Being Sam Carter
by Suz suzvoy@tesco.net

Disclaimer - MGM/Gekko/Double Secret own them.

Spoilers for ‘Children of The Gods’, ‘The Broca Divide’, ‘In The Line of Duty’, ‘Prisoners’, ‘Message In A Bottle’, ‘Spirits’, ‘Foothold’, ‘Nemesis’, ‘Small Victories’, ‘Upgrades’, ‘The Curse’ and ‘Ascension’. General knowledge of the show.

Use of {{}} indicate thoughts. This is likely to get confusing in places - but then I imagine this situation would be.

This is a sequel to the story Red Tape, which should be read before this and can be found here: http://suzvoy.tripod.com/sj/redtape.html

Feedback as always would be loved. Flames will be ejected into hyperspace.

*

"Off world activation."

Strolling calmly into the gate room, Jack glanced towards the Stargate. There was no need for concern, but the troops were doing their job and standing ready with weapons poised - just in case. In paid to be careful in their line of work.

Reaching General Hammond and the rest of SG-1, he nodded. They were clustered around the base of the ramp, awaiting at least one visitor.

"Receiving SG-8's IDC," Sergeant Davis announced through the PA. "Opening the iris."

At his command the metal barrier opened, revealing the watery display behind. Jack never failed to think how very cool it looked.

"Stand down," Hammond ordered, and the troops complied.

A few moments later SG-8 appeared, stepping free of the wormhole's hold. Stumbling out after them came Releta and Shela.

Jack's grin immediately became huge. He hadn't known for sure whether she'd be visiting, and he had to admit that he was delighted to discover that she'd come along. It kind of made sense, anyway. By all accounts she was well known and well respected among her people. She'd be as good a choice as any to help represent them.

"Welcome back SG-8," Hammond greeted.

"Thank you sir, good to be back." Major Kovachek responded, throwing a genuine smile towards Releta. "As beautiful as their world was."

Releta smiled in kind.

Hammond then focused his attention on her and Shela. "I am General George Hammond, the leader of this facility. It is an honour and a pleasure to welcome you to Earth."

"Greetings, General Hammond," Shela responded, evidently having learnt about human names from Releta. "It is an honour to visit your world, and to meet you. I am Shela, and my companion is Releta."

Releta spoke. "We regret that Refa cannot visit your world at this time, but he has other responsibilities."

"He has, however, put forward several proposals for further friendship between our peoples that he would like you to consider," Kovachek added.

Agreeing, Releta faced Hammond. "Indeed. I have heard much of you, General Hammond."

Hammond threw a dubious gaze towards Jack as the wormhole shut down. "Really?"

Jack struggled to look innocent. He really hadn't had anything to say but praise for the General, but from Hammond's expression he almost felt like he was guilty of something. "What?"

Carter grinned. "It's good to see you again Releta, Shela."

The introductions and greetings continued until SG-8 left to get changed and checked out, and then Carter of all people suggested everyone else move up the briefing room until Major Kovachek was ready to convey the proposals.

Agreeing that Releta and Shela could be examined in the infirmary once SG-8 were finished, Hammond led the way up to the briefing room.

Jack deliberately hung back in the gate room with his teacher. "I'm glad you came," He felt compelled to tell her.

Smiling in that damned know it all way that she had, she touched his arm. "As am I."

*

The briefing had gone well. Carter was gonna get the chance to study all that fascinating technology, Daniel was gonna get the chance to study their history, Teal'c was...well, Teal'c was gonna learn about as much as Jack was going to, but they were both happy with that.

And Releta wanted to know everything she could about Earth.

It was weird. There weren't many women in his life that he didn't envision in some kind of romantic or sexual way.

Actually, there weren't many women in his life at all.

The only woman he worked with directly was Carter and...well, he knew how complicated *that* situation was.

But he cared about Releta a lot. More than he'd realised to begin with, and she felt like a mentor more than anything else. Now that he'd seen the damn thing, she was Yoda to his Luke Skywalker.

He still didn't see what Teal'c got from that movie.

She was annoyingly cryptic most of the time. Smug, superior...but he liked her.

Yet there were other concerns that came first.

Case in point. They were due for some downtime, and he wasn't about to give it up. The plan was simple: find Carter, mention that they were due to be off soon. She'd inevitably ask him what he was planning on doing with his free time...and then he'd ask her. If she said yes...

Which she never did. She never said yes.

But, it had been quite some time since he'd last asked her, so he figured he'd had time to get over that rejection and risk it again. No one could ever say he wasn't determined.

After being reliably informed that she was in or near the infirmary, he headed in that direction. He knew that their visitors would be finished up with their tests soon, and-

He paused just as he turned the corner. There she was. A few feet outside the infirmary, she was talking to Kovachek about something. With palms that were suddenly sweaty, he fell into the familiar routine of shoving his hands into his pockets. Acting as normally as he could, he strode towards them.

"Carter, Kovachek."

Turning towards him, that smile appeared on her face. "Sir,"

"Colonel,"

"What are you two kids discussing?"

"Nothing of consequence. Just talking."

Nothing of consequence? Just talking? That wasn't helping him to break into the conversation. And when did she start talking like that?

"Actually, if you two don't mind," Kovachek began. "I should head off. I have some paperwork to catch up on."

Mind? Why would he possibly mind? "Sure. Okay."

Kovachek nodded. "Colonel. See you later Major."

"Goodbye sir."

So, now it was just the two of them. Alone...in a corridor with people walking by. "So Carter, doing anything in your downtime?" Oh, *subtle*. How was it he turned into a complete idiot just at the very prospect of inviting her?

"Nothing in particular, sir. Are you planning on doing anything yourself?"

She'd asked, at least. That was something. "Actually, I was thinking of heading to my cabin. Haven't been for a while."

Nodding her agreement, she shrugged. "I don't recall you mentioning it for a while."

Why did his mind want to interpret that statement differently? "You wanna come along?"

Okay, so that wasn't how he'd intended to ask. It had just...come out. Not the most eloquent invitation he could have made.

So Jack began to overcompensate. "There are no actual fish per se, and according to Teal'c quite a few mosquitoes, but the weather's pretty good this time of year and-"

"Yes."

"-there is a television set, although it doesn't actually receive any channels-excuse me?"

"I said yes. I would like to go."

Uh...

Wow.

He wasn't actually prepared for that.

He'd been prepared to ask, he'd been prepared to cover up his disappointment, but actually coping with her saying yes...that was completely unplanned. "Well...good." Why did she look so damn pleased with herself? "Very good. That's great." He was starting to freak out. "It'll be fun."

Releta stepped out of the infirmary. "What will be fun?"

Jack smiled at her, glad she was here. It helped calm him down. "Releta, what's the verdict?"

"Apparently I have a very hygienic bill." She looked extremely confused. "It sounded positive."

"You have a clean bill of health," Jack corrected, amused. That was the kind of mistake Teal'c used to make. "And it *is* positive."

Reassured, she nodded. "What were you talking about that will be fun?"

Ah, well-

"Colonel O'Neill and I will be going to his cabin for a few days."

Woah, was she feeling all right? First she continually says no, and suddenly she's broadcasting it to everyone she comes across? Sure, nothing was actually going to happen, and he wasn't going to lie about it if asked directly, but he certainly wasn't about to tell anyone who just happened to be walking by.

