next to each other. Jack pulled a blanket over them and she snuggled up to his large frame.
Automatically, his arms came to encircle her.

He was the first to break the silence.

“We haven’t had time to talk….”

“What is there to talk about?” she replied, moving slightly for a more comfortable position.

“Us?”

“Oh.”

“Oh? Just ‘Oh’? What does that mean?”

She sighed.

“It means nothing, Jack… I’m comfortable with where we’re headed. I don’t know how we’ll handle it, and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with us being so far apart, but for the first time in years, I feel at peace with my choice for a life.” She rose a bit and looked him in the eyes. “I like my job, Jack, I like stepping through that ring and discover things I wouldn’t have dreamt about, but with Anubis’s defeat, I feel like we’ve come to a new dimension in our fight –if there’s still one- to protect the planet, and I want to take care of myself, be selfish for a change. I am comfortable with that because I know you’ll support me,” she concluded softly.

She saw him smile in the dark as he drew her body on top of his, cradling her head in the crook of his shoulder with his large hand.

“Always…” he murmured.

She hugged him in return, before raising her head again.

Jack’s questioning look made her smile, before her eyes descended on his mouth, and she kissed him.
Jack’s mouth opened immediately and their tongues began dueling languidly in a slow rhythm, like they had done this for years.
Sam reveled in the new sensations the kiss was eliciting, her hands who had been idle a moment ago now were sensuously caressing his undershirt clad chest while she felt his drawing slow circles on her back, but before it became too much, Jack gently pulled her back, licking his lips, and obviously trying to regain control over his body and senses.

“Jack?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“So. Not. The right settings…” he managed to croak.

Sam laughed at that and rested her head on his chest. “Hey, at least we’ve got a king sized!” she teased.

“Ah see, now that’s an interesting observation, Carter,” he said, still a little out of breath.

“Oh?” she relied, her voice muffled by his undershirt.

“If it’s a king sized, how come you are lying on top of me?” he deadpanned.

Sam again erupted in laughter, diffusing the tension, before moving back down his side, resting her head on the shoulder.

“Sleep?” she asked drowsily.

“We’ll resume that conversation later, promise?” he murmured.

“I can’t promise you we’ll actually have a conversation, but we’ll definitely resume!” Sam said teasingly, making Jack groan in frustration.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Sam was swearing under her breath, crouched underneath a broken (and now torn apart) console.

An'ok was trying to help her at his best, but so far, his best had been to hand her the tools she had found in the ‘storage house’.

After hearing the tenth ‘Crap!’, Jack for his part, had decided to scout the area, and see if he could find anything interesting related to the machine.
His wanderings led him to several aisles in the building that revealed itself as being rather large. In each of the rooms he entered, he could decipher a few things, but what stroke him the most in general, was the obvious devastation left by Anubis with anything remotely linked to what the building sheltered.
He had also discovered other broken devices, some of old, and some more recently. Apparently, Anubis had not only destroyed the machine Sam was working on, according to the scattered remains he found in some areas, and a few others had simply vanished, either completely destroyed or dismantled to be reconstructed some place else?

He arrived in a wide room which must have held a library of sorts, if the broken shelves that lay all over the ground were what he thought they were. What looked like Ancient tables were also visible, and Jack thought Daniel would have had a blast trying to know which part went with which, since the tablets were also all broken to pieces.

Whatever Anubis –or Time- had found here was totally useless now.

He resumed his exploration of the place and reached a patio with a fountain in the middle. Unlike the one they had found in their house, this one was not functioning.
Luxurious vegetation was threatening to overcome the patio, and it made Jack think of an Ancient Mayan or Aztec temple for a while. He went across the patio to the other side where he found a wall that looked to be the end of it. He walked along it, his fingers softly threading the ancient stone, taking in the peaceful feeling of the place. It must have been a place where the scholars came to relax, he thought briefly. He should be heading back and check on Sam, but he enjoyed the peace. So he leant back against the wall.
A soft ‘click’ alerted his ear that something was about to happen at the same moment he felt the wall behind him slide smoothly, before falling backwards, stumbling on roots and stones as he tried to catch his balance.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Daniel and Teal'c stepped down the gate pedestal on Dakara, and were greeted by Bra'Tac.

“Tek Ma’the, my friends,” he said with a smile.

“Tek Ma’The, Mastr Bra'Tac,” Teal'c replied with an equal smile.

Daniel shook the old man’s hand.

“Have you made any progress on Jack and Sam’s disappearance?” he asked, cutting to the chase.

Bra'Tac smiled broadly.

“Actually we have!”

Daniel looked at Teal'c with hope, then back at Bra'Tac.

“Care to enlighten us?” he asked.

“Of course, but let’s go to my quarters, I shall also show you that we have started dismantling the weapon,” he resumed proudly as he led the way to the buildings of the reconstructing city.

They finally entered a quiet area that Bra'Tac had elected his home in a remote place of the temple.

“The enormity of the task at hand sometimes frightens me, but I know we will manage. Several people among our people have started leading their own, and we are slowly building a council of representatives. Years of war and slavery are not overcome that quickly, and all point of views have to be considered and respected. But as the Tau’ri would name it, democracy is not something that is achieved in one day. We also have to reconstruction of Dakara to supervise, and some Jaffa have expressed their wishes to settle on independent planets.”

“Segregationists?” Teal'c asked, visibly annoyed.

“No, my friend, but Dakara doesn’t offer much aside from a dismantled city and arid plains. Some of us want to start anew, some of us want to settle and maintain farms, some of us want to be traders, some of us want to explore,… Just do things they have been denied for centuries,” Bra'Tac said, putting a hand on his former apprentice’s shoulder.

“I hate to cut short your enthusiasm, Bra'Tac, but you said you had made progress on Sam and Jack’s disappearance?” Daniel reminded him.

“Ah yes!” Bra'Tac nodded. “We suspect one of Anubis’s former Jaffa, An'ok. He left recently out of a sudden, with no word to his former partner, you can meet him if you like.”

