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Fanfiction: The More Things Change - Part I

Fandom: Stargate SG1
Series: Aftershocks
TAG to Episode: S8 New Order Part 1 & 2
Rating: PG-13
Author's Note: Sam/Jack UST. Sam/Pete. Elizabeth Weir/Simon Wallace.  Mention of Daniel/Sha're. Team friendship.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Written for entertainment purposes only.

The More Things Change


Who knew that promoting people and giving them medals would be so tiring? His damn knee was aching so much that Jack O'Neill fervently believed that Thor had mucked up something when he'd defrosted him. He pinned another smile on his face and gamely shook hands with the young Airman who was last on a very long list of recipients. Jack's eyes immediately darted to the woman who had been the first on the list – Samantha Carter – Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter. He felt his smile automatically become natural and warm with pride. She beamed back at him; all wide blue eyes and bubbly happiness. It looked good on her.

Walter Harriman beside him cleared his throat, yanking Jack back from the moment and reminding him that he and Carter weren't alone. Unfortunately.

Jack waved at the congregated SGC personnel in the gate room. 'As I'm reliably informed there's cake…dismissed.'

The military personnel come to attention but the civilian staff immediately began to disperse, streaming through the doors to get to the mess and the promised dessert – showing, in Jack's opinion, why they were the most intelligent people on the planet.

Jack wandered down the ramp to where his team waited. They all smiled at him and Jack was briefly reminded of his own promotion ceremony the day before at the Pentagon. He'd insisted he'd only wanted SG1 and General Hammond present but had found Elizabeth Weir, the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs also in the room when he'd entered; the President had sent his apologies – something about a global economic summit. Thank God Carter had helped him with his tie.

His fingers strayed up to tug on the one around his neck and Carter's eyes narrowed on the move enough that Jack aborted it. Daniel snickered beside him. Jack shot him his best 'I'm a General and could have you shot' look but it had no more effect than his 'I'm a Colonel and could shoot you' look. And there, Jack mused idly, was the way he saw the two jobs in his head.

He was out of the field. Behind a desk ordering people instead of being the one ordered. His aching knee was probably going to thank him for it once he got used to the idea. Not that he had to stay behind a desk all the time, Jack assured himself. He could accompany the odd mission through the old Stargate, rejoin his old team occasionally – once Carter settled into her new role as the leader of SG1,(and mental note to remind himself to put through the paperwork on that appointment), because he didn't want to step on her toes there – yes, as Daniel had suggested, he could do anything he wanted.

His eyes strayed to Carter.

Well, not anything.

The regulations were still firmly in place between them. More so, really, given that Jack was the commander of the whole base and he knew there would be some who would complain at her assignment as SG1 leader and claim favouritism anyway – despite the fact that she had more than earned her promotion, more than earned the position. In some respects he was glad she was still with Shanahan; still with the cop. Maybe it would help kill the rumours faster than usual. She was happy, Jack remonstrated with himself; and he was happy she was happy.

Yeah.

Right.

'Good speech.' Daniel commented, nudging him out of his thoughts.

'The closing was particularly well received, O'Neill.' Teal'c commented.

Sam ducked her head to hide the smile she was trying to bite off her lips. Jack shot her a look that told her he'd seen her already. He elbowed her gently. 'Colonel.' It rolled off his tongue with glee and he was happy when she grinned back at him.

God, he'd almost lost Carter. He could remember waking in Thor's stasis pod and the knowledge that she was likely dead present in his head when so much else was missing. He'd wondered why they hadn't just let him die after he'd created the replicator weapon. Less than an hour later, he'd held onto her as they beamed back to Thor and thanked God that somehow they were both alive.

It hit him how close it had been at odd moments. Like when he'd seen Thor hugging her and saying he was glad of her survival; or when Carter had turned to him when the little guy had beamed them into the SGC and everyone had applauded their return; or at the Pentagon when hers had been the eyes he'd sought out as soon as the stars had been pinned on his jacket.

'General.' Sam said back with enough snark that he hoped she wouldn't let his new rank faze her too much.

'Oh please,' Daniel said mocking them both as he waggled his eyebrows, 'do you have to?'

Jack responded by tapping Daniel's chest. 'You can't talk Mister 'I've had an Asgard ship named after me.' Besides, I'm proud of you guys.'

Teal'c inclined his head. 'We are also proud of you, O'Neill.'

'Yeah,' Daniel smiled at him, 'General.'

