Chapter 1: Hatching
Gently breaking away from her at mid-kiss, Jack O'Neill aimed a miserable look at Samantha Carter. "I really hate to interrupt the moment, but this," he said, pointing at his wet shirt, "is really killing the mood." He grimaced as he slowly peeled the fabric off his chest. "You didn't keep any of Pete's things, did you?" he asked.
"I might've," Sam answered, wincing at the mention of Pete Shanahan, the man she had until recently been engaged to marry. She picked up on the aroma of warm soy sauce wafting from Jack's chest and her stomach reacted, growling loudly to remind her that she still hadn't eaten. Although it was Friday, she'd worked late, under deadline to finish the report that General George Hammond had requested she prepare for a critical meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tomorrow morning. Having only taken a few bites of a midday sandwich, she'd returned home exhausted and hungry. She glanced at the clock; it was almost midnight and an hour had passed since Jack had interrupted her search for a light snack, appearing on her doorstep like sexy Santa bearing a large brown sack full of Chinese food instead of toys.
Picking at the lo-mein noodles that were clinging to her chest, her focus shifted to the oozing mess on her kitchen floor - the reason neither of them had eaten. She hadn't meant to react so forcefully when Jack stunned her with his announcement that he'd retired from the Air Force, but the suddenness of it had jolted her into an uncharacteristic rage and she'd confronted him. Unfortunately she had forgotten how close she was to the countertop and Jack's neatly stacked pyramid of food boxes. Her angry spin had flung their entire meal into the air, the fallout splattering them both, with Jack bearing the brunt of the strike. A smile formed on Sam's lips as she watched him pull at his shirt, seemingly fascinated by the slurping noises he was making.
Eyeing the rest of Jack's soup-saturated clothes, she noted that the wet fabric had molded itself around some very interesting curves. Only with effort was she able to force her gaze back up to his face. She sighed, hating to put an end to this moment as much as he did, especially now that resolution to some of the issues that had stymied their relationship the past eight years seemed to be at hand. But Jack really was soaked to the skin and while she wouldn't send him out into the cool November night as wet as he was, she wasn't about to allow him sit on her furniture without changing his clothes either. "I need to change too," she told him. "Let me run those through the wash."
Jack shook his head. "No, don't bother - I can do it later."
Sam walked past him into the dark hallway and pointed toward her bathroom. "Give me the clothes and shower," she ordered, reaching inside the doorway to turn the light on. "While you're in there, I'll go see what I can do to the stains and see if I still have anything of Pete's."
"Yes, ma'am," Jack said, giving her a quick mock salute as he walked past her. Stepping inside the doorway, he flashed a grin at Sam as he moved a hand to the button on his khakis. His dimples deepened as he slowly traced the button's outer rim.
"Get in there now!" she laughed, ignoring Jack's waggling eyebrows.
Jack chuckled softly, yanking his damp shirt over his head and holding it out to her. Faced by his bare chest, Sam felt her cheeks start to burn and she grabbed his shirt with one hand and pulled the door swiftly toward her with the other. The door bounced open a few inches as Jack stepped deeper into the bathroom and Sam reached out for the handle again. But she didn't pull it shut.
"What's the matter Carter?" Jack called over his shoulder.
Sam wasn't able to answer him as she stood near the doorway staring at Jack, his back muscles rippling as he reached down to tug on the cuff of his pants. A flash of paler skin drew her gaze to his full frontal reflection in the mirror. Mesmerized by the unfamiliar view, Sam was rooted to the spot until Jack lifted his head up toward her own reflection in the mirror. Suddenly regaining control of her frozen muscles, she quickly stepped to the side so he wouldn't see her gaping at him.
Leaning back against the wall, she crossed her arms and wondered what WAS the matter? It wasn't as if she hadn't seen his bare chest or butt numerous times before when they'd been out on missions together and Jack had never been the least bit embarrassed about displaying his body when they'd suited up as a team, although she personally had done her best to give the appearance of professional decorum around him and the others, just in case anyone else made those times out to be anything other than what they'd really been. And it wasn't as if she hadn't been with other men!
Perhaps it felt strange to see him like this because it was a tremendous adjustment to make in just a little over eight days to all the recent changes in their eight-year relationship. Perhaps it was because the professional wall that she'd hidden behind and used as a convenient excuse to deny her feelings had been swept away and she was moving into uncharted and potentially dangerous waters with him. Perhaps it was because Jack wasn't just a teammate or a commanding officer of hers any longer, instead he was her… Sam stopped. What was Jack? He wasn't her lover yet. Significant other? Calling him her boyfriend at this early stage of their romantic relationship sounded so… well, it sounded too adolescent for her tastes and besides being premature, she wasn't sure it described the complexity of their involvement. She sighed and extended her arm through the open doorway, waving her fingers at him for his pants.
"Hold on a minute," Jack admonished her. She heard him grunt in pain as his knee slammed into the vanity cabinet. "Here," he said, pushing the rest of his clothes into her outstretched hand.
Sam found she was holding his socks and underwear as well as his khakis. "Everything?" she asked, a bit surprised.
"Everything's sopping wet - why not?" Jack asked. He peered around the door, arching an eyebrow at her. "You did ask for it all, didn't you?"
"Ummm, yeah, I guess I did," Sam answered. "Towels and things are in the…"
"Sam," Jack said. "I've been in your bathroom before. Now go."
Sam turned toward the basement stairs, pausing as she heard Jack enter the tub. She found herself holding her breath as she imagined him standing there, naked in her bathtub. The soy sauce dribbling down her fingers from his pants brought her attention back to the matter in hand. Clothes, Sam. Focus. Clothes. Yes. The basement. The clothes. The washer. Go!
"Honey, I'm hooooome," Jack announced, doing his best Ricky Ricardo imitation as he approached Sam's couch from behind.
Clicking off the late night talk show that she'd only been half-watching, Sam twisted her head around to look at Jack. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the brightly-colored sheet Jack had wound around his waist like an Egyptian kilt. She wondered why Jack hadn't put on both the sweatpants and the sweatshirt of Pete's that she'd found in the basement instead of that sheet he must have rummaged around her linen closet to find.
"Where're the pants?" she asked.
"Too tight and too short." Adjusting the oversized sweatshirt, Jack added, "But I think I can survive in this for a few hours."
Sam studied Jack as he came around to the front of the couch. He was quite a sight from his mussy, erect hair to his pink, bare feet. Leaning over the couch to check out his toes, she grinned widely as he obligingly wiggled them at her.
"How do I look?" he asked, turning around.
"Like a poor man's Goa'uld," Sam laughed.
"Thanks, I resemble that remark," Jack said. Throwing his shoulders back and crossing his arms, he raised his chin in an Apophis-like gesture, aiming a wide-eyed look of disdain at Sam. After holding the pose for a few moments, he broke into a chuckle and allowed his shoulders to droop back down.
"C'mere System Lord O'Neill," Sam said, patting the cushion next to her.
"Why, my loyal lotar?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow. "What Tau'ri delights would my stunning servant offer to her lordly master to entice him to do such a thing?"
Sam gave Jack a closed-mouth dimpled grin and shook her head. She could play that game too; she pursed her lips together and blew him a kiss, suggestively arching an eyebrow at him.
Jack pulled his mouth over to one side and looked doubtfully at her. "That's it?" he asked. "C'mon my mesmerizing minion, I expected some thing more."
"Well, a System Lord who materializes without warning late at night gets what he gets," Sam said, pulling a blanket off the back of the couch and unfolding it. "A warm blanket and some half-witty repartee are about as good as you're gonna get until your pants are dry."
"Thanks for reminding me," Jack grumbled, smoothing the sheet across his thigh. He sat down on the couch next to Sam, accepting the blanket she held out to him. "Sure know how to hurt a Goa'uld, don't you?" he quipped. "Right in his clothes closet."
Sam smiled. "Years of practice, oh Grand and Great O'Neill," she answered, pulling a bigger blanket off the back of the couch. She draped it over them both and moved closer to Jack.
"Years, you say?" Jack asked, reaching his arm around her. He kissed the top of her head. "Then I guess I'd better keep my eye on you my pretty."
"Yes, you should," Sam agreed, snuggling closer to him.
Swaying slowly under the spray of the shower head, Sam moaned faintly as rivulets of steaming hot water spurted over her. She could almost imagine Jack's hands in place of the ebbing and flowing streams crisscrossing her back. The shower's heavy mist enveloped her like the warm heat from a lover's body and she held her breath, lost in sensation for several moments.
Sighing as the water turned slightly cooler, Sam opened her eyes - as much as she wanted him, being with Jack was still nothing more than a daydream at this point. Although, deep into their night-long conversation, during a break punctuated by slow kissing and gentle touching, she had cuddled closer to Jack to find him aroused though the thin sheet separating them. But he hadn't acknowledged his desire nor had he asked her to act on it. She hadn't mentioned it either, instead launching into a long remembrance about the events leading up to their za'tarc testing.
She just hadn't been ready to initiate anything with him yet. Which was crazy, because ever since that locker room incident all those years ago when she'd come on to him, when her inhibitions had been eliminated by an alien virus, there had been a number of times when she'd toyed with the thought of what being with him would be like. And each time she'd come to the conclusion that when the circumstances were finally right, she'd jump him again.
So why hold back now, when all she had to do was to reach out and make it happen? Had she developed some kind of post-Pete cautiousness? Could be, but then her relationship with Jack had always been unique; the obvious and open part of it a friendly give and take very much defined by the military hierarchy and the professional respect they held for one another, the less obvious part a deeper, harder to classify connection binding them with undercurrents of desire and attraction, the part that they'd kept hidden and protected since the za'tarc testing. At times it had felt like a confusing and complex mess of emotions and expectations.
But her unpredictable and complicated relationship with Pete was still too fresh in her mind for her to let her guard down completely, even for Jack. Things were complicated enough as it was between them - their conversation last night had proven that - full of awkward silences as they'd tried to express the deeply private thoughts that they'd kept concealed for so many years. She sighed and splashed the cooler water on her face. She'd just thought that she wouldn't feel this awkward after having known him for so long.
Her lustful feelings faded completely and she looked wistfully around the empty bathtub; the night had passed much too quickly for her and she already felt Jack's absence acutely. He'd gone home a few hours earlier to finish packing for an early-week trip to D.C. for meetings with Hammond and other Pentagon brass. He had promised her that he'd be back in Colorado Springs by mid-week before he left again to head up to his cabin. Her plan was to join him there late Friday, taking another one of her rare week-long vacations.
As she turned the water off a wide grin spread over her face as she considered how many of her uncertainties and awkward feelings would disappear after this coming weekend. There would be plenty of time to enjoy and explore every aspect of their relationship at whatever pace they both felt like taking it and, more importantly, without the interference or interruptions that the SGC had always imposed on their downtime.
Before he'd left, Jack had shared with her that his only plans for their rendezvous were to spend the time with her now that he should have spent a long time ago, and to relax, clear his mind, and "just contemplate that old meaning of life stuff." He'd also told her that he wanted to show her what fishing in Minnesota in November was all about, but she wasn't sure if Jack was just joking about it or not - he'd told her before that there were no fish in that pond. But other than that, whatever he wanted to do next week was fine with her. He deserved every minute of peace and quiet that he could get. When things happened, they would happen - all she wanted was just to be there to enjoy it with him.
Jack found Sergeant Walter Harriman hunkered down on his knees behind Jack's old desk, yanking on one of the side drawers. Not having noticed Jack yet, Walter lifted his head up to the speakerphone's microphone. "That didn't work either," Walter said, shaking his head morosely at the phone.
"I already told you what'll fix it." Jack heard a long-suffering tone in Sergeant Siler's voice as it cackled over the speaker.
"WD-40 and a lock pick?" Walter asked. "Can't you come do it?" He twitched and jumped back, nearly toppling over as he looked up and saw Jack.
"Yessss… It's the Ghost of Christmas Past," Jack smirked. He grinned at Walter's confused consternation. "Teal'c left me a message that you needed to see me?"
"Call you back," Walter told Siler. He looked apprehensively at Jack as he punched the speakerphone button off. "You wouldn't happen to still have the desk key, would you, sir?"
Jack shook his head. "Remember? You told me Hammond was supposed to courier them back to me so we wouldn't have to change the locks. Guess George forgot because I never got them. Didn't really need it, so I just used that top drawer there," he answered, motioning at the drawer Walter had already opened. "Sorry. Anything else?"
"Oh," Walter said, straightening up and knocking over a large stack of reports as he tried to stand at attention. "I just wanted you to know that it has been… a real honor, sir."
Jack smirked. "An honor, Walter?"
"An extremely… unique experience, sir," Walter said after a moment of fumbling with the reports, an uneasy smile on his face. He looked away and cleared his throat.
"Well, I wouldn't get too comfortable with General Xavier if I were you," Jack warned him.
"Sir?" Walter asked.
Jack ignored Walter's question and looked around his old office. He'd cleaned out his personal effects last Friday, after most of the Monday to Friday day-shifters had gone home for the weekend. The room looked bare and impersonal now that only the official trappings of the office remained behind for the new guy. He squinted at the chair. They'd taken his comfortable leather chair out and replaced it with one of those large cloth-bound, ergonomic models. He hadn't yet met him, but Jack speculated that Xavier must be a big man with back problems.
"Sir?" Walter cleared his throat again, bringing Jack out of his reverie.
"What?" Jack asked.
"You were saying that I…" Walter prompted.
Jack shrugged. "Just remember you never know what tomorrow may bring in this place and to always be ready for the unexpected."
Walter looked puzzled. "Uh, yes sir. Thank you for the advice, sir."
"You're welcome," Jack responded. He grasped Walter's hand firmly and shook it. "Walter, it's been a pleasure serving with you, too." He knitted his eyebrows together. "Seen Teal'c lately?" he asked.
Walter shook his head. "No. You might want to check his quarters, sir. He's been meditating lately around this time of the day."
Jack nodded thoughtfully and smiled. "Thanks," he said, sauntering away, quietly whistling the Simpson's theme.
Teal'c's right cheek tensed into the beginnings of a grin as he rinsed off dinner plates in Daniel Jackson's sink. General O'Neill had returned to the SGC that morning to drop off classified documents for General Xavier and to make his final farewells. Several base personnel, including Daniel Jackson and Sergeant Siler, had admirably tried to persuade the General to allow them to have a base-wide retirement celebration for him, but O'Neill had adamantly refused even their most heartfelt pleadings. He had threatened to zat everyone within range if they failed to obey his wishes.
Teal'c's lips pursed even tighter. O'Neill, however, had been unable to take such an action against him for the impromptu gathering he had organized in the mess hall in the afternoon. The grin finally broke through and Teal'c chuckled loudly. There had been mountains of cake to appease his friend who had angrily promised to place Teal'c back in the service of the Goa'uld the next chance he had.
O'Neill had been under the impression that his friends would comply with his wishes when he had arrived at Teal'c's quarters early that afternoon. Teal'c had felt extremely honored that O'Neill had sought his counsel on "these damn retirement plans" as he'd called them. O'Neill had shared with him several concerns that he harbored about General Xavier's installation as the temporary base commander while plans were being finalized at the Washington level. Teal'c understood his friend's unspoken desire for continued involvement in the program that had become so much a part of his life and he recognized that O'Neill needed to work through his emotions on the issue by voicing them to a trusted confidant.
