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Chrysalis Unbound

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Perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness yet become something beautiful” - Beau Taplin

 

1996

There are so few women on base, that he doesn’t even think to check the sign when he barges into the locker room. The woman he walks in on spins around, jerking back against the lockers with her sweater half-on. He’s backing away with his hands in the air, apologising, and is almost at the door before he sees the bruise on her upper arm. He stops, staring at the livid purple marks stark against her pale skin.

“What the hell-”

“Please, get out,” she interrupts, pushing her arm into the sleeve of her sweater and hiding the bruise from view.

Those marks are not the result of combat, and the woman against the lockers is no combat veteran. Jack knows on one level that abuse is real, but to see hard evidence of it in front of him, on a woman he’s never met, makes his stomach turn. “I don’t… Are you okay?” It’s quite possibly one of the dumbest questions he has ever asked, but he’s not good at stuff like this and really has no idea what else to say.

“I’m fine.” She turns her back on him and digs around in her locker, obviously expecting him to leave.

But he doesn’t leave, and eventually she turns around and starts to walk towards the door.

Jack reaches out a hand to stop her, and pulls back when she flinches away from him, avoiding his gaze as she stares at the ground next to his feet.

“I just… whoever he is, he doesn’t deserve you. You don’t deserve that.”

Her gaze flicks to his, briefly. Her eyes are as blue as the Stargate Jack has just returned through, and for a second he thinks he could lose himself in them, but she breaks his gaze and looks at the floor again.

“It’s nothing,” she murmurs, still staring at the ground.

She wears her blond hair long, half pulled back over her shoulders with shorter strands framing her face. He takes the opportunity to study it, noting that despite the makeup there’s a hint of bruising on her cheek that her hair doesn’t quite hide, and her lip is obviously swollen and looks split.

“It’s not nothing,” he says. “It’s not right.”

“And it’s none of your business,” she says sharply. He’s pleased that despite the fact that her eyes avoid his and her posture is ready for flight, her voice carries a thread of steel.

“No,” he agrees, because he’s not sure what else he can say.

“I need to go.”

He steps aside and lets her leave, and the lightness in his soul after their victory and his new perspective on life is weighed down as he considers the door swinging shut behind the woman as she leaves.

Often over the next year, as Jack regains his own equilibrium with this new life he is living, he thinks about the blond woman with blue eyes and bruised skin. He wonders if she left whoever was hurting her. He wonders if she’s still in Cheyenne Mountain, working on that alien ring.

He wonders if she’s okay.

And he wishes he had done something more than let her just run out the door and disappear.

 

Chapter One

The familiar – and awful – taste of cold coffee forces Sam to look away from her simulation, and she realises that once again she has stayed far later than she intended too. She’s powering down her computer when two women enter her lab.

“Doctor Carter?”

Lieutenant Claire Tobias is one of the last people Sam ever expected to see in her lab. She’s accompanied by Doctor Fraiser, who is not often found outside of her infirmary. Sam looks at them curiously.

“Yes?”

“Can you shoot a gun?”

Sam blinks. “I beg your pardon?”

“Can you shoot a gun? We have a situation on base, and we need man-power. Well, woman-power in this instance.”

Sam stares at Doctor Fraiser, and then Lieutenant Tobias, and wonders if it’s possible that alternate realities actually exist.

“Doctor?”

“I shot a gun once at a fair. You know, those competitions where you try to knock the milk cans over. Does that count?”

The two woman glance at each other, and even though they’re the epitome of professionalism she’s pretty sure they’re rolling their eyes at each other on the inside.

Doctor Fraiser is the one to speak. “That will do.”

Things must be bad, Sam thinks as she follows them out of the lab, the once familiar burn of anxiety and fear coiling in her belly. Things must be really bad if they’re desperate enough to give her a gun.

---

She’s terrified out of her mind; the fear is like a drug and everything seems slow and fast all at once until all she can focus on is the unfamiliar feel of the firearm she’s clutching in her clammy hands, and the effort it takes to breathe.

