"I did it because I thought you needed me," she said simply. "I did it because if the situation were reversed, I would have needed you."
Her answer didn't clear things up as much as Jack hoped it would.
"Cloning yourself is going above and beyond," he pointed out.
Sam looked as frustrated as Jack felt. He didn't mean to be dense, but knew he was missing something…a part of the puzzle that would make her actions make sense.
She did this on her own, without Daniel and Teal'c, so it wasn't about the team leaving him behind. It wasn't because of his supposedly advanced genetics.
"Let me start at the beginning," Sam said.
Jack sat back down on the couch, realizing it was going to take longer to get answers than he'd hoped.
"It's been a tough couple of years," she started. "Janet died and you almost did. Then we lost you for a while and there was this whole thing with Fifth and I…I wasn't really myself for a while I think. I lost hope. I got engaged to one of my brother's friends, which was a total mistake. And then my dad died. Not to mention the various threats to the planet and the universe."
There was so much information packed into that brief monologue that Jack wasn't sure where to start.
"Janet died?" he finally said. How many other people had they lost in the two years since he'd been out of touch?
"Yes," Sam replied. "She saved Simon Wells' life during a Goa'uld attack and got a staff blast to the chest."
Saving a life is how Janet would have wanted to go out, he supposed, but it all felt so deeply unfair. She shouldn't even have been out in the field. She should have been safe in the SGC infirmary patching up wounds and complaining about Cassie's teenage attitude.
Shock was the only reason Jack didn't mutter the curse out loud.
"What about Cassie?"
Sam's eyes drifted to her lap, where her hands were loosely clasped.
"I've been watching over her," she said, looking back up. "Well, me and 'you'...and Daniel and Teal'c have helped out where they can. SG-1 team effort."
She let out a small, awkward laugh after the last statement.
"A military team raising a kid feels like the plot of a bad sitcom."
This time her laugh was less stilted, but it didn't last long. He could tell that Janet's death still weighed on her.
"Cassie had already turned eighteen when Janet…died," Sam continued, stumbling over the word. "So I didn't officially adopt her, but I've been doing my best to kind of play that part."
She didn't say "mom," but Jack knew what part she meant.
Sam lost her dad and her best friend and was pushed into the role of parent for a girl who'd just lost a mom for the second time in her young life. That was a huge burden for anyone to shoulder.
"I'm sure that you've been doing a great job, Carter."
A smile flashed across her face at the compliment.
"I could've done better at the beginning, but it's been good since I took the Area 51 job. I'm going to visit her at school in a couple weeks–"
Jack watched as Sam registered the fact that she wouldn't be going on that trip at all. The original Carter would. This Sam Carter might not ever see Cassie again.
"Oh god," she whispered.
Jack reached out and took her hand in his. Sam gripped it tight and let out a deep breath.
"You said we could get in touch with people who have clearance," Jack said softly.
She nodded and took another breath. "Yeah. It might be weird. I don't know."
"You don't have to figure it out tonight."
Sam nodded again and released his hand. She reached for her drink and took a sip. He wasn't holding her hand anymore, but he could tell it was shaking.
"Carter." She didn't look at him. "Sam?"
Sam put the can down and turned his way. She wasn't crying, but her eyes were wet and she looked lost.
Jack's anger returned. The General and the other Sam Carter were the reason the woman in front of him was in this position.
"Like I said, it's been a tough couple of years," Sam concluded.
She shouldn't have to deal with losing Cassie. She shouldn't have to deal with losing everything she knew. Sam might've had a difficult time over the past two years, but when he saw her in D.C., she seemed to be in a great place in her life.
"I thought you said you were happy," Jack said. "When we had lunch that day…you seemed like you were really doing well."
Her face brightened and he was mesmerized by the soft, unexpected smile.
"These past few months, I have been happy. Happier than I've probably ever been in my life in spite of everything else going on in the universe."
"Then your choice to clone yourself doesn't make any sense. If you were happy, why would you subject yourself to a life like this, Carter?"
He gestured around at his small studio apartment.
"I did it so that you could be happy too," she replied.
The statement echoed what she said earlier: I did it because I thought you needed me.
The panic from earlier in the day started to return. Sam did this for him, trading her happiness so that he wouldn't be miserable. It was a bad bargain any way you looked at it.
