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For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Always Darkest Before the Dawn Continued

Sam woke abruptly; her heart pounding. Her eyes snapped open to stare out at the familiar walls of the SGC and her CO reading reports in the bed beside her.

She was safe.

Her breathing evened out slowly and she kept her eyes pinned to Jack as though he was her own personal talisman. He was reading a stack of reports intently. Evidently someone had stopped by while she had been sleeping and given them to him. Occasionally he would stop and scribble something in a margin. As much as he might pretend that he hated paperwork and formality, the Colonel took his responsibilities very seriously. He just knew which tasks were important and which he really didn’t need to worry about, Sam thought fondly.

He looked tired. His body was in pain from the shooting and it showed; the deep lines that bracketed his mouth and eyes, the occasional grimace when he shifted position that he couldn’t quite hide. She felt a twinge of guilt and reminded herself that it wasn’t her fault that he had gotten shot. They had both been looking for the Goa’uld; it was sheer luck that the Colonel had sent her to investigate the other floor and not sent her to the basement. All in all though, Sam considered, she would have preferred to have gotten shot rather than the Colonel.

Jack threw down one report and picked up another. He flipped it open and began reading apparently captured by whatever was inside it. His eyebrows drifted upwards as though surprised by the contents. Sam bit her lip; he looked adorable especially with his ruffled grey hair.

Adorable.

Oh that was so not a good word to use when talking about a commanding officer. Besides, he was dating someone else. Sam grimaced, her hand tightening on the blanket that covered her.

Amy. That was the name of the woman he was dating. A brunette. A very attractive forty-something brunette. Someone feminine and lovely and so not…so not Sam. Sam winced. OK. She was jealous. She could admit that. The Colonel might have moved on but Sam had not. She was just as in love with him as ever and it hurt seeing him with someone else.

Jack was happy, Sam determined firmly. She should be pleased for him rather than upset. He deserved a bit of happiness after everything he had been through. She should be happy that he was happy.

‘Are you going to lie in bed all day, Carter,’ Jack said suddenly without looking up from his report, ‘or are you going to help me out with these?’

Sam repressed the sigh that sprang to her lips and shifted in the bed, moving into a sitting position. She gestured. ‘Working, sir?’

‘Selecting the next batch of trainees for the SGC.’ Jack explained succinctly.

‘Ah’ Sam murmured. The next training exercise was scheduled to take place in a month’s time.

Jack grimaced. ‘Hammond wants us to choose the candidates.’

Sam pulled a face. ‘Which means we’ll be running the exercise.’ It made sense; SG1 were likely going to be restricted to light duties for the next month because of the Colonel’s arm and her own situation.

Jack glanced at her. ‘What’s the matter, Carter? Not looking forward to putting the recruits through their paces?’

She shot him a knowing look. He usually spent the whole week of training complaining.

He grinned at her. ‘I’m planning for them to shoot Daniel.’

Sam couldn’t help but smile at his gleeful tone. ‘Ah.’

‘And besides, Hammond said your Mini-Carter is assisting.’

She barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes at his description of the young Lieutenant she mentored. ‘Hailey?’ Sam checked instead. ‘She’s going to be the plant?’ They always inserted a young newly approved SGC member alongside the batch of trainees. It gave them a good insight into how they were dealing with things outside of the presence of senior officers. Lieutenant Hailey had just got her SGC post a month before as the science officer on SG5. They had been off world since her appointment studying a strange astrological phenomenon on P9Y532.

‘Hailey.’ Jack confirmed. ‘So, you should have fun cooking up the biological thingymagig with her.’

Sam nodded. She guessed she and Hailey could come up with something realistic. She was bored of the alien virus thing they’d used the last time. Maybe a twist on the virus thing, Sam mused; maybe nanites…

Jack cleared his throat at her. ‘Here.’ He gathered up the reports he had finished and handed them to her. ‘Read through them and give me a shortlist.’

Sam looked at him in surprise. ‘Sir?’

He shrugged, his attention on the report he was reading. ‘You’re going to have to go through this when you make team lead, Carter. You might as well get used to it now.’

His confidence that she would make a SG team leader one day and his evident faith in her abilities even after her experience sent a rush of pleasure through her. She reached for a report and began reading. She refused to look at his scribbles – and thanked him silently for his almost illegible handwriting – until she had come to her conclusions. The work kept her occupied and it was with some surprise that she realised that they had been working for almost an hour.

‘You got your shortlist yet, Carter?’ Jack asked as she closed the last report. He had settled back on the pillows looking smug.

She took her time getting resettled; placing the last report on the stack on the bedside table between them and organising her thoughts. ‘Elliot.’

Jack nodded.

‘Satterfield.’ Sam said.

‘And?’ Jack said impatiently.

‘I was torn between Grogan and…’ she checked her notes, ‘Barry.’

‘Hmmm.’ Jack folded his arms and regarded her speculatively. ‘What made you choose Barry?’

‘His shooting and physical test scores are amongst the highest; his personality testing indicates good leadership qualities…’ Sam chewed her lip. ‘He has good reports from his instructors at the academy.’

‘But?’ Jack prompted.

‘He’s very similar to Elliot.’ Sam sighed. ‘Both of them on the same team might lead to…’

‘Arm wrestling?’ Jack teased with a smile.

She smiled back at him. ‘Grogan’s more of a team player. I think he would be the better choice this time.’