He immediately understood the depth of his friend's concern when O'Neill asked him to help him focus through kel'noreem again, but to O'Neill's dismay, he had been unable to achieve it or to come to any kind of meditative focus. Teal'c believed that something weighing heavily on O'Neill's mind had distracted him. After his friend failed several more attempts to meditate, Teal'c recognized that the gathering time had arrived and he had asked O'Neill to join him in the mess hall for a final piece of cake in tribute to their brotherhood. Disappointed he hadn't achieved kel'noreem, his friend had grudgingly agreed to his request.
Teal'c laughed as he recalled O'Neill's wide-eyed look as he caught sight of the large number of base personnel squeezed into the mess hall, each holding up to their face a full-color photocopied O'Neill mask. His furious friend had turned to him with his hands outstretched, ready to kill him, but Teal'c had only grinned and stepped back as Daniel Jackson had come up to hug Jack and take over as the master of ceremonies. Teal'c chuckled; it was fitting retribution for all of the jokes that O'Neill had made at his expense over the time they had fought the Goa'uld together.
Daniel reentered the kitchen and looked quizzically at Teal'c. "Did you just laugh?" he asked.
Teal'c dipped his head in agreement. "Indeed I did," he responded.
Daniel grinned. "It was funny, wasn't it? You were great today, Teal'c. Jack didn't have a clue." He passed the dessert dishes to Teal'c and began to load the stack of rinsed dishes into the dishwasher. "By the way, what's up with them?" he asked.
Teal'c arched an eyebrow at his friend.
Daniel nodded toward his living room. "Them. Jack. Sam. They weren't getting along at your son's wedding, but now they seem like the best of friends again." He looked Teal'c. "The way they're acting tonight, I'd say more than just friends."
Teal'c remembered earlier in the week when Colonel Carter had asked him if he would house-sit for her, mentioning that she would be out of town for a few days. He had agreed, appreciating the opportunity to leave the confines of the SGC again. His last foray out into the community had led to the eventual death of his then-neighbor's ex-boyfriend and he'd become the primary suspect in the murder investigation. It had not been a particularly welcome experience, although it had exposed more of the NID network to the SGC. He hoped this would be a quiet, meditative break for him in comparison.
He wondered if it was a coincidence that Colonel Carter's vacation coincided with O'Neill's trip to his Minnesotan cabin. He would be willing to place a wager on this. Perhaps he would later do so with Daniel Jackson. He grinned again. It had pleased him this evening to see how his two close friends had finally started to openly show some of the feelings he had known they had harbored for one another for as long as he had known them. There was no dishonor in the union of two warriors who conducted themselves as his friends had.
"So what do know you about what's going on with them?" Daniel asked Teal'c.
Teal'c grinned widely and chuckled. "It is, as you say, on a need-to-know basis," he answered.
Chapter 2: Basking Spot
She had made the long, half-day drive up to the cabin alone that Friday. Not totally alone, Sam corrected herself, for Jack had punctuated the ride with his top of the hour calls. He'd spent a good half-hour each call talking to her, telling her how much he'd missed her and how much he loved her. Thank God for hands-free cellphone devices, Sam thought as she snuggled deeper under the blankets Jack had covered her with the night before. She looked around at the cabin's dim interior; it was nearing daybreak.
After she arrived yesterday evening she'd barely had time to unpack before Jack had warmed the Chinese takeout he'd picked up for them earlier in the day. She'd questioned why he'd gone to all the trouble to make the long drive into the nearest town for take-out. He'd jokingly answered her with a huge grin saying, "You do seem to get… 'motivated' by this kind of food." After they'd finished eating, she'd only had a few moments to snuggle with him on the couch before she felt her body crashing, a culmination of the long drive to get there and the much longer road she'd taken to get to this point with Jack.
Several times during the evening she'd thought she was carrying on a normal conversation with him, then her head would jerk back up with a start and she would realize that she'd nodded off again. At some point she felt Jack moving around the room, stoking the fire, bringing extra blankets over to her, fluffing a pillow and tucking her in… just making her feel sooooo comfortable. She'd tried to thank him, but her tongue had felt like a heavy anchor, and the best she'd been able to do was to give him a grateful look before her eyelids slid back closed. As much as she wanted to prolong and enjoy the feeling of deep contentment he'd given her, she had finally given up the battle to keep her eyes open and had slid off into a peaceful dream involving a pond, fireflies, and Jack.
This morning she felt rested and ready to get started on this new chapter of her life. Reaching out of the warm blankets into the cooler cabin air, she felt around for her sneakers and wondered if Jack was up yet. She'd always been an early riser; the military had seen to that, both through her father's service duty and her own.
"Jack?" Sam called toward his open bedroom door as she sat up and slid her sneakers on. "Jack?" she softly called out again, peering inside his bedroom. She noted that his bed was neatly made and that the room was empty. Where was he? Hearing a muffled cough outside, she leaned over his bed to look out the window.
Jack was scrunched down in his lawn chair in his heavy coat, already fishing at this early hour. Not that she knew a lot about fishing, but wasn't it too cold for the fish to bite? It wasn't even that light out yet. And hadn't he said several times that there were no fish in the pond? Of course, he'd said the exact opposite on a number of other occasions, so who knew what to believe when it came to the man and his pond?
Pulling on her jacket, Sam quietly slid out the front door. She would finally find out if there were any fish in this infamous pond of his. Sneaking up behind Jack, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"Beautiful morning, isn't it?" Sam asked, her words creating a warm fog in the cool morning air. She leaned her cheek close to his, feeling his two-day old stubble tickle her cheek. Jack with stubble was a new experience for her. She honestly couldn't remember a time when Jack had not been clean-shaven, even when they'd been stuck off-world. She definitely appreciated the rugged, smoldering sexiness it gave to Jack, but wasn't so sure yet as to whether or not she liked the feel of it.
"A bit chilly," Jack answered, turning his head to give Sam a kiss on the cheek.
"Been out here long?" she asked.
"Oh, not too long," he said.
"Man of few words in the morning?" Sam asked, pulling up the extra lawn chair next to Jack's.
"Always," he grinned.
"Care to give me some beginning fishing instruction?" she asked, nudging Jack's tackle box with her foot.
"Ever been fishing?"
"But you've been in the water?" he asked.
"Oh yeah - whitewater rafting, kayaking, waterskiing…"
"Adrenaline junkie," Jack commented, shaking his head. "Well, about the only thing that'll get your adrenaline pumping around here is seeing a Hemidactylium scutatum or maybe a yellow-crowned Night-Heron."
"The Heimdall what?" Sam asked, wrinkling her nose.
"No, not that Asgard," Jack grinned, reeling his line in. "I'm talking about the four-toed salamander."
"Ohhhhh…" Sam said as she leaned back in her chair, shut her eyes, and listened to the Minnesotan quiet. The stillness reminded her of the winter snows where gently falling flakes created a magical hush that blanketed the world. It was peaceful here, so very peaceful in comparison to the constant hubbub and the unrelenting pace of the SGC. Not that she minded the SGC, because she normally thrived on its challenges, but in all her years with the program she'd never taken a complete time-out like this and now that she was experiencing it for the first time, she had a greater understanding of Jack's need to be here.
Reopening her eyes, she glanced around the pond, edged this morning by a thin sheen of grey ice. It hadn't snowed yet Jack had told her when she questioned the weather upon her arrival. Highs were supposed to be in the fifties for most of her stay, but the nights would be getting down to freezing he'd informed her with a grin, with the first snow of the season forecast at the end of the week. "Don't worry - I'll keep you warm," he'd assured her with a grin.
As a pale aquamarine began to illuminate the edge of the eastern sky, Sam noticed the abundance of pine trees that ringed the shoreline and the cabin. Most of the other foliage and undergrowth was brown and shriveled, battered back to the ground by rain or wildlife - she wasn't sure which - and the leaves had long since fallen off the few deciduous trees around the cabin. But the bushy and thick pines poked straight up into the sky, their deep green almost black against the dim morning light. She thought their even spacing looked too unnatural to have occurred without some human intervention and guessed that someone, Jack or the previous owner, had planted them that way since they seemed to provide good noise insulation. She stopped herself - enough analysis Sam. Just chill out.
Leaning back again to gaze at the deep azure sky directly above her, she caught herself holding her breath so as to not disturb the stillness. There were no planes. No contrails for the bright full moon to reflect through or the rising sun to turn wispy gold. No alien ships. No emergencies. No thinking required. She slowly exhaled and smiled gratefully at Jack. This was relaxation.
Jack gave her a knowing smile and cast his line back out. "Private lessons start at 9. After breakfast."
"Speaking of which, what is for breakfast?" she asked.
"Fresh fish if they decide to bite this morning," he answered.
Sam's smile disappeared and she sat up straight. "So the fish really exist?" she asked, scanning the pond. She wished she'd brought her camera with her so she'd have the evidence. Jack's pond had been the subject of many a bet at the SGC, but no one yet had had enough evidence to claim the large pot.
"You'll find out soon enough," Jack said smugly.
Sam rolled her eyes at him. She was starting to feel the chill through the light jacket she'd put on. "I think I'll go in and make myself a piece of toast. Care to join me?" she asked. "Or would you prefer waiting until that elusive bite happens?"
Jack sighed, reeling his line in again and setting his fishing pole down on the dock. "Might as well join you," he said. "I bought plenty of fresh fruit and the fridge is fully-stocked Sam. We can make whatever your heart desires."
Sam grinned. "Whatever I desire?"
"Within reason," he said, taking Sam's hand in his and leading her back to the cabin.
Daniel rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his head around in an effort to rid himself of the muscle tightness that was bothering him. He'd spent too many hours hunched over his work table, staring at the N'gossian artifact and trying to decipher its tightly-spaced cuneiform-like writing. His lack of translating luck irritated him because he'd heard from one of the young guards on patrol duty that it was a beautiful November Saturday outside, unseasonably warm and sunny. His plan to come in early, finish the artifact and a few other projects before getting back to the surface to enjoy the day just wasn't working. Not at all; he was only getting more and more frustrated by his inability to recognize any patterns in the ancient tablet.
He released a deep breath. It was nearly five o'clock. He'd promised Teal'c that he'd come over around six to have dinner with him since Teal'c had been eager to try out some of his newly-acquired cooking skills on him. Daniel wasn't so sure about his Jaffa friend's cooking, he just wanted to be there to make sure Teal'c didn't burn Sam's house down while she was out of town. He stood up and placed the artifact back in its plastic tray; it would have to wait until Monday.
The ringing phone on his desk jolted him. He knew it had to be Teal'c and he yanked the receiver up and immediately began to talk. "Teal'c, I know, I know… I'm leaving now," he sighed.
He stopped. It wasn't Teal'c.
"Yes, this is Daniel Jackson." After quietly listening for a few minutes he said, "Yes. I understand. I'll leave immediately." He grabbed his keys and jacket, patting his back pocket to make sure he had his wallet as he disappeared out the door.
Teal'c nudged the pillows on the couch with his elbow as he pressed the remote control to the television. He was enjoying this respite at Colonel Carter's house immensely. With the hum of cars passing by the front of the house and the noise of the neighborhood children playing in the park across the street, he found the atmosphere much more vibrant and alive than the quiet and sterile SGC. He knew he had promised Daniel Jackson a home-cooked meal, but during his afternoon walk he had developed a strong craving for pizza and had stopped at the local carryout that Sam had recommended to him. He tilted his head and smiled. Convenience food was very aptly named for when one did not feel the inclination to spend hours preparing something that would be devoured in mere minutes - all one had to do was to make a call.
A knock on the door got his attention. There was another knock, and yet another. He heard Daniel Jackson's voice. "Teal'c!"
Teal'c went to the door and looked out the peephole as his friend rapped on the door again. "Yes? Who is it?" Teal'c asked.
"Teal'c!" Daniel exclaimed.
"I do not know of a Teal'c," Teal'c responded, a smirk playing on his lips. "No Teal'c lives here."
"Teal'c - open up!"
"I am not supposed to permit strangers entry," Teal'c explained, his cheek muscles twitching. "Please desist or I shall contact the authorities."
Daniel looked angrily at the door handle, shutting his eyes. "Teal'c, PLEASE let me in. I'm not playing games, this is important."
"I have my instructions," Teal'c said.
"Teal'c!" Daniel said, exasperated. "This is an emergency. We have orders!"
Teal'c's grin disappeared and he unlocked the door to allow Daniel entry. "Why did you not say so at the beginning?" he asked. "What is the emergency Daniel Jackson?"
"I'll have to tell you on the way," Daniel said. "Come on - we have to leave now." Daniel stopped and sniffed the air. "Teal'c - are you cooking?"
"It is pizza," Teal'c said, reaching into the hall closet for his jacket. "Crazy Joe's 'The Works.' It is in the refrigerator. Shall I bring it?"
Daniel nodded and turned to descend the porch steps.
Sam grinned at the sight of Jack flipping pancakes high into the air in the dawn light. He'd already missed the pan twice and she was waiting for one of the cakes to land up in the rafters. She laughed as the next one stuck firmly to the bottom of the beam. "Now that takes skill," she remarked.
Jack made a face at her and reached over to pour more batter into the skillet. "One more, just one more…" he muttered, throwing several banana slices into the mix.
Sam tapped a touch of cinnamon into the bowl of oatmeal Jack had given her. She wasn't a huge fan of oatmeal, but she would try eating some of it since Jack had tried so hard this morning to fix a big Sunday breakfast for her to make up for yesterday morning's burnt toast fiasco. "I thought you said that you knew how to cook," Sam had said.
"I do," Jack had responded.
"Yeah, sure, you betcha," she'd answered, looking at the crispy black squares he'd presented her with.
"It's not always MRE's you know," he had told her. "You're just making me nervous, that's all."
But other than the burnt toast, her Saturday had passed quickly and quietly. Sam had been amazed by the residual tiredness that had crept back up on her early in the day. Jack had given her another of his knowing looks and had insisted on taking things at a slow, lazy pace. They'd spent most of the day fishing, exploring his property, fishing a bit more, and had ended the day back on the couch in front of the fireplace, her needling him about the elusive fish in his pond and him teasing her about how she'd managed to nap while getting an actual nibble.
She had managed to stay awake a bit longer than she had the first night, describing to Jack some of the adventures of her pre-SGC life, including parts of her relationship with Jonas Hanson that she hadn't shared with anyone before, and in return Jack had shared with her the early years of his marriage to Sarah. Sam had been amazed at the way Jack had opened up to her about his ex-wife and the feelings he'd had for her. In the entire time she'd known Jack, he'd never spoken more than a few words about Sarah and most of those words had been curt answers to the team's many questions the night seven years ago that SG1 had briefly met his ex-wife after the crystalline Unity from P3X-562 had sought Sarah out. After hearing his halting and candid confessions, Sam understood even more of the emotional side to him that Jack had kept hidden, the heart of a man who loved deeply and strongly. She had fallen asleep, head on his shoulder, secure in the knowledge that she was loved by this remarkable and sometimes eccentric, but gentle man.
"Here," Jack said, sitting down next to her with a plate stacked high with pancakes. Slicing another banana into chunks over the stack, he said, "Try this, you'll like it."
Sam gave him a doubtful look. "I've heard that line before," she said. And look where it had gotten them - coated with Chinese food and still hungry.
Jack poured maple syrup liberally over the pancakes and bananas before slicing a small triangle off. Spearing the piece with his fork, he lifted it off the plate toward Sam's mouth. "C'mon. Open up."
Sam rolled her eyes, but complied with his order. Chewing slowly, she had to admit that it wasn't too bad. Better than the oatmeal. "More," she requested, opening her mouth wide.
Jack grinned. "Oh, we have more," he said, spearing another triangle, this piece with a banana slice in it. He carefully fed it to Sam.