"Cabin?"

Jack took over. "Uh...wooden building, although nowhere near as nice as the ones you guys have. There's a little pond and lots of greenery. That's about it."

"Sounds beautiful."

Yes, it was. To him it was the most beautiful place on Earth. "It's not bad."

The older woman's eyes lit up. "I would so love to see your world." The implication was obvious.

Jack had a baaaaaaaaaaad feeling about this... "Well, Hammond'll probably want you to stay here." He never thought he'd say this, but *he* wanted her to stay here. "But I'll ask. Promise."

*

"I think it's a wonderful idea."

"What?!" Realising how loud that had been, he cleared his throat and repeated the word in a rather more feeble voice. "What?"

Hammond moved behind the desk in his office, and sat in the chair. "You know better than anyone how eager Releta is to see what Earth looks like. This is a perfect opportunity. From what you've told me it's relatively isolated, so we'll have limited exposure, and you'll be there to address any security concerns."

"I guess so sir, but frankly...well, I thought you'd object." O'Neill had wanted him to, dammit. "It's not the kind of thing you'd usually agree to so readily."

Sighing, Hammond indicated for the Colonel to sit. "Jack...you also know better than anyone else how little we've brought back through the Stargate that has turned out to be of any value to us - military or otherwise. Yes, we have established allies but more often than not they're below our level of technology, or simply unwilling to share it." He paused, looking down for a brief moment before lifting his head again. "These people want to. I am being 'encouraged' to do whatever it takes to keep our new friends happy. And if that includes allowing Releta to pay a visit to your cabin, then so be it."

Jack sighed. "Purse strings again sir?"

The General nodded. "Something like that."

Great. Just great. "At least we got that UAV back."

Chuckling, Hammond clasped his hands together. "True enough." Had he actually had any hair, Jack had the feeling he would have run his fingers through it. "I don't have to remind you of the appropriate security measures, so...have fun. And I recommend you take someone else with you. Just in case."

"Good idea, sir. I'm sure I'll think of someone."

*

Releta wouldn't stop asking questions. Every *thing*, every object they passed she wanted to know about. What was that? What did it do? How did it work? She was worse than Charlie had been when he was becoming aware of the world around him.

Charlie.

Surprisingly - considering the fact that she knew absolutely everything - Carter let him handle the answers. She'd speak up every now and then, but mostly she'd watch the scenery rushing by.

He wasn't used to being the one in the driving seat - pardon the pun - when it came to knowledge. Still, he didn't think he was doing too badly with the answers. And for the most part Releta seemed to understand, so something good was coming out of it.

Jack had invited Teal'c and Daniel along, admittedly more out of courtesy than anything else, but both had declined. Teal'c had other mysterious Jaffa plans, and Daniel wanted to work with Shela as they were both eager to learn about each others cultures. As they were the only people who actually understood each other when their conversations really got going, that was probably a good thing.

Releta asked another question.

Jack sighed.

Carter smiled.

*

Finally, they were here. Parking his truck and turning off the engine, Jack practically leapt out of the drivers seat and onto the ground - partly to escape from another question, partly to give his legs a good walk around. His right leg objected briefly but he soon worked the pain out and helped them get the luggage out of the car. Neither woman had packed much, and Releta's luggage was all entirely borrowed. She hadn't even bothered going back to her planet to get her own provisions because she was so eager to see the place.

That said, Releta had insisted on carrying something out of the truck, so Jack had asked her to take the bottles of beer he'd brought along with them and open up a couple. Of course, he was probably going to have to show her how to do that.

Slamming the trunk closed, he watched as Carter moved around the cabin and studied the pond. He was more sensitive than he should have been to what her opinion would be.

"Amazing," She turned to face him, having no idea how beautiful she looked in front of the pond with the sunlight reflecting off the water. "It's beautiful. I should have come here sooner."

"Well I wasn't gonna say anything..."

Shaking her head in good humour, she turned back towards the pond.

Jack soon had everything unlocked and opened. As he was airing out the cabin Releta took the opportunity to explore every inch of it. She seemed quite impressed, cornering him in what was effectively the kitchen.

"It is different from our homes, yet similar."

"It *is* made out of wood," Was all he could say. "I think that's about all they have in common. This is a lot more basic...and of course, mine doesn't have all that cool technology hiding in the walls."

That amused her. "You will soon."

Carter'd be pleased to hear that. "Yeah, about that..." This was the perfect opportunity to bring up something he'd been wondering about.

"About what?"

Leaning against a cupboard, he folded his arms across his chest. "Why *are* you sharing all this stuff with us? Don't get me wrong; we're grateful as hell that you are, but I'm wondering what's in it for you."

She genuinely seemed shocked by the question. "We like you."

Huh. "That's it? It's as simple as that?"

"Why should it be any more complicated? Until you arrived we believed there was little purpose in travelling through the portal. It seemed evident that it could take us to other worlds, but there was no reason to. We knew the stories of those who would wish to hurt us, and felt it best that we stay where we were, doing nothing to provoke them. Because of you, we are reconsidering that decision."

That was some speech. "I hope we don't let you down." Damn, if something nasty did happen to them because of this new...spirit of adventure?...he'd feel personally responsible.

"We have no expectations."

She may have meant that, but Jack seriously doubted it.

*

Soon, Releta was exploring the area around the pond. Jack had warned her not to fall in, and - after telling him that she was quite capable of looking after herself - she promised she would be careful anyway because she wasn't fond of swimming.

Carter, meanwhile, had found the wooden chairs facing the pond and was relaxing in one. Approaching, he sat in the chair next to hers and handed her one of the two beers he was holding.

"Thanks," She mumbled, turning her face back towards the pond, hiding her eyes behind sunglasses.

Okay, *something* was bugging her, he decided as he took a swig of his drink. She'd been oddly reflective for a while now. "What's wrong?"

She didn't seem surprised by the question, but continued to look towards the pond - maybe watching Releta who was now at the opposite side, doing something bizarre with clumps of grass. "Just been thinking."

Jack started peeling the label from his beer bottle. "About?"

"I really should have come here a long time ago."

He was pleased, of course, that she was admitting that, but he didn't know *why* she was admitting it. "Yeah, so you said. It's not like you weren't invited-"

"I know. I just...couldn't."

The label got stuck to his fingers. "So why now?"

Carter looked as lost as he felt, but smiled wryly. "It just felt like the time." She finally turned her head back to face him, and even though he couldn't see through her sunglasses he knew her eyes were focused precisely on his.

"I'm glad it was," He found himself murmuring.

"Jack!"

Damn that woman.

Tearing his gaze away from Carter, he shouted across the pond to their companion. "Yes, Releta?"

"You must come and see this! I believe I have discovered an animal!"

Groaning internally, he placed his beer on the ground and planted his hands on the arms of his chair to push himself up. Suddenly assaulted by a huge wave of dizziness he fell, not even managing to land on his knees. His chest impacted on the ground and the world spun away into a painful, throbbing, nightmare.

"Colonel!"

*

Consciousness returned suddenly and painfully. Grunting, he opened his eyes and saw a concerned Carter and Releta looking down at him.

"Sir?"

"Jack?"

Behind them was a ceiling, so he presumed they'd moved him inside the cabin. "Carter?"

"How are you feeling?"

The pain was dissipating. "Better than I was." He began to sit up, only to realise...