‘Likes getting shot by all accounts.’ Jack noted. He tapped his hand thoughtfully against the bedclothes. ‘So, Elliot, Satterfield and Grogan.’

She looked at him surprised. ‘Sir?’

Jack tossed a sheet of notepaper at her. She read the same three names scrawled there with satisfaction. ‘You did good.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Sam allowed herself to revel in the glow of her CO’s praise. She smoothed her blanket. It had been nice to feel useful. Just as it had been good the day he had rescued her when he had simply handed her a gun and allowed her to join the search for Conrad. His trust and faith warmed her; helped ease her own doubts by her capability. She had gotten captured, after all; failed to escape and if the Colonel hadn’t turned up…

‘You did all the right things, Carter.’ The Colonel’s voice broke into her thoughts and her head jerked to meet his understanding gaze automatically.

She flushed red. ‘I wasn’t…’

‘Yes.’ Jack corrected briskly. ‘You were.’ He held her eyes. ‘You were thinking whether there was something you could have done.’

‘Wasn’t there?’ The question popped out of her mouth before she could prevent it.

‘You tell me.’ Jack said quietly. He waved a hand at the reports. ‘Treat it like a training exercise, Carter. If this was a simulation and the recruit performed as you did, how would you evaluate them?’

Sam opened her mouth to answer him and closed it again as her mind jumped on the puzzle he had handed her. How would she evaluate her performance? A line appeared between her brows as she reviewed her experience, trying to assess it from an objective viewpoint.

She had realised the attack and fought back although hampered by her bad shoulder; made noise which had evidently caught the attention of the homeless man Jack had questioned. There had been too many attackers; she had been quickly subdued. Perhaps she needed to brush up her hand to hand combat, Sam mused. Her mind moved to the actual period of capture. She hadn’t been able to do much when she had been drugged but she had grabbed the scalpel in a moment of lucidity and she had freed herself. Her escape attempt had been good but…

‘I should have shot Conrad.’ Sam blinked; had she said that out loud?

‘Why didn’t you?’ Jack asked bluntly.

‘He was in a wheelchair and he was ill.’ Sam replied, admitting to the compassion that had prevented her from pulling the trigger. She sighed. ‘But if he had been a Goa’uld, I would have shot him.’

‘Well,’ Jack said dryly, ‘you may still get your chance.’

Sam glanced at him sharply. ‘Any news?’

Jack shook his head. ‘He’s still,’ he waved a hand, ‘out there.’

Sam couldn’t prevent the shiver that ran down her spine.

Jack’s eyes narrowed on her. ‘We’ll get him, Carter.’

She didn’t answer him. A part of her knew it was unlikely that the Goa’uld would be interested in her for the reasons Conrad had grabbed her but she couldn’t deny that she wasn’t comfortable with the idea her abductor was running around at large. Not that she would need to worry about it for a few weeks; General Hammond had made it clear that SG1 were restricted to base for their own protection for the foreseeable future.

‘So what else would you do differently?’ Jack prompted, dragging her attention back to their conversation.

She took a breath and continued. ‘I was thinking I should improve my hand to hand.’

Jack nodded slowly. ‘We should all improve on hand to hand. I’ll talk with Hammond about putting on some extra sessions.’

She hesitated for a long second and then forced herself to ask the question nagging at her. ‘Do you think I could have done something else, sir?’

He shook his head. ‘You should have shot Conrad,’ he agreed, ‘but I’d give you a pass on the hand to hand,’ he commented, gesturing at her shoulder to indicate the reason, ‘you did alert someone by calling out.’

Sam nodded. She pressed her lips together momentarily. ‘I haven’t really had a chance to thank you.’

He looked over at her as though surprised. ‘For what?’

She smiled sadly. ‘Everything you did to find me, sir.’

For a second, their eyes met and held.

Jack gave an embarrassed smile. ‘Think nothing of it, Carter.’

She ducked her head. Of course he was probably worried that she would think it meant more than it did; that it wasn’t just a concerned team leader looking out for a team-mate, she mused.

‘The guys did most of the work. I just,’ he waved wildly with his good arm, ‘wandered around.’ He paused. ‘Getting shot.’

Her lips quirked into an unwilling smile as she glanced at him.

‘Mostly.’ Jack ended with a grimace as he darted a look at her.

Sam wet her lips; maybe if he wouldn’t accept a thank you perhaps he’d accept an apology. ‘I’m sorry, sir.’

Jack’s eyebrows shot up. ‘It was so not your fault that I got shot, Carter.’

‘Not that, sir.’ Sam hurried out. ‘I meant, I’m sorry for…’ her voice trailed away at the baffled look he wore, ‘well, you getting shot but more because of you being stuck in here because of it than you actually, you know.’ she stopped.

‘Carter.’ Jack said slowly as though he had doubts about her mental health; she couldn’t blame him. After her stumbling words she had doubts herself.

‘Sir, I just…’ Sam looked away from him, ‘I realise you probably had plans outside work with Amy and…’

‘No plans.’

Her head jerked back to him, fast enough to cause her a sharp tug of pain that reminded her that her shoulder wasn’t quite healed.

He met her questioning look with an arrested shrug as his arm clearly protested the movement. He seemed caught somewhere between surprise at his own admission and embarrassment.

‘I thought…’ Sam began gently.

Jack pushed his good hand through his hair as he stared anywhere but at her. ‘Didn’t work out.’