“You okay?” Doctor Fraiser’s voice is clear but quiet in her ear.

Sam doesn’t think she can answer, so she nods her head instead, tightening her shoulders and clenching her fingers tighter around the gun in her hands.

In front of her, Lieutenant Tobias is motioning with her hands, and silently she follows the two women around a corner, stopping when she sees them confronting an airman. Lieutenant Tobias drops the man with a well aimed blow, and Sam feels a pang of envy; she’d love to be that strong and confident and capable.

Two seconds later General Hammond steps into view behind the two women. “Drop your weapons!” he orders, holding a handgun fixed on Dr Fraiser.

Sam freezes, her heart hammering in her chest as she peers around the corner. Doctor Fraiser catches her eye and tilts her chin stiffly, trying to communicate with her, but Sam has no idea what she’s telling her to do. She knows her gun is loaded with tranquilizers, but this is General Hammond , her boss, the man in charge of the whole base, and if she shoots him and it turns out there hasn’t been some crazy alien incursion and all the men aren’t acting loopy then–

It happens so fast, Sam doesn’t even realise she’s pulled the trigger, but suddenly General Hammond is staggering towards her, the gun falling from his fingers, before he collapses onto the ground. Sam is staring at him in shock, trying not to look at the tranquilizer dart stuck in his arm.

“Nice shot!” Lieutenant Tobias sounds surprised, and reluctantly impressed.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! I shot him! What was I thinking! Oh my God I’m going to be fired, what am I going to say to him when he wakes–”

“Doctor Carter, calm down!” Doctor Fraiser’s hands are on her shoulders, holding her still. “You did good,” she says, her voice calm, forcing Sam to look at her and not the General out cold on the ground. “You did good. You won’t be fired. I promise, we’ll fix him up good as new and he’ll be very impressed that you helped save the base, but right now, we still have work to do. I need you to focus. Can you do that?”

Sam tries hard not to hyperventilate.

“We still have a threat we need to neutralize, Doctor Carter. Or Samantha, can I call you Samantha?”

“Sam,” she manages to croak out. “And yes, I can do that. I just need a minute. I’ve never shot anyone before.”

Doctor Fraiser grins at her, giving her shoulders a quick squeeze. “Well, let’s hope you don’t have to shoot anyone else today, or you might start getting used to it.”

Sam tries to smile, but her lips don’t want to work. “How do I put another dart in this thing?” she asks instead, lifting her gun.

“Take mine, I’ll reload yours.”

They switch weapons, and continue making their way through the SGC.

Lieutenant Tobias neutralises a guard in front of a locked door, and releases one of the members of SG-1 that Sam recognises as Teal’c. She’s seen Teal’c from a distance several times at the SGC, and is aware of him by reputation, but she’s never been so close to him before, or realised just how big he actually is. She tries not to hide behind Doctor Fraiser.

“I am pleased to see you, Lieutenant Tobias.”

“I’m glad to see you too, Teal’c.”

Sam stays at the back of the group with Doctor Fraiser as they continue through the SGC, heading towards the locker room. Around them, the corridors are strangely devoid of activity, and that alone is enough to concern Sam who’s used to a dizzying array of soldiers and scientists and technicians.

She’s still not really sure how she, a scientist, has ended up in this little band of soldiers and warriors, and she’s terrified she’ll be the one to screw it all up. That she’ll be the one who lets the team down because she gets scared or can’t cope with the pressure.

The locker room is steamy and hot, the lighting dim, and the bubbling of the hydrotherapy pool sounds strangely ominous. A limp figure lies at the ground in front of the pool, and Doctor Fraiser pushes past to go assess whoever it is. There’s a crescendo in activity, and Sam feels herself pulled back by Teal’c, into an alcove tucked out of sight.

From the billowing steam around the pool, a figure emerges, eyes flashing gold, and Sam’s belly lurches in fear. A strong, solid hand is wrapped around her shoulder, keeping her still despite her instinct to run as far and fast as she can, and she fights the panic bubbling up inside her.

