Chapter 1: Meditation
Basking in the brilliant rays of September sunshine streaming into her living room, Samantha Carter closed her eyes and slowly released a deep breath. Her plan for the day had been to do absolutely nothing at all - she wasn't going to tinker with the cycle, she wasn't going to clean her house, she wasn't going to do one single little thing. Sam nestled deeper into the couch, hugging the pillow in her lap. She grinned appreciatively at the luxury of having this rare downtime to recuperate from the events of the past few months. She'd really enjoyed being able to do things outdoors this week as the days had been fairly warm. Only the cooler evenings had hinted of the fall soon to come, evenings that would have been just right for snuggling with her fiancé if he had been there. Her grin faded as her engagement ring seemed to tighten around her finger.
Fiancé - she still had a hard time saying that word out loud; remembering that she really was engaged was even harder. She'd tried to make a conscious effort to wear the ring during her downtime, but hated to admit she often forgot to. Not wearing the ring on base, mainly due to off-world missions, hadn't helped her much either. She hated big showy displays and had cringed at the thought of the fuss that would be made, not to mention all of the repetitive explanations that she'd have to give, if she did wear the ring on base.
Sam brought her hand down to look at the sparkling diamond. She never would have imagined that so many changes in her life would haven taken place so quickly; it had been a matter of mere months. First Pete Shanahan had come into her life. Then her commanding officer, Jack O'Neill, had been promoted to Brigadier General and placed in charge of the base. His promotion had soon followed by her own to Lieutenant Colonel, placing her in command of the SG1 team. Most recently she had become engaged to Pete. The changes had happened almost too quickly, she mused, especially when she considered the dangerous missions they had occurred around. She felt like she'd barely had enough time to adjust to one shock, injury, or change before the next one slammed into her.
Sam thought back to her experiences on the Prometheus. During her recovery from the head injury she'd sustained on the ship, she'd had plenty of time to analyze the hallucinations she'd had while on board. She'd concluded that the appearances of her father, Jacob, and her teammates had been her subconscious talking to her conscious mind. She knew she had been chiding herself for avoiding romantic relationships. But she hadn't appreciated being reminded of how she'd been actively denying herself romantic opportunities in recent years. Especially when it was Jacob reminding her that she never would experience the deep love he'd felt for her mother, that 'something vital' that gave 'life meaning and balance' unless something changed.
Wasted opportunities aside, Sam had thought she'd been satisfied with the life she'd chosen. She was happy with how things had turned out, especially in her professional life, but the Prometheus hallucinations had reminded her of just how low on her list of priorities she had placed her emotional needs and how damn long she had been doing it. Sam rubbed her arms. She'd also had to reluctantly admit that there were times, alone in her bed at night, when she really missed the warmth and companionship that a gentle, caring man could provide.
Sam wondered if she was prepared to be alone the rest of her life. If push came to shove, she knew she was entirely capable of living a happy, productive, and fulfilling life without a committed relationship with a man; she'd proven that for the last eight years. But the right man would add a special spark to her life, she mused. She wasn't going to feel guilty for wanting that kind of pleasure in her life. Not anymore.
An image of Jack grinning filled her mind.
Shaking her head to rid herself of Jack's grin, Sam glanced at her hand where it had fallen in her lap. Now that she was engaged to Pete, she felt guilty thinking about Jack, especially since she'd honestly thought that she'd brought her feelings for Jack to a point of closure that she could live with. That wasn't to say there weren't times when she'd notice 'that' look from Jack, or some other small gesture or phrase that would jar her out of her denial of their relationship, but she'd honestly thought those moments had become fewer and much more manageable, especially in the past year or two. Until Pete came into her life her buried feelings for Jack had seemed so much easier to compartmentalize and hide because the consequences of the fraternization rules had always hung over their heads and because Jack had avoided most discussion about their relationship.
At the point she'd made the decision to become more seriously involved with Pete, she had found to her dismay that she wasn't able to completely shut Jack out of her mind like she had before. Unbidden memories of him had infiltrated her thoughts much more frequently than they had in years. She didn't want to think about Jack; it just happened, like some part of her mind was constantly comparing Pete to him. After all of those years of conditioning herself to suppress her most serious feelings for Jack deep down inside her, she'd been very uncomfortable with this turn of events because she was use to having complete control over her emotions.
She couldn't think of very many times that she'd lost that carefully cultivated control. One time that did stick out in recent memory had happened a few months ago at the Antarctic outpost, when they'd put Jack in the stasis chamber to save his life. Sam had been very thankful that only her teammates, Dr. Daniel Jackson and Teal'c, had been there when she'd dropped her emotional barriers. In the heat of the moment she had been desperate to keep Jack alive and she had pleaded with him in front of the others, "Please Jack…" leaving unspoken the rest of her plea '…you can't go and leave me like this, you mean too much to me!'
Sam remembered standing before the chamber for what had seemed like hours, but had been only precious seconds, her hand tenderly caressing the field around Jack's face, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. A gentle smile spread across her face as she remembered Teal'c approaching her and silently placing his hand on her shoulder when the other SGC personnel began to arrive. She was very grateful to both of her friends that neither had mentioned her actions to anyone else. At the time she'd truly thought she'd lost Jack forever, because she hadn't known what else she possibly could do to bring him back to life and the knowledge of her powerlessness had frightened her.
She continued staring at the ring, slowly turning it around her finger. The depth of her feelings that day had surprised her. In spite of everything, including being even more committed to Pete, she'd realized that day how deeply she'd still cared for Jack. So much for thinking she could totally dismiss those buried feelings. Sam frowned. She knew she had to shoulder some of the blame for the way things had turned out between her and Jack. Several years ago during the zatarc testing, Jack had openly admitted in front of Teal'c and Janet that he cared for her much more than he should have given their rank and circumstances. Immediately after the testing he'd been eager to talk about their relationship, but she had been the one who'd quickly slammed that door shut. She'd been so uncertain about getting involved with anyone in the military again, let alone her CO, that she'd immediately put up a barrier between them. Even after Jack had questioned her decision to drop the issue, she'd refused to entertain any conversation of any kind. At that point in her life all she had wanted was a long career full of opportunity and challenge and her immediate gut reaction had been to close him out. She'd thought there were too many insurmountable barriers at the time and that their careers were more important to them than a potential romantic relationship.
That reminded her of another earlier time that he had been willing to discuss their relationship, when her alternate reality self had been on base. That time in response to Jack agreeing that he would give her all the time she needed to talk about the impact a 'twin' on base had had on her, she'd thrown some silly, flippant answer back at him. She'd been so unprepared for his willingness to talk that she'd given an immediate knee-jerk reaction without thinking about it; blocking him out and walking away. While it hadn't taken much thought on her part to walk away, she had spent weeks thereafter speculating about what must have really happened between Dr. Carter and Jack and the effect it had had on him. She'd wondered if his unexpected reaction had anything to do with the fact that she and Jack had been married in Dr. Carter's reality. She still remembered the emotions she'd felt while watching Jack slowly kiss Dr. Carter after escorting her back to her reality.
Knowing from those and other experiences that Jack reciprocated her feelings to some degree had made trying to act like nothing existed between them that much harder for her. Especially during the times when they forgot about the present and fell back into the easy-going teasing and flirting that they'd done in the not so distant past. To try to block those feelings Sam had repeatedly reminded herself that their confessions to each other had occurred over four years ago and they'd never had any other conversations to establish just how deep their feelings went or what to do about it. Besides, Jacob had instilled in her those Carter traits of honor and duty so deeply that she couldn't see herself forcing the issue with Jack at this point, especially if he wasn't going to bring it up first. Sure, Jack had continued to invite her to go fishing and she'd taken the invites as positive reassurances that he had continued to have some feelings for her, but what did that really mean? She sighed, recognizing now that he hadn't asked her much in the past year.
Of course what did it matter? She'd continued to make up excuses to give to Jack whenever he was in the mood to invite her to go fishing or anywhere else where they'd be alone together. She knew they had both become too valuable to the Stargate program to be transferred by the Pentagon to other assignments and she had wanted to keep from doing anything rash that would impact their professional relationship. She grinned. Some of the excuses she'd given him had been pretty lame ones at that. She knew Jack hadn't believed them for a minute, but what else could she do? In all that time he hadn't come directly out to say anything to her that would have given her reason to accept the invites or to seriously consider taking their relationship to another level.
Even with the clearly defined frat rules in place, Sam knew SGC staff had made little fuss over the large amounts of time Teal'c and Daniel spent hanging out with Jack after hours or their acceptance of his fishing invites. But she knew deep down in her gut that the reaction would have been completely different if she had been the one spending any amount of time alone with Jack. Not that either of them would have told anyone what they were doing, she was sure of that. But she knew damn well how the military rumor mill worked and that no matter how innocent things were between them, anything they would do would have a negative spin put on it. She frowned. She'd accepted that as being the nature of their jobs; if the SGC wasn't watching, then the NID or Trust or some other agency had them under surveillance, but it had given her yet one more reason to decline him. She suspected Jack knew the reasons for her declining the invites, just as she suspected he knew her reasons for squashing his early attempts to discuss their relationship.
She smiled. Certainly one reason she hadn't turned down Jack's invites all this time wasn't because she didn't trust Jack. She chuckled softly and stretched. She just didn't trust herself enough to keep things under control once a relationship between them would have heated up. She knew how she'd felt; she had yearned to be held by him and to be touched by his caresses. She'd wanted to let go and be enveloped by him physically and emotionally... Sam sighed. She didn't need or want to follow those thoughts any further. Pete was in her life now and that meant those other feelings didn't and couldn't matter anymore, and she swept the thoughts of Jack back into that safe little box she'd put them in.
She wondered if she had avoided the entire Jack issue not because of the regs, but because she had been afraid of opening that deep core of herself up to be hurt again. The thought of Pete hurting her came to mind. She smiled; Pete was like a big, sweet lovable kid. She just couldn't see him as the kind of man who would hurt her in the way her first fiancé, Jonas Hanson, had done.
Sam felt the beginnings of hunger pangs. As she stood up to go to the kitchen a recent picture of her brother and his family caught her eye. Mark and his family had visited her several months ago and Jacob had managed to stop in for a moment during one of his rare trips back to Earth. She'd really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and gentle ribbing that was the result of the three of them finally feeling more comfortable with one another. Her brother had felt so at ease with their newfound familiarity that he had teased her about her love life or lack thereof.
Sam grinned as she shut the refrigerator door. She had surprised them with the news that she actually had started dating a bit. Jacob had given her a surprised look and a nod. He'd sat quietly through the remainder of her conversation with Mark, thoughtfully rubbing his chin and watching her. Sam assumed her father had been lost deep in an internal conversation with his symbiote, Selmak. Without him mentioning anything, she hadn't been sure what her father had been thinking, but she'd gotten the impression that he'd been pleased that she'd been doing something other than constantly working.
Mark, on the other hand, had been very interested to learn she was dating. He'd eagerly asked her if she remembered his buddy Pete. She'd responded that she vaguely recalled him talking about his friend before. Mark mentioned that Pete had been recently divorced and was reentering the dating scene. He'd told Sam that he thought it would be cool to set her up with him.
"Excuse me?" she had asked.
"No, seriously Sam," Mark had responded, a big smile on his face. "I've known Pete for years - he's a really great guy." Mark had paused for a moment. "You're Air Force. He's Denver PD." Mark gave a little shrug, "So see - you'd already have that much more in common because you'd understand each other's lifestyle - more than average people would, right?"
"Not really," Sam had whispered under her breath, ignoring the raised eyebrow that her father had aimed in her direction.
But her brother had continued to press her that evening to go on one date with Pete to see what he was like now. She had grudgingly agreed to Mark's request just to shut him up. She shook her head and grinned, acknowledging that Carters were nothing if not stubborn as mules when it came to certain things. She had been genuinely surprised when she discovered that Pete was just as Mark had described. She'd enjoyed her first tentative dates with Pete; they had been so different from what she had experienced in the past with other men. He'd been very eager to try to please her in his funny puppy-dog way; his soulful eyes and pouty lips always pleading with her to laugh and smile.
Grabbing a napkin, she walked back over to the couch. She had to admit that she really did like Pete a lot. Smiling, she took a bite of her sandwich. He'd taken her mostly peaceful and quiet personal life and had stirred it up quite a bit. Thinking about the anniversary party that he'd made her crash with him, she mused that she never really knew exactly what to expect from him. But she couldn't deny the fact that he did keep her amused and she liked that; he'd filled her home life with humor and laughter as she tried to anticipate what he would do next.
Sam jumped as the telephone rang and she reached out to pick up the receiver.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Sam?" She heard Pete's voice.
"Pete? Is everything okay?"
"Oh yeah, sure baby, everything's fine," he answered. "You're home today?"
"Yes." Sam paused. "Remember? I told you I'd be off this week."
"Uh, no, I don't remember." He paused. "Hey, since my op ended early, how 'bout dinner tonight? I know this really great place that just opened downtown."
"Sure Pete. Sounds great." Sam glanced at the clock. "What time?"
"Still need to finish the report. How 'bout 'round six?" Pete asked.
"Okay, I'll be ready." She paused again. "Love you."
"I love ya too, babe. Gotta go now."
Sam stared at the handset after she clicked it off. She'd made other plans, expecting Pete to be gone at least another day or two. Well, he was keeping her on her toes, she thought, shaking her head.
She bit into her sandwich again, flicking at the breadcrumbs in the corners of her mouth. She wondered how Alec was doing. Last week she'd escorted her friend back to the new Alpha site where he would be now be living. She grinned at the thought of Alec Colson trying to adjust to the most definitely non-corporate atmosphere of P4X-650; he'd be a fish out of water for a while for sure. At least once he came to terms with Brian Volger's suicide.
When she'd left him at the Alpha site, Alec was still trying to fathom what Brian must have felt to be able do that, although he himself had been moments from attempting something similar when Sam had found him. Before she'd returned home, she'd made Alec promise to talk to Dr. Farrar, the Alpha site staff psychologist. Alec acted like he was a bit put out at her for the suggestion, but Sam saw his dammed feelings ready to burst from behind his bloodshot eyes and she knew it wouldn't be too long before he would need to talk. She recognized that he had that same 'nothing bothers me' façade that Jack had - stubborn and closed off concerning certain emotions.
Sam had enjoyed the chance to take Alec out to P4X-650 both times because there hadn't been very many opportunities for SG1 to go out in the field lately. She wanted to go off-world more often to gain more field command experience, but things had been at a slow crawl because each of the team members had been pulled off in different directions. Her own schedule was packed with the usual projects as well as with new priorities like the latest Replicator problem. But other than little field time, so far so good, she thought.
She knew it had been one thing to be the second in command of SG1, but to actually now be in command of the team was something completely different; she was taking the heat now. She laughed, remembering all of the grief that SG1 had given Jack over the years. She just hoped she would respond to having her team act in direct disagreement with her orders as well has he had. She shrugged. It wasn't as if she hadn't trained repeatedly for these situations. She knew she had the knowledge of what needed to be done and the skills to do it. She recognized that she would have to become more at ease with being responsible for making the hard choices and giving the orders that involved life and death. Jack had advised her not to take criticisms of her decisions too personally when she received them and although she knew that was true, she also knew she just needed a bit more time to feel completely comfortable in this new role.
She chewed slowly on the last of her sandwich as she thought about how comfortable she was with the new roles she played in her work and her relationships. Recently she had been trying to finish an overdue report for Jack, when he'd entered her lab to check on her and the report. With her musings still tossing and turning in her mind, she'd taken the opportunity to ask him what he would do if he could do things over. Jack had answered that he wouldn't be there. Sam had understood him to mean that he would be with family, the people he loved; not at the SGC. She couldn't blame him for feeling that way. She was still trying to work through her own issues with work and relationships.
How to make things work with Pete had been eating at her even before his marriage proposal. While she truly admired those who were able to make both career and family work well, she hated the thought of the choices it had forced them, and now her, to make. She was proud of the career that she'd fought for and the success she'd had in helping resolve many of the problems that had threatened this world and others. She reveled more than she cared to admit in the knowledge of what she'd achieved and the fact that she could continue to keep doing that and more. She loved the thrill of the whole process of getting there. She smiled. Yeah, she confessed, she still enjoyed and needed that adrenaline rush...
She hated to admit it, but she didn't think she was ready to give up SG1 quite yet. Not yet. She really couldn't envision herself doing anything else these days. Maybe in the first year she could have left if the right opportunity had presented itself, but she was in too deep into the Stargate program now and she knew it.
Leaning her head deep back into her shoulders, she scanned the ceiling and released a deep breath. She hadn't yet spoken to Pete about her deepest concerns, but she was beginning to wonder if any of this was fair to Pete. She had the feeling, regardless of his protests to the contrary, that he still didn't fully grasp the enormity of what she did, how deeply it was interwoven into her life, or the risks her career brought with it.
Sam closed her eyes, absentmindedly circling her abdomen with her fingertips. She had never ruled out having children someday and her engagement to Pete had brought that reality much closer. She'd worried in the past about birth defects and other abnormalities because of everything she'd put her body through while at the SGC, but Janet had assured her that all the tests she'd run over the years indicated there shouldn't be complications and had told her to stop worrying about it, but Sam couldn't help it and still did.
Then, beyond the getting pregnant, there were so many other issues. Sam sighed. Maybe she wasn't 'Super Sam' after all. She worried about all of these things; maybe too much? How would she and Pete coordinate their schedules? Who would be the one giving up more time from their job? Would she be forced to hire a nanny because of both of their odd schedules? How could she do that when she knew that she wanted to be there to experience all of those wonder-filled firsts? She wanted to see the smiles and first steps, to hear the cooing and first words, to feel the hugs; she wanted it all.
What about later on - how could she put her children, or her husband, through the uncertainty of never knowing where she was? How could she deal with never being able to share with the kids the special awesomeness of what she really did? How would they feel as a family, not being able to plan activities, or even mealtimes, because they would never know when she would be back? Or that she would be back at all?
She shivered. That had concerned her the most; she still wasn't sure she could choose to inflict the pain and suffering resulting from her own death on the people she cared the most about. With each passing day she spent with Pete she'd become more unsure if she could do that to him. Pete knew about risk; he faced it daily in his own job. However, she didn't think he could fathom just how often she had risked her own life in her job, or even that she had experienced torture. Torture. She frowned again. What if she had a torture experience that changed her forever; could she bring herself to inflict that particular kind of pain on her family? She seriously doubted it. She knew Jack was still dealing with the raw emotions of guilt and pain over his gut-wrenching loss of his son, Charlie, and then of Sarah, his wife… and that had been over 8 years ago.
She shut her eyes and saw Janet; sweet, calm, all-knowing Janet. On-duty, as well as off-duty, Janet had been the voice of reason and experience for Sam, and had been one of her staunchest supporters. Sam still couldn't believe Janet was gone even though Sam had been there on the planet when Janet had died. She remembered how devastated Janet's death had left Daniel. He had walked around zombie-like for weeks afterward. They all had – her loss had left them with a large void in their lives. Sam shook her head; Janet's death had been too damn unfair. The loss of her closest friend and confidant had also made her plunge deeper into her relationship with Pete.
In this past month since Pete's proposal, an even more intense round of thoughts, feelings, and doubts had plagued Sam. In deciding whether or not to accept Pete's offer, Sam had been forced to decide whether there was a future for her and Jack and she had really missed Janet's guidance. As much as she had desired a relationship with Jack, she'd felt deep in her gut that there couldn't be a future. She frowned. The God's honest truth was that she never had wanted to give up on Jack and she really had wanted there to be a romantic relationship between them, but she wanted it to happen in the here and now, not years or decades into the far future when one or both of them eventually left the SGC to retire or pursue other things.
She also realized she'd also been giving herself a swift kick in the ass along with an order to get on with her life when she'd been on the Prometheus. She'd finally consciously acknowledged that she deserved more than just thoughts of Jack and the anticipation of what could happen between them; otherwise she'd end up waiting her life away in expectation. She knew that as long as she continued to hold out for Jack knowing full well that he wouldn't force the relationship issue with her, she wouldn't look elsewhere for love or companionship. She would just continue to hide behind the barriers she'd erected to protect herself from being hurt again like she had with Jonas. She knew it hadn't been such a healthy thing for her to keep everything all bottled up inside and to not allow herself the chance to love and be loved in return.
Nothing in life was guaranteed, nothing ever certain, especially in their line of work. She sighed. She wanted a relationship with certainty. Something concrete, something tangible, something immediate. She grudgingly admitted that Pete wasn't like Jack and that he might never evoke in her the same feelings that Jack had, but Pete loved her in the here and now and she wanted that kind of real, not platonic, love. She would continue to welcome Pete's love with open arms, because really, what did she have to lose?
No use in getting upset about it all over again, she told herself. A part of her heart would always be Jack's, no matter what happened. She resolved that Jack would just have to become part of her romantic past - something wonderful that could have been if the circumstances had been different. She smiled, knowing that she would be forever grateful to Jack for having shown her that there were strong stubborn men who could be gentle and caring and not just arrogant SOB's like Jonas had been. It was too bad she would never be able to tell him that and to thank him for it, she thought wistfully. He'd never know what an impact he'd had on her entire life.
Sam stood up and brushed the crumbs off her lap. 'Why am I sitting here and doing this to myself?' she asked. She shook her head. Heading back to shower, she chided herself, 'Stop wallowing in what could have been with Jack - you've made your choice - go seize the moment.'
Chapter 2: Justification
Daniel grunted in surprise as he slammed head first into Jack outside of Sam's lab. He'd been so focused on working through the multiple interpretations of a key phrase in a manuscript he'd been translating that he hadn't seen Jack approaching from the opposite direction. "Sorry," he apologized.