“We do,” Daniel said, nodding with interest.

Bra'Tac smiled and stood up.

“Please stay here, I will have him called.”


:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Jack fell, despite his attempts to catch himself, and found himself in a secluded room invaded by vegetation and roots of all sorts. He disentangled himself from the various creepers that had managed to wrap themselves around his legs, stood up, and stepped cautiously inside.

The room was weakly illuminated by tiny holes left intentionally in the walls, probably to control the humidity level of the room. But it was the contents of the room that fascinated Jack: it was nothing less than a huge library, with shelves full of leather bound books, tablets, and other documents, still in a perfect state of preservation, or so it seemed…


He decided to keep this information to himself as he started browsing through the shelves, peering at their contents. He chose one book at random and cautiously opened it, fearing the book would turn to dust. Most surprisingly it didn’t and, as it had seemed on the first look, was remarkably well preserved. He started skimming through the pages.

The book was written in Ancient. The language was oddly familiar to him, and he understood most of what was written intrinsically, but what amazed him the most was that he had absolutely no problem understanding the technical descriptions depicted in this book…

He was reading yet another book when he was startled by Sam’s voice loudly calling his name. He closed the book and put it back on the shelf from which he had taken it. He picked up a few tablets and books from the ground where he had placed them before exiting the secret room, making sure no one could see where he exited. He rearranged the foliage in front of the entrance as the door slid shut and started walking in the general direction of Sam’s voice. He found her in the empty library through which he had passed while exploring the area.

“There you are,” she said, a disappointed tone to her voice.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Where have you been? You’ve been away three hours; An’ok’s gone to fetch food for lunch.”

“I’ll tell you later, when I’m sure there’s only you and I”, he muttered.

“Oh?”

“So what have *you* been up to? Got tired of swearing?” he winked, cutting short the previous conversation at the same time.

She sighed. “I don’t think we can do anything to make that machine work,” she said dejectedly. “First, there’s no power supply that we can use; second, there’s no available schematics; and third, even if we got to this point, it would probably take a lot of time to get it to work properly.”

“Ah-ah!” he said triumphantly, waggling a finger. “First, we can always use the Al’kesh’s power supply.”

“Not if we want to go back…”

“Well, we can always send a message and wait for the cavalry to save us…”

“That’s if An'ok lets us,” she stated.

“Thor will find us?” he suggested, his voice hanging in mid air.

“Ever the optimist?” she chuckled.

“Come on, do you think Daniel and T’ have just been sitting on my pier doing nothing?” he frowned.

“No. I’m just not sure WHEN they will find us,” she said, caressing his shoulder. Her eyes fell on the bundle he was carrying. “What’s that?” she asked.

“The answer to ‘second’,” he grinned.

She sent him a puzzled look.

“I found the schematics and a few other things related to the machine, according to what’s written here,” he said, revealing his findings.

Sam took one book and opened it.

“I can’t understand any of this, Jack…” she started.

“But I can,” he interrupted, “and I’m sure you’ll understand this…” he concluded, opening a book which held several technical drawings of a complex machine.

“Blueprints?” she asked, bewildered.

“Sorta… But it’s the machine you’ve been working on, that’s for sure. And I might have some clues as to how to operate it once you fix it.”

Sam’s look turned to that of a child discovering her Christmas presents. “We’ve got to tell An'ok! Where did you find these?” she said excitedly.

“That’s what I don’t want him to know. Let’s keep that trump card up our sleeve. Can you work with that?”

“I think so, but he’s going to ask where it came from.”

“There’s a room full of scattered books and broken tablets; it came from there…”

“That’s your story?”

“The official story,” he winked. “Even if I have to artificially make these look old or broken,” he said, eyeing the items with a trace of regret.

She smiled, patting his forearm. “Okay, let’s have lunch, then I’ll start again. You can help with explaining what I have to do, and I’ll talk to An'ok about taking some of the power supply from the Al’kesh.”

Jack smiled and bent to lightly kiss her lips. When he rose again to his full height, she got a dreamy look on her face. “A girl could get used to that,” she said, licking her lips.

“Oh, if that’s what it takes…” he grinned smugly until she swatted his arm playfully.

“Let’s go eat, Ancient genius!” she said playfully.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Bra’tac returned shortly with another Jaffa. The man was as tall as Teal'c yet as blond and fair-skinned as Teal'c was dark. He bore Anubis’s mark on his forehead.

He bowed slightly as Bra’tac introduced him. “My friends, this is Syp’ah, former member of Anubis’s elite Jaffa. Tell your story, brother, please.”

“As Master Bra’tac has stated, I am Syp’ah. When Anubis’s fleet was destroyed during the attack on the Tau’ri, my partner An'ok and I were sent drifting through space by the explosion of a Ha’tak. As you can imagine, we were most distraught at the outcome of the combat and the fact that we had to acknowledge that he whom we had thought was a god was not. Once we had the Al’kesh repaired, we both decided to join the rebellion and fought together at the battle on Dakara. We have been here helping with the reconstruction ever since, but about a week ago An'ok disappeared with the Al’kesh.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, but how does this help us?” Daniel asked.

“Before he left, he kept talking about how he might have a solution for all Jaffa to be freed from their dependence to Goa'uld larvae or Tretonin and that he had to go find O'Neill.”

“O'Neill?” Teal'c asked. “Why?”

“I do not know precisely, but it had to do with him being able to power Ancient devices that could not be operated by any other. The Al’kesh was a modified one, with stealth capabilities and Asgard transportation devices. When I heard about O'Neill and Colonel Carter’s sudden disappearance, I thought An'ok might be responsible.”

“And Colonel Carter was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Teal'c muttered.

“It was most probably the case indeed,” Syp'ah agreed. “Unfortunately, I have no idea as to their whereabouts. An'ok did not trust me; we had not known each other a very long time,” he said regretfully.

“Well, at least we have made some progress,” Daniel smirked. “We know Jack was most probably the only one targeted, and it might have something to do with his special abilities.”