Jack shrugged, uncomfortable. He barely remembered almost losing his life to the Ancient knowledge again; to saving Earth again. He remembered moments; talking with Carter in his home, bantering with Daniel about a crossword clue, comforting Teal'c on a cargo ship and sitting in the Ancient chair in Antarctica a buzz of power running through him. He had no memory of the other events he'd read about in their reports; the Ancient outpost under lava, the power source, healing Bra'tac, the stasis chamber…

'We should make haste to the commissary before the cake is consumed.' Teal'c said.

'Right.' Jack let the Jaffa lead the way and marvelled again at Teal'c's hair. Just like the last time Teal'c had sported hair of any kind he'd refused to discuss his reasons for growing it. It would help Teal'c if – when – he was allowed to live off base, Jack mused and made another mental reminder to make that happen now he was General and had just saved the world again; it was on the list he'd mentioned to Weir when she had commented he never asked for anything.

They made their way up through the familiar corridors and Jack was pleased that the announcement of his appointment seemed to have been taken well by the returning personnel. The three month review the President had wanted had been ditched with the continuing threat of the Goa'uld. The threat had also prompted the new International Oversight Committee to set up the research base in Antarctica with a sudden urgency that apparently had been lacking while Jack had been frozen. Jack knew he'd lose Daniel and Sam to the base once it was up and running. Temporarily, Jack assured himself; temporarily because there was no way in hell he could lose them from the SCG for any significant amount of time.

He felt uncertain of the ground beneath him for the first time in years. He had never expected to achieve stars; had given up on it as soon as it became clear to him he excelled in the field; that he'd probably die in the field…and then there had been Charlie's death…

Hammond had hinted occasionally, Jack recalled fondly, but he had never taken him seriously. But suddenly here Jack was: a General with responsibilities for an entire base of people and the paperwork to go with it. Jack hid his grimace. OK, so his plans for his future had been a retirement and a civilian consultancy kind of gig. His gaze moved to Carter as she handed him a plate with a large slice of cake on it. She would have been the reason for the retirement but she was with someone else and he'd missed his chance so there had been no need to retire after all. Not to mention that there hadn't been a suitable alternative candidate and Jack had appreciated Carter's point that they could end up with someone bad; someone who didn't understand the SGC or the mission or the Goa'uld or any number of small details that kept the operation running as smoothly as it had done under Hammond. Jack was determined the SGC wasn't ending up in the hands of some Pentagon or IOC puppet.

His eyes strayed to Weir. Her new look suited her, Jack thought idly, although the change of hair colour had thrown him almost as much as Teal'c's decision to grow hair at first. They'd lucked out with Weir. She'd stood up to Kinsey who had apparently disappeared after Anubis' attack like the yellow-bellied snake in the grass he was. She'd managed to hold her own – albeit with Daniel's help – with a bunch of Goa'uld but then, Jack smiled humourlessly, talking to power hungry narcissists was her day job. If she'd stayed…Jack figured they could have worked out a reasonable working relationship. But Weir was perfect to head Project Atlantis and he suspected she didn't want the SGC.

Hell, he wasn't sure he wanted the SGC.

'Eat your cake, Jack.' Daniel whispered as he led them over to Weir's group.

Jack glowered at him. 'Why aren't we sitting down?'

'Do you not need to mingle in your new position, O'Neill?' Teal'c said.

Mingling; right. He knew that.

He sighed inaudibly.

Sam nudged his elbow. 'We have your six, sir.'

It was reassuring and so them. They had his six. Just as they'd had it for the previous seven years of his life. They wouldn't let him down. He straightened his shoulders, ignored the pain nagging in his knee, and pasted another smile on his face as Weir turned to greet him.

Jack could do this. He could run the SGC; be a General; mingle…he double-checked SG1 were right beside him; yeah, he could this.

o-O-o

Dave Dixon sighed and slapped the folders down onto his new desk. His new desk in McMurdo, Antarctica, otherwise known as the Back Ass of Nowhere. Damn it. He didn't want to be in Antarctica; didn't want to assume command to set up support and security for the new research base that was being constructed over the Ancient chair. His wife hadn't been too pleased at being left to look after their four kids alone for what could be months either. But Helen had married him knowing the score and they knew they'd been lucky with his posting at Cheyenne.

But they needed someone with his kind of clearance in charge until they got someone else up to speed. Besides, Dave thought darkly, he owed and Jack had asked him as a favour; he couldn't have refused. Jack had also promised that he and the rest of SG1 would look after Helen and the kids; his team SG-13 had promised the same as had Reynolds and most of the other team leads. Jack had also promised it was temporary.

