Sam saw the surprise in the faces of the officers of the Denver Police Department as SG-1 climbed out of the helicopter. It was only a brief glimpse, but, looking back, it was a portent of things to come.
“Colonel O’Neill.” The man who stepped out to greet them peered beyond them as the helicopter lifted away into the bright morning sky. “Uh... Is this all? I thought you were bringing your team with you...”
Behind Sam, Daniel coughed. Deliberately. She could just imagine the expression on his face as he did so, although she couldn’t see him as the Colonel answered, “This is my team. And you are?”
“Um... Senior Detective Steve Wallace.”
The Colonel nodded once. “Major Sam Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Murray Tilk,” he waved a hand at the three people standing behind him, and Sam gave the man a brief nod before the Colonel took his attention again. “I understand that Stambaugh has the building locked up tight?”
If the Senior Detective was surprised at Colonel O’Neill’s directness, it was only for a moment, as he indicated the waiting police cars that would take them to the scene. “Yeah. So far, he’s handled each of the standard operating procedures that we use for negotiations like these...”
“Including the SWAT team you sent in to deal with him?” Daniel asked. His question was innocuous, but Sam saw Detective Wallace stiffen slightly as he walked across the neatly mown grass to the waiting cars.
She shot Daniel a querying glance to which he lifted a shoulder in a shrug of perplexity.
Detective Wallace answered the question, though. “One man was shot dead, another three joined the hostages up in the building. We haven’t had any contact with them - one of the hostages threw their weapons and flak jackets off the balcony and into the street below. By that stage he was making demands...”
“And he asked for us?”
“Specifically for you and your team, Colonel.”
“No idea why?”
Detective Wallace turned at the two police cars that waited to take them into the city. “We were hoping you’d be able to tell us, Colonel.”
“Not I. Although a hostage list might help.” He pointed at the other car and the grim-faced police officer standing beside it, “Teal’c, Daniel, you’re with Mr. Cheerful over there; Carter and I are with Detective Wallace.”
Sam saw Daniel roll his eyes as he strode off alongside Teal’c towards the blue and white cars, and a hint of a smile touched her face at her friend’s exasperation. She wiped the smile clear as the Colonel turned to her and arched a brow, affecting her best ‘innocent’ look at him, and causing him to narrow his eyes at her. “Carter?”
He indicated their car. “Ladies first.”
Accustomed to the Colonel’s occasional gallantries, Sam didn’t think twice about sliding into the back seat of the car behind the driver’s wheel. She briefly greeted the officer who’d been sitting in the car - a junior officer judging by the youthfulness of his face - and glanced out the window at the sun beyond. Then the Colonel and Detective Wallace were inside, and they were pulling away from the kerb.
Detective Wallace turned around in his chair and handed a file to the Colonel. “That’s the brief of the situation, sir, what you need to know about it. Your companions are being handed the same in the other car. It includes a list of the hostages we suspect he took. From what we can tell, it’s less than eight people, but since he got the SWAT team, well...” He trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished. Sam got the feeling the Detective was a little disturbed by the fact that the SWATs hadn’t been able to deal with the situation.
The Colonel accepted his file and began flipping through it as Wallace handed Sam another file. “That’s the background we have on Michael Stambaugh - what we could access of it. A lot of his history is classified.” Sam could hear the question in his voice as he looked from her to the Colonel, subtly asking if the work they did was also classified.
“That would make it difficult,” she said, non-commitally, opening the file and browsing through the rather uninformative papers there.
Something in the quality of the silence on the other side of the car made her look up. She found the Colonel staring at the papers in his hand with disbelieving intensity before he ground out, “You’re sure that these are the hostages?”
“They’re the owners of the swipe cards who accessed the fifth floor this morning.” Wallace eyed the Colonel sharply. “I’m guessing you know one of the hostages then?”
In spite of the warm day outside, the Colonel’s expression was cold as the wintry storms that howled around the mountain in December. “You could say that.” He pointed to a name on the list.
Sam wasn’t able to see the name, but Detective Wallace obligingly read it out. “Sara Mulholland.”
There was only one Sara whom Sam had ever known was associated with the Colonel.
The streets around the building had been cordoned off, and the media was pretty heavy at the blocks.
“Everyone loves a good story,” the Colonel said, cynically, as a few enterprising reporters attempted to take photos of them inside the car.
“You have to admit, sir, it makes for news,” Sam observed, somewhat relieved he’d come out of the ominous mood that had gripped him since they’d discovered that Sara was one of the people in the building. “A decorated former Special Ops soldier holds a floor of office workers hostage.” She didn’t add, ‘And asks for one of his former colleagues, whose ex-wife is among the hostages he’s holding.’ The look the Colonel gave her indicated he knew the direction her thoughts had taken.
“Have I mentioned how much I hate the news, Carter?” He asked lightly. “So depressing. They never print anything uplifting in there.”
The tone was conversational, a relief from his introspective silence. Sam smiled faintly, recalling various discussions on various worlds. “What would you have them print, then, sir?”
“I dunno. Something that makes you laugh.”
“Mad Magazine jokes?”
She got a severe look for the nudge about his cartoon reading, but all he said was, “It’d be a start.”
The car stopped, and Sam glanced behind them, automatically checking that Teal’c and Daniel were behind them. The Colonel smirked as she caught him doing the same thing.
He knew her far too well. They all knew each other too well, Sam acknowledged wryly as she got out of the police vehicle.
For instance, the tension in the Colonel’s shoulders meant he was disturbed by something; probably the thought of Sara in the hands of one of his former colleagues. Daniel’s owlish blinking was a sure sign that he’d been surprised, possibly by the crowds of people around them. Teal’c’s swift, calculating survey of the area showed him ill at ease with the attention upon them and wary of an unexpected enemy that might present itself from among the multitude.
All her team-mates were slightly unnerved by the people staring, and Sam was right there alongside them. They were garnering a fair share of attention from the personnel around, clearly the odd ones out among the many police uniforms running about the building.
“Sam!” The voice came out of the crowd, and she turned with just enough time to glimpse the face of the man approaching her before she was greeted with a hug and a possessive kiss on the mouth. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be coming or not,” Detective Pete Shanahan told her, his arm still around her shoulders as he turned towards the command centre, his voice lowered so only she could hear.
“Why wouldn’t I?” She asked, forcing herself not to go rigid beneath his arm.
“It’s a hostage situation, Sam,” he said, surprised at her question.
Gently, trying not to be too obvious about it, Sam increased her pace to catch up with her team. “I thought the guy asked for the Colonel and his team,” she said, continuing to talk, even as she surreptitiously slid out from under his arm. The stares of the people around them had intensified, drawn by their obvious intimacy. Over by the roadblock, an older man was saying something to his companion with a smirk, and the second man’s eyes met hers for a split second before he looked away. She felt the flush start on her neck and ears and cursed her pale complexion.
Pete hadn’t done it deliberately, she reminded herself briskly. He was just...glad to see her. She hadn’t had much time for him lately, what with a really hectic work schedule. Oh, they’d started off calling each other every couple of days, which, in the last week, had only been once. And they’d talked a bit about what they’d do when they did catch up, but the actual getting together never happened.
In fact, their last date had been...nearly a month ago.
Pete hop-stepped to catch up with her, not apparently noticing her evasion, but cluey enough to sense that maybe this was not the best time to do reunions. “He did,” he said, answering her previous question as they approached the point where the rest of SG-1 was waiting for Sam. The guys nodded at Pete.
“Colonel, Dr. Jackson, Teal’c.”
Sam felt a bubble of laughter rise up in her chest. If it weren’t for the gravity of the situation, the rather polite meeting of the four men would have been comedic. But as another man came towards them with Detective Wallace at his heels, the urge to laugh died.
Tall, about Sam’s height, and bulky, the newcomer glanced over SG-1 with the cool, judging eye of someone who would not laugh in a grave situation. “Detective?” He addressed Pete. “You know Colonel O’Neill and his team?”
“Uh, yes, sir. Major Carter and I have a...personal acquaintance.”
Sam hid her wince, but her team-mates weren’t quite as tactful. Daniel’s expression went decidedly, ‘Oh boy!’ Teal’c raised an eyebrow. The Colonel raised both.
Being described in a way that effectively labelled her as Pete’s girlfriend was not exactly the kind of recommendation Sam wanted in the present situation. Among these men, the label of ‘girlfriend’ probably meant a woman who was a lot of things Sam was not.
The newcomer barely glanced at Sam, then turned to the Colonel, “Colonel O’Neill...”
“You have me at a disadvantage,” the Colonel interrupted, dryly. “I know Detective Shanahan, and I met Detective Wallace at the heliport, but you haven’t introduced yourself yet.”
“We’re just observing the niceties, Daniel,” the Colonel said, conversationally. But his eyes were hard on the man who looked up at him with a beady-eyed gaze. “I prefer working with people whose names I know. Makes it seem nicer than yelling ‘Hey you’ all the time.”
Daniel caught Sam’s gaze and flicked his eyes upwards in exasperation. It seemed Colonel O’Neill had decided to take exception to this man, for whatever reasons of his own. She tendered him a twitch of the lips before she looked back at the staring competition happening between the two men.
Unstoppable force meets immoveable object. On SG-1, the Colonel and Daniel usually filled those roles, although it really applied to any of them when they got on their hobby horse.
“Chief Vic Geraldton, Denver Police Department,” the man said at last.
“Pleased to meet you,” the Colonel declared. “You already know me, or at least of me. This is my team: Major Sam Carter, United States Air Force; Dr. Daniel Jackson, PhD; and Murray Tilk. I don’t leave home without ‘em.” He smiled pleasantly, but Sam could sense the teeth lurking beneath the surface of the smile. Colonel O’Neill was mildly riled and if the Chief was sensible, he’d see it was unwise to antagonise the Colonel further.
Cogs turned over in Chief Geraldton’s mind, plain enough to see. The Colonel’s inclusion of herself and Daniel as members of his team meant that the Chief could ignore them, but at his own peril. Colonel O’Neill had effectively drawn a line in the sand, saying ‘love me, love my team.’
The Chief didn’t seem inclined to protest just yet, although his expression was somewhat sour. “Pleased to meet you.” There was definitely ice there. “There’ve been some new developments in the situation since Detective Wallace went in to pick you up...”
“Yeah, we have some new developments for you, too.”
The Chief seemed a little more interested at that. “Such as?”
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” The Colonel’s expression was utterly straight, but there was more than one choke in the background. Luckily, his team was accustomed to the Colonel’s sense of humour, and Sam merely quirked a brief smile at the levity.
However, Chief Geraldton appeared unimpressed by the Colonel’s wit, and scowled a little. “Wait until we’re in the command building, Colonel.”
He started off without waiting for SG-1. After a quick look around at his team-mates, the Colonel followed.
They’d taken only a couple of steps towards the centre, when someone plucked at her sleeve. Pete smiled at her, and she summoned up a smile for him in return.
“I haven’t seen you in so long, Sam,” he murmured. Sam felt a little ashamed of her earlier shake-off. He didn’t know how sensitive she was about being patronised, although she’d hoped he might have picked it up in the months since they’d started dating. And it was good to see him again.
“It’s been a busy month,” she told him, thinking of all the developments at the SGC since Daniel’s realisation that Atlantis was accessible - just outside Earth’s galaxy cluster. Denied the opportunity to go to Atlantis with Dr. Weir’s team, Sam had been heading up workgroups, setting up the technology for the new base and trying to find the patience to work with McKay and not hit him over the head with a naquadah reactor every time he made some smarmy comment about how he was going and she wasn’t. Most nights she hadn’t even gotten home, let alone had time for her boyfriend.
Downtime was something other people had, and even when she’d had free time, she simply hadn’t felt like interacting with anyone - even Pete.
“So you kept telling me.” Was there an edge to his voice? Maybe she was just hearing things.
She glanced at him. He looked slightly peeved off. “So much stuff has been happening,” she began by way of explanation.
Sam couldn’t tell him everything. The clearance he’d been granted had allowed her to tell him about the existence of the Stargate and the Goa’uld, but without actually working on the project, he wasn’t authorised to know about every single thing that went on beneath the mountain.
And the expedition to Atlantis was very much top-classification material.
“Classified stuff,” she said.
His expression closed up. “It’s always classified stuff with you.” Since their first argument that morning, the matter of her work and its secrecy had come up more than once. Pete hated being left out of her work, but there was nothing Sam could do about it. Without the appropriate clearance, he wasn’t permitted to be told about anything current. She could make references in general, but nothing specific.
“My work is classified, Pete.” She kept her voice low, but as the Colonel glanced back at her, arching a brow, she met his gaze firmly. I can handle this, sir!
The Colonel lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug, and turned away.
“Maybe you should find a new job, then,” Pete said, shortly.
Sam bit back the retort that she liked this one.
This was a recent angle that had come up. Pete had suggested she leave the SGC; find another job that didn’t require such rigorous hours and such complete secrecy. Sam had laughed the first suggestion off, thinking it a joke. She’d ended up apologising profusely when he went into what she tried not to think of as a sulk.
She’d thought keeping up a relationship would be easier than this.
The small group reached the community centre across the road from the cordoned-off building, and their presence, flanked by the Police Chief, and two Detectives gained them easy entry into the building.
As SG-1 walked into the room, causing heads to turn and conversations to halt, Sam caught the slightly startled eye of a man in a black vest. He looked them over with cold grey eyes that narrowed a little as they approached. Sam glanced over herself and her team-mates and only then realised that they’d subconsciously fallen into ‘vanguard’ position. The Colonel was point, Teal’c was rearguard, and she and Daniel walked flank.
It was instinct more than conscious choice, years of practice contributing to the way she and Daniel both faced slightly outwards from the ‘centre’ of the formation. However, this man wasn’t to know that. The fleeting expression of astonishment was as satisfying as any adrenaline rush.
Her mouth quirked a little and, to stifle her amusement, Sam looked around at the people working on this situation and the technologies they’d brought with them. Even as someone who was more or less a bystander, it would be interesting to observe the way the Police and SWAT forces dealt with a hostage situation.
The people who usually used this centre would hardly have recognised the room. Oh, the posters had been left in place, talking about aged care and warning against domestic violence, but the rest of the hall was filled with uniformed men and women, and nearly as much equipment as Sam’s lab. The items they had were much less interesting than her own stuff, though.
And there were people everywhere. Most wore the uniform of the Denver Police Department, but another distinct group stood over in the centre of the room, by a large table covered with papers and weapons.
They were geared up in black, with their affiliation blazoned in white on their back. And even in the busy and rather crowded hall, the men and women in the blue uniforms were keeping a moderately wide berth around them.
Sam was reminded of the tagline of a movie: ‘Even cops call 911.’
“Interesting,” she heard Daniel mutter.
“Indeed.” Teal’c responded from behind them.
The man turned in his chair to regard them with narrowed eyes. “Chief.”
The Colonel turned a little in her direction and quirked a sardonic eyebrow. No love lost there.
Police Chief Geraldton waved a hand at SG-1. “Commander Andrews, this is Colonel O’Neill and his team.”
Heads turned, faces peered out from behind the fine lines of building blueprints and notepads of scribble paper.
Sam saw the way the gazes ran over each member of SG-1, and kept her expression carefully neutral as she saw more than one face look over her, insultingly slow, before glancing back at the guys. The question didn’t need to be spoken, but it was being asked anyway. I wonder which one of them she’s screwing...
Over sixteen years in the Air Force had taught her that men were going to think what they liked of her. The only chance she would be given to prove herself was in action. And even then, she could only change the minds of those who were willing to have their minds changed.
These men were closed as tight as the iris over the wormhole during an unscheduled off-world activation.
Beside her, Pete was bridling at the open scrutiny of her. Sam resisted the urge to reach out and reassure him that it was okay. He would have to deal with the gazes of other men on her in this setting. It wasn’t something that he could make go away.
If her team noticed the looks, they didn’t say anything to Sam, or indicate anything with their expressions. In fact, it seemed the Colonel was being very affable - for him - as he introduced them, “Major Sam Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Murray Tilk.”
Commander Andrews’ upper lip hid behind a bushy moustache, and his eyes were the hardened ones of a man who’d seen enough trouble to last him two lifetimes. “Colonel. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
“It’s always good to be noticed,” the Colonel said, presenting the easy-going, bantering personality behind which he hid the razor-sharp military commander. “So, what are these new developments Chief Geraldton was telling us about?”
His tone of voice might have been affable, but the response to the question was not. The men shifted a little in their places, looking rather more like kids caught in a prank than professionals in a debriefing.
It was a few seconds before Commander Andrews spoke, and his hesitation became clear after only a few sentences. “We had the opportunity to take back the floor without having to accede to Stambaugh’s demands,” he said, brusquely. “An hour ago, armed with the data we had from the first team’s attempt, the risk was judged acceptable to go in and take Stambaugh out...”
Police Chief Geraldton was not pleased, “The risk was judged acceptable to your division, Commander. Not to mine.”
The clear delineation between divisions was disconcerting - SWAT and the Police were usually in moderate harmony with each other - but not, apparently, in this precinct. Sam saw Daniel’s slight frown at the wording before he asked, “What happened?”