Sam dropped her own gaze back to her blanket as she smoothed the edge precisely. She was eaten up with curiosity. What had happened with him and Amy? Had they split up for good? Was it just an argument? It was none of her business, Sam told herself firmly, ignoring the rush of relief that swept through her as the knowledge sank in that he was single. Just because he had split up with the woman he had been seeing didn’t mean that anything had changed. He had moved on from their inappropriate closeness; he had made that clear. The mission and their professional relationship came first, she reminded herself again. He saw Sam as a team-mate; a friend; that was all.

‘Did you know Cassie was back dating that kid?’

The disgusted edge to Jack’s question made Sam smile again. She shifted in the bed to face him. ‘Dominic’s a nice kid, sir.’

‘He’s a boy, Carter. A teenage boy.’

‘I hadn’t noticed.’ She teased gently.

Jack shot her a look. ‘I taught her this really great move.’

‘I know she showed it to me, sir.’ Sam said dryly. She frowned. ‘Teal’c said Janet agreed to him teaching Cassie some defensive moves.’ It bothered her that Cassie needed the training. The idea of anyone doing to Cassie what had been done to her; it chilled her.

‘Good.’

Sam looked at Jack sharply. ‘Not to use on Dominic.’

‘Did I say anything, Carter?’

‘You didn’t have to, sir.’

Jack looked back at her with mock hurt. His expression sobered as he took in her worry. ‘It’s going to be OK, Carter.’

‘Is it?’ She wondered. She winced; she hadn’t meant to say that out loud either.

‘It will be.’ Jack said.

Their eyes met again and Sam held onto the sincerity in his. He had been through this too, Sam mused. Maybe their experiences were different on many levels but she knew enough of his record to know he really did know what she was going through. She felt her breath catch in the back of her throat and she couldn’t answer him.

‘Of course, you’re going to have to spend time with Mackenzie.’ Jack commented as he shifted clearly getting comfortable in the bed in order to take a nap.

Sam followed his lead without thinking; shuffling under the covers until she was lying prone. ‘Really?’ She asked tiredly.

‘When you’re ready.’ Jack responded.

His gaze warmed her and Sam nodded in agreement slowly. She’d known she would have to talk with Mackenzie eventually so it wasn’t a surprise. If anything she was left wondering why no one had pressed her into seeing the base psychiatrist already.

‘Get some sleep.’ Jack ordered softly.

‘Yes, sir.’ Sam closed her eyes automatically in response and quelled the urge to thank him again simply for being there for her…

o-O-o

‘This is a load of…’

‘Colonel.’ Hammond interrupted Jack’s statement but it was too close to his own sentiment for him to reprimand the SG1 team leader further than an admonishing look. Jack had been released from the infirmary along with Sam the day before. His arm was in a blue sling that contrasted sharply with his green BDUs. There was no other outward sign of his injuries. He stood at ease in front of the desk with his usual self-assured air.

‘With respect, sir,’ Janet said tersely, ‘I agree with the Colonel.’ She crossed her arms tightly over her white medical coat.

Hammond sighed and sat down. He waved the doctor into a visitor chair. Jack indicated he’d stand and Hammond decided against making it an order. ‘I agree with you both.’ The General offered as an opener; he suppressed a smile as he registered how his candour had caught them both off guard.

‘However, we’re going to have to respond with more than a single word if we are to safeguard Major Carter.’ He tapped the report on his desk. ‘The order to establish whether there is any truth to Conrad’s assumption that Major Carter held the medical answer to the safe extraction of a Goa’uld symbiote came direct from the President.’

‘I don’t understand, sir.’ Janet said, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘We’ve been through this already after Major Carter recovered from her experience with Jolinar. There’s no medical basis for such an assumption.’

‘Well, apparently the doctors,’ Hammond grimaced, ‘and I use that term loosely,’ he muttered, ‘who experimented on the Major while she was captured disagree.’

‘Who cares what they think?’ Jack said harshly, stabbing a finger toward the desk. ‘They’re a couple of…’

‘Colonel.’ Hammond interrupted him. ‘The fact is that the statements given by them following their interrogation by the NID…’

Jack snorted.

‘…raised the question.’ Hammond leaned forward and clasped his hands together. ‘Senator Kinsey has convinced the President and the Joint Chiefs that it is a valid question that needs answered.’

‘To what end, sir?’ Janet jumped in before the Colonel could make another retort. Her dark eyes flashed with anger. ‘Say there is some medical basis for the assumption, are we suggesting that Major Carter be subjected to further experimentation against her will?’

‘Doctor…’ Hammond began.

‘Doc has a point, General.’ Jack added gruffly. His jaw tightened; the only visible sign of his anger if Hammond ignored the hardened furious brown eyes. ‘Why raise the question at all?’

‘I have asked that myself.’ Hammond responded mildly.

‘And?’ prompted Janet.

Hammond’s mouth pursed. Their answer had been unsatisfactorily vague; the exact words of the President had been ‘to cross that bridge when we come to it.’ He couldn’t tell his people that though.

Jack seemed to surmise it anyway. He whirled and paced a couple of steps toward the internal window, stopping to stare out of it into the briefing room. His back was ramrod straight. Janet simply looked stricken.

‘I believe the best course of action is to answer the question and disprove the assumption. A Doctor Gerrold will be arriving in two days with his team to hear our findings.’ Hammond said simply. He cleared his throat and turned his attention to his CMO. ‘I have requested all the medical data seized during the rescue of Major Carter be turned over to you for study and examination. I’m told it should arrive in the next hour. Use any personnel you require to assist you.’