“The fact Colonel Carter was abducted may also be of some interest to An'ok,” Teal'c remarked.

“Maybe… In any case, this won’t lead us very far, unfortunately,” Daniel said dejectedly. “With no precise direction where to look, we’re back to square one.”

“I disagree, Daniel Jackson. Our Asgard friends might have an idea where to look. Until we have their formal answer, I shall remain optimistic.”

Daniel looked at him, surprised. “My, my, my! The mighty warrior Teal'c discovers optimism!”

“I have always known optimism,” Teal'c replied with all the dignity he could muster. “I have never had the opportunity to experience such a feeling up until recently, that is all.”

Bra’tac smiled and clapped their shoulders. “You will find them; fear not!”

“I wish I had your faith,” Daniel said in a worried tone.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

After a few days using the schematics of the machine to rebuild it, Sam was fairly happy with the results.

Jack, surprisingly enough, had helped a lot with the technical side, explaining how he understood some things should be made, while An’ok supplied his physical strength, helping to assemble the repaired parts.

An’ok had been suspicious at first regarding the discovery Jack had made, since he had been the one overseeing the destruction of the documents in the first place. But Jack had dismissed his questions by saying that, since he understood what he was looking for, it was easy to put two and two together and assemble the jigsaw puzzle that was now the ‘blueprints’. To lend veracity to his story, he had had to tear the blueprints apart before announcing to An'ok that he had found a way to restore the machine.

Now all Sam needed was a power source.

She stood up and looked for An'ok, who was nowhere to be seen in the room.

“Did you see where he went?” she asked Jack.

“I think he’s in the devastated library. I think he went to kelnorim,” Jack said, dusting the chair and getting it and the glass chamber ready for the next step.

Sam started in the direction of the library and found him indeed meditating. His face was apparently calm, but from time to time it was animated with involuntary movements that distorted it without truly disturbing him.

Sam watched him for a while, until he opened his eyes, staring directly at her. She felt a moment of uneasiness before smiling lightly and stepping toward him as he stood up. “An'ok, I need the crystals now,” she said softly.

An'ok bowed in resignation. They had discussed this at length already; there was no use in having that discussion again, and he knew it was the only way to power the machine.

“Hold on a sec’,” Jack interrupted, making his entrance into the library at that moment.

An'ok looked at him warily.

“First, I think we should send a message to our friends so they can find and rescue us should the power source be depleted for whatever reason… Now’s the time to show us we’re not your prisoners, An'ok,” he concluded, the silent warning in his sentence not unacknowledged by the Jaffa.

“You were never my prisoners,” he replied, unmoved. “We shall go to the Al’kesh now,” he concluded, stepping forward to exit the library.

Jack nodded, as well as Sam, and they all proceeded to the Al’kesh. Sam sent a coded message using the broadest frequency spectrum she could think of, but she knew as well as Jack that even if some of their friends caught it, it might be a while before they were actually rescued.

“It’s done, sir,” she said to him.

“Good, then maybe it’s time to dismantle this thing…”

An'ok nodded silently and led Sam to the power core location. Sam opened the panel and looked at the crystals inside, choosing several of them and laying them cautiously on a blanket she’d prepared for the occasion. A few minutes later, the three of them exited the vessel and went back inside the temple to put the final touches on the restoration of the machine.

Sam tried several combinations of the crystals before managing to get the machine to hum.

An'ok stepped back in surprise while Jack smiled and clapped her shoulder. “Good job, Colonel Doctor Extraordinaire!” he emphasized, winking at her with a proud grin.

She gave him one of her brightest smiles before starting to work on the console itself, pushing buttons and moving handles. Jack directed some of her moves, reading one of the tablets, helping her tune it to precision.

After several attempts with various settings, the knob above the chair finally started glowing. “I think I’ve got it, Sir!”

“Then let’s test it!” An'ok said, a bit too enthusiastically for Jack’s taste.

“Whoa, whoa! Hold on a second, would ya? I haven’t sat in the chair yet; I have no idea how this thing actually works. It’s okay on paper, but before I use it on you, I need a test run,” Jack argued.

“No! You will test it upon me now!” An'ok replied in a sudden fit of rage. “The Goa'uld in me is gaining power; I can feel it! Now you will sit in that chair and stop its growth! I will not allow it to gain any more power!” He took his zat and aimed it at Sam.

“If you zat her, the machine’s not gonna work, you know?” Jack replied calmly.

An'ok’s stance did not change. “I can zat her twice, then zat you, then kill myself!”

“And how’re you gonna zat yourself twice?” Jack smirked.

“Enough!” Sam exclaimed. “Sir, if he wants to test it now, then so be it! It’s not like we have a lab rat or anything anyway!”

Jack gauged the situation for a few seconds. “All right, but not before I actually sit and figure out what it does. That part I don’t know anything about,” he agreed.

An'ok relaxed a bit as Jack went to the stone chair and sat.

“I hate these things,” he muttered before sitting down.

Just like the one in Antarctica, the chair tilted back, and Jack’s arms were automatically supported by armrests. But unlike the Antarctica chair, this one didn’t have gelatinous commands. As Jack’s hands touched the surface of the stone, it opened, and a smaller console with symbols to punch down appeared on each side.

Jack seemed lost in concentration. The knob above the chair was directly over his head, and as his fingers pressed rapidly on the symbols, a beam formed between the knob and his forehead. His eyes opened suddenly, and a perpendicular energy beam erupted from the knob, hitting the glass chamber in the middle before shutting down quickly thereafter.

Jack shook his head as if disoriented, then stood up, the chair retaking its original position as soon as he was on his feet.

“Sir?” Sam asked, worry etched on her face.

“I’m okay… Just a little tired, that’s all… How did it go?” he said, massaging his neck as he rolled his head on his shoulders.

“From my side, okay I think… What did you feel?”

“Well that’s the problem, I can’t really say…” he replied, wincing.

“Uh-oh…” Sam said as she finished checking the console.

“Uh-oh? I don’t like ‘uh-oh’, most of all when it’s coming from your mouth, Carter…” Jack frowned.

