Jeannie watched Madison run around the yard, her arms outstretched as she ran to chase a butterfly. She smiled briefly as a breeze stole across her face. This was the type of day that she would pack a lunch and leave messages on cell phones that said, "You better hurry up and get here before Madison eats all the pie." And there would be a flurry of text messages that would say, "Yes, coming, and really, you could have timed this better," or "What kind of pie?"
The answer would always be a surprise, just as who would arrive first would be a surprise. Sam had the edge because of her pilot's reflexes, undulled by her trips through the gate although Rodney would sometimes slow her down by cheating, which he would claim he didn't do but secretly he'd confess to throwing a theoretical problem at Sam which would allow him a head start.
They both loved pie.
"Madison, honey, time to go in."
Jeannie stood, stretching. The rest of the day was predictable: dinner, and playtime with Madison before bed. Then the hard part which left her staring at the walls as she waited for Rodney to come home. Maybe today would be the day.
Maybe today would be the day he brought Sam home with him.
Rodney pushed back from his desk, slamming his hand against the desk in frustration. Dr. Lee looked up from his paperwork and went to say something when he spotted Radek who shook his head and motioned for him to leave.
Lee huffed and bent his head back to his work before Radek cleared his throat.
"Fine, I'm going," Lee snarled before snatching up his tablet and stalking out of the room.
Rodney didn't even bother to snark about him leaving. That's how Radek knew that his friend was near the end of his rope.
"You should rest, McKay."
A roll of the eyes and Rodney walked over to the white board and studied the equations. "We're missing something," he muttered.
Radek put his pen down and pushed away from his own desk. "And how is you worrying this hard going to help us find SG-1?" Radek asked simply. He held up a hand when Rodney rounded on him. "You know I am correct in my assessment. Lack of sleep will do you no good."
"I'm supposed to just give up on this?" Rodney asked, no longer bothered to mask his distress. "I know how this should work and dammit, it should work!" He stared hard at the equations as though they would suddenly reveal themselves and their mysteries and pop the wayward gate team back from wherever they were.
Radek got up, walked over and placed a calming hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Go home. Rest. Come back in the morning. You are no good to any of them now."
Rodney rubbed his eyes. "You're right. I hate it when you're right because you're going to lord it over me and I'm never going to hear the end of it."
"I would never stoop so low," Radek replied dryly. Rodney snorted and gathered up his things. "You call me if you or Lee think of something," he said as he shrugged into his jacket. "I mean it, Radek."
"Yes, yes, go now, and don't come back."
Landry sent him with a driver. "You've been working too hard to concentrate on the drive home, Doctor." He said it in that officious tone that men like him tended to adopt when faced with a recalcitrant scientist.
For once, Rodney didn't argue; just poured himself into the car and closed his eyes as he rested his head against the back seat. The drive from the mountain wasn't long; the house was only thirty minutes away but it still seemed like forever as the shadows loomed large on the streets.
He stepped out of the car and stood on the street, taking in the cheerfully lit windows, the dark outline of the swing hanging from the tree in the front yard. Rodney walked up the front walk and into the house.
"Uncle Rodney!" Madison wrapped herself around his legs and looked up at him with bright eyes. She'd been blissfully unaware of most of what was going on, something which he credited Jeannie for.
"Rodney? You're back early." Jeannie walked out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Her brows dropped into the worried look that he'd become familiar with over the past week and as he opened his mouth to speak, she shook her head. "Madison, why don't you go wash up for dinner. Okay?"
Madison peeled herself off of Rodney's leg and slipped away with a quick smile. Jeannie smoothed a hand over her head as she walked by. Then she turned her eyes to Rodney. "Well?"
"Not yet," he said with a heavy sigh. "I don't know. I don't know if we can get her back." His shoulders drooped as Jeannie walked over, her arms coming around him. "I don't have an answer." The words were whispered into her neck as his arms slipped around her waist.
"You'll find it, I know you will" Jeannie said hoping that he couldn't hear the fear in her voice.
Long tapered fingers tapped out a light rhythm on the tabletop as Sam hummed a few bars of Rundgren's "I Saw the Light" under her breath. The room buzzed with activity but that was to be expected considering the circumstances.
It was disconcerting to see yourself ad infinitum. Surface comparisons aside, there were some small differences that went beyond the obvious. On the upside, the Sams were all roughly the same degree of smart. The downside was that tossing ideas at yourself eventually resulted in certain trends that were similar at a base level although the Sam in the black horn rims had a proposed a few ideas that made things a little more interesting.
"I can feel you thinking over here."
Sam looked over at herself, the one who'd opted to shuck her field jacket for a black tank top and green fatigues.
"Thinking's what we do," she offered, one hand sweeping to encompass her fourteen other sisters/siblings/selves. There was no word for what this was. "I'd be surprised if you couldn't feel it."
Her counterpart chuckled. "I hear you. You've got to admit, it's freaky."
The hum of conversation in the room was soothing in its own way, as though Sam's brain had expanded exponentially. There was the part that was working on the dimension problem, another that was preoccupied with what the Ori were doing. All of the Sams checked in on their relative Ori situations. Prime Sam (their collective designation for the current reality's model since she was their hostess) filled them in on what Martouf from the one of the Sam-less SG-1s told her: with the Ori plague out of control on their earth the situation was desperate. A pair of Sams sat in a corner scribbling some thoughts about that on a white board.
They were busy, they were being productive which seemed to be the SOP for Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter regardless of the reality.
"Hey. Tiger Camo."