"Lost in thought were we?" Jack asked, smirking.
Daniel ignored Jack and peeked in Sam's lab.
"You first." Jack nodded in the direction of the doorway.
"No, you," Daniel insisted, shaking his head.
"I insist," Jack responded, waving for Daniel to enter.
"No, I insist." Daniel grinned, waving Jack toward the door.
Jack arched an eyebrow. "Okay... I order you to go in."
Daniel innocently raised his eyebrows at Jack. "And I respectfully decline."
"Brains before beauty," Jack quipped as he crossed his arms, a bigger smirk playing on his lips.
Daniel's eyebrows twitched. "What?" he asked. Ignoring Jack, Daniel looked in at Sam again. Her gaze was fixed on the monitor and a smile played over her lips as her fingers danced across her keyboard. Her week off had done wonders for her Daniel thought. He hadn't seen Sam this rested and relaxed in a long time. She was positively radiant he observed. He wondered if it was the new man in her life. He continued to watch as her smile grew even wider.
"Either you enjoyed your time off or you need to share that with us," Jack commented, leaning further into the doorway and pointing at the monitor.
Sam blinked and looked toward the entrance. "General. Daniel." She smiled again. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Good week off?" Jack asked, leaning his shoulder against the doorjamb.
"Or is there something on there that you want to share with us?" Daniel finished, arching his eyebrows and glancing at the monitor.
Sam grinned at Daniel. "Last week was wonderful," she said. She looked back at her monitor. "This is a simulator program. It's just some numbers I've been crunching to simulate the expansion of Fifth's Replicators so we can project how to stop…"
"Okay, Carter," Jack interrupted, waving his hand at her. "Just put it in a report."
"I will sir," Sam agreed. Daniel watched as Sam tried to find where she had left off. He smiled, knowing they were distracting her. He hated to do it to her in the middle of something important, but it had been worth it to catch her looking this happy. He suppressed a smile as Sam looked up and gave them both a quizzical look.
"Yes?" she asked.
Jack looked at Sam and then at Daniel. Daniel furrowed his eyebrows at Jack and looked back at Sam with a questioning look. Sam jutted her chin forward and arched her eyebrows, glancing back and forth between the two men standing in her doorway.
"Sooooo?" she asked.
"Umm… lunch?" Daniel responded, adjusting his eyeglasses and checking his wristwatch as he walked into the room. "You said in an hour. It's been about two."
Sam sighed and brushed her bangs away from her eyes. "I forgot. I'm sorry. After I finish this last part, we can go down to grab something."
Jack cleared his throat.
Sam looked back at Jack. "General?" she asked.
Jack shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Just checking for dust bunnies and cobwebs." He ran his finger over the corner of the door and disappeared down the hallway.
Sam looked at Daniel and shook her head.
Daniel shrugged, taking a seat in a chair near Sam's desk. He spun the chair around as he waited for Sam to finish. "I don't know Sam," he said. "Guess he's had a lot on his mind?" He knew he couldn't explain Jack's behavior lately either.
Sam arched her eyebrows as she squinted at her monitor and resumed typing. "I guess so," she answered.
Pete stepped back to squirt the soapsuds off his truck and yanked at the long hose to maneuver it around to the other side of his truck. After Sam had told him early in the week that she would be putting in late nights he'd decided to take today off to make it a long weekend and to show up early to surprise her. He knew she loved his surprises by the way she giggled and rolled her eyes at him each time he sprung another one on her. He just couldn't help it. She seemed to get a kick out of it and nearly always agreed to go along with whatever plans he came up with. It had kept him busy thinking up something new to try on her. He chuckled; most women had been like that with him - they pretty much went along with whatever he wanted to do - why would Sam be any different?
Although he did have to admit, that he'd never had to go all out for any other woman like he had been doing for Sam. But even with the greater effort required on his part, he'd decided not long after meeting Sam that he couldn't let a woman like her slip through his fingers. She had a well-paying job, she wasn't around a lot so she couldn't cling to him like some girls had, she seemed to recognize how serious his job was and how much it meant to him, not to mention the really important things, how sweet, silly, and sexy Sam was...
Pete laughed as he rinsed the suds off the tires. Sam could be so goofy sometimes, but he loved her for it because it made her seem all that much more approachable to him. He hadn't dated many geniuses lately, oh hell, he'd never had one at all before Sam, and dating her had been a totally new experience for him. He'd never have hooked up with someone like Sam if not for her having a brother like Mark. He appreciated that she never tried to bore him with small talk about what she did at work. Besides, he knew from the background check he'd done that she couldn't share the top secret shit and he was cool with that. Although sometimes that quietness left him wondering.
He had figured that Sam's quietness, and her admitted pathetic track record with guys, was because she was some kind of a bookwormy math geek. Okay, an amazingly sexy and beautiful one, but she was still a female Einstein; or that other guy, the one in the wheelchair, who'd been playing poker on some sci-fi show he'd clicked into on a late night stakeout. What was that guy's name? Hovering? Herring? Hawk? Oh, what the hell did it matter? Another Einstein. At any rate, going by what he'd picked up from her and from what her brother had told him she hadn't had much of a love life, especially the past few years. Pete smiled; his timing couldn't have been better.
He had to admit that with her being super smart there were times he felt like a bumbling clod, sticking his foot in his mouth at all the wrong times. But for the most part, Sam had seemed to accept him without fussing much about what he said or did. He grinned; he had a nag-free relationship for once. Although that did mean that there were times when she pulled back and clammed totally up, other times when she didn't laugh when he thought she should, and still others when he noticed she didn't smile at all at him. Hell, now that he thought about it... she hadn't seemed particularly overjoyed by his marriage proposal. He was still blown away that she hadn't immediately said yes. He squared his shoulders as he pulled the hose back into the yard; he was damn proud of himself to have been a bigger man by giving her more time to think about her answer, though for the life of him he still couldn't understand why the hell it hadn't been a full-out "YES!" at the first ask.
He frowned as he rolled up the hose, thinking about the few times she'd smarted off at him. But he chalked Sam's cockiness and smugness up to her years of military training and her father. 'She'll get over it,' he told himself and chuckled. 'Just give it time, Pete my man, give it time and a little work. She's forgotten what a real man is like. She'll see.' He thought back to that day he tried to talk to Sam when he'd ended up being treated at the base hospital for injuries he'd gotten from that weird woman with the glowing eyes. In the hospital Sam had given him some big story about what she really did and how many times she'd help save the world and a bunch of other shit. He still didn't believe half of what she'd told him; but she'd acted so cocksure and full of herself that, hey, if Sam wanted imagine that she was 'Super Sam' going around saving the world like a GI Joe with breasts, then he wasn't going to stop her. He grinned; he rather liked the idea of Super Sam in a skintight, formfitting leather suit.
"Meeeooowwwrrrr," he growled, turning the water faucet off.
Jack whistled his way through the cereal aisle, stopping to pick up a box of Fruit Loops. Looking down into his basket, he realized he'd forgotten to get fruit and he walked back in the opposite direction. As he turned the corner into the produce section, he spotted a tall leggy blonde in faded jeans and a body-hugging sweater intently examining a bag of grapes. Jack grinned; his quick run to the grocery store might just be slowing down for a bit. As the woman turned, he caught a glimpse of her profile. Jack realized with a start that the beautiful woman was Sam. He didn't see her that often in her civvies and too many times she hid her wonderful body behind some damn shapeless and drab things. But today… Jack gave Sam an appraising look. Today she looked particularly fine and he'd dare anyone to call her drab or shapeless in that outfit.
He smiled and started to approach her, lurching to a halt when a paunchy young man came up beside her with a bag of apples. Jack recognized Pete. Jack's smile began to disappear as he watched Pete pop a grape into his mouth and kiss Sam slowly. It disappeared completely as he watched Sam giggle and caress Pete's cheek in response, her engagement ring sparkling in the fluorescent lighting.
'Shit,' Jack thought, ready to turn away. 'I really don't want to meet this guy.'
He gave Pete a hard stare. He hadn't talked directly to him after the Osiris incident. In fact Jack had argued with Hammond about the twerp. Jack had felt Pete should have been drugged up and locked up for all the problems he had caused them that particular day. Jack had reminded Hammond that Pete had even been checking out Sam's security files through the FBI before he crashed their operation. But Hammond had told him that Sam was aware of it and was going to handle it her own way. "Which is?" Jack had asked him, to which he'd been given the 'drop it' look.
Jack considered the situation and his smile slowly returned. He walked past Sam and around to the other side of the produce table. Pete, arms folded across his chest, watched the other shoppers as he leaned against the table facing in the opposite direction. Unaware of Jack's presence, Sam continued to search through the bags for undamaged grapes. Jack noticed small round passion fruits in the middle bin and a sly grin spread over his face. He grabbed one of the larger fruits and rubbed it on his shirt.
He cleared his throat, catching Sam's eye, and sniffed at the fruit, grinning widely. Sam immediately brightened at seeing Jack and she opened her mouth to greet him. Jack gave her a quick 'don't say anything' shake of his head and a half-wink.
"Ahhhh…. Passion fruit," Jack said slowly, emphasizing the word passion. He arched his eyebrows at Sam as he inhaled deeply.
Jack watched Pete cock his head over his shoulder. After a quick once over, Pete gave him a dismissive glance and turned away. Jack looked back at Sam who was still grinning at him. He returned her wide grin.
"How can you tell how passionate the fruit will make you?" he asked her. "The bigger it is the more 'WhooHoo' you get?"
Sam bent her head down and lifted a finger up to the tip of her nose to stifle a giggle. "I don't know sir."
"Maybe the deeper the color the more libido it makes one have?" Jack asked giving his head a slight sideways shake.
Sam's eyes searched his and she pursed her lips into a funny smile. "Planning a romantic interlude, are you?" she asked, hands on her hips.
His eyes never leaving hers, Jack lifted the purple fruit up close to his eyes then brought it down to his lips where he gave it a slow, lingering lick. "Could be," he answered. He then sucked on it, making a loud popping noise as his lips disengaged from it. "You tell me."
Sam giggled again, looking down and blushing. Jack was beginning to enjoy himself. It had been too long since Sam had been this open and relaxed around him and he realized how much he had missed it. He closed his mouth into a deep dimpled grin and watched Sam.
Pete turned around to face Jack. "Hey buddy, can I help ya?" he asked, squinting at Jack.
Jack fixed a cold stare on Pete. "No, you can't," he responded. He looked back at Sam's smiling face. "But this kind lady was," he explained, giving Sam a toothy grin.
Sam rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Well, if you're looking for some, ahem, romantic fruit, why not try some strawberries?" she asked, an impish smile playing over her lips.
Jack nodded and arched an eyebrow.
Sam's smile got wider and she searched his eyes again. "You have whipped cream?" she asked.
Jack shook his head. "No, but," he waved around at the store, "I am here, am I not?"
"And chocolate," Sam chuckled. "You mustn't forget the chocolate."
"Now that sounds like a plan," Jack said. He leered lecherously at Sam, "Are you available later miss?"
Sam shook her head and laughed. Jack watched her smile disappear as she turned to face Pete. He saw that Pete was still facing them his fists clenched and his face flushed.
"Hey buddy. She's with me," Pete said to Jack. He motioned his head toward the end of the produce section. "Leave her alone."
Jack crossed his arms and gave Pete a condescending look. "No," Jack said.
Pete's eyes widened and he began to walk around the large table towards Jack.
Dropping her bag of grapes onto the table, Sam reached out to grab Pete's arm. "Pete. No!"
"No Sam." Pete shrugged off her hand. "Who does this guy think he is?" he asked her as he moved around the edge of the display.
"Pete. Stop," Sam requested. "I know him."
"So?" He glanced back at Sam. "Then he should know you're mine."
Sam did a double take, giving Pete a puzzled look. What the hell did he mean by that and what was this all about? "Pete… this is my CO," she tried to explain. She glanced at Jack. He continued to smirk at Pete.
"Yeah, right," Pete responded.
"Seriously Pete." Sam's voice became very firm. "Stop."
Pete ignored her order and continued to approach Jack.
Sam looked Jack directly in the eye for a moment and quickly averted her gaze back down to the table. This was embarrassing and she didn't know what else to do without making Pete look really bad. "Sir, I'm sorry, I don't know what's the matter," Sam said apologetically, shrugging. This wasn't a side of Pete that she'd had to deal with before.
Pete glared at her as he stepped closer to Jack. "Don't apologize Sam," he snapped at her. "This guy's gone just a bit too far."
"Pete!" Sam hissed as other shoppers walked past them. "Stop it!" She knew she had the strength and ability to easily reach out and make him stop, but she wasn't going to embarrass him like that. Why couldn't he just drop it?
Jack gave Pete a very solemn appraising look. Sam recognized Jack's deadly serious 'Com'n punk, make my day' expression. Oh hell, what was the matter with Pete today? Was he feeling bad? Was something wrong at work? Had she done something?
She sighed in relief as Pete caught sight of Jack's face and stopped a few feet away from him. Sam quickly came up behind Pete to take his hand in hers. "Pete, this is General O'Neill. You've heard me talk about him before?"
She looked at Jack, giving him a look that begged him to be civil to Pete. "General, Pete Shanahan." She paused. "My fiancé."
She ignored Pete's questioning look at her pause and continued to watch Jack. Pete turned back to look at Jack and offered his hand. Jack nodded at Pete, but didn't move to shake his hand. Both men quietly watched each other for a moment.
Pete shrugged. "Guess I should thank you for patching me up when I went down during that op?"
"No, you shouldn't," Jack answered.
Sam watched the tense looks between the two and was uneasy with their silence. She was completely unsure about how to deal with the two men who meant the most to her staring each other down. Sam could tell Pete was confused by Jack's actions. Heck, she was confused now by both of them since they seemed to be acting like little boys instead of the full grown men that she'd come to love. "Ummm, sir?" She looked deep into Jack's eyes. "It's been really nice seeing you, but we really do need to finish our shopping…"
Jack looked down at the floor, a pained look on his face. Sam could tell he was feeling uncomfortable. He shook his head. "I have to go too," he said, lifting his shopping basket. "The ice cream melts as we speak." He winked at her so that Pete couldn't see him. "Thanks for the strawberry tip."
Sam held onto Pete's arm as Jack turned and walked away. She rubbed his arm gently. "Pete?" she asked, searching his eyes for clues as to why he'd behaved that way. "What's the matter? I've never seen you act like this before." She tenderly kissed his cheek. "What's up?" she asked softly.
"That guy's an asshole." Pete answered, shaking his head.
"Jack's just Jack," Sam tried to explain, waving her free hand around.
"General O'Neill," Sam explained.
"First name basis too?" Pete asked. "I'm not stupid Sam. I know the looks he was givin' you and you seemed to like it."
Sam shook her head, her mouth open in disbelief. "Pete, he's been my CO for years. Just what kind of looks are we supposed to give each other?"
Pete pulled his mouth to one side in a small grimace. "Not that kind."
Exasperated with Pete's behavior, Sam gripped the shopping cart and she started to push it away, her grapes forgotten. "I still don't get what your point is," she said. Honestly, she didn't get anything about this day anymore.
She jumped back as the cart suddenly bucked back up against her. She looked down to see Pete's hand gripping the side of the cart tightly. Looking back up, she saw Pete standing beside her, scowling.
"Don't walk away from me," he snapped. "I'm not done." His tone softened a little at seeing her wide-eyed expression. "Sam. Honey… I'm sorry," he apologized and he took a deep breath. "It's just that you two seem so..." he looked away as he searched for the right word, "comfortable… together. I just assumed he might have had the hots for you."
Sam felt a warm flush rise in her cheeks. Damn. She'd thought everything had been under control and that she'd been bantering in a joking kind of way with Jack. What was it that Pete saw right away when she and Jack were together? Hadn't she and Jack both moved on to the point that they just seemed like good friends? If there was something else seemed that obvious to others around them, then she was in deep shit and not just with Pete. "Well, you assumed..." she started to say.
Pete looked worried and interrupted her. "Hey, he is just your CO." He laughed and rubbed her shoulder. "Anyway, you're way too smart to go all doe-eyed after some CO as old as he is." He grinned and winked at her. "And you're an old engaged lady anyway, so what was I thinking?"
Sam felt her muscles tense up. She felt like she'd just been slapped; Pete had touched several hidden raw nerves and she didn't like that. Not after how wonderful everything had been with Pete lately. She shut her eyes. She just did not want to think about any of this right now. She stopped Pete with a touch on his shoulder. "Pete, we can talk about it later, when we get home. Not here. Okay?"
Pete slung his arm around her shoulders. "Whatever you say babycakes."
Chapter 3: Meditation 2
Jack felt like he was chained to his desk and he groaned as he tried focus again on the piles of reports spread out in front of him. He hadn't gotten a single damn thing of any importance accomplished today and he chastised himself for letting his thoughts wander so much. Too many things had been weighing too heavily on his mind lately. Not the least of which was that he getting sick and tired of being responsible for every damn little thing in the place right down to the stinking toilet paper in the restrooms. Okay, maybe TP wasn't such a big issue. Jack frowned; okay - maybe TP was a big issue.
So many of the decisions he had to make lately seemed so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the big ones concerning the lives of the SG teams, the roles they played, and the actions they took off-world, the small administrative issues of the base just seemed like piddley-shit. But, he reminded himself, those little things added up - the sum equaled the whole, the parts equaled the sum, the whole hole... oh, the hell with it!
He wondered now if he really did want to lead everyone on the whole damn base or just a few on a team like he use to. Did he even want to lead anyone at all anymore, damn it! What to do, what to do. He slouched forward on the desk and rubbed his forehead. "Oh yeah, I'm just so damn capable," he muttered.
"Who's capable, Jack?"
Jack heard Daniel's voice and looked up to see him sticking his head through the doorway. Jack frowned as Daniel sauntered in, dropping down to lounge in the chair in front of Jack's desk. Daniel surveyed the stacks of reports covering Jack's desk and lifted his head up over top of them to grin at him.
"You look very busy," Daniel observed.
Jack glared at Daniel. "Daniel, didn't anyone teach you to knock first?"
Daniel ignored his question and leaned back in his chair. "Looks like interesting reading. Need help?"
Jack aimed a smirk at him. "It's simply fascinating. And, no, I don't need help," he remarked dryly. "Maybe you need something else to do Daniel? There are other things I can delegate you know."
"Uh, no." Daniel answered, grinning and sitting up straighter.
Jack ignored Daniel's apparent amusement. Maybe if he ignored him completely, he'd go away? He pulled another stack of folders toward him. He scanned the contents of a few folders quickly, one eyebrow arched. Slamming another folder shut, he threw it down onto a growing pile on the floor.
Jack sighed and pushed his chair back. He stared at Daniel for several long moments. "May I help you Dr. Jackson?"
"Okay then. Get out," Jack said glancing at the doorway and back to Daniel. He didn't have the time right now to play games with Daniel.
Daniel's eyes widened as his eyebrows shot up and a little "oh" formed in his mouth. "Really?"
"Uh, sure. In a minute." Daniel glanced around the office.
"Uh, yeah Jack?"
"Out. Now." Jack pointed at the door.
"Okay," Daniel whined as he stood up. "Touchy, touchy."
Jack stared at him with an arched eyebrow.
"Okay, I'm walking," Daniel said, quickly exiting Jack's office.
After Daniel left Jack leaned back into a long stretch and cracked his knuckles. Rubbing the back of his neck as he rotated his head, he tried to relieve some of the tension that he felt building up there. He hadn't felt like this until recently. He should have been getting more comfortable in this position by this point, not having more questions and doubts. Leading had been so much different out there with a team compared to what he was experiencing right now. Out there he'd risked his own life right along with theirs as they went out saving the world. He'd known what needed to be done and what the rules were and which of them could be broken. He'd always been the man pushing the envelope; not the one who enforced the envelope by sealing it shut. He'd really enjoyed being responsible for a team and, hell, off-world was way more exciting than this constant barrage of paper, paper, paper, endless paper.
Here, stuck on base, ordering everyone else around, he wasn't risking anything himself, but he was risking all of their lives daily. He knew full well certain people wouldn't hesitate to tell him that he was exposed to enough risk by just being on base, not to mention the risk of getting removed from his job, but since when did minimal risk or his title of the week matter to him? No, the risks he faced were damn pitiful compared to the risks he now ordered so many others to take.
He wondered what he would do when the time came when he had to make a life or death decision between the greater good of the world and that of the team who he considered his family. He had an inkling of how he would have to choose and he didn't like it one damn bit. He knew it was just a matter of time before he'd be forced to give that particular order and he dreaded it.
Damn, how he missed hanging out and being with his friends from his old team. He knew he'd been a bit stiff around them lately, but he was only slowly coming to grips with how to interact with them in his new role. He frowned; he wasn't sure he wanted to give up these relationships that he'd grudgingly come to admit that he held dear to his heart. Teal'c and Daniel were more than just teammates and friends; they were his family; brothers in fact as well as in arms. He enjoyed their company and the good times they'd had together. He also appreciated that they weren't afraid to question his orders, unlike many of the people he'd worked with over the years.
An image of Sam smiling and laughing shot into his mind. She had been unarguably one of the most competent 2IC's around. The corners of Jack's mouth turned up at memories of Sam trying so hard to be just one of the guys. His smile broadened - he knew she had done just exactly that. She'd done even more, so much more, than she realized by touching his heart and opening his mind in ways he'd denied himself for so long. No matter what their futures held, he would be forever grateful to her for that. He leaned forward to rest his chin on his hand, reliving certain memories of her that he held locked deep down in his mind.