“Be still,” Teal’c whispers in her ear, and the panic grows wilder, struggling against the hold he has on her arm and the weight of him pushing her against the cold tiles of the wall. She forgets about the alien threat and the danger, and all she feels is being held down and trapped with no way to break free.

“You are safe,” Teal’c says quietly, relaxing his hold but not letting go. “You are safe. I will let no harm come to you.”

She’s forgotten she’s supposed to be a warrior, and instead she’s back in that room, back being that woman who couldn’t save herself. The woman who couldn’t get away.

“Here is your weapon.” His voice is quiet in her ear, his hand on her shoulder again, but now a gentle rub instead of the death grip of before. She’s aware of his breadth behind her, the weight of his hand, the gentleness in his voice. Her fingers find purchase on the weapon she’d forgotten about, and somehow, with him behind her she feels steadier, safe in his shadow.

“Thank you,” she whispers, finding her voice. The room before them is still steamy and poorly lit, she can see Lieutenant Tobias and Doctor Fraiser approaching the hydrotherapy bath. She’s ashamed she has no idea what happened and if they are still in danger. “Thank you,” she says again. “I’m okay now.”

His hand tightens briefly on her shoulder, and she feels something comforting with him standing beside her. “Let us be of assistance.”

She’s still disoriented and disconcerted, past memories mingling with the shadows and steam around them. She sticks close to Teal’c’s side, thankful that he accepts her presence with him as they approach the hydrotherapy bath and the limp figure within it.

“Oh, oh my God.” The water is alive and furious around the still figure in the bath. “What are those things?”

“Larval Goa’uld,” Teal’c supplies from beside her.

“We need to get him out,” Doctor Fraiser says urgently.

Teal’c hauls the still silent and unmoving man out of the bath, and drags him towards a bench. “What did she do to him?” Doctor Fraiser breathes as she pushes his shirt apart to reveal a large deformity across his abdomen.

“What is that?” Sam asks, horrified.

“A pouch in which a larval symbiote will mature,” Teal’c replies. “All Jaffa have this.”

To Sam’s disgust and horror, Doctor Fraiser thrusts her hand into the man’s abdomen. “Nothing in there yet, thankfully.”

“Colonel O’Neill will no longer have an immune system,” Teal’c says. “Without a Goa’uld symbiote, he will soon die.”

Sam glances at the man hanging from Teal’c’s shoulder, taking in the blank gaze and complete lack of reaction to his surroundings; a part of her finds it an irony that both times she’s met him, it’s been in this locker room.

“Let’s take him to the infirmary,” Doctor Fraiser suggests.

“You do not have the means with which to assist him,” Teal’c says.

“What are you saying, Teal’c?” Lieutenant Tobias demands.

“The Goa’uld sarcophagus may yet heal him.”

“Good plan,” Lieutenant Tobias agrees. “Let’s go. Doctor Carter, you help Teal’c. Doctor Fraiser, watch our six.”

Colonel O’Neill is wet and heavy against her, and Sam struggles to help drag him down the hall while juggling her weapon, but they eventually reach the gate room and lower the Colonel into the sarcophagus. Teal’c touches something on the sarcophagus and the device rumbles to life, slowly sliding shut until the Colonel is hidden from view.

Sam’s whole attention is now riveted on the sarcophagus, studying it’s detail greedily. A device that heals all human injuries, and can revive the dead. Her fingers itch to get a look at it, to understand how it’s put together.

“Do you think it will work?” she asks, but before anyone can answer an alarm alerts them to the blast doors opening. Teal’c has hold of her arm and pushes her down behind the sarcophagus as bullets spray into the room; she can feel his body jerk and hears him grunt as he is hit.

“Teal’c!” she cries, her hand wrapping around his wrist as his weight crashes down on top of her.

“I am okay,” he says, but his voice is tight with pain.

Beside them the sarcophagus grinds to life again, and she hears a female voice - Hathor, she supposes - barking out a cease fire. Minutes later, Colonel O’Neill launches himself out of the sarcophagus and lands beside her and Teal’c. A blast wave follows him, but the sarcophagus takes the brunt of it.