Dave shook himself briskly. He was a goddamned Air Force Colonel not a ten year old sent unwillingly to camp for the summer; he would act like a goddamn Air Force Colonel.

He scowled and reviewed the personnel files a second time before his XO's knock alerted him that he was about to be presented with the men, the pilots, he had asked to see from the McMurdo squad. The SGC had brought their own in to transport personnel for the major engineer work that was already getting under way at the site, but they needed more pilots and the two he had requested to see had been recommended by their CO.

The pilots entered immediately on Dave's order and lined up at attention in front of his desk. He ran his eyes over them critically. One was blond with dark eyes and a serious expression; stocky but fit under his flight suit. The other had dark hair that stuck up wildly in a seriously non-regulation way; chameleon eyes that changed every time Dave met them; tall and slim, he looked as though a stiff wind would blow him over. Dave knew from their files who was the more dangerous and it wasn't the blond.

'Majors.' He greeted them sharply.

'Sir.' Both men answered in unison.

'At ease.' Dave ordered. He rounded the desk and sat on it. Their eyes tracked him. The blond – Fillion – with apprehensive respect; the dark haired dangerous one – Sheppard – with a guarded sardonic gleam that said he had figured the move was a ploy to make them more comfortable, paint Dave as one of the guys, break down the barrier a little between a senior officer and two men a couple of ranks below him. Dave hid his smile because Sheppard was right; it was a ploy but it was working on Fillion even if Sheppard saw through it like it was tissue paper. He figured there wasn't much Sheppard missed given his recorded IQ.

'Your CO has recommended you both for TDA to my squad. The assignment is pilot duty transporting things out to our new very, very secret research base.' Dave drawled, folding his arms over his BDU shirt. 'I'm here to tell you I've accepted his recommendation.'

Fillion looked pleased; Sheppard looked cautiously optimistic.

'Thank you, sir.' Fillion spoke first.

Sheppard inclined his head. 'Sir.'

Dave bit back his amusement. 'Don't be thanking me, gentlemen.' Not that Sheppard had, Dave acknowledged to himself. 'You're on probation. You are transporting things, and they will be things not people. People talk and you don't have clearance. You also don't get to tell anyone anything beyond your name, rank and serial number; not your girlfriend, not your best friend, not your shrink.' His eyes flitted back and forth between the two men. 'If you have a problem being a glorified delivery boy for the next few months now would be the time to tell me.'

'No problem, sir.' Fillion piped up eagerly.

Dave turned to Sheppard and raised an eyebrow when he remained silent.

Sheppard started a touch as though he hadn't expected Dave to demand a reply. 'It's time in the air, sir.'

Dave gave a huff of laughter because damned if he didn't like the guy. He nodded briskly and slid off the desk, moving back around it. He remained standing. 'You'll get your new orders shortly. Fillion, you're dismissed.'

Fillion shot Sheppard a look of sympathy but was out of the door with a swiftness that said he suspected what Dave wanted to talk to Sheppard about and didn't want to be tainted with any kind of association.

Ass, thought Dave grumpily. He waved at Sheppard. 'I read your file.'

'Yes, sir. I thought you might.' Sheppard replied. His body language for all it appeared at ease was tensed, ready to fight; his tone on the other hand…

Cocky, Dave surmised; that would irritate the hell out of most COs. He grinned instead. 'Apparently I don't have clearance to read most of it and I have clearance to read most shit so you know what that tells me?'

Sheppard looked caught between the answer he wanted to give and knowing whatever answer he did give would sound sarcastic.

Dave helped him out. He pointed at Sheppard. 'It tells me that you are exactly the type of son-of-a-bitch I need.'

Shock registered on Sheppard's face for a second before it was wiped away again. Sheppard's But-I'm-So-Harmless smile only made Dave grin more.

'You pulled one helluva stunt going back for those men.'

The flicker of pain across Sheppard's guarded eyes was enough for Dave to guess as what Sheppard thought Dave meant by his comment.

'Personally, I couldn't give a flying fuck about the black mark,' Dave waved it away as though it was inconsequential although he knew it had almost cost Sheppard his career, 'brass doesn't always get what goes on the field.' He watched as Sheppard's shoulders dropped an inch in relief. 'Your file tells me that you're an outstanding pilot; that you can fly anything.'

The tips of Sheppard's ears were turning pink.

