Chapter Six - Loose Ends

"I don't understand why he couldn't wait until Sam was released in a few weeks. I can't see how having him confront her so soon after she woke up is good for her," Daniel protested as he and Jack walked up to the elevator, where they were to meet Sam's fiancé.

"It's what she wants. She says it's not fair for him to have to wait weeks to find out he's not getting married anymore."

"Well," Daniel shrugged as they stopped, waiting for the elevator doors to open. "I guess there's that. But this is just going to upset her, and she only woke up the day before yesterday!"

"I hear you, Daniel, but this is her decision," Jack sighed, clearly not happy about the situation at all.

"We have to make sure he takes it easy on her," he insisted, deeply concerned about the impending confrontation.

"You and Teal'c can stand outside the door," Jack suggested. "You have my authorization to use brute force if necessary."

"Where are you going to be?" Daniel asked, surprised that Jack would not be hovering close when the dreaded conversation took place.

"General Hammond is waiting for me in my office," the general explained. "He said something about a counteroffer."

"A counteroffer to what?" Daniel asked.

"To my retirement," Jack replied.

"Can they do that? I mean… they're not going to stop you from…"

"There's no chance in hell. Carter and I are getting married and that's that!"

"Then you might want to stop calling her Carter," Daniel suggested.

"Why?" Jack asked, sounding completely clueless, which just made the archeologist roll his eyes and shake his head, just as the elevator doors opened.

Detective Pete Shanahan stood inside, next to an escorting airman, his features revealing days-old stress as he lifted his gaze to meet Jack's, then Daniel's.

"Shanahan," Jack said as a greeting.

"General," the cop greeted back, just as unenthusiastically.

"You're dismissed," Jack addressed the airman, who saluted and exited the elevator. Then he turned to Pete again. "You remember Dr. Jackson," Jack pointed at the archeologist.

"Of course I do," Shanahan frowned, and then extended his hand to Daniel, something he had failed to do for Jack.

"Hi, Pete," Daniel greeted, shaking the man's hand. "I'll take you to see Sam."

"Thanks," the cop nodded.

"Call me when he's ready to go. I'll pick him up from the infirmary and take him topside," Jack instructed, then he turned on his heel and left.

The two younger men stepped into the elevator again and Daniel pressed the floor for the infirmary.

"He's never liked me," Shanahan suddenly commented.

Daniel really didn't want to answer, so he played dumb. "Who?"

"Your commander."

"Oh, Jack? He's always grumpy."

"No, he's not. He hates my guts."

"Why do you say that?" Daniel continued to play dumb.

"I can't blame him. I took her from him."

Daniel was floored; enough that he pressed the stop button to temporarily halt the elevator and face the detective.

"Excuse me?" he prompted.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. He's in love with Sam, and she was in love with him."

Was? Oh, the poor guy was up for the shock of his life!

"There was never an intimate relationship between them, if that's what you're implying," Daniel defended.

"Maybe not, but they were in love, anyway," Pete stated with certainty.

"Well… if you knew that… then why…?"

"Because she deserves better," he interrupted.

"Better?" Daniel challenged, feeling his hackles rise.

"She deserves more than a life of work, and injuries, and war. She deserves to be loved and cherished. She deserves a husband and a family. He could never give those to her."

"Well…"

"And he's too old for her," Pete stated with finality.

"That's a matter of opinion," Daniel argued.

"Not really. Everyone can see that. She's just in awe of him. She has the real thing with me," Pete argued earnestly, and Daniel suddenly realized that he was trying to convince himself.

The cop was terrified. He knew what was coming.

Daniel wisely chose silence. He pushed the release button and did not offer an argument. He truly felt sorry for Shanahan.

He knew that the cop was crazy about Sam, and that he was going to be crushed when she broke up with him, but Daniel was solidly on Jack's side.

As the two men approached Sam's private room and Daniel knocked, he turned to the detective and said, "Just remember that she's still recovering, and that Teal'c and I will be right here, waiting for you. Don't upset her."

Then Teal'c opened the door and stepped aside to allow Shanahan inside.

The cop gave Daniel a look that revealed pure apprehension, but then he entered the room and softly closed the door behind him.