Both Police Chief and SWAT commander looked at Daniel, not a little surprised that someone - a civilian someone - had interrupted them. Then they looked to Colonel, who merely arched a brow, silently indicating that they should answer the question.
“They lost three more men.” The chief jerked a thumb at the commander.
For some reason, Sam was reminded of her nephew and niece, and the recriminations and finger-pointing that usually followed an upset. It was at once a surprisingly absurd image, and yet quite frighteningly accurate. There was definitely no love lost here.
“What do you mean by ‘lost’?” Daniel asked, sharply.
“They’re still alive.” That came from one of the SWAT guys, but Colonel O’Neill looked at Commander Andrews in disbelief.
“You gave him more hostages?”
“Believe it or not, they didn’t just stroll in there and hand themselves over,” Commander Andrews snapped, but his cheeks reddened at the implied rebuff.
“The guy had new stuff set up,” said a new voice, quiet and cutting in the midst of the angry men.
Sam focused on the speaker, a young man standing by the table with his finger on one of the notepads. A discarded pen angled away from his fingertips. Beneath his hand, scribbled diagrams ran spiderlike across the paper, and the notations were crisp, informative. She’d have to have a look at the diagrams later. Right now she had other things to worry about.
“New stuff such as what?” She wasn’t qualified to enter into headbutting competitions with the men; for one, she lacked the testosterone levels. She was qualified to ask about technology and infiltration techniques.
The guy who’d spoken was quite young, maybe in his mid-twenties, slim and lean with intent eyes. He was geared up in a flak jacket, but unlike the others, he was openly armed. He spoke now, quiet with the assurance that if people wanted to hear, they’d listen to him. “A force field.”
Sam felt the start of a tingling cold begin at her nape and slide down her spine like dry ice.
There were more than a couple of coughs from people around the room – not just the SWATs, but also the listening cops. There were no laughs from SG-1, though. Instead, the Colonel raised his eyebrows and tilted his head. “A force field?”
“That’s what I’d call it.”
“Can you describe it?” Sam asked.
The young man looked at her, then at his CO, then, when the commander nodded at him, looked back. The slight was unconscious, but Sam felt its sting, even as Commander Andrews gave his approval. “It wasn’t visible until Cap hit it. One minute he was moving, the next he’d hit something and fell back.”
“Something?” That was Daniel’s query.
“I don’t know what it was,” he said, simply. “It went blue – electric blue – and made a crackling noise. It looked like ice hanging in the air where he’d run into it. But when Cap fell back, it vanished.”
The Colonel frowned. “What happened then?”
“Mark and Jim went out to help Cap up, but as they did, I heard something rolling out at them, and then there was this flash of light...”
“Concussion grenade,” Colonel O’Neill muttered. He glanced at Sam, the kind of look that said, ‘We’re going to have to talk about this in private.’ But he turned back to the young officer. “Anything else?”
“Not that I saw.” There was an avidly intent expression on his face as he asked her, “Do you know what it was?”
Sam glanced at the Colonel, who shrugged. Her answer was truthful, but deliberately uninformative. “Yes.”
They waited for her further clarification. None came. As the silence grew, the SWAT commander’s expression grew incensed. Sam resisted the urge to tell more; they didn’t have the classification and she wasn’t authorised to tell them.
“My team and I will need to discuss this,” the Colonel said into the quiet. “Got a room we can use?”
“What the hell is this all about, O’Neill?” Commander Andrews was in no mood to be obstructed.
“This is about my team and I discussing this matter,” the Colonel replied coolly, before he pointed at one of the offices lining the far wall of the centre. “We’ll take that one.”
Less than a minute later, SG-1 was congregated in the glass-windowed office.
“I feel like one of my fish,” Daniel muttered as he sat down on the desk.
“Just don’t sit there and look like one,” the Colonel retorted. “Now, was it just me, or did this sound like a Goa’uld force field to anyone else?”
“It appears to be, O’Neill.”
“From the description... Yes.” And the implications of that were huge.
The Colonel pointed a long finger at Daniel. “Get hold of Paul Davis. Now.”
“Don’t argue with me, Daniel! Tell him we’ll need authorisation to take over this operation. Get him to take it as high as he can and run it down through the appropriate channels. I hate the bureaucracy, but they won’t accept it any other way.”
Daniel frowned. “Jack, are you sure you want to do this? I mean, the guys out there aren’t looking happy...”
“We’re not in this to make friends,” the Colonel said, firmly. “You want to be a bleeding heart, go right ahead. Just be a bleeding heart after you call Davis and let him know we have Goa’uld technology in the hands of a former Black Ops Colonel, okay?”
The dark-haired man rolled his eyes, but pulled out his cell phone and began dialling. “Carter...”
“As far as I know, nothing’s been reported missing, but...” There was no way of telling. After eight years, the inventories of technology acquired through the Stargate were huge, and impossible to track completely.
“Get hold of Coombs and ask. Get hold of Markov, too, and see if she knows anything. The breach isn’t necessarily ours.”
She nodded and pulled out her cell phone as the Colonel turned and began telling Teal’c to get hold of the layout of the building, and all the operation detail on this situation. SG-1 would need to be fully informed and up-to-date on the situation.
There was a peremptory knock on the door as the SWAT commander demanded entry into the room. The Colonel gave him an exasperated glance, and then signalled him to enter.
“O’Neill, what the hell is going on?” Behind him, in the larger room, the buzz and chatter had died down, the better to hear the conversation going on in the office.
Sam paused in the middle of a transfer through to the science department at the Area 51, as Daniel flipped his phone shut and glanced over at Colonel O’Neill. “Paul says we have a go. He’ll have the authorisation of the Pentagon in less than half an hour.”
The Colonel nodded once, then addressed the man who stood before him, trying to use his considerable physical bulk to intimidate the leaner man. “Commander, this operation is about to become the province of the United States Air Force.”
And the stunned silence that fell across the outer room was as eloquent as Commander Andrews’ angry retort.
“The hell you say!”
An hour later, the office was the only quiet place in the building, the door shut against the beehive of activity that represented the community hall outside.
Daniel had a bad feeling about this. And it was only getting worse.
Firstly, there was the fact that this guy had an axe to grind with Jack, and the implication that he knew about SG-1 and the SGC. Then there was the matter of just how he’d gotten hold of the Goa’uld technology. Finally, there was the jurisdictional storm brewing outside the office in the community hall as the SGC personnel moved their equipment into the hall, displacing both Police and SWAT as they did so.
SG-1 had taken over what looked to have been the office of the centre administrator. It was a far cry from the lap of luxury, but it afforded some measure of peace and privacy. Jack had taken one look at the office upon taking over the premises, and made the sardonic comment that someone certainly liked beige. The walls, chair, desk, and carpet were all varying shades of the colour, and the sole contrast in the room was the plastic plant that someone had put in the corner as a concession to the eyes.
The office wasn’t just the only quiet spot in the place; it was also the only place where no jurisdictional heads were presently being butted. And that was mostly because Jack had just shut the door in Shanahan’s face with a terse, “Classified,” as he tried to follow Sam in.
Shanahan wasn’t looking too pleased as he backed away from the room and joined his colleagues over by the windows. He seemed to be enduring some good-natured teasing by his fellow officers of the Police Force, accompanied by a few knowing smirks and elbows.
Inside the room, Jack was all business as he turned to Sam. “Carter?”
“No tech missing, sir,” Sam reported, briskly. “However, we don’t have a status on the remaining pieces of the mothership off Alaska.”
Jack frowned as he sat back down on the table, one leg hooked over the table leg, the other balanced down on the ground. “I thought we had someone monitoring those.”
“We did,” Sam said. “After being upstaged by Thor at the disclosure meeting eighteen months ago, Senator Kinsey was looking at any way to get back at the SGC Project. The funding for half a dozen research projects was cut, and the monitor station was one of the casualties. The General reinstated it as soon as he could, but there’s a two-month gap in the records.”
“We should have tossed Kinsey through the wormhole to the Aschen planet; him and his goddamned treaty...” The mutter was darkly vicious before Jack looked up. “Have you ever managed to get a force field working before, Carter?” It wasn’t an accusation, but she stiffened anyway.
“Okay, so if you couldn’t, how could he?”
Daniel personally felt that the primary question was more to do with exactly how Retired Colonel Michael Stambaugh had managed to get hold of Goa’uld technology. Michael Stambaugh had never been told about the Stargate program or the technology it produced. He should never have been able to get hold of force-shields - certainly he should never have been able to make them work.
He’d just opened his mouth to point this out to Jack, when the door was yanked open without ceremony. Paul Davis looked in, “Jack, you guys had better get out here. Stambaugh’s just called.”
Out in the main room, the atmosphere was tense with people waiting to hear the first confrontation between Michael Stambaugh and the man whose presence had been one of his demands.
“...I asked for Jack, is he here yet?” The words of the speaker were crisp and slightly irritated. Daniel was reminded of the way Jack spoke when issuing orders; with a brusque authority that expected to be obeyed - and obeyed right now.
One of the techs handed Jack something that looked like a really old cell phone, held together with duct tape.
“I’m here, Mike.”
“So good of you to turn up, Jack. Especially after I went to all the trouble of getting Sara here so we could have this talk.”
“If you wanted to catch up, you could have just called me up, you know,” Jack said. “Go out for a coffee, come around for a barbecue. That’s what most people do these days.”
“You always tried to live the normal life, didn’t you, Jack?” Stambaugh said, dryly. “Tried to pretend that you could ever be a normal guy after what they put us through. Remember Iraq?”
If there was one thing nearly guaranteed to get Jack, it was mentioning Iraq. Daniel wondered if Stambaugh had been one of the team that had left Jack behind, or if he’d just heard about it after the fact. The colonel’s face closed up, grim secrets hiding behind a suddenly neutral expression. His next words were barked into the mouthpiece, “I probably remember it better than you.”
“Mary cried every day for a month when I told her. She was inconsolable.”
If Jack had any idea of what was behind that non-sequitur, Daniel couldn’t see it. “Mike, where’s this going?”
“Still as impatient as ever, I see,” sighed the slightly tinny voice over the speakers. “I despaired of ever persuading you that there was a time for everything. Did you bring your team with you?”
“Lovely, bring them along. Dr. Jackson? Please speak up. We haven’t had the chance to meet.”
Daniel paused as he opened the folder Major Davis had just handed him – some psychological profiling on the man who was addressing him now. “It’s a pity it couldn’t be under better circumstances,” he said with complete sincerity and utter irony.
“And Major Carter?”
“Colonel Stambaugh,” Sam’s voice was strong and slightly disdainful. Daniel had no idea how she did it, but she could fit loads of emotion into something as small as an address. As a linguist, it was a delight and an amazement every time.
“It’s actually retired Colonel, but never mind, Major. You have no idea how much I’ve heard about you. And Teal’c?”
“I am here,” Teal’c said, quiet and solemn as ever.
“Jaffa kree! Rak hashak, shol’va kek olatakka kree!”
Teal’c regarded Jack with a raised eyebrow as the words rang through the room, their tonality subtly altered, as though through a voice harmonics program. Daniel jerked up from his perusal of the file as his mind automatically translated the Goa’uld. Jaffa, for your betrayal, you shall suffer a thousand deaths!
Well, that certainly changes things.
Jack had frozen where he stood, very still, staring into space. The next moment, his eyes glittered dangerously, and he lifted the phone to his mouth and ground out, “If you hurt her, you sonovabitch...”
“Believe me, Jack, Sara is not my goal,” Stambaugh said, once against speaking in a human voice. “I will have my pound of flesh of you in much more...effective ways than her.”
“So exactly what do you want?” And, now, Jack wasn’t talking to Stambaugh.
“That would be telling, O’Neill.”
With a click, the line went dead.
Jack never had patience for bureaucracy at the best of times. He was trained in practicalities, and so the pointlessness of red tape infuriated him. He endured it, but he didn’t like it.
With Sara in the hands of a Goa’uld, Jack’s temper was short. His team knew the signs and were doing their best to buffer the inevitable conflicts, but there were some things even they couldn’t do.
For starters, they didn’t have the authority to interact with the SWAT commander and the Denver Police Chief. That was Jack’s role and responsibility, and one he’d quite happily forgo given the opportunity.
He wasn’t given the opportunity.
“There are standard operating procedures for this situation,” Commander Andrews insisted.
“Including not antagonising the guy,” added Chief Geraldton, acidly.
Neither SWAT Commander nor Police Chief was particularly happy with Jack right now. At one level, he recognised this was less about him failing to following procedure, and more about protesting his assumption of their jurisdictional command. But he needed to establish one thing right now before everything went belly-up again.
“Your rules won’t work here,” Jack told them, bluntly. “Whatever SOPs you have to deal with situations like this won’t work on Stambaugh anymore.”
“How do you know that?”
Jack gritted his teeth. This was where things got inventive. “I have personal knowledge of Stambaugh, and I’ve seen his condition before.”
“Exactly where have you seen this before?”
“And what’s this about him having a ‘condition’ anyway?” Andrews was one step behind the Chief.
Jack wasn’t about to go against classification, but they needed to get the message that Stambaugh wasn’t going to react the way they’d expect him to. Not when he had a snake in the head. “Let’s just say that he’s not in his right mind anymore, and leave it at that, shall we?”
“There’s nothing about that in his record,” Andrews retorted. “How do you know he has a condition?”
“We know because of the technology he’s using,” a new voice interrupted, clear and authoritative. The men immediately turned to Carter as she paused just beyond Jack. In the background, Shanahan lurked, apparently unwilling to let Carter out of his sight for more than a few seconds. Jack glanced over the guy, then ignored him. He wasn’t a player in this show.
“Major Carter is our expert on all things technological,” Jack said, by way of repeat introduction.
“So you indicated,” the commander said, harshly. He regarded Carter in a manner that was insultingly dubious. “And you still haven’t explained the stuff my men encountered when they went in before.” From the sound of it, he was smarting from the silence on that point, too.
“I apologise, Commander,” Carter said, at her most uncompromisingly polite. “But neither you or your men are authorised to know the specifics of the technology.” The wide mouth was set in a pleasant line, but her manner was cool. “What your men encountered is both classified and highly experimental materials that are not without their operating risks.”
“And exactly what does this have to do with Stambaugh’s instability?”
Carter held herself casually, but she spoke with complete authority. Jack took a moment to admire and be proud of her, before he listened to her explanation. Knowing Carter, it would be a good explanation, and probably one that the SGC should put about to stem any rumours regarding the Goa’uld and Goa’uld technology. “The items he has use highly radioactive materials. If they’re not handled correctly, with proper precautions taken, then people in long-term close contact with the material tend to develop psychological imbalances.”
Perfect. It gave an explanation both for why Stambaugh couldn’t be treated like your average hostage-taker, and why the tech hadn’t been adapted out for more public use. Two birds with one stone.
“And you let him have this highly experimental and classified technology?”
Irritation overcame him and temporarily switched off his internal censors. “As a matter of fact we gave it to him for free,” Jack said sarcastically. “What do you think, Andrews? The man stole it.”
“And this means you can disregard protocol?”
“No,” Jack stated. He wondered how long it would take them to get it. “It means we use a new protocol that works, not ones that have already tried and failed.”
One of the SWAT men paused on the edge of the conversation, “Uh, sir?”
“Counter-measures have been initiated.”
Jack stomach felt as though it had just been sucked into a black hole, before disbelief and anger swept the sensation away. “Counter-measures?” Since the discovery of Stambaugh’s possession of Goa’uld technology, the operation had been handed over to USAF. That meant no actions should have been taken without Jack being informed and authorising it... If the bastard went over my head...
“You weren’t taking any action, Colonel, so I deemed it a necessary measure to get Stambaugh in the right frame of mind.” Andrews’ lofty tones made it clear he considered he’d been perfectly justified in his actions.
Count to ten and don’t tell him he’s an asshole. Just think it. “And you’re talking to me about following protocol?” Incensed, he managed to retain the barest of holds on his temper, and saw Carter’s mouth pinch. “Might I remind you that this operation is now under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force...”
“Under the jurisdiction of the Air Force? That’s a laugh!” Andrews sneered, his lip curling. “You haven’t done anything helpful since you arrived here!”
“And you sent in an extra six hostages for Stambaugh to play with!” Jack retorted. The SWAT personnel began to bristle. “I don’t call that ‘doing something helpful!’”
“Sir, this situation needs to be treated with caution given the delicate nature of Stambaugh’s state of mind...” Carter added her voice to Jack’s, more reasonable, but apparently even less welcome as Andrews turned on her with a snarl of anger.
“Major, your opinion was not asked for!”
“Perhaps not, sir, but your measures weren’t asked for either.” Jack felt a bit like smirking at Sam’s cool retort. He retained enough control over his facial expression to avoid open amusement, at least. “You’re using ‘standard operation procedure’ for a situation that is anything but standard...”
“It looks perfectly standard to me!”
“Looks can be deceiving, commander,” she replied. And there was an added bite to her voice that caused Jack to wonder whether the hostage situation was the only thing she was talking of.