She allowed him to feed her a few more pieces before she stopped him. "Hey, what about you?" she asked. "How do I know you didn't spike this with something?" She grabbed her fork and speared a larger slice and, scooting her chair closer to him, tried to put it in his mouth. Jack kept his mouth firmly shut and all she managed to do was to drip syrup down his stubbled chin before the pancake fell into his lap.
Sam quickly reached down and grabbed the piece. She tried pressing it into his mouth, but he continued to resist her, his mouth held in a firm, closed-mouth grin. "Damn it, Jack," she laughed. "This is so not fair!"
Jack grabbed a large syrup covered banana chunk and tried to feed it to Sam, but she offered him the same resistance he'd shown her. With his free hand, he pulled her over onto his lap. "All is fair in love and war, Samantha Carter - you know that." He held her down to the side and tried to force her lips to part.
Sam giggled, reaching her arm up to push her piece into his mouth. "It is?" Sam asked.
Jack opened his mouth, allowing Sam's fingers and the pancake entry. He gently held her fingers with his teeth before releasing them, then pulled her up and kissed the syrup from her chin. "It is," he answered as he moved slowly up to finish kissing the remaining syrup away from her mouth.
Daniel pointed at Jack's pickup truck as he pulled his military-issued SUV beside it. "Looks like he's here," Daniel commented.
Teal'c arched his brow and wondered where else Daniel Jackson thought General O'Neill would be at daybreak on a Sunday morning besides in his bed sleeping. He glanced at his friend. Daniel Jackson was in strong need of sleep himself; he had been more fidgety and fast-talking than usual - a result no doubt of the consumption of numerous coffees and caffeinated sodas on their drive here.
Exiting the SUV, Teal'c noted with approval that there did not appear to be many insects in the Minnesotan atmosphere at this time of year. It was not with much fondness that he remembered his fishing trip here with O'Neill several years ago. That trip had proven to him that he was, as O'Neill had stated, a 'mosquito magnet.'
Zipping his jacket up, Teal'c walked toward O'Neill's truck, noting that Daniel Jackson was heading directly for the cabin's front door. He observed that the truck appeared undamaged and he peered in the passenger side window, cupping his hand across his forehead to better view the inside. A small mountain of electronic gadgetry had been strewn on the driver's seat. Teal'c recognized Colonel Carter's PDA, a larger military issue communications radio, several beepers, a laptop portable computing device as well as both O'Neill's and Carter's cell phones. He nodded; that would explain why no one had been able to reach the pair and why all calls had been transferred directly to their voice mail. He tried the door. It was locked and secure. He nodded in approval.
Walking around O'Neill's pickup, he found Colonel Carter's small sedan hidden behind the truck's large bulk. Teal'c grinned. It was too bad that he had not had the opportunity to make that wager with Daniel Jackson. His two closest Tau'ri friends most certainly showed signs of not wanting to be disturbed and he sincerely wished that he could honor that desire, but unfortunately current circumstances would not allow him to do so. He turned toward the cabin to observe Daniel Jackson rapping impatiently on the front door.
"Why won't he answer?" Daniel asked.
"I truly do not believe the General wished to be disturbed this weekend," Teal'c explained as he approached the cabin.
"Well, it's not like I planned on spending my weekend like this either." Daniel rapped harder on the door before stopping to turn around. He looked contrite. "Look, Teal'c, I'm sorry. I know Jack deserves some peace and quiet now that he's retired, but you know as well as I do that we couldn't ignore a direct order." He looked up. "Do you hear that?" he asked.
Teal'c tilted his head. Indeed. It sounded like O'Neill was listening to his favorite musical disc at an extremely high volume.
"Unlocked," Daniel observed, jiggling the doorknob.
Teal'c looked doubtfully at him. He did not think it was wise to enter unannounced given all the evidence he had seen so far. "I do not believe it is such a good time to…"
Daniel, however, had no qualms about invading Jack's privacy and he pushed the door open. The sounds of a symphony sweeping through the cabin at a full orchestral gallop were even louder indoors. Jack really needed to get his hearing checked Daniel mused as he walked into the kitchen area and discovered half-eaten food on the table. He gingerly touched the side of a nearly full coffee mug. It still had some faint traces of heat left to it. His eyes widened as he caught sight of a pancake still attached to a knobby part of the rafter above him.
"He would appear to be otherwise occupied at this time," Teal'c said.
Daniel snorted from the kitchen area. "Yeah, I'd say so. Look at this," he said, pointing at the uneaten food. "It's still warm."
"No, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said from his position in the front doorway. Teal'c pointed to a trail of clothes near Daniel that led away from the couch. "Look at that."
Daniel peered over Jack's couch. Several blankets were strewn haphazardly over the couch and onto the floor and he saw two pairs of shoes had been kicked off at odd angles. A woman's blouse snaked between them a little farther along. A crumpled pile that looked like Jack's flannel shirt was just beyond that. Three socks randomly punctuated the mess. His gaze stopped at the bra looped over the door handle to what he assumed was Jack's bedroom, never having been to the cabin himself.
Daniel felt somewhat embarrassed. Okay, Jack did look like he was otherwise occupied. Maybe they should go back outside and wait. No, scratch that thought. It wasn't like they'd volunteered to drive all the way up here to bother him. He and Teal'c had been ordered to do this and to do it quickly.
Daniel stepped gingerly around the clothes and knocked on the bedroom door. The music was blaring from inside Jack's bedroom. No answer. He knocked harder. Still no answer. He knocked even harder and called out, "Hello! Jack? Are you in there?"
Lost deep in the sounds of the music surrounding him as it swelled heavenward and the sweet sensations he was experiencing from his exploration of Sam, the sudden sound of Daniel's voice jarred Jack and he jumped. Groaning, he pulled his head away from Sam's and sat up. "Please tell me I did not just hear Daniel's voice," he said. "Please. Please tell me I'm just imagining it."
He felt Sam's hand slide slowly down his back as she sighed.
"Jack? Are you in there?" Daniel's muffled voice came through the door.
"Unfortunately you're not imagining it," Sam said, shaking her head.
Jack ran a hand through his hair and waved it at the door. "I'm retired for cryin' out loud! Our phones are locked away! Does that not say we want our PRIVACY? As in LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE!" He bent over and kissed Sam gently. "I could turn the music up louder and we could just ignore him."
"Jack!" Daniel yelled over the music.
Sam sighed and shook her head. "He's probably going to barge right on in if you don't answer him," she said.
Jack searched her eyes. "I hate interruptions," he said, cupping her face in his hands.
"I know," she said. She pulled herself up next to him and ran her hand behind his ear to pull him forward for a slow kiss. "We can always finish this later," she said.
Jack ran his fingers gently down her cheek, giving her a final quick kiss before he slipped out of bed. "Oh, we will," he promised her. "Daniel or no Daniel." He rummaged around for his sweatpants and quickly slid them on. After turning down the volume on his stereo and grabbing a tee-shirt from the top of the dresser, he walked over to the door and yanked it open to find Daniel, hand in mid-air, ready to rap on the door again.
Lowering his fist into his other hand, Daniel grinned sheepishly at Jack as Jack finished pulling his shirt on. "Uh, hi Jack," Daniel said. He peered around Jack towards the bed. Sam pulled the sheet up higher around her and wiggled her fingers at Daniel, grinning.
"Sam?" he asked, his mouth forming a small "oh."
"Your timing is as impeccable as ever Danny Boy," Jack commented, scowling at Daniel who continued to stare at Sam. Jack moved to block Daniel's view. "Hey now! Give the woman her privacy." He motioned for Daniel to move away and closed the door behind him.
Teal'c had picked up the discarded clothes and stood waiting nearby. He handed them to Jack with a huge grin on his face. "O'Neill," he said with a nod.
"T," Jack grinned, accepting the clothes. He reopened the bedroom door and threw the clothes into the room, smiling at his brief glimpse of Sam dressing. He shut the door and walked over to the couch, dropping down onto it and examining his tired-looking friends. Daniel had taken up position at the fireplace while Teal'c had made himself comfortable in the oversized lounger that had been his favorite spot the last time he'd been there. As Jack recalled he'd had to pry Teal'c out of it to get him to go outside to fish with him.
He wryly smiled at the pair. "So to what do we owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?" he snarked. "Just out for a short Sunday morning drive? A little sightseeing and lakehopping, perhaps?"
As Daniel opened his mouth to answer, a disheveled Sam walked out of the bedroom wearing Jack's flannel overshirt to join Jack on the couch. Jack grinned appreciatively at her mussed elegance as she moved in close to him and tucked her bare feet under her, linking her fingers into his.
"Hey guys," she greeted their guests, nodding at Daniel and grinning at Teal'c.
"Samantha," Teal'c said, grinning widely as he dipped his head toward her.
"Sam," Daniel acknowledged, shaking his head in disbelief.
"So - what's up?" Sam asked.
Jack arched his eyebrows at the two intruders. "Yes, that's what I want to know. What was so damned important that you came all the way up here to tell me in person? Huh? I did retire you know."
Daniel cleared his throat and moved away from the fireplace. "Well Jack, General Xavier has been kidnapped. And Hammond has been shot."
Sam and Jack immediately unlinked and sat up. Jack leaned forward, elbows on knees. "When?" he asked.
"Close to forty-eight hours ago," Daniel explained, starting to pace the floor.
"Who authorized you to come here?" Jack asked.
"Hammond himself," Daniel answered.
"How could he if he's been shot?" Sam asked. "How serious was it?"
"From what I understand it was bad - the shot apparently just missed his heart," Daniel explained.
"And you're here because…?" Jack asked, raising his eyebrows.
Teal'c leaned forward in his chair. "Your assistance with this matter has been personally requested by General Hammond."
Jack stood up immediately, moving toward his bedroom door, already mentally preparing to leave. "So why didn't Hammond send you all to Ellsworth or some other base? Why waste half a day driving?" Jack asked, stopping at the bedroom door.
"So as to not arouse the suspicion of those who may have committed these actions," Teal'c responded.
Jack had the feeling that George wanted them to do something outside of the normal protocols. He looked back at Sam, who had risen from the couch. From her expression, she looked like she had reached the same conclusion. "How could I refuse George?" Jack asked her.
"He also requests the presence of Colonel Carter at this time," Teal'c said.
Sam nodded at Jack. "So when do we leave?" she asked.
After rapping several times on the front door of General George Hammond's Arlington, Virginia, home, Jack stepped back to the sidewalk to take Sam's hand in his. Sam stared at his long fingers intertwined around her own, actively repressing the strong urge to release his hand. She sighed. Although she'd gotten much more comfortable with him during the past two days, that had been in private - it was going to take a while longer for her to be fully comfortable showing physical affection to him when they were out in public.
"It does feel funny, doesn't it?" Jack admitted. He leaned into her, the strong midday sun glinting off the silver streaks in his hair, and he brushed her cheek with his lips. "No more hiding, Sam."
She squeezed his hand. "I still feel like someone's going to jump out of the bushes and say 'Ah-ah - improper relationship - immediate court martial!'"
Jack shook his head. "Not going to happen now."
"I know," Sam said. She gave him a gentle nudge with her hip and a wink. "So whatcha doin' later, sir?"
Jack grinned. "That's General to you, Colonel…" Jack turned abruptly as the door opened and Hammond appeared. "George!" Jack greeted him.
Hammond squinted into the sun and laughed. "Jack! Sam! Good to see you. Come on in."
"General," Sam greeted Hammond, kissing him on the cheek. She noticed that he wasn't as ruddy as she remembered him and that the heavy sweater draped over his left shoulder barely hid the mass of bandages behind it.
"Sam," Hammond said, giving her elbow a brief squeeze. Sam beamed at him, grateful to see that his condition wasn't nearly as bad as Daniel had made it out to be. The sometimes gruff, but always practical and level-headed general had long held a special place in her heart, both as a mentor and as a surrogate father figure during the times Jacob had been distant from her.
Jack offered his hand to Hammond who grasped it with both his hands, pulling Jack into a heartfelt hug. "Glad to see you're doing well," Jack said, carefully patting him on the back.
"As well as could be expected," Hammond said, releasing Jack and turning back into the house. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Surely not just because I got shot?" he asked, leading them into his family room. Sam reached out to help him sit down, but he waved her away as he eased down into his recliner. "Sit, sit, sit," he said, indicating the sofa across from him.
"Well, we, uh, I was on vacation this week," Sam explained.
"I'm researching civilian employment opportunities," Jack said at the same time, dropping down onto the overstuffed couch.
"And taking a vacation, sir," Sam said, sitting down next to him and giving him a long look.
"Jack," he reminded her.
Sam grinned. "I know. It's hard." And it was. She wouldn't break all of her habits overnight.
Jack smiled. "It'll come in time."
Hammond chuckled. "Jack, I knew you couldn't sit still for long. How long are you in town for? I can hook you up with one of my aides to help work you through the maze of contacts."
"Just a few days," Jack answered. "Sam has to be back to work soon." He looked at her. "And we still have some unfinished business to attend to in Minnesota..."
"So how are things going?" Hammond asked.
"The SGC is doing fine, sir," Sam replied.
"Just fine," Jack echoed.
Hammond shook his head. "I meant you two..."
"Well, we're…" Jack started.
"…testing the waters…" Sam continued.
"…and so far smooth sailing," Jack finished, looking deep into Sam's eyes.
Sam grinned, holding his gaze. "Not too much fishing yet."
Jack's voice lowered. "But we'll rectify that soon enough."
Hammond grinned. "I'm happy for you both. I really am."
Sam colored slightly and turned back to Hammond. "Enough about us, sir. General, we were under the impression you'd been very seriously injured."
"George, please," Hammond said. "You're not on duty Sam and it's not like I haven't known you since you were a child."
Sam nodded, grinning sheepishly. "Old habits die hard…"
Hammond guffawed. "Believe me, I know."
"George, what we were told did make it sound like you were a goner," Jack pointed out.
Hammond pursed his lips tightly. "Damn near would been killed me if my granddaughter hadn't called. I was out raking leaves when the phone rang." He snapped his fingers. "That quick bend to grab the phone was the difference between life and death for me." He gingerly touched his shoulder. "It ripped through some muscles, but no damage to anything major I'm told, so they sent me home. A couple weeks of rehab and I'll be as good as new."
"Glad to hear that," Jack said.
"How are Tessa and Kayla taking it?" Sam asked.
"They're worried to death about their gramps and Tessa feels like she was responsible in some way. I've tried to tell her that she wasn't. If anything, she saved my life." Hammond grinned. "You know she'll be starting high school next year? She says she wants to go study drama."
"Seems like only yesterday she was starting kindergarten, sir," Sam said, shaking her head.
Jack chuckled. "Takes after her gramps, eh? Quite the actor himself on a couple of occasions."
Hammond smiled. "I was quite the actor back in my high school days."
"I bet you were," Jack smirked.
"Voted 'Most Dramatic' - would you believe it?'" Hammond asked, leaning forward, eyes wide.
Jack mimicked Hammond's posture. "You don't say?" he asked, grinning.
Hammond guffawed again. "I cut quite a figure back then…"
Sam shook her head. Those two were just getting warmed up. They'd spend the rest of the day trading war stories and SGC reminisces if she let them. She wished she could let them go on because they rarely had the time to connect like this, but duty called and the General had requested their presence for more than just a cozy chit-chat. She gently laid her hand on Jack's leg to catch his attention. "Before we tire the General…"
"George," Hammond corrected Sam again.
Sam smiled at Hammond. "Before we tire George out," she continued, "I'd like to know what really happened." Catching Hammond's eye, Sam raised her eyebrows and pointed to her eyes and ears. Hammond nodded, indicating to her that there were bugs of both types planted in his home. Sam caught Jack's eyes and looked at him.