He couldn't.

"I can't move," It seemed almost unimaginable. He could tilt his head and blink his eyes, but everything below the neck stayed put. He ordered his damn body to move but it stubbornly resisted and stayed just where it was.

"What?!"

"I can't move," He repeated, trying to accept it. He couldn't just lay here. He *had* to move.

She still looked stunned, grasping for an answer. "Maybe...maybe it's something from Perol."

"Fraiser screened me when we came back. Not to mention Releta and Shela when they came through."

"Maybe it's so alien that it's undetectable. It wouldn't be the first time we've missed an alien disease or virus."

The truth was, of course, that she didn't know anything. They didn't know anything. It could easily be something Earth based that had caused this.

Nonetheless, Releta looked horrified. "If we are to blame for this I am truly sorry!"

Carter shook her head. "No one's blaming anyone. Sir, there's no phone here."

His own damn fault. "Yeah."

"I'm going to take the truck to find help."

Licking his lips, he nodded, feeling trapped in his own body. "You wanna turn right when you get on the road. It's not far."

"Yes sir," Carter leant towards him for a second, and although he couldn't feel it he realised she was holding his hand.

He couldn't even feel it.

Letting go she grabbed the keys from the table at the side of the room then ran out of the cabin, the screen door slamming shut behind her.

Waiting until the distinct roar of the truck coming to life was heard, Releta touched his shoulder.

He couldn't feel that, either.

"You will be well," She told him. "I am certain of it."

But there was something else. Something - as the cliché went - that she wasn't telling him. His instincts were pretty damn good when he actually paid attention to them, and this wasn't sitting right.

There was something flickering on the edge of his consciousness, warning him.

Suddenly he hated himself. Hated himself for being so damn vulnerable, so damn open, for telling her everything she wanted to know.

Then again, it wasn't completely his fault. No doubt she was an expert at this. Dammit, Hammond had said it himself: this wouldn't be the first time they'd encountered a civilisation that played nice to hide a darker purpose.

"What did you do - put something in the beer?" At her frown, he continued. "You did it."

Confused, she moved back and he realised she was sitting in a chair. "Did what?"

"This. *You* did *this* to me."

"How can you believe that, Jack? I would never do anything to harm-"

"Don't," He warned, absolutely positive that she was lying through her teeth. If she actually had any. "My instincts may have been fooled of late, but rest assured that when they work they work pretty damn well. I know you're not what you claim to be." Of course he didn't know exactly what her real purpose was, but it certainly wasn't extending the arms of friendship.

Sitting further back in the chair until her back was straight, she smiled. Unkindly. "A pity."

Shit!

Even while he was accusing her some small fragment of him had been hoping that it wasn't true, but now that his suspicion was confirmed a terrible disappointment filled him. He really had liked her.

That didn't matter anymore.

He had to do something, he had to warn-

"Carter!" Shit! "If you do anything to hurt Carter I swear to God-"

"Relax, Jack." She seemed like a completely different person now. Still smug and superior...but no kindness with it. "She will not be harmed. At least...she had not been harmed the last time I saw her. But it has been some time."

Some time? What?! She just left-

"Fuck," He murmured, wishing more than anything he could move just so he could kick himself. It was so obvious!

Amused, Releta grabbed the neckline of her top, pulling it down an inch or two. "When you left our planet after you recovered your UAV," There, blinking away, was a metallic cylindrical disc. "Did you really believe it was Major Carter who came back with you?"

*

The next time he opened his eyes, it was dark.

Pulling free from the delicate grip of slumber, he immediately knew that something was wrong. What it was he couldn't say - he just *knew*. His consciousness was suffused with a general sense of wrongness, as if something in the universe was slightly out of alignment.

Carter appeared from above, leaning over his body. Her face was shadowed with darkness but there must have been light coming from somewhere, because he could see the smile on her face.

It'd be okay now. Whatever was wrong would be okay. She could fix it.

"Are you feeling better?" She asked, still smiling.

And then he remembered.

He tried to move, tried to shuffle backwards, tried to coil away from her, but it was useless. He was still a prisoner inside his own body. "You're not Carter."

"No," She agreed, rubbing a hand over his chest. "I am not."

Even though he couldn't feel it, he was disgusted by her - its - touch. "Keep away from me." It sounded pitifully pathetic; he knew that. But what else could he do? He couldn't move, he couldn't warn anyone, he couldn't stop them.

All he had to fight with were words.

He was hideously unprepared.

As it deliberately continued rubbing and its smile became scornful, Jack spoke again.

"Where is she? Still on Parole?"

It apparently saw no reason not to tell him. "Yes." Frankly, he could see why it wouldn't be bothered. It wasn't like he could do anything with the information.

Still, he knew something he hadn't known for sure before. They didn't need to stay in relatively close contact to keep taking someone's form, because it had managed to come all the way to Earth and it still looked like Carter. As that thing on its chest was projecting the image, no doubt it kept the image stored in its memory.

Now *he* was thinking like Carter. Speaking of which...

From what he'd seen and what Carter had explained to him the first time these aliens had tried to take over the base, they needed those purple things wrapped around the foreheads of their victims to be able to read their thoughts. That was how they'd managed to act like members of the SGC. But Jack couldn't see any way that this thing could have access to Carter's thoughts if she was still on another planet, so it had to be playing it by ear.

If it had ears. How could you possibly tell with those funky purple outfits?

Probably when it had initially taken her form - and when had that been? Before they'd woken up wrapped around each other? After? - it had access to her mind for some time so would know certain things already. But it couldn't possibly have access to her brain all the time, so most of it was guesswork.

And how the hell had they got past that frequency blaster thing Carter had put in the gate room?

Why hadn't he been paying closer attention? Every little word, every little thing she said that seemed slightly wrong somehow came back to haunt him. Things that were out of character.

How could he possibly have been foolish enough to believe that she would agree to visit his cabin?

He should have known. He should have realised. She...no *it*, dammit. It.

*It* had been telling him exactly what he wanted to hear. And how had it known to do that?

Footsteps approached, bringing the answer to him.

Jack waited, staring at the ceiling as Releta arrived.

"Jack," She grinned carefully. "I am pleased to see that you are awake."

He ignored the statement, refusing to meet its gaze. It didn't deserve that. "What about SG-8? Are they all one of you? And Shela? What's he doing to Daniel right now?"

The fury was building. How *dare* they?

"Jack,"

"And what's with the different approach? A little worried because we kicked your ass last time?"

The thing that looked like Carter grabbed his face. "You are not going to provoke us. We are being slow and methodical. Moving too quickly was the mistake they made last time."

"'They'?"

"Those who came before us."

"Riiiight..."

"Enough," Releta ordered, turning to 'Carter'. "Sufficient time has passed. You must go."

Complying, 'Carter' nodded but didn't leave immediately. Instead it decided to torment Jack further. Gripping his face harder, it leant down and kissed him soundly.

Sickened, his stomach turning, he tried to pull away but his futile head movements were no match for the obvious strength of the thing pretending to be Carter.

Eventually it broke the kiss and Jack - gasping for breath - did the only thing he could.

He spat at it.

It seemed entertained more than anything else, wiping the phlegm away with the back of its hand It ran a finger down his chest. "Gullible..."

Standing to its full height it turned and left the cabin. Again Jack heard his truck roaring to life before the sound of the engine faded into the distance.