Time enough to ask that later. Concentrate on the argument.
“Stambaugh isn’t stable right now,” Jack told them. “He won’t behave the way you expect him to behave, he won’t do the things you expect him to do...”
Outside, there was a shout and then a muffled thump; the sound of something heavy falling solidly to the ground. More cries - of horror - accompanied the thud, even as the trio of commanders burst out into the Colorado midday, Carter and others following them.
Jack’s eyes tracked around the street, seeking the source of the concern. He glimpsed Teal’c standing over to one side, but even as he took a step towards his friend, he spotted the crowd over on the grass.
A man lay in the middle of the circles of people, obviously dead. He was dressed in a SWAT uniform, sans flak jacket and accoutrements. Empty blue eyes stared up at the empty blue sky over his head, and his blood soaked the earth beneath his shattered body.
Commander Andrews had just received his response to switching off the power.
“What happened?” Jack demanded of an airman he recognised.
“He just fell, sir.” The young man looked revolted by the death before his eyes. Jack didn’t blame him. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The man’s crumpled cranium had jolted his features slightly out of place. The result was a corpse with a grotesquely twisted expression on its face.
Stambaugh’s Goa’uld was well and truly pissed off.
Jack looked upon the wreck of what had once been a human being and turned the young airman around, pushing him back towards the building. Best to leave the death to those who had stronger stomachs or were more accustomed to this kind of scene.
Trauma counselling would be required for more than a few people around here. Several bystanders, mostly police, were looking distinctly green. At least one was on his hands and knees throwing up in a nearby clump of bushes, and several others had turned away, their hands over their mouths as they fought to control their retching.
Jack grimaced and shaded his eyes as he looked up at the office building. If there was anyone watching their response, he couldn’t see anything against the reflective glass panels from which the building had been constructed. Sara was trapped inside, somewhere up there; trapped with a man who held a grudge against Jack and was willing to use her to get to him.
God, he hoped she was okay. It had been years since they’d seen each other, but he still thought about her every once in a while; occasional thoughts when something reminded him of her. It was never enough to get to the phone and actually call her, but he took some pleasure in the fonder recollections of their marriage.
She would be okay. Mike knew better than to piss Jack off.
“Colonel O’Neill!” Andrews’ strident voice carried clearly around the street. The man strode towards him, fuming with every step. “Were you expecting this?”
“This specifically?” Jack asked as he gestured at the dead body. “No.” He didn’t say ‘I told you so.’ He didn’t need to. “My people know how to deal with this, Andrews. If you want to keep getting your men killed, then just continue going on the way you have been. If you’d like to stop Stambaugh, then you’re going to need me and my people.” He paused as the SWAT commander struggled with giving up control of the situation. “You’re going to have to trust us.”
In some ways, he hated to have to make the point this way, but Andrews hadn’t listened so far - and he’d lost two men along the way. At least one of them could have been saved, especially after Jack had taken over the operation.
He jerked his head around, to where she stood among the onlookers. “Carter?”
A dozen rapid steps brought him to her side. She indicated the misshapen face of the dead man, beyond the shoulder of the personnel who were checking him over for injuries or signs of what Stambaugh had done to him.
It was the only sign of injury. Other than the smashed skeleton where he impacted the concrete, muttered a little voice inside his head. On the forehead, between his eyes, a roughly circular mark glowed up at the onlookers, burned red against the tan skin.
It was just the kind of mark that could be made by a Goa’uld with a ribbon device.
When Sara Mulholland came into work this morning, it had been just another weekday. An hour later, it was anything but ‘just another day.’
Now, around the time she would usually have been having lunch, she sat and watched Mike Stambaugh as he watched her.
He looked older than she remembered. Then again, she supposed with a hint of dry humour, she probably looked older than he remembered, too. Age was rarely kind to people after they turned thirty - and thirty was quite a number of years behind her now.
He looked harder, more bitter, though. She remembered hearing about his wife’s death a few years ago, with a touch of regret. In the wake of Charlie’s death and her subsequent separation and divorce from Jack, Sara had lost touch with a lot of friends who she’d known through the Air Force and Jack’s career. Now, those people seemed to come from a different time and place, a different life - one that she no longer lived.
She’d never imagined that she would look at him and see the face of her captor.
“It’s been several years,” she said in as conversational a tone as she could manage.
“Yes. You haven’t aged that much,” he told her, lightly.
“It’s nice of you to say so,” she responded, just as lightly. “Not so nice to be cooped up.”
“I know,” he said, smiling slightly. “But more necessary than you can know.”
Sara looked at him, “What do you want?”
His laugh was short and bitter. “What do I want? Too many things, Sara. Too many things that I will never have.” He paused. “And some that I will.” For a moment, she thought he might stop there, but he shrugged and continued. “I’m truly sorry to do this, but, if it’s any consolation, you’re just the bait and I don’t intend to hurt you.”
It wasn’t much of a consolation, at least not from Sara’s point of view. After all, she and six co-workers had spent the morning locked in a room full of office supplies. They’d heard gunfire before three living SWAT members and one dead one were dumped in with them. She’d spent a good half-hour after that comforting one of her panicking co-workers who was utterly convinced that they’d been herded in the storeroom to die.
Dying was definitely not on Sara’s list of things to do today.
The first set of SWATs had only been able to tell them that both SWAT and the Denver Police were doing something about the situation. The second set of SWATs had been more informative - at least to Sara. They’d told the hostages of Stambaugh’s demands: specifically, the one demanding the presence of Colonel Jack O’Neill of Cheyenne Mountain.
Jack O’Neill, whom Sara hadn’t seen in years. She thought of him from time to time, usually when something reminded her specifically of him, but otherwise... Their paths never crossed, and there was little reason for them to see each other
You’re just the bait...
“Why do you hate him?” She asked Mike, quietly.
He arched a brow at her, “You don’t know?”
The thick lip curled, “Perhaps you don’t at that. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you tell your wife...” He paused as the building lights went off around them and the air conditioning died. “Ah. It seems the SWAT commander has decided to follow standard procedure in hostage situations. Turn off the electricity and air-conditioning with it, make things uncomfortable for the captor and give him something to think about.” He smiled briefly at her, not unkindly, but certainly not nicely. “Shall we give them something to think about?”
Mike indicated the door, and Sara moved without protest, preceding him out of the office. She’d read somewhere that it was better to follow instructions of the captor when taken as a hostage. A person using violent force to achieve his means was probably mentally unstable. Outright denial of his demands would push such a person over the edge; and insanity was difficult to predict.
As she passed through the door, she heard him open a desk drawer and withdraw something metallic from it. She heard the scrape of the device against the table, something clattering with a slight metallic jingle; but while her curiosity was piqued, she didn’t look around. Then she heard his voice, calm and matter-of-fact. “To the storeroom. We’re going to collect one of our hostages.”
Sara wasn’t so sure about the ‘our’ part.
At the storeroom, she was instructed to open the door and call for the Captain of the first SWAT team. She hadn’t had a chance to speak to him before, and read his concern in the glance he gave her as he walked past. A quick nod reassured him that she was fine.
“Shut the door, Sara,” Mike told her.
As the door clicked shut behind her, she heard a crash and turned.
She wasn’t sure of what she’d expected to see. The SWAT Captain was collapsed against one of the office desks, his hand gripping the edges with white-knuckled intensity. By contrast, Michael Stambaugh looked as casual as a man about to choose his lunch. He walked across to the SWAT Captain, and held his left hand - encased in some kind of golden glove-like thing - over the man’s forehead.
Later, Sara was never sure quite what happened. There seemed to be some kind of light emitting from the palm of the glove. It was burning down onto the forehead of the hapless man, and yet, rather than push Mike’s hand away, the Captain was just staring up at the light as though hypnotised.
“What...?” She never got past the first word. Without even looking behind him, Mike’s other hand came up, pointing a gun at her.
“Shut up, Sara,” he said, and his tone was still dangerously conversational, even as the Captain collapsed back against the desk. His lids drooped heavily over his eyes, but he was still alive at least.
That changed very quickly.
“Open the balcony door,” Mike said, finally taking his eyes from the Captain and looking at Sara. “Nice and wide. And don’t step out onto the balcony - unless you care to take a long trip down...”
She obeyed him. A part of her was screaming at her to rebel, to disobey, to protest - to do something and not just follow his orders like a meek little idiot. But another part of her asked if she was ready to die, and she wasn’t. Not yet. So she opened the door, sliding it back and raising her eyes as far as she dared to see what was happening below. Somewhere down there, Jack was amidst the people congregating, working out the next move, how to get her and her co-workers free.
Something barrelled past her, out the door, nearly stumbling on the step. She had time for one moment of stunned realisation, and one inchoate cry of horror, and then the SWAT Captain vaulted over the edge of the balcony and was falling, falling, falling...
Her knuckles whitened on the cold, irregularly-shaped metal of the door handle, even before she heard the sickening thud of his landing.
“Shut the door, Sara,” Mike said beside her. His voice was gentle, as if he was talking to a child.
She shut the door on automatic. Her senses were numb, even as she heard the alarm and shock reverberate up from below, a cacophony of human horror at his defenestration. “You...”
He was removing the glove-like thing from his arm, and looked utterly unrepentant at her revulsion. “I am what they made me, Sara,” he told her calmly. “Just as Jack is what they made him.” He looked her in the eye. “And Jack has done as bad, if not worse in his time.”
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to believe that. Jack had never told her what he’d had to do during his missions. So she had never asked beyond what she needed to know to ease his state of mind. And she had to admit that the ignorance had made things easier on her.
“You know they won’t forgive you for that,” she managed.
“I know,” he said. “But Jack will rein them in.”
He was putting a lot of trust in Jack’s ability to placate the local law enforcement. Trust that Sara was not entirely sure was well-placed.
She pointed at the hand-glove device. “What’s that?”
He smiled, a hollow, empty smile, as his hand slipped into his jacket and brought out the gun again. “Nothing that concerns you,” he told her with soft menace. “And I think it’s time we had a talk with Jack.”
As Mike connected up to wherever Jack was, Sara watched him, trying to define what was bothering her about him. He moved differently now to the way he did in her memory, almost sinuous, with an arrogance that seemed a bit much - even for one of the men who’d worked with her husband.
The number was dialled and, a few moments later, he turned on the speakerphone. Jack’s drawl echoed through the empty room.
“...have a bunch of worried people here. They don’t know what you’re planning next.”
The sound of his voice made her heart skip a beat. Soft with pretended ease, tense with concern, it reminded her of over ten years of marriage and all the ups and downs therein. Sara Mulholland knew her ex-husband in all his moods and right now, he was worried and working hard to hide it.
“Of course they don’t, Jack,” Mike said, mild as a stranger in the street. “Telling you would spoil all the fun! Don’t worry. If they don’t escalate, I won’t escalate. Remind them that I know the way the game works and if they keep following the track they’re going, they won’t like where they end up.”
“Yeah, I told them that already.”
“I’m a little surprised you didn’t manage to hold them back earlier. Losing your charm?”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Mike, we’d like some assurance that the hostages are okay. Well, except for the one you tossed off the balcony ten minutes ago. Obviously he’s not okay.” Sara heard the bite of Jack’s irritation. With Mike? Maybe with someone else?
“Yeah, that was a bummer. But you know, he threw himself off.”
“Because people do that all the time.” The sarcasm dripped from Jack’s voice.
Mike looked at her, “No, really he did,” he said, and his very earnestness was just as mocking as Jack’s sarcasm. “Sara saw him jump, didn’t you, Sara?”
“Jack.” She didn’t know what to say. What did you say to your ex-husband when you hadn’t talked for years? “We’re all okay. The people up here, I mean. A little hungry, but we have bottled water that the SWAT guys figured would last us quite a while.” She felt like an idiot, rambling away, but she didn’t have any idea about what Michael wanted her to say. Her idea of what Jack needed to know was only slightly better, anyway.
“Okay, you’re all good. That’s good.” It warmed her a little to hear the relief in his voice. Even if they were no longer in love, it was somehow comforting to know that she still mattered to him in a personal way. “Stay okay, and it’ll be right. And tell Mike that the less people he kills, the more likely he’ll get out of this in one piece.”
Mike laughed, giving her no chance to answer him. “In one piece, Jack? Oh, that’s rich, truly rich! You and I both know that you can’t afford to let me ‘get out of this in one piece’ as you put it.”
There was a telling silence on the other end of the line before Jack answered. “We might be able to offer you some things in exchange for certain pieces of information...”
“How many butts did you have to kiss to get that kind of concession, Jack?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Quite probably not. Speaking of telling people, Jack, did you ever tell Sara about Mary?” Mike’s gaze fixed on her, dark eyes glittering oddly.
A frown appeared in his voice. “Depends exactly what you think I was supposed to tell her.”
“What about the affair you started with Mary back in ‘86?”
As Sara’s stomach turned leaden, her first instinct denial. Jack would never do that to her. But she was a military wife, and knew the liabilities of a husband who was far from home for many months of the year. She had heard of other wives dealing with their husband’s infidelities, but she had never been faced with it in Jack before. If he had used prostitutes, or seen other women while he was working overseas, he never mentioned them to her, or asked her forgiveness.
“It would have been difficult to tell her that,” Jack said, harshly, “Considering I never had an affair with Mary, then or ever.”
His assertion was comforting. Jack didn’t lie. He might not tell her the whole truth about himself and the work he did, but he didn’t lie.
“Mary said you did.”
“Then she lied.”
“Ah. So these would be the lies she wrote about in her diaries running back as far as ‘86?”
“I can’t speak for what she wrote in her diaries,” Jack retorted. “But I can speak for myself.”
“I’m sure you can, Jack. I’m sure you can.” Mike drawled, but his eyes were ice-cold. “Denial, as they say, is not merely a river in Egypt.” Sara tried not to shiver as he watched her; in that moment, they hardly seemed human.
“So this is revenge, then?”
Mike paused, “I prefer to think of it as justice.”
“To involve someone who isn’t a part of all this is justice? Exactly how do you figure that?”
“You know, Jack, you’re not doing a very good job as negotiator. You shouldn’t be aggravating me. I might throw more innocent SWATs off the balcony.” The innuendo of the world ‘innocent’ made it quite clear Stambaugh considered the SWATs about as innocent as mass murderers.
“And here I thought you said he jumped,” Jack said sharply.
“Not as stupid as you make yourself out to be, Colonel.”
“But stupid enough to aggravate you.” There was something in Jack’s voice that Sara couldn’t identify. She felt as thought the two men were holding a conversation over and above her head and she was just missing the point. “What do you really want, Stambaugh?”
“The world is not enough, Colonel. But it’s a perfect place to start.”
“Cute. If you think we’re going to let you...”
“Colonel, Colonel, Colonel,” Mike said, amusement in his voice as his hand hovered over the disconnect button of the phone. “Exactly how do you plan to stop me?” His hand descended and any reply Jack was going to make was cut off.
Sara stared at Mike. There had been a few seconds when he’d looked nothing like the man she used to know, strange and a stranger. Now he looked as usual.
The dark eyes stared at her with disconcerting intensity. “Are you afraid of me?”
“Should I be?”
“Tau’ri bravado,” he said, or something that sounded like that. “You always try to make yourself more than what you are.” As she looked at him in blank incomprehension, an expression of regretful finality crossed his face. “I think it’s time you went back into the storeroom.”
As he shut the door on her and her fellow captives, she watched. And saw his eyes flash an eerie gold in the second before the door closed.
But what that meant, she didn’t know.
“Hey, Shanahan, what’s the deal with your girlfriend and her crew?”
The question was soft and low, pitched to be inaudible to humans standing beyond a six yard range.
Teal’c was not human.
Without his primta, some of Teal’c’s skills and abilities had remained, while others had fallen aside. He had learned to compensate for what he no longer had so as not to be a burden on his friends. And his hearing was still excellent.
As he stood out in the sun, perfectly still beneath the summer sky, Teal’c turned his bandanna-covered head slowly to the sky, angling his ear so he could better hear the conversation. He was not above eavesdropping where he considered it necessary, and since the matter pertained to his team, he saw no reason to make his awareness of the conversation known to the speakers.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you should,” said the first voice, peevishly. “They weren’t even called in to look after the problem in the first place. They were supposed to advise on Stambaugh and his background - and the next minute they’re running this op.”
“It’s bad enough that we had SWAT all over this,” grumbled a second voice. “But at least they don’t keep secrets like these guys.”
Teal’c was very much aware of the disgruntlement of both SWAT and Police Department regarding the manner in which O’Neill had taken over the operations. He had overheard various comments throughout the morning, brief comments of irritation, sneering or annoyance.
Detective Shanahan became defensive, “Look, they work on a classified project...”
“Yeah. Classified against plebs like us,” said the second voice with no small amount of resentment. “C’mon, Pete. You’re sleeping with the chick, right? She doesn’t tell you anything?”
“I’m not authorised to know about the work she does.”