Jack covered Sam's hand with his own and twined her fingers around his. "I know," he said quietly to her.
Taking off his sunglasses, Jack stopped walking as Sam paused to look out over the Potomac River toward the sun setting over the Virginia shoreline. She gripped the metal railing of the fence surrounding the Tidal Basin and leaned over it, inhaling deeply. Jack moved up behind her and circled his arms around her waist. "Come here often?" he asked.
Sam nodded. "It's a beautiful city," she said, "especially in the spring. When the cherry trees here in the Basin are in full bloom, it's breathtaking."
"Much like you?" Jack asked, pushing his nose into the space between her coat and the back of her neck.
Sam giggled and pulled forward to lean over the rail again, inhaling deeply. "The river smells much better than it use to. Cleaner." She looked northward. "You know, I even kayaked Great Falls a few times…"
"Wasn't that off limits?" Jack asked, pulling her back towards him.
Sam shook her head. "So what's a little danger and challenge?" she asked.
Jack grinned and kissed the back of her neck. "Adrenaline junkie."
"And you aren't?" Sam asked, nudging him in the stomach with her elbow.
"Hey now - I don't go shooting down some narrow rocks to land in a whirlpool for no good reason," Jack snorted.
Sam shook her head. "And chasing after a metal puck with a narrow stick and fighting over it is what again?"
"Uh-huh," Sam laughed. "Yeah, sure, you betcha."
Jack pulled her close. "Hey, that's my line," he whispered into her ear. He paused. "None of George's intel buddies I managed to get a hold of this afternoon were willing to talk. You?" he asked.
Sam turned around to face Jack and twined her arms up around his neck. She kissed his cheek and brushed her nose against his ear. "Nothing. The Pentagon is pretty dead right now. George said the official investigation hasn't uncovered anything yet either."
They stood silently in the breeze briskly swirling in off the cool water, locked in position as each searched deep into the other's eyes. After a few minutes Jack looked away and frowned.
"Why me?" Jack asked. "Why bring me into this? I'm not an investigator. I could care less about all that cloak and dagger stuff."
"You're a rogue element perhaps?" Sam asked. "Official word out there right now is that you're retired and considering some options. For all anyone knows, you came to D.C. to explore those options." Sam buried her head into his chest as a stronger breeze whipped up from the river, ruffling her hair. "I still have a few more leads to check out tomorrow." She stifled a yawn. "Maybe something will turn up?"
Pulling his hand up through the back of her hair, Jack dipped his head close to Sam's. "I hope so. C'mon sleepyhead, let's get you back to the hotel."
Chapter 3: Master of Disguise
Sam sighed impatiently. It was fourteen hundred hours and she'd been at the National Air and Space Museum for ten minutes with no sign of her contact. She turned back toward Exhibition Hall 103 where the two-seater flight simulator modules were. She grinned. They were nothing like the real thing or even the military simulators, but they did give non-flyers a good taste of what it was like. She noticed a young woman talking animatedly about how cool her experience had been. Sam grinned at her exuberance and felt her spirits lift as she heard the girl tell her friend about how she wanted to change her career goals to include flying now. 'You go girl!' Sam thought with a nod.
She scanned the area for her contact again. A man in a baseball cap was standing near an empty simulator looking nervously around. His back was to her, but he was wearing a blue jacket and a cap - it had to be him. She pulled the tickets for the simulator out of her pocket and walked up to the man and tapped on his shoulder. "Could I interest you in a ride?" she asked.
The man turned around and jumped like he'd just experienced an electrical shock, swiping his hand repeatedly over the place Sam had touched. "Sam!"
"Pete?" Sam asked incredulously.
"Sam!" Pete said, wide-eyed.
"Pete!" Sam responded.
"What're you doing here?" Pete asked. "Aren't you supposed to be off saving the world from those glowy-eyed snake aliens?" he asked.
Sam looked around the room, scanning the other tourists. "What about you Pete? Aren't you supposed to be in Colorado Springs investigating criminals?" She felt her irritation build. She had a contact to meet. She didn't have time to play nice with Pete. She glanced at her watch again. This was the right time. Her contact was supposed to have been right here wearing a dark blue jacket with a Denver Broncos t-shirt underneath it and holding a Washington Post newspaper.
She watched as Pete nervously unzipped his jacket, exposing a Denver Broncos t-shirt under his blue jacket. Why was he here fitting the description of the contact? She watched him reach inside the empty simulator for a newspaper. The Post. Why would fate decree that Pete would coincidentally show up here like this? She squinted at him again. Was he her contact? No. This was crazy.
Pete shifted uncomfortably under Sam's hard, analytical stare. "I took some time off," he explained. "Thought I'd check out the sights. Get away for a while."
"Get away from me?" Sam asked.
Pete looked a little pained. "So Sam - how are you?"
"Why would you want to know?" she asked, impatient to get away from him and to meet her contact before it was too late. Pete was still pouting. She could tell he didn't know how to deal with her brusqueness and it gave her some satisfaction to know this.
"Well, uh, I, uh, we, uh, didn't really part on the best of…" he faltered.
"Yes, we didn't, did we?" she agreed. "Now I'm sorry Pete, but I've really got to go. I was supposed to meet somebody."
"Really?" Pete asked. "Me too. I guess my friend blew me off."
"Your friend?" Sam asked.
Pete fidgeted again. "Ummm, yeah. She was supposed to be here five minutes ago."
"She?" Sam asked.
"It's not what you think," Pete explained, shaking his head.
Sam glared at him. He'd made her miss her contact, damn him. "What is it then?" she asked. "Enlighten me." All of the anger and frustration at Pete that she thought she gotten out of her system with her confessions to Jack came boiling back to the surface. She was angry with Pete, but even angrier at herself for having fallen into that same pattern with Pete that she'd fallen into with Jonas. That's what angered her the most - Pete reminded her of her failings, her infallibility, her…
Pete took a deep breath. "I'm really here on business, Sam," he said quietly, glancing around the room.
"Isn't D.C. a bit out of the way for the Denver PD?" she asked. "Or wasn't that the Colorado Springs PD?"
"I don't work for the Denver PD."
Sam took a deep breath. Enough was enough. "Pete - who were you supposed to meet here?" she asked.
"A contact," he admitted. "2 p.m. A woman with two tickets for these simulation rides."
Sam lifted two tickets in the air. "You're wearing that shirt and reading that paper because you want to?" she asked.
"Hey!" Pete said. "I like the Broncos. And how do you know I'm not trying to keep up with what's happening in the world while I'm here?"
"So who are you, Pete?"
"Nooooo. Who ARE you?" she asked, squinting at him.
Realization slowly dawned on Pete. "Sam, are you…?"
She shook her head. "No. You can't be."
Pete nodded. "I must be the person you were supposed to meet Sam. Your contact. I'm Straight Arrow. I work for…"
Sam shook her head and winced. "No. Not here!" She was finding this hard to believe. She pointed to the empty simulator. "Come on. You did come here for a ride."
Pete shook his head. "No. I really don't have to. Those simulation things and me - we just don't agree…"
"In," Sam ordered.
"Okay," he grumbled, climbing up into the two-seater simulator as Sam gave the attendant their tickets.
Sam clambered in next to Pete and breathed in deeply as she pulled down the harness and locked the lapbelt. She was really trying to keep her emotions from getting the better of her. Pete was her contact! Who the hell was he? What was he? He was Denver PD. Or had been. He'd gone to school with her brother, Mark. He'd claimed to be an average guy. A goofy and arrogant average guy, but average nonetheless. She chose the fighter plane simulation as the choices scrolled by.
Pete nervously laughed. "Fighter plane, huh? You did say you've flown some before?" He jerked back as the module simulated the power and thrust of a quick take-off from a carrier flight deck. "Right?" he choked out.
"Right," Sam agreed. She immediately banked into a three-sixty barrel roll, dipping with the simulator as it lurched to the right. What average guy would contact Hammond directly through the Pentagon to report insider information that he had on the abduction of General Xavier and on Hammond getting shot?
Staring intently at the high resolution, big screen monitor in front of them, she twisted the joystick to weave around enemy fire that approached the fighter. She could hear Pete's quick intake of air as the plane lurched from side to side. "You okay?" she asked over the roar of the engines.
Pete didn't answer and she gave him a quick sideways look. "You're not getting sick are you?" she asked.
"No," he said feebly, gripping the harness restraint.
"Good then," she said, pulling quickly back on the joystick, forcing the simulator to go vertical. Pete groaned as the machine simulated the backward flip at the top of the loop and the whoosh as the plane whipped back around to fly at the ground nose first. Sam smiled. She was enjoying this way too much.
Sam continued to take the jet through extreme maneuvers to test the machine's limits. She noticed the timer indicating the flight was almost over. Damn. Too bad, it had felt so good. She brought the fighter in for a smooth landing and looked over at Pete as the simulator's top piece lifted back. Pete looked a little green. She allowed herself a slight smile. The simulation had run for just over four minutes and she'd kept both the machine and Pete busy the entire time. "You okay?" she asked.
"Oh yeah," he swallowed. "Fine."
Sam hopped out. It really was mild in comparison to some of the simulators she'd trained on, but it had gotten her adrenaline pumping. She liked it. She planned to recommend it to Mark so he could bring the kids here next time they came to D.C. Several teens grouped around her simulator's external television monitor nearby nodded their head in approval of her flight. She nodded and smiled back at them.
Pete held onto the side of the simulator as he got out. "You like doing things like that?" he groaned.
Sam gave Pete a shit-eating grin. "Pete. You have no idea how much I LOVE doing things like that."
He gave her a feeble smile.
"Let's go for a walk outside," Sam suggested. "A little fresh air'll do you a lot of good."
Pete nodded and followed Sam out, holding his stomach and ignoring the teens who watched him leave with amusement.
After they crossed Jefferson Drive to the Mall, Sam turned westward toward the Washington Monument. Pete came up beside her and touched her forearm. "Sam, I work for some important people. I mean, I did work for them."
Sam pulled her arm away from him, picking up her pace to a brisk clip. Pete struggled to keep up with her, but after a minute or two he managed to match her stride. She looked closely at him. He had turned a light pink. "So just who are you Pete?" Sam asked, turning her focus back to the Washington Monument that loomed directly ahead.
"What do you mean?" Pete asked.
"Who are you?"
"I'm me," he answered. "The guy you fell in love with…"
Sam snorted. "That's not what you said a few weeks ago."
Pete looked away. "That wasn't me, Sam."
Sam stopped suddenly and glared at him. She squinted into the sunshine, her blue eyes glinting in the bright light. "Oh?" she asked, her cheeks reddening. "You are who? My what? FORMER love? 'Oh that wasn't me.' Well, who the hell was it then? Who are you now? You're Straight Arrow? My contact with the intel we need?" She snorted. "How come I find this all too hard to believe, Pete?"
Pete looked down at the ground. "If you'd just give me a minute and a chance to explain…"
Sam threw her hands up in the air and started to walk again. "Explain away."
Pete didn't move. "Aren't you going to stop and hear me out?"
"No," Sam said without looking back. Pete ran to catch up with her. "How do I know I can trust you?" she asked, looking sideways at him. "Do you think it makes any sense to me what you're saying? How do I know you're not lying to me? That you're not being watched?"
Pete looked surprised. "That's too many questions, Sam. Besides - no one knows I'm here."
"So how'd you get here, Pete?" Sam asked as they passed by the old Smithsonian Castle. "Fly?"
Pete shook his head. "No. I drove."
"How'd you pay for your gas? Your food? Your motel?" she asked.
Sam shook her head. He knew better. "Trackable, Pete. You're a cop, you investigate - you know better than that." She looked closely at him. "Or were you really a cop?"
"I was," he said. Pete looked sheepish. "I am," he corrected himself. He took a deep breath. "I am Pete Shanahan, Sam. Mark is my best buddy. That's no lie."
Sam quickened her pace after they crossed over 14th Street. "And?" she asked.
"And… I am Denver PD. Or I was before, I mean, am… well, before I became part of this group." Pete fumbled for words.
"Colorado Springs PD?" Sam asked.
"Uh, well, it was… they do know me, but I hadn't transferred completely…" Pete was becoming breathless by Sam's relentless pace.
Sam shook her head. Lies, lies, lies. "And?" she asked.
"And... I am part of this intelligence group. Well, I was. Am. But I'm not. Soon…" Pete's voice trailed off.
Sam groaned. Here we go - he wasn't going to give her a straight answer if his life depended on it or if anyone else's depended on it and unfortunately this time it did. What was he? CIA? NSA? FBI? NID? Trust? Or someone else? She eyed Pete. Goa'uld perhaps? Nah - she'd have picked up on that one.
"And?" she asked.
"And what?" he countered.
Sam sighed as they walked up the hill toward the Monument and she began to talk very fast and very low as they passed small knots of tourists. "Okay, Pete. You're not who you told me you were. You're an operative. You lied. You work in intelligence. You lied to me. You're here in D.C. You say you work for Denver PD. You lie. I'm here to meet with Straight Arrow on a matter of national security. You say you are that person. But you've lied to me so many times before!"
She shook her head in disgust. "Hello! What does all that mean? For all I know you're stalking me again! You haven't told me anything yet to convince me that you aren't anything other than a liar." Sam was livid. "The head of the SGC has been kidnapped Pete," she hissed at him. "Another important person was nearly killed. You seem to think you know something about it. What gives, Pete? Stalker? Or are you for real?"
Pete winced at the word stalker. "That's not what this is this time, Sam."
"So you admit to doing it before?" she demanded, her eyes like darts.
Pete avoided her look. "But that's not how it was!" he said. "What's up with you? I'm here to help you all, damn it!"
"Then prove it!" Sam retorted. Her cell phone rang. She looked at the number and clicked. "Hey," she said.
"Hit the jackpot?" Jack asked on the other end.
"I'm not sure yet." Sam glared at Pete. "I just bought the scratch off ticket. Give me some time to finish scratching it and I'll let you know."
"Arlington in an hour?" Jack asked.
"If I hit it big," Sam answered.
Jack chuckled. "I'll still love you even if you don't win."
"I know," Sam said softly, turning away from Pete.
"One hour," Jack said.
"An hour," Sam agreed.
Clicking her phone off and looking at Pete, she sighed. What was she going to do now? She just didn't trust Pete. The only thing she knew was that he seemed certain that he knew something about classified SGC going-ons. She dropped to the ground as they came down the southwestern slope of the Monument grounds. Off in the distance, across the Tidal Basin, on the other side of the Potomac River, was Arlington National Cemetery where she'd be meeting Jack in an hour.
She glanced at Pete who had stopped farther down the slope. He was looking at her like she was crazy. She patted the grass next to her. "Sit. I'll listen now. But I'm warning you, Pete - be to the point - there's not much time." She gave him a warning glare. "And I don't want to hear anything else about us."
"No 'buts,' Pete. Give me what you were going to give to begin with and that's it."
"That's it." Sam gave him a no-nonsense look.
Sam didn't interrupt Pete as he quickly detailed what he knew. He spoke quietly and with certainty. There was none of the blustery bravado like he'd always given her in the past. This was a different man than she'd known. He even seemed a bit scared at the power he was slowly realizing the people he'd worked for had over even the most minor of details.
"I'm worried about you, Sam," Pete repeated after he finished his story. "I don't think you realize these guys are playing hardball."
Sam sighed. What did he think she'd tried to tell him after she'd received clearance to tell him about the Stargate program? "Pete - those are the risks and the dangers that I face every day," she reminded him, "and that's all before I go off-world."