Jack shut his eyes for a moment. He couldn't deny that there'd been moments of sparkage from early on between them, really from the moment they'd met, but he knew for certain what he felt now was more than just some hormonal attraction: he felt her being, her presence, was now so embedded in his soul and his life that he wasn't sure what he would do if she ever stopped being a part of it. The past couple months he'd become sorry that he'd taken it for granted that things would stay the same and that she would always be there, available for him, accessible to him.
He sat back in his chair, frowning, and crossed his arms. She had been taken from him; Pete had seen to that. Jack pursed his lips – he really couldn't blame Sam for taking the opportunity with Pete when it arose; especially if he couldn't tell Sam how he really felt about her. But Jack just couldn't shake the bad feelings he had in his gut about this guy. In fact he'd gone directly to Hammond to strongly argue against sharing anything about the SGC with the punk. He'd felt that Pete was too much of an independent operator – look how he screwed up that op, nearly getting them all killed by Osiris. Jack slowly shook his head, remembering Pete's recent reactions in front of Sam at the grocery store. Asshole. But Jack wanted Sam to be happy and he hadn't wanted to impose his desires on her if he wasn't sure what he wanted himself or could offer to her, and if this ass was what she thought she wanted, hey, she was an adult and he wasn't going to interfere. Yet.
'Damn,' he thought miserably, 'I'm going to have to make some decisions.' It was getting to be too much, on top of everything else he had going on, to try to keep up the same sort of relationships as before with his "family." On base SG1 wanted the same kind of easy give and take like they had before, and while he'd tried, really tried, to keep things the same, he was having difficulty doing it, feeling awkward for the first time in his life. He'd already picked up on the low grumbles around the base about the special treatment SG1 received, and these recent complaints hadn't been just the garden variety that had always circulated about the SGC's premier team. He shrugged, feeling defensive; those busybodies were the ones with issues, not him. He cared less about what they thought about him, but he didn't want their brainless backstabbing to affect those he cared deeply about and the only way he could see to protect them was to pull back from them.
He groaned. He hated thinking; really, really, really hated it. Why couldn't this be as easy as choosing the new desert menu?
Jack pulled the next stack of reports toward him, tapping his pen on the desk. Back to saving the world through cutting down forests... He shut the folder and rested his chin in his hand, frowning again. That was basically it - he wanted to help keep this world and those of their new allies safe, but how the hell was he going to do it chained to this chair?
Jack shook his head. He couldn't ignore his body's warnings that it wouldn't support the wild escapades involved in leading any team in the field for much longer. He chuckled; he wasn't that old yet, but he certainly wasn't like the twenty something young bucks coming through with few injuries and unlimited energy reserves. He knew, and slowly had begun to accept, the limits that his body was imposing on him. He was man enough to admit he was aging, even if it was only to himself at the moment. Right now, however, he just felt like he was straining under all this pressure without anyone to share it with or to reveal his doubts to. He had talked a few times to Hammond to commiserate about life as a base commander, but he hadn't shared his private concerns with him yet. He felt he couldn't, at least not until he better understood what they were himself.
He sucked in a deep breath and rubbed his temples. Throbbing headaches were beginning to seem like a daily part of his life now. Several jumbo bottles of ibuprofen rattled around in his desk drawers. Oh, what he wouldn't give for a stiff drink. He grimaced. No, no, no! He wasn't going to give in to that particular demon for stress relief right now.
He needed to do something. Anything. Something other than the constant review of reports, the signing of requisition orders, mediating conflicts over which lemon seasoning to put on the chicken... he just needed to get away from it for a bit. A sly grin spread across his face. Yes, he needed to get out in the field - it was high time for a site visit, was it not?
He picked up another folder on his desk. His grin grew larger as he scanned its contents. He leaned back in his chair, eyes shut as he began to develop a plan.
Jack sat up with a start and opened his eyes to see Teal'c standing near his desk.
"Doesn't anybody knock these days?" he asked angrily.
"The door was open, General," Teal'c answered, glancing back at the open doorway.
"So?" Jack asked. He motioned with his head for Teal'c to sit down.
"You requested my presence at 0900 hours," Teal'c stated matter-of-factly, dipping his head respectfully.
"Did I say why?"
"No, you did not General."
Jack grimaced. "Just give me a minute here..." He unsuccessfully sorted through several other piles of papers, then turned around to his computer and punched some keys. "I still don't get this new calendar-scheduley thing..." He squinted at the monitor and turned the chair back around to pick up the phone. "Walter? What am I down at 0900 for?"
"Ahhh…" Jack sighed as he hung up the receiver. He leaned back, his hands supporting his neck and he aimed a big smile at Teal'c. "Fifteen minutes of idle chit chat."
Teal'c relaxed also. "Perhaps we may continue our discussion on the various types of professional wrestling currently engaged in by Tau'ri females?"
Jack smirked. "Sounds like a plan. But first let me bounce another plan off you."
Teal'c looked questioningly at Jack. "Bounce a plan?"
"Just give me a moment to explain Teal'c…"
Sam looked at the clock. It was still early afternoon and she hadn't made much more progress on the report she'd been working on for the past two days. She felt some sympathy for Jack now; she'd seen the stacks of reports littering his desk and the miserable glare he'd given her as he moved from report to report. She was going to be adding yet another thick one to his pile if only she could stay focused and finish it.
She sighed. She knew she needed to stay late today in order to have the report on Jack's desk before she left, but Pete would be waiting on her. He'd made reservations at a swanky restaurant for this evening. She was torn between the two. The report was critical and would impact the upcoming missions of several teams. At the same time she didn't even want to begin thinking about the impact that canceling on Pete again would have on their relationship. He hadn't been very happy the last time she'd called to change their plans because something had come up on her end. In fact, she recalled that he'd sulked for a few days afterwards. She'd hoped he realized emergencies and special projects like this would always be a part of her job. She figured he had to understand since he'd already done the same to her a few times when things ran later than he expected.
Sam began to wonder if she really did have the time to devote to a proper relationship with a man who wasn't military. She wasn't volunteering for as many extra projects these days and yet she still wasn't able to find as much time to be with Pete as she would have liked to have spent with him. She wondered if that was the reason she'd actively resisted the urgency Pete seemed to try to place on their relationship. She wanted things to move slow; not just for her to have time to decide if this relationship was good for her, but to give him time to see what her chosen lifestyle was all about and if it was good for him.
She crossed her arms and stared at the monitor, thinking back to the day in the park when Pete had proposed to her. She'd been enjoying their slow leisurely stroll through the neighborhood when Pete had led her into the playground. When he'd proposed to her minutes later, she hadn't known what to do, especially not to a proposal that was the follow-up to his making light of her work and some lame stalker joke. She hadn't expected a marriage proposal at all; not then, certainly not in a playground, not anywhere for a good long time. She'd been surprised by his proposal, but thought she'd hidden it well with a quick smile. Sam bit the inside of her cheek. Given her desire to move slowly with Pete, she'd astonished herself when she'd said yes to him after mulling it over a bit more.
"A penny for your thoughts, Colonel Carter."
Sam blinked and turned to the doorway to see Teal'c grinning at her.
"Could I interest you in a jelly-filled or a glazed doughnut?" Teal'c asked, lifting a pastry box into the air.
Sam grinned and waved at the chair across from her. "Yes, you can. Thanks Teal'c." She selected a jelly-filled doughnut from the open box Teal'c offered to her.
"You have been very busy the past few days Colonel Carter. I have missed your presence," Teal'c said, selecting a glazed doughnut.
"I know I've been holed up in here," Sam admitted. She bit into the doughnut and shook her head. "It's a critical report." She glanced over at Teal'c. "I'm three-quarters of the way through it and need to have it completed before I leave today, but…" Sam stopped to wipe the powdered sugar off her mouth.
"But what?" Teal'c asked.
Sam frowned, glancing down at the doughnut in her hand and back up into her friend's questioning eyes. "Pete made dinner reservations for this evening, but I don't see how I can go out and get this report done at the same time." She sighed. "Teal'c, I can't cancel on him again. It wouldn't be right."
Teal'c frowned as he considered Sam's statement. "I do not understand," he said. "Does he not encounter the same situations in his own profession?"
Sam bit into her doughnut and nodded. "He does."
"Why would he not then understand your predicament?" Teal'c arched an eyebrow at Sam.
Licking jelly from the corner of her mouth, Sam answered, "I'm not saying he wouldn't understand. It's just that…"
Teal'c finished his doughnut as Sam floundered for words. Sam didn't know how to explain it. Teal'c was a very understanding man, but she couldn't just lay everything out there. It wasn't fair to her friend to burden him with this.
Sam shrugged. "I don't know Teal'c. I just get a feeling sometimes that he's not very happy when it's me that's doing the canceling." She laid the remainder of her doughnut down on her napkin and shrugged. "Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive?"
Teal'c tilted his head to the side. "Perhaps you should discuss with him your concerns if the matter troubles you to this extent."
Sam shook her head. "No," she said smiling. "I'm just thinking too much, like General O'Neill always accuses me of doing."
Teal'c gave Sam a stern look, but didn't answer.
"Oh, be quiet Teal'c," Sam said with a laugh. "I know what you're thinking."
"Indeed?" Teal'c asked.
Sam smiled and pushed the box of doughnuts towards Teal'c. "Yes, I do. Now let's just drop it and finish these wonderful doughnuts you brought me."
Teal'c frowned, shaking his head, and reached for another glazed doughnut.
Pete lifted his cell phone to his ear. "Shanahan here."
Pete pulled his truck off the road and parked onto the shoulder. "Hey Dave, old buddy, how's it going?"
Farrity didn't answer.
"Hello?" Pete asked.
"I'm here." Farrity answered. "Shanahan?"
"I know we go way back, but this stuff you're doing… it's gotta stop," Farrity said.
"Whaddaya mean?" he asked.
"Pete, this O'Neill guy you called on – he's a freakin' general." Farrity paused. "In the same program as that girlfriend of yours I checked a while back."
Pete began to fume. "Farrity, what're you saying?"
"Shanahan," Farrity said. "I'm serious; this is so damn far out of your league it's not funny." His tone became even more serious. "You've got some issues. You really got to stop this crap before you get caught."
Pete snorted derisively. "You know I'm not the only one who does this." He laughed. "I haven't been caught so far, so what's the big problem?"
Farrity paused. "Shanahan, if you can't see it, I can't help you buddy," he quietly answered.
"So this means you're not going to tell me anything?" Pete asked.
"No." Farrity hesitated a moment. "The only thing I will tell you is that this guy was scrubbed even cleaner than that girl." He paused again. "You need to watch your ass Pete. This isn't just about checkin' out your flavor of the month like the other times; whatever it is you're doing, you're playing with the big boys now."
"Dave, that's a bunch of crap and you know it," Pete responded, gripping the steering wheel tight.
"Pete, listen buddy, I don't know what's with you these days, but it's not going to involve me any more." Farrity heaved a big sigh. "Don't call back for shit like this Shanahan. I'm not going to get my ass in a sling for whatever crap you're tryin' to pull this time."
"Yeah, well, fuck you too!" Pete clicked his phone off and threw it into the passenger seat. Dumb fucker. Who'd Farrity think he was now? Pete frowned; friend or not he was turning into a wuss. He shook his head; he'd just have to develop a new source besides his friend for future checks.
The phone chirped at him from the passenger seat. Pete picked it back up. "Damn you Farrity, if that's you again, I'll cut your…" he muttered.
"What the hell do you want now!" he yelled into the phone.
The line was quiet.
"Pete?" Sam asked in a quiet voice.
Pete shut his eyes and grimaced. Oh shit, why hadn't he looked at the Caller ID first? "Oh Sam, baby, I'm sorry," Pete said. "I've been dealing with a lot of shit today and I thought you were someone else."
Sam didn't answer.
"Sam, honey. I mean it. I'm sorry. What's up?" he asked.
"Uh, well, I…" Sam fumbled. Pete could hear the hesitancy in her voice. "I know this isn't going to make your day any better…" she said apologetically.
Pete interrupted her, "Sam, nothing you say or do could ever make me feel bad."
Sam paused again. "Pete… I'm afraid I'm going to have to take a rain check on dinner tonight. I need at least another four hours to get this report onto the General's desk before I can leave."
Pete's smile faded. He inhaled slowly. Here we go again… that damn prick of a CO of hers was a damn slave driver. "Aw man, Sam," Pete said. "Not again. Can't the report wait?"
Sam cleared her throat. "Unfortunately, no. It has a lot of impact on…" She stopped. "Oh Pete, you know I can't talk about it." She paused again. "I'm really sorry."
Pete shook his head. "I know you are hon."
"I'll make it up to you," Sam said. "I promise."
"I'll hold you to that," Pete replied.
"Love you," Sam said.
"Me too," Pete responded.
"Call me later?" Sam asked.
"Sure," Pete answered.
Pete waited for Sam to disconnect before throwing the phone back into the passenger seat. Squinting into the side mirror he thought about how Sam's CO had treated him. Pete didn't like that guy one bit. Pete wanted to have a good long talk with Sam about her getting out of that place, especially if she was surrounded by assholes like that one. He knew a girl with her brains and looks could get far in other places; all she had to do was go ask for a transfer to some other base like he had recently done between city police departments. Anything would be better than having her around that guy. Pete made a mental note to remember bring it up later with Sam.
His mouth tightened into a firm line as he thought about what he'd like to do to the old geezer. Although before he did anything he wanted to make sure how much of a threat the guy posed to himself and to Sam, but especially to himself, seeing as how the old man had made it only too clear that he didn't like him. Pete felt the guy was doing everything within his power to keep Sam away from him. Pete grunted; back to the old tricks of the trade. He'd have to stop by the convenience mart for another box of doughnuts and more coffee - he knew it'd probably be another late night as he checked out this old fart.
Snuggling closer to Pete, Sam watched as he gently massaged her hands paying careful attention to her ring finger. Their schedules had been jam-packed this week and they hadn't been able to see each other until today. They'd spent a quiet afternoon taking a leisurely walk around the neighborhood and had just finished eating the dinner Pete had fixed for her. She laid her head on his shoulder and smiled at him. She enjoyed the peaceful times they spent together like this. After the hectic pace of the SGC, evenings with Pete were a welcome change of pace.
He had even surprised her this time by taking her backing out of their dinner plans earlier in the week much better than she'd expected. Sam guessed it had something to do with the nightly stakeouts he said he'd had to go out on this week. She was fine with that; she knew his job would demand as much scheduling flexibility from him as hers did.
Pete shook his head as he stared at the stones in her fireplace. "That was hardest part about it, signing that report." He turned to kiss the top of her head. "But you know all about that don't you?"
Sam blinked her eyes to clear her mind of the zone she'd drifted off to and nodded in response. "Mmmhmm. Probably have ten ten-inch reports for every one of yours," she answered, laughing softly.
Pete chuckled and lifted her fingers to his lips. "Like that one earlier this week?"
Sam looked up at him and smiled. "That was a twelve-incher," she said, giving him a quick wink. "But well worth it. It really helped our teams."
Pete nodded. "That's great." He laced his fingers through hers. "I bet you didn't think you were going to push that much paper when you joined the Air Force, huh?" he asked.
Sam smiled at him. "At grunt level, no. But since I had hoped to do research somewhere down the line…"
"Paper. Reports." Pete finished for her.
Sam nodded and squeezed his hand.
He wrapped an arm around Sam and quietly studied her face. "Things must've been a lot easier for you than they were for me, babe," he finally commented.
"What do you mean?" Sam asked.
"You know – getting to where you're at now. A colonel in the Air Force in a top secret military program," Pete explained.
Sam looked puzzled. "I'm still not sure what you're trying to say Pete."
Pete gave a quick shrug and looked away. "Me - I had to work my ass off to get where I'm at. I didn't have anyone there to help me." He looked back down at Sam. "You - your Dad was a general and all that. With his name and all - I know he must have opened a few doors for you. You know - pulled a few strings here and there." He stroked her hair. "Not that your looks wouldn't open any door."
Sam stiffened and pulled away from Pete, sitting up to aim a hard look at him. "It wasn't like that at all."
She bristled at the doubting look that Pete gave her and threw an angry look back at him. "How could my father possibly have helped me earn my doctorate in astrophysics? I did all of the work that got me there, and to the top of my graduating USAFA class, not him." Her eyes narrowed. "He sure as hell wasn't flying my plane for me in the Gulf." She paused. "I've earned the hard way every promotion and award I've ever gotten." She gave Pete a hard stare. "And 'looks' aren't everything Pete."
Sam got up off the couch. She didn't like his insinuations one bit. She glared at him. She thought Pete knew who she was and how hard she'd worked to get where she was at. Hadn't he listened to anything she'd said to him?
Pete grabbed at her hand. "Okay, okay. Geeze, I'm sorry Sam." He squeezed her hand and gave her a small smile, lifting his eyebrows together to make a pouty expression. "I didn't mean for it to sound like that. I'm always sticking my foot in my mouth when I'm around you. You should know that by now."
Sam looked doubtfully at Pete. She was still a bit irritated at him. And no, she didn't 'know that by now,' she thought angrily. He hadn't always talked like that. Although lately…
"Look, I really am sorry." Pete exaggerated his pout and turned his head down to peer up at Sam with a pitiful look. "Pweeze forgive me? Pwetty pweeze?" He puckered his lips out farther.
Sam dropped back onto the couch, sighing. "I don't know." She shook her head at him. "It's just that it's not really something that I appreciate jokes about. I've told you that my father and I weren't very close until recently." Sam got a faraway look in her eyes. "I did what I did on my own just like you – no help. It's not easy. I thought you'd understand that."
She stopped as Pete placed a finger to her lips. "Hey babe, I know how it is. I'm sorry, okay? Forget that I mentioned it." He leaned over to kiss her and shook his head. "Com'n Sam, isn't this all a little too deep to talk about on a Sunday evening when we both gotta go back to work in the morning?" He drew his hand through her hair and kissed her again, pulling her towards him. "Let's just enjoy each other right now. If you want to, we can discuss it all you want some other time, okay?"
Sam felt uncomfortable. Although she still felt insulted by what he'd said, maybe Pete was right; just enjoy the moment. Stop thinking and talking so much. But she found it hard to ignore what he'd said. He tried to make light of it, but she wondered. Really wondered. She pulled away and stood up. "I'm going to get the dishes put away," she said, ignoring Pete's confused look and walking away from him.
Chapter 4: Sanctuary
Sam squinted into the bright sunlight as she walked out of the event horizon, swatting with one hand at the rushing wind that whipped across her face. She continued to fan her face even as the wind suddenly stopped. 'That was different' she thought. Over the years they'd walked into all types of weather situations during their off-world missions, but walking into the windy ones were the ones that got her every time. She grinned; at least they hadn't walked into a full-blown swirling sandstorm as they'd done on several occasions.
She noticed Daniel waving at his face and the 'what the hell was that?' look he gave her. She gave him a small shrug in response. She noted that Teal'c and Jack were already at the DHD and that Jack was turning slowly around to take in the lush green forests of the planet, a big ear-to-ear grin on his face. Sam smiled; a few days ago she and Daniel had exchanged surprised looks in the briefing room when Jack had announced that he was going out with them on their next mission. "A little working vacation," Jack had explained. They'd both glanced at Teal'c to gauge his reaction, but their friend hadn't twitched a muscle.
After finishing his visual survey, Jack walked over to the MALP and gave one of its tires a vigorous kick. "So what's up with the MALP?" he asked. "Why'd it stop transmitting?"
Sam walked over to examine the MALP. "I'm not sure sir." She fiddled with a keypad and glanced up at Jack. "Most of the mechanical systems seem to be operational, but it's not transmitting data for some reason. Maybe the communications modules are malfunctioning."
Jack glanced around the lush green meadow again, squinting at the wildflowers and knee-high grasses. "And the UAV?"
"Over here," Daniel responded from fifty yards away, examining the UAV's crumpled frame. "It looks as if the UAV slammed into a wall." He stood up and turned around, looking over the meadow again, and pointed further down the slope. "The only wall I see is that low one down by the lake." He squinted. "Although I don't see how the UAV could've come down up here if it hit that wall." He took off his hat and scratched his head.
"Well, it hit something, that's for sure," Jack said, thoughtfully rubbing the back of his own head as he considered his options. He grinned. "Daniel, Teal'c. Check out this area for naquadah deposits and anything else that might shed any light on what happened here to the UAV." He nodded toward the fallen pillars and building ruins near the lake.
"Carter, you're with me," Jack nodded up toward the top of the high ridge the valley reached up to. "We'll do a standard recon up to that ridgetop." He eyed Teal'c and Daniel. "Meet back here at 1600 hours."
Sam grinned - she was thoroughly enjoying being out on a mission with Jack again. She didn't mind that Jack was leading this mission instead of her. She didn't have any hangs up concerning that type of thing. She was solely focused on the fact that she really had missed his physical presence these past weeks; that reassurance that no matter what the situation he always would be there by her side; armed not only with a gun, but with a quip, a snark, a grin, or, 'that' look. The one she admitted with a small smile that she had loved so well, so intense that it instantly set her pulse to racing deep in her groin and left her with no doubt about his feelings for her.
Hiking up the slope beside him, as they moved beyond the top edge of the forest, she watched Jack as he took vigorous, surefooted steps up the grassy slope, his muscles as taut and well defined as she remembered them, even after months of desk duty. She noticed the glistening sheen of sweat on his face and neck from the exertion of hiking up the steep slopes of the mountain and she smiled contentedly; she had missed that too.
Jack glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow. "Carter?"
Sam smiled back at him. "Oh, nothing sir."
Jack looked up over his sunglasses at her. "Sure?"
Sam grinned. "It's just nice to have you here," she admitted.
"Likewise." Jack heaved a big breath as he climbed over a larger boulder in their path and returned her smile. "Sounds like you missed me."