It appeared that Detective Shanahan had learned some form of discretion since his ill-advised attempt to follow Major Carter around in pursuit of the knowledge of what she did. O’Neill had been informed of the attempt via sources at the NID, and he had passed the information on to Teal’c with the injunction to keep his eyes open in case Detective Shanahan caused further trouble for the SGC. So far, there had been no trouble that Teal’c had discerned; however it was quite clear that Shanahan still smarted from the knowledge that he was not privy to the full secrets of the SGC.
“Right. What they really mean by ‘you’re not authorised’ is, ‘you’re not worthy to be informed of what we’re worthy to be informed of.’”
“Yep. Besides, how do we really know what’s going on? I mean, this whole ‘experimental technology’ thing? Does it sound like a cover-up or what?”
“And your girlfriend? I mean, no offence, man, but...she’s hot.”
“Yeah. Have you seen the way that O’Neill looks at her?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Pete, use your big head to think for a minute, will you? The SWAT guys figure they’re screwing - and these guys know body language.”
“They don’t have a lot of personal space around each other,” said the second voice, almost apologetically.
“Yeah, didn’t she shrug you off this morning, Shanahan?”
Silence. Teal’c risked a glance in the direction from which the voices were coming, and spotted Shanahan in the throes of a strong emotion. Anger, perhaps. It was little surprise, considering the provocation of his colleagues. The emotion was acceptable, however the expression of it was what concerned Teal’c. He did not consider Detective Shanahan to be a particularly self-controlled man.
“That was different,” came the answer, but slowly and reluctantly. “She said she had her professional standing to think of...”
“Yeah. Sure. Professional standing? If you ask any of the Air Force personnel about the deal with O’Neill and her, they all hedge away from the subject. And the ones that will say anything all say that the two have ‘the highest respect’ for each other, but ask them anything more and they clam.”
“Okay,” Detective Shanahan interrupted. “Do you mind? This is my girlfriend you’re talking about. Yeah, she and O’Neill are friends. They’ve worked together for seven years...”
“Seven years working with that body and not jump her?” The first speaker sniggered. “Sorry, man, but don’t let the pretty face fool you. It’s the lookers that screw you up, because they know they can.”
“Winters, if you go any further, you’ll get a faceful of my fist.”
“Easy, man, I’m just telling you...”
“And I’m just telling you to shut up.”
There was a moment when Teal’c thought that a fight would break out over the matter, before the second man spoke again. This time, his tones were conciliatory. “Look, Shanahan, I’m not saying the girl is cheating on you, but at the least you should get her to tell you about the real deal of what’s going with the hostage situation. Because we’ve been fed enough bullshit to make a mushroom choke.”
Teal’c wondered how many other personnel present at the site felt the same incredulity as the two police officers; both regarding the situation and regarding O’Neill and Samantha Carter’s relationship. He wondered what the officers would do if he went over to them and informed them that he had overheard their conversation. It would be most interesting to witness their responses.
However, he did had neither the time, nor the inclination to act in such a manner at this moment.
O’Neill had been called back into the community centre by the Goa’uld’s second call, and many of the officers had followed him to hear what was to be said. Only the emergency medical teams remained on the street to collect and clean up the body of the SWAT officer who had died.
Instinctively, Teal’c knew the Goa’uld had striven to make a point; to show that it was ruthless and would not relent for anything or anyone. It did not expect mercy from the Tau’ri who besieged it, and it would not grant it to the Tau’ri it held in its grasp. Mercy was not a Goa’uld concept.
“...accused O’Neill of screwing with his wife.” A third voice added itself to the three police officers who had been speaking before.
It took much of Teal’c’s self-control not to turn and show he was listening. He did, however, shift slightly, the better to hear the nasal resonance of the speaker who was regaling his associates with the story.
“...the wife apparently kept diaries that detailed her affair with O’Neill...”
“Told you he was a dog,” said the first voice with knowledgeable satisfaction.
“Hey, I’m just saying...”
“We know what you’re just saying,” Detective Shanahan snapped. “Already heard it.”
“Hey, I’m not suggesting that your girlfriend’s cheating on you...”
“Oh really? Because it sounded like it to me.”
“...I’m just suggesting that it wouldn’t do to be too trusting of her around him. Isla from communications was nearly slavering when sat down and asked her about the communications security.”
“Isla’s married, isn’t she?”
“Well, she says she is. So if he has the happily married ones drooling over him...”
The conversation broke off as the doors opened and O’Neill strode out, his expression like a thundercloud, with the glint of dangerous lightning. Teal’c caught sight of Daniel Jackson briefly framed in the doorway before someone’s hand came down on his shoulder, restraining him. The doors swung shut, cutting off all sight within.
O’Neill carefully avoided any personnel, sitting down amidst a set of children’s equipment, his head in his hands.
Teal’c considered going to speak with his friend but, in the end, chose to leave him in the children’s playground alone. There was nothing Teal’c could say to appease his friend. In holding back Daniel Jackson, someone else had recognised that O’Neill would not appreciate his company at this time.
“I wonder if it’s true,” muttered the newest addition to the quartet.
“She wrote it in her diary,” noted one of the others.
“I dunno. He doesn’t seem like the type...”
“Is that a touch of wishful thinking I’m hearing, Shanahan?”
Someone else sniggered. “It may very well be. Look who’s just come out of the centre.”
Major Carter’s blonde head was distinctive as she walked out the doors of the community centre. She glanced around, her gaze flickering over the groups of people when she spotted Teal’c. “Teal’c.”
“Major Carter.” Teal’c glanced beyond her to the distant playground where O’Neill sat. “You are certain you wish to go after O’Neill?”
Her eyes flickered towards the playground, but she didn’t move from her spot. “I know where he’s coming from,” she said with a shrug of ruefulness. She didn’t ask him how he knew what she was referring to; the assumption of understanding was implicit.
“Your standing has not been damaged among the personnel of the SGC. Neither will his.”
Major Carter’s smile was weary. “I don’t know about that, Teal’c. Sleeping your way up the promotions ladder might be considered marginally better than adultery. Or maybe worse.”
Teal’c’s eyes narrowed. He had heard the rumours from the police officers, but he had not realised they had gone beyond mere talk. “Has someone offered you insult, Major Carter?”
She shook her head. “Not quite, Teal’c. Just...” She glanced around. “I think I’m just feeling a little...paranoid.”
No good would come of telling her that her paranoia was justified. Samantha Carter was sensitive to rumours, even if she tried not to let them stick. As Teal’c knew well, damaging rumours could effectively stall an officer’s career, and there was little way to counter such lies. “It is a difficult situation, Major Carter.”
She flashed him a brief smile. “And the Colonel’s having a bad day of it.”
“Indeed.” Teal’c inclined his head to her. “O’Neill will welcome your presence.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she dismissed, and lightly changed the topic to more serious matters. “Teal’c, I’ve reached the limit of the information I can gather about the technology Stambaugh’s got. But I have a feeling the Colonel is going want us to go in there shortly, so we’ll need a plan for getting in. I’d do it myself, but...” She indicated O’Neill’s hunched form over in the playground.
“I shall endeavour to find us a way, Major Carter.”
“Thanks, Teal’c.” She looked over at the man who was sitting in one of the swings, facing away from them so he didn’t have to see their expressions. “I’m not even sure I want to approach this...”
Aware that she was seeking approval or censure of her actions, Teal’c gave what little he could without effusion. “O’Neill will listen to you, Samantha Carter.”
Her appreciation of his encouragement was no more than the briefest of smiles, but it lit up her face. And Teal’c was pleased to have boosted her self-confidence just a little. “Thanks, Teal’c.” Her hand brushed by his arm, a brief touch of approbation before she walked off in the direction of the playground, the sunlight glinting across the gold highlights of her hair.
“Not even a second glance.” The first voice murmured.
“Shut up, Winters.”
Shanahan’s companions watched him stalk off, in the opposite direction to O’Neill and Major Carter, and Teal’c heard someone ask something that sounded much like, “What’s that about?”
He did not stay to hear any more.
Detective Shanahan would bear careful watching in the future, particularly after the rumours spread about by his colleagues. Teal’c would not interfere on the basis of rumour and uncertainty, but he would observe and watch; and if his observations warranted action, then he would act.
In the meantime, Major Carter had charged him with a task that he must undertake. From his study of the blueprints and the previous paths attempted by the SWAT teams, Teal’c had observed several possible points of entry for SG-1.
There was sense in SG-1 going in to confront Stambaugh. They could not afford the Goa’uld to escape, after all.
With one last glance at his team-mates, Teal’c strode towards the community centre.
Sam was aware that Pete was standing outside with a bunch of his friends from work. But she had things to do, people to see, Colonels to speak with. Then, too, Sam wasn’t sure she wanted to walk over to what looked very much like a ‘boys club’ and just push in. And she didn’t like the way one of them was eyeing her off.
So she carefully didn’t meet Pete’s eyes and approached the Colonel instead.
When she was nine, Sam had brought home a kitten from school, and wanted to be allowed to keep it. She’d spent the afternoon gaining the trust of the bedraggled stray, trying to lure it with food and pettings, until it nestled snugly in her lap and purred.
As she approached Colonel O’Neill now, Sam wondered why she was reminded of how she’d approached the tiny tabby kitten - with slow, smooth steps to get the creature accustomed to her presence, not rushing in and trying to scoop it up.
She sat down in the next swing over from him, facing in the opposite direction. It gave her a view of the street beyond the community centre, and the Police cordon that was still in place around these blocks of the building. It also meant that a certain distance could be maintained between them, without the intimacy implied of them facing in the same direction. And it was practical; Sam could see through one hundred eighty degrees that the Colonel couldn’t, while he could see through the arc of the half-circle she couldn’t.
Another instinctive military gesture, done without conscious thought.
“So you’re the sacrificial lamb, then?”
“No, sir. I came out to see how you were doing.”
“About as well as can be expected for a man who’s just been accused of adultery in public, Carter.” He was in a dark mood at this moment, and Sam briefly wished she’d never come out at all.
She’d held Daniel back as he went after the Colonel. Partly because she sensed that the Colonel wasn’t in a mood to be interrupted, and partly because she knew the Colonel wasn’t in a mood to be interrupted by Daniel.
It had been a stressful day for all of them, but especially for him.
And Sam had thought she knew how he felt; his integrity being cast into doubt by nothing more than rumours. She’d been struggling against the same thing all day.
She’d thought she would be able to sympathise.
“Carter, I’m not a saint.” The words broke through the heat of the summer afternoon.
“I know, sir.” After eight years, she was under no illusions about the man who sat beside her, his elbows resting loosely on his knees. She’d seen him in the best of circumstances, and the worst of circumstances. And if his history wasn’t an open book to her, any more than the man was, at least she knew what he was capable of.
That had never stopped her from respecting him.
“I never touched her.” He looked over at her, dark eyes troubled. “I never had an affair with her.”
“I believe you, sir.” Sam paused. Maybe it wasn’t her belief he needed. “You’re worried that Sara might believe him.”
“I guess it’s a woman’s worst nightmare,” he said, quietly. “Your husband cheating on you with one of your friends.” His eyes hadn’t left her since he started talking, and Sam shifted, more than a little uncomfortable with the intensity in his gaze. To hide her own discomfort, she looked away, beyond him.
“Were you friends with them?”
He shrugged and looked away; stared out across the grass while she watched his profile. “You hang out with the people who know what you do, because that’s what most people talk about. There isn’t time to meet people outside of work, so they become your social group. And the other women knew what Sara was going through, because they’d been through the same thing.”
Sam knew the deal. She’d seen it in her own parents. Most of her mom’s friends had been military wives. She mentioned this and he smiled, half-ruefully.
“It can get lonely working in classified projects,” he said. “You know that. You can’t share what’s going on, can’t spread the burden because they’re not allowed to know - and you don’t want them to know what you do for a living.” He grimaced. “So you keep that part of yourself separate from them, and you deal.”
The dealing didn’t always work. Sam knew that from her own painful experience. And she could see the ‘dealing’ taking on other forms, including extramarital affairs and infidelities. She’d never asked her Dad that question. There were some things a child didn’t need to know about their father.
She’d never asked the Colonel that question either. It was none of her business after all, and she’d never made it her business to know. Even now, after the accusations had been levelled at him, in some ways it didn’t really matter whether or not he’d had an affair with Mary Stambaugh back then. In the end, she still trusted him to lead her one their missions and she still trusted him to get his whole team out.
“This doesn’t change anything.” He turned to look at her then, piercing through the reserve she kept there, and she didn’t dissemble before him, letting him see all the respect and appreciation and care she had for him. The seven years between them were about trust and faith and belief, and things that were somehow more than merely ‘love’ or ‘attraction’ - although, if she was honest with herself, then those things were there, too.
In some ways, the accusations from SWAT didn’t go far enough. No, she wasn’t sleeping with the Colonel, but her team came first, and not even Pete had changed in that. In the meantime, she wasn’t going to shun the Colonel. People were going to believe what they wanted to believe. They would say what they wanted to say. They would do what they were going to do. And maybe a part of Sam had finally accepted that the people who knew her and respected her were going to do that anyway, regardless of the rumours.
The accusations from SWAT didn’t change anything. Nor did the accusations from Stambaugh. Not for her. Not for Teal’c. Not for Daniel.
And not for Sara, either. Which was the reassurance he wanted, she admitted with a slight, foolish pang of jealousy.
“She knew you, sir,” she said at last. It seemed as though he was waiting for her response, and it was the only one she had to give. “She married you and lived with you for over ten years. No, she didn’t know the specifics of what you did, but she must have had an idea. And she loved you anyway.”
He appeared amused by her certainty. “You’re pretty sure about that, Carter.”
It was her turn to shrug a little. “I know you.” She left the honorific off; her way of personalising the conversation. But good humour and absolute correctness forced her to add, “At least, I like to think I do...”
The glimmer of a smile touched his face, softening the otherwise spare features. “Thanks. I think.”
His breath huffed out, and when he inhaled again, there was the slightest of changes about his demeanour. The talk had helped him work through his mood and now he was out again and through to the other side, ready to deal with the situation at hand.
“We’re going to have to go in.”
She’d known that from the instant it became clear that Michael Stambaugh possessed Goa’uld technology. “Teal’c went back to look at possible entry points,” Sam offered. “I told him to come up with a plan.”
The Colonel arched a brow, “You told him?”
He leaned back in the swing, strong hands holding onto the side chains, maintaining his balance as he crossed long legs at the ankle with a smirk. “Reading my mind again, Carter?”
“It’s what a 2IC does.” And after seven years she knew him well enough to guess where his mind was heading, particularly when it came to operational situations. It had proved one of SG-1’s advantages against enemies, both human and alien.
“Correction,” he said with open appreciation. “It’s what good 2ICs do.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” There was a warmth inside her, starting deep in her belly and spreading through her body with pleasurable assurance. “We do our best.”
“I.” Sam smiled ruefully at her unconscious assumption of the plural. “Also, I spoke with Drs Lee and Myers about ways to protect against Stambaugh’s weapons.”
“Not really, sir. Only the flak jacket inserts, although they’re developing a neural pad to be worn over the skin that should absorb the electrical charge of a zat blast...”
He held up one hand as she began to enthuse about the topic, and Sam’s mouth curved as she stopped ‘technobabbling’ to him. “Are they prototypes or working models?”
“Still in testing phase, sir. Sorry.”
“Helpful. Although all the protection in the world isn’t going to help us if we can’t get through those shields.” He eyed her hopefully.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a way to get us through the force shields, sir.”
“But you have ideas, right?”
Her smile was rueful, “What do you think, sir?”
Warm humour glimmered in dark eyes, “I think you do, Carter. And I think we’ll definitely be needing them. We might be going in mostly blind, but at least we won’t be as bad as the idiots from SWAT.”
Sam added her rejoinder against the SWAT personnel, but silently. There was no need for the Colonel to know about the accusations and rumours that were being levelled against her - against them.
“Are we going to take it alive?”
“If we can. If we can’t, then we can’t. One more to dissect.” O’Neill grimaced. “I’d feel better about this if the thing wasn’t trying so damn hard to behave like Mike would. If Mike was crazy, insane, and paranoid,” he added.
Sam bit back a smile. It was a serious thing, for all that her humour was tickled. “As long as SWAT and the police believe it’s human, it knows there’ll be jurisdictional issues down here.”
“You’re giving the Goa’uld a lot of credit, Carter.”
“I don’t know, sir. It might be that we’re not giving it enough credit. The Goa’uld wants SG-1 - it made a point of asking and introducing itself to us. But the host wants you. And the best way to do that is to put you offside, to disconcert you.”
“And you think it’s doing that?”
Sam lifted one shoulder, “It’s just a theory.”
“Your theories usually turn out to be correct, if I recall.”
“But not always,” Sam countered.
“If you were right all the time, you’d get fatheaded,” the Colonel responded, easily. “Like Daniel. Although he’s not right all the time and he still gets fatheaded sometimes.”
She resisted the urge to laugh this time, and changed the topic adroitly. “When are we going in?”
He sensed the change in mood and slowly rose to his feet. “Now seems like a good time. Coming?”