Teal'c stood before Daniel, clearly waiting for the comment he knew was unavoidable. The archeologist didn't disappoint him.

"He already knows."

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Sam watched her fiancé enter the room as she swallowed a lump and attempted to straighten herself in bed, only to feel a stab of pain lance through her side, making her grimace.

She could do this, she told herself. She would get it over with and let him go. She couldn't string him along any longer. It wasn't fair to him.

Teal'c's concerned eyes were on her features when she opened hers, but she just nodded at him, letting him know that she would be okay. The Jaffa then silently stepped outside and Pete closed the door behind him.

The moment he turned to face her, Sam knew that she had her work cut out for her. His tense features immediately morphed into a forced smile as he solicitously came to help her sit up better, his large hands warm on her arms. Fluffing her pillows, he said, "Here, let me. I can tell you're hurting. God, Sam! Why wouldn't they let me see you sooner? I've been worried out of my mind!" He then leaned over and placed a tender kiss on her cheek.

"I'm fine," she automatically replied.

"No, you're not. You were in a coma, babe! For six days! And your doctor told me over the phone that you're not completely out of the woods yet."

"Pete…"

"But don't you worry, I'm here now. I already postponed all the wedding arrangements and we can wait as long as you need to recover."

"Pete, listen…"

"I'm really sorry about your dad, Sam. I called Mark. He's holding up okay, and he's relieved to know that you're doing better. He was worried sick about you, too."

"Thank you for doing that. I'm glad Mark is okay," she said.

"I also called the printer to hold off on the invitations. We're going to have to set up another date for the wedding and…"

"Pete!" Sam finally and firmly interrupted, taking hold of his arm. "I can't marry you."

To Sam's surprise, he did not seem shocked by her revelation, but he forced another smile as he shook his head at her. "Honey, I know that you feel overwhelmed by everything right now, but you don't have to stress over anything. You just need to focus on getting better and everything else will fall into place."

"No, Pete, you don't understand," Sam shook her head at him sadly. "I can't. I'm sorry."

"Sam," he started to insist, but she shook her head at him again.

"I'm so sorry, Pete! I never meant to hurt you… and I truly… really do care for you. I never lied about that."

"Then why talk this way?" he asked, still smiling and attempting to dismiss her words.

"It's not fair to you… or to me, but especially to you. You deserve someone that loves you deeply and completely. I can't offer that to you."

"What you offer me is more than I ever hoped for, Sam. I love you enough to deal with your job, with your attachment and loyalty to Cassie, to Daniel, to Teal'c…"

"Pete, please, don't!" Sam looked away.

He knew. She could tell that he was fully aware of her feelings for Jack.

"I'll even deal with him always being part of your life if that's what you want, Sam."

"Don't!" she shook her head.

"I know, I know. He's important to you. If he's got to be around, I can deal with it. As long as you're my wife, I can deal with anything," he insisted earnestly, sitting on the stool next to her bed but leaning closer to her.

"You can't even say his name," Sam challenged, her heart breaking for him.

Pete looked at her in the eye for the first time since he entered the room, his dread and pain clearly written on his features, and Sam felt horrible. She was hurting him more than she had ever suspected she could.

"I don't care. I still want you, Sam, and I can make you happy."

Sam didn't know what to say. He was begging with his eyes, impending tears making the brown orbs shine with blatant desolation.

"Pete, I…" she began, but a sharp pain made her gasp and her hand flew to her side.

"Honey, we shouldn't be talking about this now. You're still too weak…"

"No, Pete, please listen to me. I can't marry you. If I did, you would eventually get to hate me, because I just can't love you the way I should," she tried to explain, to make him listen.

"How can you say that? We're great together!" he cajoled.

"We have fun. We care for each other, but…" Sam paused, attempting to catch her breath despite her increasing discomfort. She had refused the last dose of morphine because she wanted to be very clearheaded for this conversation, but her body was telling her that she was pushing herself too much.

"Sam, we'll talk about this tomorrow. I'll come back every day and keep you company, and we'll have plenty of time to discuss anything you want. We don't have to decide anything right now."

Sam let her head drop back onto her pillow, but she would not give up. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, ready to continue arguing, but Pete took advantage of the respite to tuck her in, bringing her covers up to her chest and sitting next to her in bed.