"So that I could be happy?" he said in disbelief. "I don't get it. You leave behind a career, friends, Cassie, a boyfriend—"
"A husband," Sam corrected. "The real Sam is married. It's recent, but—"
"What the hell, Carter?" he snapped.
Jack stood up and walked away, an attempt to put distance between them. This was even worse than he thought. She didn't leave her boyfriend. She left a damn husband so that she could babysit her former commanding officer's clone.
He couldn't believe that he'd started to hope that he and Carter could work things out. He'd tentatively flirted with her earlier and now that felt like a massive mistake. Sam Carter was married. Happily married, if he'd read her correctly in D.C.
This didn't make any sense.
Jack looked back at a noise from the couch, expecting to see Sam crying at the reminder that she left her husband behind.
Instead, she was curled over, laughing.
"Sorry," Sam apologized between giggles, brushing a tear from the corner of her eyes, "That was just the same exact reaction the other you had when he heard this cloning idea. Same words, same tone…everything."
"What?" He could only manage a single word through his confusion.
Her laughter stopped and the mood of the room shifted. Sam took a deep, shaky breath and stood up. She walked over to him.
"God, that makes me feel better." Sam wrapped her arms around Jack's neck. "You're still you."
Jack had no idea what to do. He didn't understand her reaction and he didn't understand why she was hugging him after he just yelled at her. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but it didn't feel like a good idea after her most recent revelation so they hung awkwardly at his side. Sam rested her head against his shoulder and sighed. It was a happy sound, not a despondent one. This was the most confused he'd ever felt in Sam's presence and she confused him on a frequent basis.
"You're married?" Jack whispered.
Sam tilted her head back to look up at him.
"The other me is married to the other you."
"What?" The quiet question spilled out of his mouth, more air than sound.
A million puzzle pieces fell into place.
In D.C., Sam insisted that her boyfriend – husband, he corrected – would completely understand if they had lunch together.
She was confident that General O'Neill was happy.
There were those vague allusions to priorities changing.
She pointed out twice — in D.C. and at the school — that he could call her Sam.
The General thought it was funny when Jack mentioned how Sam said the guy she was with was "the best."
If Jack hadn't been so focused on his own issues, he might've caught the now obvious clues the General dropped in their conversation: those statements about how Sam cloned herself because she cares about him, the comment that Jack was uniquely qualified to understand what she needed, and the dreamy mention of one benefit that made the job switch worth it. The original Sam Carter and Jack O'Neill were no longer in the same chain of command.
Getting married to the love of his life was one hell of a benefit.
"They're married," Sam reiterated.
Jack looked down into those familiar blue eyes.
She came here for him.
For the first time, that thought didn't scare him. It made him feel loved in a way he hadn't felt for a very, very long time.
"Married?" he asked, half-convinced that he'd fallen asleep on the couch and this was an amazing and elaborate dream.
"You betcha," Sam said, a smile curling the corners of her lips.
If she expected Jack to be any more coherent, she'd have to wait until this sunk in a little more.
Sam pressed her face against his shirt and he could feel the vibrations of her laughter.
"Hey, no giggling."
If she was going to throw him for a loop like that, she could at least not laugh at him while he regained his footing.
Sam pulled back a few inches.
"You like when I giggle," she teased.
Jack's eyes widened at the knowing tone. This was an unexpected complication.
"So you have memories of being married to the other me?"
It was awkward to realize that the Sam Carter in his arms had intimate knowledge of another Jack O'Neill.
"Yes," she said, stating the obvious. "Of course I do."
"Is that a problem?"
Jack wasn't sure. On the one hand, the marriage confirmed that Sam loved him. On the other hand, in spite of the similarities, he and General O'Neill weren't actually the same person. Not anymore.
"I don't know," he answered. "I'm not him."
"And I'm not her," Sam replied.
She wasn't the original Sam Carter, but she was something better: a woman he could actually be with. The other Carter had always been off limits. The Sam right in front of him wasn't and never would be. If they could get through this transition, they could have something amazing together.
"It's going to be an adjustment," Sam admitted. "I'm used to you looking a different way and knowing certain things. I'll miss him, just like you missed the other me. And that's okay. But the fact is, I was already in love with you before you split into two people. Having two of me when there are two of you is just correcting an imbalance in the universe."
Jack couldn't help smiling in response. "So you being here is just physics?"
"Everything's physics," she replied with a grin.