Sam climbed to her feet, and followed him across the short stretch of playground sand to the path. She ignored the stares and arched brows of the people who watched them walk, their steps matching with practised ease, even as she felt the starting twinges of self-consciousness take hold of her. But she met the gazes of the people who were watching her and the Colonel, challenging them with her cool, blank expression. Let them think what they wanted about her relationship with the Colonel. They were wrong.
As they approached the community centre, he murmured, “You’re doing fine, Carter.”
She glanced up at him, startled by the non-sequitor. “Sir?”
“Nothing.” But the frank respect and affection of his gaze warmed her to the core of her being as he held the door open for her to precede him.
It was one thing to say, “We’re going in now,” and quite another to actually go in, now.
Especially when you had a bunch of pissed-off SWAT and Police officers bitching about risking lives and not knowing the dangers of the situation. Jack nearly lost his temper when Andrews made the veiled suggestion that Jack was taking this personally because of Stambaugh’s accusations regarding Mary Stambaugh and the affair Jack had with her.
Personally, Jack felt Chief Geraldton should have talked to Commander Andrews about ‘taking it personally.’ The man had the balls to suggest that Jack take SWAT personnel with him.
Jack flatly refused. For one, he didn’t need a bunch of vengeful testosterone-soaked guys bumbling around, giving their presence away. For two, Mike Stambaugh’s Goa’uld - and the body it rode in on - was Jack’s responsibility. SWAT couldn’t deal with it - they’d never had to deal with it. This was Jack’s area of knowledge, and he’d be damned if he left it to someone else to take care of.
Thank God for Davis.
While his team prepared their equipment, with the assistance of the SGC personnel, Jack and Major Davis slowly shot down the objections of SWAT Commander and Police Chief with some beautiful arguments, if Jack did say so himself.
“Sir, this is a classified operation,” Davis was repeating. “Your men are not adequately equipped to deal with a situation of this magnitude...”
“And Major Carter is?” The innuendo was plain enough.
Jack saw Carter freeze, halfway across the room. He saw Daniel beside her, wincing. He saw Teal’c stiffen as though someone had just tendered him a deadly insult. And he saw Shanahan’s head turn from where he was standing, apparently studying some report, but just close enough to overhear the conversation.
Someone in the room coughed, and Major Davis glanced nervously at Jack.
Jack was busy holding onto his temper, because he’d seen the questions in the eyes of the men around him all morning. Every time he mentioned Carter, every time she brought him a new report, every time someone around him mentioned her name to Jack, he’d seen the speculation in their eyes, the immediate assumption that the only reason she was on his team was because she was a good fuck.
There was a certain irony that the only man in the room who could say for sure how good Carter was in bed was among those wondering.
“Major Carter is a fully-trained Air Force officer,” Major Davis said, his voice taking on a dangerously quiet note.
“O’Neill here said she was a technological specialist.” Andrews sneered. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of person suitable to go up into a building to rescue a bunch of hostages.”
“Then it’s a good thing that I’m the one in charge of this intrusion and not you,” Jack said, not bothering to hide his anger or disgust. “But I’m not so stupid as to try something that’s only going to fail. You’ve lost another man because you thought you knew best, Andrews. Do you want the blood of all your men on your hands?”
It was a low blow, reminding Andrews of the man that Stambaugh had tossed off the balcony. But Jack knew he needed Carter up there to solve any problems they came across, and they would definitely have problems. He and Teal’c were the muscle and military experience, but Carter and Daniel were the brains and the knowledge. And in this situation, they needed the brains and knowledge as much as the brawn, if not more.
“So, Commander,” Jack said, watching Andrews go beet-red. “Am I to be allowed to choose my own insertion team, or do my colleagues and I walk out of here and send Major Davis here to explain to the Pentagon that a SWAT commander chose to obstruct the directive handed down from the Joint Chiefs?”
He’d spoken loud enough for the whole room to hear, so there could be no backing down, no politic retreats.
It took minutes before the answer came. Well, maybe about ten seconds, but the voice was sullen and displeased.
“You have the right to choose your own team, Colonel.” Judging by the expression, Jack figured he’d made a bad enemy; but there was no help for it. The man had been a pain in the mikta, and there was only so much Jack was going to take - especially when the cost might be another life - Sara’s life.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.” Jack paused. He figured he could toss a bone to the guy. It was a bit late for half-measures, but they might need the SWATs later, and he didn’t want them sitting on their asses, just because their commander had a bruised ego. “Look, we might need your men later. But I need my people - familiar people, and people familiar with this kind of situation - in on the initial insertion.” And there’s nobody better than my team.
The man nodded, grudgingly. Jack took that to mean that SWATs co-operation would be surly, but at least it would be there.
Jack left Davis to finish working with the SWAT commander since the diplomatic aide would be considerably better at holding his tongue than Jack. Instead, he crossed over the room to the corner where Daniel and Carter were gearing up for the insertion.
“Carter, you okay?” He had to ask the question, although he knew exactly what the answer was going to be. Carter’s professional standing was important to her. It was one of the reasons why... Jack cut that thought off before it went anywhere he didn’t want to go. Her professional reputation was important to her and the asshole’s words had cast it into doubt.
“Fine, sir.” Her face was stiff with anger but she was composed. Still, Carter had hidden depths. It would take a more stupid man than Jack to confront her at this moment.
“Will you be ready to go in twenty minutes?”
“I’ll be ready, sir.” Giving her the mission time helped, she visibly calmed down. With a quick nod, she headed over to the table where one of the Sergeants was setting up weapons and flak jackets.
Well, that was one less thing he had to worry about. And now came the fun part.
“Jack.” Daniel narrowed his eyes, already sensing what was coming.
Jack hated to do this to his friend, but it was sensible, logical, logistically sound, and very practical. And it would be one less person that Jack would have to worry about.
“You’re staying on the ground.”
“Look, you’re not going to be all that much help to us up there.”
“Stambaugh asked for all SG-1, Jack. Last I checked, that included me.” Daniel was definitely annoyed.
“True. But Stambaugh asking for all of us is exactly why I’m not inclined to have us all up there. And you’re the best candidate to stay on the ground.” He glanced over his shoulder to where Paul Davis was beginning to organise the ground force. “We don’t know what Stambaugh has up there. So as we encounter the setups, we’ll need someone to liaise with us, get us the info and equipment we need when we need it.”
“Davis has his hands full,” Jack told him bluntly. “The SWATs are still grumbling because they’re not included in the party. I have no idea what the DPD might do. And I need someone who knows what I’m asking, not someone who’s second-guessing me. That’s you.”
Daniel looked annoyed. “I’d rather be up there with you guys.” Jack waited as Daniel threw his hands up. “Okay, okay. I’ll liaise. God knows you’re no good at it. And I’ll keep an eye on everything down here.”
“Thanks, Daniel.” Jack was relieved. He’d expected a much bigger argument from his friend. “Also, if things go bad up there, you’re going to have to run clean-up and control. I don’t want SWAT or the DPD messing around with any of the stuff Stambaugh’s got.”
“Leave me all the dirty jobs.” Nobody could do a half-hearted grumble like Daniel. The man had his seriously passive-aggressive moments.
“Yes, Daniel. I leave you all the dirty jobs,” Jack replied dryly.
Daniel was looking beyond Jack at something happening behind. “Well, I think this one is your territory...”
Jack turned. Over by the table, it appeared that Carter and Shanahan were having an argument. Carter’s expression was closed and shuttered; the blast doors were down and the gateroom was empty. No welcome here.
Is it wrong of me to hope that it’s personal and not professional? He wasn’t entirely ‘okay’ with Carter seeing other men, but it wasn’t as though he got a say in the matter. And Jack had had this itchy feeling about Shanahan ever since finding out the degree to which the guy had obsessed with Carter before turning up at the stakeout at Daniel’s place.
He wondered if he should be worried; Carter seemed to attract crazies like bees to honey. Hanson, the Tollan, Martouf, that invisible stalker guy, then Shanahan...
And Jack wasn’t all that sure he was entirely classifiable as ‘sane’ either.
Jack exchanged glances with Daniel, who gave him a half smile and a shrug. “Go get ‘em, tiger!”
“Thanks for the moral support, Daniel.”
“It’s what I’m here for, Jack.” Daniel leaned over and began collecting notes to take over to the communications table.
Jack wandered over to the equipment table. “Is there a problem folks?” He glanced at Carter, tendering her a silent apology. The longer they dilly-dallied around here, the longer Sara was going to be in the hands of Stambaugh.
Carter’s expression was firm. “No problem, sir.”
“Actually, there is,” Shanahan said, his expression slightly belligerent. “I want to come in with you.”
The sergeant who’d been setting up the vests stopped, all astonishment at the declaration. He looked at Jack. Carter looked at Jack. Shanahan looked at Jack.
Jack resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said flatly.
“Why not?” Pete demanded. “I know what you’re up against. Let me come. I have the right...”
What right? A glance at Carter gave him no cues. She didn’t know what Shanahan was on about either. “You have the right?”
“Exactly what right would that be?
Shanahan was focused on Jack, as the person whose approval or disapproval of his plan would make the difference. So he didn’t see the flush that swept over Carter’s face; the embarrassment and anger that she controlled with her usual determination. On the other side of the table, the sergeant sniggered, but a glare from Carter silenced him.
“Let me get this straight,” Jack said, deciding that he needed to be absolutely clear on this matter before he stopped the guy dead. “You want to barge in on a classified operation because Carter is going, in spite of the fact that I’ve already refused SWAT assistance, and am not taking Dr. Jackson - in whose operational abilities I have significant trust?”
“It’s not safe for her.”
“It’s not safe for any of us,” Jack retorted. “But that doesn’t stop us from doing our jobs.” Sheesh. How long had the man dated Carter? And how much did he not know her? “The answer is no, Detective Shanahan. As you should have known before you asked.” That slipped out past his radar, but he was only human and the jab felt good, almost frighteningly so.
That should have been the end of the matter.
Shanahan continued to attempt to argue his case. “I’m a qualified police officer...”
Later, even Daniel had to conclude that Shanahan had laid himself open to that one. Jack only had one experience of the man’s professional skills on which to base his opinion. Add to that the fact that he was in a bad mood because he’d just spent the last hour arguing with men who were too stupid to understand when a situation was beyond their control, and too stubborn to let someone else more qualified handle the situation, and his response was really quite mild.
“You’re a qualified police officer who doesn’t recognise a stakeout when he sees it, and doesn’t know better than to interfere with its execution,” Jack snapped. The memory was as irritating for Carter’s concern over Shanahan as it had been for the realisation of how much the whole stakeout could have been screwed up by Shanahan’s interference. But that wasn’t the issue at hand.
He simply had no patience for the man’s delicate sensibilities - especially not regarding Carter. Carter was a professional soldier, and if that hadn’t yet sunk into the man’s head after however many months of dating, then there was no hope for him. When Shanahan opened his mouth to protest yet again, he interrupted before a single word could emerge. “The answer is ‘no’ and if you demand yet again, I’ll have you escorted from the site for interfering with the operation, Detective. This is not a threat, this is a fact.” He didn’t bother to ask if Shanahan understood him; instead he turned to Carter. “Ten minutes?”
She didn’t protest his behaviour. Carter knew where her duty and responsibility lay, and the point at which the personal had to be let go for the professional. He’d shown her that and Carter was a fast learner. “Yes, sir,” she said, and now her voice was about a stiffly correct as it could get. She grabbed her flak jacket and with a brusque nod, turned on her heel and headed out the door.
As Shanahan levelled a glare at Jack and turned on his heel to follow her, the suggestion that Shanahan give her time out died on Jack’s lips. He owed the man no favours, and if the man was stupid enough to try to push the point any further, then by God he deserved what Carter gave him!
Stay calm, Jack, he reminded himself as irritation flamed. Carter’s relationship with Shanahan is not your concern. Sara and the other hostages up in the building are. Damn. Maybe he should take Daniel up after all, then get him to lead the hostages down...? No. There was no way of telling where Stambaugh’s Goa’uld had them holed up, and the odds were that it would be more trouble than it was worth. Daniel would be best used helping them out on the ground - and Daniel knew that.
Shanahan would be best left on the ground instead of interrupting something of which he had no real knowledge or understanding, let alone skill.
Now if only Shanahan would understand that.
The bright sun was warm on Teal’c’s back as the helicopter circled away, the noise of its blades fading into the background of the city sounds.
At this moment, however, he had no opportunity to savour the experience. His senses were alert for trouble as his team-mate picked the lock of the door that opened into the central stairwell of the building in which the Goa’uld had taken the hostages. He could not sense any danger, but that did not mean there was none.
However, the lock tumblers clicked elegantly in the lock without any trouble presenting itself. Major Carter reached for the handle easing the door open. O’Neill had scanned the door and found no signs of explosives wired up to the hinges or handle, so Major Carter had begun to pick the lock.
There had been uncertainty regarding whether the upper entrance to the central stairwell would be guarded. The Goa’uld were arrogant enough to believe that the only way into the building was up from the ground, but the host of the Goa’uld who had once been O’Neill’s companion would not.
Down on the ground, Daniel Jackson was waiting for their signal - the double click that O’Neill was sending through their communications system even now.
Words would echo too easily in the empty stairwell, rather like the slight noise of their footsteps as they made their way down the stairs to the appropriate office level. Their boots were special soft-soled ones to muffle the sound of their steps, but they were unable to completely silence their footfalls.
As they made their way down the cold cement corridors, they kept an eye out for anything that might be used to monitor this stairwell. They had gone down four flights and found nothing unusual. The signs indicating the floors and those warning people to hold onto the red metal railing were the only bright spots of colour on the walls of the stairwell.
Then, on the fourth flight down, they spotted a small box sitting on the floor, no larger than a brick, opaque and unattached to anything.
O’Neill’s hand signals indicated retreat, but Major Carter paused. With a signal of her own, she pointed down at the box, and then began making her way down the stairs towards it. O’Neill’s expression indicated wary acceptance of her actions, and he followed her a few steps behind, his gun pointed above and over her head, ready to protect her should an unexpected situation arise.
As she leaned over the box, doubtless the better to observe the item, there was a sharp buzzing noise and she jerked back. The fluorescent blue crackle where her head had impacted the force shield left them in no doubt that the Goa’uld had taken precautions to ensure that nobody would intrude upon his domain. Major Carter winced and rubbed at her forehead, but signalled that she was okay. Carefully, she knelt down and did something to the box, then nodded, as if to herself, and signalled retreat.
The retreat up to the rooftop was swift and made in silence, and they emerged into bright sunlight, blinking. As the door swung shut, his team-mate slipped a flexible sheet of plastic between the ‘tongue’ of the door lock and the door jamb, allowing it to close, but preventing it from locking. “Sir, I can bring the force shields down.”
Her announcement was unexpected, and one which caused both team-mates to stare at her. “I thought you said we didn’t have the technology...” O’Neill began.
“The box on the floor is the source of the force shield phase modulator, sir. If you notice, it was set up so that people couldn’t escape upstairs, not so people couldn’t come downstairs. It’s a simple hinged lid and opens easily - I can access its inside functions, which is something that hasn’t been possible in previous encounters against force shields.”
O’Neill blinked. “So you think the Goa’uld didn’t figure anyone coming in from the roof?”
“Possibly, sir.” Major Carter was prudent enough to be non-committal.
“And you’re sure you can bring it down?”
“Yes, sir.” There was no hesitation in her voice, just a certainty that she had the pieces to the puzzle and knew how everything was going to fit together.
O’Neill didn’t pause. “What do you need?”
Ten minutes later, Daniel Jackson reported that the package was on their way towards them. “Um...but there’s a problem...”
“I don’t want to hear it, Daniel.”
“Well, you’re going to encounter it soon enough, so I might as well tell you now. And I want you to know that I had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Consequently, when Detective Shanahan arrived with a naquadah reactor and a combination-locked box some ten minutes after that, three very distinctly annoyed members of SG-1 met him.
Teal’c assisted the unloading of the reactor without a word. O’Neill, by contrast, had many words to say to the detective, among them, “Which part of ‘No’ did you not understand, Detective?”
And Major Carter’s greeting was terse. To cover the anger she felt at the man’s interference, she immediately focused on the reactor, taking up the other end to Teal’c and leading the way back over to the building into which they had gained entry. Her pace was so swift that Teal’c found himself walking somewhat faster than was customary even for a man of his stride.
“I can carry that for you, Sam.” Teal’c lifted an eyebrow at the offer. It was well-meant, but unacceptable to Major Carter in her present state of mind.
“It’s fine, thanks.” And without a further word to her boyfriend, she helped lug the reactor to the fire exit door.
As she pushed the door open, O’Neill took the reactor from her. “You take point, Carter.” They’d already discussed their actions, including the placement of the reactor and her actions, in order to avoid making more noise than necessary.
Unfortunately, they now had the presence of another among them.
“Erm... So what am I doing?”
Both Teal’c and Major Carter looked to O’Neill.
“I don’t know why you’re even asking what you’re doing,” he said, acidly. “You can’t seem to do what you’re told.”
Detective Shanahan flushed. “I’m here now, you might as well use me.”