Trying to force the memory of what that *thing* had done to him out of his head, he glanced at the only other person remaining. "Where's it going?"

Releta moved to look out the window. "Back to your SGC. You and she have had a disagreement."

Huh. "I think I missed that. When Carter and I fight, it's usually memorable."

"That seemed obvious."

Oh it was *not* pulling that psychoanalysis crap on him. "Well, as much fun as this has been, I really think it's time that I break out of here and kick your ass. If you'd be kind enough to give me the ability to move again then I'll get cracking."

Chuckling, she drifted out of the room.

Damn.

Worth a try.

*

"Drink this."

He glared at 'Releta', and the glass she was aiming towards his mouth. "Don't know if you've noticed or not, but I can't move. Besides, for all I know you could have poisoned that as well. Thanks, but no thanks."

Frustrated, she moved the glass closer to his mouth. "I will hold the glass for you; you simply have to open your mouth. If you do not drink you will soon die. We have no intention of killing you."

'Yet', he added silently, knowing they'd keep him around only as long as he could be of use to them. He didn't say it, of course. In fact he didn't say anything because if he opened his mouth then she'd pour the water in.

Realistically, he knew the sensible thing to do would be to comply. Without water he would soon dehydrate, but if they were keeping him around just because he might be useful, then he'd make himself as un-useful as possible.

Un-useful. It wasn't even a word, but he liked it. That's what he would be from now on. Better to be dead than to help them.

Jack knew what was coming next, of course. Knew exactly what it would do. So, as it moved he took a deep breath and waited as it grabbed his nose with its free hand, leaving nothing to breathe through.

He calculated he'd been holding his breath for almost two minutes when he really started to feel the strain. The burning sensation inside his chest intensified, his throat felt like it was going to explode, and he was starting to feel dizzy when his body betrayed him and his mouth snapped open.

He tried to snap it shut immediately but 'it' had moved too quickly, getting at least some of the water in his mouth. Before he could spit it out she had placed the glass on the side and was using her other hand to keep his mouth shut.

Jack struggled as best he could for what he felt was a good long time, before trying a new idea. Attempting to simulate swallowing without actually swallowing - and failing just a little - he stilled and did his best to look angry.

It wasn't hard.

Waiting a further thirty seconds it studied him suspiciously before slowly, slowly, removing its hand.

It was childish, it was foolish, and it was defiant.

So he spat the 'fake swallowed' water at her.

He expected a gasp, an angry glare, maybe even a physical attack of some kind.

He certainly wasn't expecting what actually happened.

It flickered. The body he had come to associate with the name 'Releta' flickered in and out of existence, revealing the purple-clad alien underneath.

Cool! Score one for the paralysed guy!

No wonder it didn't like swimming.

Emitting a noise not unlike that terrible squeal that had been broadcast through the PA the last time he'd encountered its species, it thumped out of the room, alternating between the image of Releta and what it really looked like.

So...didn't like water, huh? That could come in useful...

*

Why the hell was it keeping him here? Why the hell didn't it just do whatever it wanted to do? There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that it - or another one like it - was going to take his form and return to the base as him, so why didn't it do it?

Why the waiting?

Because - no doubt - there was a plan.

Jack had no idea what that plan was and would probably never fully know, but the goal was obvious: gain a foothold on Earth, and spread. As for what made this such an appealing planet he didn't know; Parole looked attractive enough...although if they could disguise themselves and their buildings, he couldn't help but wonder just how much of Parole was 'real'.

Was it the paradise it seemed to be?

Was their claim about infringement on their air space even true?

Maybe. But probably not.

He couldn't help but wonder at it. If they were so technologically advanced, what made Earth so attractive?

The first time they'd tried to overtake the SGC, Teal'c had said something about how the aliens were searching for a new home world, but had never known the reason.

Running? Hiding? Sheer meanness?

Well the latter was certainly possible, but he wasn't sure that even they would go to so much trouble. There had to be another reason.

And he certainly-wait a minute! Tingling in his left hand. Definite tingling in his left hand! This could be it; this could be the good luck he'd been waiting for...

Experimenting, he tried to move his hand. There was a terrible feeling of pins and needles, and although it was painful, he also knew it was a good sign. It meant he was starting to feel again. He was starting to regain control.

Admittedly it wasn't much. At the moment it was just the left arm, but as 'Releta' wasn't there - it hadn't returned since the water experience - he opened and closed his hand as much as possible, helping to pump the life back into it.

Jack didn't know why the feeling was returning of course, but he could do a Carter. He could theorise.

Actually, he'd been doing that a lot lately. Theorising. Being Carter.

In any case, Jack suspected that whatever 'Releta' had given him was beginning to wear off. He didn't know if it'd miscalculated or just didn't realise how quickly it would wear off on humans, but the fact was that it was happening.

Of course, the cynical part of him realised that this could be intentional. A trap. To what end he absolutely didn't know, but even the thought of that wasn't going to stop him trying to escape when the time came. He had to do *something*.

He had to find Carter.

The real one. Not the one who was probably back at the SGC right now doing God knew what.

He had purposefully not been thinking about her too much, because when he did he had to deal with the revelation that Carter hadn't been Carter since they'd returned from Parole. It had only been six days, but in the kind of place they worked that was enough time to do huge amounts of damage.

But...a possible silver lining. If they really were trying to be 'slow and methodical' this time to ensure success, she probably hadn't actually done anything other than information gathering. Besides, aside from when SG-8 returned, no other aliens could have come through the gate, as no one else had been to visit Parole.

He couldn't help but wonder about the rest of his team. Was it possible that he was the only one who was really him? He hoped to hell he wasn't, but he seriously doubted that Teal'c and Daniel were aliens.

Well...technically Teal'c was an alien anyway.

They certainly hadn't been acting out of character, and had thrown up none of the same red flags Jack had experienced in his conversations with 'Carter' that he chose to ignore as insignificant.

Stupid, stupid, *stupid*.

This was *so* going to make him paranoid. Every subsequent conversation with her was going to be dissected and studied like some lab rat.

Huh. Like they weren't already.

Oh...oh! Tingling in his big right toe! Definite tingling!

*

When the alien finally returned, Jack had most of the feeling in his body back. His butt was still numb, as was his upper right thigh, but everything else seemed to be in working order.

Not that he'd had a proper opportunity to test out his body, but he'd been doing subtle - or as subtle as possible, anyway - muscle clenches, not wanting to risk anything too overt in case the alien suddenly reappeared.

Despite this, he knew he wasn't going to be at his physical best when he had to move. He'd been lying immobile for a very long time, and that was going to affect his reactions. He'd been hoping for even more time to try and 'exercise' as much as possible, but when he saw what 'Releta' was carrying, he realised that plan was being thrown right out the window - causing a free fall of debris in the process.

Ooookay. He had to time this just right. And he had to look like no part of his body was tensed up, ready to move, which wasn't easy.

Apparently whatever effect the water had on it had worn off because now it just looked like Releta. No flickering.

Jack was planning on changing that.

It its right hand was the cylindrical disc. 'Releta' gave no explanation, simply holding it over Jack's body until it beeped and flashed wildly. When it did, it plucked the disc it was already using from its chest, displaying the alien underneath.

Urgh. Yuck, those things were *ugly*.