"Pete, please. I really hate to do this to you, but the wedding is off. I can't marry you, now or ever. I love you, but I'm… I'm not in love with you," Sam explained, sadly holding his eyes.

He looked at her for long moments, his eyes filling up with tears again but his face impassive as he seemed to consider his next words. He stood and turned his back to her, rubbing his neck and looking down at the floor. Then he softly admitted, "I always knew."

"What?" Sam asked, not sure that she had heard him correctly.

Pete turned around to face her, his shoulders hunched in defeat and his face a mask of resigned unhappiness. "From the beginning… I knew." He paused, still struggling with forming the words. "It's the way you look at him."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked, feeling rather horrified that she could be that transparent. Did the whole world know about her forbidden feelings for her CO?

"Your eyes shine differently when you look at him," he revealed, making her close her eyes in mortification.

"At the beginning I almost convinced myself that it was hero worship and nothing more, but…" he shook his head, "I knew that you've always been in love with him. I just thought… since you couldn't have a relationship…"

Sam understood, so she did not interrupt. She was hurting badly now, but she was trying to concentrate on Pete's agony instead.

"I thought that… if I could get you to marry me, I could make you forget about him. I thought I could make you happy."

Sam's tears finally could not be denied. She let them slip past her eyelids and run down her cheeks as she wallowed in guilt.

"From that first day, when you revealed everything to me about this place, about your mission… the way you talked about him… I could tell."

"I'm so sorry, Pete! I hate hurting you," she cried, making him come to her and engulf her in a warm hug.

"Don't cry, Sam. It's okay. You never lied to me. You always told me that this place and the people in it were your priority, your mission in life. I was willing to be second, as long as I could have you."

Sam couldn't believe her ears. He was letting her off the hook too easily. "You're too good for me, Pete," she said, weeping softly against his shoulder and hugging him back with honest, deep affection.

"No," he shook his head, pulling away and wiping her cheeks tenderly. "No, Sam. You're the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I'm not sorry for any of it. I don't regret a single second I spent with you."

Sam sobbed, shaking her head and looking down, unable to meet his direct gaze.

"I just hope…" he began, then he sighed and continued, "I honestly hope that you get what you want some day. You deserve it."

Sam just looked at him through her tears, not knowing how to respond to such selfless, loving words. She truly felt unworthy of the man's devotion.

"Please, promise me that you'll be okay," he finally asked.

Sam nodded, her eyes finally meeting his again. "I'll be fine, I promise. Will you be okay?" she asked, sincerely worried.

He sadly chuckled, rubbing her arms as he replied, "Eventually."

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Jack left Daniel in charge of the cop and went directly to his office, where General Hammond waited. He had been glad to have an excuse for not having to deal with Sam's fiancé.

He wasn't sure he could have maintained a reasonable level of civility. He had always disliked the man, not because he wasn't a decent sort, but because he was.

Pete Shanahan wasn't really good enough for Carter. No one was. But he had lots of good qualities that Jack would have to be blind not to see. He was a good man who adored her. He was clearly a fun guy, and he had made Sam happy. He had treated her well, and he had truly allowed her to flourish as a woman, as more than just Carter the scientist, the officer, the genius. He had made her hum.

Jack's heart had been ripped to shreds and turned into a mass of bitter bile the day she had shown Pete's engagement ring to him, but that day he had looked into her eyes and perceived the anguished ambivalence there. He had witnessed her intense desire for a normal life cruelly conflicting with the desperate hope for something that might never be, and he had loved her enough to help her decide… and let her go.

That Friday he had finished all his paperwork and gone home late. Then he had unplugged all the phones, turned off his cell phone, taken out a bottle of malt, and proceeded to get stinking, rotten drunk. He had been lucky that there had been no emergencies at the SGC and that no one had come looking for him. They would not have found Jack O'Neill home. They would have found the same man that had put a gun in his mouth years ago, the man that had been sent to Abydos to die.

The next morning, Jack had woken up with a splitting headache, showered, swallowed some aspirin, drank some coffee, and shoved his love and his hopes inside a drawer along with the snapshot of Carter he had always kept by his bed. He had not looked at that picture ever since, but now it was time to dust off his dreams and smile again.