Pete shrugged. "I didn't realize, Sam. I'm sorry."
Sam's mouth worked as she considered how to respond. He apparently hadn't listened to a word she'd said during their relationship. She still doubted he understood completely what she'd tried to share with him about her capabilities and chosen profession, but she wasn't going to go down that route with him again. "Apology accepted," she said.
"So what're you going to do about it?" Pete asked.
"I don't know yet," Sam answered.
"You're here alone?" Pete asked.
"You ask too many questions," Sam responded.
"Hey, I'm a cop," Pete said.
Sam looked at him. She knew 'Yeah well, I'm an astrophysicist' wouldn't be a good comeback. She pursed her lips together into a pucker. "I know," she finally answered. "Look, I've got another meeting in fifteen minutes. I really need to get going now," Sam said.
Pete stood up and offered his hand to Sam. She accepted and let him pull her up. "So you'll keep in touch?" he asked.
"I can't guarantee anything," she admitted, starting to walk down the hill towards 17th Street and the Reflecting Pool.
"The number is still the same," he called out after her.
She looked back and nodded at Pete. He looked like he was thinking hard about something. She had an uneasy feeling that she was that something and she didn't want to encourage his attentions any more than she had to do. She waved goodbye and turned toward the west. She'd be meeting Jack at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier shortly. She hoped Jack's search had been just as fruitful. Picking up her pace to a slow jog, she cleared her mind, leaving thoughts of her past relationship with Pete behind her.
As they left the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Sam thought about the good friends both she and Jack had lost to the Stargate Program. And the many more soldiers who she'd never had the chance to get to know very well who had selflessly given their lives for them all... so many lives given. And so many knew nothing about those sacrifices, yet benefited so much from them.
Sam jumped as a petite auburn-haired woman ran past her to join a group ahead of them. Janet? She sighed. Of course not. Janet was gone. Sam felt like she still hadn't had time to deal properly with Janet's death. That was one of the biggest downsides to their assignment - once they averted one crisis they moved on to the next crisis, and the next, and the next… She crossed her arms and brought her fist up to her mouth, rubbing her thumb slowly across her bottom lip. They'd be dead themselves before they were able to properly mourn those they'd lost.
"Thinking about the good doctor?" Jack asked, nodding at the woman ahead of them and letting go of Sam's hand to caress her shoulder. "Could have been her twin."
Sam nodded. "Jack, I don't think I'll ever find a friend like Janet again," she said after a moment.
Jack stopped and pulled Sam close. "She was a special woman," he said, hugging her.
Sam buried her head in his shoulder and shook her head. "Why Jack?"
Jack smoothed her hair. "Because," he said, tucking his head down into the dip of her neck, "because it was her time, Sam. There was nothing any of us could do to change that."
"But still," Sam said, shaking her head, "it's just not fair."
"She died doing what she loved. What she felt called to do," Jack said. "Sam, she knew the risks and just like you, and just like me, she wasn't going to let that stop her."
Sam sighed. "I know." She lifted her head and gave him sad half-smile. "Thank you."
Jack squeezed her tighter and kissed her forehead. "You're welcome," he said quietly.
Sam shivered involuntarily and jumped back as the SGC klaxon blared out from nearby. Grinning sheepishly, Jack reached inside his jacket, pulling out his cellphone.
"The klaxon!" she asked Jack.
"Can't ignore certain calls that way," Jack said as he clicked the phone on. "O'Neill," he said. Sam watched as he rolled his eyes and grimaced at the phone. "It's for you," he said, passing the phone to her.
"Hey Sam, so how's the honeymoon?" she heard Daniel ask.
"The what?" Sam asked.
"I think you're jumping the gun a bit there, Daniel," Sam told him.
"Oh, I don't know, Sam. Teal'c has been filling me in on a few things," Daniel said.
"Oh, he has, has he?" Sam asked. She'd have to ask Teal'c exactly what he'd been sharing with Daniel when she returned to base next week. "So how's the house?" she asked.
"Oh, it's fine," Daniel answered. "Teal'c hasn't burnt it down yet. And I made sure he watered the plants this morning. They were beginning to…"
"No, how is the HOUSE, Daniel?" Sam asked, referring to the SGC. "Is everything in order?" She could hear Daniel pause. After eight years of military experience and training, the archeologist still had his head way up in the clouds most of the time. He wasn't much better at doing covert ops than he had been at the beginning, but she loved him regardless.
"Ohhh… yeah, the house is okay," he said. "Pretty empty without you both in it." He paused. "It's had a thorough cleaning and we weren't able to find a speck of dirt in it. Will you be back soon?" he asked, sounding hopeful. "You'll be able to see it for yourself."
"Danny!" she laughed. "I'm still on vacation - the rest of the week! And then you all complain that I never take any time off!"
"Yeah, well, we miss you. Both of you. It's just not the same when you're not here," he said solemnly.
"I know what you mean. We miss you, too. But we'll be back soon enough," she said. "I'll tell Jack you said hi."
"Oh - and Teal'c says to send greetings to you both," Daniel relayed. "He says to not do what he would do. No Teal'c. I think the saying goes 'don't do what I wouldn't do.'" She heard him pause and heard Teal'c's muffled voice in the background. "Ohhhh…." Daniel responded.
"Goodbye, Daniel," Sam said, laughing.
"Okay, bye, Sam," Daniel said.
"Missing us?" Jack asked, lifting his eyebrows.
"Terribly," she responded.
"Nice to know we're loved so much," Jack said, taking his phone back.
"Sounds like they swept the base and couldn't find anything there from what Daniel said," Sam shared.
"He said that?" Jack asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"In so many words."
Jack pondered that as he and Sam approached the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The Lincoln Memorial loomed ahead of them. "So this isn't just an internal thing," Jack said.
"In all probability it isn't," Sam said. "Maybe Pete is right about the organization he's working for. He was pretty serious for once. According to him, this group calls themselves ISDIC."
"ISDIC?" Jack snorted. "You've got to be kidding, right? No one in their right mind would name something ISDIC, would they?"
"Well, they did. The International Security, Defense, and Intelligence Consortium," Sam explained.
Jack cringed. "International? I don't like the sound of that."
"Neither do I," Sam agreed.
"Especially if rogue NID agents like Hoskins are recruiting for ISDIC too," Jack said.
"Wonder how the NID feels about double agents?" Sam asked.
Jack frowned. "Hoskins better have some good life insurance. Maybe it's time to speak to that Barrett guy again."
"Dinner sounds great, Agent Barrett," Sam said, grinning at Jack who'd just gotten out of the shower. After they'd reached the World War II Memorial at the end of the Reflecting Pool, she had dared Jack to beat her back to the hotel. He nearly had, until a crosswalk light on Pennsylvania Avenue had stopped him at the last minute, allowing her to race up to the hotel steps, breathlessly laughing at Jack's angry glare from down the street.
"But I do have a friend I'll be bringing with me," she added.
NID Agent Malcolm Barrett paused. "Oh. I had thought it would be just us."
"Oh, he's an interesting friend," Sam explained. "He even has clearance."
Agent Barrett was silent for a moment. "Okay. Fine. The Grey Fox Inn at seven?" he asked.
"See you then," Sam said.
"So we're on for this evening?" Jack asked.
Sam nodded. "With rush hour traffic we'll need to leave soon."
Jack nodded. "Ready whenever you are."
"Out of the way little place," Jack commented.
"Pretty area," Sam remarked.
"You've been here before?" Jack asked.
"No," Sam answered. "Not here. But I've hiked Sugarloaf before and drove through here a couple times on my way to Western Maryland to kayak the Youghiogheny River with some friends…"
Jack stared at her.
"What?" she asked. "You expected me to stay put in D.C.?"
"No. I'm still trying to figure out how you spell Youghiogheny," he said, frowning. He scanned Sam's face. "And there still so much to learn about you."
Sam grinned widely. The thought that she was a woman of mystery amused her. She jerked her head back around as Agent Barrett cleared his throat.
"Anyway, as I was saying, I thought this would be a good place to talk since it's fairly secluded and the food is damn good," Barrett said.
Jack laid the menu on the table and arched an eyebrow. "Pricey. Your expense account or ours?" he asked.
Barrett smiled. "Well, seeing as how I did request a place out of the way…"
"Yours it is," Jack agreed, picking the menu up again.
Sam smiled warmly at Barrett. "Thanks."
Ignoring Agent Barrett, Sam pushed her dessert bowl away. It was unbelievable what they'd managed to concoct with simple blue JELL-O. She didn't know if she'd be able to eat just plain blue after this.
"Come on, this is a matter of national security," Barrett reminded Sam.
Sam steadfastly refused to reveal her source. She didn't want to put Pete in any more danger than he was already in. Even if Malcolm Barrett had been one of the most ethical NID agents she'd known, she just wasn't ready. She felt she and Jack needed to have time to see how Pete panned out before the NID and every other intel organization out there sunk their hooks into him.
"Isn't it always?" she asked.
"I'll find out sooner rather than later," Barrett reminded her.
"I know," Sam acknowledged. "But for now I just can't do it."
"So this ISDIC group - who are they?" Jack asked.
"Another splinter group of our organization it seems," Barrett explained. "Kinsey apparently didn't put all his eggs in one basket."
"The old rooster was slick that way," Jack smirked.
"But how do you explain Hoskins?" Sam asked. "Is he gathering ISDIC intel for you?"
Barrett shook his head. "We didn't know of ISDIC until you alerted us to them," he explained. "I've got some people I trust looking into the organization and Hoskins as we speak." He looked at Jack and tilted his head to the side. "Your well-publicized retirement seems to have given certain elements the impetus to eliminate several threats to their plan, whatever that may be."
"What do you mean - I'm not a threat?" Jack asked, giving Barrett and Sam a surprised look.
"You know what he means," Sam gently chided Jack. "But logically it makes sense, considering who their targets were and how much Senator Kinsey hated us. I'm surprised they didn't try it earlier."
Jack gave her a wide-eyed look and snorted.
"I agree," Barrett said. "And they still don't like Hammond's style or his politics. Having him in a position of leadership on a world-wide scale - that's not something any Kinsey-related organization would like."
Jack grimaced knowingly. "Yes. Including your own, I presume." He flicked at the bottom of a sugar packet. "But why involve Xavier? The guy hasn't been at the SGC barely a week - what bone could they possibly have to pick with him?" Jack asked.
Barrett sipped on his tea. "Having Hammond's stamp of approval, he would be an extension of his policies."
"Still," Jack said, throwing the packet down.
"But how are they going to get someone friendly to their agenda into the SGC? Do they have enough people to move into those positions? I didn't get the impression from my source that they were that big," Sam said.
"It doesn't matter if placements are in-house operatives, not as long as they recruit a person who can be easily influenced," Barrett said.
Jack snorted. "You don't get into command positions without a certain degree of stubbornness and unwillingness to be 'influenced' by outside organizations," he argued.
"Colonel Makepeace?" Barrett asked pointedly. "He ranked just after you, General."
"Yeah, well…" Jack shrugged.
After shaking Jack's hand, Barrett took Sam's hand to give it a gentle squeeze. Sam stared at Barrett's hands, remembering that he had had a thing for her in the past. She'd assumed he'd gotten over it since they'd never been together much beyond the odd lunch or two. She looked up at Barrett's earnest face, then out to Jack, who had already bounded down the porch steps into the parking lot.
"Congratulations Colonel Carter," Barrett said.
"Thank you," Sam answered, with a confused smile, "but may I ask for what?"
"Aren't you and the General engaged?" he asked.
Sam flushed and coughed. "I'm sorry. Would you repeat that?"
Barrett looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I assumed from our intel and watching you both here this evening that you had…"
"Your intel!" Sam asked.
Barrett grinned sheepishly. "Ahhhhmmm… your relationship doesn't go without mention in certain classified circles," he explained.
Sam's flush darkened to a deep red in the low light. Damn. She'd thought they'd done well to keep their feelings hidden in public until this past weekend. Oh, who was she kidding? The intel community knew everything they about them from the moment Jack took a leak to her own menstrual cycle. Not that that kind of intel had much to do with anything of importance to national security. But she knew they knew just about everything about her.
She fumbled for words. "Well, we're not, you see, we're just…" She paused. "We're just seeing each other now that General O'Neill has retired. Nothing too serious yet," she tried to joke.
Barrett gave her a 'could have fooled me' look and chuckled. "Yes, Colonel Carter, as you say…"
Sam sighed. Barrett didn't believe her. Were the effects of the past few days that obvious? A smile crept over her face as she watched Jack, leaning back against the rental car, hands in pockets, and watching her with a look that was a mix of desire and appreciative appraisal.
She could feel the electricity between them flowing and sparking, even from this far away. She hoped they hadn't seemed too much like a pair of lovestruck teenagers to Agent Barrett. She didn't think they had. They were still accomplishing their mission. It was just that they didn't have to hide their affection anymore - they could complete their mission without fear of reprisal for any personal relationship they had on the side.
Barrett cleared his throat. "We'll be in touch?"
"We will," Sam agreed, turning to give the NID agent a quick smile. He returned her smile and walked down the steps to his own vehicle where he gave her a quick wave as he got into his car.
Sam walked down the steps toward Jack, her eyes never leaving his. Right now, in this moment, she wasn't aware of anything else in the world except him. The lights of the cars passing by were nothing more than dusky streaks of pale light in her peripheral vision. The crunch of Barrett's tires against the parking lot gravel was nothing but competition for the sound of the blood rushing past her ears. All she could see was Jack's face, his eyes, his mouth and his lips that had slowly started to part at her approach.
She wanted to fall deep and hard into what she knew he was offering her. She wanted it bad and she wasn't going to allow anyone or anything to interrupt them this time. She was ready to share herself completely with the man she trusted unconditionally. And for once, that feeling, to open herself totally up and not be in control of every minute detail, felt right and good.
As she neared him, she felt the electricity in the air spark. It's only pheromones, the logical part of her mind warned her. 'Oh just shut up!' she countered, feeling Jack's arms come up to hold her and she allowed herself to be completely enveloped by him. Lifting her chin, she met his desire-laden gaze. "I want you," she told him huskily.
"I know," he answered, cupping her face in his hands and kissing her deeply.
"I love you," she added.
He pulled back from her, looking deep into her eyes as if to find her soul. "I know that, too," he responded, pulling her close.
Chapter 4: 360 Vision
Admiring the view of the White House and the Washington Monument out the balcony door, Sam watched as the pale peach-pinks of sunrise were reflected back into the darkness of their room by the stately landmarks. She glanced back at the bed where Jack was lying on his side, a peaceful look on his face; the most peaceful expression that she'd ever seen him have in all the years she'd known him. The team had pulled numerous overnighters together off-world and even in sleep he'd never been relaxed, but then that wasn't saying much as he'd always been the lightest sleeper on the team.
She shut her eyes remembering the past evening. She would have never guessed a few months ago, or even a few weeks ago, that she would be here like this with Jack. The accumulation of too many years of serious obstacles and doubts made it hard to accept that this was really happening; she'd pinched herself a few times already to make sure she was really here.
Had Jack been worth the long wait? Yes, he had. The time she'd been able to spend alone with him the past few days had also proven that to her. She wasn't usually one to indulge in wishful thinking, especially over past situations that she had no control over, but this was one time she truly wished things had been different years ago. She sighed; so early in their relationship and SGC careers, would they have been able to sustain a healthy relationship?