Jack should have been able to think of something to say back, but he was too overwhelmed to continue the light-hearted banter.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back tight to him, resting his head in the crook of her neck like he'd only done on a few rare occasions when they were back in their original bodies. Even now, when they both looked like seniors in high school, their bodies fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
"I'm gonna make sure that being here is worth it to you," Jack whispered into her hair, his voice rough with emotion. He was going to do whatever he could to fulfill that promise he made to his counterpart. "You probably already know this, but I've loved you for a long time, Carter."
Her hand moved up and down his back in a comforting motion. "Doesn't mean it's not nice to hear it."
"We'll figure everything out," Jack promised. He remembered how difficult it had been to adjust to his new body and new life. It wasn't going to be easy for her, especially leaving people behind, but he'd do whatever he could to smooth the transition.
All of the sudden, Sam stepped back.
"Wait," she said. "I have something for you."
Sam walked over to the blue backpack she'd been carrying around all day and started rummaging through it.
She pulled out a small photo album and handed it to him. Jack opened the cover and started flipping through it.
The album was filled with photos that used to be on the walls in his old house in Colorado Springs. Sam must've made copies.
He saw a couple pictures of SG-1, some of his parents and other relatives, a few family photos with Sara and Charlie, and then…
Jack felt his eyes start to water and his chest tighten.
There were pages and pages of pictures of Charlie. One picture from the day he was born when he was still red and crying. One when his face was covered in icing on his first birthday. One of him grinning after learning to ride a tricycle. One of him wearing his t-ball uniform.
There were so many important photos that he thought he'd never see again.
All he could do was say her name and he hoped that conveyed how much this gesture meant to him. He hadn't seen a picture of his son in two years and the image of Charlie in his mind had started to fade.
Sam placed a hand on his arm.
"We can't put the photos up anywhere, but I thought it would be nice for you to have them. I made an album for myself too if you want to see it. Most of them you've seen before around my house, but a few are newer."
He wondered if she had photos of the wedding in there. He didn't begrudge her keeping any of those memories of her former life. One day, he might like to see them.
Jack looked back at the album in his hands. Charlie grinned back up at him, surrounded by Christmas presents.
"I was starting to forget his smile."
He touched the image of his son, tracing over the boy's smile and swept up in the memories these photos brought back.
Sam waited until he drew his hand back before saying anything.
"I always liked this one," she said, flipping to a new page.
In the photo, Jack crouched down close to the ground, facing his son who had recently started walking. Charlie was standing and had a pudgy baby hand pressed to Jack's cheek. They both looked so happy.
"His smile is your smile," Sam observed, her voice gentle and sweet.
Jack was so filled with love for the woman in front of him.
He set the album down on the coffee table and cupped Sam's cheek in his hand. The features of her face were familiar, even if they were more youthful than the first time they met in the SCG briefing room. It should be weird that she looked young, but after everything he'd been through as part of the Stargate program, Jack knew that you couldn't put much stock in appearances. This was Sam Carter and that was all that mattered.
"Thank you," Jack said. "For all of this. For being here. For loving me enough to upend your entire life."
He leaned forward and pressed a reverent kiss to her forehead.
She said his name as he pulled away, the one word filled with emotion.
Jack tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear just to have the excuse to keep touching her.
"Want to go out for dinner?" he asked. "There's an Italian place a few blocks away that's even better than the one you liked in Colorado Springs."
A smile lit her face. "Are you asking me out on a date?"
"If you want it to be one," he replied. "Otherwise it can just be dinner."
Jack didn't want to rush her. A day ago she'd been married to another version of him. She had a different life and a different body. As much as this situation was built on the love they shared, he was fine with going slow and focusing on their friendship first while she adjusted.
"I'm going to miss him," Sam said, "but that's not my life anymore. If you think about it a certain way, it never was. Physically, I didn't exist until today."
She reached out and took his hands in hers.
"Our life is weird and it probably always will be," Sam continued, "but you're still the man I fell in love with, even if we took different paths the past two years. We probably shouldn't jump into anything, but I like the idea of a first date. It's a fresh start for both of us. We can figure it out from there."
Jack squeezed her hand and then pulled her into another hug. Sam's arms wrapped around his waist and she rested her head against his shoulder. It felt so right to hold her. Things between them might not be simple, but the fact that she was here at all was a miracle.
"I don't mind a little weirdness," he said. In fact, a weird life with Sam Carter sounded pretty damn great.