'But it also tells me that you think you're smarter than everyone else and have as much respect for rules as a stray cat.' Dave continued.

He paused, gauging Sheppard's reaction to the criticism. There'd been a short flare of something heated – anger or annoyance – in the other man's eyes but Dave had to hand it to him; the insouciance that had replaced it was almost enough to convince Dave that Sheppard didn't care.

'But I figure that's why I want you,' Dave paused, 'but I need to know if you've still got the balls for it.'

Sheppard's eyebrows rose quizzically.

Dave waved at him. 'You were temporarily assigned out of Special Ops to combat rescue because you'd lost men and then you lost your shit, Sheppard. The reason why you got Antarctica was that they literally thought you needed somewhere to cool off.' He said cheerfully. 'So how are you, kid?'

Sheppard looked him direct in the eye; there was a glint of humour offsetting the serious gaze. 'Cool, sir.'

'And your balls?'

'Intact, sir.' Sheppard said dryly.

Damn but he wanted to get the kid in front of O'Neill. First chance he got, Dave decided abruptly. He sat down. 'You and Fillion both know this is an opportunity, Sheppard. And I am telling you; be as smart as you think you are and don't screw it up.' He waited until he was sure he had Sheppard's full gaze holding his own.

Sheppard nodded. Message had been received and understood.

Dave allowed a small breath of relief to pass his lips. If the kid kept his head, he was a shoo-in for the 302 programme and God knew they needed pilots; they'd lost too many in the battle with Anubis. 'Dismissed.'

He watched Sheppard leave and smiled at the thought of O'Neill and Sheppard in the same room. Maybe this assignment wouldn't be without entertainment after all.

o-O-o

Sam washed her hands and stared at her reflection in the mirror of the female washroom. Her eyes caught on the changed insignia pinned to her shoulders and her fingers brushed over one reverently. The oak leaf was familiar but the silver was new. It gleamed brightly under the bright artificial lights.

For a second her vision blurred. A flash of memory distorted her vision; silver blocks around her, cold and hard, unforgiving.

She jolted back to reality with a gasp.

It was a flashback; PTSD, Sam assured herself. Nothing more, nothing less. She'd had worse in the past; she could deal with it.

But what if it wasn't a flashback? Sam gazed at her mirror image; her white face, shocked blue eyes. She'd been promoted unexpectedly. The board wasn't scheduled for another month and the explanation that the President had brought it forward after their return with Thor because he wanted to award the SGC and its staff had made sense when Doctor Weir had explained it but made less sense now Sam was alone in the chilled air of the bathroom.

Maybe this was just another replicator induced reality. Something she would believe more than she had believed the farm in the middle of nowhere and Fifth masquerading as Pete.

Sam shivered and backed away from the mirror. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. This was real. Her promotion was real. Everything was real.

It was real because Jack had become a General and in doing so had made it abundantly clear that there was no them. Not that there had ever been a 'them.' The dream of 'them;' yes. And maybe once there had even been a possibility of 'them,' but that time was long past, Sam mused sadly. Jack becoming a General, becoming the commander of the SGC, had all but buried it.

She wanted to blame Jack but the truth was that she knew, had always known, that his duty came first, and taking up the leadership of the SGC had been vital in the wake of Hammond's departure and Weir's appointment to Project Atlantis. If Jack hadn't assumed command, who knew who would have been put in charge and even with Anubis gone, Earth still had enemies. She couldn't fault Jack for doing the right thing.

And then there was Pete.

She opened her eyes and frowned. She took a paper towel from the dispenser and wetted it under the tap, placing it against her flushed cheeks. She looked down rather than face herself in the mirror as she considered her relationship.

She had started dating Pete in a half-hearted attempt to move on from her feelings for Jack when it looked unlikely that her CO still cared more about her in the same way she cared about him. She knew Jack loved her as a friend and team-mate – that nothing would change that – but she had thought that was it on his side. She still did. There were moments, brief moments, where it looked like he might still love her more than as a friend, but those moments were so fleeting and so gone before they were really there that she figured they were nothing more than her own imagination, trying desperately to paint emotions in Jack's eyes and ascribe motivations to his actions that didn't apply.

At first, Pete had seemed everything she needed for a distraction; good looking, funny, and charming in his own way. He had made her feel wanted and attractive and she had considered more…and then Pete had confessed that he'd stalked her and for a long time she'd thought she wouldn't give him a second chance. But Sam had, and despite her lack of attention on anything other than saving Jack for the past month, Pete had stuck by her. He had even not pushed for anything more than a goodbye kiss when she'd told him goodbye yet she wasn't sure how much longer he'd be prepared to wait for them to resume sleeping together as they had done before he'd confessed to the stalking.