Actually, he wasn't sure why but they kinda reminded him of the alien from that Predator movie.

Deciding that similarities to movies could wait, Jack continued to watch as the alien placed the new disc on its chest and became...

Jack.

"Good," it said in his own voice. "The process appears to have succeeded."

That was creepy. "Ya think?"

His own sardonic smile grinned back at him, as his double leant down to apply that purple 'round the head' thing.

This was the moment.

Jack moved, pushing himself off the bed as he pushed the faux Jack against the wall. He couldn't hold it off for long, but he wouldn't have to. Quickly grabbing the glass of water 'Releta' had foolishly left on the side, he threw the contents - hell, he threw the whole thing - at it.

His double flickered in and out of existence, emitting that annoying roar again, and Jack used the moment of surprise to his advantage. He drove forward; punching, hitting, kicking when he could - which was weird because sometimes he was hitting himself and sometimes he was hitting the alien - trying not to show where the weaknesses on his body were. The alien soon learned however, and forced Jack to rely on his right leg - the numb one - causing him to almost fall over.

Fortunately, he almost fell over across the table, and realising that it was light enough to pick up but heavy enough to do some damage - and apologising to his Grandfather who had been especially fond of it - Jack grabbed the table and whacked the alien over the head with it.

It thumped to the ground.

Jack remained where he was, gasping, holding what was left of the table over his head, quite willing to use it again if the alien showed even a hint of movement.

Nothing.

"Hey, purple head."

Admittedly, it probably wouldn't respond to that.

"Releta?"

He prodded it with his left foot, slowly lowering the remains of the table.

"Wakey wakey!"

Still nothing. It just flickered.

"Look! A crab!"

Absolutely nothing. Even the flickering stopped now and Jack was left staring down at his own image.

Sighing, he dropped the rest of the table on the alien, and gladly fell back onto the bed.

Typical. He'd been trying to get up from this bed for who knew how long, and now all he wanted to do was use it again.

*

The ride back was almost fun. After 'borrowing' someone's car - who had apparently stopped nearby to take a leak - Jack stuck the alien in the trunk, but not before removing all of its technology.

Except for the purple 'round the head' thing.

No, *that* he had put around the aliens head. And he put the small oval receiving thing on the side of his own head.

Therefore, even though he couldn't see him, he was very much aware of when the alien woke up.

"Greetings!" Jack yelled out; partly to mock, partly to test if the alien could actually hear him back there.

From the response the receiver transmitted into his own brain, he knew that it had heard. "You know, I may not know your language, but I'm pretty sure that's a *very* rude word!"

Growling, thumping, squealing. More very rude words.

Jack shrugged. "You can call me a 'rectir' if you like, but there's something I need you to do for me. Something very simple. You don't even need to speak." His hand tightened on the steering wheel. "I need you to think exactly where Carter is."

*

Getting into the base was business as usual. Of course, he couldn't risk them searching his car, so he ditched the one he was using not far from the base and 'borrowed' another one. He left the alien in the trunk of the first one, but the devices on both their heads were still working and he could hear its thoughts loud and clear. He'd know instantly if anything about its situation changed.

And there had been another dilemma. After some pondering, he'd decided to enter the base disguising himself with his own image. While some might think disguising himself as himself was mad, if he came across the Carter copy before he did what he needed to do, no doubt it would want to see if he was indeed wearing an image disc.

He flashed his pass a few times, flashed his smile the same amount, and swiped his card at least twice. He entered the first elevator, signed something, then entered the second one - the one that would take him to level twenty-eight, if he so chose.

He actually wanted the level above that.

Everyone he passed was a suspect. Everyone was scrutinised - albeit as covertly as possible. Was that airman an alien? Was that one? Did Siler's expression look a little different than normal? Or was he just being paranoid?

Stopping just long enough to grab a glass of water from the commissary, he soon found himself at his destination.

He knocked, twice.

"Come in,"

The same familiar voice, at least. Although that meant nothing.

Opening the door with one hand, with the other he held the glass carefully behind his back.

There he sat. Major General George Hammond, looking normal as ever. In fact, he seemed to be in the middle of some pretty engrossing paperwork that he barely glanced up from. "Colonel," He greeted.

"General," Jack replied.

"Aren't you back rather early?"

Was he implying something else, or just genuinely curious? "Something came up."

Pausing, Hammond held the pen he'd been writing with between his fingertips. "I understand you and Major Carter had a disagreement."

Well, he couldn't see a telltale bulge under Hammond's shirt. But then he hadn't noticed one last time, either. "You know my opinion of scientists, sir."

"All too well, Colonel. All too well." Lowering the pen, Hammond picked up his cup of coffee and took a good old gulp from it. "Did Releta enjoy her visit?"

Jack's paranoia was going into overdrive. "Oh...I think she was knocked out at how beautiful it is, sir."

"Interesting terminology, Colonel."

The temperature in the room lowered. Jack could have sworn he could see his own breath escaping in puffs of frigid air. "Is it sir?"

His patience broke.

With one hand he moved the glass forward, throwing its contents towards 'Hammond', while his other hand pulled out the alien weapon he’d procured from purple head.

Naturally, he only realised Hammond was doing exactly the same thing when a flying cup of lukewarm coffee impacted on his chest, causing his 'disguise' to frizz out of existence.

"Ow," He muttered.

Hammond - having his own weapon pointed at Jack - frowned. "Jack?"

"General?"

And he realised it then: Hammond knew. He knew all about Releta, who 'Carter' really was, and what the aliens were trying to do. It must have been a recent discovery, otherwise he never would have authorised Releta's little sojourn to Jack's cabin, but the point was that he knew *now*.

Feeling more than a little foolish, Jack lowered his weapon.

Hammond was still frowning. "Why in the hell are you disguised as yourself?"

Good question. "Long story, sir. I suspect you have one too."

Chuckling, Hammond allowed his weapon to rest on his desk. "Well," He murmured, looking down at his own soaked shirt before glancing towards Jack's coffee drenched one. "I don't think this moment is going to end up in the official report."

*

"So what happened?"

They were clustered around the briefing room now. Jack, Hammond, Daniel and Teal'c. Relieved as he was to discover the rest of his team were their normal selves, Jack was also anxious as hell to get this over with as soon as possible.

He had to get Carter back.

He'd already given his own report, and a specialist team had been sent out to retrieve purple head from the trunk of the car. Jack had been more than willing to surrender the receiving device to the leader of the team. Frankly, he hoped he'd never been in any way connected to any purple heads head ever again.

Heh.

Blinking, he realised no one had said anything yet. He repeated his question. "So what happened?"

Slowly, ever so slowly, Hammond and Teal'c looked towards Daniel, who happened to be wearing a big ass bruise on the right side of his face.

Daniel looked at the table.

"Daniel?"

Sighing, the archaeologist glanced at him. "Long story short...I spilt my coffee on Shela."

That was *it*? That was how they made their fantastic discovery? "Really?" Jack had to admit, when he realised the base was no longer in any imminent danger he had been just a tiny bit disappointed. He'd had a rescue plan building in his head; how he would kick the alien’s butts, rescue everyone, then head through the Stargate to get Carter.

Unnecessarily melodramatic perhaps, but he'd had a *plan*.

And this was how his friends had stopped the aliens.

By throwing coffee at them.

He felt *so* proud.