Her lips twisted in disgust but she nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’

He pressed his lips together. ‘What’s Major Carter’s medical status?’

‘She’s making progress.’ Janet confirmed. ‘Physically her injuries have healed.’

‘And psychologically?’ Hammond said delicately.

‘She’s started regular sessions with Doctor Mackenzie during the last few days at her own request.’ Janet said firmly. ‘He’s pleased that she’s coming to terms with what happened to her on a personal level but he has diagnosed post-traumatic stress. She’s still wary outside of the company of SG1 and admits the infirmary unnerves her. Both of us believe counselling will suffice but it will be a few more weeks before she’s cleared for off-world travel.’ Her lips tightened. ‘This situation is only likely to aggravate any remaining issues with her sense of self-worth and heighten her anxiety levels.’

‘Do you think it’s best she isn’t involved?’ Hammond asked.

Janet considered the question and shook her head. ‘No, sir. I believe excluding her would be worse.’

‘Colonel?’ Hammond prompted.

Jack didn’t turn around. ‘Doc’s right. Carter can handle it.’

‘Very well.’ Hammond gestured at Janet. ‘You should get started on the investigation. Dismissed, Doctor.’

Janet left. The door clicked loudly shut behind her. Hammond regarded Jack with concern. He had known the Colonel would react badly to the news. He was very protective of his team. Hammond ignored the internal whisper that the Colonel’s reaction was also because it was the Major. He shook his head as though to dislodge the thought. There was no evidence. In fact, before the Major’s disappearance the two had been nothing but incredibly professional and had been ever since the incident with the computer entity.

‘Colonel…’

‘How many times has Carter saved the world now, sir?’ Jack replied without turning around. ‘Four, five times? And for what? For this?’

‘‘This’ is just a question, Colonel.’ Hammond said with a calm he didn’t feel. ‘We just need to give an answer.’

Jack turned around. ‘That the answer they gave you?’ His tone wasn’t even borderline insubordinate.

Hammond’s pale blue eyes flashed; a small signal to the younger man that he had gone too far.

The silence was filled with tension.

Hammond moved first, letting a sigh of frustration escape his lips. ‘I am certain that Doctor Fraiser will find no evidence to substantiate the hypothesis.’

A flash of understanding lit Jack’s eyes. ‘We’re going to tell them there’s no basis.’ He realised. Even if there was. The rest of the sentence remained unspoken.

Hammond remained silent. What he intended to do wasn’t exactly following the spirit of his order; the letter perhaps but certainly not the spirit.

Jack shifted, his shoulders relaxing a little. ‘You’ll think that will get them to back off?’

‘I don’t honestly know.’ Hammond said tiredly. ‘A few months ago, I would never have thought I would be ordered to answer this kind of question or one like it.’

‘Politics?’ Jack asked delicately.

Hammond grimaced. ‘The President believes that he needs Senator Kinsey’s support on the Housing bill. He’s inclined to allow the Senator some leeway in influencing matters here in the meantime.’

Jack grimaced. He took a breath and wet his lips. ‘I’ll inform Major Carter.’

‘I’ll inform her, Colonel.’ Hammond said, rising to his feet. He could see the Colonel smother an automatic protest. ‘Where is the Major?’

‘She’s in her lab.’ Jack informed him briskly. ‘With Hailey. They were working out the training scenario.’

Hammond nodded. ‘Perhaps you could take care of informing the rest of your team as I discuss the situation with Major Carter. I thought Doctor Jackson and Teal’c could assist Doctor Fraiser.’

Jack inclined his head.

They travelled together in the elevator but exited at different levels. Hammond walked slowly along to Sam’s lab; it was not a conversation he was looking forward to having. He stopped in the open doorway and took in the sight of the two women bent over the computer, their attention completely on their work, the murmur of their voices gentle background music. He rapped sharply on the door frame and entered.

Lieutenant Hailey straightened automatically at the sight of him; the Major following a heartbeat later.

‘Sir.’ They spoke in unison and Hammond had to tighten his lips on the smile that tugged at the corners to keep it from escaping.

‘Lieutenant.’ He nodded at her briskly. ‘If you could excuse us, I need to speak with Major Carter.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Hailey nodded at him and turned to nod at Sam before swiftly exiting. She closed the door behind her.

‘Sir.’ Sam said formally.

‘At ease, Major.’ Hammond gestured at her as he walked forward and came to a halt by her computer. The screen was filled with small objects. He looked at them quizzically. ‘Nanites?’

‘Yes, sir.’ Sam waved at the screen. ‘Hailey and I thought it would make a change from the virus scenario, sir.’

‘And will mean we don’t have to disturb the infirmary during the training exercise.’ Hammond realised. ‘Good thinking, Major.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

Hammond tapped lightly on the edge of the steel worktop. ‘I have some news.’

‘They’ve found Adrian Conrad?’ Sam asked eagerly.

‘No, I’m afraid not.’ Hammond answered with regret. ‘There’s no sign of him unfortunately.’ The Goa’uld had dropped off the face of the Earth it seemed. The NID claimed to have no leads and the President had been unwilling to turn the search over into the hands of the SGC.

Sam nodded. ‘I’m sorry, sir. I interrupted.’ She motioned for him to continue.

Hammond straightened. ‘I’ve received an order following the NID’s interrogation of the doctors apprehended at Saint Catherine’s.’ He paused, unsure how he told her.