Sam smiled even more warmly. "We all have sir. It hasn't been the same without you."
Jack nodded and fiddled with his cap, pulling it down to shield his eyes from the strong midday sunlight that angled in over his sunglasses. The fleeting feeling of leading the team again that he'd been savoring disappeared and his smile faded as he was reminded that things had changed. Nothing was the same anymore for him, for her, for any of their team, professionally or personally. Especially personally.
He glanced at Sam, watching her gently pant at the exertion of climbing the steeper slope near the summit, and noticed the damp tendrils of hair curling around her neck. He had to admit he'd missed this too. Being out here with Sam again was like… he tried to think of a good analogy - it was like blue Jell-O. He shook his head. No, that definitely was not a good one. He supposed there was no analogy or cliché he could think of to describe being with Sam; all he knew was that after so many years of working within arm's length of her, these past few weeks he had become painfully aware of the void her absence had left in his life. He genuinely missed not having her close by, not to mention her sweet giggles and gentle reprimands. He'd really missed her ability to anticipate his actions and to pick up where he left off whether it was completing his random thoughts or, out in the field, his command directives. He even missed hearing her long-drawn out scientific explanations. He grinned as he contemplated a few other things he missed about Sam and sighed. It was a terrible thing to have such an intimate knowledge about some you cared deeply for and not be able to act on it.
He jumped as Sam's voice knocked him out of his reverie.
"This is the summit. You were going where?" Sam motioned down the steep slope that Jack had already started to descend.
"Uh, right Carter." He retraced his steps back up to the top of the ridge and removed his sunglasses, squinting around at the view.
Sam aimed her binoculars at the same view. "Nothing sir. There's no sign of any civilization. I can't even locate the clearing where the gate is from here." She waved down the slope where they had come from. "It must be hidden behind those trees."
Jack sat down on a nearby boulder, his face drawn up in thought. "Carter."
"Did you notice any wildlife on the way up?" he asked thoughtfully.
Sam pursed her lips and stared at the boulder that Jack was sitting on as she contemplated his question. "I'm not sure. There must have been something."
"Not a bird in the sky or chirping in the trees," Jack commented. "Doesn't that strike you as odd?"
"Odd how, sir?" Sam asked, focusing back on Jack's eyes.
Jack motioned to the deep emerald forest that slid down the backside of the ridge they were on top of, extending as far as they could see. He waved up at the cloudless cobalt blue sky above them. "This. All this. It's a gorgeous, green planet with a great climate. Very…" he stopped, snapping his finger several times. "Fecund," he said finally, waving his hand in the air. "That's what Daniel would call it. Fecund. It just seems strange we haven't seen a bird, a bug, a bear…"
"A bear, sir?"
Jack scrunched his nose at Sam. "You know what I mean, Carter."
Sam laughed. "Yes sir. I do."
Jack stood up and sighed. "Let's head back down."
Daniel frowned as he reached out to pull a large stone away from the interior corner of the structure he and Teal'c were examining. "Jack still hasn't checked in yet," he said, looking back at Teal'c who was closely examining the markings on an intact wall nearby. "Don't you think that's strange?" Daniel asked.
Teal'c was quiet for a moment. "No," he answered, shaking his head. "There does not appear to be much activity on this planet to report."
Daniel grunted as he scattered a few more of the larger stones out of his way. "It's been close to three hours. Jack would have already checked in by now," he said. If only to gloat to him about taking the easier part of this mission. "I've tried twice already to check in with him and Sam and they're not responding."
Teal'c eyed the useless MALP near the gate. "Perhaps they are affected by the same interference as the MALP." He looked at his friend. "I believe General O'Neill and Colonel Carter should be in descent at this time." Teal'c eyed the ridge top. "The mountain is quite steep and the General has not been in the field for a while. I would not worry just yet, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel grinned at Teal'c. "Calling Jack old?" he asked.
Teal'c turned away. "O'Neill is a strong warrior. He…"
Daniel waited expectantly for Teal'c to finish. "He?" Daniel asked.
Teal'c ran his hands over the markings on the wall. "He has led the Tau'ri into battle for many years."
"Old," Daniel stated.
"Experienced and wise,' Teal'c explained.
"Old," Daniel said, turning back to the wall. He guessed he would have to agree with his friend this time; it had been an uneventful mission so far and he knew he was jumping to conclusions. He just had a bad habit sometimes of making a mountain out of a molehill. He scooped the last of the small rocks and pebbles from out of the dark hole he'd been trying to uncover. His eyes lit up as he spied something shiny glinting back at him. He carefully pulled out a package wrapped in multiple layers of a plastic-type material and he turned back to Teal'c. "Hey, we may have found something."
Jack and Sam reentered the bushier edge of the forest after a slow descent down the mountain. Jack had taken his time coming down the mountain, trying to savor again the feelings of being out on a real mission and out with his favorite team. He turned to look at Sam and reached out to playfully flick at the visor of her cap. She turned her head to flash him a toothy smile. Jack grinned back at her.
His smile disappeared as he tripped and fell headlong into the nearby bushes. 'What the hell?' he thought as he threw his arms out to break his fall.
"Carter!" Jack yelled as he fell into a crevasse that had been hidden by the forest undergrowth. He grabbed at the loose topsoil as he began to slip down the steep slope feet first. He gave a frantic look down into the deep pit; it appeared bottomless and black. This was not good. He tried to get a firm grip on the ground but there were no roots, no rocks, nothing to hold onto.
Sam immediately dropped to the ground, grabbing at Jack's grasping, outstretched hands. She gripped him tightly, first with one hand, then the other. "Hold on, I've got you!" she said.
Jack grunted at the effort of holding onto Sam, his legs flailing as he tried to get a foothold in the loose soil. He kicked even harder into the steep slope as another avalanche of dirt slid out from underneath him into the dark pit. He caught the worried, determined look in Sam's eyes and grimaced. Jack gasped as the tremendous effort to keep a tight grip began to eat at his arm muscles. "Carter, I can't hold on much longer."
Sam gritted her teeth and grimaced as she gripped his hands even tighter. Digging her elbows into the soft dirt to anchor her arms she told Jack, "You can do it. Just a little bit longer…"
Jack shook his head. "Can't!" He grimaced in pain as he felt his muscles strain under pressure to the point of popping and his grip slipped. He gave Sam a soul-searching look. "Carter…" he grunted. "I…"
A large chunk of dirt beneath him quickly slipped away and Jack slid further down the steep slope with a hard yank on Sam's arms. Her grip loosened in response until she was holding on to him just barely by the ends of her fingertips. Sam grimaced. "Know..." she finished for Jack.
Jack slid away from her grasp, his hands still reaching for hers, his eyes wide and incredulous.
"General!" Sam screamed after him. She clambered to her feet only to find the ground underneath her collapsing, leaving her to slide down into the crevasse behind Jack.
Jack awakened a short time later. He had survived, right? This wasn't some dark afterlife was it? He blinked again. There'd only been a few times he'd experienced this type of pitch black. He rolled over and hit his head on the lumpiness of his backpack. He groped around in it for his flashlight and clicked it on. From his vantage point flat on his back, they appeared to be in some sort of small cave, but he couldn't see any sign of an entry point in the cave's ceiling. By all rights they should have been buried under tons of dirt. Strange, he mused. He aimed the light around the cave floor and noticed the pale glint of Sam's blonde hair. He groaned as he pulled himself up on his side, leaning on his elbow.
"Carter, you okay?" he asked as he rubbed his face with his hand.
He watched Sam slowly blink her eyes open. "I think so sir." She pulled herself slowly into a sitting position, grimacing as she touched tender places on her body. "Bumps here and there, but I don't think anything's broken. You?"
Jack rolled over onto his back and groaned, clicking his flashlight off. "I'm here."
Teal'c watched as the planet's sun set in a blaze of gold and yellow over the ridge tops. He glanced at Daniel who continued to shift uncomfortably beside him on the stone steps leading up to the gate. He closed his eyes again and continued to meditate.
He didn't completely share Daniel Jackson's concern about this mission. Daniel had been very insistent that something was wrong. Teal'c had respectfully disagreed with his friend. If one ignored the problems they had had with the MALP and later with the naquadah-sensing equipment, the mission had in fact been uneventful. In his eight years in serving with this team of intrepid Tau'ri, few missions had been quite this… Teal'c stopped to search for the proper Tau'ri slang – chilled. Yes, chilled.
Knowing his friend as well as he did, he understood Daniel's restlessness. After his discovery of the journal, Daniel had been ready to leave. After finding out that the sensor equipment Colonel Carter had left with them wasn't working, Daniel had become even more vocal about the General's lack of contact. Teal'c had agreed to a quick recon of the lower woods after Daniel had started to pace the meadow, but he refused to search the entire mountain up to the summit. The mountain terrain was too steep and the area to search too vast for the two of them. Teal'c continued to feel the best option was to stay close to the gate. He did not want the General to return only to find they were themselves missing. With no operable communications devices, it would not be wise to have all of them out on the mountain searching for each other in darkness.
General O'Neill had shared with him his desire to get off base for a few hours "to stretch his legs" as he had explained. O'Neill had thought that this mission had appeared safe and simple enough that he would be back behind his desk before the end of the day. Given the changes in O'Neill's leadership focus, Teal'c understood his desire to recapture some of what was now unavailable to him and Teal'c had agreed with him that it was a good plan. That the General was spending most of the mission with Colonel Carter was not lost on him. He was fully aware of the feelings they both had harbored for the other. If they wanted to savor time alone, so be it.
He heard Daniel release a deep breath. "It's dark. Now?" Daniel muttered.
Teal'c opened his eyes. "Yes," he agreed. He had given General O'Neill and Colonel Carter more than an adequate amount of time to return on their own. Now they would dial home to get backup.
A few hours past their rendezvous time, Jack was ready to quit searching for a way out of this cave. He and Sam hadn't been able to find an exit - or an entrance for that matter. Sam had earlier, in obvious frustration, tried to dig an exit tunnel, refusing to stop. He'd had to make it an order for her to finally quit, reminding her that at this point they didn't know how far beneath the surface they were or which way really was out. They'd both tried countless times to radio Daniel and Teal'c, but there'd been no response; not even static. Sam had explained to him that it was possible their radio communications would be affected if they were far enough underground, especially if there were certain mineral deposits in the rocks and soil around them, but her logic hadn't eased his mind. He'd thought it unusual of Daniel to not check in every fifteen minutes to see what they were up to.
Jack was also tired and hungry. After Sam's half-joking suggestion that they blow the damn thing up, he knew they were out of options for the moment. He sighed. "Carter, I'm calling it a day."
"But we can't just stay here," Sam protested. "We have to get back," she said, shaking her head and kicking at the rocky cavern walls. "There has to be a way out."
Jack shook his head and flipped the light around the cave's ceiling and walls. "I think we've established there's no trace of how we got in or how we get out." He frowned and sat down a few feet away from Sam. "Besides there's not much juice left in these batteries. Or in me, for that matter." He looked at Sam as he pulled an MRE from his backpack. "Unless you have some other bright idea for getting us out of here."
Sam shook her head, pulling out her own MRE. "What about Teal'c and Daniel?" she asked.
"They're big boys. They'll dial home and get back up," Jack answered.
Jack ate in silence, glancing periodically at Sam who seemed lost deep in thought. 'Give her some time she'll probably figure something out,' he thought. When he finished, he flicked his flashlight around the cave once more, hoping that some way out had miraculously appeared. He clicked the flashlight off and heaved a big sigh. "It's pointless to do this again. Let's get some sleep."
Sam sighed and turned her own flashlight off. "Yes sir."
Colonel Reynolds stood at the bottom of the gate ramp, several tactical personnel positioned around him, as he watched Teal'c and Daniel walk down the ramp. "Where's General O'Neill?" he asked. "Colonel Carter?"
"General O'Neill and Colonel Carter failed to return from their recon of the mountain summit," Teal'c explained as he and Daniel stopped a few feet away. "Our communication devices do not seem to work there and we were unable to establish contact with them. The site is now dark and it would not have been wise for the two of us to complete another search without proper back up."
"But I wanted to keep looking for them!" Daniel protested.
Reynolds shot a quick glance at Daniel and looked back at Teal'c. "Why then didn't you dial us back on schedule?" he asked.
"Initially there did not appear to be a problem," Teal'c answered, tilting his head. "I had reason to believe that the General would return before nightfall. I was wrong, he did not."
Reynolds nodded. "Debriefing in one hour gentlemen." He nodded again at both men and walked away, his mouth set in a grim frown.
Sam allowed a small groan to escape as she slowly came out of sleep the next morning. She still hurt from the fall yesterday and a night on a hard rocky floor hadn't helped any. Slowly stretching out a little, Sam turned her head to the right and opened her eyes. Her eyes shot wide open and her smile disappeared; Jack's face was only inches away. He was asleep on his side facing Sam, his arm languidly stretched across her stomach, his entire body relaxed, and an untroubled smile on his lips.
She turned her face back up to the ceiling and quickly glanced from side to side. Wait a minute - they'd fallen asleep in that small cave, close to each other, but not like this – how exactly did she get into a bed with Jack? Sam sat up and looked down at her chest and legs; she was still fully clothed - that was a good sign. Looking around to get her bearings, she recognized Jack's bedroom in his Colorado Springs home. Now how the hell did they get back there?
Beside her Jack pulled his arm back to his chest after it dropped onto the bed and he rolled over onto his back, making smacking noises with his mouth. "Morning already?" he asked.
Sam nudged his shoulder with her hand. "I think you need to get up and see this, General."
"Carter?" Jack opened one eye and squinted at Sam. Opening both eyes, he looked around the bedroom. "Home? How? In my bed?" He sat up and rubbed his face. He aimed an arched eyebrow at Sam. "So Colonel, how do you explain this one?"
Sam shook her head slowly. "I can't yet, sir."
Looking out the window in Jack's living room, Sam released a frustrated sigh as she realized she didn't recognize anything in the night sky. Not that she always did when they were off-world, but there were some stars and constellations that she'd learned to pick out in different systems to use as a guide. The few that she could see weren't familiar at all. She had no clue where they may have been transported to, if that was what had happened. She crossed her arms. It wasn't Colorado, that was for sure.
"What's the matter Carter?" Jack came up beside her and peered up into the inky blackness.
"Sir, I don't recognize any of the star patterns at all."
"Yessss?" Jack asked.
"I mean I don't know where we are." She turned to look at Jack. "We're not on Earth."
Jack sighed. "I figured as much." Astronomy was his hobby and he hadn't been able to identify anything either. He had to grudgingly admit that he was tired of this mission now. It hadn't turned out to be as simple as he'd thought it was going to be. For several days running he and Sam had unsuccessfully searched for a way out of his house. They'd discovered they couldn't exit through the doors or the windows - hell, he'd even tried tearing down a wall and they still couldn't get out. They could see outside, but there seemed to be some kind of force field that prohibited them from leaving. Using C4 to blast the front door hadn't worked either. Wherever they were and whatever it was they were in, there was no escape by any route. Yesterday they'd spent the entire day feeling over every inch of available surface in the damn place to see if there was a hidden passageway or control panel that they might have overlooked and found nothing. He smiled; they'd even tried yelling and hurling insults at their unseen captors to see if anyone would come, but no luck; it was just like in that damn cave. No noise. No nothing. Just the two of them. He found it hard to believe that there had been no contact of any kind. He still suspected this was some kind of prison or observation area, even after they'd come up empty-handed after their search for cameras and other observation devices.
The only things they had found were the everyday items he'd had in his house. Whatever this was, it was a near perfect replica of his house and its contents, just minus food and drink. They'd quickly discovered that the first day and he'd immediately ordered they conserve what food and water rations they had with them and begin limiting their energy expenditures. He didn't particularly like the idea of death by either starvation or dehydration in case it took a while for rescue teams to locate them. A few minutes ago, he'd finally decided it was time to call it yet another day.
Jack left Sam to drop onto the couch. Sam followed a few minutes later and sat down next to him. He slowly stretched himself out, spreading his arms along the back of the couch, and grinned at her. "Well, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be stuck in my own house with for a week," he commented.
Sam looked at Jack. "Thank you sir… I think."
"Sam," Jack said. "Cut the sir crap out. I think we've established we're alone here. At ease, please."
Sam gave him a small smile. "Sure, sir..."
Jack rolled his eyes and dropped his left arm down around Sam's shoulders. He pointed at his chest and then to hers. "Me Jack. You Sam."
Sam giggled and smiled more broadly. "Oh really?"
They paused, looking deep into the other's eyes.
Sam looked away first and folded her hands in her lap. "So sir... Jack… What now? No TV, no radio, there's nothing electronic in this… place. I don't see any books."
Jack quickly pulled his arm away from her shoulder and into his lap. "I do have books. They just don't seem to be here at the moment." He took a deep breath. "Well, none of our Plan A's worked. Now for Plan B."
"You have a Plan B?" Sam asked, glancing sideways at him.
Jack smiled at her. "Enforced R&R."
Sam looked around the living room, doubtful. "But for how long, Jack? You know I can't just sit here." She glanced at him. "You can't either. There has to be a way out. Something else we can check, something else we can do…"
Jack shook his head in response. "Until we find a workable Plan A..."
They both stared straight ahead for a long moment. Turning to face each other simultaneously, they both asked, "How about a game?" They laughed, enjoying the warmth of each other's open smile.
Sam turned her body sideways, leaning her right elbow into the back of the couch. "Okay, what game?" she asked.
"Monopoly," Jack answered.
"How about Scrabble?" Sam suggested.
"Chess?" Sam asked.
"Not tonight," Jack responded.
"Trivial Pursuit?" Sam questioned.
Jack grunted and arched an eyebrow. "Against you? Right…"
Sam rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Monopoly it is then. But I have to warn you, I'm terrible at it."
Jack smiled. "Not a problem. We'll be playing by O'Neill rules."
"O'Neill rules?" Sam looked confused.
Jack grinned. "You'll see."
Daniel slipped the tips of his fingers up under his glasses, rubbing drowsily at his eyes, and rested his face in his hands for a moment before taking his glasses off. He squinted at the clock and yawned. It was nearly 11 p.m. and he was beat. He hadn't left the base since he and Teal'c had returned. Operating on next to no sleep for most of the week, he had been pushing himself to try to find something of substance in the journal to give to Reynolds that would help him find his friends.
It certainly wasn't the first time Jack or Sam had gone missing, but the circumstances surrounding this disappearance irked Daniel to no end. Besides the fact that there was literally no trace at all of them having been on the planet, there were other things that bothered him. Jack hadn't been the base commander those other times. Sam hadn't been leading a team before. Those other times he felt like they were all in situations where the worst was to be expected and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. This time was different. This mission should have been a piece of cake. It should have been a quiet break for all of them to remember something that wasn't going to happen ever again given all of the different directions they seemed to be going in these days. Guess shit always happens when you least expect it, he mused.
He'd wanted to be on the planet twenty-four seven but Reynolds had insisted that he stay here to complete the journal translation. Reynolds had only allowed him to go out on one mission to the planet with SG5 two days after he and Teal'c had returned back to base while he'd allowed Teal'c to go out with nearly every team. Daniel was ready to tell Reynolds to shove the regs and procedures up his ass. Daniel wanted to be out there doing something. Anything other than poring over a journal. Especially since he remembered well all of the times that Jack had disobeyed direct orders to come back for them. Daniel put his glasses back on. Jack had become, after a somewhat rocky beginning to their relationship, his best friend. No - Daniel corrected himself - Jack was more like his big brother. With Sam it was the same. He'd felt an immediate affinity with her the moment they'd met and she was like a sister to him. He grinned as he recalled at least one occasion that Jack, head in hands, had shook it in disbelief, asking them both in an accusatory tone, "Are you twins done yet!"
Daniel eyed the copies of the journal on his desk. He wished Sam were there to help him work through the translation. He'd been able to determine rudimentary pieces of the written language, but the journal had turned out to be more of a technical guide. He'd been doing his best to guess at the more complex technical words and phrases and their meanings, things Sam would have been able to immediately identify. So far he'd only been able to translate a third of it, none of which had shed any light on what might have happened to Sam or Jack.
He felt his head jerk forward as he began to doze off again. Pushing his chair back, he slowly stood up. He was going to have to go get some sleep now or he'd be paying the consequences later. He scraped his papers together, stuffing them back into a worn folder along with his legal pad and pen. Mashing the whole thing up under his arm and turning off his desk lamp, he walked down the hall to the elevator shaft to go check in with Reynolds.
Bleary-eyed, Daniel stood in Jack's office, examining the pictures of Jack on the wall. "Isn't there anything else we can do Colonel Reynolds?" he asked, turning to face Reynolds.
Colonel Reynolds laid a stack of papers in the file drawer and closed it. Locking the drawer, he turned to look at Daniel. "Dr. Jackson, you already know that we've got every SG team available out there searching for them," he explained.
"But there's got to be something else," Daniel repeated. "Maybe there's some small piece of information that we've overlooked…"
Reynolds shook his head. "If you can think of something we haven't already checked into, let me know," he replied. "I've had every single person on this base working non-stop on this, and so far there's been nothing." He glanced at the clock. "Look - it's midnight already and we're both still here."
Daniel stared at Jack's desk. "Maybe the communications interference…"
Reynolds sighed. "Wouldn't explain why there's no physical trace of them on the planet. We've conducted daylight recons and evening searches nearly all week. We'll continue to search for a while longer." He walked over to the light switch and clicked it off. "Now, unless there's something else, Dr. Jackson, I'm getting some sleep and I'd suggest you do the same."
