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Sam opened her eyes. A thud sounded from somewhere, then another stifled, tortured moan. She leaned up on her forearms and looked through half-closed eyes over at Vala. Her friend lay face down and fully-clothed on her bed.
“Vala, are you okay?”
Janet shifted in her sleeping bag. “Shhh… My head is killing me.”
“Sorry.” Sam sat up. Her stomach turned and she leaned over, waiting until the world stopped spinning. “I think Vala needs help.”
“Ugh.” Janet sat up, blinking at Sam, before her eyes shifted to Vala. “God.” Cursing, the doctor rolled out from under her blanket and crawled over to the unconscious woman. Carefully, she turned her onto her back.
“Vala.” She slapped Vala’s cheek gently, then harder.
Vala opened her eyes and grinned brightly. “Hey, Janet.” Her head fell to the side and she started snoring.
Janet sat on her heels and pressed her palms against her eyes. “She’s fine, just completely wasted. She probably only just got back.”
Sam glanced at the clock. “It’s nine in the morning.” Exhausted, she lay back against her pillow and closed her eyes. She shouldn’t have done those shots of Tequila with Sheppard last night.
“Yeah, well, it’s Vala. She was probably with Daniel.” Janet got up and stumbled to the exit. “I need coffee. Lots of it. And painkillers.”
Sam’s eyes shot open. Coffee sounded good. Painkillers even better. Her head pounded. Groaning, she rolled out of her sleeping bag and followed Janet.
The crisp morning air cleared her head a little. On bare feet, she hurried through the wet grass until she reached the medical tent. Janet searched through the bottles of pills on one of the shelves. Finally, she handed two of them and a bottle of water to Sam, then took the same for herself and sat on a bed.
“I haven’t been this hung-over since Daniel’s birthday party three years ago.” She dropped onto one of the field beds. “My head is killing me.”
Sam swallowed the pills and looked down at the bottle in her hands. Images of the previous night flooded her mind and she closed her eyes with a groan. She’d practically thrown herself at her camp commander. They’d made out… Then it had ended in total disaster. Oh God, how was she supposed to look at him again?
“You okay?” Janet’s voice made her look up.
She nodded. “Yeah, just a little nauseous.”
Janet grinned. “Rough night?”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Sam took a huge gulp of water.
“Actually, I kinda do. I heard O’Neill and you disappeared in a back alley for about half an hour.”
Sam stared at her. Damn, how did she know about that? Hadn’t Jack agreed not to talk about the situation anymore?
Janet shrugged. “The soldiers smoking outside the bar saw you two. Gossip travels at the speed of light here, you gotta get used to it.” She laughed, then winced, her hand pressing against her temple. “So, how was it?”
“Oh come on, Sammie…” Janet grinned at her. “You can tell me.”
Sam cocked her head and frowned at her. Talking about what had happened was the last thing she wanted, but Janet probably wouldn’t let it go unless she got some information.
“We made out.”
“Just making out?” Janet chuckled.
“Yes.” Sam scowled at her and took another sip of water.
“Oh.” Janet said, concern flashing in her eyes. “He didn’t even try to—?”
“Just let it go, Janet.” She immediately regretted her harsh tone. Then again, the situation was partly Janet’s fault. Instead of encouraging her to go after O’Neill, she should have told her he was married.
“No, Janet, everything isn’t okay. Everybody knows about O’Neill and me hours after it happened, yet nobody bothered to mention he’s married. I’ve been here for almost four months.” Another sip of water. Her headache slowly faded.
Janet stared at her. “Say what?”
“God, I wouldn’t have flirted with him if I’d had any idea. I thought we’re friends, why didn’t you tell me?”
Janet got up and sat down on the field bed next to Sam. “Calm down. What on Earth are you talking about?”
“O’Neill. He’s married.” She looked down to stare at the bottle in her head and sighed. Why did it sting so much to say it aloud?
“Um.” Janet shook her head, her eyes wide. “No, he’s not.”