As Jack reached his office and walked in, readying himself for an argument, he found General Hammond sitting in his old chair and laughing with someone on the phone. Hammond. Laughing. Hmm!

The older man waved him in and then said, "Okay, sweetheart. I'll pick you up later and I'll sit through that awful movie you want to watch. Yes. I will also buy you popcorn and soda. Okay. Bye!"

"One of the munchkins?" Jack asked, taking a seat across the desk from his boss. He always found it more comfortable to sit in this office from this viewpoint. He still hated the big chair.

"Kayla. She's been bugging her mom to take her to the movies for the past two weeks. Now that Grandpa is in town, she's found another victim more likely to give in to her wishes."

"What else are grandpas for?" Jack smirked, getting comfortable.

"I'm looking forward to doing a lot more of that in the near future, Jack."

Jack. He had called him Jack. Not good.

"What's taking a joy ride inside that shiny head of yours, General?" he jumped in.

Hammond chuckled, then he announced, "I'm retiring!"

"You, too? Good for you! We both deserve it!" Jack grinned, hiding the fact that he knew that the general's announcement meant his own plans were probably going to hell in a hand basket.

"Not quite. I'm older. I deserve it more," General Hammond stated with a glint in his eye.

"Uh-oh!" Jack responded. Crap!

"The President wants you to take over for me in DC, and it isn't quite a request, if you catch my drift," the general informed.

"General!" Jack exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "I already have plans! I told you! I'm done flying a desk! I'm done dealing with the Tok'ra! I'm done sending people to their doom! It's time to get married and have some fun!" Jack complained.

He was now pacing the office furiously.

"Sit down, Jack. It's not as bad as you think. You'll still be able to get married if you want," the general said in a calming tone, "and have plenty of fun."

"Really?" Jack instantly replied, stopping the pacing. Now he was mildly interested.

"Really. After our last argument, I presented your situation to the President, and he assured me that you'd be able to proceed with your marriage plans as long as you gave him at least three years as Head of Homeworld Security."

"Three?" Jack said, considering the proposal but still hesitant. "What about Carter?"

"Colonel Carter can remain in her position as SG-1's Team Leader or decide to take one of the many other offers on the table. The Pentagon wants her, Area 51 wants her, and there's still the Science Department top position here at the SGC that she has been trying to do on a part-time basis. Now she could really dig into her projects."

"A long-distance marriage?" Jack asked, making a face. "I don't know about that."

"Would a personal jet make a difference?" Hammond asked with a knowing smile.

"It might," Jack replied noncommittally.

"Talk it over with Sam, Jack. It's a good offer, and the President is dead set on you taking over. You'd be getting another star on your shoulder, by the way."

"A second star, huh?" Jack commented, not really that excited about another promotion. He was thinking about Sam. Would she be disappointed that he would not be retiring? Would she balk at having a long-distance marriage?

"I'm staying in town for a couple of days. Give me a call and let me know what you think. The President wants an answer by the end of the week."

"Yes, sir," Jack replied pensively.

He didn't see the smile gracing the older man's lips as he shook his head and left the office.

"Jack?" he heard coming from the door, and he was momentarily confused. Why did Hammond sound like a girl? Then he turned and realized that the one standing at his door was none other than Agent Kerry Johnson.

"Kerry!"

"You were miles away," she said with a fond smile.

"Yeah, I was… thinking," he replied. "I see you're back from Washington."

"Yes, finally. I just came back to wrap things up here. I'm going back for good by the end of the week."

"I see," he responded awkwardly. "Listen, I…"

"You don't have to explain anything. We had agreed that there were no commitments, and that our relationship would not interfere with work. I hope this is still the case."

"It is," he nodded.

"I'm a big girl, Jack, and I'm not stupid. I suspect you didn't even realize that I was gone for the past week."

"Of course I did, I just… didn't want to have this conversation over the telephone," he justified truthfully.

"That's very thoughtful of you," she said, her smile turning sad. "I know that you're taken, Jack. You were taken even as I met you. I knew there was someone; it just never occurred to me that it was Colonel Carter."

"We didn't…"

"I know, but you should. If she's whom you want, then go for it. Don't let rules stand in your way."