Daniel bit his lip. He knew he was becoming an annoying thorn in Reynolds' side, but what else could he do? Jack and Sam had both laid down their lives for him too many times to count and he felt for his friends he could do no less. He moved out into the bright hallway. "No, there's nothing else," he said. "Have a good evening."
Reynolds nodded and walked off. "You do the same."
Jack watched as Sam stretched out her legs on the floor after their last game. Still stretched out across the couch himself, he gathered his money and property cards together and threw them onto the coffee table. Jack leaned his head on his hand and smiled at her. She grinned back at him.
He watched appreciatively as the flickering light of the fire he'd managed to start in the fireplace danced across Sam's hair and face. The warm golden aura that surrounded her body made him want to reach out and hold her gently in his arms. He thought she looked as though she were made of liquid gold… soft and warm, something that would slowly melt to cover him if he touched it. He resisted the urge, not wanting to spoil the mood. Sam seemed so open to him tonight; she wasn't keeping him at arms length like she normally did. She seemed relaxed and he smiled back at her as she flashed him a happy, silly grin.
"Hmmm?" she asked, as he watched her trying to massage her shoulder muscles. Jack slid down off the couch and crawled over to her, positioning himself on his knees behind her. Without hesitation, he began to rub her shoulders.
"Here. Let me," he said. "You want to take the couch next game? The floor's a bit rough."
Sam shook her head and laughed. "I don't think there'll be a next game."
Jack chuckled and pushed his thumbs deeper into her shoulder muscles. He felt her pushing back into his hands in response. "Com'n Sam. That next game could be THE game. One more game…"
Sam laughed. "Just the same," she shook her head, "no more games for me. It's too late and I'm tired of losing."
Jack continued massaging her shoulders for a bit. It wasn't too late and all wasn't totally lost, he mused. She wasn't married yet. If he wanted her badly enough he still had time to do something about it. He felt the warmth escaping from between her shoulder blades. It had been so long since he'd touched her like this. Years. He didn't want to be reminded of what he'd lost, but he also didn't want this to end. He stopped, smoothing out the ripples in her T-shirt. "What have you got to lose?" he asked softly, touching where her hair fell at the base of her neck.
"Excuse me?" Sam asked.
"What else have you got to lose?" he repeated softly. "Pete?"
"What about Pete?" Sam asked. Jack felt her stiffen under his touch. She pulled away from him to stand up.
Jack mentally groaned and got to his feet. 'Where the hell did that come from O'Neill?' he asked himself as caught sight of her face. "I'm sorry, Sam," he apologized. "I don't know what I'm saying. It's late. I didn't mean to bring up…"
Sam glared at him and stormed off to Jack's bedroom where she slammed the door shut.
Jack grimaced. "Why, thank you. I'd love the couch this evening." Damn Pete. Damn himself!
Teal'c stood quietly for a few moments in the doorway to Daniel's office before speaking. "The translation is progressing well, Daniel Jackson?" he asked.
Surprised, Daniel gave a quick jump and twitch. He pushed away from his desk and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes hard with both hands. "Not so well," he admitted. "The journal mainly is technical jargon that I haven't been able to translate. It's frustrating."
Teal'c entered the room, his hands held behind him. "The assistance of Colonel Carter would be most helpful to you at this time?" he asked, looking thoughtfully at Daniel.
Daniel sighed and crossed his arms. "Yes. Of course it would." He squinted at Teal'c. "Don't you miss them Teal'c?"
"Indeed, I do," Teal'c answered.
They stared silently at each other for a moment.
"Why won't Reynolds send SG5 back through?" Daniel irritably asked. He was worried even more about Jack and Sam's disappearance; the longer they were gone, the more he felt he wouldn't see them again. The planet had seemed so damn benign; how could they have disappeared without a trace? The fact that Reynolds had reduced the search effort had been eating at Daniel.
Teal'c looked closely at his friend. "Many teams searched the area each day last week," he reminded Daniel. "They were unable to locate the General or the Colonel. Colonel Reynolds has even sent SG5 out twice this week."
"But Teal'c, that's not enough," Daniel protested. "If Jack were here…"
"But General O'Neill is not here, my friend," Teal'c interrupted. "Colonel Reynolds is proceeding in the same manner as General O'Neill would have," he explained. "I understand your concern my friend," he continued, "because I too share that concern. But I believe Colonel Reynolds is doing his best."
"But it's Jack!" Daniel complained. "Reynolds' best isn't good enough! It's Jack, damn it!" Daniel was irritated. He knew Jack wouldn't have done any of this the way that Reynolds had. Nothing would be the same ever again if Jack didn't come back, Daniel thought miserably - he was the glue that bound them all together.
Sam stared out Jack's bedroom window. Yet another day had passed and they'd finished yet one more unsuccessful search. She bit her upper lip. She still couldn't figure out why they couldn't find a way out of this place. They'd scoured the entire house multiple times looking for clues - but no luck. There were no hidden exits or magic buttons that they could find - what was with this place? It wasn't Jack's house, that was for certain, but was it some sort of sophisticated hologram?
No, all of this was too real to be a hologram. She thought about the injuries they'd sustained from their fall into that cave. The bruises that were visible on the back of Jack's neck were very real and were still a livid purple. Her own bruises were still tender to the touch and a dull purple and grayish-yellow color. She wondered if their reduced food and water intake was the reason their bruises were healing more slowly than normal. She had really started to worry about dehydration when they'd both started to complain about dry mouth and thirst since she remembered from survival training that those were the first symptoms. She couldn't blame Jack for his decision to ration what they had, but she was getting tired of all of this - the unsuccessful searches, the sitting around waiting, and the threat of dehydration and starvation.
Jack stood behind Sam, watching her tilt her head, lost in thought. It was driving him crazy to be stuck here all alone with her and to not do anything about it. He knew what his body wanted him to do right now - he wanted to pull her close and to bury his nose deep into her neck to inhale her scent and to feel her soft hair on his face. But that was desire speaking, just about as loudly as it always had when he was around her. He'd been able to ignore it with effort before, but with the two of them totally alone and within arms reach of each other it was getting harder to do. But after the Pete question that evening, she had shut him back out; rebuffing his attempts to explain himself and keeping things strictly business between them. These were too close quarters and they knew each other too damn well for this kind of professional crap, especially if this was where they were going to be stuck until death did them part. Why not talk about them? Why not talk about Pete? This silliness was driving him crazy.
Damn it. He was tired of this. Why not now? Jack reached his hand out to touch the small of her back and opened his mouth to say her name. He wanted to apologize to her for trying to force her into a conversation that she wasn't ready to have yet and to find out why she didn't want to talk about Pete or them for that matter. He hesitated, his hand shaking. He couldn't get her name to come out of his mouth. 'Damn it! What's wrong with me?' he wondered, lifting his hand higher.
Stop right there Jack, he ordered. What if they were rescued by one of the teams today or they were able to find their own way out tomorrow? What then? He knew deep in his gut that it would be back to business as usual - Me miserable General, You engaged Colonel, remember? He wouldn't dare do anything that would increase the pressure and stress he knew she must be feeling about her new command and her engagement. He grimaced at the thought of Pete. Cheesy little ring, he thought, from a little rat bastard of a man. Little wonder she never wore it for cryin' out loud. Damn it. Stop being so indecisive O'Neill. This isn't like you. Just do it.
Damn it. I can't do it. What if I'm wrong? He yanked his hand back to his side, nearly slapping himself in the process.
Sam's eyes widened as she came out of the analytical zone she'd wandered off to. She'd lost track of time until she'd felt a movement behind her and realized Jack was there. She'd felt his gaze boring into her back for what seemed like hours. When she felt his hand brush near her back she swallowed hard, feeling how dry her throat was. A light blush crept up her throat toward her cheeks. She had wondered if he was going to try to pick up where he'd left off.
She bowed her head preparing herself for what had been eight years in the making. She'd had most of the week to consider where Jack had been going with his attempts at conversation and now that it seemed like there were likely going to die in this place – why not discuss Pete? Why not discuss their relationship? Hell, they had each tried to bring it up in the past only to have the other refuse to talk. If Jack was ready again, then she'd have to be too.
Being physically closer to him these past two weeks than she had been in the past few months had made avoiding thinking about her relationship with Jack impossible. If this really was going to be confession time - then she was going to have to admit that she did still love him. After four years of active suppression, it was going to be so damn hard to admit it to him, Pete or no Pete. She swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut. It felt so different to be able to honestly admit what she really wanted rather than to deny or suppress it.
Sam quietly waited. After a while, she realized Jack wasn't going to do anything, and she turned around. "I'm sorry. I was trying to figure out if I've overlooked something about this place," Sam explained. She saw the tormented look on Jack's face. "Jack, what's wrong?" she asked, immediately concerned.
Jack shook his head quickly. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"Are you sure?" she asked, searching his face for an answer. She didn't believe him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
He gave her a pained smile. "No. I'm fine."
Sam opened her mouth to speak and shut it, her forehead furrowing. She knew Jack well enough to know he wasn't fine and that there was something seriously bothering him. She stared at him, her eyes questioning his statement. Worried, she approached him, her hand held out to touch his arm. "Jack. What is it?"
Jack stepped backwards and shook his head. "No, Carter. Don't."
Sam stopped, surprised to hear him use her last name again. She gave him a wide-eyed stare. "Jack… sir… I don't understand. Something is wrong. You have to talk to me," she said.
Jack shook his head and held his lips tightly shut. He wanted to tell her he was not fine. All in the world was not fine. Pete was not fine. He was not fine with Pete the little rat bastard. He was not fine with any of this. He wasn't fine with her pursuing a life with the little… He shut his eyes for a moment and swallowed. Control, O'Neill, he thought to himself. Control. Focus. He stared at Sam and whispered softly, "Everything is not fine Carter. We… I… I don't have to explain myself. Now go."
"Go where, General?" Sam asked in frustration. "You know I can't leave and this damn house is only so big!"
Jack's face worked overtime as conflicting emotions ripped through him. Deal with it now and you both can move on. But dealing with it may hurt her, and you. Pain now or pain later? His face became an unreadable mask. "Just go."
Sam held her hands open in front of her. "But…"
"Get out." He moved past Sam to stare out his bedroom window. God, he was so close to saying screw those regs and baring his heart to her. What the hell was wrong with him that he couldn't do this?
"But sir!" Sam pleaded, turning to face Jack's back.
"Get out, Carter!" Jack barked, his eyes shut, his mouth set in a thin, firm line. There, he thought miserably. Decision made. Nothing happens. No one gets hurt. End of story.
Sam fled out to the living room and dropped onto the couch. Gripping a pillow to her chest, she squeezed it hard. What had just happened? What the hell had she done? She hadn't said a damn thing and now here he was angry at her and blocking her out for some reason. Damn it, this was nearly two weeks of being stuck here. It wasn't like they were going to be rescued from this place any time soon and this was how it was going to be? Why had she even opened her heart up again? What made her think that he was going to do anything this time? Sam dropped the back of her head against the back of the couch and shook her head in exasperation. Nothing had changed.
Back in the bedroom, Jack collapsed onto his back onto the bed. He slapped at the pillows, hitting his hand hard against the headboard as he did so. "OUCH! DAMMIT!" he growled. His head began to pound at his sudden movements and he held his throbbing head tightly. Squeezing his eyes shut, he massaged his temples. This wasn't working, it sooooo wasn't working, he observed irritably.
Daniel stood in front of Jack's desk, arms crossed. He glared at Colonel Reynolds who was sitting in Jack's chair. Teal'c stood a few feet behind Daniel, staring impassively at the window to the briefing room.
Reynolds shook his head at Daniel, "If you'd just give me a chance to speak Dr. Jackson, I can tell you." He paused. "It's a go for tomorrow morning at 0800."
Daniel shook his head, blinking his eyes. "What?"
"Yes." Reynolds looked at Daniel more closely. "But only you and Teal'c. All other teams are off world or otherwise assigned. I'm sorry this will be the last search. I've been ordered to declare them both MIA."
Daniel raised an eyebrow. "So Hammond did talk to you?
Reynolds nodded. "I received a call from him this morning. Dr. Jackson, you need to learn patience. We've done everything humanly possible to find the General and Colonel." He paused. "I was going to approve your request, but you have to realize it takes time for these things to happen."
Daniel became indignant. "Impatient? Because your timetable is too damn slow? And now they're MIA!"
Teal'c moved toward Daniel. "Daniel Jackson..."
Daniel waved Teal'c away, glaring at Reynolds. "No. I'm not going to let this pass Teal'c. Almost two weeks have passed. You and I'll never find them now. Who knows what could have happened to them or where they could be by now?"
Teal'c tilted his head downward. "Daniel Jackson, is it not wiser and more productive to go prepare ourselves to go find the General and Colonel than to discuss the matter further?"
"No!" Daniel said through gritted teeth. "I want to make a point. Jack would have done the same if it were us. I just want to make it clear..."
Reynolds interrupted Daniel, his mouth in a grim smile. "You have Dr. Jackson. The past two weeks you've made it very clear how you feel about what I've tried to do and that you feel you are above the rules." He looked at Teal'c and then at Daniel again. "I'm sorry you feel that way."
Daniel continued to stand at the desk as Teal'c dipped his head and left the room.
Reynolds looked up at Daniel. "Dr. Jackson?"
Daniel glared at him.
Reynolds tilted his head to the side. "Is there something else I can help you with?"
Daniel's mouth turned downwards into a frown. "No."
Reynolds smiled again. "Good." He turned back to focus on the reports spread out on Jack's desk.
Daniel met Teal'c in the hallway and jammed his hands into his fatigue pockets. "I don't think I like that guy much these days," he said. He looked over at Teal'c. "I REALLY don't."
Teal'c turned his head down into a half-nod and gave his friend a small smile. "I understand my friend," he said.
Sam slowly stirred. She hadn't slept particularly well due to yesterday's tension. The thirst and hunger gnawing at her didn't help any - the MRE's had been stretched to their limit as had been their water. She'd been getting dizzy and they had both been short-tempered with each other. She didn't like where these symptoms were pointing. Opening her eyes, she found she was on her side in Jack's bed again. Jack was spooned in behind her, holding her loosely around the waist, his long fingers stretched out to touch the bottom of her breasts.
She sat up with a start and immediately her head started to pound. "General!" she said rubbing her temples to ease the throbbing headache.
Jack sat up quickly, bleary-eyed, and gripped his own head. "Oh man," he groaned, pulling his face into a tight grimace. He waved a hand at Sam. "I swear, Carter, I had nothing to do with this. I went to sleep right here and you were…"
"Out on the couch," Sam finished. She gave Jack a quick glance then scanned the room for anomalies. What was going on? She believed Jack when he said he hadn't done anything. Given the way they both physically felt she doubted he had the energy to move her without waking her. She flinched when she saw a quick flash of little shimmering lights near them. The afterimage of another room danced a few feet away them and disappeared.
She looked at Jack. "Did you see that?" she asked.
"Yes," Jack answered. The room shimmered and faded again. Jack quickly turned to give Sam a questioning look. "Now wait a minute! What's going on?" he asked.
Sam shook her head. "I'm not sure."
Jack reached over and gripped Sam's hand tightly. She questioned him with a look.
"Hey, whatever happens, we don't need to be separated," he explained.
Sam turned away to find they were sitting on the floor of Jack's living room.
Jack looked around. "Okay, how'd that happen?
Sam was quiet as she tried to analyze what was happening. Maybe this wasn't real, but it couldn't be a hologram. She was now thinking maybe it was something else altogether. "Focus on something sir," she ordered. "Think of my house."
She waited until Jack closed his eyes to shut her own. After a few moments she opened her eyes to find nothing changed. She heard Jack grunt with effort and she rolled her eyes at him. "Not a bowel movement! Your mind! Focus harder!"
She waited for something to happen as Jack focused, his face in held in a tight grimace. Sam watched as her bedroom appeared around them, her bed materializing underneath them. She sucked in her breath. "General!" Sam said indignantly.
"Colonel!" Jack groaned. "You're the one that asked ME to focus!"
"True," Sam said, shutting her eyes. "Now let me try." She paused, opening one eye to give Jack a hard stare. "Don't think."
"That won't be too hard," Jack snorted.
Sam opened her eyes to find the SGC control room slowly materializing around them. It was definitely their control room, but was this enough to confirm her new theory?
Jack squeezed Sam's hand. "My turn," he told her.
Sam watched as the control room faded out and she found herself sitting next to Jack on a white sand beach. She looked around appreciatively as frothy aquamarine waves lapped the shore below them and a bright sun lit up the cloudless cobalt blue sky above. She craned her head around to look behind them and watched as palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze that she could see, but couldn't feel.
"Mmmm... that's more like it," Jack said to her, a big grin on his face.
Sam smiled and nudged his shoulder with her own shoulder. She squeezed her eyes shut to visualize Daniel's living room.
"Been there, done that," Jack noted, nudging Sam back. He grunted again.
Sam groaned and shook her head as a wrestling pit full of blue Jell-O materialized around them.
"Yes!" Jack said, poking at the Jell-O. He grinned at Sam.
Sam rolled her eyes at Jack and lifted a handful to examine it more closely. It looked like Jell-O, it felt like Jell-O, but she now knew it couldn't be Jell-O. She hefted it, testing its weight. Eyeing Jack, she prepared to lob it at him. Her eyes widened in surprise and her fingers spread open as the Jell-O began to dematerialize.
As the wrestling pit quickly faded away, Jack groaned. "No fair!"
Sam squinted as the room became substantially darker. As she waited for her eyes to adjust, she heard Jack moving around.
"Carter, is this your doing?" Jack asked. "I don't recognize this place."
"No, this time it wasn't me," Sam answered. She rubbed her eyes and tried squinting into the distance. "This is real," she said crawling forward toward the sound of Jack's voice. "At least I think it is."
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, a colossal-sized cavern came into view. Ahead of her Jack gave a low whistle.
"This place is huge," he commented. Sam could hear him struggle to get to his feet and heard him fall back onto his hands and knees, groaning.
"Your blood pressure is probably low," Sam reminded him. "Do it slow."
"I know, I know," Jack muttered. "So where are we now? And where the hell were we?"
Sam shook her head as she began to make out the sharp metallic shapes of the industrial complex surrounding them. "I'm not sure." She noticed catwalks high in the air above them, only barely outlined by the dim light emanating from the ceiling. She could make out Jack trying to stand a again, gripping his head tightly.
"Com'n - ideas? Theories?" Jack asked as he sunk back down to the floor. "I'd puke right about now if I had anything to bring up," he muttered.
Sam leaned back and turned around to view the cavern. The flickering lights were so far up in the ceiling and the light they issued so dim that she couldn't see much, but she could make out a separate room where they'd just crawled out from. "I don't know sir," she answered. "Holographic representations? But that wouldn't explain everything that happened. Virtual reality simulations?"
Jack groaned. "You mean some stinking Gamekeeper has been toying with us in some kind of VR machine?"
Sam shook her head. "No. We're not on P7J-989 and we're not hooked up to any machines. I'm not sure of the hows and whys, but I think there's a strong possibility that it may have been some sort of VR simulator."
Jack continued to shake his head. "No… uh-uh. I won't believe that we've spent nearly two weeks stuck in some weird VR."
Sam sighed. "I know sir. It's hard for me to believe, too." She looked up at the lights as they flickered completely off. "Power problem?" she asked.
"Apparently." Jack sighed as they were engulfed in total darkness.
"What now?" Sam asked.
"I'm thinking…" Jack answered.
"Ohhh… scary!" Sam snickered.
"Funny. Very funny," Jack retorted, reaching out in Sam's general direction to swat at her. He came up empty-handed. "Where exactly did you say you were Carter?" he asked.
Sam waved in the direction of Jack's voice. "Here. See me waving?"
"Ha ha." Jack wasn't amused.
Sam crawled toward the sound of Jack's voice. She reached her hand out in front of her to feel for Jack and connected with something soft and warm.
"Hey!" Jack said. "Watch what you're touching!" he quipped, moving her hand off his groin.
Sam giggled. "Sorry sir."
"Sure you are."
Sam sighed and moved into a sitting position near Jack. "Ever been anywhere this pitch-black?" she asked.
Jack shook his head. "Not this dark, not in a long time."
They sat quietly for a few minutes.
Sam tried to squint to help her see but it was no use. It was like being blind. She suddenly heard a noise from the far end of the complex that sounded like a gate starting up. She turned to Jack. "Do you hear that?" she whispered.
Jack grunted in affirmation. "But from where?" he asked.
The brilliant blue and white column of the gate's energy vortex burst forth from the far end of the cavern and immediately inverted back its flat stable field. Sam watched as its dim blue-white glow illuminated the dark space.
"Com'n," Jack ordered, beginning a slow crawl toward the gate.
"Right behind you," Sam responded.
Daniel blinked and stumbled to an abrupt halt after he came through the gate. He was surrounded by total darkness where there should have been the brightness of morning sun. "Teal'c, this isn't what I remember," he commented.
Teal'c turned on his flashlight. "Nor do I recall this darkness, even during the evening missions undertaken last week."
"They dialed the right address?" Daniel asked.
"I believe they did," Teal'c responded.
"Something's not right here," Daniel said from the bottom of the steps, shielding his eyes as Teal'c aimed the light at him.
"Indeed it is not Daniel Jackson. Something has changed since the last team visited," Teal'c solemnly commented, shining his light around the base of the gate steps.
Daniel nodded and pulled out his own flashlight. He waved it around. This wasn't the meadow he'd last been in - it was the interior of some sort of industrial complex from what he could see of the place. "Think they're in here?" he asked. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. "Jack! Sam! Hello! Anybody out there?"
Sam lifted her head up at hearing Daniel's voice. "Daniel!" she managed to squeak out.