“You used about 40% of the power supply that we have, Sir. I don’t think we can test it many times before the real thing,” she said concerned.

“Then test it upon me now,” An'ok said, stepping toward the glass chamber. “It is my only chance,” he almost begged the humans.

Jack sighed and shook his head. “Carter? You keep that zat in case something goes wrong…” he said. “An'ok, get undressed…”

“I beg your pardon?” the Jaffa exclaimed, startled.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Look, this machine was built by the Ancients, and somehow I doubt they tested it with subjects in full armor…”

The Jaffa considered his words for a moment before sighing and unbuckling his belt.

“Err… Look, I think you can keep your pants on; the pouch is way above, right?”, Jack said quickly.

An'ok looked relieved. “Indeed…”

Finally, An'ok stepped into the glass chamber. The Goa'uld in him squirmed. His chance, at last!

As he had done before, Jack sat on the chair and let the device adapt itself to him.

This time, when the knob started humming louder, he experienced something different, and a mental image of his subjects appeared. As if he were seeing an integral x-ray photograph of the Jaffa, Jack could discern both beings in front of him.

The energy beam suddenly burst and hit An'ok square in the gut, causing him to scream. Jack felt an enormous surge of energy directed toward the glass chamber, then nothing…


:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

“Unauthorized wormhole activation!” Walter’s voice droned over the speakers. “It’s Bra’tac’s IDC, Sir,” the technician said to his new commander as Hank Landry appeared behind him.

“Open the iris,” Landry said, “and summon Jackson and Teal'c to the gate room…” he added before going down the stairs.

The robed figure of Master Bra'tac stepped down the ramp. He frowned as Landry entered the room, not knowing the intruder, but a smile soon split his face as he saw Teal'c and Daniel rushing through the blast doors.

“I am the bearer of good news!” he announced.

“Master Bra'tac, this is General Landry, O’Neill’s replacement while he is away,” Teal'c introduced him.

Bra'tac took the proffered hand before resuming. “A scout ship has received a coded message originating from An’ok’s last known vessel. I have brought a recording of the message. Recent developments in the Jaffa Nation prevent us from deciphering it, but perhaps your technicians will be able to do so.”

“What developments, brother?” Teal'c asked.

Bra'tac sighed.

“I do not wish to discuss it at length with you when you are worried about our friends, Teal'c, but let me say that Gerak is gaining more and more influence among the ranks of many disoriented Jaffa. For the moment, I am not too concerned, but I shall monitor his every move and declamation.”

“Shall I return with you?”

“No. Your first and foremost concern is to find O'Neill and Colonel Carter. Several Jaffa agree with me regarding Gerak, and the situation is currently under control,” Bra'tac spoke reassuringly.

“I see,” Teal'c said in resignation.

“I shall leave now; the recorded message is on that device,” he said producing a small light blue crystal.

“But…” Daniel started “How do we read the information that’s inside?!”

Bra'tac shook his head feeling sorry.

“This, my friend, you will have to figure on your own, I must depart immediately,” he said, already walking toward the stairs of the briefing room.

“That was nice of you! Thanks!” Daniel hailed the old Jaffa. He was about to add something more when General Landry’s hand on his arm interrupted him.

“Jackson… we’ll find a way, trust me…” he said reassuringly.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Jack became aware of a hand insistently slapping his cheeks, and of a voice in the background. The voice was familiar… Female... So far, far away…
He had to concentrate on the voice... Oh yeah! Carter! But why was that hand slapping his face? That was downright annoying…

He raised his hand and caught her fist.

“Carter?” he asked in a daze.

“Jack! Oh, thank God!” she said, embracing his shoulders and helping him sit up. “How are you doing?”

“Okay, I guess,” he said, squinting and massaging his temples, “although I feel like all energy has been sucked out of me. I’m gonna…” He threw his legs on the side of the chair to get up but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. “Well, I might just… rest here a moment,” he amended visibly exhausted by the simple effort. “How’s An'ok?”” he asked.

Sam looked at the collapsed form of the Jaffa.

“I’m going to check on him, don’t move,” she left his side and went to the chamber. The Jaffa had only his lower body enclosed in the device, his upper body was lying free on top of the lower door. She raised her hand to check An'ok’s pulse, then looked at Jack. “There’s a pulse, he must be exhausted, just like you are…”

The Jaffa’s sudden grab of her hand caught her unawares.

Jack tried to reach for the zat, but he was too weak.

The Jaffa rose from his position, holding Sam firmly, his eyes glowing. Sam tried to make loosen his grip unsuccessfully, but suddenly, An'ok bent over and uttered a loud cry, the glass chamber opening by an unknown mechanism, and the large frame of the man fell motionless on the ground.

Sam stepped back, trying to breathe normally, when An'ok’s body started moving again. She ran for the zat and aimed it at him as he finally managed to rise to full height, leaning on the glass chamber for support.

After a while, he looked at both humans and said.

“You need not fear me…” he started breathless.

“Well so far, you haven’t given us reason not to!” Sam said, tightening her grip on the weapon.

“My symbiote has regressed sufficiently and is now harmless…” an’ok resumed.

“Well see, we have a little problem believing that since your eyes glowed about a minute ago,” Jack said, his voice tinted with sarcasm as he was finally able to leave the chair.

“I can show you proof,” An'ok said reaching for his pouch. As he opened the abdominal refuge of the larva, only an infant appeared.

Jack and Sam looked at each other in disbelief.

“What you saw was probably my larva maturing. I did sense it on the verge of power, but then the treatment took effect and it has returned to an inoffensive state,” the Jaffa concluded, smiling.

“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Sam said.

“Likewise,” Jack grumbled, his strength slowly returning.

“And you feel no side effects?” Sam asked.

“Aside from tiredness, no, but that was to be expected,” An'ok replied with a smile for the first time since they had met him. “I am deeply sorry that I had to resort to such extents of secrecy, but we now have proof that the machine works, and we can free all Jaffa!” he concluded enthusiastically.