"Yes," Daniel continued.

Hammond interrupted. "Obviously when Dr Jackson realised what 'Shela' really was he managed to alert base security."

"Although not without getting a souvenir for my trouble," Jackson added, indicated the damage to his face.

Jack winced. "I knew your natural clumsiness would come in useful one day."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Thank you,"

Teal'c took up the metaphorical torch. "When it became apparent that they were no longer susceptible to the frequency Major Carter had discovered upon our initial encounter with them, we could only discover how many aliens had infiltrated the facility using a different means."

Absorbing this new information, Jack frowned. "You threw water on everyone?"

"Indeed."

Well... "Sorry I missed that." The mental image was...interesting. "How many were there?"

"Three."

Wow. "That's it?" That was good, but that was it?

"That's it Colonel," Hammond confirmed. "Major Carter, Major Kovachek and of course Shela were all discovered to be aliens. Everyone else has been accounted for."

Good. Very good. "Where are they?"

*

"We've kept them isolated so they can't communicate with each other," Daniel explained, leading the way to the brig. The two men were the only ones currently intending to pay this particular guest a visit. "And we've also kept their image discs on their bodies."

Huh? "Why?"

"Near as we can tell the discs also act as some kind of...universal translator. No matter what language it tries to use, when it speaks while it’s wearing the disc the language will come out as English. Without it we can't understand what they're saying."

That's pretty cool, actually. "I take it you're working on that."

"Trying," Daniel admitted. "It's quite different from anything we've encountered so far." Pausing his speech, if not his step, he then continued with a question. "Didn't you get anything from the alien you were...uh...'connected' to?"

That was the bitch of it. "I don't know about 'anything'. I definitely got 'something' although I don't know how much use it'll be. It's just as well that disc thing translates the language they speak, because their heads are just full of their own language with nothing to translate it. I got a few images, but then I think it started singing rhymes or something to try and throw me off."

"Smart," Daniel nodded.

Jack had another word but chose not to express it. Reaching their destination he nodded at the guard outside the room, who nodded back and swiped his card through the reader. There was a beep and the door unlocked, but before they stepped in Daniel touched Jack's arm.

"Jack,"

Pausing, the Colonel turned back and frowned. "Daniel?"

Jackson glanced at the guard who got the message and turned away. He continued. "It won't tell you."

What? "Sorry?"

"It won't tell you where she is."

He refused to believe that. "We'll see." And he continued walking in.

Woah. Déjà vu.

Carter, looking angry, behind bars.

In fact, the only difference was the fact that her hands were tied behind her back - no doubt so she couldn't pull the disc off and render herself unintelligible.

It wasn't her, though. No one else ever could be.

The door locked behind them.

Jack studied it for a while, looking for any flaws, searching for any physical difference that might have hinted at the fact that it wasn't who it appeared to be. Something he’d missed.

"Your friend is correct," it told him in Carter's voice. "I will not tell you."

Guess they did have ears, after all. "Good hearing, huh?" He didn't wait for an answer. He wasn't expecting one. "Airman!" He shouted through the door. "Let's get a tranq gun in here."

"Uh, Jack?"

"Don't worry, Daniel. I know what I'm doing."

*

It was stirring.

Jack stayed right where he was - a few feet from the cage, sitting on a plastic chair, with a zat gun in his hands.

{{"Rectir..."}}

"Popular swear word among your people, huh?"

It moved suddenly, if awkwardly, sitting up and facing towards Jack. {{"Rectir!"}}

"I'll take that as a yes."

Struggling against its bindings, it was obviously trying to pull off the thought-reader Jack had placed around its head. It didn't succeed.

"Don't worry," Jack falsely placated it. "If you show me what I want to know I won't hurt you."

Definitely rude words. And then Carter's voice again. "I will tell you nothing!"

"Probably not," Jack agreed, absently playing with his zat gun. "But you see, the mind's a funny thing. The purple head that called itself Releta...I honestly believe it didn't know where Carter's being held. Oh it had an idea - vague as it was - but it didn't know." He leant forward in his chair. "I really need to know."

"I will show you nothing," It spat defiantly.

Jack could already hear the rhyme it was singing in its mind - exactly the same as the one 'Releta' had been thinking of when it was trying to stop him reading its thoughts. It made sense that they'd train their own people in how to stop someone from doing just that, but how successful they were had to depend on the strength of the mind.

Lifting the zat gun, he pointed it at the Carter double.

Its internal litany paused briefly - only to provide Jack with an image of itself being zatted into oblivion.

Good.

"Know what this is for, huh?"

The rhyme continued.

"Don't worry," Jack lowered his zat gun to the floor. "I'm not going to shoot you." Reaching behind the chair, he picked up something he knew it definitely hadn't seen yet. "However, I might throw this at you."

{{"Rectir!!"}}

"You see," He continued calmly. "One of the images I managed to get from 'Releta' included a fear of water. An almost pathological fear. Initially I thought it was just because it revealed what you really looked like...but it's not just that, is it? You're really scared of it."

The rhyme continued harder, faster. Desperate.

Finally moving, Jack stood up and approached the bars, bending down at the knees. Holding the cup in his right hand, he dipped the index finger of his left hand into the water and slowly pulled it out. Watching the water dripping from it, he was well aware of the shiver of revulsion coming from the alien.

He flicked a drop at it.

It scurried back against the wall, but couldn't go far. Trapped.

Still the rhyme continued.

"I'll stop," He told it, standing up to get a better shot as he flicked another drop at it. "When you show me where she is."

The drop made contact.

He almost suffered an information overload.

{{White building. Jey. White room. Purple floor. Carter, screaming-}}

It continued until he had everything. Until he thought his brain couldn’t possibly hold anything else.

Lobbing the entire cup at the alien Jack turned away, thumping on the door to be let out. He had just what he needed.

*

"This is definitely the right one, right?"

"Jack..."

"Oh for crying out loud, Daniel. I wanna make sure I'm connected to the right mind, don't I?"

"Good point."

"Thank you. Now help me get this thing on...man, that's snug...thanks. And...voila! How do I look?"

"Uh...blonde?"

*

Stepping free from the gate, Jack nervously surveyed the area while trying not to *look* nervous. However, seeing that no one was there waiting for him he showed no hesitation and marched right over to where he remembered the camera being. Looking directly at it - and hoping like hell his information was correct - he pulled the edge of his top down, revealing the disc underneath.

Waiting, trying to look patient and feeling like he was failing, it was all he could do to keep his hands still.

Someone was approaching.

He killed his internal panic, remaining calm and almost motionless. He had to be like them. Giving no greeting, he waited, willing to follow the lead of the new arrival.

It was Trevan - the one who got Daniel drunk (and had there been a motive behind that, too? Daniel had a big mouth even when he wasn't sloshed).

Trevan simply nodded, so Jack followed suit.

"Why have you returned?"

Straight to the point. He could do that. "I require greater interaction with this ones mind. There is also further information I require for which I believe my physical presence will be beneficial."

Trevan said nothing, merely turning away and heading towards the town. Jack fell into step next to him, trying to look like he knew where he was going. He knew what building Carter was in of course, but he didn't know if that was Trevan's first planned destination.

"Was Ka'roe successful?"

Damn. Ka'roe? Whose real name was that? Either way, he hoped Trevan wasn't expecting a lengthy answer. "Yes." Besides, it didn't seem like these guys talked much.