‘Sir?’ Sam prompted. Her blue eyes were filled with anxiety.

‘They want Doctor Fraiser to take a view on the doctors’ findings from the tests that they performed on you,’ Hammond continued gently, ‘to ascertain whether their original hypothesis that you hold the medical key to successfully extracting a symbiote has any foundation. Obviously we don’t expect to find any.’

He saw the truth of it register in her eyes. She paled. Her professional bravado wobbled for a long moment and he caught a glimpse of fear before she slammed her military mask back into place. ‘I understand, sir.’

‘Doctor Fraiser will be receiving the data seized from Saint Catherine. Unfortunately, I cannot allow you to take part in examining it.’

‘No, sir.’ Sam agreed.

‘But a committee will be arriving in two days to assess Doctor Fraiser’s findings and I’d like you and the rest of SG1 to attend.’ Hammond noted. ‘Colonel O’Neill is aware of the situation. He’s informing the rest of your team.’

‘Sir,’ Sam said urgently, ‘perhaps it would be a good idea to call the Tok’ra.’ She held up a hand to forestall the question that sprang to his lips. ‘Not my father, sir, but perhaps Anise or another scientist. They may be able to substantiate that the only reason why I survived was because of Jolinar’s own conscious act to save me.’

Hammond nodded. ‘I’ll send a message.’ He tapped the workbench.

‘Sir.’

Her single word stopped him from leaving. He turned back to her quizzically.

‘What if their hypothesis does have foundation, sir?’ Sam asked crisply.

‘It won’t.’ Hammond said authoratively.

‘Sir…’ Sam began to protest.

Hammond held up a hand. ‘Sam.’

The use of her first name arrested her and she stared at him in surprise. He rarely acknowledged their personal relationship on base; his long friendship with her father; his ad hoc presence in her life before the Air Force and since. He reached over and took her hand in his.

‘I’m only going to say this once.’ Hammond said paternally, squeezing her hand. ‘Their hypothesis is a load of bull and while I am in command of the SGC, there will never be another answer.’ He held her fearful blue eyes with his own, trying to assure her as forcefully as he could that she was safe. He had promised her father he would take care of her and, while he had almost seen that promise broken with her abduction, it had renewed his intention to keep it.

Sam nodded jerkily.

Hammond patted her hand and released her. ‘This is going to be fine, Sam. You have my word.’

‘Thank you.’ Sam said gratefully.

‘I’ll leave you to it.’ Hammond said, motioning at the graphic on the computer monitor. He turned and walked away. He opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. He was unsurprised to find the rest of SG1 waiting. He nodded at the men who filed past him and into the room.

‘General.’ Jack said softly as he moved past.

‘Colonel.’ Hammond acknowledged. He reached out and pulled the door shut. It warmed Hammond’s heart to see them so together. He’d gained the impression over the past few months, rightly or wrongly, that they were struggling. Nothing concrete; nothing in their work but their personal interactions had been edged with tension. He was pleased that whatever it was had been solidly put behind them in order to focus on supporting Sam through her experience.

He felt a wash of guilt flood him. He’d been to war; he’d been tortured; had seen others tortured. Hammond knew what one human being was capable of inflicting on another and he feared Sam, for all her off-world experience, for all that she had endured prior to her abduction, had only just been taught that horrible lesson. It was one he knew Jack O’Neill was only too familiar with. Hammond knew the risks when he sent his people out into the field but they were on Earth; she should have been safe – should be safe.

SG1 were back together and whatever plots were in place to try and rip them asunder had failed; would fail, he assured himself. Hammond’s expression sobered. Because it was clear to him that there was a plot and he knew exactly who was behind it. The evidence against Kinsey in his desk drawer flitted through his mind.

No.

It wasn’t the right time. But when it was…Hammond’s eyes grew cold; Kinsey was going to learn not to mess with his people.

o-O-o

The briefing room was stifling as everyone gathered around the large conference table. The air seemed stuffy; hot. Or maybe it was just him, Jack thought brusquely. He tugged on the starch collar of his shirt. The military contingent in the briefing room wore service dress. The blue uniforms were pristine; sharply pressed with medals and buttons gleaming. Daniel and Teal’c wore suits for the occasion; new suits that apparently Janet and Cassie had helped pick out for them. It showed in the pale blue shirt that highlighted Daniel’s eyes and the tailored cut of the charcoal grey Teal’c wore. Even Garshaw, who had turned up following Hammond’s request that the Tok’ra assist, wore a stylish version of Tok’ra dress; long robes and a ceremonial medallion that denoted her status as a senior Tok’ra councillor. Not that any of their impressively smart outfits seemed to be intimidating their visitors as far as Jack could see as the introductions were made.

Doctor Gerrold was a Navy physician stationed at Bethesda; tall, wide and with a blond paleness that bordered on albino. He was part of the team of physicians that handled the care of the First Family. He had brought with him two specialists; Doctor Anchor, a forty-something redheaded woman, and Doctor Fielding, a young thirty-something man with dark hair and twinkling blue eyes. The final member of the committee was Major Charles Pettigrew; an aide to Simmons. The man reminded Jack of a slick cars salesman; oiled back black hair, hawkish nose and thin lips.

‘Shall we sit?’ Hammond said firmly from the head of the table.