“Hey hold on a minute!” Jack started “what about me?! One Jaffa and I am exhausted! There’s no way I’m going to power that machine for….”

“Power!” exclaimed Sam, before rushing to the console.

She moved several items before kneeling to get to the crystals. She removed them cautiously from the sockets in which she had placed them, and tested them before looking at both men dejectedly.

“Just what I thought,” she said “the surge of energy necessary this time depleted the crystals entirely. There’s no way we can get the Al’kesh to move.”

“Well then, good thing we sent a message to our friends, right?” Jack asked.

“Yes, sir, but there’s no way of knowing if or when they’ll get it,” she replied honestly.

“There’s food, water… I think we can manage for a while,” Jack said, opting for the positive attitude.

“An'ok, you’re all right?” Sam asked, concerned as the Jaffa collapsed on his knees.

“I don’t know, Colonel Carter, maybe it’s the after effects of the machine I am feeling very weak…”

“You don’t look too good!” Jack added as he finally managed to put one foot before the other.

An'ok bent over once again, his face contorted in pain.

In a minute Sam was kneeling by his side.

An'ok looked at her, a mixture of pain, confusion, and hope in his eyes.

“Sam?” Jack said, as he tried to reach her the fastest he could.

“It’s okay Jack, he’s…”

An'ok reached for her hand.

“It is not working I…” his face started to age by the second, as his eyes became glassy. “I am so sorry you are now condemned to remain on this planet indefinitely…” he breathed laboriously.

“Shh…” Sam said, holding his head.

He grabbed her second hand, just as Jack finally knelt beside her.

“I had hope… I had… hope…”

An'ok closed his eyes and breathed one last time. At that moment, a full grown Goa'uld symbiote suddenly emerged from his pouch and jumped at them. If it hadn’t been for Jack’s automatic reflexes zatting the creature to oblivion, then one of them would have been a host.

Jack and Sam looked at each other, panting.

“Okay, what just happened here?” Jack managed to articulate before gathering her in his arms.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

“You’ve been at this for three days and you are nowhere near to deciphering it?!” came a frustrated Daniel’s voice from Dr. Lee’s lab.

“Well we’ve had to find a way to download the message to our computers first!” Lee defended himself.

“It’s probably Sam who coded it! You must have some references in the database! Jack and Sam are lost somewhere in the galaxy and we’re wasting time!” the normally calm archaeologist replied in an aggravated tone.

“Daniel Jackson!” Teal'c called him from outside the lab. “They are back!”

Daniel’s ire suddenly disappeared and he turned to look at his approaching friend with great surprise.

“What?”

“They are in Minnesota, O'Neill has just called. It appears an Asgard ship deciphered the coded message, and immediately sent Thor in search for them. They are unharmed and have been deposited at O'Neill’s cabin per his own request.”

Daniel rolled his eyes.

“Leave it to Jack…”

“You may go and have your vacation, Dr Jackson, but you tell Jack that I want a full debriefing!” Hank Landry said as he reached the Jaffa in the corridor.

“Well general Landry,” Daniel started, still nonplussed about Teal'c’s announcement, “welcome to the craziness that is the SGC…”

Hank Landry smiled conspiratorially and bent toward the Archaeologist.
“ I was thoroughly briefed by Jack first hand,” he said in a low voice, a mischievous twinkle lighting his eyes.

Daniel smiled as Teal'c put a large hand on his shoulder.

“We must depart now, general Landry,” he bowed slightly, ushering Daniel to the corridor.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

Jack exited the house putting his cell phone into his back pocket.

Sam was on the pier, watching the placid lake, lost in her thoughts.

She started when she felt Jack’s arms encircle her own. He lay a gentle kiss on top of her head and hugged her deeper.

“Come inside?” he murmured.

“All clear with the SGC?” she asked looking at him briefly and caressing his arms over her own.

“Teal’c and Daniel are headed this way. We’ll probably see them tomorrow first thing. Landry is not happy about my choice to be dropped here, but he trusts me enough to know there’s nothing amiss, and he knows Daniel and Teal'c will tell him if there’s anything wrong with us. I told him Daniel would probably give him the most detailed report when he got back… Medical procedures and the like will have to wait I guess…”

“General’s prerogatives-huh?” she teased.

“Yup!” he said, turning her so she was now facing him. “And this general wants to rest in a real bed,” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Sam smiled with a distant look in her eyes.

He stared at her, the brown in his eyes darkening by the second until she kissed him.

He closed his eyes, savoring the liberty he felt at that moment: he was on his own turf, with Sam Carter in his arms, and nothing was wrong about it. He felt a sudden surge of elation, tightened the embrace around her shoulders and let the wonder that was Sam Carter direct the kiss.

She was tender and rough at the same time, tame and rebellious. Their tongues danced with each other, instead of fighting, and their mouths played together, teased, aroused.
In that moment, he vowed to never let go of her as long as his lungs would draw air, and to make her the happiest woman on Earth.

He was so lost in the sensations of the kiss that he had not even realized Sam had led them back to the small cabin, until his feet hit the wood of the terrace.

He ended the kiss, licking his lips, and took her hand to go inside the house.

The cabin was not big, a large common room which served as a dining room, living room, with a small kitchen separated by a counter, and at the back of it, a door led to the single bedroom and another to the small bathroom.

Despite the fading light, he led her to the bedroom without switching on any light, in silence.
He opened the door and let her go in first.

Sam discovered an average room, with a large bed and nightstands, and a big cupboard at the other end of it. Jack had probably made the bed and dusted it a bit while he was calling the SGC, she mused, and he had also opened the window through which the pine scent of the woods entered the room.

The click of the door softly shutting brought her back to the present and she drew a deep breath before turning towards Jack.

There, the moment they had both anticipated for so long…

She stepped forward and reached out to caress his arms. Their eyes met, intense. Jack bent slowly until she could feel his breath on her face. She raised her head a little more, touched her hand to his cheek, and slowly brought her lips to his, taking the lead once again.