She blinked. A Sam in black fatigues nodded at her. "Coffee?"
"No, but maybe McKay…" Her voice dropped off as she stopped herself from finishing that sentence and her fingers stilled. He wasn't here and neither was Jeannie. Her lips tightened as she smiled. "No thanks, I'm good."
Jeannie's equation was like a bolt from the blue at just the right time.
"You're going to ask my sister about joining the SGC aren't you?" Rodney had said over dinner. He shook his head. "One of us isn't enough for you?"
"Rodney, I'm just going to have a little talk with her," Sam had replied. "That equation she sent to Professor Peel set some folks on their ears."
Rodney eyed her and said, "We're just now getting back to knowing each other, okay? I don't want you to ruin this with your tom catting."
Sam reached out and caught Rodney's hand and tugged him up so she could kiss him on the cheek. "My tom catting got me you, didn't it?" she whispered in his ear. His answering red flush was enough payback.
Rodney McKay was brilliantly infuriating. Jeannie Miller was the opposite: solid and competent in that way that certain women are. She was a mom with an adorable daughter who still wore the ring of her late husband on a chain around her neck. She was also brilliant but that was a given.
"How did the universe produce the two of you?" Sam had asked the day they first met. They watched Madison painted a perfect yellow sun with her fingers on the easel in the living room. "I mean, I run into men like Rodney all the time in my line of work."
"But not women like me," Jeannie said with a light laugh. "You know Rodney didn't talk to me for years after I married Kaleb. Ranted at me over the phone that I was wasting my life." She looked over at Madison who had added a blue cow to her picture. "He resented the fact that I married a man who thought the lyrics of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumors' album were worth teaching in his poetry class."
After Pegasus, Jeannie packed herself and Madison up and moved to Colorado. "It's time," was all she'd said and Sam had heard the echo of an old pain in her words. She helped Jeannie pack everything into the moving vans and they followed by in Sam's convertible; Rodney having elected to get everything ready on the other end.
"Road trips need music," Jeannie had said as she slipped a CD into the stereo. It was spring and Sam put the top down. Somewhere between The Doobie Brothers and Adam Ant, she fell hard.
They slipped into each others lives with an ease that frightened Sam, infuriated Rodney and amused Jeannie. Madison took it all in stride. There was work enough at the SGC to fill a lifetime or at least for the next few years, and Sam and Rodney found themselves with people to come home to. It was only after Rodney caught Sam and Jeannie sneaking looks at each other that things threatened to spin off into the abyss, or at least promised to be very messy.
"You're thinking about sleeping with her," Rodney shouted at Sam. "I can't believe you. She's my sister!"
"You never liked to share, Rodney," Jeannie offered affably. She patted Sam, who looked as though she were going to bolt, on the arm. "Breathe."
"Tomcat," Rodney said. "You're just like Sheppard."
Sam took a deep breath and let it go. "I'm not like him."
"Yes, you are."
"I've seen John, Rodney. Sam's hotter." Jeannie had said in her most reasonable mom voice. "And she's not the only one who's been looking here."
He'd thrown up his hands and walked out of the kitchen muttering. Sam watched him go then turned back to to Jeannie. "This isn't usually my M.O." Sam had said sheepishly. "I'm usually a one person…person."
"Aren't we all?" Jeannie had quipped. She'd put her dishtowel down and pulled Sam over to sit at the kitchen table. "I like you. I'm pretty sure you like me. Now we could sit here and have a very long drawn out conversation or I could kiss you and we could see where it goes."
Sam opted for the kiss.
News traveled fast within the confines of the SGC. Black Camo SG-1's betrayal of the Prime Team made its way back to the Sam situation room within hours of the event.
"They're on their way back," one Sam said as she twirled a pen between her fingers. "I can't believe they'd make a play for Atlantis."
Another snorted derisively. "Like you wouldn't?" She looked around at the rest and Sam felt herself pinned to her chair. "That other Sam? It could have been any one of us out there. We've all done some sketchy things."
"Lost a stargate," Black rim glasses Sam said. She looked around and added defensively, "What? We had the other gate."
Sam hugged her arms around herself. "The bigger question we should be worrying about is do we have a way home?" The words felt heavy in her mouth. "I don't know about the rest of you but I don't want to be stuck here for the rest of my life."
Her statement brought everything to a stop for a moment as her collective outer id thought about that possibility. "Well then we better get back to it," one counterpart said. She nodded at Sam who nodded back and tried not to think about the wrong forever.
Life moved along even though it was topsy turvy which is why Jeannie was at the market when she got the call.
Silence and then, "Jeannie."
Jeannie dropped the peanut butter into the cart when she hear Rodney's tired voice. "Rodney? Rodney, what is it?"
"We've got her. They're home. SG-1 is home."
Rodney had barely finished speaking when Jeannie left her cart in the middle of the aisle and bundled Madison into the car to speed away to the mountain.
That night they lay in front of the fireplace while Sam told them what happened on the other side. "The hardest thing," she said, "was that in the end, there really wasn't a hell a of a lot I could do. That other SG team caused the whole thing so we had to wait for it to play out."
"So many of you," Jeannie mused, her hand resting on Sam's stomach. Occasionally her fingers would brush Rodney's before they would skitter away to find another part of Sam's body to touch.
"Too many of me," Sam replied. "All I could think about was coming home."
"Yes, well," Rodney said sleepily, "see that you don't get yourself lost again."
Sam laughed softly in the firelight. "I'll do my best not to, Rodney. I promise."