Jack nodded, dropping his gaze to the floor in discomfort, but he replied, "I'm working on it."

Kerry then fondly smiled at him again. "I wish you all the best, Jack. You deserve to be happy; and so does Colonel Carter."

"Thank you," he simply said, not knowing how else to respond.

The agent's smile widened, then she turned and said as she left, "See you around."

"Goodbye, Kerry," he replied; then he watched her go, rather relieved that the short conversation was over.

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Minutes after his clean break with Agent Johnson, Jack was on his way back to the infirmary.

As he arrived, Pete Shanahan was leaving Sam's room and Teal'c was entering.

"Jack. I was about to call you," Daniel said, turning to him as the detective faced him. Jack could tell the man had been crying.

"I'll take it from here. You go check on Carter," Jack ordered Daniel; he then started walking toward the elevator.

Pete followed silently, his face grim and his eyes on the floor.

The two men waited for the elevator in chilling silence, then stepped inside when the doors opened. Jack was actually surprised when the younger man spoke.

"Just promise me that you'll make her happy," Pete asked in a subdued tone, making the general turn to look at him.

After a moment, Jack replied, "You have my word."

The detective nodded, then returned his gaze to the floor tiles.

Soon they were on the NORAD floor, and Jack patiently stood aside to allow his guest to exit. Seeing him through the security check, he patiently stood as Shanahan recovered his ID from the guard.

To Jack's further surprise, Shanahan had more to say.

"You stepped aside for her sake once. I guess now it's my turn."

Jack didn't reply, but he nodded in acknowledgement. He felt sorry for the guy, but not enough to engage in pointless conversation.

"Take care," Shanahan finally said; and then he left.

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After escorting Sam's ex-fiancé off premises, Jack returned to her room to find her asleep, and Daniel and Teal'c looking clearly upset.

"What happened?" Jack asked.

"She was in pain and crying her eyes out when we came in. I told you this was a bad idea," Daniel replied. He wasn't a happy archeologist.

"Did you hear them argue?" Jack asked, his eyes taking in the tear tracks on Sam's still blotchy face.

"No. They did not fight," Teal'c replied. "Colonel Carter even said that Detective Shanahan had been too kind."

Daniel just pursed his lips unhappily, then he added, "But she got upset, anyway. She was so exhausted that she was barely coherent. I had to call Dr. Brightman."

Jack's eyes were on Sam's face the whole time as he responded. "Calm down, Daniel. We knew this was going to be difficult for her, but she really wanted to get this over with. This was her decision, not ours, and the doc okayed it."

He understood Daniel's upset, and he actually agreed with his friend, but this had been Sam's call. At least now he knew that the cop would not be calling the SGC and demanding to see her every day. Their relationship was over, and Jack felt glad and relieved about that.

Daniel was still sulking, so Jack turned to him to place a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Danny," he said.

Daniel just nodded, who then turned to Teal'c. "I guess we better go eat while she's sleeping." Turning back to Jack, he asked, "Are you coming?"

"You guys go ahead. I'll join you in a few minutes."

"Okay. Dr. Brightman gave her a strong dose of morphine. She won't be awake for a while."

Jack nodded, but he just took a seat next to Sam's bed and reached for her hand.

Daniel, taking the hint, sighed and motioned Teal'c for them to leave.

Jack heard them shut the door; then he felt free to bring Sam's fingers to his lips. He had missed her. He had been away from her for only a couple of hours, but he had missed her intensely. He couldn't wait until she woke up so that he could discuss Hammond's proposal with her.

"It's time to start planning our future together, Carter. We've waited long enough," he whispered, kissing her fingers again; then he leaned over her and gently kissed her lips.

It seemed like he had waited a lifetime for Carter, and now he felt impatient to start his new life with her. Feeling the way he felt right now, looking at her sleeping face and knowing that she belonged to him, made everything he had gone through the past eight years worth every second.

Giving her one more loving glance before he closed the door behind him, he reluctantly left Sam to join Daniel and Teal'c for lunch. He would let her rest.

Jack didn't notice, but as he made his way toward the mess hall, people stared.

The SGC personnel were not used to seeing their general smile.

The End