“Yes, he is. He told me last night while we were…when we were…” Her cheeks heated. Yeah, there was really no need to give Janet all the details of how far they’d actually gone. The situation was bad enough.
“O’Neill? Jack O’Neill? Our base commander?”
“That must have been a misunderstanding. You sure that’s what he said? You were drunk, so—”
Sam jerked her head up. “I wasn’t that out of it. O’Neill said he was married.”
“While you were…”
“Well, before we did anything really.” She flinched and closed her eyes. “God, this is so embarrassing. What the hell is the matter with me. I can’t believe I let you talk me into that.”
Nausea returned. How was she supposed to look O’Neill in the eye and not think about what happened? How was she supposed to work with him?
“Sam, he isn’t married,” Janet said after a long moment of silence.
Sam stared at her. Not married? “What?”
“He used to be married, but his son died in an accident, and his wife disappeared soon after. He’s divorced. He’s not married.” Janet shook her head. “He really told you he was married to get out of…” She swallowed hard. “I can’t believe that.”
“Oh. God.” Sam clenched the blanket on the bed. He’d lied to her. To get out of having sex with her. What could she have possibly done wrong for him to do that? Had she come on too strongly? Had she misread his signals? Her stomach clenched. But why hadn’t he just told her that he wasn’t interested?
She’d thought he liked her. Her cheeks burned and she pulled her knees up to bury her face against them.
“I’m so stupid. I can’t believe… I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Oooh…. Sam…” Janet jumped up and rushed to get one of the buckets standing in a corner.
A few minutes later when her stomach was empty, Sam sat shaking on the bed. Janet rubbed her arms to warm her up.
“I’m sorry I encouraged you to pursue him. I swear, I had no idea, he’d be such a jerk. You two seemed to get along, and I thought there was mutual attraction between you. I just wanted both of you to focus on something other than work for a night.”
Sam released a shaky breath. Her eyes stung and she wiped them with a tissue Janet handed her. So O’Neill was a jerk, no big deal.
She was in the resistance to go through the Stargate and fight against the Aschen, not to hook up with a guy. Nothing in his flirtations had indicated she should hope for more than a quick adventure, so why did his rejection feel so much like betrayal?
“I’m sorry.” Her breath hitched, her throat tight. She wiped her eyes again. Great, now she was weeping like a teenager over some guy. “This is ridiculous. I don’t know why I can’t stop crying.”
“He hurt you, Sam.”
Sam shook her head. “It shouldn’t be such a big deal. I never wanted to pursue him in the first place. If it hadn’t been for the alcohol…”
“It’s not just physical, is it?” Janet straightened and stared at her. “Oh my God. You really like him.”
Sam closed her eyes. If only it weren’t true.
Janet pulled her into a warm hug. “What do you wanna do?”
Sam played with her tissue. O’Neill had turned her down. All she could do was take what was left of her pride and move on. Just as she’d done after Larek had broken up with her.
The episode with Jack had been nothing more than a short detour. Yes, they’d kissed, but they hadn’t had sex. And he had never mentioned that he reciprocated any feelings she might hold. “Nothing.”
Janet blinked at her.
She pressed her lips together. “I won’t do anything. I was looking forward to working on SG-1, and I still am. We said we wouldn’t let this interfere with our work, and I won’t. He didn’t want to be with me, and I won’t make a scene. And I certainly won’t beg him to change his mind.”
She’d learned her lesson, once and for all. From now on, she’d stay away from O’Neill—at least privately.
“Janet, just drop it. Nothing happened.”
Janet bristled. “But something did happen.”
“Shhh.” Sam scowled at her. “Keep your voice down. This needs to stay between us. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means he’s a jerk.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She straightened. Whatever had happened last night between O’Neill and her had been a drunken mistake—nothing more. She had to focus all her mind on what really made her happy. Work. Science. The Stargate. “I appreciate your concern Janet, really.”