Armed with the knowledge of everything they, the team, and the program had gone through, Sam honestly doubted their emotional readiness back then. On a personal level, Jack had still been dealing with the very fresh wounds left by Charlie's death and his separation and eventual divorce from Sarah. And professionally she'd picked up on times when he'd seemed unsure as to how to deal with a female 2IC. She'd proven to him that she was as capable a soldier as she was a scientist and he'd quickly learned to treat her just as he did the guys, but what would have a romantic entanglement have done to the delicate balance of any subordinate/superior officer relationship, let alone theirs? Whatever it would have been, if it hadn't totally destroyed them or their careers, it definitely wouldn't have been the same kind of relationship as they had now.
As for herself, she realized she'd been way too full of self-doubt. She'd come to her dream assignment at the SGC emotionally scarred and still hurting from her relationship with Captain Jonas Hanson and as a result she'd consciously sworn off romantic relationships, certain she was doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes. Sam shook her head, remembering where that relationship avoidance had gotten her. Shortly after her own arrival at the SGC, Jonas had shown up to command the newly-formed SG9. After he got over his initial surprise at finding her already there and an integral part of the preeminent SG1 team, he'd started to make subtle, antagonistic remarks to her.
It hadn't been anything that she could report, so she'd gone out of her way to avoid unnecessary contact with him until he'd made it impossible for her to so during a mission. He'd self-styled himself as a god to the locals of one planet and had even gone so far as to kill the soldiers he'd been charged with leading. When SG1 arrived he'd known how to use her compassion and remaining feelings for him against her, forcing her to fix the alien shield technology and lording it over her that she wasn't capable of killing him after he put her in a position where she'd had the choice to do so. Although his death at the hands of the natives meant he would never bother her again, she'd gotten little comfort from his death as she dealt with the doubts that had resurfaced as a result of that mission.
Things had finally started to subside when, less than a year later, she'd been thrust unwillingly into a powerful relationship thanks to the Tok'ra, Jolinar. Between Jolinar and Jonas, she'd been bombarded by emotions that she hadn't asked for nor wanted and she'd done her best to keep everyone at arm's length, even her new friends on the team. But no matter how hard she'd tried, she just hadn't been able to keep from forming deep emotional bonds with those she trusted; her nature wouldn't permit it.
And during that entire time Jack had been there, quietly giving off that indefinable undercurrent. He'd backed off once or twice, but love his witty, sarcastic little heart, he'd continued to give her a focus out of the quagmire of negative and confused feelings at the pace she wanted. She opened her eyes and turned back to Jack and watched as the soft light illuminated the peaceful expression on his face. She tried to memorize the sleepy half-grin that had spread over his face as he dreamt; this was the Jack that she always wanted to remember.
She turned to glance back out the door at the buildings reflecting the dusky rose and blue-lavender glow tinting the morning sky. She was amazed that they were being put up in the ritzy Hay-Adams, but had this not been an official 'unofficial mission,' she'd have preferred their first time to have been in the isolation and privacy of Jack's cabin as it nearly had been. Although if Barrett's comments last night were true, she supposed it all fit well into the mission, especially if those monitoring them were under the impression that she and Jack were honeymooning.
Amused by the thought of making love being an official mission objective, she slid back into bed and snuggled up next to Jack, kissing the end of his nose. "Rise and shine sleepyhead," she whispered.
Sam couldn't stop smiling. Jack had just finished giving her the most sensual of good morning greetings. She wouldn't mind if this was how he planned to greet her every morning for the rest of her life. The coolness of the room crept down her back after he moved away from her and she pulled the heavy comforter back up the bed. Behind her Jack heaved a sigh.
"Tired?" she asked, her smile fading as she turned over to face him. He was grimacing, his face twisted up in pain. She immediately began to worry about his health; things had been pretty vigorous. "Are you okay? You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" she asked.
He shook his head.
Sam sighed - that was good. She didn't want to be the death of him. "Bad headache?"
"What is it then?" Sam asked.
Jack shrugged, his mouth working as he struggled to get the words out. He shook his head again and looked away. "What am I doing here?" he asked quietly.
Sam wasn't sure what he meant. Had something been wrong with their lovemaking? He sure hadn't acted like there had been. Was he having second thoughts about having a relationship with her? Then why'd he say he loved her? Was this about his SGC career? What was he talking about? "Is this related to the SGC?" she asked after a moment.
Jack gave her a barely perceptible nod as he turned onto his side to face her.
"But I thought you'd made a decision," Sam said, gently running her fingers through the spikes of hair sprouting above his high forehead. "You retired."
"I did," he agreed. "But…"
"But what?" Sam asked, smoothing out the worry lines that creased his forehead with her thumb. "Still having doubts?"
Jack opened his mouth to respond and shut it. "No. Well, yes. Maybe. The Pentagon gave me a second chance at a career when they brought me to the SGC. They let me do things that I'd never thought possible given how much of a jackass I'd been." He paused. "…That I am. But it's not just that. I know they're getting ready to railroad me straight into another even more political desk jockey job. I don't think they're going to let me ever retire, Sam."
"They?" Sam asked.
"The Pentagon brass. Hammond. Especially Hammond. I honestly think he's grooming me for his position." Jack winced. "George of all people should know I'm not cut out for all that political mumbo-jumbo."
Sam traced the shorter hair around his ear with the backs of her fingers. "You still have so much to contribute. So much experience and knowledge. Don't discount that."
Jack snorted. "Then you tell me why I feel like the only reason they want me in Washington is to keep their eye on me. I'm like some errant little boy that they've got to stow away out of sight to keep out of trouble." He shook his head. "No matter what I've done in the past, I'm not a troublemaker, Sam."
"I know," Sam said. She'd heard bits of gossip around the base about his pre-SGC past and she'd seen him in action with SG1 the past eight years. The Jack O'Neill she knew had a long history of bucking up against authority, but in his defense, it had almost always been for good reason and it had served them all well in the end.
"I really wanted to retire this time," he continued. "To pick up where I'd left off the last time I left. To fish. To watch the stars." He flashed an intense look at Sam. "To be with you."
Sam realized with a start that he probably was going through the same soul-searching that she was right now – how were they going to be together now the way things were or in the future if she was reassigned elsewhere? She took a deep breath. "I've thought about that before," she said. "What'll happen to each of us after the SGC? Unless the program goes public or we go live off-world, I'm not sure that we ever really do get to retire or move on." She looked deep into Jack's eyes and furrowed her eyebrows. "…Unless we die."
Sam searched his dark eyes as he held her gaze. "I think that was part of Pete's allure. You know - a kind of escape hatch to a normal, white-picket fence kind of life that I thought I wanted…" Sam stopped, thinking about the numerous places her father had been stationed during her childhood. Never once had there been one of those picket fence houses. Never had there been that Cleaver family kind of normalcy and stability that she'd desperately craved, especially after her mother died. She'd always told herself that someday she'd have that kind of life and make up for what she'd missed. She swallowed the lump that had built up in her throat. "Until Pete, I'd pretty much stopped believing it would ever happen," she admitted.
"Why Sam?" Jack asked softly. "You of all people can make anything happen."
"It wasn't that," she said. "I was… I don't know. Afraid? Afraid to make the wrong choice?" She shook her head. "No, maybe not even that… I guess the bottom line is that it isn't so easy to change lifestyles when all you've ever known is one way of life." A wistful smile played on her lips. "And the program is a powerfully addictive lifestyle."
Jack chuckled. "I know all about that. And once it you're engaged to it, you're married to it for life."
"So what's the issue then?" Sam asked, switching the focus back to him. "I thought you'd pretty much resolved everything."
Jack said nothing, instead flipping onto his back and staring at the ceiling. "So what am I supposed to contribute to them? To the world?" he asked suddenly. "So what if I have all this experience and knowledge that you keep talking about? I can't even remember any Ancient after two downloads for crying out loud." He looked solemnly at her. "Sam, there are half a dozen team commanders who know just as much as I do and have equal or better skill, including you. So what's that prove?"
Sam shook her head. "Don't sell yourself short, Jack. No one has what you have. I think you're just thinking and worrying about this too much is what you're doing." She slid closer and brushed her lips against his cheek.
"Me? Thinking too much?" he asked, turning back onto his side to face Sam.
"Yep," Sam said, finding his open mouth and kissing him again. "You sure everything is okay?" she asked.
Shaking his head, Jack answered, "I just realize I don't have my whole life ahead of me anymore. I don't want to waste that time." He looked at Sam and caressed her cheek with his hand. "Especially not now," he said.
"I don't like this one bit," Jack said, shrugging out of his bathrobe to slide on his boxers.
Sam opened her mouth and shut it. No one else would talk to either of them - how else would they get intel? She thought a midday jog around the Mall with Pete was great cover. All she had to do was convince Pete to do it, and to do it quickly, because she knew Agent Barrett and the others were probably already closing in on Pete. She reached onto the nightstand for her cellphone.
"He's still in your phonebook?" Jack asked, pulling on his jeans.
"No." Sam shook her head. "But it'll take a long time for me to forget his number."
Jack scowled. "And him."
Sam glared at Jack as she cradled the small phone in her hand. Jack was jealous? About what? It really would take a while for memories of Pete to fade.
Jack snorted, shaking his head and walking to the balcony door.
"Hey!" Sam responded. "What about Sarah? Will you ever forget her?"
Jack crossed his arms and squinted towards the Washington Monument. "That's different Sam. We were married for years. We had a child together. You and that Hanson loonie and the Shanahan jerk only…" Turning to look at Sam, he stopped.
"Jack O'Neill, don't you dare go there," Sam said in a measured and clipped tone. "I heard enough of the same crap from Pete."
"What crap?" Jack asked.
Sam crossed her arms. "That line that because I've never been married, I don't know how "IT" is. That I don't have a clue about life, or relationships, or men."
"Sam, I didn't mean that…" Jack said, uncrossing his arms and approaching her.
"I'm sure you didn't," Sam said, angrily punching at the keypad of her cell phone.
"So you're still calling him?" Jack asked.
"What's it look like?" Sam asked, putting the phone to her ear.
She softened a bit at Jack's befuddled look. She knew how much he hated Pete for how he'd treated her. Having Pete become an integral part of their mission wasn't the kind of plan Jack wanted to be forced into considering. She sighed. "You want to go fishing? You need bait, right? A lure?"
Jack considered the thought. "Right organization, wrong guy," he commented.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Sam told him. "Not unless you have some other contact with the intel we need."
Jack shook his head. "I don't," he admitted.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Jack said, perfectly mimicking Sam's tone and accent.
"Watch it, buster," Sam warned. Any leads that were out there had to be getting cold by now and she was afraid they weren't going to achieve their mission objective. She didn't think they had much of a choice. What did Jack think he'd achieve by refusing to pursue their only lead? She felt a bit insulted when it came right down to it and she shot him an offended look.
"Sensitive, Sensitive," Jack said, smirking.
"Ba'al?" Sam asked, her voice hard. "Tal'vak acid?"
Jack's face filled with fury. "Shut up! You're not supposed to know about all that."
"A bit sensitive yourself, hmmm?" Sam asked. "And you'd be surprised what I know Jack."
"Okay, so we've proven we know which buttons to push," he said.
"True," she said, moving the phone away from her ear and punching Pete's number again. She looked up at Jack. "But I still love you, you old fart."
"Gee, thanks," Jack said. He did a double-take. "Hey! I'm not that old."
Sam snorted as she put the phone back up to her ear. "What did you say before? I thought I heard something like 'Oh, I'm no youngster…'"
Jack grimaced at her. "Damn. I'm going to hate arguing with you."
"I know." Sam grinned. She put her finger to her lip, motioning for Jack to be quiet. "Pete? Hi, it's Sam. Give me a call when you get this - you know the number." She closed her phone. "Now we'll just see if the worm is willing to jump on the hook…"
Jack chuckled. "Who'd've believed it?" Jack asked. "Samantha Carter - just rolling those fishing phrases off her tongue. You remember anything else from our fishing lessons?"
"Oh, just something about proper form when casting the line… And crappies and jigs and minnows and…"
Jack grinned. "Would you care for some additional private instruction, Miss? I can arrange for more advanced private lessons from the best angler I know…"
"I believe I just might be in the market for the next level of fishing instruction… Depends on how much it's going to cost me," she grinned.
"You might, might you?" Jack moved closer to Sam. "My rates are pretty reasona…" Jack jumped back as Sam's phone rang. "Damn his timing," Jack swore.
Sam shrugged and clicked the phone on. "Hi Pete…" she said.
"No. Uh-uh," Pete said, shaking his head violently. "This is my life we're talking about here."
"It's more than yours," Sam reminded him. "There's so many more at stake."
"But what'll happen to me if I do this?" he asked. "What kind of damage will it to do my career?"
"Pete, damage was done the moment you agreed to work for them."
"Sam, you've made it sound like The Godfather. You know - where once you're in the family, you're always part of the family 'til death do you part. I'm not part of their family."
Sam gave him a skeptical look.
"All I was did that one thing," he protested.
"And not very well," Sam commented. "That makes you a liability, wouldn't you think? The moment they realize you're ratting on them, they're not going to be too happy with you."
Pete snorted and set his soda down next to him, waving his soft pretzel at Sam. "Okay, so say they had found out and are watching me right now - why wouldn't they think I'm just here with you? You know - just got into town for a vacation, here to rekindle that old flame and make a little love with you?"
Sam frowned at the last part. Here we go again, she thought as she swallowed a large mouthful of water. "Because they already know otherwise," she replied.
Pete looked puzzled. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, swallowing hard on his pretzel.
Sam paused. Jack really was none of Pete's business and especially in relation to this mission. And Pete, undercover operative or not, had picked up on her and Jack's bond from the get-go and had never stopped focusing on it. She needed Pete to agree to be a part of this mission, not to go off on some tangent about their romantic past. "Only that they have intel that proves otherwise," she finally said.
Pete pouted. "What intel is that?" he asked.
"Pete! I know you've never been in the military, but I figured you've had some training." She sighed. "The less you know, the less you'll be able to tell if you're ever captured and tortured. You know that." She stopped and watched his eyes widen at the word torture. "Okay, maybe you don't know that. But I do."
Pete recovered quickly. "Don't sell me short Sam."
"Pete, look - I'm not here in D.C. for the fun of it. This is a very serious situation and you know it or you wouldn't have made contact with our mutual friend."
"Hammond?" Pete asked.
"Pete…" she said, eyeing the area around them. "Monitoring…"
"Oh yeah." He looked sheepishly down at his half-eaten pretzel.
"The only way I can help our…" Sam gave Pete a look, "mutual friend is for you to help me. And, yes, that does mean you'll be putting yourself at some risk."
Pete was quiet for a while. "What if they don't believe me and blow me off?"
Sam gave Pete a measured stare. From what he'd shared and what she assumed had been the whole point of his mission for ISDIC, Pete had bungled up their covert op fairly well. Even if his mission was minor in comparison to what ISDIC had just pulled off with Hammond and Xavier, she was certain someone in their organization would jump at the opportunity to ream Pete, if not to rid the planet of him for having made their existence known. She just hoped as small a bait as Pete was that he'd reel in a big enough fish. One big enough to know Xavier's location and Hammond's assailant.
"Oh, I don't know," she remarked. "I think they will." She stood up and looked at Pete. "Sure you don't want to take a run around the Mall?"
Pete shook his head. "I can't even keep up with you when you're walking."
Sam laughed and pulled Pete to his feet. "C'mon."
"Hey, Hoskins!" Pete said, pushing his cell phone closer to his ear. "How're ya doin'?"
"Hello?" Agent Hoskins asked.
"Pete Shanahan here," Pete said.
"Oh, hey Pete. I'm doing fine. You?" Hoskins asked.