O’Neill glanced at Major Carter who returned his gaze without expression. If Detective Shanahan appeared annoyed by Major Carter’s lack of response to his behaviour, then she was not doing anything to alleviate his anger. “Okay. We’re going in. Carter’s bringing down the force shield, we go in quiet.” O’Neill’s eyes were black with intensity. “You are backup. You stay backup.” There was a deadly softness to his voice that even the detective recognised.
O’Neill was a man with a mission, and any man who got in his way would suffer the consequences.
“Do you understand?”
“Carter, Teal’c, let’s go.” O’Neill depressed the button of his radio. “We’re going in, Daniel.”
Daniel’s voice echoed in their earpieces, “Got it. Sending in the clowns. I mean, the troops.”
Major Carter grinned and Teal’c’s mouth quirked as O’Neill retorted. “Funny, Daniel.”
SG-1 moved with the well-oiled precision of a team who’d worked with each other for a long time. Teal’c felt a twinge of pride as Major Carter bent down beside the box and flipped it open. She’d explained the science of it to them as they waited on the roof. “The force shields are generated by naquadah-powered cells, and the power output is transferred to an oscillator which produces a controlled waveform. Since we have access to the power output, we can overload the system with a pulse generated from a naqadah reactor.”
“Won’t that be dangerous?” The question had come from O’Neill.
“Maybe a little. I can control how much power is in the pulse so the shield will overload and short out. The only thing I don’t know is whether it’s just one shield, or all of them.”
Her smile had been impish. “Well, we could send the SWATs in and see if they make it to the top.”
Now, Major Carter’s hands moved swiftly over the panels and wires of the force shield generator now, connecting and disconnecting the wires from each other. Over her shoulder, she made the signal for her team-mates to move back, and they obediently backed up the stairs. Without looking back to see if they’d obeyed her, she raised her left fist and counted down the numbers over her shoulder. 5...4...3...2...1...
The shield came down, a thin, blue, horizontal line that descended until it hit the floor. Major Carter reached past the point where the field had been before and signalled the all clear.
O’Neill and Teal’c were down the stairs moments later, following Major Carter as she paused at the door. Her P-90 was up and in place, ready for action. O’Neill took up his own gun and nodded at Teal’c, who swung the door open.
Beyond lay the silent reception area for the Incom Tech Group. The computer on the desk had long since switched to a screensaver, the brightly-coloured letters scrolling across the black screen with repetitive intensity. The chair had been pushed back, discarded by its occupant.
It had been early in the morning when the Goa’uld hosted by Michael Stambaugh entered the building and took the personnel of the Incom Tech Group hostage. He had chosen his time well. The only occupants of the office had been the receptionist and five personnel, including the managing director and Sara Mulholland.
Now, the reception area, and the office beyond were silent. Their study of the offices of Incom Tech Group had shown a reception area, two general office areas and two individual offices, one for the managing director and one for the sales director. Based on phone traces, the Denver Police Department had determined that Michael Stambaugh had set up his headquarters in the offices of the managing director.
The office seemed far too ordinary to have witnessed the events of the morning. Teal’c could appreciate the irony of what the Tau’ri considered the mundane and the insane, side by side
Teal’c glanced around this first office area. Six doors opened into various other areas of the office. Three were open. A glance in showed them to be a lunchroom, a copy room, and a storeroom. One was a door with a frosted covering that led out to the elevator corridor. One led to the inner office. And the sixth...
From behind it, Teal’c heard the faint murmur of voices, the low mutter of restless men and women. He beckoned Major Carter over. “The hostages.”
She nodded and knelt down by the door. The back of her hand rested briefly against it. Then, when nothing happened, she tried again, placing her hand on the wood for a little longer. Moments later, she had her lock picks out and was working her way through the small metal tumblers.
Behind them, Teal’c heard Detective Shanahan’s whisper, “What are they doing?”
“Hostages,” O’Neill said, succinctly. “You’re taking them downstairs and getting them out. They’ll be disoriented and afraid, you’ll have to take them all the way down.”
The locks clicked, and the door swung inwards on silent hinges.
Beyond, a dozen men and women climbed to their feet, varying expression of wariness on their faces. Only one face showed relief.
Sara Mulholland stepped forward. “You’re with Jack, aren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Major Carter stepped back from the door and brought her weapon up, training it on the door to the inner office as O’Neill went in to reassure the hostages.
“Colonel Jack O’Neill, Air Force. We’re here to get you guys out of this place.” He spoke in low tones and indicated the SWAT team members. “Including you guys. You go up to the roof, across the walkway to the next building over, you get the civilians down to the ground through the fire exit and get back to your command. Do not come back here, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.”
“They’re dealt with. All you have to do is get them out of here.” He indicated Shanahan, “This is Detective Shanahan of the Denver Police Department. He’s going to show you the way. Question time is later, let’s move out, folks.”
O’Neill’s tactic of giving the responsibility of the hostages to the SWAT’ teams was a master stroke. the SWATs would recognise the importance of removing Stambaugh’s leverage and leaving SG-1 behind to deal with Stambaugh.
Then O’Neill’s former wife paused before him. “Jack?”
“Talk later, Sara,” O’Neill told her. But he took the hand she’d half-stretched out to him and squeezed it. “Not now.”
She bit her lip and nodded, but her eyes ranged over his face. “You look well,” she murmured, and walked quickly away.
Teal’c dropped his gaze and chose to look elsewhere rather than at O’Neill’s face. There had been moments, he knew, when O’Neill had questioned where his job was taking him. More than once, O’Neill had contemplated ‘throwing in the towel’ and leaving the SGC, perhaps for a different kind of role, or simply to retire and sit by his lake without fish. The reminder of the life which had died with his son would be painful to one for whom the concept of family and belonging was so strong. After all, O’Neill’s belief had been enough to weld together four disparate individuals into a team of friends who complemented and compensated for each other.
His gaze fell on Major Carter, who was telling Detective Shanahan to go down with the hostages as O’Neill had instructed him and not to return.
“Just go, Pete,” she told him, shortly. When he opened his mouth, she put her hand over it. “Go.”
Somewhat to Teal’c’s surprise, Detective Shanahan left. His demeanour was like that of a dog with his tail between his legs, but he left.
Moments later, SG-1 was left with only the emptiness of the room and the silence of the computers. They silently congregated around the door to the inner office. O’Neill clicked a pattern on his radio to inform Daniel Jackson that the hostages were released, and another to say that they were going in.
“I hate being ground crew,” Daniel Jackson grumped. The peevishness was no less real for being light-hearted, but his subsequent words left no doubt that, no matter how irritated he was, their friend did care. “Good luck, guys.”
Then with a nod from O’Neill, Teal’c kicked in the door, and then they were inside.
Recollection would paint the situation in fragments, her consciousness focusing on one detail as the rest of it blurred.
The doorjamb was flimsy office construction, nothing more than plaster and light wood. It gave easily beneath the force exerted by the booted heel of a two hundred and fifty pound Jaffa. The splinters hurtled outwards, chunks of plaster spiralling off like little asteroids and sending up a cloud of white dust.
Sam was in and peeled off to the left of the room as Teal’c peeled off to the right, before she realised that the Goa’uld was watching them.
He sat on the desk at the back of the room, his knee hooked over the corner, swinging his foot like a man who had all day. Perhaps he did.
As he lifted the weapon he held in his hand and pointed it at Teal’c, the scientist in her once again absently noted the excess energy of the discharge as it formed the electric blue sine waveform around the central blast. The friend in her winced in sympathy and pain as Teal’c collapsed to the floor. The soldier in her lifted her gun, even as the zat moved through the arc towards the Colonel.
The zat discharged, even as she fired on him. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Colonel collapse, but had no time to attend to him as her P-90 chattered. Around Michael Stambaugh, the surface of the personal body shield coruscated gold and white, and she saw the ruby gleam in the palm of his hand and the glint of the ribbon device wound around his left hand, even as his right aimed the zat at her.
Zatfire earthed itself in the partition behind her as she ducked, and she looked desperately for an escape. Common sense was telling her that she couldn’t go up against him armed with only a P-90. Not when he had a zat gun and a personal force shield.
She needed more.
She didn’t have it. Not here.
Sam needed an exit.
Two steps towards the entrance to the office, she realised that the entrance to the office ran in a direct line with the aisle. If she used that door, she would be presenting Stambaugh with a perfect shot on the way out.
She spun so hard on her heel that she nearly twisted her ankle. As it was, it gave her an uncomfortable twinge, and she winced. But nothing hurt when she put her weight down on her foot and she crouched down in worn loop pile carpet as her mind scuttled through alternatives.
There was no sound from Stambaugh - where was he? Sam wasn’t sure whether she should risk taking a look, but if she didn’t know what he was doing...
Automatic fear swamped her as Stambaugh stepped over the Colonel’s arm and into the gap between the rows of desks. Her military training cried, Run! Her scientific side said, Wait!
The zat was pointed directly at her. One shot and she’d be down like the Colonel and Teal’c. Two shots and she’d be toast. She was trapped. Nowhere to run, nowhere to go. No useful weaponry, no backup.
If she’d been the type to swear, she’d have sworn.
A quick glance at her surroundings showed her no feasible way to get out of his line of sight before he could shoot her. One side of the office was a window with the balcony. The SWAT captain had been thrown off that balcony to his death; there was no escape there. The other side of the office was a frosted glass window that ran along the width of the building and led to external restrooms.
But just because escape wasn’t possible didn’t mean other options weren’t available. Possibilities sprang up, twisting and writhing in permutations that adjusted to provide a solution as soon as a problem was presented.
It was exactly like picking a lock with tumblers; work through the problems one by one until each one was matched and the lock lay open.
Unaware of her thoughts, the Goa’uld spoke, no longer bothering to disguise its voice. “My host was in doubt that you would come, Major. The prejudice of your kind against the female gender has always been both help and hindrance.”
She could shoot and run now. But curiosity held her back. Daniel held the opinion that information was power, just as much as a firearm, if not more. “Why?”
“My host has a personal grievance with Jack for the destruction of his marriage; however, I have a personal grievance with you.” It smiled.
Sam’s mind worked frantically, trying to think of any Goa’uld she might have pissed off recently - or not so recently. As her mind flickered in and out of her memories, she slowly changed the angle of her gun so it pointed towards the ceiling, while keeping her hand on the trigger. To Stambaugh, it would hopefully look like she was just slacking off her grip, and he wouldn’t think anything of it...
Then Teal’c rose up from between the desks on the other side of the room, a dark fury that lunged for Stambaugh. His attack provided the perfect distraction for the Goa’uld.
As it turned, Sam took the opportunity to fire upwards, at the plastic light cover above the Goa’uld. The falling shards did what she’d planned for them to do; distract the Goa’uld enough to give her a few precious seconds to make her escape and get the help she needed.
The chatter of her P-90 seemed louder than anything else except the drumbeat of her blood running through her veins. Glass shattered, cracks webbed out from the holes in the glass partition, and the toes of her boots dug into the carpet as she ran for the weakened glass pane and crashed through.
She let her shoulder take the brunt of the impact, and rolled down and over. A zat blast hit the upper edge of the hole she’d made, and she sprang to her feet and sprinted for the stairwell, her boots pounding against the carpet-covered concrete of the floor. Just before she reached the stairwell, instinct made her jerk to the left, away from the fire exit door.
Ozone crackled around her as the zat blast missed its target and earthed itself harmlessly into the wall. Then she shoved the fire door open and headed up to the roof.
Five flights, six flights, seven flights... She lost count of how many stairs she’d climbed, so the door to the roof was a surprise when she reached it. Outside the sun was bright and hot, and it clearly illuminated the face of the man coming towards her.
Which part of ‘no’ did you not understand, Detective?
“Sam? You’re okay?” Pete made to touch her, but she evaded him.
“I’m fine.” Now that she was up here, she had only one goal; get back down there and help her team-mates. As she strode over to the second box Daniel had sent up to them, she unclipped her P-90 and flipped the safety catch on. Her firearm would be of no use against Stambaugh.
“Where are the Colonel and Teal’c?”
“Stambaugh has him. Hold this.” Sam handed him the P-90 and he took it.
“He’s a Goa’uld, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” she answered shortly. The second box was a suitcase with an electronic lock combination. The lock combination was input and she opened the lid.
Fight fire with fire.
The graceful elegance of a ribbon device gleamed up at her from its foam padded resting place. Inside, a hot, raging fury was beginning to burn as she pushed up her sleeve and fitted the ribbon device over her hand. Her fingers slipped neatly into the fingertips of the device, adjusting the chains that linked the fingertips to the device on the palm and the spiralling ribbon of metal up her arm.
Her body tingled, the naquadah in her bloodstream reacting to the naquadah compound in the ribbon device. It was her gift and her curse, this ability to use the Goa’uld devices, and she both loved and feared it. But it had come in handy before and it would again.
Someone stood in her light, and she looked up.
Pete jerked back. “Isn’t... Wasn’t the woman at Daniel’s house...?”
With a sudden pang, Sam recalled that his authorisation to know about the project hadn’t included authorisation to know about her possession by Jolinar. “She was wearing it.”
He couldn’t hide the naked fear that chased across his face. “But you, you’re not...” He took an automatic step back as she flexed her fingers around the crystal in the centre of her palm.
“No, I’m not,” she said evenly, refusing to let him see how much his distaste disturbed her. “But I can.”
And then she was up and headed back towards the stairwell.
“Wait, Sam! You can’t just...”
She turned on him, and he stopped dead. “I can just,” she told him quietly. “And I will just.” Anger and a little resentment bubbled inside her, and she closed her hand into a fist. The ribbon device was most powerful in the application of emotion, channelled through the user’s will. She wasn’t entirely sure she was capable of controlling what was inside her right now, but she was determined to end this, here and now. And, as Pete regarded her, more than a little nervously, Sam guessed that the sheer grimness of her determination was frightening to her boyfriend, who’d never seen this side of her before, after all.
The Colonel’s words rang in her head. You keep that part of yourself separate from them, and you deal.
“You’ve already ignored more requests and disobeyed more orders than I want to count, Detective Shanahan,” she said, choosing to use her persona of the military Major. “So I’m not going to tell you what to do; just what not to do.” She lifted her gloved and fisted hand and felt a twinge of shameful pleasure at his fear. “Don’t get in my way.”
The Colonel was still down there, and in her absence, Stambaugh’s Goa’uld would take its frustrations out on him. Major Sam Carter couldn’t afford that.
“You don’t have to do this - the SWATs are coming in...”
She saw the black-suited figures, dropping out of the helicopters hovering over the building next door. Send in the clowns, Daniel had said, half-joking, half-serious. All she did was repeat her warning, “Don’t get in my way, Detective.” The formality helped. This was a professional situation, and she was a professional soldier. That he didn’t understand her as ‘Major Carter’ wasn’t her problem.
Her team needed her to be ‘Major Carter’ and for them she would do what she had to do.
The stairwell door closed shut behind her, effectively cutting off the question of who was going to follow her. Without either the key or a set of lock-picks, neither Pete, nor the SWATs would be able to easily come after her.
Which suited Sam just fine.
The hard concrete beneath her boots was the harsh cold of her resolve, a solid, immoveable centre in the core of her being. The cold of the air of the stairwell permeated her will, freezing it in ice. Even the once air-conditioned corridors of the office seemed warm as she walked through them, on her way to confront Stambaugh and the Goa’uld that possessed him.
Sam paused as she approached the door to the first office, however a quick glance showed nobody there.
The door to the second office was slightly ajar, giving Sam an aural insight into the room, even if she couldn’t actually see into the place.
It sounded bad.
Someone was breathing heavily, his inhalations laboured and slow. As Sam drew near, she winced as hard metal battered soft flesh with a meaty thump.
“So, Jack? Did Mary lie?”
The voice was human, not Goa’uld, and it resonated with hatred as something squelched unpleasantly. The Colonel gave a muffled moan of agony.
“Did you fuck my wife, Jack?” Michael Stambaugh asked, brutal with both his words and his fists. “I can’t seem to hear you...”
Sam heard the crack of bone against bone, and the Colonel grunted. The sound was choked, as if even the voicing of pain was an agony that required outlet.
Stambaugh - or the Goa’uld that controlled hm - was torturing the Colonel, and taking pleasure in the act.
The thought ignited a rage within her, boiling swiftly. The rage was born of her frustration with the sneers and doubts she’d felt upon her through the day. It swept forth from deep within her soul, obliterating the barriers she set upon herself, the control she prized so dearly, and the restraint she usually practised.
All of it, gone in an instant.
And as her rage met the cold ice of her will, the pressure built within her, like steam in a kettle, like the coiled power of a spring.
Then it burst and the torrent swept her away.
Carter had come back.
It was something to focus on other than the pain that seared up his thigh, other than the piercing agony of breathing. He thought a rib might be cracked.
Jack had endured a lot of pain in his life; this was just one more to add to the collection. It never stopped hurting, though.
And she never ceased to amaze him - or terrify him.