“Okay.” Janet lifted her hands in capitulation. “It’s your choice. I still think he behaved like a giant bastard, and if I were you I’d give him a piece of my mind.”
Sam shook her head and got up from the bed. “I’ll be fine.”
It was nothing she hadn’t handled before.
“Jack.” Daniel slipped into the command tent.
Jack looked up and raised his eyebrows at the odd expression on the archeologist’s face. “Daniel?”
“Great.” Jack nodded. “You?”
“So you and Vala…” Jack waved his hand to indicate the new status of their relationship.
Daniel nodded. “Yeah, well, we’ll see where it goes.” He sat down on one of the boxes and studied Jack for a long moment. “So, you and Sam?”
Jack groaned and frowned at him. He’d known something was up. Daniel never entered his tent so nonchalantly unless he had an ulterior motive. Apparently, this was one of those dreaded moments where the archeologist wanted him to spill his emotional guts.
“Where did you hear that?”
Crap. Exactly what he’d wanted to avoid. Carter shouldn’t have to deal with rumors about her hooking up with him.
“What happened?” Daniel folded his arms.
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“Well, for starters, Sam was crying this morning.” Daniel leaned back as if he were chatting about the weather.
Jack tried to keep a blank look on his face when his stomach tightened. She’d been crying. Because of what he’d done to her. Crap. Crap. Crap. He was such an idiot.
“Is she alright?”
“Is she alright?” Daniel’s brows furrowed. “She was crying, Jack, what do you think? You told the woman you were married while you were making out.”
Why the hell did he even ask questions if he knew everything already? Jack glared at him. Maybe he should put a new ban on gossip in place and just throw anybody out who acted against it. The speed with which information spread at camp was just ridiculous. “Did Carter tell you?”
“No.” Daniel shook his head. “I overheard her and Janet talking this morning when I went to get some painkillers from the medical tent. Sam asked Janet not to tell anyone. They don’t know I know.”
Jack put his pen down and pressed his palms against his eyes. “I’ll trust you to keep it to yourself.”
“Don’t worry.” Daniel leaned forward. “I’d be more worried about Sam if I were you. Janet told her you aren’t married. Sam’s calmed down now, but it sounded like she’s pretty cut up about it. What on Earth were you thinking, telling her that?”
Jack’s head snapped up. “Janet told her…what?”
Daniel huffed. “What, did you think you could keep it a secret? They’re friends, Jack. You had to realize she’d find out the truth. God, sometimes you can be so-so-so damn—”
“Daniel, I am married.” Great, so now that secret was out as well.
Daniel blinked. “You what?”
“I’m married. Have been for over five months.”
Daniel pushed his glasses further up on his nose and folded his arms. “And my invitation got lost in the mail?”
“It wasn’t a formal ceremony. It wasn’t even anything romantic.” Jack sighed. “I agreed to marry the daughter of an old friend of mine. I don’t even know the girl. I’ve never met her. It was a necessary arrangement to protect her from the breeding system. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “A forced arrangement?” Reproach tinged his voice. Exactly why he had refrained from telling him until now.
“Yes. Believe me, I wasn’t happy about it, either. At this point, I don’t even know whether the marriage will only be valid on paper, or whether we’ll try to work it out. I wanted to handle the matter discreetly. But then last night… It didn’t seem fair to Carter.” This whole conversation was giving him a headache. Or maybe it was the nagging thought of what she had to think of him now. “Janet told her I lied to her?”
“Yeah.” Daniel groaned. “She doesn’t know you were telling the truth. Jack, you should have told me. I’m your friend.”
“I would’ve as soon as things were finalized. After I’d talked to Jacob and met his daughter. We’ve been pretty busy here with training the new recruits and the latest Stargate missions, so I didn’t get a chance to go to Powhatan City again.”
“I didn’t even know Jacob had a daughter.” Daniel folded his arms. “What’s her name?”
Jack raised his eyebrows, his mind going blank.