"Good. Good," Pete answered. "Couldn't be better."
"So what can I do for you?" Hoskins asked.
"Well, I figured there was a final report or something that I had to do now that my op is done," Pete explained. "I couldn't get through on any of the other numbers you'd given me."
"Well, the numbers changed," Hoskins explained. He paused. "I don't think it'll be necessary to file a report this time."
"Damn. I came all the way to D.C. for nothing then." Pete gave his best hurt impression.
Hoskins was silent for a moment. "I apologize if there were any misimpressions, Pete. No final reports are necessary. We have other means of tracking our operative's success."
"You do?" Pete gulped. Sam had been right. He was being followed. He didn't particularly like the idea of being the stalkee. "If you all don't want me to file a report, hey - I understand, that's cool." He put a whine into his voice. "Can't I at least meet with you to talk about some job prospects?" he asked.
Hoskins hesitated. "Uh, well…"
Pete laughed, trying to not to let his voice show how nervous he'd become. "Hey buddy, I get the picture - so how 'bout we meet for coffee or something? I don't want to put you out. I understand all this secret stuff and how you don't want me sniffing around your place and all right now. Look - I'm just looking for work, that's all."
"Where in D.C. are you at?" Hoskins asked.
"I'm staying at the Super 8 up on New York Avenue near Galludet. There's a Burger King just down the street. Their croissan'wich is decent. How about tomorrow? Breakfast on me?"
Hoskins paused. "Hold on. Let me check my schedule."
Pete nervously waited for Hoskins to get back on the line. He hoped the guy was buying his story. He didn't want to have it hanging over his head that two Air Force generals bit the dust because of him. Uh-uh, no way. He heard Hoskins pick back up.
"Sure - tomorrow at 9," Hoskins told him.
Pete breathed a big sigh of relief. "Hey, I really appreciate that," Pete said.
"Not a problem," Hoskins said. "See you in the morning then."
"Later," Pete said, clicking the phone off. His part was done. Or was it? He still had to get through breakfast tomorrow and try to get intel for Sam. He rubbed his stomach uneasily. His dinner had turned sour and he threw the phone down as he ran for the toilet.
High wispy clouds reflected the light from the rising sun onto Sam as she stood in the alley behind Pete's motel. She squinted at the thin audio wiring filament as she threaded it into the collar seam of his shirt and bit on her bottom lip as she attached the smallest of clip-on cameras to the top button of his shirt. "There. Done." She touched the receiver in her own ear. "Testing."
"I can hear you," she heard Jack say.
"Cool," Pete said. "Don't I get one of those ear things too? Is this more alien technology?"
"And I can hear HIM too," Jack commented dryly.
Sam shook her head, ignoring Jack's comments. "Nope to both questions. It'd be too noticeable. And no, it's not alien - just good old miniaturized human innovation."
"Oh," said Pete, crestfallen. He looked around at the train tracks behind his motel and the dumpster nearby. "So, is it just you still?" he asked.
"No," Sam said, smoothing out Pete's shirt.
"You're still not going to tell me anything, are you?" Pete asked, looking hurt.
Sam shook her head. "Pete, like I keep telling you - the less you know, the better off you are."
"Wouldn't you bring a large unit in here?" he asked.
"Mmm-Mmm. Short, sweet, and small," Sam said.
"How small?" Pete asked.
Sam arched her eyebrow at him. "Pete, you're starting to make me wonder whose side you're on."
Pete reddened. "I'm sorry Sam. I just want to be sure everything works out okay."
Sam heard Jack snort in her earpiece. "Yeah, I'm sure he's worried about his own ass now," Jack snorted.
She ignored Jack's comment. "Pete, you have to have faith. For years I've worked with only three other people on a team, and we made it through much worse than this."
"You mean there's only three people backing you up!" Pete asked.
Sam sighed. He'd pitch an even bigger fit if he knew this mission consisted only of her and Jack. Hammond had decided to have several special ops strike teams on alert nearby, but they hadn't been given any of the particulars of her and Jack's mission and would only be called in if something went terribly wrong or if a quick clean up was needed. She smiled as she pictured Hammond in his wide-brimmed hat, fishing along the Potomac shoreline in the cool early morning air, pretending to be absorbed by news radio while instead listening intently to her, Jack, and Pete.
"Huh?" Pete asked. "Just three?"
"Pete, stop worrying about it. I know you've had to have done something like this before." She shook her head. "If you go in there with doubts, they'll smell it a mile away…"
"I'll do fine," Pete said, lifting his chin.
"I hope you do, too," Sam said.
"He'd better," Jack said in Sam's ear.
"You remember the signals?" Sam asked.
"Okay then," Sam said. "Good luck Pete. We've got your six," she said, hitching up her jacket hood and starting to walk out of alley.
"No good luck kiss?" Pete asked.
"I think not!" Jack bellowed into Sam's ear.
She turned to shake her head at him. "You'll do fine. Now I've got to go Pete."
Pete looked unhappy. "Okay," he said dismally.
Chapter 5: Caged
Pete glanced at his watch again. He was beginning to worry that Hoskins wasn't going to show. He pushed the last of his sausage and egg croissan'wich into his mouth. He figured he'd finish his coffee off, then call Hoskins to find out what the deal was.
"Pete Shanahan?" a male voice intoned behind Pete.
"Yeah?" Pete asked, twisting around in the hard plastic seat. A trim, middle-aged man stood nearby, gingerly holding a paper cup of hot coffee. Pete stood up quickly and extended his hand. "Mr. Hoskins, thanks for meeting with me," he said.
The man shook his head and set his coffee down on the table before returning Pete's handshake. "I'm not Mr. Hoskins."
Oh hell, Pete thought, his smile sagging. He'd failed Sam again. Who knew what she'd do to him this time; he remembered well what she'd done to him the day he'd demanded his engagement ring back.
"I'm Agent Dexter," the man explained, easing into the molded plastic seat across from Pete. "Hoskins reported to me."
Pete scrunched his croissan'wich wrapper into a tight ball. Maybe he wasn't road kill just yet. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Dexter," he said, flashing as friendly a smile as he could muster at the man.
Dexter nodded back. "Now how may we help you?" he asked.
"Well, I thought I was going to talk to Hoskins about job prospects with your agency," Pete answered.
"You feel you have prospects with us?" Dexter asked, sipping on his coffee.
Pete blushed. Was the guy inferring he wasn't good enough? "I thought I did. I mean Hoskins and I seemed to work together pretty well."
"Did you now?" Dexter asked.
Dexter appraised Pete. "Success or failure is a matter of opinion, isn't it?"
"I guess so," Pete said, unsure of what Dexter was getting at. He didn't like people who talked in vague circles and this jerk apparently was one of them.
"In our organization there's no guessing, Mr. Shanahan." Dexter frowned. "That's why we recruited you to assist us. You gave us every indication that you would be a success."
Pete glowered. "I thought I did what you wanted. Hoskins - nobody - told me I was doing anything wrong. Does this mean you don't want me to work for you?"
"Mr. Shanahan, let's take a walk to discuss this further," Dexter said, eyeing a group of teens who were jostling one another in the checkout line. "Without the distractions."
Given his gut feeling about this Dexter guy, Pete wasn't so sure he wanted to leave this very public fast food joint to go anywhere with him. He fiddled with the buttons on his shirt, then he remembered Sam and her team, waiting and watching their every move. With that kind of back up he figured he didn't have much to lose. He nodded his consent to Dexter, standing up to gulp down the last of his coffee.
Following Dexter out the door, Pete came up beside the ISDIC agent. "Did you hear about that Hammond guy getting shot?" Pete asked. "I met him once when they had me on base getting cleaned up after that alien chick shot me. He seemed like a nice guy."
Turning towards the east and squinting into the early morning glare, Dexter reached inside his jacket to pull out his sunglasses. "He does know how to work certain elements," Dexter replied.
"I take it you don't like the guy," Pete said.
Dexter shrugged. "Different part of the government," he said. "Administrations come and go quickly, Mr. Shanahan."
"I guess us public servants," Pete said, jamming his hands into his jacket pockets, "we're what keeps everything running smoothly?"
Dexter nodded thoughtfully. "In a manner of speaking," he said. "And at times our agency's services are required more frequently than usual to keep things on track."
Pete smiled. "See," he said eagerly. "That's what I want to do Mr. Dexter! That local and state law enforcement crap - bah! That's for the birds. Now this federal level stuff - this is where I want to be!"
"There are other federal agencies hiring, Mr. Shanahan," Dexter reminded him.
"Yeah, but you see, you guys are in the thick of the action. You guys gave me a chance. You gave me a taste for doing this kind of work," Pete explained animatedly. "You showed me I can do it." As they crossed the street, Pete noticed Dexter's lengthy sideways glance and he offered him an encouraging smile.
"As I mentioned earlier, that last point is debatable, Mr. Shanahan," Dexter said.
"Why do you say that?" Pete asked. "I think I did fine."
"I think not."
Smile fading, Pete's frustration level started to rise. "It's not like you guys gave me much support. Or much choice for that matter. For what all you didn't give me, I think I did fine. What else did you want me to do?"
"Oh, deeper cover, perhaps? Further intel on Colonel Carter?" Dexter remarked. "Intel on the things that the SGC was not reporting as they should have been."
"But I was doing that!" Pete protested. "Hoskins - nobody - never told me I wasn't doing enough!"
"Everything is on a need to know basis in our organization, Mr. Shanahan," Dexter said.
"Damn it. I needed to know!" Pete growled. "That alien woman nearly got me killed. And Sam nearly killed me near the end."
"We're aware of that," Dexter said with a slight smirk.
Pete wasn't sure where this was going. He despised being on the butt end of Mr. Dexter's snide remarks, but he had an obligation to Sam, to that Hammond guy, and to the others that he now realized he'd done wrong by his willingness to join jerks like these. They needed intel and he was going to have to go out on a limb to get it from this guy. He glanced up at the Super 8 motel sign and wished he were up in his room, packing to leave town. They passed the motel and neared the beginnings of the industrial area that backed up to the train tracks running out from Union Station.
"So you do know Sam and I are trying to work things out?" Pete asked suddenly.
"WHAT!" Jack hissed in Sam's ear receiver.
"Shhhh…" Sam hushed Jack.
"I can still get you the information that you need," Pete said. "I'm working on getting things smoothed out with her."
"We are aware that she is here in D.C. and of your attempt to reconcile," Dexter stated crisply. He looked sympathetically at Pete. "However, I do not think things will work out in your favor with the colonel," he said.
"Why do you think…" Pete said.
"Mr. Shanahan," Dexter interrupted, "your offer and enthusiasm are commendable, however we have the SGC situation in hand at the present time. Your assistance," Dexter coughed, "will not be required."
Pete was agitated. "I bet you had something to do with Hammond getting shot and that other general disappearing," he mumbled heatedly under his breath.
Dexter whipped around to face Pete. "Mr. Shanahan, I understand your knowledge of the shooting, as that is public knowledge. However Xavier's disappearance has not been announced." He glared at Pete. "How have you come by this information?"
Pete turned red. "Well, uh, I, uh…"
Dexter shook his head. "Mr. Shanahan, your inquisitiveness may be most detrimental to your employment prospects with us." He stopped and motioned down the side alleyway to the warehouse they were standing in front of. "Let's step in here," he said.
Pete shook his head.
"Yes, please do," Dexter said. Grimly smiling, he unzipped his jacket halfway and tucked his hand inside, exposing his gun to Pete. "I must insist on it."
Feeling lost without the security of his own gun strapped to his chest, Pete groaned as he walked down the alley. "I knew I should never have taken your damn money."
"Yes," Dexter smiled, "I agree. It may have made you somewhat less of a target, but it wouldn't have changed the role we needed you to play." He pulled the gun out the rest of the way and aimed at the sidedoor's padlock. Three quick muffled pops blew the lock off the door.
Recoiling, Pete thought, great - a silencer. He really was up shit creek now… Sam had better be close by…
"You see, we don't like liabilities, Mr. Shanahan. They threaten our bottom line," he said, waving Pete toward the now open door.
"Was that Hammond guy a liability?" Pete asked. "And Xavier?"
Dexter waved Pete deeper into the warehouse as he slammed the door shut. "They were not part of our organization, Mr. Shanahan. They were impediments to the orderly and smooth flow of government."
"Really?" Pete asked. "Whose government? Mine or yours?"
Dexter frowned at Pete. "They were roadblocks to the coming transition that needed removed."
"So YOU removed them," Pete accused.
"Hammond - no," Dexter responded. "And that botched job further documents the incompetence of certain contractual fools such as yourself." He glared at Pete. "Xavier - yes. We needed to know with certainty that threat would be eliminated permanently."
Pete's eyes widened. "So he's dead?"
Dexter nodded grimly. "Just as you soon will be Mr. Shanahan."
Jack grunted in Sam's ear. "No matter how much I hate the boy, I've seen and heard enough. Let's move in. I'll alert the others to get in position."
Sam nodded in agreement.
"Think they could have gotten any cheesier?" Jack asked, waving an arm around the surveillance van as he pushed the fold-up lawn chair out of the way.
"I think Hammond did the best he could on such short notice and without rousing the interest of everyone who's watching him right now," Sam responded, grabbing their Kevlar vests and throwing Jack his.
"Yeah, well, I've seen better on police stakeouts," Jack observed, frowning.
"When were you a cop?" Sam asked, looking at him as she fastened her vest.
Jack shrugged. "I'm just saying…"
She handed him an extra clip for his gun and nodded at him. "Ready?" she asked.
Jack nodded and they burst out of back of the van and ran across the street to the warehouse they had watched Pete and Dexter enter. Together they hit the side of the building and slid up along it to the corner alleyway leading to the side door. Jack raised his gun and nodded at Sam who put her arms in position to cover him.
He ran down the alley and took up position on street side of the door. Sam slowly backed up behind him and stopped when she felt his body behind her. She turned around to face Jack and noted the twisted padlock on the ground nearby. The sound of Pete's hemming and hawing filled her earpiece. He was starting to sound a little desperate. She took up position on the other side of the door, gun held at the ready.
Jack turned and kicked the door open. Sam angled her gun in and moved in to the right side. Aiming his gun in the opposite direction, Jack entered after her.
"What was that?" Sam heard Dexter ask.
"I don't know," Pete answered. Sam grinned at the little bit of hopefulness that had crept into Pete's voice.
"Is this a setup, Mr. Shanahan?" Dexter asked. "Are you smarter than I gave you credit for?"
"I don't know," she hear Pete respond in a tone with a tad too much smugness in it. You're not safe yet Pete, Sam thought as she and Jack slowly crept along the stacks of large crates.
"Move," Dexter ordered. There was another pause. "Faster!" Dexter ordered.
"I am, I am," Pete huffed.
The sound of barrels falling reached their ears. "That'd be Pete," Sam observed.
Jack rolled his eyes at her. "Damn, I wish I had a visual right now," he said. He ducked down, both hands on his gun as he weaved through the large storage area.
Sam slowly followed Jack, covering him. She could hear Pete arguing with Dexter.
"You could at least give me the choice of how I'm gonna die," she heard Pete say.
"You would like a running start?" Dexter asked.
"Is that what you gave Xavier? A running start?" Pete asked.
Sam heard Dexter snort. "He was running when we abducted him," he admitted, "but no, he wasn't given a choice of termination methods like I'm giving you." Dexter was quiet for a moment. "You like to hunt, Mr. Shanahan? Wouldn't you prefer something more efficient, say to the heart or brain?"