Passion erupted like fresh lava out of a volcano. Sam felt her body being lifted and before she knew it, she was lying on the bed.

Jack sat on the edge of the mattress, his back to her as he proceeded to remove his shoes. She rose up onto her knees and slipped her hands underneath his shirt, her cool fingers lightly tracing his skin, and making him shiver in reply.

She nudged up his shirt until he had no other option but to remove it.

Sam wasted no time in admiring how lean and muscular his back looked, her lips instead touching the sensitive skin between his shoulder blades with feather-like kisses.

Jack stood up, his hands reaching for his jeans buttons.

Sam was disappointed by the loss of contact but she took the hint and removed her long sleeved T-shirt. She realized Jack was unlacing and removing her shoes as she tossed the garment into the corner.

He stopped briefly, his eyes raking her with a feral intensity then forced her to lie back down. He had stripped down to his underwear, the soft cotton barely hiding his arousal.

Jack stretched out his long frame next to her as his fingers deftly unsnapped her jeans. His hand slipped underneath, drawing slow circles just beneath her navel, and then she felt the rough material slide down her legs, leaving her in her underwear.

Jack kissed her hard and with his arm, pulled the covers, rolling them under.

Sam was mesmerized as Jack made love to her. His touch aroused her to levels of sensations she had seldom experienced.
Eager to share and enhance the feelings she removed their last items of clothing and pushed him on his back, returning the favor by kissing every inch of his lean body.

Jack soon retook control, gently forcing her to lie on her back as he feasted on her upper body, worshipping her like no other lover and paying her feminine forms the utmost respect.
His hands gently massaged, teased, caressed, aroused, and little by little he brought her to a place where she discovered things about herself she didn’t know, awaking erogenous areas she hadn’t suspected existed, until eventually, Jack’s hands reached the center of all.

Sam gasped aloud, the need of him becoming unbearable.

In this dance, no one led, no one followed. Sam slowly pushed Jack onto his side and reached for his length, caressing him, enjoying that power she felt vibrating with need in her hands, and reveling in the rush of their mutual arousal.

Before it was too late, Jack gently took her hand away and pushed her onto her back. He lay over the top of her, kissing her in a lazy yet passionate pattern.

Then he slipped inside her.

The physical and emotional sensations were overwhelming. Sam bit her tongue to stifle an ardent scream.

Jack groaned.

“My God, Sam!” he exclaimed in a hoarse voice.

She smiled, relieved that she was not the only one to take leave of her senses.

He started moving and it was too much. This time, the soft cry left Sam’s mouth without her even realizing it. She was on fire and she felt like her very core had melted into Jack.

This was the end of the journey. She had found her harbor, her anchor, and she had no intention of ever leaving.

Lost in her daze, she almost missed the sound of Jack’s voice as he groaned in release
“ I love you so damn much, Sam…”

Unbidden tears formed in her eyes.

She tightened her grip around his shoulders, a wave of pure happiness crashing endlessly inside her. “I love you too, Jack,” she murmured, kissing his head through the silvery hair.

He kissed her tenderly and encircled her shoulders so her head came to rest on his chest as they waited for their breathing to come back to normal.

After a while, she sighed of contentment and smiled, her lips making contact with his chest.

“Why the smile?” he asked softly.

“I was just thinking that it was worth waiting,” she said, her fingers tangling with the few hairs she was idly playing with.

“Oh yeah!” he smirked, making her chuckle, “on that note Carter,” he resumed, “I’m an old man…” he started playfully.

“So not!” she chuckled.

“Well I don’t think my heart can sustain waiting another ten years!” he exclaimed indignantly.

She raised her head.

“Ten years for what?” she asked, looking up to him.

His look turned darker.

“Marry me?”

The question was unexpected, and her immediate answer was even more to her.

“I’m keeping my maiden name, so you should know…” she deadpanned.

“No problem, I like Carter… You can’t even imagine what kind of things this name does to me,” he replied nonchalantly.

She rose and looked him in the eyes.

“You’re serious?” she asked in a strangled voice.

He smiled and pulled her down to him, hugging her.

“Would it sound too cliché to say that I’ve wanted to ask this for the past eight years or so?”

She chuckled. “It would…”

“Well then, here’s one for you… Of course I am serious…”

She sighed content.

“I only wish my Dad were here to see that I am happy, and that I finally made the good choice.”

He kissed the top of her head.

“So you got a dressing down too?” he chuckled.

“You did?” she asked, surprised.

“Not a dressing down actually, he asked me to take the best care of you that I could or he and Selmak would come back and haunt me…”

She shook her head. “Yep, that’s my dad… As subtle as a bull in a china shop…!”

“And I am a man of duty, you know that, Carter?” he teased.

“Yes sir!”

“Ack! I don’t want to hear the ‘S’ word ever again! Comprende, Carter?

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

The rental jeep finally exited the forest and parked behind Jack’s truck. The area was calm and the birds were chirping happily in the trees surrounding the small pond.

Daniel exited the car and went around it to pick his travel bag from the behind seats as Teal'c breathed in calmly.

“Come on Teal'c, they probably have a lot to tell…” came the excited voice of Daniel.

He left the side of the car and stepped onto the porch.

Teal'c came behind him as he was about to open the entrance door, and Daniel stopped, suddenly self conscious.

“You think we should announce our presence?” Daniel asked.

“It would be wise indeed,” came Teal'c’s answer.

“Jack? Sam?!” Daniel shouted before entering the cabin.

The noise of a door shutting awoke Jack’s senses. He strained his ears and heard Daniel talking to Teal'c outside. He opened his eyes; the blond sleeping beauty was breathing softly, still in the realm of dreams. It would be a shame to wake her now.

Cautiously, he left the bed. He opened the cupboard silently and retrieved a tee-shirt and a pair of sweats before silently exiting the room.

When Daniel entered the common room, Jack was already at the sink preparing coffee.

“Hey Jack!” Daniel said.

“Daniel, Teal'c,” Jack acknowledged.