Daniel closed his eyes. “Jack, please tell me you at least know the girl’s name.”
“I didn’t really read the contract. I just put my signature under it.” Now that did make him sound like an ass. Daniel had a point, he should have at least checked for the girl’s name. “You know how I feel about unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy.”
“Unnecessary paperwork?” Daniel shook his head, mouth working soundlessly for a moment. “It’s your marriage contract.”
“I know.” Jack took a deep breath.
His thoughts returned to Carter. Damn, the situation had become so complicated. He should have thought about that before telling her about his marriage. “God, Carter must think I’m a complete—”
Daniel glowered at him. “Ass? Jerk? Son of a—”
“I get the point, thanks.” Jack groaned. “I really didn’t mean to hurt her.”
“Why did you even let it get that far if you’re married?” Daniel got up and paced the tent. “Jack, she’s my friend. You’re my friend.”
Jack stood as well. “I didn’t think, okay? It’s not like I planned on seducing her. It just kinda… happened. I didn’t think…“ He ran his hands over his face. “I didn’t think it would be this hard to stay away from her.”
Daniel’s head jerked around and he studied Jack for a long moment. “You could always annul the marriage contract. If you’ve never seen your bride before, it shouldn’t be a problem. Especially since you didn’t even bother to read the damn thing.”
“Not an option. I gave Jacob my word. Besides, it would have severe consequences for his daughter. I wouldn’t want to do that to anybody, least of all a woman. I told you what happens in the breeding facility.”
Daniel sighed. “Well, if I were you, I’d go talk to Sam. Tell her the truth. At the moment, she and Janet both think you’re the biggest ass on the face of this planet.”
Yeah, well, who could blame them? Carter had to assume he’d made the marriage up to get out of sleeping with her. Damn. But maybe that wasn’t entirely a bad thing, given the situation.
If she hated him, at least she’d stay away from him. No more beaming smiles, or friendly conversation. No more reminders of how much he wanted to drag her into a tent and explore every inch of her body with his mouth until she screamed in pleasure under him. Bad train of thought.
“I won’t talk to her.”
“Why?” Daniel stared at him. “Jack, if you care about her—”
Jack sat back down and looked at the report he’d been busy reading when Daniel had entered. “If she thinks I’m an idiot, at least she’ll stay away from me.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, even from you.”
“Daniel.” He glared at his friend. “If word of my marriage gets out, I’ll shoot you.”
“Jack, we’ll both work with Sam from now on. Aren’t you scared she’ll shoot you from behind in the field?”
“No.” Jack looked back down. “Carter’ll keep it professional. I gave her the option to switch to another team last night, and she didn’t take it. She’ll do whatever is necessary. And so will I.”
“You know, sometimes I worry about you. You don’t even care for the feelings of the people around you.”
“You think it would be better to go to her and tell her I didn’t lie? That I care about her, a lot more than I’m supposed to, but that we can’t be together because I’m legally bound to another woman?” He shook his head. “This way she can have closure. Let her hate me. It’ll make things easier for her.”
“Closure?” Daniel scratched his head. “What kind of closure is that?”
“She’ll get over it. Then she’ll have closure. Just give it a few days.” This line of conversation was seriously beginning to annoy him. Why the hell did Daniel always get involved in his business? Some days he really just wanted to punch some sense into his friend. “If you’ll excuse me now, I have reports to review.”
After one last glare, Daniel turned and left the tent. Jack dropped his pen and closed his eyes.
Carter had cried. Because of him. Of all the things, hurting her had been last on his mind. If only he hadn’t signed that damn contract. Then he could have just taken her to one of the guesthouse rooms, locked the door and not let her go until they were both sated and falling asleep in each other’s arms. This morning he’d have taken her out for breakfast and talked about how to proceed.
What the hell was going on with him? Since when did his fantasies about a woman involve cuddling and breakfast?