Sam sighed and threw the towel away. She had been to coffee with Pete the day before and had ended up in the ladies' bathroom hyperventilating. She couldn't shake the fact that Fifth had chosen to mimic Pete in the fantasy world he had created for her and when Pete had taken hold of her hand across the coffee table, had leaned in to kiss her, Sam had freaked out.

It had to stop, Sam told herself briskly. Maybe she should see someone. The last time SG1 had been tortured by human form replicators, Janet Fraiser had insisted on them all seeing Doctor Mackenzie, the base psychiatrist for a session. But Janet was dead and Anna Brightman, the new CMO, had accepted Sam's reply that if she needed to talk to someone she would.

Sam's lips twisted. Brightman was a good doctor but she lacked Janet's knowledge of SG1. Sam was torn between a hidden glee that she'd gotten away with something that Janet never would have allowed, and chagrin that Brightman was clearly trusting Sam to do the right thing. She felt disgruntled and missed Janet even more.

She rubbed the back of her neck. They were meeting Cassie later for dinner, to share their good news and catch up. Cassie was doing so well, Sam thought guiltily, despite all of SG1's absences.

Sam cast another look in the mirror, taking a deep breath as she prepared to head back out into the party. The bathroom door opened and Weir stepped in.

'Colonel.' Weir smiled at her warmly.

'Doctor Weir.' Sam replied, unable to stop the smile from spreading across her lips at the mention of her new rank.

'Please; call me Elizabeth.'

'Elizabeth.' Sam repeated politely.

Weir – Elizabeth smiled. 'Congratulations again.'

'It was definitely a surprise.' Sam murmured, recalling the moment.

Elizabeth looked at her sharply. 'I thought you knew you were in line…'

'Of course,' Sam interrupted, 'but the timing,' she waved a hand at the door as though that encapsulated what she meant, 'and, uh, before I left…' her voice trailed away rather than put into words what she had done: blackmailed Weir and her command into giving her the cargo ship so she could travel to the Asgard time dilation bubble in the hope of contacting Thor and saving Jack. She flushed at the memory even as her chin tilted upwards. She would do it again in a heartbeat but she'd returned fully expecting to have lost her promotion at the very least.

'Ah, that.' Elizabeth's eyes sparkled. 'When I spoke with the Pentagon, I may have given them the impression that it was I who wouldn't let you work on the cargo ship unless they let you try your plan first.'

Sam's mouth dropped open. 'You…'

'I was your boss.' Elizabeth said firmly, reaching over to touch Sam's arm. 'It was ultimately my call…my decision.' She dropped her hand. 'I believed you deserved the opportunity.'

'That's…' Sam couldn't think how to finish the sentence, her mind whirling. 'Wow.' She settled on finally.

Elizabeth grinned at her. 'Consider it a thank you for saving us all.'

'It should me be thanking you.' Sam said gratefully. She had no idea if Jack could have been saved if Elizabeth hadn't agreed to the mission. Not to mention Elizabeth had protected her from any career fallout over her demand for the cargo ship.

'I understand from the General that you're going tomorrow to the Academy hospital to give out the medals and promotions to the pilots there?' Elizabeth said.

'Yes.' Sam nodded enthusiastically. 'The General was adamant that they shouldn't miss out.'

'I agree with him.' Elizabeth motioned at her. 'I understand you went to the Academy with Colonel Mitchell? How's he doing?'

'The doctors managed to save his legs.' Sam told her. She'd played her part in helping, healing him with the Goa'uld hand device, but Cam had a long way to go in his recovery. He was barely lucid, slipping in and out of sleep.

Elizabeth hesitated and Sam wondered what she wanted to say. She gave her an encouraging look.

'I was going to ask if you were OK.' Elizabeth admitted. 'I read your report on the mission and…' she paused, obviously choosing her words with care, 'what you went through…I don't know how you're not, uh…'

'Having a mental breakdown on a farm in the middle of nowhere?' Sam joked with dark humour, amused but touched by the evident concern.

'That.' Elizabeth said with chagrin.

'It's not the first time I've had a human form replicator torture me,' Sam began, although her belly quivered with the words – the pain and horror of Fifth's sadism shooting through her again, 'it wasn't pleasant but…' she shrugged; she would move past her experience with Fifth, she would.