"Then implementation has begun."

"It has."

Apparently pleased, Trevan continued walking.

The rest of the journey was - thankfully - covered in silence. Jack spent as much time as possible covertly looking for places he could use for cover should the need arise. That bunch of trees over there looked particularly promising...

They reached the rise that looked down over the village. He didn't pause this time as he had on his first visit here. He didn't gawk at it, think how interesting and bizarre it looked.

He simply climbed over it, and followed Trevan down as if he'd done it a hundred times before.

*

Jack was starting to get paranoid. No, scratch that. He was becoming increasingly paranoid with each passing second. This was too easy. He'd been led into the village, into the building (and WOW - the whole damn thing had been disguised), and was now about to be shown to the room with barely a question.

How could they do it? How could they not check who he really was in a society such as theirs where no one was who they appeared to be?

Maybe for that very same reason.

He was also seriously worried that he'd heard nothing of Carter's thoughts so far. It was possible the Stargate had disrupted the receiving device he was wearing; in which case this was pointless.

Or, she could be...

In which case this was *really* pointless.

But no. Trevan wouldn't be taking him to see a dead body. Had given no indication that she wasn't alive. He just had to-

{{"Meat."}}

Carter!

He nearly gave the game away, nearly called out her name.

{{"Juicy steak with tomatoes, and big, big French fries. Diet soda,"}}

She was still on that health kick, then.

Here was the door. He wanted to burst in, slam this purple heads head against the wall, grab her, and get the hell out of there.

He remained calm. That would probably get them both killed, but there was still a certain appeal to it.

{{"Oh, and then a double layer chocolate cake with...oh, where the hell is he? What the hell is taking him so long?"}}

Trevan waved his hand over a panel outside the room, and the door magically disappeared as if it had never been there.

Woah.

{{"Shit!"}}

Definitely not glad to see herself walk into the room.

She apparently wasn't paralysed as he'd been, but her arms were tied behind her back and her legs were tied together.

The room had - as Carter clone had shown him - white walls and a purple floor.

Interesting colour scheme.

"What have you done at the SGC?" She ordered. "What have you been doing?"

{{"What have you done to the Colonel?"}}

Woo. Pleased as he was, this was not the time to be jumping up and down in joy.

Trevan sighed the sigh of the long suffering. "You can see she hasn't changed."

Jack would never want her too. "How annoying."

"Extremely. I will leave you here now. You know how to contact me if you require anything."

Ah...right. "Of course."

Turning away, Trevan left, and the door reappeared. Cool technology.

{{"Bastard, bastard, bastard."}}

There was nothing he could do overtly, of course. Dollars to donuts there was some kind of surveillance in this room, and he couldn't risk doing anything that wouldn't be considered normal behaviour until moments before they were about to break out of here. If he just-

{{"Why hasn't it said anything?"}}

"Greetings,"

{{"Oh please,"}}

He couldn't help it - a flicker of a smile appeared on his face.

{{"Amused with me, are you?"}}

"Yes."

Lifting her chin, she glared defiantly. {{"Fuck you."}}

As much as he appreciated the offer..."You have information I require. You are the only one of your people with this information."

{{"Whatever it is, you're not getting it. Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went the-"}}

"-lamb was sure to go," He finished.

Carter's eyes widened. {{"What the-?!"}} Then they narrowed. {{"Of course, you just read the next line from my mind."}}

Dammit. That's not what he was trying to tell her.

{{"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow..."}}

Her rhyming continued, proving that she had evidently decided to use the same defence mechanism as the purple heads did. Of course, she probably had no idea it was the same mechanism, but he felt damn proud anyway.

It was all he could do not to smile again. She was here, she was okay - if a little pissed - and he was going to get her off of this damn planet.

But first things first.

He moved closer, schooling his - her - expression into a careful nothingness.

{{"-little lamb, its fleece was white as...man, that's creepy, watching myself."}} Wincing immediately, realising that she could have let slip a weakness to the enemy, she continued the rhyme with renewed vigour.

Jack was starting to get sick of the damn thing.

Closer still, he bent down until he was looming over her, instantly receiving a dozen images of exactly how she would kick his butt if he couldn't read her mind and anticipate every move before it happened.

{{"-and everywhere that Mary went,"}}

He glowered as menacingly as he could; hoping that none of what he was about to do was unusual behaviour. "You will share with me everything I want to know about naquadah reactors."

Carter's eyes widened and he received a brief - very brief - image of a naquadah reactor before she forced it out of her head. {{"-the *lamb* was *sure* to *go*!"}}

This was it. No other choice. No other way. He had to do it.

He slapped her.

Her mind actually emptied for a few seconds - something he'd never thought possible - and her eyes were huge. He could just start to feel the anger burning in her mind when suddenly she looked around the room in confusion, sensing that something was amiss.

That was putting it mildly.

{{"That was putting what mildly?"}}

Yes! {{"Our current situation,"}} he sent back.

It seemed impossible, but her eyes became even bigger as she gaped at him. Her. Him in her body. {{"Colonel?!"}}

{{"At your service. That thing I just slapped onto the side of your head is the receiver to my broadcaster. Kinda like the receiver I’m wearing that I borrowed from your impostor. And don't look shocked - look angry."}}

{{"Surveillance,"}} she realised, and an instant expression of hate appeared on her face. "How dare you!"

Man, how did she do that?

{{"Drama classes,"}}

Okay, this was so gonna get weird. Not a single thought was going to be his own. Maybe he hadn't thought this through properly...

{{"No comment."}} She grinned internally.

{{"Will you *stop* that?"}} Uh, he really should keep talking. "How dare I? Should I remind you of your current situation?"

{{"It's good to see you, sir...even though you...well, you're me. Inside me. Uh...oh shit..."}}

They both had exact the same thought at the exact same time. Jack's only saving grace was that she couldn't actually see him turn red.

Naturally, she couldn't hide her sudden blush, instead hoping that it looked like anger to anyone who may be watching. "Please do."

{{"Carter, listen."}}

{{"Can't help but listen sir."}}

Rolling his eyes, he sighed internally. {{"Remind me why I came back for you again?"}}

It was his fault. It was completely his fault. He asked the question.

And he received his answer.

That she hadn't meant to let it slip was clear, but slip it had. Rather than dwell on it at that moment in time - they had far more important things to do - Jack pressed on.

{{"Kovachek is also here, and I know exactly where. When the door opens go the left and keep running. Don't stop until you reach the Stargate."}}

"Maybe I shouldn't bother. I know how fond you are of your 'friends'. What if I were to suggest that something untoward should happen to your General Hammond?"

{{"You don't think you'll make it,"}} She accused.

Damn. He'd been trying to block that thought, but-

{{"Why?"}}

"If you do anything to hurt the General..."

{{"Because I knew you'd do this. The odds of us all making it back to the Stargate-"}}

{{"I'm not leaving without you."}}

"You'll do what? What do you imagine you can do in your current position?" {{"I am giving you an *order*, Major. Do you understand?"}}

Her teeth ground together. "I can kick your ass." {{"Yes *sir*."}}

Jack knew without even reading her thoughts that she absolutely meant both statements. Nonetheless he pressed on. “If you truly believe you can best me in a battle then...go ahead. Prove it.”