“Where’s Sam?” his friend asked.

“Sleeping. I woke up to the sound of the car door shutting,” Jack replied, yawning.

“Oh, sorry about that. You’re… you’re okay?”

Jack finally turned towards both men with a broad smile.

“Oh yeah!”

“I see…” Teal'c deadpanned; his simple words still heavy with meaning.

“So, you and Sam err….” Daniel asked tentatively, with far less subtlety than their alien friend.

“Me and Sam err… yes, Daniel,” Jack answered, fetching mugs in a cabinet above the sink and putting them on a tray with a pot of milk and sugar. “It’s not as if it’s a surprise anyway, huh?”

Daniel was a bit taken aback by Jack’s frank reply.

“So neither of you is bothered by the Air Force regulations anymore?”

“Nope!” Jack waggled his eyebrows, smiling cockily.

“What changed?”

“Hank didn’t brief you?” Jack asked, genuinely surprised.

“What was he supposed to brief us about?” Daniel asked, not understanding.

“Jack is going to Washington to lead Homeworld Security, came Sam’s voice from Jack’s bedroom door.

She was wearing a loose tee-shirt and worn jeans, and she was barefoot, her hair all mussed. Jack thought he could get used to that vision for the rest of his life.

“Sam!” Daniel said enthusiastically.

“Colonel Carter,” Teal'c nodded.

“Hey guys…” she smiled before coming to kiss them both hello, surprising them in the meantime. Then she tiptoed to Jack and peeked above his shoulders to the contents of the tray. “Mmmm coffee….”

“Go take your shower and I’ll have breakfast ready,” Jack said, giving her a quick kiss on the lips.

Daniel was surprised by the familiarity their friends already displayed, but maybe that had something to do with the week they had gone missing, which reminded him of another urgent matter…

“Homework security? You were gone a week, you and Sam have decided to pursue a relationship, you act as if nothing ever happened, and you drop this now?!”

“Yup… Look Daniel, I know your mind must be reeling with questions. Let me have a shower, drink my coffee, and then we’ll spend the entire day relating our adventures in a galaxy far, far away. I promise,” Jack said, carrying the tray to the wooden dining table. “Want some breakfast?” he asked his friends.

Sam put her mug down and dabbed at her mouth softly with a napkin. Taking a deep breath, she then started to recount their abduction by An'ok, their discovery of the planet and the Ancient village, the restoration of the machine, and finally the doomed experience.

“I think An'ok was genuine in his intention, but we don’t know if, and to what extent the Goa'uld in him controlled things,” she concluded before taking another helping of coffee.

“One thing for sure, the machine didn’t do what we all expected, me included,” Jack resumed. “And we had trouble understanding why An'ok’s symbiote was a larva one minute, and an adult the next. We had to go to the secret library and search for hours before finally getting a possible answer.”

“Jack found a sort of diary written probably by one of the makers of the machine. It clearly stated that the machine would not work on several subjects at once, hence the problems we had with An'ok,” Sam said. “The symbiote’s growth was indeed modified, and for a brief moment, it was back to being a larva, but An'ok’s metabolism was utterly disrupted by the use of the machine, as well as the larva’s. As An'ok started aging rapidly, the larva’s metabolism matched his own and reached adulthood.”

“Wow…” Daniel exclaimed, nonplussed.

“We made an interesting discovery too, actually Jack made it…” she resumed, prompting Jack to explain.

“You will never guess what kind of lab rats the Ancient used for that machine…”

“Local rodents?” Daniel guessed.

Jack rolled his eyes.

“Daniel, for once in your life, try to be original! Remember those primitive larvae we found on P 3X-888”

“The Unas planet, of course I do,” Daniel nodded.

“Those were the lab rats the Ancient used, we saw precise drawings at different stages of evolution. We did not explore the planet, but there’s a high probability that there is or was a lake with Goa'uld larvae inside. So not knowing what they were dealing with the Ancients were not as cautious as they should have been, and of course, the larvae matured and infested them. So there are actually two parallel stories to the birth of the Goa'uld, one with the Unas, and one with the Ancients. Maybe that’s the primary cause of the shift in their ranks when the Tok’Ra appeared,” Jack concluded, satisfied with the effect he had produced.

“Then why didn’t they stay on the planet and use the machine?” Daniel asked.

“Well, they probably used and stole several other machines, including a sort of prototype for the rings –at least that’s what Sam thought. That’s how they got certain technologies, and they put the Stargate into one of their vessels so they could be able to transport it. They probably found a bank of gate address and used it to their advantage. The guy who wrote the diary Sam mentioned also stated that he was among the last scientists alive. I suppose when those scientists realized they were a lost cause, they decided to hide all this data in that secret room.”

“Well at least that solves several mysteries…” Daniel agreed.

“It sure does,” Jack resumed, “so back to my story, apparently the Goa'uld tried to turn the machine to their advantage, but the best they could do was have larvae mature and then infest hosts. During their sick experiments, they found a larva could survive and grow into some large kangaroo-like animals. They couldn’t take these with them, so they started experimenting on the Ancients as well, and created the Jaffa there and then in order to keep a stash of immature larvae with them. The side effects were that the Jaffa developed a bulky musculature and bellicose behavior, and the rest is history…”

“Wow!”

“Monosyllabic, Daniel?” Jack chuckled.

“That’s a huge step forward in understanding the expansion of the Goa'uld. It would be interesting to know at which precise date in Ancient History this happened, and to see if it’s possible to put this in parallel with the Unas origin…”

“Oh you’ll do that very well, my dear friend!” Jack said, resting his back on the chair.

“Now O'Neill, you must give us the detailed reason of your transfer,” Teal'c pointed out.

“Ah, that… Okay, I’ll tell you everything, but we have all day. What do you say we go fishing?” he said, rubbing his hands together.

“No. In for a penny, in for a pound, Jack… Fishing, after the story…” Daniel shook his head.

“Oh come on, Daniel, give me a break! I…” he was interrupted by Sam’s hand on his arm.