Sam can hear a high pitched whine building in the sarcophagus, and blue lightning starts playing over it.

“This does not sound good.” Colonel O’Neill grabs at her and Teal’c, and the three of them scrabble out of a blast door behind Lieutenant Tobias and Doctor Fraiser. A huge energy wave crashes through the blast doors before they’re completely shut, and Sam finds herself once again knocked off her feet, landing heavily on her hip, grunting in pain as someone falls on top of her.

She’s lying on her back, dazed, with a wet and heavy weight on top of her. When she opens her eyes, she finds Colonel O’Neill staring down at her, and for a second, time seems to stand still. Then he moves, pushing off her, and her skin feels cold in those places where her clothes are now wet.

“You okay?” he asks.

Sam gasps, trying to catch her breath, trying to clear her mind from the ringing. Her hip is aching, and right now she’s had enough, but she’s okay. “Yeah,” she gasps.

“Doc, get yourself and Teal’c to the infirmary and patched up. Maybe take her,” he nods at Sam, “with you. Tobias, you’re with me - we have a Goa’uld to neutralize.”

Sam doesn’t argue when Teal’c helps haul her to her feet, and she limps down the corridor towards the infirmary, wondering if Colonel O’Neill remembers or recognises her.

She hopes not.

---

Sam stays in the infirmary with Doctor Fraiser long after word comes through that the Goa’uld is gone, watching as the medical officer patches up various injuries sustained over the course of the evening. Teal’c reappears at some point, alongside Daniel, who Doctor Fraiser whisks away into a cubicle. Teal’c hands Sam one of the large cups of coffee he’s carrying, and to her surprise, sits beside her on the edge of the bed she’s been using as a chair.

“I do not believe we have been introduced,” he states as she takes a sip from the hot and welcome drink. “I am Teal’c.”

Sam smiles at him. “I know. I’m Sam.”

He tilts his head and raises his eyebrow at her. “Doctor Samantha Carter,” she elaborates when she realises that’s what he is waiting for.

“It is an honour to meet you, Doctor Carter.”

She feels herself blush. “I wouldn’t go that far, Teal’c. And please, call me Sam.”

His gaze is frank and steady. “I believe you are the one who created the dialling program for the Tau’ri, thus enabling you to use the Stargate.”

“Well, it wasn’t just me,” Sam is quick to point out. “Daniel was the one who-”

“Yes,” Teal’c cuts her off. “However without your expertise, Daniel Jackson would have not been able to help activate the Stargate.”

Sam shrugs, uncomfortable with Teal’c’s assertions.

“Thanks for looking after me tonight,” she says instead, clasping the warm mug between her fingers and making a pretense of taking a long swallow so she gets a reprieve from the intensity of his gaze.

“You conducted yourself with honor. Doctor Fraiser informed me that you saved both herself and Captain Tobias. Without your assistance their mission would have been unsuccessful.”

“Well,” Sam hedges. “I’m sure they would have figured something out. I just got lucky.”

“Perhaps,” Teal’c says. “Or perhaps you are more capable than you believe.”

Sam doesn’t answer; doesn’t think she can answer that. Instead, she takes another sip of her coffee and mulls over his words. Teal’c sits beside her, silent and patient, until Daniel and Doctor Fraiser emerge from their consultation.

“Big night, wasn’t it?” Daniel asks with a quick smile as Teal’c stands up and walks over to him.

“Huge,” she says emphatically, smiling at him.

She’s always liked Daniel, with his affable personality and genuine interest in her work. If he wasn’t so tied up with SG-1 and off-world so often, she thinks the two of them could work well together.

“You did an incredible job,” Doctor Fraiser says with a smile. “Particularly for someone who’s only fired a gun in carnival games.”

Sam blushes again. “Maybe I need to think about some training with a gun.”