Stambaugh’s Goa’uld didn’t have a chance. The instant he saw Carter, the ribbon device wrapped around her hand, Jack knew the Goa’uld was dead. The Goa’uld just didn’t know it yet. Carter was unforgiving of herself and of her enemies when roused.
The creature looked up and raised its own device - but in defence, not in attack. Jack had a moment to feel surprise, before pain exploded in his leg. Stambaugh’s Goa’uld had dug its fingers into his injured thigh. He bit his teeth down and ground them together, trying to control the noises that threatened to escape from his throat. Never let them see they get to you.
He heard the ripple of power that threw the Goa’uld back. He felt the Goa’uld’s fingers dig into his already-wounded leg, and yelped before he could shut his mouth. His nerves were afire with agony, strong as pleasure, pure as pain; but beneath it all, he could feel tendrils of fear curling around his heaving chest with inexorable ice.
Carter had thrown the Goa’uld halfway across the room, and her expression was a mask of brittle fury, cracking around the edges of what little composure remained. Blue eyes bored into the Goa’uld’s eyes, as though daring it to challenge her, to come up against her and be destroyed.
He’d always feared this part of Carter. She was beautiful and amazing, and yet terrible and fearsome; partly for being the woman she was, and partly for being what Jolinar had made her with two days of possession.
Jack trusted her, without a doubt. Whatever Jolinar had done to her, the creature was no longer in her. She’d asked terrible things of him, and he’d asked terrible things of her; and Jack could see little that might change that in the future. But that trust made her no less terrifying when she moved out of the role of the soldier Jack knew and began to be a soldier whose mind he didn’t know.
She only spared a moment to meet his gaze with quick concern before she stepped over him and continued on to the Goa’uld. Jack understood the logic of her action; the enemy must be defeated before the wounded could be seen to; but a part of him yelled, ‘Get me the fucking hell out of here!’
The Goa’uld said something to her, perhaps trying to plea-bargain.
Carter had no mercy on him.
Jack heard and felt the reverberative shockwaves of her action rather than saw them. There was a sickening crack, the sound of bone and flesh giving way beneath concussive force.
The gasp from the door came from not one mouth but many.
Five pairs of eyes stared at Carter, varying degrees of horror and loathing in their eyes: four SWAT personnel, geared up, armoured, and weaponed; and one police detective, half-crouched in the corridor, looking at his girlfriend in shock.
It was nothing more than a whisper, but Carter heard it, and whirled on her heel. Her eyes were nearly black, the iris swallowed up by the pupil. Jack felt another frisson of fear. This time the terror was not of Carter, but for Carter.
Something had snapped within her, whether the stresses of having her professional capabilities doubted, or the use of so much power in the ribbon device, or something else, Jack didn’t know. What he did know was that anything that might antagonise her right now was not a good idea. She was teetering on the brink, but not over the edge. Not yet.
Until one of the SWATs raised his gun.
The man was in shock. He’d come to deal with a man who’d killed one of his colleagues, and found himself facing an Air Force Major who wasn’t fully in her right mind. He did the worst possible thing he could have done.
He raised his gun to take out the perceived threat to himself and his team.
The cry wasn’t Jack’s.
Shanahan had seen the gun rise and slammed the muzzle away even as the man fired at Carter.
Jack’s nape prickled as he felt the personal shield assert itself from the ribbon device. Each bullet produced its own net of concentric circles against the background of the gold against it, before it rebounded back with equal force, causing the SWATs to yelp and duck as the bullets came back at them.
He felt a sudden, sharp pain in his thigh as at least one of the rebounds embedded itself in the muscle there, but Jack was watching Carter. Her hand rose and the force from the ribbon device rippled out over his body and into the bodies of the men she perceived as a threat to her.
Bodies slammed against the partition wall between the two work areas. Men cried out as they were flung back like rag dolls to land in the office beyond. Shanahan crumpled against the wall, struggling to hold back fear and a wince of agony.
Carter lifted the ribbon device again.
Her next blow would kill. And this time, the death would not be a Goa’uld and his half-crazed host, but men whose chiefest mistake had been to underestimate her.
Death was a hard price to pay for ignorance and idiocy. And Carter didn’t deserve that weight on her soul.
Jack opened his mouth to speak.
“Major Carter, you do not wish to do this.” Teal’c’s words rang through the room, hoarse and spoken with effort.
She shuddered, but her hand didn’t lower from its raised position.
Teal’c repeated his entreaty. “Major Carter.”
Jack ignored the splintering misery of his leg. He blocked out the body-jarring-pain of his cracked ribs, the slow-growing burning in his stomach. He took a slow, deep breath, holding it against his body’s painful betrayal, and said the only thing he could think of to say.
Her head jerked down to look at him, and he met her gaze and saw the madness there. He didn’t flinch back from it. Jack knew where she was; he’d been there himself and it was a dark, terrible place. But he’d come back. She’d come back once before. She could do it again.
“Sam.” The appeal was personal and they both knew it. He never used her name these days, having long ago trained and taught himself to think of her as Carter. Still, this time, she needed to know he saw her as a person and not as a soldier. She needed to be reminded of who she was.
And she was reminded. Jack’s insides unclenched a little as her hand dropped down to her side and her gaze focused on him, blue eyes wide with horror.
As he met her eyes, pain suddenly regained its hold on his senses. His body was on fire, the nerves screaming for a relief that they weren’t getting. The world spun around him, and Carter with it. Jack shut his eyes as nausea rose. If he spewed now, he’d choke on his own vomit
When he opened his eyes a moment later, she was on her knees beside him, doing something that he couldn’t see. As he tried to lift his head, his ribs protested and his abdomen howled. Her hand eased his pain-frozen shoulder down, the metallic fingers of the ribbon device pressing into his flesh in gentle warning. “Don’t move, sir.”
She sounded subdued.
There was nobody else in the room, he realised. Just them. He must have fallen unconscious from blood loss or something. He tried to catch her eyes, but she refused to meet his gaze. Instead, she kept her focus on his leg as she slipped something under his thigh and tied it off. Jack winced as the pressure prompted a bundle of nerves to protest, but managed, “Where...is...everyone?”
“Teal’c’s called Daniel. He’s sending in a medical team to see to you, and a team to pick up the body and get it back to Cheyenne.”
Jack tried to glance over at where the SWAT team members had been, but she answered his question before he even asked it. “Teal’c and Pete persuaded them not to arrest me. They’re being taken down to get checked out.”
She was definitely subdued, without her usual ebullience.
Her body stiffened, as though she were facing a blow, but her eyes slid to his and held them, bravely.
She’d always had an expressive face, and Jack had learned to read it over the years. Every smile, every look, the way she tilted her face or angled her head as she worked; it all had meaning. And while Jack O’Neill might not be much good at languages, he did know how to interpret Sam Carter. He’d had seven years of near-daily practise.
She was having the most trouble with the guilt, he surmised. She’d come very close to totally losing it, and only her team-mates’ intervention had stopped her from adding several more deaths to the one she already had on her hands. Carter controlled herself - sometimes too much so. Losing it would be utterly unacceptable in any case. Losing it in such a way that endangered the lives of others...
It would be a long time before Carter forgave herself.
He didn’t have the words, because Jack O’Neill was not a man of many words.
She was Carter, and she would always be Carter to him. No matter what.
He moved his fingers enough to touch the back of her hand. The skin beneath his fingers was soft, and the touch was more of a caress. Jack didn’t know if she’d respond; Carter had always been irregular that way, sometimes she’d respond, sometimes she wouldn’t.
This time, she did.
Slowly, her cold fingers slipped into his warm ones and curled tight, seeking and giving reassurance. And Jack held her hand until the medical teams came to take him away.
“Major Carter?” The voice was mature and smooth, hesitant to interrupt, as though aware that she didn’t belong here.
Sam looked up from the despatch form she was reading and met the steady blue gaze of the Colonel’s ex-wife. “Mrs. O’Neill. How are you doing?”
The woman winced, smiling, “I go by Ms. Mulholland these days, but ‘Sara’ is fine. I’m okay.” She glanced back towards the community centre. “A little shocked, but they’ve done the first round of counselling already...” Sara trailed off. “How’s Jack?”
Sam had known the question would come up sooner or later and had an answer ready-prepared. “He’s been taken to a medical facility to have his wound seen to,” she said. “It’s just a basic wound.”
Sara O’Neill neé Mulholland smiled, ruefully. “The definition of a gunshot wound as ‘basic’ is one that still takes some getting used to,” she admitted, “Even after being married to him for years...” She sighed, and her stance shifted subtly. “Is there any chance I...I could get in contact with him? We haven’t spoken in years and I thought...”
Especially after today, Sam thought to herself. “Ms. Mulholland, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to get in and see the Colonel while he’s healing...”
The older woman was nodding. “I understand that. But if I leave you with my card, can you at least make sure Jack gets it? Tell him I just want to catch up, make sure he’s okay.” She slipped a small white rectangle out of the handbag that hung from her shoulder. “Will you do that?”
Sam took the business card. “I can give it to him. What he does with it...”
“Oh, I know,” Sara assured her. “You just have to give it to him.” She paused. “Thank you for coming in to help, Major. I gather you were the one who dealt with Mike?”
Somehow, she managed not to flinch. “Yes.”
“Well... Thank you.” Sara glanced over her shoulder. “I should be getting home. Please don’t forget to give Jack the card?”
Sam watched the older woman walk away, then tucked the business card in one of her vest pockets. The conversation with Sara had disturbed her a little, on more than one level. It was hard to accept the gratitude of the woman when things had so nearly gone all wrong.
Picking up the black biro from the clipboard, Sam scrawled her signature at the bottom of the despatch form, authorising the removal of the shield technology to Area 51. She hailed one of the airmen packing the truck, and with a quick nod and a muttered thanks, he took the clipboard with the form and was gone.
The cold metal body of the communications van made her acutely aware of the throbbing headache that had just begun in her skull. It was something she definitely didn’t need on top of the aches and pains of her body and her mental state.
She’d refused to be taken to the SGC infirmary when the medical team turned up, citing that there was nothing physically wrong with her. Doc Warner had given her a suspicious look but left it and Teal’c had raised an eyebrow but not pushed the point.
Sam was grateful for that, anyway; when Teal’c got an idea in his head, he was well-nigh immoveable. There was too much to do for her to be carted away to be checked over.
Besides, she didn’t want to think about what she’d done in the building, and she didn’t want to think about the Colonel.
Sam pushed away the memory of the rage that had flooded her system when she saw the Colonel being tortured. She put away the recollection of the awful vengefulness that had swept over her as she realised she was invulnerable. She blocked out the knowledge that she had killed a man who, if not precisely innocent, hadn’t been entirely at fault for what happened.
The world was fading to the blues, purples and greys of twilight around her, and another SGC truck was packing up to drive by her. Somewhere around, Daniel was on his cell phone and calling the infirmary to see how the Colonel’s surgery was going.
Against her back, the metal of the van cooled her blood and eased the headache a little. It was the first moment of quiet she’d had since she’d settled down to work in her lab this morning.
It seemed like it had been days ago, so far distant was the memory of the tests she’d been running this morning when the call came through; the Colonel’s voice simply saying, “We’ve got a situation. Briefing in ten minutes.”
Where Stambaugh had got his Goa’uld was still not known, but, with the body to dissect, the SGC might be able to work out an answer, or at least theorise one. Why the Goa’uld had claimed a personal resentment towards her was also not known, and it was something that a dissection wouldn’t reveal. Not all the answers were given to questions asked.
Still thinking, Carter? Sam almost smiled at the Colonel’s voice in her mind. Almost. She was tired and a little heartsick. The adrenaline had long since faded, and if she could find a nice, dark hidey hole in which to lie down and sleep for a while...
The door of the community centre opened, and voices filled the cooling night. Sam heard the familiar gruff tones of the SWAT commander and the various timbres of the men who’d gone into the building to take down Stambaugh and found themselves facing off an Air Force Major instead.
There was no point in avoiding them; it wasn’t as though she had anywhere to hide.
It wasn’t as though she had anything to hide.
The SWATs had been told that Stambaugh had gotten hold of classified experimental technology, and that Sam’s knowledge of the technology had made her able to defend against it and take the attack back to Stambaugh. Daniel had been the one to elaborate on the explanation Sam gave Commander Andrews and Chief Geraldton several hours ago, and he’d done a good enough job that if the SWATs didn’t believe the explanation, at least they weren’t openly sceptical of it.
The Commander’s eyes slid right over her; she hadn’t expected much else. Several of the SWATs avoided her gaze, keeping their sights firmly on where they were going. Most glanced at her, nodded once, brief and curt, and walked on. One regarded her, paused, and came over. She watched him walk towards her and kept her expression impassive.
He had dark eyes and hair and she judged him to be about her age. There was no insignia by which to judge his rank, so she settled for a generic honorific. “Sir.”
“What you did in there...” He paused, searching for the words.
Sam felt her insides squirming. This was one of the men who’d been sent in after SG-1. He’d witnessed her lose it. Her team-mates were one thing; she had enough history with them to know that they understood her position, even if they didn’t always endorse it. This man had none of the history she had with her team-mates; she had no idea of what he might do or say.
He was still watching her, eyes slightly narrowed, when his mouth quirked a little in a smile that was part-admiration, part-ruefulness. “Remind me never to make you mad, Major.” He tipped her a little mock-salute and a wink, then walked after his colleagues without looking back.
Sam stared after him. The comment was something she’d have expected from the Colonel, or maybe Daniel when he was in one of his wryly humourous moods. She’d be despondent over some matter or another, and one or the other would come in and get her out of it. The Colonel was more effective at the technique than Daniel, but they were both pretty good.
This man’s comment worked in exactly the same way that something coming from them would have worked; it lifted her spirits out of the darkness and gave her a little bit of encouragement. Just a little bit, but enough.
The respect and the light teasing that came with it... It meant a lot, even coming from a stranger. Especially coming from a stranger.
She shook her head and glanced around, wondering where Daniel and Teal’c were. She wondered where Pete was.
“Sam?” As if her thoughts had summoned him, he appeared around the side of the van.
“Pete.” She regarded him remotely. It was safer to be distant right now, especially after today. “How are you?”
He shrugged casually, “A bit sore.”
Sam winced. “Sorry.” She’d been so caught up in her anger against Stambaugh, so involved in her own invulnerability, she’d hardly noticed the men she’d thrown away from her with the ribbon device. Only the Colonel’s intervention had stopped her from becoming a monster.
“Bit of a flat apology,” he said, regarding her with something she’d never seen in his eyes before: wariness.
“You aren’t exactly giving me a warm welcome,” she retorted, then bit her lip for the outburst. Now was not the time to confront Pete about this; not when she was already tired and short-tempered from the stresses of the day. Especially not when he was the source and cause of more than one of her stresses of the day. “Look, I’m tired. I’ll speak to you later, Pete.”
“Later, when?” Pete asked. “Later as in tomorrow, later as in next week, later as in never?”
She stared at him in disbelief. “If you’re going to be like that, it’ll be later as in never,” she snapped back.
Now he looked contrite. “Sam... It’s been a stressful day. You’ve been so busy with that job of yours...”
“I have responsibilities, Pete. Just like you do.” And all day long, you’ve been trying to persuade me out of them...
Briefly, her memory flashed a scene and setting at her. She was in a coffee shop, early in the morning, and Pete was suggesting she call in sick and run off with him for the day. She hadn’t then. She wouldn’t now.
There were some things that were stronger than desire or lust or even love.
“Then maybe you should take a break from it,” he said, stepping a little closer. “You’re always working with this job... I never know when I’m going to see you. And it’s dangerous.”
“And yours isn’t?” Sam pointed out, already suspecting she knew what the answer was.
“Pete, my job is dangerous. It’s always been dangerous. It always will be dangerous...”
“Then maybe you should find something else to do, Sam!”
Not this again! She gritted her teeth. It was the end of a long day, and there were many things between them; too many to bring up now. “This isn’t the time to talk about this,” she said, aware that the night carried their arguing voices further than she liked.
“No,” he agreed, surprising her with his acquiescence. “But you’re due for some vacation time - you said as much a month ago...” He looked hopefully at her as his voice turned persuasive. “We could go away for a couple of days, just you and me. Maybe out to Vegas, get one of the honeymoon suites...?”
There was a certain attraction to his suggestion, but something in Sam held back. “I don’t know, Pete. I’d rather...” She just wanted to stay home and not move a muscle. Sit back on the couch and watch something mindless, read through some of the latest astrophysics publications. Something quiet and low-key. Down-time. No glitz and glitter, excitement, thrills and spills, just the peace and quiet of gardening in her backyard, or sitting back with a book by a river in the middle of woodlands.
“Oh, come on, Sam,” he cajoled. “It’ll be fun...”
The thing was, it would be fun, at least while they were there. But then she’d go back to the mountain and feel as though she’d spent two weeks at work without a day off, unrested. In Vegas, the space around her wouldn’t be her own and she couldn’t make it her own. And even if she stayed home, as long as Pete was around, her space wouldn’t be her own either - it would belong to him and the things he wanted them to do.