'I can't imagine going through something like that.' Elizabeth murmured, her eyes wide with compassion.

Sam hoped she never would, but she knew it was a possibility if Fifth found a way to make other human form replicators; if he attacked Earth. And why wouldn't he? He might have let her go but she didn't think it was because he had forgiven her for leaving him behind, for betraying his trust when she and SG1 had helped the Asgard trap the replicators in the time dilation bubble.

Elizabeth cleared her throat recapturing Sam's attention. 'I wish we could have gotten to know each other better, Colonel.'

'Me too.' Sam said fervently. In truth, Sam mused with regret, she hadn't made any effort to really get to know Elizabeth because she'd just been so caught up in the need to save Jack.

Elizabeth gave a sudden sly smile. 'Are you sure you don't want to come to Antarctica instead of Doctor McKay?'

Sam laughed and shook her head. She'd visit because she knew Daniel would talk Jack into it eventually but she had no desire to be posted there. 'Don't tell Rodney, but he is brilliant. He'll do a good job.' She bit her lip. 'Only don't tell him I said that and, uh, you might have to watch that he doesn't terrorise everyone else.'

'We've spoken.' Elizabeth noted dryly. 'Actually, I think he'll work out well. The IOC is certainly happy that he's not American.'

Sam was delighted it was Elizabeth having to deal with the new International Oversight Committee and not her. She frowned. 'The General mentioned you're flying via Washington?'

'Yes, to meet with the Committee, and to say goodbye to my mother and fiancé.' Elizabeth said, her hand straying to the necklace she wore.

Sam wondered if the fiancé had bought it for her. 'Congratulations.' Sam said warmly. 'I didn't realise you were engaged.'

'For a while.' Elizabeth smiled. 'Unfortunately between my work and Simon's as a surgeon we haven't quite managed to plan an actual wedding.'

Sam winced sympathetically; she guessed Elizabeth's time in Antarctica wasn't going to help with that. She straightened. She should probably let the other woman get on so she could leave and spend time with her loved ones. 'I'll let you…' she gestured back towards the stalls.

Elizabeth took a step past Sam but paused. 'If I don't see you before I leave, it's been an honour, Colonel.'

'Sam.' Sam smiled at Elizabeth's pleased face. 'And thank you; for everything.'

They exchanged another long look before Sam left the bathroom. She hovered in the corridor for a long moment, the chatter from the mess drifting out of the open doorway. She shook her head and turned away. She ended up on the infirmary floor, hovering outside what had been Janet's office. They had cleaned it out over the holidays; taken the small box of personal belongings to Cassie. The space had been turned into a generic consulting room with Brightman preferring to keep her own office further down the corridor.

Damn.

Her eyes darted along the corridor. Maybe she should go and see Brightman and ask for the psych session. That's what she should do; it was what Brightman was trusting Sam would do if she needed it.

But she didn't need to talk to someone professional, Sam thought tiredly. What she needed was to talk to Janet. Sam sighed and walked away. Yep; she was back to reality. Janet dead; Jack out of reach; and a boyfriend who she didn't even know she wanted anymore since he'd been mimicked by a human form replicator who thought he was in love with her.

She cast a final look over her shoulder at Janet's old office, grief stuttering through her again. Her fingers grazed over her insignia again. She was proud of her achievement, she was; she'd worked hard for it but…but maybe, Sam considered grimly, she really would go nuts and need a farm in the middle of nowhere one day.

o-O-o

'Thank you for taking the time to see me, Elizabeth.' Henry Hayes clasped her hand warmly.

Elizabeth restrained from pointing out that she could hardly refuse the President of the United States and tried instead not to look surreptitiously at the clock. She'd flown in late from Colorado the previous evening and had spent all day stuck in a meeting with the IOC representatives.  She was eager to get to the dinner she'd arranged with her mother and Simon.

'I won't keep you,' Hayes added, motioning for her to sit at one end of the stuffed and uncomfortable sofa in his office – the Oval office – before taking the other end himself. 'I couldn't let you go without telling you thank you in person.'

'There's no need, Mister President.' Elizabeth replied, although she was touched by his gesture and not immune to the charismatic smile he aimed in her direction.

'There's every need,' Hayes contradicted her, 'you did an outstanding job in an extraordinary situation in a position...'

'That I was totally unsuited and unqualified to perform.' Elizabeth completed without thinking. She blushed furiously at the President's sharp gaze.

'I appointed you to that position.' Hayes pointed out evenly.