“That’s not a bad idea at all,” Doctor Fraiser nods. “I think maybe we need to consider basic marksmanship training for all personnel on base. I’ll bring it up with General Hammond during the debrief.”

“Going up now?” Daniel asks Doctor Fraiser.

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

The two men leave the room while Doctor Fraiser heads to her desk and collects a stash of papers. Sam climbs off the bed, feeling oddly reluctant to leave the sanctuary the infirmary has provided after the crazy night.

“I haven’t thanked you yet,” Doctor Fraiser says as she turns to face Sam.

“For what?”

“For helping us. For taking the risk. And for saving Lieutenant Tobias and myself.”

“I didn’t save you,” Sam says, waving it off.

“Yes, you did,” Doctor Fraiser says seriously. “General Hammond was under the influence of an alien substance, Sam, and he had live rounds in that pistol. You were an asset to us tonight, and without you it might be a very different situation in here right now.”

“Doctor Fraiser-”

“Call me Janet,” the doctor cuts her off. “After what we’ve been through tonight, I’m pretty sure we can dispense with the formalities. Besides, there aren’t so many women on this base that we can’t afford not to be friends with the ones that are here. What do you think?”

Sam finds herself smiling at the woman in front of her, unable to help herself being drawn in by her open warmth and invitation. “I think that would be nice.”

“Excellent. I need to go to this debriefing now, but maybe we need to organise a girls night out at some point.”

And with that, the doctor whirls out of the infirmary leaving it still and quiet.

Sam heads to her lab, thinking it’s been a long time since she had a friend.

---

It’s so late that it’s the next morning now, and Sam doesn’t see the point in going home. She’s exhausted and exhilarated and still running high on adrenalin, not quite believing the night wasn’t some crazy dream. The ache in her wrists, and the bruises on her hip assure her it all really did happen.

There’s a noise at the door, and she looks up to see Colonel O’Neill leaning against the doorframe.

“You’re still here,” he says.

“Technically I only started an hour ago.”

Her eyes clash with his, and she feels an unexpected jolt in her belly. She tears her gaze away from his, staring down at her desk instead.

“I actually meant here, as in ‘still working here’.”

Ah, so he does remember her. She feels uncomfortable under his scrutiny now, and tries to turn away so he can’t see her face. She wonders what he thinks of her, given what he knows about her.

“How long have you been working here?” he asks, when she fails to say anything. Obviously her strategy of ignoring him is not going to work.

“Since the beginning.” He pins her with that gaze again, and despite herself she elaborates. “Since the Stargate Project was reopened a few years ago, before the first Abydos mission.”

“That long? How have I not seen you around?”

She shrugs again; it’s not like Colonel O’Neill is known for his love of scientists, and when you’re not a field scientist it’s actually quite easy to hide away in the labs. Particularly if you’re trying to avoid someone.

To her horror, he’s sitting down on a stool opposite her now, clearly settling in for a visit. “What’s this?” he asks, reaching out to touch the power cell she has wired up for simulations.

“No!” The reaction is automatic, and she slaps his hand away quickly. “If you destabilize this it could blow up!”

He looks briefly disconcerted, looking down at the innocuous little pod hooked up to the multiple wires around it. “It could blow up?” he asks doubtfully.

“It’s very dangerous,” she says firmly.

They drop into silence again, and Sam wonders exactly what he is doing in her lab. She wants to sneak a peek at him, to maybe see what he’s thinking, but she’s pretty sure he’s still watching her and she’s not entirely comfortable with the sort of scrutiny his gaze contains.

“I heard the sarcophagus was destroyed,” she says eventually, unable to stand the silence.

“Yeah. Blown to smithereens. You should see the Gate room. Hammond’s really annoyed, Siler had only just finished painting it.”

Sam feels a stab of guilt at the mention of Hammond’s name, but when she finally works up the courage to look over at the Colonel sitting by her desk, she’s a bit surprised to see a hint of humour in his eyes.

“Is General Hammond okay?” she asks nervously.

He grins openly at her, again surprising her. “You mean after you shot him?” he asks gleefully.