“I don’t think... Not this time, Pete,” she muttered, uncomfortably aware that he was moving into her mental space, and just as aware that she was mentally backing away. Was this the way this relationship had always worked or was this a recent thing?
Perhaps she’d just been alone so long she’d grown accustomed to being accountable to nobody and no-one but herself and her team. Perhaps she should just give him what he wanted and make things easier on herself than arguing about it with him.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Behind Pete, the door of the centre opened and Daniel strode out, clearly agitated. Teal’c was half a stride behind him. “Sam! There’s been a complication in Jack’s surgery. We’re headed in now. Paul is willing to give us a ride to the airbase. He’s calling in a chopper now to take us back to the mountain...”
Everything else suddenly seemed secondary.
Complications in surgery were never good. And the Colonel wasn’t a young man anymore... Sam took one step towards Daniel, and stopped as Pete’s hand landed on her arm. “Look, Sam, I’ll give you a ride there and we’ll talk on the way. How’s that?”
And suddenly, Sam found herself in a quandary.
On one hand, she wasn’t up to dealing with Pete Shanahan at this particular moment. After today and everything that had happened, she didn’t want to talk to him at this moment. Except that she also wasn’t used to denying him his requests; more for the sake of peace than anything else. Giving an outright ‘no’ to his pleas was out of the question, because he’d be hurt and she’d have to tiptoe around him for days. She’d learned that much in the four months they’d been dating.
A little part of her observed that he had her trained very well. Who knows what hoops you’ll be jumping through in another few months, Sam!
She banished the little voice before it could send any more poison her way.
God, she was tired!
“You won’t have access to the airbase,” Daniel said, neatly stepping into the conversation after giving her a single penetrating glance. “And it’ll take too much time to explain to the guards. We’ll get Paul to drive us.”
“Sam?” Pete looked at her with his best puppy-dog eyes.
She shook her head, fortified by her team-mate’s decision. “I’ll... He’s right. I’ll go with them,” she said as Daniel and Teal’c jogged towards Davis’ SUV.
Sam paused, uncomfortable with him even after the crisis, with no eyes on them. Hurt gleamed in his eyes, and in apology, she leaned in and gave him a brief kiss, but pulled away as he tried to deepen it. “I’ve got to go,” she said, hurriedly. “I’ll call you later.”
Pete was still standing there as they drove off, a hurt expression on his face.
Dr. Daniel Jackson was not always considered one of the most tactful people in the SGC. When he was on a burn about a favoured topic, it was hard to get him off it. As Jack had pointed out, more than once, Daniel was a stubborn sonovabitch when he put his mind to it.
Of course, Jack was one to be talking about stubborn sons of bitches.
They were in the back of the chopper before Daniel broached the subject that had been bothering him all day. “Are you happy with him, Sam?”
He’d wanted to ask the question as they drove out to the airbase, but didn’t want to approach the topic with Paul in the car. Major Davis had been a good friend and ally to SG-1 through the years, but this was family stuff and private.
Daniel did use discretion when it suited him. It just wasn’t the type of discretion people always wanted him to use at that exact moment.
“What?” She turned, looking at him as though he’d sprouted feelers and tentacles.
“Are you happy with him, Sam?”
“Yes.” The answer was defensive and automatic, and Teal’c’s eyebrow rose as he looked at Daniel.
Daniel didn’t need a translation for that one. Samantha Carter will not appreciate your interference, Daniel Jackson. And he knew quite well that Sam wouldn’t appreciate his interference. Except that it wasn’t about ‘interference’ as far as Daniel was concerned. It was about his friend and how this relationship was affecting her personally.
Jack wouldn’t say a word. In a way, Jack said nothing because he couldn’t afford to say anything. When it came to Detective Pete Shanahan, Jack generally kept his mouth firmly shut, whatever he might have liked to say. Sour grapes were never a nice thing.
Teal’c wouldn’t say anything. At least, he wouldn’t until it got to the point where Sam asked him to step in - which was about as likely as a cold day in Netu. Teal’c was a firm believer in letting people make their own mistakes as much as possible and having them learn from the experience. Sam was a firm believer in keeping her team-mates and friends out of her love life.
Daniel was a firm believer in learning from experience - both your own and others’, so you didn’t end up making the same mistakes and complicating everything.
And, if today had been any indication, Shanahan simply didn’t have a clue when it came to Major Sam Carter and not Samantha Carter.
Sam was looking at him with raised eyebrows and an expression of exasperation. He met it with his most defenceless look. “Okay,” Daniel told her simply. “I just want you to be happy, Sam.”
“And you don’t think that I know what makes me happy?” Yes, she considered that he was interfering in her business. Daniel considered that he was making her think about this relationship - something that she didn’t seem to be doing much.
“I think there are things you haven’t dealt with in your relationship,” he said gently. “Including your job and how much your professional standing means to you.”
That was the core of the matter after all. He and Sarah Gardiner had originally split over that painful point. He’d been more interested in his career than in her and, in the end, she’d decided it wasn’t worth waiting around for a man who preferred studying the dead to living with the living.
“I can’t tell him what we do, Daniel,” Sam protested. “He doesn’t have the authorisation...”
“If you did tell him, would he still understand that you need to do what you do?”
Sam looked away and didn’t answer the question. Maybe she didn’t even know the answer.
Daniel wasn’t blind. He’d seen Shanahan’s glances and frowns all day. He’d looked up from the notes on Michael Stambaugh and found Sam and her boyfriend in the middle of a terse disagreement. And he’d heard the whispers and mutters from the SWATs and the Denver Police. It was amazing what you heard when you stood still and listened.
Shanahan had started off possessive, and gone from there to demanding, especially when the SWATs and Police started goading him with comments about Jack and Sam.
Daniel could understand possessive. Sam was a beautiful woman and there was no doubt about that. But there was a difference between being possessive and acting possessive, and Daniel rather thought Shanahan had crossed the line with his demands to go on the insertion team, and his requests for Sam to stay behind.
As for the comments about Jack and Sam...
Daniel knew how the relationship between his friends looked. It looked pretty damning on the surface. But Daniel was willing to bet every archaeological find he had studied on the SGC project - including the Stargate - that nothing had actually happened between his friends. Ever.
He just knew.
Shanahan had no worries on that score. His jealous reaction was understandable, though. Jack and Sam had a rapport that Daniel had envied himself, at times. It wasn’t entirely an emotional link, but in operational situations, one would look at the other and they’d just know what the other was thinking. Daniel had always figured it was a military thing.
As far as emotions and feelings went... Well, Sam was dating Shanahan, right? That had to count for something, surely!
But Shanahan’s apparent inability to accept that Sam could handle herself and such circumstances - an inability that both the SWAT and, to a lesser extent, the Denver Police had shown in today’s hostage situation - was troubling. Like his interference in the Osiris stakeout, when it came to Sam’s professional capabilities, the man had no faith in her. And that had to hurt. No, Shanahan hadn’t witnessed Sam in action, but surely he’d seen enough of the character of Sam Carter to know that Major Carter was a formidable force?
Daniel suspected Sam hid that part of herself from her boyfriend, keeping it tamed down, showing him the woman Shanahan wanted to see, not the woman she was.
Living a lie was a terrible thing to do to yourself and someone else. Just look at Jack.
Daniel watched Sam as she stared out the window at the twinkling lights of the city they were leaving. No, her love life wasn’t his business, but as one of her friends, her happiness was. And Sam, while enjoying some of the advantages of a significant other, was not enjoying other aspects of the relationship.
He wasn’t above interference where he saw it as necessary.
As he watched, she turned and met his gaze and diverted the topic. “Did they say what went wrong with the Colonel’s surgery?”
He accepted the change in topic; he’d pushed her far enough for the night. “No. Just that they went into surgery for the bullet and came out, and then discovered some complications that required them to go back in.”
“It might be internal bleeding,” Sam said as her expression grew troubled. “I think the Goa’uld was using him as a punching bag...”
Daniel winced. Punching bag would do it, and internal bleeding was a tricky one to find. They didn’t always know where the bleeding was happening and it could be happening anywhere... “We’ll find out soon enough.”
He stared out at the world beneath him, at all the twinkling lights and the people and houses and shops and cars they represented. Up high in the darkness, he could see nothing but the twinkle of lights in the sweeping black velvet night. So many people living out their lives with no concept of the Goa’uld or the work SG-1 had done or would ever do.
So much darkness in the world and only a few candles to light the way.
They flew on, through the night.
Sam fumbled with her keys beneath the light of her porch.
A long, hot shower, and then her bed for a few hours before she went back in to the SGC to check on the Colonel.
Not that he’d be aware of her presence. It had taken the doctors nearly an hour to find the source of the problems; a hematoma near the kidney. During that time, SG-1 had been checked out by various orderlies, ordered to bed by General Hammond and fallen asleep on various infirmary furniture while they waited for the operation to finish.
Teal’c had even snapped a photo of her and Daniel sleeping against each other. The flash had woken them up to the news that the Colonel was in a stable condition. He’d be off the team for over a month, and grumpy as hell, but after recuperating, he’d be fine. Fit as a fiddle and ready to take the team out through the wormhole again.
As she shoved her keys into the lock and opened the door, Sam paused. There was a light on in her living area. She’d been pretty sure she’d turned everything off before she left this morning. Cautiously, she shut the door behind her, trudged along the corridor, and slid open the door to her living room.
Candlelight greeted her, small tea-lights set around the dining and coffee table; soft music playing in the background, and a small nest of bedding that had been set down on the floor of the living room. A small box of roses sat on the table next to two wine glasses.
Pete got up from the couch to greet her, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Hey, Sam,” he said, approaching her slowly, his arms open for a hug. “I thought you might like to wind down a bit after everything that happened today.”
Sam stared at the setup, almost too shocked to return the embrace he gave her. When she didn’t respond to his overture, he pulled back, “Sam?”
It wasn’t that she wasn’t glad to see him, it was just that...she wasn’t glad to see him.
She’d thought she’d made herself clear, earlier, when she left the community centre with her team. She’d call him later, deal with the issues between them later rather than after the long, tiring day. Had she said that? Or was that just implied?
Whichever it was, he’d pre-empted her, giving her no space to find her footing and consider the situation between them. It was a familiar complaint.
Pete’s actions might be sweet, but they were highly unwelcome as far as timing went. She was tired, grumpy, and not inclined to deal with him right now at the end of a long day.
Which said something about their relationship right there.
Sam opened her mouth to ask what he was doing here - an inane question, it was blatantly obvious what he was doing here - and stopped.
The day’s events had compressed all the issues and problems and regrets about her relationship with Pete into a hot, hard ball of aggravation and dropped it into her stomach.
It wasn’t just the day’s stresses, either; it was a cumulative aggregation of the months they’d been dating. From Pete’s inability to understand the importance of her professional work, to the way he didn’t seem to be able to permit her personal boundaries. From the way he was charming and polite and lovely and sweet, but beneath it all lurked the memory of words said in anger, and sulks worn in peevishness. From his greeting this morning to the setup this evening...
Abruptly, Sam realised why she’d fallen so easily into her relationship with Pete.
She’d been here before.
The man had been much the same; handsome, with a magnetic personality, and a way of charming you over to his point of view. The younger Sam had followed Jonas Hanson like a star in a binary system followed the black hole its companion had become. And, like a black hole, Jonas had sucked away the edges of her personality, moulding her likes and dislikes to his preferences, overruling her desires and persuading her towards his own.
How galling to discover that, in ten years, her essential taste in men hadn’t changed.
Sam looked at Pete, seeing the smooth, soft lines of his jaw, the growing expression of hurt on his face as she failed to respond to his overture. She sighed, audible in the silence, and bent forward to blow out the tea-lights on the table before she straightened and addressed him.
“Pete, we have to talk.”
Sam sat in the silence of the infirmary and stared at the Colonel’s serene visage beyond her laptop screen.
Freedom was a strange feeling.
The fact that she felt free at all was damning testament to her relationship with Pete.
In the end, she’d found she didn’t want to stay home after all. So she’d showered, collected some journals she’d wanted, and driven in to the SGC, ignoring the raised eyebrow of the evening guard at the gate of the complex.
But her lab had seemed too quiet, the gentle hum of the background mainframes failing to comfort her as she looked over the work she’d been doing that morning, before the call came in. So she’d descended to the infirmary, ignoring the duty nurse’s startled look, and setting herself up beside the Colonel.
He was stable. The nurse had assured her of that. She’d checked through the charts while the man stood by, watching her with a little disbelief as she confirmed what he’d told her. Seven years of travelling through the Stargate, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of infirmary stays meant Sam had a more-than-passing acquaintance with the infirmary and the charts that listed a patient’s state of body after operation.
There was nothing wrong with the Colonel that time and rest wouldn’t fix now.
So she let him rest and tried to write up a report on the day.
She couldn’t think straight.
She didn’t want to think about the day and everything that had happened in it. Even the most basic of descriptions, shorn of emotionality, made her stomach squirm uncomfortably.
When Pete and the SWATs surprised her, she hadn’t been thinking at all. She’d been reacting on a hair-trigger. If it hadn’t been for the Colonel’s intervention, she would have killed those men and done it without thought of right or wrong or any remorse.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For those minutes, she’d been invincible, capable of doing anything without consequences. She’d forgotten morals, tenets, ethics; the only measure of right and wrong had been her desire to inflict destruction and her ability to channel her will.
She’d come so close to becoming a monster. Again.
There was a reason she’d never practised using the ribbon device. General Hammond had initially suggested that she might like to try working with it, but Sam had resisted the suggestions and he’d never made it an order. The kind of power the device gave her could too easily become an addiction, and Sam had been afraid she wouldn’t be able to stop, so she never started.
In spite of her heavy jacket and the warmth of the infirmary, Sam shivered a little. The silence of the infirmary seemed oppressive, and was only broken by the breathing of the man sleeping off the anaesthetic.
The surgeon had removed two bullets from his leg, one lodged dangerously near to the femoral artery. The torn muscle tissue would heal, but the surgeons weren’t sure how well. Only time would allow them to determine the extent of use he’d have when it healed.
Pete had only been trying to protect her; but his actions had gotten the Colonel hurt. The last time he’d interrupted, trying to ‘protect’ her, he’d gotten himself hurt. She’d been willing to overlook his ineptitude the first time, but the second time...
Her eyelids lowered over her eyes and she winced. She was tired, and all she wanted was to sleep, but she was still too wired to do so. The confrontation with Pete had been...confrontational. And difficult.
Now, to top the day off, Sam Carter was single again.
Disappointment was bitter in her mouth as she stared at the screen before her. She’d pinned so many hopes on her relationship with Pete, only to discover that what she’d seen in him wasn’t what she wanted in him. And she felt like an idiot for not seeing the similarity between Pete and Jonas Hanson before.
Back to square one.
This time, she’d do it with her eyes wide open and wary.
Still, she supposed as she sat back and watched the Colonel breathe, it wasn’t the first time she’d become monofocused on something. Her problem had always been that she drew a straight line from her present position to her goal and refused to deviate from it.
The words of an old college friend rang in her brain. The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, but life isn’t a straight line, so trying to live that way is stupid. Sophie had been studying astrophysics, too, but she dabbled in philosophical studies and always loved the really deep discussions about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
This time, Sam would make sure she was enjoying the journey and not just going for the goal.
It wasn’t as though she was the only one living with loneliness around here, she supposed. At the end of the day, the Colonel went home alone. So did Daniel. So did Teal’c.
Playing intergalactic explorer was a lonely task.
So was keeping watch.
Sam sat in the chair by the Colonel and studied his face, seeking something else to focus on other than the failures of her love life and her own self-loathing at her near-corruption today.
His usual tan had waxen undertones, but the peace of the anaesthetic had smoothed out some of the lines of his face. His eyelashes seemed oddly dark against the livid shades of his eye hollows, and the wide, thin mouth was drawn at the corners. Not a young man anymore, but a fascinating, intensely complex man for all that he lacked the youth the world so fanatically pursued.
For a moment she couldn’t imagine what was making the noise, a faint rasping sound that underpinned the beep of the machines. Then she met the dark eyes, their drowsy gaze focusing on her.
“...Carter...” he managed, his lips half-forming around the syllables of her name.
“Sir.” She sat up in her chair and leaned over him, wondering if she should call the nurse back. It was usual for post-op patients to wake up several hours after their operation, but Sam wasn’t sure whether or not he was in pain and needed more painkillers slipped into his IV. His expression showed no sign of pain, only a slight dazedness that might have been the remnant of the anaesthetic’s effect on his consciousness.
“You’re...here...” he managed, and her fingers slipped, unbidden, into his right hand, curling in his palm.
“Yes, sir,” she murmured. “I’m here.”
His mouth curled in the faintest of smiles as his eyelids slipped shut again, and she felt a wave of tenderness, unstoppable, wash through her, body and soul, as his fingers tightened just a little around her hand. He slid back into the peace of unconsciousness and his hand remained in hers.
Sam decided not to call the nurse, and, instead, eased herself closer to the bed so she could rest her head on its edge, by his chest, and listen to him breathe.
She wasn’t entirely alone.