Pete paused and Sam knew he was trying to calculate the probability of escape for each choice. She slowed down to cover Jack's back as he moved around another ceiling-high stack of crates.
"Hunting," Pete said finally.
"Unfortunately for you I'm not a hunter and I tire of games quickly," Dexter said.
She heard the muffled thump of a silencer and another loud shot ring out simultaneously. Sam turned the corner and caught sight of Pete clutching his bicep as he fell to the floor. She also glimpsed Dexter ducking behind another set of high bins. Jack was facing Dexter and grimacing at his missed shot as he brought his gun down.
"Pete!" Sam yelled, focusing in on him. "Go! Go! Go!" She waved her free hand at the small fire exit door twenty feet behind Pete. Pete ignored her, hunched over in pain.
Jack glanced quickly between Pete, Sam, and Dexter, who was slowly inching away. Jack turned to glare at Sam. "Get him the hell out of here!" he ordered. He turned back to Dexter and aimed a shot at the ISDIC agent's retreating bulk.
Sam ran up to Pete and yanked him toward the door by his good arm. Pete howled as she pushed him toward the door. "Out! NOW!" she ordered him.
"But…" Pete whined.
"Now!" Sam ordered again, pulling harder as he resisted her. "There are people outside waiting for you."
"But…" Pete protested as Sam yanked him hard across the last ten feet of floorspace.
"No buts," Sam said, kicking the door open with one foot and thrusting Pete out the door with both hands. "Medical emergency!" she yelled, nodding to a special ops team commander crouched near the door. Satisfied that Pete was no longer an issue, she yanked the door back shut and ran back toward the sound of gunfire.
Sam ducked as shots zipped back and forth between Jack and Dexter. Neither moved very far as they sniped at each other. Sam tried to turn the corner to cover Jack's position, but the bullets zinging out of that corridor wouldn't allow her to do it.
A loud concussion and bright flash in front of her made Sam jump back. "Clear!" she yelled, ducking behind a steel beam and covering her head against the flying debris, squeezing her eyes tightly shut.
She knew Jack hadn't been too far up ahead of her. She wondered if he'd been able to take cover in time. Praying he hadn't been caught in the explosion, she waved at the acrid smoke that blew past her face.
"Jack?" she called out, lifting her shirt up to cover her nose. She picked her way around the debris that had littered the crate corridor. A few of the metal containers close to the explosion had blasted into smithereens, spreading shrapnel out in a wide arc, some of it reaching the wooden boxes and cardboard containers near her position. She fingered a palm-sized sliver angled into a large container nearby.
"Jack?" she called out.
She came around the corner of the chest-high metal box that blunted most of the blast and found two men sprawled out on the floor. Bloody from a large gaping gash in his back, Dexter had Jack pinned to the ground, one hand gripping Jack's throat, the other preparing to slice a jagged piece of shrapnel across Jack's jugular vein. Dexter's eyes and teeth gleamed a disturbing white against the blacks and reds of his burnt and slashed face as he raised his head at her approach. Sam didn't think twice, dropping to one knee to aim her gun at Dexter's head and pulling the trigger three times in quick succession.
Jack's tight clinch on ISDIC agent's throat loosened as Dexter fell backward as the shots ripped into him. Jack immediately grabbed his own throat, gasping for air. He rolled to his side, wheezing and looking at Sam, trying to talk.
Sam ran up to Jack to check him out. "Don't talk. Just breathe." Besides being liberally peppered with fine fragments of shrapnel, he otherwise seemed fine.
"Damn asshole was leading us into a trap!" he gasped, holding his chest. "He knew and had explosives hidden on him!"
"Are you hurt?" Sam asked, ripping the straps to his Kevlar vest off and pulling his shirt up to run her hand quickly across his chest. Dexter had apparently made a mistake and had borne the brunt of the blast that he'd meant for the three of them.
Jack pushed her hand away. "I'm fine."
"Sure you are," she said, tucking her gun into her jeans so she could help pull him to his feet with both hands. As he was being lifted up, Jack suddenly yanked one hand away and grabbed Sam's gun, firing past Sam as he fell to the floor. Sam turned to find Dexter on his knees, toppling over and clutching his chest where Jack had shot him. How'd he survive her three bull's eye hits to the brain?
"He'd better not be a Goa'uld!" Jack said, pushing himself up from the floor. Sam retrieved her gun and slowly approached Dexter. She checked his neck for a pulse and looked back at Jack. "No pulse."
"Doesn't mean a damn thing," Jack spat out, clutching his chest and grimacing in pain.
Sam stood up and pressed her earpiece. "Reel it in. I repeat - reel it in."
Jack slowly pulled himself to a sitting position and grinned weakly at Sam. "I like it when you talk fishin'."
"Save your breath, buster," Sam said, coming back over to help Jack to his feet.
Chapter 6: Still Just a Lizard
Barrett smiled as Sam finished her testimony, clicking his small digital recorder off. "As I told General O'Neill earlier, thanks to you both, the ISDIC threat has been contained. It turned out to be a much smaller organization than we thought, but well-funded. Extremely well-funded. We're checking into splinter cells right now."
Sam looked at Barrett. "So there's still a threat?"
Barrett gave her a regretful look. "I wish I could say no, but you know how things are in our line of work."
There were times when she wished she didn't know how constant the threat to her and her loved ones was. But it reassured her to know that the majority of this threat had been removed for their sake and for Hammond's, and, yes, even for Pete's sake. She knew she'd return to the SGC examining everyone with fresh eyes, wondering if they really were who they said they were. Sam sighed. She'd just have to trust Hammond and the others as they completed another thorough personnel sweep.
She smiled at Barrett. "I know," she said. "What about Pete?" she asked. "Will he be in any danger? Will he still be a target?"
Barrett shook his head. "Those who knew about his involvement are in custody. And we have plans for Mr. Shanahan."
Sam raised her eyebrows. "Really?"
"You know I can't share that, Colonel," Barrett laughed. He stood up and walked to the door. "Just go finish your vacation with General O'Neill and leave the worrying to us this time." He offered her his hand.
Sam ignored his hand, instead reaching over to kiss Barrett on the cheek and giving him a quick hug. "Take care, Malcolm."
"You too, Sam."
Sam left the debriefing, her head swimming with the mountain of facts and memories of everything that had happened the past two weeks. She felt swamped by all the information she'd absorbed and her ever-present need to organize and analyze it. As the elevator doors closed, she slowly inhaled through her nose and slowly released the breath, trying to clear her head. She had a vacation to finish. She grinned. Yes, she had a vacation to finish…
As she left the elevator, the smile on her face disappeared as she caught sight of Pete approaching. She closed her eyes and sighed. She figured Barrett would also be meeting with him at some point soon, but Pete's timing involving anything to do with her was right on target as usual. She looked around, plotting a way to escape from him. There was a conference room a few feet away, but it wouldn't work as an escape route.
"Sam!" Pete greeted her, reaching his unbandaged arm out to hug her.
Sam stiffened as he hugged her. "Pete," she said.
Pete stood back, confused by her coldness. He gave her a tentative smile. "I don't know what to say Sam. Thank you? If you all hadn't been there…"
Sam let her guard down slightly. "No, Pete, we have to thank you. If you hadn't done what you did, we wouldn't know about the new organization, about what happened to Xavier, or brought closure for General Hammond."
Pete grinned at Hammond's name. "How's he doing?"
Sam stepped into the empty conference room and motioned for Pete to follow her. "He's fine," she answered. "We met with him yesterday afternoon after everything wrapped up. He's very happy with how it all worked out and is pleased with your role in it."
"Are you?" Pete asked, tilting his head to catch Sam's eyes.
"Am I what?" Sam asked.
"Pleased with me?" Pete asked.
Sam considered how to answer. "We appreciate your help," she said noncommittally.
Pete frowned. "Damn it, Sam. I meant us. I mean you. How do you feel about it? How do you feel about me?"
Sam inhaled and exhaled slowly. This was why she wanted to disappear when she saw him coming. She was ready to leave him completely behind and she knew he wouldn't let her go without bringing their relationship up again. "I thought I made myself clear when you left my house a few weeks ago," Sam said quietly, looking away.
Pete drew in a sharp breath. "You still feel like that? I thought with all this… that things had changed."
Sam chewed on her bottom lip. "Pete, this was just a mission. It didn't change anything between us."
"I thought it had." Pete shook his head. "What would it take for you to believe I'm not the complete jerk you thought I was?" Pete asked.
"Nothing would change how I feel," Sam admitted. He'd hurt her deeply. Had she not had Jack here, reminding her that none of this was her fault, that it was Pete as the one who'd abused her trust that was the problem, not her for putting her trust in him, she wasn't sure how she'd be feeling right now. As it was she felt a deep, painful ache that wouldn't go away from realizing just how thoroughly she'd been used in this whole mess. She couldn't forgive Pete. Not now. Not ever. And she absolutely hated the thought that she could carry that kind of hardness in her heart.
"I can't understand why you think like that," Pete said angrily.
"What am I supposed to believe?" Sam retorted, equally angry. "What do you even believe about yourself? If you weren't sure and had to convince yourself to act like that, all for a mission - how do you expect me to be sure about what's the truth about you and what's a lie?"
"But Sam," Pete said. "You don't understand. I couldn't refuse their offer."
"How much Pete?" Sam asked. "How much was I worth? Huh?" Sam asked.
"Sam, it wasn't about the money," Pete protested.
Sam crossed her arms and glared at him. "What was it about then?"
Pete looked away. "Like I said, it really was an offer I couldn't refuse. I had no choice or they would have killed…"
Sam shook her head and interrupted Pete. "There's always a choice, Pete. It may be the hardest choice we ever have to make and we may not survive it, but there's always a choice."
"Well, I'm not a part of any of these organizations now," Pete said.
"Then what are you doing here?" Sam asked, indicating the lobby-level conference room surrounding them in the NID's official unofficial building. It was another lie she guessed, as Barrett had indicated differently.
"To have my final debriefing with Agent Barrett," Pete explained. "You know I did make a hard choice, Sam. I'm severing ties with all of these types."
Sam snorted. "You think it's that easy to leave any of these intel organizations, just like that?" Sam asked, giving her fingers a quick snap. "You think you'll be allowed to just walk away and pretend like you don't know what they do?"
"Yes," Pete said. "That's what they told me. I'll just fall back into the Denver PD job. No one's any wiser about my double life. Barrett says he'll help me get back on track. He seems like a pretty upstanding kind of man," Pete commented.
"Yes, he does seem to have some ethics," Sam agreed, turning away from Pete. As for those being any wiser to Pete - she'd remember, she thought angrily. And Jack. And too many others in the intel community who would now be aware of Pete's existence and his role in all this, no matter how much Barrett had assured her that it would be kept under wraps. She looked at Pete solemnly. "Just watch your back, Pete."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Pete asked. He peered at Sam. "Are you threatening me? Am I on some kind of hit list?"
"No," Sam shook her head. "I've just seen too much, Pete."
"I'll keep that in mind," Pete said, "but I don't think there's going to be any problems now." He shrugged and gave her a silly grin. "I'm just small potatoes in that big garden of life."
Sam gave Pete a look. Maybe in another lifetime she would have laughed and rolled her eyes at his humor. Now he just left a bad taste in her mouth. She walked to the door. "Just be careful." She gave him a small smile. "Seriously. You take care of yourself, Pete Shanahan."
"That's it?" Pete asked. "Take care? See ya 'round? You're sure you won't reconsider?"
Sam shook her head. "I'm sorry Pete." She saw Jack approaching the conference room in the tailored navy blue suit he'd worn for their meeting at the Pentagon a few hours earlier. She smiled warmly at Jack, admiring the way the suit fell down his lithe body and noticing that the shrapnel wounds on his face were barely more noticeable than razor cuts. She couldn't keep her eyes off him and she wasn't going to hide it from Pete any longer.
Pete followed her gaze and his head quickly jerked back and forth between Sam and Jack. In a frustrated tone Pete said, "This is about more than my lying." He glanced back at Jack who was grinning at Sam. "Come on, Sam, hasn't he ever lied to you?"
Sam considered the thought. In eight long years had Jack ever done that? She leveled a sorrowful glance at Pete. "No," she answered him. "Never once."
Pete snorted. "Nobody's that perfect," he countered, shaking his head.
Sam shook her head. "Lies were never a part of our relationship, Pete. Jack's not that kind of man."
"But I'm not either!" Pete said forcefully, getting up in Sam's face. "Why can't you see that?"
Sam gave Pete a doubtful look and very gently pushed him away. "Because of your history, Pete," she said very quietly. "You lied repeatedly. You thought it was fine. Why can't you understand why I'd never be able to trust you?"
Pete opened his mouth to speak, his chin shaking. "You'll never let me forget that will you?"
Sam began to speak and stopped. She felt the sparks of anger at him rising again, at an organization that would use her weakness for their own gain, at everything that had complicated her life the past year. Tears of frustration teased her eyelids. Think positive Sam, she chided herself. On the positive side she and Jack had successfully completed their mission and another rogue organization had been taken down. While the SGC would need a new commander and quickly, Hammond was safe. She and Jack were getting ready to head back out to Minnesota to pick up where they'd left off. All was well in the world at the moment. She refused to allow Pete to ruin this for her.
"Pete," Sam said, lightly touching his hand. "I'm very grateful to you for everything you did to help us. You put yourself at great risk and it made a tremendous difference on how things worked out."
"So won't you reconsider?" Pete asked, trying to cover her hand with one of his own.
"No," Sam said, slowly withdrawing her hand. "I'm sorry, but that chapter of my life is over and done with. I really do wish you well, Pete…"
She turned to Jack as he came up beside her and pecked her on the cheek. As he unbuttoned the top of his shirt and loosened his collar, Jack nodded his head toward the entrance foyer. "Sam, c'mon," Jack said. "I've been waiting in the lobby for the last half hour. I thought maybe Thor had whisked you away somewhere."
Pete extended his hand towards Jack. "No, I'm Pete."
"I know who you are," Jack said, frowning and refusing to take Pete's hand. He turned to Sam. "Sam, you ready to roll? George's driver is supposed to be here any time now to take us to Dulles," he told her. "You don't get extra leave to make up for the past couple days you know."
"I know, I know," Sam answered, nodding. "Ready whenever you are, Jack."
Pete squinted at the two of them, a scowl slowly filling his face. "So it was always him?" Pete asked.
Sam shook her head. She wasn't going to explain it all to Pete; all of the feelings she had gone through during their relationship, all of the anger at finding out it had all been a sham, of the complicated relationship she and Jack had had and the now changed circumstances between them. It, no - he, wasn't worth the effort. "Pete, you had your chance and you blew it." She smoothed her jacket out. "Now if you'll excuse us, we have a plane to catch." She turned to Jack who gently touched her in the small of her back as she moved past him.
"Later," Jack said to Pete, following Sam out of the conference room and weaving his fingers into hers.
As the limousine pulled into the heavy downtown traffic, Sam leaned her head against Jack's shoulder, her hands intertwined with his. She felt him tilt his head toward her and the light pressure on her hair as he kissed her. Sam squeezed his hand and sighed.
"Tired?" Jack asked.
Sam stopped to think about it. "No, not really." She was at peace right now.
Jack grinned. "Good. The fish await us."
Sam grinned. Fishing it would be. And whatever else Jack had planned, for who knew what the future held? She realized her own would never hold that white picket house and she could live with that now. She would just enjoy every moment and savor every second that she was in. She would take it as it came with Jack and take a cue from him - love strongly and deeply while she could and hold those she loved as close as she could while she could.
She was ready for whatever the future held in store for her now. The SGC. Life. Jack.