There was a flurry of activity as chairs were pulled out and people sat down. Jack shot Carter an encouraging look. She was sandwiched between him and Daniel. Teal’c was on the other side of Jack; Janet sat next to Daniel with Garshaw taking the final place on their side of the table. Gerrold had chosen to sit opposite Janet; his two specialists flanked him, leaving Pettigrew opposite Jack.

‘We’re here to report and discuss the analysis of the medical findings in relation to Major Carter and whether there is any evidence to support the supposition that she holds the answer to safely extracting a Goa’uld.’ Hammond began.

Pettigrew cleared his throat noisily. ‘With respect, I do not understand why Major Carter,’ his dark eyes drifted to her, ‘the rest of SG1 and our Tok’ra ally are present at these proceedings.’

‘I see no problem.’ Gerrold cut in before anyone else could say anything. ‘Let’s proceed.’

He and Pettigrew stared at each other.

Jack exchanged a wry look with Daniel; division in the enemy’s ranks could help them.

‘Doctor Fraiser, why don’t you begin?’ Hammond asked.

‘I think it would be useful to set Major Carter’s unique physiology in context.’ Janet said crisply. ‘Over three years ago, the Major, then a Captain, was performing CPR on a man during a Goa’uld attack when a Tok’ra symbiote entered her body via the soft tissue at the back of her throat. The symbiote named Jolinar took possession of the Major’s body against her will. From that point forward, Jolinar had control. When we realised what had happened, she was incarcerated.’

‘Jolinar was hiding from a Goa’uld assassin.’ Daniel picked up as Janet paused. ‘The assassin was able to get through our security and attack Sam, uh, Major Carter. Both she and Jolinar were tortured but the Ashrak stopped before he killed them.’

‘The attack left both of them in critical condition.’ Janet continued. ‘Major Carter was close to death; her organs close to systematic failure. The symbiote was also in distress.’ She cleared her throat. ‘All of our usual procedures were not working when the symbiote died; a moment later, Major Carter stabilised.’ She stopped again momentarily. ‘The symbiote had consciously given her life to save the Major’s.’

‘Over the course of the following weeks, Major Carter’s physical condition was monitored closely. The symbiote body was being absorbed into the Major’s. It left two distinct changes behind; a protein marker and a metallic element called naquadah.’ She picked up a folder with distaste and passed it to Doctor Gerrold. ‘It is these changes that Adrian Conrad’s doctors noted in their illegal and unethical examination of the Major during her abduction and which led them to believe that their hypothesis, that Major Carter’s physiology provided the answer to a safe extraction, was correct.’

All three doctors on the other side of the table squirmed. Jack was pleased that they were bothered; it indicated they had a conscience about their own medical practices.

Gerrold glanced briefly at the report before he set it aside. He looked over at Sam. ‘Major, I believe all of us here sincerely regret what happened to you at the hands of Adrian Conrad and his…physicians.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Sam replied stiffly.

‘But?’ prompted Jack, regarding Gerrold suspiciously.

‘But while their methods are abhorrent they have raised an interesting question.’ Gerrold replied mildly.

‘So we’re told.’ Jack shot back.

Gerrold smiled and sat back in his chair. He folded his hands over his stomach. ‘I have been involved peripherally with our efforts to find a safe extraction method. If the Major’s physiological changes do hold any kind of clue to us discovering a way to free a host than surely we have a responsibility to follow through and investigate that thoroughly.’

‘We already did.’ Janet said sharply. ‘Following her experience, we ran several tests with the Major’s permission to understand the nature of her new physiology and what benefits if any could be gained.’ Her dark eyes held Gerrold’s as she forwarded him a second report. ‘This was the medical report submitted a year post her experience with Jolinar.’

It was Fielding who leaned forward. ‘As I understand it, the research focused primarily on the ability to handle Goa’uld weaponry and the healing properties of the symbiote.’ His blue eyes flickered to Sam. ‘I understand you heal at a greater rate since your experience as a host?’

‘Yes.’ Sam answered tightly.

‘And that you have not suffered flu or cold symptoms since that time?’ Fielding pressed.

Sam nodded.

‘What’s that got to do with this?’ Jack asked bluntly, feeling her tense in the chair beside him.

‘Nothing.’ Fielding admitted.

‘Which is the point.’ Anchor added. She raised her hands from the table and smiled coldly at Jack. ‘The focus has been on the obvious physiological benefits gained not necessarily on those less evident.’ Her green eyes moved to Sam. ‘Conrad’s doctors believed that only an examination of how the protein marker has affected the brain tissue would reveal the answer and I am inclined to agree with them.’

Sam paled.

‘There are neurological techniques that would allow us to take a sample of brain tissue with very little risk of brain damage.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Daniel piped up, raising his hand slightly, ‘you’re seriously not suggesting that the only way to determine the answer to this question is to subject Sam to unnecessary brain surgery?’

‘The idea is preposterous.’ Janet added fiercely. ‘Any risk of damage is too great.’

‘You don’t get to decide that.’ Anchor shot back.

‘You have never considered the idea, Doctor Fraiser?’ Gerrold said, breaking into the taut tension between the two women physicians.

‘No I have not.’ Janet said firmly.

‘Why not?’ Pettigrew asked slyly.

‘Here’s a thought,’ Jack replied before Janet could, ‘maybe,’ he pointed with the pen he held, ‘maybe her brain is worth not risking it at all.’ He glared at the assembled doctors. ‘Do you have any idea how many times her brain has saved your collective asses?’

The doctors looked away but Pettigrew smiled.