She didn’t need much encouragement, apparently. And, of course, he knew everything she was going to do before she did it, so it didn’t take long at all to push her front against the wall, holding her in place.

He was not thinking how good she smelt, he was not thinking how much he missed the contact, he was not thinking, he was not thinking, he was not thinking...

{{“Will you please stop not thinking?”}}

Grabbing what he could of her hair he yanked her head back. “It is clear you will only learn with time, *human*.” There was Bra’tac’s favourite word. “Fortunately, that is something I have an abundance of.”

*

Next stop; Kovachek's cell.

He too was resting against the wall with his hands tied together. He didn't look impressed when Jack walked in. "I take it you're not really Major Carter."

Heh. "Your assumption is correct." Technically, that wasn't a lie.

Jack had been relieved to discover that the ‘hand waving’ thing opened doors both ways - although you had to be wearing an image disc for it to work. Which was just as well really, because that fit right in with his plan.

He couldn’t read Kovachek’s thoughts of course; despite his experiments before coming here (and learning some very interesting things about Teal’c’s ‘mysterious Jaffa practices’), he couldn’t wear two receivers that were connected to two different people and keep them working.

And, truth be told, he’d rather be connected to Carter.

{{“Aww, sir.”}}

{{“Shut up, Carter.”}}

He was well aware of her progress in the room further along the corridor, and would have to time his response to coordinate with her escape.

So, time to get creative then.

“I require information.”

Kovachek snorted. “Why don’t you just read my mind?”

“I am not connected to your mind. The one who is has reached his destination.”

“Earth,”

“Yes. Implementation has begun.”

“’Implementation’?” Kovachek asked, disbelieving. “I can’t believe I was actually going to recommend an alliance with you guys...”

Jack’s smart response never appeared. Carter was ready. She was standing by in her room ready to move. {{“Carter, go *left*,”}} He ordered, all too aware of what she was thinking.

An internal sigh. {{“Yes sir.”}}

Baffling Kovachek, Jack turned away and activated the door, causing it to shimmer out of existence. “Oh,” Jack added, deliberately an afterthought, suddenly moving towards Kovachek. “I forgot something.”

There was a brief struggle and almost before Jack himself realised it, Kovachek’s restraints had been cut off and he was on his feet being dragged out the door. Slapping the image disc on his chest, Jack exited the room with Releta.

Kovachek soon realised what was going on.

O’Neill moved fast, seeing himself pelt along the corridor a few metres ahead.

He saw himself leave the building.

He’d almost reached the exit himself when the alarms went off.

{{“Colonel!”}}

{{“Dammit Carter, keep going!”}}

“Move it Kovachek!”

“Aye sir,” he responded in Releta’s voice, which freaked Jack out no end.

He was almost there, he was almost there, he was almost there...

Ah, shit.

*

Carter, O’Neill, and Releta tumbled through the Stargate, landing painfully on the ramp.

Releta recovered first, dragging herself to her feet by clutching at the bars at the side of ramp. “Close the iris!” She ordered in a voice that threatened death to anyone who disobeyed the command.

Obeying, the iris swivelled shut, causing more than a few thumps to follow it.

“That,” Releta declared. “Is the last time I go on a diplomatic mission.” And then she too passed out, joining her compatriots sprawled out on the ramp.

*

“-of course because our minds were connected the Colonel could give me all the information he had...”

What? What was that?

“...managed to give me a penknife and an image disc without them realising.”

“How?”

“Oh we...had a fight.”

That voice was definitely familiar.

“A *fight*?”

“Yeah. Anyway, I cut myself free as unobtrusively as possible, then put the image disc on and was able to activate the doors. I made a break for it.”

“But then the Colonel got hit.”

Now *that* he remembered.

“He managed to keep moving - don’t ask me how. Thankfully, most of them seemed to be confused, and as far as they were concerned I was the Colonel’s double, he was my double, and Colonel Kovachek was Releta’s double...we looked like who we were supposed to be.”

He coughed. Ow...

“Colonel!”

“They were right on top of us when he reached the gate,” He croaked, immediately regretting speaking that much.

Smiling, Carter - the real Carter - touched his arm. “How’s the leg?”

He should probably be asking Fraiser that question. But then she didn’t look overly concerned. “As well as can be expected. What is it with me and limbs getting pierced with painful things?”

“Certainly a nasty habit,” She agreed.

This was good. His thoughts were his own, she was touching him and he was...he was...

Exhausted.

*

Something was beeping. It wasn’t his alarm clock, and it certainly wasn’t his watch this time. It was near him and...he opened his eyes.

Carter.

The beeping quickened.

Carter was beeping?

She was on the other side of the infirmary reading some kind of paperwork, but she turned her head towards him suddenly.

Ohhhhh. Beeping. Heart monitor. Beeping more when he saw her. He might as well still have had the thought reading thing on his head. “Carter,”

“Sir,” She got up from her chair, looking as exhausted as he felt. “How are you feeling?”

“Better. What happened?”

“You, uh...” She paused next to him. “Passed out.”

Impossible. “Fell asleep.”

“Right sir.” There was that indulgent smile.

“So,” He shifted, trying to sit up and wincing as he did so. “How’s my leg?”

“It’ll heal. You were very lucky.”

Huh. He wouldn’t be so sure. “Great.”

“Something still bothers me,” Carter admitted.

“What’s that?”

“Well...we still don’t know why they were doing what they were doing. I mean the aliens we captured here have been shipped off to who knows where to be interrogated...but those mind reading devices aren’t as helpful as we hoped they’d be.”

“Certainly not on someone who knows what they’re doing.”

“I just hate not knowing.”

He should have guessed. “Not everything has an explanation Carter, no matter how hard you look. Odds are we’ll never know everything about this. That’s the way life is sometimes.”

“I know, but-“

“Think of it this way,” Jack interrupted. “Four years ago...the day we first met. Did you honestly think we’d become as close...friends. As close friends as we have?”

“Considering the fact that you were arrogant, condescending, irritating...”

“Are we describing me, or you?”

“No,” She told him, eyes sparkling with mirth, “I didn’t expect it.”

He shrugged. “And there’s no explanation for it. It’s just the way it is.”

Was the room suddenly hot?

“So...” She began awkwardly. “What are you doing on your downtime?”

“Downtime?”

“Well, seeing as you were drugged and paralysed during your last break General Hammond declared that little vacation null and void.”

Wow. But... “I take it this downtime only lasts as long as it takes me to heal?”

“How’d you guess, sir?”

Of course. “Must have read your mind, Carter.”

She rolled her eyes at the pun, but she looked...uneasy. He knew why, of course. There was absolutely no doubt about anything now; not after what they’d seen in each other’s minds. No reason to be jealous. No reason to be unsure. He knew exactly how she felt.

And it scared the shit out of him.

“You going to your cabin?” She asked carefully and maybe even...hopefully.

“After what happened last time I was there, I’m not so sure.”

Carter grinned. “I can understand that.”

“But...if you wanna do something together...”

Her eyes widened.

“...as friends,” He quickly added. “I have an idea.”

“And that would be?”

Would it be easier if they just had access to each other’s minds again? If he could just slip the thought into her head without having to actually say it?

No way to know of course.

“Well,” He cleared his throat. “I have a couple of cars I borrowed that need to be returned...”

~FINIS

I suspect I’ll write a sequel to this.

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