'I apologise, Mister President,' Elizabeth hurried out diplomatically.

'No, don't apologise.' Hayes said quickly. 'You're right. Your appointment was politically motivated; I believed you were perfect to perform a review of the SGC and placate Kinsey's demands at the time – and I stand by that. But I didn't listen to the people who mattered about the threat assessment and, well…' he smiled at her again, self-deprecation in every lift of his lips and twinkle in his eyes, 'you ended up being in a position that I should never have put you in. I'd offer to let you punch me but I think my security detail would probably have a fit.'

Elizabeth smiled back at him. 'Yes, sir.'

'For what it's worth, Elizabeth, I meant what I said; you've done an incredible job.' Hayes added, leaning forward.

But he had moved quickly to take her out of the SGC when SG1 had returned surprisingly alive. She couldn't blame him. Elizabeth had known the moment they had discovered the Goa'uld plot to attack Earth again – as SG1 had warned they would do – that her days in charge of the SGC were numbered. The command was a frontline military defensive position. It needed someone military in charge of making the decisions there. Elizabeth despite her views on the military – views that had undergone something of a sea change with everything she'd seen and experienced in the past month or so – could see that. She hadn't been surprised when Hayes had offered her a different position. She wondered just how many of their allies had demanded that she be replaced; that Hammond was returned or O'Neill appointed. Again, she couldn't blame them; she felt better knowing O'Neill was guarding their galactic front door and not her.

'Thank you, but I couldn't have done it without SG1 and the rest of the SGC.' Elizabeth said, meaning every word. She wouldn't have let SG1 go to Taonas if it hadn't been for O'Neill pushing her to make a decision without Kinsey's input; wouldn't have handled the situation with the Goa'uld System Lords without Daniel beside her.

'You know I don't know how they've dealt with this crap for so long and not gone completely insane.' Hayes joked.

Elizabeth thought back to her conversation with Colonel Carter and silently agreed with him. She envied Carter's ability to move past the horrors she'd experienced when Elizabeth was still having nightmares about the attack by Anubis – the loss of life, the helplessness at her situation, the sudden knowledge of how close Earth was to alien invasion, being wiped out.

'Don't tell anyone but I sometimes wish I hadn't won the election.' Hayes confided in a stage whisper.

She laughed because the comment did what it intended and broke the serious atmosphere that had filled the space between them. But she didn't agree with him; she wouldn't exchange her knowledge for ignorance again. It was frightening but she would rather know the truth than naively accept stories about meteor showers.

'You are,' Hayes said changing the subject with a wave of his hand, 'imminently qualified for your new position.'

'I agree, sir.' Elizabeth said confidently. Project Atlantis was a dream project; international in both its governance and personnel; civilian led although the military would have a support and security presence. And the subject matter: the excavation of an Ancient outpost? The quest to find Atlantis and possibly even go there one day? Dream. Project.

Hayes grinned. 'Good to know.' He patted his tie. 'George tells me that the military advance teams are in place. Colonel Dixon is temporarily heading up the military support side and Colonel Edwards is in charge of engineering. I assume you've read their recent reports?'

'Yes, and I met Colonels Dixon and Edwards at the SGC.' Elizabeth said, nerves fluttering through her. The two men were very military but Dixon had been welcoming with a dry humour that Elizabeth had appreciated. She looked forward to working with him and getting to know Edwards better.

'You have to work with these guys so if you do have any problems, let George know.' Hayes advised. 'Well,' he stood up and she followed, 'I should let you get to the dinner you have arranged with your mother and Doctor Wallace. I've arranged a car for you and dinner is on me. It's not much of a thank you but; thank you.' He offered his hand. 'Good luck.'

She shook his hand firmly. 'Thank you, Mister President.'

It didn't take long for his aide to usher her out and into the waiting limo and Elizabeth was enjoying the meal with her mother and fiancé in an elegant Washington restaurant before too much time had passed. It was a good dinner; they spent time gossiping and exchanging news. Before too long, Elizabeth was hugging her mother goodbye, promising to keep in touch, and heading home with Simon.

She cuddled up to him in their bed; smoothing her fingers through his dark hair and kissing him softly. 'I'm going to miss you.'

'I'm going to miss you too.' Simon's arms tightened around her fractionally and she kissed him again. He shifted them so he could look at her fully. 'Elizabeth, are you sure this is the right thing for you?'

'I'm sure.' Elizabeth said immediately. 'I know I can't tell you very much but it's a fantastic opportunity and I can't turn it down.'