“It’s nearly lunch time, Jack. Tell him. We’ll have lunch and go fishing then…”

“I planned on having fish to lunch!” Jack pouted.

“Jack? You said yourself there’s no fish in the pond,” Sam admonished playfully.

“I’m not sure; there could be…” he said, still pouting.

“Jack…” she murmured something in his hear, causing Daniel to turn his head.

“Shouldn’t you two get a room?” he said, annoyed.

“Oh we’ll come to that, Daniel, don’t worry about it!” Jack smirked, making the archaeologist roll his eyes. “Hey, payback’s a bitch! You wanna hear the story? You pay for it…” he retorted. “Okay… To make a long story short, Hammond’s retiring, he’s offered me the position, and quite frankly, it was more of a relief than a pain.”

“Oh that’s nice!” Daniel said indignantly.

“Nicer than you think, Daniel… I’m not accepting for the amount of paperwork and political crap I’ll have to deal with on a daily basis, nor because I couldn’t stand seeing you guys have fun while I was stuck in that big comfy chair. I’m accepting because for once in my life I have decided to do the right thing, and that was not an option if I remained at the SGC…”

“Oh?”

“I have decided to make an honest woman of Miss Carter, here…”

Teal'c smiled softly while Daniel’s mouth hit the floor.

“Daniel, you’ll catch flies if you don’t shut your mouth…” Jack quipped.

“Well that’s a lot to take in…” Daniel said, trying to reorganize his thoughts “and you’re okay with this, Sam?”

She squeezed Jack’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder for a short time.

“Yes, Daniel. I myself have an announcement to make. Cassie’s going through a hard time and I’ve decided to be there for her for a while at least. I’ve asked for a reassignment at area 51.”

“Looks like SG-1 is being dismantled,” Daniel said disgustedly.

“We all knew it couldn’t go on forever, Daniel” Jack said gently, “and look at the bright side, there’s a brand new starship with Asgard propulsion, ready to depart for Atlantis with the ZPM we found in Egypt.”

“You’re not going to use the ZPM to power the wormhole?

“Nah… It’s far more useful to them there than to us here. So anyway… maybe you can ask for a ride?” he winked.

“Really?!” Daniel’s eyebrows skyrocketed. “What about Teal'c?”

Jack sighed. “Teal'c, maybe you should answer this one…” he said.

“I wish to be part of the beginnings of the New Jaffa Nation, Daniel Jackson, I will not forget my friends, but my presence is required beside Master Bra’tac at present,” he answered calmly.

“It is really the end of SG-1 then…” Daniel said sadly.

“But it’s not the end of our friendship, Daniel,” Sam said reassuringly.

“Indeed...” Teal'c concluded.

Jack clapped his hands.

“Okay, this old fart is hungry!” Jack announced, standing up. “What did you guys bring with you?”

“Bring? We had to bring something?” Daniel asked, confused.

“Well, surely after a week you’d think of bringing some fresh things with you? You probably noticed the nearest food store is 30 minutes away? It wasn’t like we could have gone shopping ourselves…”

“No, we didn’t bring anything,” Daniel replied aggravated.

Jack rolled his eyes.

“We were worried about you, in case you didn’t know!” he defended himself.

“All right all right! I must have a few canned things in the cabinets, but I’ve got news for you T, you’re driving Daniel to pick up some groceries and beer after lunch!... And coffee… Fresh coffee… I want the real stuff, not so lyophilized version of it.”

Daniel was staring at him disbelieving.

“Lyophilized, Jack?”

Jack rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, linguist wonder, I do know words beyond three syllables!”

“On that note!” Daniel exclaimed before turning to Sam “How did you manage to read all those Ancient documents?” he asked suspiciously.

Sam smiled teasingly.

“The general hides many talents, Daniel, actually, he’s a living wonder…” she said with innuendo, throwing a mischievous look towards Jack who smirked.

“How did you, how could you…”

“Stop stammering, Daniel, it does not become you, and you’ve been doing that a lot this morning… Turns out I did not only retain the faculties to pilot a ship or use Ancient machinery during my last download…” he said, waggling a finger next to his temple. “I can read Ancient. I cannot translate it into English, but I can understand, and I can also understand Ancient designs…”

“So Thor did not erase all of it then. Do you think he did it on purpose?” Daniel asked.

“I’m not sure Thor even knows I’ve still got certain knowledge. Apparently my limited brain can manage that anyway, so…” Jack said dismissively before opening a cabinet beside the sink. “Let me see… Corned beef… Beans… Well, we’ve got enough for lunch… But Teal'c gets to be the last because we won’t have anything to eat if he goes first! Daniel, you open the cans, Teal'c, you lay the table, Sam, you’re with me. We’re gonna pick blackberries in the woods for dessert.”

“Yes sir!” she teased.

He silenced her with a kiss. “Told Daniel Carter, remember: payback’s a bitch!” he murmured playfully.

She chuckled and they headed for the woods.

The meal was festive, despite the variety of it, and bathed in laughter as Daniel told Jack he had called general Landry to tell him he would have a 100 page report to read when he got back to the SGC. Then Daniel and Teal'c left for the grocery store, while Sam and Jack went to take a nap, rediscovering the sensual pleasures of the night before.

:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:¤:

The afternoon sun was warmly bathing the cabin and its surroundings. Sam and Jack were seated, side by side, a fishing pole in their hands.

Sam sighed contentedly.

“This is great!” she said, looking at him briefly.

“I told ya!”

“We should have done this years ago,” she stated.

“Yeah well… Let’s not dwell…” Jack dismissed.

At that moment, a rather big fish –probably a bass- leaped out of the water, causing both to pause before looking at each other.

“I thought you said there were no fish in your pond,” Sam asked nonplussed.

Jack thought about it for a second. He had always wondered, having felt something brush his legs once or twice when he had been swimming, but was it real?

“Close enough,” he replied, as Daniel and Teal'c rounded the house with a pack of fresh beer and their fishing gear.

“Nice!” Jack murmured.

THE END

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