‘She’s not the only brain on the planet, Colonel.’ Pettigrew said forcefully. ‘There are other scientists.’

‘But not with Sam’s understanding or experience.’ Daniel replied. ‘Jack’s right. Sam has saved this planet a number of times. Now maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you but surely it should give you pause before we risk endangering her health?’

‘It is only an idea at this point.’ Gerrold said firmly.

‘A very foolish idea.’ Garshaw spoke up and drew their attention.

‘Garshaw,’ Hammond invited her to speak with a wave of a hand, ‘please.’

Garshaw adjusted her pale cream robe. ‘General Hammond invited us here under the terms of our treaty to share information that may be mutually beneficial to us. However as I explained to the General when I arrived, the idea that Major Carter’s physiology could provide an answer to extraction is misinformed.’

Gerrold looked at her quizzically. ‘I’m sorry but…’

‘The Tok’ra Council already considered this when we first met Major Carter.’ Garshaw continued. ‘She is the first host to survive the death of a symbiote after all. However, it is clear to the Tok’ra what must have occurred and that the resulting changes to Major Carter have no use in finding an extraction method.’

‘Perhaps you could enlighten us?’ Pettigrew said snidely.

Garshaw’s eyes flashed white briefly; the only sign of her impatience and temper at the question. ‘The Ashrak’s weapon is very specific. It’s designed to cause the maximum amount of pain to symbiote and host by breaking down the walls between individual cells and causing an overload of electrical energy throughout the body.’ She paused and took a breath.

‘As you know symbiotes can heal their hosts. Our cells have regenerative abilities that we can share by releasing the cells into the host. The cells clone and repair any illness or injury. However, the cells must be released in a systematic way or the symbiote itself will die.’

‘With respect, I’m not seeing what this has to do with whether the protein marker would be useful in safely extracting a host.’ Pettigrew interrupted.

‘From the medical data taken at the time of the attack and which the SGC shared with us we are able to ascertain that Jolinar would have survived; her host would not.’ Garshaw continued ignoring the interruption. ‘I believe Jolinar felt a large measure of guilt at taking Major Carter as a host against her will. Jolinar knew she acted against the main tenets of the Tok’ra beliefs. She knew the only way to save Major Carter was to release a flood of her own cells into Major Carter’s body in the hopes that would save her host. However, she must have also known that the resulting weakening of her own body would have ultimately led to her death, which in normal circumstances would release a toxin into Major Carter’s body killing her regardless.’

‘But this did not happen.’ Gerrold said.

‘No.’ Garshaw changed positions subtly. ‘It is rare but when a symbiote is nearing the end it can consciously end its own life, preventing the toxins from being released; we believe following her release of cells, Jolinar performed this act. Most Tok’ra symbiotes rarely get this opportunity; most of us are killed in battle, and the Goa’uld do not share the same regard for their host.’

‘I understand that one of the problems with extraction is that release of toxins.’ Gerrold acknowledged. ‘The symbiote can choose to die, taking the host along with it.’

‘Which is why the Tok’ra extraction process uses a paralysing drug.’ Garshaw said firmly. ‘A needle is inserted into the brain administering the drug and the symbiote is then extracted from the host.’

‘We’ve been unable to synthesise the paralysis drug ourselves,’ Janet added tersely, ‘which is one of the reasons why we have been unable to replicate the extraction process along with our lack of advanced surgical technology able to completely remove the Goa’uld from the brain stem without harming the host.’

‘Jolinar’s healing abilities,’ Garshaw said firmly, ‘saved Major Carter from the injuries she sustained at the hands of the Ashrak but it was only her conscious act of dying that allowed Major Carter to live. That and only that.’

‘A Goa’uld would never countenance such an act.’ Teal’c intoned solemnly.

Gerrold looked around his team silently.

‘Perhaps we should take a break.’ Hammond suggested. ‘Let you and your team confer.’

‘Thank you.’ Gerrold stood up.

Hammond indicated for the SFs to show the four visitors to another room.

Jack breathed out slowly as they left. He turned back to Garshaw. ‘Thank you.’

‘Yes,’ Hammond said gratefully, ‘thank you.’

‘I only hope the information was of some use.’ Garshaw said.

‘I think it was.’ Daniel said, his blue eyes shining hopefully behind their panes of glass.

‘I should return to the Tok’ra.’ Garshaw gathered her robes around her.

‘Of course.’ Hammond gestured at Jack. ‘Colonel.’ The unspoken command for him to oversee Garshaw’s departure was evident.

Jack waved at the stairwell. ‘After you.’

Garshaw nodded. She turned to Sam. ‘Perhaps you can join us, Major Carter? I have a message from your father.’

Sam looked toward Hammond who nodded his agreement. They made their way into the control room and onto the gate room.

Jack smiled at Garshaw. ‘Thank you for coming.’

Garshaw’s eyes turned to Sam and Jack got the message.

‘I’ll just, uh, be over here.’ He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and moved a few steps.

Garshaw took Sam’s hands in hers. ‘Your father sends his love. He’s currently undercover otherwise he would have been here too.’

‘Thank you.’ Sam smiled. ‘Please send him my love back.’

‘Samantha,’ Garshaw said quietly, ‘I understand your father told you of Martouf?’