'Well, I guess not if the President himself asks.' Simon teased gently.

She laughed but she caught sight of something in his eyes and cupped his cheek, her thumb stroking over his jawline. 'What is it?'

Simon grimaced. He stroked her hair away from her face. 'I'm just wondering when we're going to find time to make us official; if that's still something you want.'

'Of course it is.' Elizabeth surged up, sending Simon backwards onto the pillows as she examined his serious face. 'I want to marry you, Simon.'

'And I want to marry you,' Simon said, 'but we can hardly do that if you're in Antarctica.'

There was silence because Elizabeth had no idea how to respond; Simon had given no previous indication he was unhappy with the time she spent away working.

Simon sighed heavily into the semi-darkness of the bedroom. 'You know I love you and support you in all you do?'

'I know.' Or at least, Elizabeth thought she did.

'I just…I'm ready.' He said, his hand slipping around her waist. 'I'm ready for what we talked about when we agreed to get engaged; you working at the UN or teaching; me at the hospital. Dinners together; weekends hiking with Sedge or maybe a romantic drive along the coast. A life together.' His fingers stroked underneath her sleep wear. 'I want that.'

'So do I.' She hastened to assure him. 'But this project, Simon…' she settled a hand on his chest and her eyes pleaded with him to understand, 'it's important and it's not about my career. It's bigger than that. I can't walk away from it.'

Simon considered her words and sighed again. 'I'm not asking you to give it up, Elizabeth. But I need to know that I'm not the only one planning a future here.'

'I know and you're not alone, I promise.' Elizabeth reached down and kissed him again. 'Give me a couple of months to get everything set-up there.' She suggested. 'I should have a clearer understanding of the time-frames and…and then we can talk about setting a date.'

'OK.' Simon nodded awkwardly. 'That's good enough for me.'

She kissed him and allowed herself to get lost in passion, in the remembered feel of him under her fingertips, on her lips, his hands gliding over her skin.

Finally, Simon was asleep beside her and she was left awake, staring at the ceiling. She tried hard to recall if Simon had given any indications before of being unhappy and couldn't find any beyond a few sharp remarks about the speed at which she'd ended up in Colorado. He'd accepted her explanation that she'd had very little choice and had seemed fine on their nightly phone calls while she'd been at the SGC; he'd even visited her one weekend, providing her with much needed comfort against the knowledge that the world had almost been invaded.

Elizabeth sighed and turned on her side to bury her face in the pillow. She could see Simon's point. They'd been engaged for two years and she knew her mother was disappointed that Elizabeth hadn't set a date. It was time to get married or…or what? Was she really contemplating leaving Simon? She loved him. She couldn't imagine her life without him. She shifted back around to look at him.

It was…her new knowledge, Elizabeth mused. Knowing that there had been a race of humans before them; that the origins of life on Earth were so different to what they were taught. It was the knowledge that the universe was large and that there was life out there in the galaxy; that her own life seemed so small and insignificant in comparison. That the work that she was about to embark on was important on a level that she had never contemplated before; could be meaningful in ways that she had never imagined. It was knowing that the Ancient outpost in Antarctica might lead to Atlantis itself.

It was like a new beginning.

She frowned and reached out a hand to entwine her fingers with Simon. Maybe she just needed some time to adjust; to integrate her new life with her old. She didn't want to lose Simon but there was a strong part of her that told her she needed to lead this project; that she would regret it if she walked away. Maybe she could ask for Simon to be given clearance so he could understand.

She sighed and closed her eyes. It was going to be a busy day travelling to Antarctica and she needed sleep.

Excitement bubbled up and washed her worries about her relationship away. She couldn't wait to get there…couldn't wait to get started.

o-O-o

She was not Samantha Carter.

Fifth called her by that name but from the first moment she drew breath, she knew she was not Major Samantha Carter, daughter of Jacob and Katherine, sister to Mark, mother to Cassandra, lover of Jack O'Neill, family to Daniel Jackson, Jonas Quinn and Teal'c.

The human woman in the memories Fifth gave to her was weak. She was a replicator, amused but disinterested in the emotions she knew kept the human woman tied in tangles. She would not be without power as Samantha Carter was content to be. Already she could see the path to it.

But she pretended. Fifth was a child, easy to placate, easy to betray. If Samantha Carter could do it, she certainly could. So she let Fifth call her by the name she knew was not her own and looked forward to the day when she would kill him; when she would kill Samantha Carter.

She smiled. She was not her.

Continued in Part II.



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