The guilt twists and rises like bile in her throat while the anxiety burns. She needs to find her roll of Tumms; she’s going to get another ulcer at this rate. “Oh boy,” she whispers, closing her eyes. “I’m going to be fired, aren’t I?”

“Nah,” the Colonel says, still smiling. “Hammond’s been shot before. You didn’t hit anything important, and you stopped him from taking out Doc Fraiser, so I think he’ll keep you around. Besides,” he says, the tone in his voice changing. “You’re the Doctor Carter, aren’t you? The one who built our Stargate and got the program up and running. You’re the brains of this place, Carter, and Hammond would be crazy to let you go.”

“I didn’t build the Stargate,” she disagrees.

He waves his hand airily. “Stargate, dialing program, same difference. Without you, this place wouldn’t exist, so I don’t think he’s going to fire you.”

Sam doesn’t agree that it’s all because of her the Stargate Program exists, but she’s struggling to think because of the way he’s looking at her. Instead, she looks back down at the simulation she hasn’t been able to work on, and searches desperately for another topic to talk about.

“It would have been nice to study the sarcophagus,” Sam says.

“Would have been nice to have one in the infirmary. Save a lot of time recuperating after a bad mission.”

They drop into that awkward silence again, but this time Sam feels brave enough to peek at him. Instead of watching her like she assumed he would be, he has a yoyo in his hands and is trying to untangle a knot in the string. She’s still completely confused as to his presence in her lab, but too nervous to ask him, because she’s fairly certain it has something to do with the time before when he walked in on her in the locker room.

“What was it like?”

“The Stargate?”

“No. The sarcophagus. How did it feel?”

“It was very light. And warm. And weird.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. Kind of like being stoned without the drugs.”

“You’ve been stoned?”

“It was a long time ago.”

“Oh.”

“You know what I don’t get?” he asks suddenly, leaning forward.

“What?” Is that breathless voice really hers?

“How for the last five months that we’ve been working on this base, we’ve not run into each other at all, despite the fact that you’re our resident ‘Gate geek.”

“You don’t like geeks. It’s well known. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in the labs before.”

“I visit Daniel’s lab all the time.”

“It’s on a different level.”

His eyes narrow. “Have you been avoiding me?”

“How could I avoid you when I don’t even know you?”

He sits back, considering. “Okay. I just…. I didn’t know if you were okay, and I’ve thought about you a lot.”

To her surprise, her eyes sting, and she looks down at her simulation again, making a pretense of adjusting a wire. She knew this confrontation would happen if he saw her again; he hadn’t seemed like the type of man to let it go if he recognised her. She just hadn’t expected him to be quite so considerate or sweet.

“I’m okay,” she says quietly. “Really, I am okay now. It’s not an issue anymore.”

When she eventually looks up at him, he’s still studying her, and she’s got no way of knowing what he’s thinking. “I’m glad to hear that,” he says finally, offering a small smile. He stands up and stretches, before slipping the yo-yo back in his pocket. “Maybe I just didn’t see you because I was looking out for a blond.” He reaches over to tug on the dark braid lying over her shoulder. “Brunette suits you though.”

Before she can say anything, he’s disappeared out of her lab, and she’s left trying to concentrate in a room that suddenly seems too quiet and too empty.

---

She’s sprawled across her workbench, the dangerous little glowing pod pushed haphazardly to the side. Jack considers it briefly, and then turns his attention back to the woman sleeping with her head on her arms and the tiniest bit of drool evident on her wrist. If he knew her better, he might consider teasing her about that. Maybe.

He takes a moment to observe Doctor Carter, studying what’s visible of her features for any signs of bruising or injury, but there’s nothing evident. He can’t forget the images he saw before, of the bruising on her arm and the fear in her eyes. It was reassuring this morning, that there was no fear in her eyes, just caution and embarrassment.