Jack shuffled along even faster and knocked into something metallic and hard. "Cripes!"
Sam stifled the urge to giggle as she crawled past Jack.
Daniel yelled again, playing his flashlight over the cavernous complex. "Hello! Anybody home?"
"Over here!" Jack managed to dryly croak.
"Daniel! Teal'c!" Sam finally managed to yell.
Daniel aimed the flashlight at Teal'c. "Did you hear that?" he asked.
"Yes, it appears to have come from that direction," Teal'c aimed his light off to his right. He jogged quickly down the steps past Daniel toward the faint voices.
"Jack! Sam! We hear you!" Daniel yelled. "We're coming!"
"Can you hurry it up?" Jack yelled with as much strength as he could muster.
"We are hurrying General O'Neill," Teal'c responded as they zigzagged through equipment and containers strewn on the floor and past partitioned rooms and side corridors.
"It's about time," Jack sniped. "What took you so long?" he asked as Teal'c reached him. Teal'c carefully began to help Jack up. "Oh," Jack said, grabbing his head again. "Slowly, slowly," he instructed Teal'c.
"What's wrong?" Daniel asked, gently helping Sam to her feet.
"Nothing drinking a tub of water won't fix," Jack answered.
"Or an all-you-can-eat buffet..." Sam added.
Sam sat in Daniel's office with the rest of the team a few days later, feeling very thankful that Daniel and Teal'c had come back that one last time. She wasn't even going to think about what would have happened to the two of them if their teammates hadn't come back, especially with the loss of power in the complex. She shook her head - as weak as they'd become, they wouldn't have survived for long. She was still amazed that the whole thing had been VR. The technology the people of that planet possessed to create something so non-invasive and lifelike amazed her… yet none of them had survived?
"You should see this Jack." Daniel looked up from the journal. "Sam helped me yesterday with the technical jargon. The journal explains a lot more about what you and Sam were stuck in."
"Put the long explanation in a report," Jack said, peering up over his nose at the journal. "Brief synopsis?"
Daniel faltered. "Ummm… well…"
Jack raised his eyebrows. "The UnWell, Daniel? I think we've met them before."
Daniel shifted uncomfortably, ignoring Jack's sarcasm. "I did my best while you were both gone. But some of the writing was so..."
Teal'c looked at Daniel. "Vague?"
Daniel nodded. "Uh right. Vague. For the most part it's a technical journal. He only wrote…"
Sam raised her eyebrows. "He?" she asked.
Daniel frowned at Sam and Teal'c, adjusting his eyeglasses. He lifted his legal pad closer to his face. "Anyway, the non-technical parts of the journal said that this group had gathered together in a "sanctuary" deep under their tallest mountain to hide from the 'white-eyed slayers of souls'…"
Jack nodded. "That'd be our slimy little friends alright."
Teal'c nodded. "The journal also indicates that they tried to rid their world of the Goa'uld through atomic explosions which rendered the planet's surface radioactive," he explained.
Jack grimaced and shook his head. "Not the first planet to do that," he observed.
"That wasn't very wise," Sam commented as Daniel pushed the journal across the table to her.
Daniel took his glasses off. "Well, they thought they'd be able to survive in this sanctuary for enough generations to outlive the radiation. They'd only recently found the gate when the Goa'uld attacked by ship. They thought they'd figure out the secrets of the gate while they were down there." He rubbed his forehead. "I don't think they'd counted on their population dropping so drastically that it took most of their knowledgeable elders away from them so quickly. I have the impression the journal writer was a younger…" he looked at Sam, "person who had an in-depth knowledge of their VR system, but who knew absolutely nothing about the medical or agricultural sciences. It'd be pretty easy to see why they eventually died off if those that were left had no knowledge of the basics."
Sam looked thoughtful. "They created this amazing VR world and yet they couldn't figure out the gate or keep up their food and water production? Were you able to piece together any more from the journal today?" Sam asked, her forehead furrowing.
Daniel shook his head. "Not anything that I'm able to given you an exact translation of yet." He glanced at the journal that Sam was thumbing through. "I heard from one of the other teams that the whole cavern complex was naquadah powered and the supply had run out about the time we arrived."
"And they managed to disable those jets that sprayed us every time we came through," Daniel added.
Jack cocked his head at Sam. "What was that all about?" he asked.
"We're still working on the chemical analysis," Sam responded, closing the journal and looking up at Jack. "Apparently at several places around the cavern, including any entry points like the gate, they had placed these jets to coat anyone who entered, Goa'uld or otherwise, with a chemical substance. It seems to be absorbed into the skin and links up to our neurotransmitters and receptors to interact with the VR system's neural network…"
Jack interrupted, "So P7J-989 minus the machines and wires and tube thingies."
"Basically," she answered. She still wondered about the implications of her having been able to give some input to this particular VR system. After what they'd learned on P7J-989 where the Gamekeeper's technology hadn't worked on either her or Teal'c, she wouldn't have thought she could have any impact on it. She realized that most of what she and Jack had experienced had been Jack's input, not hers. Had she been weakened enough this time that this VR system allowed her brainwaves to give input? Or was the technology so advanced that it compensated for the chemicals left in her system from her blending with Jolinar? She wondered if the people who'd lived in the sanctuary really had died of natural causes or if they had been killed off by other visitors coming in through the gate who had a natural immunity to the chemicals used and who would have seen the cavern for what it was and not for what the cavern inhabitants had wanted people to see in VR.
Jack grimaced as he crossed his arms. "I don't like it."
"But this was a different situation Jack," Daniel protested. "I don't get the impression there was one person maintaining absolute control of the VR - it was a community effort so that they could sustain themselves over a long period of time to eventually go back up to live on the surface." Daniel shrugged. "But things didn't go as they'd planned and we just walked into the tail end of a failing system that had no one left to run it."
Daniel reached over to one of his notepads. He looked thoughtfully at Jack, then at Sam. "It did mention something about those separate VR rooms like the one you two found after you left Teal'c and I. They seemed to be for getting away from the main simulation – for privacy."
"How did they work?" Jack asked, shrugging.
Sam shrugged at Jack. "Near as I can tell in the system must have been separately programmed to recognize the brainwaves of just those specific people in those separate rooms. It would be able to recognize from that particular user's mind where he or she wanted to be and recreate that setting," Sam explained.
Daniel raised his eyebrows at Jack. "Um, Jack? Where did you say you both were all that time?"
Jack arched an eyebrow back at Daniel and glared at him.
"Ohhhkay," Daniel mouthed and he shrugged. "From what I've translated so far, the journal pretty much backs up what Sam said." He flipped through another notepad. "Although there was some cryptic statement about 'those that seek and so desire shall find' in regards to those rooms."
Jack cocked his head. "Really?" he asked.
Daniel nodded, laying his well-worn pad down. "Loosely translated."
Out of the corner of her eye Sam noticed Jack glance at her. She ignored his look. She wasn't going to read anything else into his behavior from now on she resolved. He'd had his chance and now things were back to as they always had been. End of mission. End of story.
Chapter 5: Realization
Sam sighed, exasperated at Pete. He had been standing here in her study whining for over an hour about the fact that she wouldn't change her plans for this evening to accommodate him. She'd gotten home early for once and had just finished changing her clothes when Pete had unexpectedly appeared on her doorstep. He had sulked for over two weeks after hearing the explanation she'd given him for her disappearance and why she couldn't contact him while she was away and now he had the nerve to show up and expect her to drop everything for him.
She remembered their conversation when she tried to explain to him what had happened. She had just returned back home after being discharged from the infirmary and still hadn't felt very well. "I was off world Pete," she'd explained.
"Sure you were," Pete said.
"Pete, I was," she insisted. "I couldn't get back here and there was no way to contact you from where I was at."
"I was worried about you Sam," Pete had told her. "I know I'm not your husband yet, but didn't it matter to them that I'm your fiancé? Your CO could have called me."
"He couldn't Pete." Sam looked away.
"Why not?" Pete asked.
"Because he was…" Sam stopped. "Pete, you know there's things I still can't tell you."
"Why Sam?" Pete had asked her angrily. "I thought they gave me clearance. Don't YOU trust me?"
Sam had closed her mouth and glared at him. That evening had been the second time in their relationship that he had questioned her trust of him. A fleeting image from the morning after their first sexual encounter raced across her mind. That had been the first time that he'd had the nerve to question her trust of him and he had hopped out of bed in a huff when he didn't get the answer from her that he'd apparently wanted to hear. She'd felt miserable and confused after he'd left, wondering what the hell she'd done wrong that morning. Now there he was throwing trust up in her face again. Didn't he understand anything she'd told him?
"Pete, I was authorized to tell you only certain things about the Stargate program. No more, no less," she had explained.
"Sure this isn't your CO's doing?" Pete asked, ignoring her explanation.
"No Pete," she had sighed. "All I can say is that he wasn't on-base at the time. He couldn't have called you." She remembered Pete had left early, but not before continuing to question her trust and disbelieving the parts of the mission she could share.
A derisive snort brought Sam back to the present. Pete stood nearby, his arms crossed. Between his sulking and her heavy workload they hadn't been together much since her return from the VR planet. She'd talked to him by phone several times today, but she really just had not expected him this evening. She could have sworn that she'd told him in at least one of those calls that she was going out this evening. She frowned; maybe she hadn't told him with whom she'd made dinner plans, but what did it matter - the guys were her friends. It was her night out and she hadn't had one of those in months. Her eyes widened in realization - she hadn't gone out on her own nor had she done anything that she really wanted to do since she'd started dating Pete.
Daniel had told her that Jack had been pretty insistent on getting together at Daniel's for dinner and she'd been looking forward to it because it had been way too long since they'd hung out as a group, off-duty somewhere they could talk and play without worrying about how others would interpret their every little move. She wasn't about to let Pete change her plans this time.
Pete was insistent. "We are going to do something together tonight."
Sam was getting tired of his attitude - he wasn't her father, he wasn't her husband yet, and even if he had been, she had no plans to let him dictate what she could and couldn't do. "No Pete, for the final time - WE are not doing anything tonight. I've had plans for tonight for while and I am keeping them."
"Excuse me?" Sam asked.
"I don't want you to go out." Pete looked at her closely. "Is there another guy?"
Sam's face flushed a deep pink at Pete's accusation. She was on the verge of letting her rising anger take over and she knew she'd hurt them both if she did. She took a deep breath and released it. "Pete, for the last time - I'm having dinner with friends," she explained.
Pete, distracted by the noise of a truck outside, moved to the window and pushed the sheers to the side. "Sam, what's he doing here?" Pete asked, leaning his face toward the glass.
"Who is it?" Sam asked, rubbing her forehead.
"That guy from the grocery store," Pete said warily. "He's here."
"Jack?" Sam asked.
"Jack? Who's Jack!" Pete asked.
"General O'Neill. Remember?" She rolled her shoulders to release some of the tension that had built up. "My CO, Pete."
"What the hell is he doing coming here?" Pete asked indignantly.
Sam flinched at his question and raised her chin. What was with Pete's interrogation tactics? Everything had become who, what, when, where, and why. She stared at Pete, her indignant look turning into a glare. If he was going to try to play detective with her, then what she had planned for tonight was going to be none of his damn business. "I refuse to answer anything else," she answered, pushing past him to open the door for Jack, who was whistling his way up her stairs.
Jack stopped whistling as he came through the door and caught the wide-eyed pissed off look she gave him. "Carter?" he asked in an 'is everything okay' tone, a worried look spreading across his face. He turned to see Pete standing in her study a few feet away. "Oh. I see." He turned back to Sam. "Ready? I thought we should get there before Teal'c eats all of the appetizers."
Sam nodded and walked back to the dining room to get her purse off the table.
"Where do you think you're going?" Pete asked Sam.
"Out, I told you," Sam answered angrily. She paused, wondering for a minute if Pete was related to Jonas; he surely sounded like it. What was with him lately? A second fleeting thought hit Sam in the stomach - was this how Pete had treated his first wife? She pushed the thought away as she searched her purse for her house keys. "Give me a minute; need my keys."
She walked back through the foyer to her bedroom, glancing toward the doorway to observe Jack leaning against the wall, arms crossed, and smirking at Pete. Pete stood opposite Jack, glaring back at him from the study doorway. She rolled her eyes and shook her head – boys!
"Excuse me, Paul." Jack eyed Pete closely.
"Shanahan. Pete." Pete glowered back, his fists clenched.
"Pluto. Popeye. Whatever," Jack said, stepping closer to Pete, a very intense look on his face. He moved closer and gripped Pete's shirt in his hand, yanking him close, catching Pete by surprise. "Look, I don't know what's going on here, but I know Sam and she seems pretty upset. Whatever it is, maybe you'd better just back off and leave her alone for a bit," he hissed, squinting down into Pete's widening eyes. "If you don't, I'll become your worst nightmare," he threatened quietly through gritted teeth. He smirked again. "And I don't think you want that." He thrust Pete back into Sam's study.
Pete flew into Sam's desk chair, knocking it over. Pete picked the chair up and grunted. He adjusted his shoulders and yanked his shirt back into place. He stomped out of the study and through the front door that Jack held open for him.
"Have a nice day!" Jack yelled out the door after Pete.
"Same to ya," Jack called back out as Pete raised his middle finger at Jack without a backward glance.
Sam came back to the entranceway as Pete squealed his tires down the street. "Pete?" she asked Jack.
"Good," she said. She wasn't going to ask how or why, it didn't matter to her at this point. She just wanted to get out of here and forget about everything that bothered her for a while. She wanted to spend an evening surrounded by her best friends who she knew well and cared about and who cared deeply about her in return. Friends who she didn't have to explain anything to. She moved toward the door.
"Jacket?" Jack asked. "There is a chill out there, Colonel."
"Yes sir." Sam reached into the hall closet to pull out her favorite jean jacket and grabbed her purse off the table. She grunted as she fumbled with the door lock while trying to put on her jacket at the same time, her purse dangling from her wrist.
"Here, allow me," Jack said as he reached out to help her put on her jacket. "It's my sworn duty to protect our national treasures you know," he said, his hand still on her shoulder as they moved outside to stand on her porch.
Sam gave him a wry little smile. "National treasure, my foot."
Jack squeezed her shoulder before releasing it and stomped down the stairs ahead of her. "Well, I wasn't exactly talking about your feet, Carter."
Sam shook her head and followed Jack out to his truck.
Jack checked his rearview mirror again. "I think we're being followed Carter."
Sam looked down into her side mirror. "Which vehicle?" she asked.
Sam studied the truck for a moment and frowned. "Pete."
"I thought so." Jack looked over at Sam. She was looking down at her engagement ring and twisting it around her finger. "So what do you want me to do?" he asked. "Evade and avoid?"
"No." She looked up at the road. "Don't do anything."
"Why?" Jack asked.
Sam was quiet for a while. She figured there had to be a perfectly good reason for Pete to do it – maybe he was still pissed at her for going out. She knew better than to give in and run with misassumptions. "Maybe he just wants to know where I'm going," she answered. Either way, she was going out tonight and Pete was not going to ruin it.
"Carter, this isn't right and you know it." Jack frowned. "I think you're crazy, but," he cocked his head to one side, "it's your call."
Pete followed slowly behind Jack's truck. He didn't think they'd noticed him yet. He shrugged, even if they did, so what? If Sam wasn't going to tell him what he wanted to know then he was going to have to find out for himself using his own methods. The grocery store thing had left a bad taste in his mouth and he'd wondered if she had been telling him the truth about her relationship with her CO. So far, the times he had checked on her, she'd been exactly where she'd said she'd be, but who knew when something might happen?
Pete had already followed her CO after he'd pissed him off at the store. He was amazed at the balls this guy had intruding on Sam's personal life. Since he'd started to date her he'd never seen her hang out with the people she worked with although she'd told him that she use to do it all of the time. She'd mentioned them occasionally so he knew their names and vaguely remembered what they looked like from the stakeout, but this CO guy was a trip! Pete felt in his gut that something wasn't right here; he'd gotten the feeling at the grocery store that this guy was just too cozy with Sam and he didn't like it one bit.
Pete shook his head - he'd followed the guy around town and staked out his house for a few nights, but he just seemed some pitiful old geezer living alone and hitting a bar or two occasionally. Damn, no wonder he must hit on Sam all the time like that. Couldn't she get him for sexual harassment, Pete wondered. He thoughtfully pondered that one - he'd have to talk to her about that too.
He slowed down to stop as he saw Jack's truck pull to a stop in front of a small house. He shook his head, he'd better drive on past so he wouldn't arouse any suspicion - he would circle back around in a bit.
Teal'c belched loudly. "A most pleasing dinner Daniel Jackson," he said with a contented smile, his fingers laced across his stomach. He leaned back in his chair and grinned.
Daniel chuckled. "Didn't they teach manners in Jaffa school, Teal'c?"
Teal'c smiled at Daniel, arching an eyebrow at him. "Amongst certain groups of Tau'ri belching is a sign of appreciation and thanks." He turned to Sam sitting on the couch next to Daniel and tilted his head down. "Is that not so, Colonel Carter?"
"If you say so," Sam laughed.
Jack listened quietly and continued to nurse his first beer of the evening. His eyes were focused intently on Sam's face.
Teal'c noticed Jack's gaze. Picking up his desert plate and empty glass he asked Sam, "You are finished Colonel Carter?"
"Yes, thanks," she responded, handing him the plate.
"I believe I require assistance in operating the dishwashing machine," Teal'c told Daniel. He looked at Daniel, then at Jack, and back to Daniel.
Daniel raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. "Uh, yeah sure," he answered, shrugging.
Teal'c dipped his head at Sam who gave him a warm smile and then to Jack. He aimed a smug look at the two of them before following Daniel into the kitchen.
Jack moved to sit next to Sam on the couch and continued to watch her.
"What?" Sam asked uncomfortably.
"Carter, I think you should know he's doing more than following just you," Jack bluntly told her.
"What do you mean sir?" She moved sideways on the couch to face Jack, tucking a leg under her.
"Your fiancé has tailed me a couple nights and I've caught him watching my house."
"No," Sam shook her head. "You must be imagining it."
Jack looked away from Sam and took a slow swig from his bottle. "No, I'm not."
Sam opened her mouth to protest again, but decided against it. Jack's life had been devoted to covert and black ops; Pete didn't stand a chance of not being found out if he was indeed following Jack. "Why would he do that to you?" she asked. Yeah, Pete was a cop, but what reason would he have to follow Jack of all people?
"He's your fiancé. How should I know?" Jack asked, returning his intense focus back to Sam's eyes. "You know him. You saw him. You tell me."
Sam shrugged and looked down at the blanket on the couch back. She twisted the fringed ends around her fingers. "I honestly don't have a clue," she admitted. "Guess old cop habits die hard?" she asked, looking back up at Jack. That was pretty much how she'd justified to herself the background check that Pete had done on her. Was he getting to overzealous with all this, she wondered.
Jack shook his head imperceptibly. "What kind of guy would follow his fiancé like that, cop or no cop?" Jack asked. "And why the hell would he be checking me out?" He opened his mouth to speak again and shut it, frowning at Sam. "I don't like it Carter," he said quietly.
Sam shrugged back at him. "I know," she responded softly.
"You're going to do something about it then?" he asked, lifting his bottle to his mouth again.
"Sir, I really don't think it's a problem at this point." She ran her hand over the blanket to smooth the ripples out of it and smiled at Jack. "I am here spending time alone with three good-looking guys, don't you think any fiancé would be jealous?" she asked.
Jack didn't answer her, but she saw his disagreement flashing in his eyes. She looked away from him and gave a small shrug. "I'll think about it." She wasn't going to let Jack know it concerned her now too.
Jack grimaced and shook his free hand in the air. "There's that damn thinking crap again!"
Sam shook her head and rolled her eyes at him.
Pete walked back up to his truck. He'd just taken a slow walk down the street past the house Sam and her CO had entered earlier in the evening. He'd gotten tired of sitting in the truck and not being able to see anything, so he'd decided to take another walk past the house. He vaguely remembered it from their op he'd become involved in. He figured one of her teammates lived there, either the big guy with the hat or the other guy with the glasses. He shivered; it had been awfully hard to walk nonchalantly past the house; it was too damn cold outside this evening to pretend to be taking a leisurely stroll.
He was relieved to see them just sitting around laughing and shooting the shit. Sam's CO was slouched in a big easy chair, the dude with glasses was sitting next to Sam on a couch, and the big guy, minus the hat now, was relaxing in a chair nearby. He could handle her doing that instead of being out at some bar, even if he couldn't understand why they didn't just get all of their talking done during work hours. 'I shouldn't doubt Sam,' he thought to himself. She was the only woman he felt he could trust and he had only felt this way after he'd followed her a while to make sure she was doing what she said she was. He admitted he was even a bit ashamed to have been checking her out because all he'd found out so far was that she had been totally open and honest with him.
But there's always that first time Shanahan, he reminded himself. 'God, why am I such a doubter?' he asked himself. Pete turned his truck on and turned up the heat. He knew a lot of his nature was from the shit he'd had to deal with when he was growing up when he'd been forced to learn to rely only on himself – he just didn't trust very many people. He snorted; it was with good reason as so many people he'd known had turned out to be liars. Well, Sam didn't seem to be a liar tonight. He backed his truck up and made a U-turn to go back home.
Jack watched as Ishta, R'yac and the rest of the wedding party approached the bottom of the gate ramp. He had just about reached his wit's end with her and her group here all week. He would be so unbelievably happy when this damn wedding ceremony was over. Ishta's group would then only be a day or two away from clearing out of his base. He'd also been irritated with the reprimand and order from above to not "sneak out" on another mission without going through the proper channels. He knew he was certainly dreading the avalanche of reports that would snow him under after this group's stay ended. He'd welcomed the quick game of ping-pong with Teal'c a few days earlier to get away from it all. He brushed his hand over the tender spot on the front of his thigh; even if Teal'c had nearly taken his leg off.