He should have listened to the alarms going off in his head, and not even flirted with her in the first place. Not in his wildest dreams had he imagined the possibility she might be into him. Damn, he’d wanted her so bad. He still wanted her.
His only option was keeping distance from her.
Sam took one last deep breath and straightened. She checked the weapons at her belt for the umpteenth time. This was the day. Her first trip through the Stargate. She’d dreamed of this her entire life. Finally she’d get what she’d always wanted.
She’d meet with the rest of SG-1 at the Stargate in exactly ten minutes.
Her hand touched the mosquito net in front of the entrance, and she faltered. For the first time since O’Malley’s, she’d see O’Neill. Her heart ached and she swallowed. Would he treat her any different? Would she be able to look at him? She had to stay in control of her emotions.
She was happy. Happy. Forcing a smile onto her face, she stepped outside and hurried through camp towards the narrow path leading to the Stargate in the forest.
She could do this. It was no different from having to hide her anger with Mitchell or Hanson during boot camp training. A broken heart didn’t kill. The feeling would cease after a few days, maybe a week.
Daniel was already at the Stargate, going through a list in his hand and looking through a few boxes. He glanced up when she approached.
“Hey.” Why did he look so concerned? “You okay?”
“Yes.” Sam gave him her practiced smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Right.” Daniel’s gaze rested on her for another moment, then he lowered his eyes to the list again. “Do you mind helping me go through this shipment? We’ll have to check if we packed everything.”
“Sure.” Sam dropped her backpack and took the second list he handed her.
Five minutes later, by the time O’Neill arrived in his full mission gear, the shipment was ready and checked.
O’Neill wished them a cheerful good morning. Sam didn’t look at him while she fastened the list at the side of one of the boxes.
“This’ll be a simple delivery mission. I know, Daniel, you’re not thrilled about this, but since it’ll be Carter’s first trip through the gate, we should keep it easy.”
Her eyes narrowed. Really? He thought she could only handle delivery missions? Jerk. “I assure you, sir, you don’t have to assign us the easy missions on my account. I’m more than capable of handling whatever you throw at me.”
Her gaze met his. Rage was good. At least it hid her pain.
O’Neill cleared his throat. “Daniel, dial the gate.”
When the archeologist walked over to the dialing device, O’Neill approached her.
“Carter.” She looked at him, eyebrows raised at his lowered voice. “I know what you think of me. You gotta believe I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
She folded her arms. “Hurt me, sir?” Her voice sounded cold even to her own ears. “Please, don’t flatter yourself. You’re overestimating the significance of the incident. It was just fun. Nothing to dwell on.”
She didn’t flinch as he scanned her face. For a moment it looked as though he would say something more. But then the event horizon of the Stargate opened: a blue splash in the dimness of the forest.
Sam turned away from him and looked at the crystalline surface. Like the surface of water with sparkling blue waves rippling through it. “Wow.”
“Wow indeed.” She felt O’Neill’s gaze on her, and for just a second, she caught the gentleness in his eyes before he put his sunglasses on. “Alright people, let’s move out.”
Sam looked after him as he walked towards the gate and then dematerialized in the event horizon. She helped Daniel push the shipment through, then stopped and looked at the sparkling surface in front of her.
“This is incredible.” Her fingers reached out to touch the gleaming blue ripples. Her fingertips tingled as they made contact, then she put her hand in. “You can actually see the fluctuation in the event horizon.”
Her hand buzzed at the dematerialization. That had to be the nerve endings in her arm reacting to the process.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” Daniel grinned.
Sam flashed him a happy smile. “It’s even more beautiful than I thought.”
He laughed, and hit her shoulder. “Don’t take too long. Jack doesn’t like to wait.”
With those words, he disappeared in the blue puddle. Sam turned to take a last look at the quiet forest around her.
This was it. Everything she’d endured up to now had led her to this moment. A deep peace settled inside her. It had been worth it. Everything had been worth it. She was happy.
Heart jumping, she stepped into the event horizon.