A little bit of subtle snooping today didn’t provide him with any useful information; Doctor Samantha Carter is polite, respected and admired by her colleagues, and is known to be brilliant. However, she’s also known to be shy, humble, and reclusive. Her next of kin is listed as her dad, and Daniel – who knows everything about everyone – was only able to supply “I think Catherine recruited her initially. She seems really nice though.”

Jack thinks it’s important that he knows the people under his command, and is annoyed at himself that it’s taken this long for him to meet the famous Doctor Sam Carter, whom, embarrassingly, he had always thought of as a bald man with glasses and a potbelly. With Tobias and Daniel on his team the need to venture into the labs has been easily avoided. Still, as second in command of the SGC, he should really have taken more of an interest in his key players, including the scientists.

And now one of those key players is sleeping on her desk, exhausted from a night running around with a gun and chasing aliens. He has the fleeting thought that he wishes he could have seen her in action.

He’s relieved she’s asleep, because he hasn’t really worked out what he wants to say to her or accomplish by seeing her again today. This way, at least, he has the excuse of making sure she gets home safely.

“Wakey wakey.”

He rests his hand on her shoulder, and she starts, but instead of a little jump she’s flying backwards away from him, falling off her stool in a chaotic rush for escape, scrabbling madly to get away.

“Easy!” he says, crouching down but keeping his hands well clear of her.

It takes her a minute to get her breathing under control and regain her bearings; he sees the utter terror in her eyes fade as she takes in the familiar surroundings of her lab.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says, closing her eyes in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I just… I think I’m still wound up after last night.”

He thinks she’s lying about what’s got her worked up, but he’s not going to call her on it. Yet.

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“No, I’m okay.”

He sits back until she starts to unfold herself, and offers her a hand to help her to her feet. She hesitates for a moment, meets his gaze, and then accepts his grip to help her up.

“I must have fallen asleep,” she says, looking at her desk. “What time is it?”

“Home time,” he says. “Come on, I’ll drive you.”

“I can drive myself. I’ve been driving for a long time, you know.”

“Sure,” he agrees. “But you’re dead on your feet, and I told Doc Fraiser I’d take you home because she was worried you hadn’t slept today.”

“I don’t need-”

“Ah! Doctor’s orders. Come on.”

In the end, she lets him drive her home, and before he even has his truck out of the parking lot she’s dropped off to sleep again, head resting against the glass of the passenger door. She only wakes up when they come to a stop at the address he pulled from her personnel file; a tidy apartment building in a good part of town.

“Thanks,” she says, opening her door, and then frowns when he undoes his own door.

“Humor me.”

He thinks she might argue with him at first, but she’s tired and just shrugs at him as though she doesn’t care. He follows her silently into the building, up to her second floor apartment where he waits as she unlocks the door.

“Want to go in and make sure there are no monsters?” she asks him, raising an eyebrow and standing back.

He’s tempted, partly because he still feels guilty that he didn’t do something when he first met her, and partly because he’s curious about this woman who’s been a mystery to him for so long. Instead he satisfies himself with a quick glance into her neat, bland, living area through the open door.

“Looks safe enough.”

She raises a tired eyebrow at him. “Thanks for the ride, Colonel O’Neill.”

“It’s Jack.”

“Jack?”

“Yeah. Most people call me Jack.”

She smiles uneasily at him, and shifts her weight from foot to foot. “Well, thank you for the ride.”

“I’ll pick you up in the morning so you can get your car.”

“It’s okay, I’ll get a cab.”

“I’m going by the base to get Teal’c, so it’s easy enough to grab you on the way.”

She wants to refuse, he can tell by the look in her eye, but it’s obvious she doesn’t want to offend.

“It’s no hassle, really,” he says, even though his house is on the opposite side of town.

“Well, if you’re sure…”

“I’ll see you at eleven hundred hours. Eleven o’clock.”

She smiles at him. “I know how military time works. I’ll see you then, Colonel. Thank you.”

They say their goodbyes and then he’s on his way home, wondering why there’s a tingle of excitement in his spine at the prospect of tomorrow. It feels almost like a date, he thinks, and then tells himself he’s being stupid and turns up the music.