No matter how much he'd tried to mentally swat it out, his statement to Teal'c during their game, about love being a strange and mysterious thing, had been buzzing in his mind all day today. Jack let his focus wander to the dark area behind the gate while the wedding party finished their pre-ceremony activities and took their places around the altar. Rya'c had worked through the relationship issues he had and was finally going through with his marriage. Jack mused about what it would be like to be married again, especially if he were able to wake up next to someone like Sam every morning. He wondered what it would be like share his life with a woman who knew and understood him as well as she did and loved him in spite of it and from whom he wouldn't have to hide anything like he had with Sarah. He frowned, knowing that unless he took action soon it'd be Pete who'd get to experience that, not him. He grimaced. Action Jack. Yeah, right. Two weeks alone with Sam and he hadn't done a damn thing except to push her farther away. Except for the evening at Daniel's, she had avoided him and was back to her strictly business as usual personality. He gave Sam a quick glance and wondered what she was thinking, then looked back to the ramp where the ceremony was beginning.
Sam, standing at attention next to Jack caught his glance. She smiled. She knew these types of events had always made Jack uncomfortable; a wedding had to be making him doubly so. She looked at Rya'c and Kar'yn as they took their places at the base of the gate and smiled again. They seemed so sweet and so young. She heard Kar'yn speak proudly, "Rya'c, your heart is pure and your spirit strong. You give me strength, and joy, and I will stand by your side always."
Sam sighed. It wasn't all the finery, flowers, and fuss that got to her at weddings, it was the images and feelings that the words of the ceremony evoked in her. She felt a bit envious of the young couple. They were just starting a long life committed to one another through thick and thin, better and worse, humor and sorrow… and through all that they'd have the support of their soulmate. Sam looked away. Was she marrying her soul mate? Pete was so many things to her - a lover, a friend – but was he her soul mate?
"What's wrong, no longer interested in healing the emotionally wounded?" Sam heard Jonas Hanson's accusatory voice. She shivered. Where had that come from? She glanced around the gate room to make sure her old fiancé hadn't come back from the dead. She tried to clear her mind of Jonas and focused back on the ceremony in time to hear Bra'tac announce that the ceremony was complete. He pronounced that the couple should love and fight like warriors but just not with each other. She clapped and laughed with everyone else, smiling as the couple moved to kiss.
Lost in thought, Sam had stood quietly in the elevator next to Jack as the wedding party moved up two levels to the mess hall, a merry and talkative group of well wishers jostling behind them. Jack caught her eye as they exited the elevator. "Everything okay Carter?"
Before Sam could answer, Bra'tac came up to Jack and grabbed his shoulder, smiling broadly. "About that cake, O'Neill of Minnesota…" he said, pulling Jack toward the mess hall. Jack shot a concerned glance over his shoulder at Sam. She sighed and shrugged back at him.
Sam smiled as she entered the mess hall, noting that Jack had found yet another use for the ceremonial bunting they'd requisitioned for the president's recent visit. She noticed Daniel in a corner, carefully balancing his cake plate on his knee while chatting up Dr. Brightman who was positively beaming at Daniel. 'Alright Danny,' she thought with a grin.
She circulated for a while amongst the well-wishers, eventually approaching Teal'c who proudly stood near the cake table beaming at his son and new daughter-in-law. After she congratulated and hugged each of them, she accepted a large end section of cake from Teal'c. She turned to look around the hall and noticed Jack sitting at the end of a table off to the side, watching the party with his usual detached amusement.
"Cake General?" she asked, offering her plate to Jack as she sat down next to him.
"Already had a half of a layer, thanks," Jack answered. Arching his eyebrow at her plate, he pulled his mouth to one side. "Although… want that rose?" he asked.
"Uh, no. Just a minute." She lifted the rose from the cake with her fork and held it out to him.
Jack looked disappointed. "Not going to feed it to me?" he asked, giving her one of his intense looks.
Sam, startled and confused, was unsure of how to respond. She looked at Jack and then away at the people milling around the mess hall. She quickly set the fork down on the table and opened her eyes wider.
"A joke, Carter. A joke." Jack nodded to Siler who was walking by with two big slices of cake on his plate.
Sam looked more closely at Jack. He wasn't smirking nor was there any snarkiness in his tone like there usually would have been; he certainly didn't look like he was joking. She couldn't figure what was up with him lately. Intense stares all of the time, and none of them were the pulse-racing kind. Damn him for never allowing her to finish those damn relationship conversations. She sighed; she was getting tired of this push and pull crap; we do but we don't, we are but we aren't; maybe, but maybe not. Here we go again, she thought to herself. He couldn't have his cake and eat it too. She wouldn't let him.
"Right, sir." She pushed her cake plate towards Jack. "Here, you finish it. I need to get back to finish my report."
Jack looked down at the plate of cake that Sam had barely touched and back up at Sam's tight face. "I'm sorry," Jack said quietly, giving her another intense look. "Don't go. You don't need to go work on some damn report - it's the end of the day, for cryin' out loud."
Sam gave him an intense stare back. "Oh yeah, I really do need to," Sam responded, standing and turning to quickly leave the mess hall.
Jack watched her disappear through the happy, laughing crowd. 'God, what did I just do?' he asked himself, closing his eyes and shaking his head. This wasn't working, it just wasn't working. He slowly made his way out of the hall, his face screwed up in a tight scowl.
Daniel had come back to the table for a second piece of cake. He nodded at Teal'c who continued to hold court from the cake table. "Did Jack seem out of sorts?" he asked, dipping his fork into the frosting of his new slice.
Teal'c tilted his head. "Something does weigh heavily on O'Neill's mind." He nodded and smiled at a group of laughing children running by the table.
Daniel thoughtfully chewed on a second bite of cake. "Sam seemed to have left pretty quickly too," he observed, glancing at his friend.
"Indeed." Teal'c was expressionless.
"Think something's up?" Daniel asked.
"It is not wise to speculate on such matters Daniel Jackson," Teal'c answered.
"You're saying you never once wondered about them?" Laying his plate back down on the table, Daniel chuckled. "Never once? Com'n, Teal'c. Be honest."
Teal'c turned his head toward Daniel and gave a smug smile. "It has never been necessary for me to do so."
Daniel's eyebrows shot up. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Teal'c didn't answer, the smile still playing over his closed lips.
Daniel screwed his mouth up and rolled his eyes. "I don't know why I asked. You wouldn't tell me anyway, would you?"
Teal'c looked up and away, his grin deepening.
Sam looked at the picture of Pete on the mantle. He had called her earlier to say he wouldn't be stopping by tonight. Sam felt relieved. She honestly didn't want to see him this evening. Sam had been surprised to find that she felt that way. For so long she had wanted someone to share so much of herself with and she had thought that Pete was that person. She had been truly taken aback by the negative feelings and doubts that Pete had aroused in her of late.
She had found that she couldn't stop analyzing her relationship with Pete since Ryac's wedding. All she kept doing was questioning herself, 'Is he my soulmate?' 'Am I marrying my soulmate?' 'Can I still make this work?' The answers to each of those questions had been "no."
The realization that this relationship wasn't giving her what she wanted and needed had hit her as she had walked back to her office from the mess hall reception. The proverbial straw that had broken the camel's back had been Pete's childish behavior upon her return from the VR planet. At that point she decided that Pete probably never would be able to understand her or her life. She realized she'd been the one who had always been making the accommodations in their relationship, not Pete and she was tired of doing it. She'd never demanded he change his plans, change his work schedule, or give up his job, yet he'd been expecting it of her lately. He'd even made several comments about how she should ask for a transfer to another base. She shook her head. She'd wanted a relationship of equals, not someone who with each passing day treated her more and more like Jonas had. Been there and done that already, thank you very much.
She was tired of dealing with the crap he had been pulling lately. His surprises were certainly attention-getting, but usually harmless and humorous. The sulking and irrational anger on the other hand had really caught her off guard. The sulking was more than just a child's sulk… and the anger… it took her breath away every time he threw it in her face. Pete was charming, so damn charming most of the time that it wasn't funny. She just wasn't sure any more that those peaceful interludes made up for the time when he sulked or burst out into an angry fit, making her feel like she was the cause of their problems or the reason for him feeling bad. She knew now that it was the same pattern she'd accepted with Jonas.
She smiled wryly; she had been so much younger when she'd been with Jonas, so eager to be in a serious romantic relationship that she'd been willing to allow him to treat her like dirt. And Jonas had been one of those 'it's all about me' men, ready to take advantage of the unsuspecting. Sam frowned. She was older and wiser now, but still, she had done it again; slipping too easily into accommodation mode for Pete.
Sam relaxed her shoulder muscles. Maybe she really was thinking too much, just like Jack had often accused her of doing. No - she had to think; right now, this minute. She'd avoided giving an impartial analysis to the parts of her relationship with Pete that bothered her for way too long. She knew she had to confront it now no matter how much it hurt, no matter how much she was reminded of things she'd rather forget about. She'd cut herself off from Jack and most other men because she didn't want to be hurt like she had been with Jonas and here she'd opened herself right up again to the same type of relationship.
After Jonas, she'd become an expert at hiding who she felt she really was so that she wouldn't be hurt again. She knew she projected a perky upbeat façade well enough and had perfected it with Pete. She wondered if anyone around her really knew who she was deep inside or if they realized that she carried in her as many demons as they did, if not more. She had felt that Jack had known this about her. She sighed again; she was tired of living this way. 'I'm not perfect damn it, I'm human!' she thought angrily.
She miserably wondered why had it always been that certain things that she had wanted more than anything else in the world she could never have? Or that those things that she did get always turned out the opposite of what she had wanted and planned for? First her father's respect. Then the Shuttle program. Then her relationship with Jonas. Jack. And now Pete.
Pete would be coming by tomorrow afternoon. It was time to finally tell him how things were going to be; on her terms, right now. She sighed. God, it was going to kill her to do this, but there wasn't any other way…
Jack groaned and pushed away from his desk. He was swamped again. The clutter left behind by Ishta, Rya'c, and all those damn animals had finally disappeared, but the mess on his desk was a different story. He'd received a report on nearly every aspect of their stay, including two lengthy ones from Sam, and one large pile on his desk was devoted to the recent exploits of SG12. He shook his head; some reports were interesting reads, but the sheer volume was killing him. He felt like he was steadily climbing up a mountain of paperwork and hadn't hit level ground yet. It didn't look like he'd ever hit it.
Damn, he wished he could share how he felt with someone. His expression became grimmer. There weren't many people he could 'shoot the shit' with anymore, not without worrying that whatever he said would get around base. Hell, he didn't even have the time to shoot anything anymore. He was so busy there wasn't a day that he didn't go home bushed, feeling as if he'd just gone eight rounds with a Goa'uld system lord.
The slight attitude shift of everyone on base lately, including his own team, was bugging the hell out of him. They were more deferential and less open to him. More respectful too; he didn't want respect – he wanted someone to argue with him and give him good reasons why he shouldn't do certain things, but few people were doing that anymore. There was less humor – he really didn't like that one. Even Walter, who always had a ready supply of somewhat lame jokes, only gave him a little smile before turning back to his computer monitor these days.
Since his return from this last mission with the team, everyone had been quiet, very quiet. He wondered if word had gotten around that he'd been warned to not take any more trips without authorization. Hammond had called him at home to give him a heads up before it came down through official channels. He apologized to him and had explained that the bottom line was that President didn't want to lose Jack out on some silly joyride of a mission.
"Oh for cryin' out loud! Nothing happened!" Jack had protested. "Well, not much of anything."
"I know what you're going through son," George told him. "There'll be a time and a place to go off-world or even on a mission or two. I promise you. Just be patient Jack."
"Patient?" Jack snorted. "George, I'm going stir crazy down here!"
George chuckled. "You'll get the hang of it eventually. It took me a few years myself," he admitted.
Jack's eyes widened and he turned the telephone receiver around to stare at it. "Years!" He stared at the floor as he listened to George continue to chuckle. "I'm serious George," he said quietly. "I don't have years."
George was quiet for a moment. "Are you sick Jack?" he asked.
"No, no, not that," Jack responded. "I… just have… doubts. You know me better than anybody. All this nitpicky, piddley administrative crap is not what I signed up to do." He waved his hand around, "All this shit and it's all my responsibility!"
George cleared his throat. "Well Jack, you wouldn't have been offered command if you weren't capable of doing it. Have some faith in yourself son – we do."
"Faith?" Jack asked. "You have that in liquid or pills George? I need some right about now."
George was quiet. "Jack, is there something else bothering you?"
"Yes. No. Maybe," Jack answered.
"Which is it?"
Jack had paused. He still hadn't been sure he wanted to bring George into this just yet. "Sorry. I guess it's all still just a little weird right now. Everything's changed and become so… different than what I expected. I'm just not sure I like it."
"Like it or want it, son?" Jack could hear the concern in George's voice.
"Both," he admitted quietly. "But more the latter."
"Just give it some time," George advised him. "Stop worrying about it so much. Don't work so late, and don't tell me you aren't Jack. I've been there. Take a couple days off to clear your mind. Give it some thought when you're not staring down five stacks of reports."
"You know about the five?" Jack asked incredulously.
"Some things never change, Jack."
Jack remembered that after George had made his good-byes that afternoon, he had walked over to look out his living room window. It had looked like a beautiful day; he'd thought maybe he could hook up with Teal'c or Daniel. He hadn't much opportunity to hang out with them since taking command and that dinner at Daniel's had been the first time they'd been together like that in months. He frowned. It wasn't that he hadn't had the opportunity, he admitted, because if he really had wanted to, he could have just picked up the telephone and made it happen. It was more because he'd made a conscious choice to pull back. He thought about one particular evening he and Teal'c had gone out and he knew that being caught enjoying a women's Jell-O wrestling match would not exactly be a good thing at this point. He sighed, thinking that he could go for some fluff like that right about now.
He considered calling Sam. His Jell-O wrestling-induced smile disappeared. Hell, where'd that thought come from? After their moment at Rya'c's reception, he'd warily avoided her unless he really had to speak to her and he hated being so damn careful around her. It was worse now between them than after she'd told him about her engagement. He hadn't been able to bring himself to talk to her and she apparently was continuing on with her engagement to Pete, even as the twerp continued to follow both of them. Jack didn't want her to think he was interfering in her relationship with Pete and she had been giving him many accusatory glances when he was more curt or sharp than he should have been. Damn it. Her engagement should have given him an easy excuse to block her out of his thoughts and move on, but it had only served to make him feel worse.
He'd fallen back on the couch. He didn't want to become a hardened angry old man; he'd already traveled down that particular road once before and he never wanted to be that way again. He knew he'd never be accused of being a softie, but he would never allow himself to become a such a hardass again. Sticking it to the man was one thing, being so hardhearted that you perpetually had a stick up your own ass was another…
Why the hell was it so wrong to want to get out of the rat race again, he had wondered. For a long time he'd made no secret about wanting to retire to his cabin, especially lately when he was afraid his brain was going to turn into synaptic mush from having the Ancient's knowledge downloaded into it one too many times. But he wasn't sure, he admitted, that retiring and being alone had the same appeal that it once had, especially after Sam had come to mean so much to him.
Hell, admit it Jack, he chided himself - life at the SGC or in general wouldn't be the same if not for that infectious sparkle and radiant light that Sam spread wherever she went. Her mesmerizing spirit was what had captured his own soul. She was part of him now. If he was finding it difficult to deal with how things were between them now, he wondered how it would be when he was completely without her.
He'd crossed his arms and sighed. With no other woman would he be able to share himself like he could with Sam. She had been by his side through thick and thin. Sarah had been about as understanding about his life as anyone could be given all the parts of his life that he couldn't share with her, but he didn't want to put any other woman through that again. Not at his age. He groaned again. What exactly was he trying to talk himself into, or out of? Was he having a mid-life crisis? No. He wasn't out to recapture his youth; he only wanted to spend what remained of his life wisely and not throw it away like he had almost done nearly 10 years ago. He rubbed his forehead at the thought that he felt like he would be letting someone down no matter what choice he made.
'Food,' he had thought. 'I need food. That'll zap those mental fuzzies.' His stomach growled angrily at him. "Oh for cryin' out loud, alright already! I hear you!" he'd grumbled as he stomped off toward the kitchen.
Chapter 6: Dissolution
"Pete, we need to talk."
"Oh, Sam, please, not now," Pete nuzzled Sam's neck.
"Yes." Sam arched her head away from Pete. "Now."
"Oh, com'n, can't it wait?" Pete asked his lips following her neck as she pulled away.
"No," Sam held Pete back and moved away from him to the other end of the couch.
Pete gave her a surprised look. "Oh… if you don't want to have sex tonight, we don't have to."
Sam inhaled deeply and shook her head. "Pete, we really need to talk. About us. We can't keep putting it off."
"Us? Sam, we're doing great." Pete gave her a silly grin. He paused. "Well, aren't we?"
Sam shook her head again and looked down at her ringless fingers. Her gut feeling was that he wasn't going to take this discussion easily. She bit her lips. 'Oh Lord, give me strength,' she prayed. She inhaled slowly, looking up at Pete with a sorrowful look in her eyes.
Watching the expressions play across Sam's face, Pete's smile faded. "Sam, what's wrong?" he asked.
"Pete, I'm not sure this is going to work out," Sam said.
Pete shot Sam a worried look. "Is this about the other night when you went out with your buddies?" he asked. "I mean, I thought about it later and I guess I can understand you had to get out…"
"No Pete – this is about us." Sam took another deep breath. "Pete, I don't want you to marry me and end up regretting it. I get the feeling… I think… we're two very different people with some very different needs." She paused looking him straight in the eye, her own beginning to fill with tears. "I really love you, Pete, but I'm so afraid I'm going to do something to hurt you and I can't do that to you."
Pete watched her quietly.
Sam looked away feeling miserable. "Pete, it's hard for me to be with you and not be able to share everything I do with you," she said. "There are all these issues… I mean, what if we had children…" she paused. "And I can't even begin to imagine how you'd feel if something happened to me. I just can't put you through that."
Pete continued to stare at her. "So quit," he said finally. "It's just some damn Air Force job. Go do something else." He cocked his head to the side. "At least you wouldn't be around assholes like that O'Neill guy."
"I won't quit the program Pete. This is my life," Sam explained, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand. She was getting tired of being apologetic, wondering why she was even doing this because she'd never asked him to justify anything to her.
"So? What about my life?" Pete asked. "What about I want?"
"Haven't I been giving you what you wanted?" Sam asked quietly.
"No." Pete stated. "You really should be there for me when I need it."
Sam shivered, hearing Jonas' voice. She looked up at Pete. "But what about me?"
"What about you?"
Sam's shoulders dropped. "What about what I want? What about what I need? Are you going to keep to ignoring me?" She shook her head. "Marriage is about compromise Pete."
Pete grunted. "What do you know about marriage? One fucked up engagement and you're some kind of expert?" He looked condescendingly at her. "I've been there. I know what it takes to make a marriage work."
Sam opened her mouth and shut it, frowning. 'Yeah, but why then are you divorced?' she thought to herself.
"Anything else you want to discuss?" Pete asked sarcastically, throwing a hand out, hitting the back of the couch.
Sam flinched and looked away. She thought for a moment then looked back at him. "Now that you ask, yes, there is." She stared at him. "Pete, why've you been tracking my every move? Don't you trust me?"
"I never followed you…" Pete answered. "Well, okay, that one time."
"Pete, I know you've been tailing me for weeks." She looked hurt. "Stop lying to me."
"I'm not…" Pete grunted. "Is that what this whole thing is about?" he asked indignantly. "Huh? Just because I care enough to look out after you?"
"Is that what you call it?" Sam asked. "Were you 'looking after' General O'Neill, too?
Pete jumped up off the couch, fists clenched. "You got a problem with that?"
Sam stood up, her arms at her side, hands open. "Yes, I do."
Pete observed her stance and slowly unclenched his fists. He crossed his arms and squinted at her. He shook his head. "Fine then. If you're going to be such a bitch about all this… I don't need this kind of shit from any woman and especially not from someone like you."
"Like me?" Sam asked.
"Someone smart enough to know how to behave like a real woman." Pete stopped to glare at her. "If this is what you want, fine. Go off and be some fucking old maid and live your long miserable life out on some godforsaken military post." He rolled his eyes. "Whatever." Sticking out his hand he said, "I want my ring back. Now."
Sam tilted her head. She realized she'd done this same song and dance before with Jonas although she couldn't remember breaking up with him being quite like this. She looked back up at Pete to search his eyes for answers; she'd opened her heart to him and here he was shitting on it. She'd really wanted this relationship to work; she'd done everything possible to make it work. But damn if she was going to suffer through this kind of emotional abuse again.
"The ring's mine," Pete sneered. "You didn't think you were going to keep it, did you?"
Sam shook her head. "Pete," she said softly. "I never would have kept it. It wouldn't have been mine to keep."
Sam walked back to her bedroom, Pete trailing behind her, and she picked up a small box off her nightstand. "Here," she whispered softly as she held the box out to him.
Pete stared at the box in her outstretched hand, his eyes widening. "You keep it in the box? Did you EVER wear it Sam?" He snatched the box from her, squeezing it in his fist. "Or just when I was around?"
Sam opened her mouth to try to tell to Pete that it hadn't been that way at all and caught sight of the wild look in his eyes. She stopped, realizing she knew that look only too well. It was the look Jonas had given her during his wild-eyed rants. 'Why Pete, why now?' she wondered. He wasn't going to let her explain anything to him right now; if he ever would. All of the things she had wanted to say to him began to slowly fade away. She frowned. She had expected he would be upset and probably even angry with her, but this was ridiculous; he was a grown man - a cop - for cryin' out loud; not some inexperienced teenaged boy.