Jack stared up at the gate as though fascinated. Sam had thought she had killed Martouf in the very spot he was standing. Martouf had been brainwashed and he had been about to blow himself up when Sam had ended his life. His body had been taken straight back to the Tok’ra homeworld. Sam had recently discovered that Martouf had not died; his symbiote Lantash had sustained him and the Tok’ra had put them both in stasis to buy time to find a way to counteract the brainwashing.

Sam nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘You have to understand that it was never our intention to deceive you.’ Garshaw said urgently. ‘It was to protect you from the news I bring you now.’

‘The stasis is failing?’ Sam realised.

Garshaw nodded. ‘We will have to make a decision shortly. I wanted you to know.’

‘Thank you.’ Sam said a little stiltedly. ‘I appreciate that.’

The wormhole blossomed out in front of them.

Garshaw squeezed Sam’s hand and walked swiftly up the ramp disappearing into the blue puddle. It winked out.

‘You OK?’ Jack asked walking back over to Sam.

‘I’m fine, sir.’ Sam replied.

She clearly wasn’t but Jack didn’t press her as they walked back up to the briefing room. She had enough to deal with and in all honesty he really did not want to ask her about Martouf. He could see the pained look in her blue eyes.

Gerrold and his team were already back and they hurried to their chairs.

‘I’ll make this quick.’ Gerrold said. His eyes slid to Pettigrew. ‘Following our discussion, I do not see any justification for further investigating this idea. I will be making a report to the President and the Joint Chiefs to that effect.’

Sam’s head dropped as she hid her relief and Jack slowly breathed out as the tension seeped out of his own body at the news.

‘I have to say I’m pleased to hear that.’ Hammond said. He stood up and the rest of the . ‘The Airmen will escort you to the surface.’

Gerrold looked around the assembled SGC personnel. ‘It has been an honour meeting you.’ He left taking his team with him.

Hammond smiled at SG1 and Janet. ‘Job well done, people.’ He caught each of their eyes individually. ‘Let’s get back to work.’

‘And out of these suits.’ Jack complained.

Hammond waved them away and moved to his office. Jack fell into step beside Sam as the team headed out toward the elevator.

‘Well, thank God that’s over.’ Janet said punching the call button.

‘I can’t believe they even considered the whole thing to begin with.’ Daniel complained, wrapping his arms around his torso in a way that crumpled his jacket.

‘Indeed.’ Teal’c concurred.

They got into the small compartment.

Sam breathed in sharply. ‘I have to admit I was worried brain surgery was in my immediate future there for a while.’

‘Never would have happened.’ Jack reassured her, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. ‘They would have had to go through me first.’

‘Me too.’ Daniel added.

‘And I.’ Teal’c stated firmly.

‘And me.’ Janet patted her arm.

‘See?’ Jack grinned. ‘It was never going to happen.’

Sam smiled back at him.

‘So, Sam.’ Daniel cleared his throat. ‘Hailey said you’re planning nanites for the training scenario?’

‘Can I just say thank you?’ Janet said dryly. ‘At least I won’t have the infirmary disturbed.’

‘Nanites.’ Jack pulled a face. ‘Really? You couldn’t have chosen something else?’

‘What’s the matter, Jack?’ Daniel teased. ‘Embarrassed?’

Jack glared at him. ‘Oh you are so getting shot.’

‘I got shot last time!’

‘Did not!’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘Did not.’ Jack glanced at Sam who grinned back at him. She was safe again and she was healing; and the team had her back. That was all that mattered, Jack considered; that was all that mattered.

o-O-o

Harry Maybourne adjusted the scope of his binoculars and frowned at the tall dark-haired man in his sights.

Colonel Frank Simmons.

Harry had recruited him personally. Simmons was a sociopath; morally without conscience. Ideal for the type of black operations Maybourne had run for years. It didn’t surprise him that the rogue elements of the NID had approached Simmons to run their ops when Maybourne had been compromised.

The safe house was one of many. He didn’t know for certain but he believed Simmons had Conrad squirrelled away inside. Not that he would keep him there for long. Harry figured Simmons would move Conrad to another safe house as soon as the heat died down. It didn’t matter; Harry knew them all.

He watched as Simmons reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He watched Simmons lips avidly.

‘Carter investigation failed.’ Harry repeated. Good, he thought. He liked Samantha Carter although not as much as Jack. He sniggered to himself. He had wondered if anything had ever happened between the two officers. He could see Jack bending the rules but the Major? No. She was a by-the-book officer but she had guts, Harry had to give her that, remembering how she had reamed him out once during a foothold situation. He was pleased she had survived Conrad’s abduction.

Simmons disappeared into the safe house and Harry lowered the binoculars. His old protégé had set him up, Harry mused. He would bet on it. There was no doubt in his mind. Simmons had given his name to Zeditron; had known Harry wouldn’t pass up the three million dollars to secure the symbiote for them. He had purposefully used Harry to throw suspicion away from the NID.

Harry didn’t like being used especially not by a man he had groomed himself and especially not when the security of the world was at stake. He still had contacts; he knew Simmons had tried twice before to break SG1; Conrad was his third attempt. Harry believed there would be a fourth. Maybe Harry had considered SG1 a thorn in his side too but he knew what they had done to save the world and in the scheme of things he much preferred them guarding the gate than Simmons.

He picked up the half-eaten sandwich from the passenger seat of the jeep and stuffed it in his mouth taking a large bite. He threw the remains back on the seat and gunned the engine. Simmons would try again to break SG1 and when he did, Harry would help Jack get him.

Revenge was always a dish best served cold.

fin.


 

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