She noticed Pete's coloring had deepened to a bright lobster red and his fists were beginning to shake. Sam glanced away from him, knowing she had to defuse the situation and get him out of here, before he tried something stupid that he'd regret later and definitely before she beat the stuffing out of him for trying to do anything stupid, an action she now admitted she might not so much regret, if it happened.
"Well? Did you?" Pete demanded.
Walking toward her bedroom door, Sam gently answered, "Pete, does it really matter now?"
Pete turned to face Sam as she stood in the doorway. "Hell yes!" He slowly approached her. "Sam, this whole fucking time you were just playing with me. You didn't need me. You just wanted a guy, any guy, in your bed." Pete snorted. "Some guy to be the sperm donor for the kids you wanted. Someone to point to and say he's with me." He glared at her accusingly. "You never loved me Sam."
Sam swallowed hard again; she felt like she was being punched. This was not how it had been! She had loved him! She'd had some doubts, but they had been self-doubt, not doubts about him. She hadn't even realized that he had all these problems with her or their relationship. What was wrong with him, she wondered, thinking of how she'd considered him as her equal, even if she had acquiesced to all of his needs more often than her own. She shook her head; she could never play with anyone's emotions the way he was accusing her of doing - how dare he try to tell her what her motives were! Bedwarmer? Sperm donor! Sam now barely controlled her own rising anger. Her eyes flashed and she locked him in a steely stare. "That's so not true Pete. You shouldn't be talking about things you don't know a thing about."
Pete grunted and followed Sam out into the hallway. "Yes, it is. And you know it."
'Oh God, what was I thinking when I accepted that ring?' Sam wondered bitterly. When had Pete become so out-of-control that he could fire up this hard, this fast and this vindictively? She searched her memory, but realized they hadn't been in many situations together where he'd have had the opportunity to show this side of his personality. She wondered how she had blinded herself to this side of him the few times he had shown some snippets of bad behavior. Had she really been in love, or just with the illusion of it? She spun around in the hallway to face Pete, her hands forming fists. "Pete, that's so unfair... How do you know what I think?" she asked angrily. "Or feel? What do you really know about me?"
Pete moved deeper into Sam's personal space. "I can read you like a book Samantha Carter. I know how women like you are."
Sam opened and shut her mouth again. She squinted at him, her mouth turning down into a firm frown. 'Why am I settling for this?' Sam asked herself. 'Am I that desperate?'
Pete gave her a hyena-like laugh. "What's the matter Sam? An Einstein like you can't think of a quick comeback?"
"Is that honestly how you think of me Pete?" Sam asked him, lifting her chin. Pete was coming dangerously close to stepping over that line that she'd been pushing farther and farther back to accommodate him in her life. She moved closer to him, fists clenched tighter. She gave him a warning glare that he was getting ready to step over that line.
Pete cocked his head back and stood like a preening peacock on display. "Yes, it honestly is." He frowned at Sam and pushed her shoulder back hard. "Damn you're so stupid sometimes woman."
Sam responded by ramming her right fist straight into Pete's stomach. She pushed him up off his feet and into the hallway wall. As he slid back down the wall, she reached down with her right index finger and flipped his sagging chin up into the air. His hands grasped his chest as he gasped for breath and his eyes, locked on Sam's, were becoming glassy.
Through gritted teeth, Sam hissed, "Pete, I know you can hear me. I'll only say this once. I'm going to walk away now. When I come back in here, I don't want to see that you're still in my house. I don't ever want to hear the sound of your voice again. You ever follow my friends or me again, your ass is grass. You ever try to touch me again like that... you'll be verrrrryyyy sorry."
Sam straightened up, tugging on her blouse, and walked away, leaving Pete crumpled in a heaving heap on the floor.
After she was sure Pete that had driven off, Sam took a deep breath. One problem was now taken care of, with another yet to go. It would be now or never - adrenaline was still coursing through her system and while she was still pumped up and certain, she wanted to make her choice clear to Jack right now.
She drove to Jack's house in glare of the late afternoon sun. She was still trying to make sense of the thoughts of Jack and of Pete that swirled through her mind. She glanced in her rearview mirror several times to check for Pete's truck. She snorted. Just let him go ahead and follow her; she really didn't care what he did anymore. After reaching Jack's house she stopped to smooth out the wrinkles in her jeans and shirt and took a few more deep breaths and walked slowly up the steps to knock on Jack's front door. He didn't answer. She knocked again.
Eventually Jack opened the door, beer bottle in hand, scruffy, and looking like hell. He didn't say anything to Sam, motioning instead with his free hand for her to shut the door as he walked back into the living room.
He slouched down onto the couch, an intense look on his face, worry lines creasing his forehead. Sam sat down next to him. She wouldn't push him to share his thoughts; sooner or later he would tell her what was bothering him. Until then she would just be here with him, to love him and give him whatever comfort and support she could. What she had to say could wait for later; she'd waited years for this conversation, what were a few more hours? She gently touched his hand that he'd tucked between his legs and moved her other hand up to his shoulder. "Jack, here… move this way a bit."
Jack didn't say anything, immobile.
With both her arms she reached over to turn his back towards her, grunting at the effort of turning him as Jack wasn't moving one muscle to help her. Finally satisfied he was where she needed him to be, she blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and slowly began to massage his back through his shirt. After a long period of repeatedly kneading and rubbing the same large sections of his back, she felt the some of the tension beginning to disappear from his shoulder muscles and she could tell he was becoming more alert, leaving behind the daze he'd been in.
Clearing his throat and setting his bottle down, Jack took off his shirt, dropping it to the floor. "Damn shirt was in the way…" he explained quietly.
Sam smiled and began again to rub and gently massage his now naked back. She took more time to touch and explore the many blemishes, moles, and scars that had been hidden beneath his shirt. She focused completely on his back, pushing all other thoughts out of her head. She noticed his shoulders sagging as he gave in to her touch. She smiled, knowing that he was far worse at keeping things bottled up inside him than she was. She knew he needed to feel another person's touch to be reminded that he wasn't alone and she was happy she was there to do this for him. Her smile deepened. She was also happy she was able to roam her hands over the soft skin of his warm back without having to think; not about what other people thought, not about consequences, not about anything.
She lightly followed a larger, fresher, scar with the tip of her index finger, wondering what secrets the scar held. She felt Jack shiver at her touch. "Mmmm?" she vocalized, tracing the scar again.
Jack groaned faintly.
"Still hurts?" she asked softly.
"No," Jack admitted, his voice equally soft. He turned his head back as far as he could to glance at her over his shoulder. He turned back away and bent his head downwards. "Thank you," he said in a subdued tone.
Sam continued to knead and smooth the flesh around the scar, waiting to answer him. "For what?" she asked.
"For being here," he said. She felt his shoulders lift up, as he heaved a big sigh. She watched as he made a barely perceptible shake of his head. "Sam?"
"Do you know what it's like for me right now?" he asked quietly.
Sam continued to circle the scar, moving slowly back up toward his shoulders. "I have an idea," she responded in the same tone. "But it'd be awfully arrogant of me to say I know exactly what you're going through."
"Sam…" She heard his voice catch and felt goosebumps rise on his back under her fingertips. "I…" Jack hesitated, his voice wavering. "I don't know if I'm cut out to be a general. I... have doubts about if I can do this job."
Scooting closer to Jack, she kissed the top of his back and laid her cheek against it, circling her one hand around his waist. She didn't say anything.
"I don't know," Sam answered quietly, cheek still on his back, the fingertips of her other hand continuing to circle the top of his shoulder. "I'm not sure how to answer you Jack." She paused. "I'm flattered you feel you can share that with me."
Jack didn't answer, his head bowed. She felt both of his warm hands cup her hand that had been holding his stomach.
She continued to stroke the right side of his back. "Is it that you aren't capable of doing it? Or that you aren't willing to?" Sam asked.
He cocked his head to one side. "Both. Neither. Aw hell, I don't know." She felt one of his hands leave her hand as he reached up to rub his face and to run his hand up through his already mussed hair.
Sam rested her chin on his spine and spoke. "It seems like you've proven you're capable so far."
Jack was quiet. "But for how long?" he said quietly through gritted teeth. "How long 'til I make the wrong decision that catapults us into Goa'uld hands?" He paused again. "Or..."
"Or what Jack?" Sam had stopped massaging him, resting her hand at the top of his shoulder.
He took a while to answer her; she could feel his slow, steady breathing beneath her until she felt him hold a breath. "What about when I have to choose between the deaths of the people I… care about and the lives of everyone on the planet?"
Nearly inaudibly, Sam asked, "Is that what you're afraid of?"
Sam lifted her chin off his back, her face still brushing it. "So you make the choice that's best."
"But which one is best, Sam?" Jack lamented. "The one for the good of the world, or the one that's just good for me?" Jack laced the fingers of his right hand into her left hand on his stomach. He covered it with his other hand and squeezed.
Sam didn't answer this time; instead she shut her eyes and turned her forehead down to rest on his back, reaching her right hand around his waist to cover his hands that encircled her other hand.
Chapter 7: Resolution
Jack sat at his desk, trying to focus on his work. He should have gone home long before now. But he hadn't been able to get a single thing done and it hadn't been just because it was Monday. He squinted at another report and threw it down. Staring at the doorway, he wished someone was still here to come through it to bother him about something, anything. He swiveled his seat around several times. Picking up his nameplate, he read his name aloud and rolled his eyes.
This was pointless; the only thing he could think about today was Friday evening. Sam had spent most of the evening there just holding him; they hadn't spoken much more to each other after her statement about making the choice he thought was best. Jack closed his eyes and allowed his expression to soften, remembering that their only movement had been the slow caressing of each other's hands and Sam's occasional change of the position of her head. He'd eventually gotten cold as the evening wore on and had put his shirt back on, leaning back into the couch. Sam had moved with him, tucking her feet up under her, leaning her head to rest on his shoulder and grasping his hand in both of hers; they'd both fallen asleep like that. When he woke up in the wee hours of Saturday morning she'd already gone and he found himself covered him with several blankets.
Jack realized with a start that he'd never found out what she had come over for. Had it been about Pete? He was damn sure the Sam he knew wouldn't have held him like that if Pete was still in the picture; she was too honorable and faithful of a person to do that. He sighed; he was going to have to make an assumption or two and make a decision. He shook his head; he knew there would always be some enemy to fight, there would always be some SG team somewhere out there to win the battle of the day and he damn sure wasn't arrogant enough to think that it was just their team alone that had kept the Goa'uld at bay. If anyone needed him, they'd know how and where to find him. It was now or never; he was getting tired of putting himself through this kind of emotional BS. And if he'd learned anything the past couple of weeks, it was that it wasn't fair or healthy for either of them to keep suppressing what they both damn well felt and knew existed between them, and he'd finally decided that he didn't want to go back to the way things had always been between them, Pete or no Pete. He could only imagine how Sam felt.
He glanced at the clock and pulled his phone closer.
"Hey Hammond, how's it hangin'?" he said into the receiver, laughing as Hammond began to bawl him out for calling him at home in the middle of the night.
Carrying a large cardboard box, Jack whistled as he wandered the halls in his civvies, kicking at dust bunnies and peeking into labs and offices. The base was nearly deserted, even for a Friday evening. He nodded at Siler who was perched up on a ladder fiddling with some electrical box lock with his largest wrench. Siler grimly smiled and nodded back.
Jack stopped whistling at Sam's lab and stuck his head around the doorway. "Oh, for crying out loud Colonel… it's Friday night. You were due out of here two hours ago," he reminded her.
Sam looked up from the computer screen. "General." She smiled and her eyes lit up. "I know. Just a little while longer and I'm done."
"Good Colonel." He grinned back at her. "If you haven't had dinner, could I interest you in a little Chinese?"
Sam rolled her eyes at Jack. "Thanks for the offer, but I think I have a date to wash my hair sir."
Jack moved closer to squint at her hair. Sam watched him with a big grin and obligingly twirled a few strands around her fingertips. "Looks pretty clean to me Carter," he observed.
Sam rolled her eyes again and laughed. "Sir… I really have to get this report finished for submission to the Joint Chiefs."
Jack sighed. "Okay Carter, you win this one." He shook his head and sighed. "I'll just have to eat your share." He looked up at the clock, and then gently touched her hand resting on the corner of the desk. "I'm serious Sam," he said softly. "Don't stay much later. This'll all be here waiting for you when you come back. The world can wait."
Sam squeezed his hand. "I know. I promise you another hour and I'm out of here." She grinned at him. "How's that?"
Jack still didn't smile. "Not great, but better." He walked towards the door and picked up the box.
"What's in there?" she asked, lifting her chin up to see.
Jack shrugged his shoulders and patted the box lid. "Oh, just odds and ends… I'm cleaning things out. Less clutter, less stress, that kind of thing."
Sam nodded, thinking of how much better she felt after cleaning Pete out of her life. "I can relate."
Jack smirked at her. "You can now, can you? Good night Carter."
From the kitchen Sam heard the knock at her door. She glanced at the clock - it was nearly 10:30 in the evening and she'd just gotten home. She'd barely had the time to change into a pair of old baggy pajama bottoms and an exercise tank top. She sighed. Who'd be out at this hour? Lord, let it not be Pete. Please not Pete. Lord help her, she'd kick his ass from here to PX3-599 if it was him. She walked down the hall and looked out the window. Jack was inspecting her doorway, holding a large paper bag. Of course it would be him – when did he ever use the doorbell?
She unlocked the door and motioned for him to come in.
Jack peered around the hall and into the nearby rooms. "I thought you said you had a date here tonight. You know, to wash your hair for you."
Sam sighed, crossing her arms. "A joke sir. Just a joke."
Jack cocked his head one side. "Hey, no fair. That's my line."
Sam walked back toward the kitchen. "It's late. What's up?"
Jack followed her, sniffing appreciatively at the scents wafting up towards his nose from the bag full of boxes of warm Chinese food. "I couldn't bring myself to eat all this by myself," he said.
She shook her head at him and moved the stack of mail from the island countertop so Jack could set the bag down. Sam caught him eyeing her bare feet and the appreciative smile he aimed at her formfitting top. She self-consciously crossed her arms.
"You've eaten already?" he asked.
"I just got in," she said, her eyes drooping a bit. "I'm not that hungry, really."
"Oh, com'n Carter," Jack said. "A taste or two of this… a bit of that." He winked at her as he unloaded the bag. "Try it… You'll like it."
Sam shook her head as she watched him. Jack held each box up, pointing at the contents and making an "ah-ha" face while smacking his lips before setting them on the other countertop. The smells were getting to her. Jack made a particularly funny face and Sam laughed. The irredeemable old fart! To eat or not to eat; it was a battle that she wasn't even going to try to win this evening. She chuckled softly and turned to open the silverware drawer.
Jack came up behind her. "Sam."
She closed the drawer, an assortment of utensils in her hand and turned to face him. "Jack?" she asked. His dark brown eyes seemed to recede deeper under his brow in the light of the kitchen. Positively unreadable, Sam thought.
He gave her an intense stare. "I really have to talk to you." He looked down at the silverware in her hands. "Mind ditching the sharp pointy things first?" he asked.
She nodded, laying them in a pile on the countertop. Turning back to Jack she asked, "What is it?" She crossed her arms and searched Jack's expressionless face for a hint of what it was that couldn't wait until Monday.
Jack inhaled and looked deep into Sam's eyes. He searched her eyes. "I've resigned Sam."
Sam's face reflected the multitude of emotions that tore through her; surprise, relief, and then sadness. "No!" she cried out. She had purposely not talked to him about Pete last weekend when she realized that he was going through some pretty intense soul-searching concerning his career. What had pushed him to do this? Was it something she said? She racked her brain for clues in their conversations, but couldn't think straight. Damn it, now he wouldn't be her CO… She considered that thought... he would not be her CO. But what would he be? Her eyes filled with tears and she lifted a hand up to chew on a thumbnail. "You can't resign sir. You just can't do that."
"But I did," Jack explained. "I already did." He stood motionless.
Sam turned away from Jack, still chewing on her thumbnail, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. Oh hell, why hadn't she just swallowed her pride and fear of getting hurt and talked to him a long time ago? Why? She shook her head. "No Dammit!" She slammed her fist down on the countertop. "NO! You can't. I won't allow it!"
Jack reached out for her. "Sam…" he called out to her softly. "Sam, it's done. This was my choice to make. Not yours."
Sam spun quickly around, her hands knocking the open food boxes up into the air with considerable force. Jack ducked in reflex. Bits of chicken, broccoli, noodles, and rice, as well as a flood of soy sauce and soup, rained over him and onto the floor. Jack slowly stood up and licked at the soy sauce dripping down his nose.
The furious words that she wanted to scream at Jack drained out of her as she caught sight of him. His tan khakis were stained by wet dark brown streaks and bits of food and his beautiful pale yellow shirt didn't look much better. Jack's head - she couldn't help giggling. She clapped a hand over her mouth. "I'm so sorry!" She offered him a dishtowel which he accepted and rubbed his face with.
Sam stooped down to pick up the now empty containers off the floor.
Jack bent over to help her, a silly grin on his face. "I know you didn't want to eat, but really Carter!"
Sam set the boxes in the sink, watching as Jack did the same beside her. She looked sideways at him and sighed. The shock was gone, but the sadness was still there. It was the end of an era, in so many ways. She needed to give it up; he was moving on, without her. "So what're your plans, sir?" she asked.
Jack turned to her. "Sam, don't call me 'Sir' ever again. Please. Just Jack from now on."
Sam nodded. She could do that. That was the easiest of the things she'd have to do now.
Jack surveyed the mess on her floor and shrugged. "I have a few things lined up," he admitted, "but right now I'm just taking it a day at a time. I plan to do a little fishing and think through my options."
Sam stared into the sink. Things. Options. She didn't want to hear about these options, especially any which would take Jack away from the SGC. "What options are those?" she heard herself ask.
Jack crossed his arms, facing in opposite direction. "Well… there's that teaching thing. And the civilian oversight option. And that congressional seat…" He looked at Sam to see if she was looking at him and paying attention to what he was saying. "There was an offer to head a team again… But the option I like best is…"
Sam didn't want to hear anymore. She knew this would be the last opportunity she would have to find out what it was that she thought they'd both felt all these years and she stopped Jack with a touch on the arm. "Sir... Jack… I have to… I need to talk. Right now, before you go any further."
"What is it?" Jack asked.
Sam took a deep breath. Here we go… "I broke off the engagement with Pete," she said.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
Sam nodded. "It wasn't going to work out," she said looking at him. "Jack, I tried to make it work. I really tried." She looked away. How would she explain this to him? "No matter what you think Jack, Pete was a nice guy. He was funny. He was charming." Sam paused again. "He said he loved me…"
"But?" Jack asked quietly.
Sam turned to face Jack. "But he was… I mean I fell…" she paused and looked down. "It ended up being no different than it had been with Jonas." She looked up at Jack. "Please don't tell me 'I told you so.'"
"I won't Sam." Jack shook his head. "You seemed like you were happy. That's all I ever wanted for you to be."
Sam gave him a small closed mouth smile. "He did make me feel that way. For a long time."
Jack squinted at Sam. "Think he'll be back?"
"No," Sam said, shaking her head. "Not if he knows what's good for him."
Jack looked surprised and grinned. "Why Samantha Carter… You didn't threaten the poor man with bodily harm did you?"
"So that's why you came over last weekend?" Jack asked.
Sam turned to face Jack, lifting her eyes to meet his warm brown ones. This time his face was open and the beginnings of a smile played on his lips. "That and…" her voice caught.
"And?" Jack asked expectantly.
"Jack..." She bit her lower lip. "Jack… Aww God, why is this so hard for me?" She lifted her face up to the ceiling and shut her eyes. "Jack, I don't know how you feel about me now. I mean for so long I thought there was something special between us, but then so many times it just seemed like…" She looked down at the floor.
"Like what?" Jack asked.
"Like you didn't care. Like you'd given up and moved on." Sam stopped and looked Jack directly in the eye. It was now or never. "Jack, I want you to know that no matter what happens now, I care about you." There, done. "I don't know what you're going to do now, but I want to be a part of it. If you'll let me..."
Jack placed a finger to her lips and shook his head. "My turn…" He pulled her close to him. "Sam… I should have done this long ago." He shrugged. "But I can't explain why I just couldn't do it back then. Then when you started seeing Pete and got engaged, I just assumed you'd gotten over me and moved on."
"I can understand why," Sam said.
"You think you do?" Jack asked. "I think we've both been assuming too much for way too long Sam."
He carefully examined her face with his fingertips, tenderly following the dampness on her cheeks where she had shed tears. He brushed his lips softly against her cheek. "Sam… I'm the one that can't live without you. I wouldn't be able to stand myself if I lost you again through my own stupidity. I'm not going to let that happen again." He pulled away to look into her eyes.
"So all these years?" Sam asked.
"I never stopped caring about you Sam," Jack said, gently rubbing the base of her neck.
Fresh tears sprang to Sam's eyes. She tried to blink them back, but she couldn't stop them. She thought about how much time they'd lost hiding behind those assumptions. She wasn't going to ever make that mistake again either. Her voice caught. "I love you Jack. I always have…" She reached out to touch his cheek.
Jack cupped her face gently in his hands. He kissed her eyelids and her cheeks following the trail of tears down to her mouth. He paused, resting his top lip in the indentation of her upper lip. He slowly took her lip in his mouth. "I love you too, Samantha Carter. And I always will."