Disclaimer: I don't own them. I got no money for writing this story. I'm poor and broke. Maybe I'll win the lottery...
A/N: Sequel to 'Talkin' Turkey,' which is already posted at the 'Sam and Jack Always and Forever' website as well as at my Stargate, SG-1 home page. This is a new series that I've been calling 'The Divorce Series,' which I admit is a stupid title for a series, but it's what I've got. After the year long wait for the final story in my series 'The 'Threads' Communication Series,' I swore that I would never post another series again until that series was completely finished. At the time, it wasn't. Now it is, so now I'm posting it. Enjoy!
“Omelette?” Jack asked Sam as they both stepped over the threshold of his cabin's front door. The minute he asked his question, her head jerked up so that she could stare at him in what looked like sudden fear mixed with anxiety mixed with what had to be called 'rabid interest.' If Jack had to guess what that look of hers meant, he would say that she was obviously hungry at the moment, but he would also say that it hadn't been very often that she was offered something to eat that she could stomach, let alone liked. And above all else, he didn't want to upset her. With that in mind, and as deceptive as he was perceptive, he went on in his most casual voice, “You don't like mushrooms, right? So... no mushrooms in your omelette, and if I remember...”
Right on cue, the fright in Carter's eyes faded as surprise took its place. “How did you remember that I don't like mushrooms, Sir?” she asked in wonder. “No mushrooms is right - they're so...”
“... squishy,” he finished for her, saying aloud what she had always said in the past years. Then he nonchalantly turned back to the stove as he went about making her omelette. “Hey Carter,” he said to the stovetop. “Since you're by the fridge, do you mind handing me a be..?”
“Here, Sir, it's already opened.” Carter handed him the bottle of beer that she held in her hand without needing him to finish his question.
Jack beamed at the sight of the bottle - now that he had predicted the reason for her fear of eating, only a minute later, she was already relaxing enough to read his mind! He felt like celebrating. “Thanks, Carter!” he said. “Good of you to remember that I use beer in my omelettes.”
Carter smiled at the sense of comraderie that had immediately fallen over them as if this was old times. “Of course I remember,” she told him. “I was about to ask you if you still made the famous 'O'Neill Omelette' with beer, but I can already see that you do.”
“And you can use an omelette or two,” Jack stated, making small talk, casting his voice in her direction. “You're too thin, Carter.” He kept his voice carefully neutral as he inquired, “What have you not been eating?”
As if her answer was the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe, Carter carefully considered before she responded. “Uh... I've not been eating... breakfast, Sir.” She thought again, then added, “Also lunch - I forget to eat it, 'cause you're not there anymore to make sure that I eat anything.” Her gaze met his over the steam coming from the eggs cooking on the stove. Carter went on as she still gazed at Jack, “And I often don't eat supper, either.” She winced as she saw the disapproving expression that he shot her way. She was being honest, but her wince was evident nonetheless.
However, Jack was so busy staring into her eyes that he almost missed what she had said. He blinked to break the sudden connection between their gazes, but it only severed the lock of their eyes, and did nothing for the strength of his voice. “And... why did you skip... supper?” he managed to grind out. His voice sounded thick, but what she said next quickly cleared away any thickness on his part.
“I...” She looked down at the floor and gave a guilty blush. “I...” Her voice failed her again, until she finally just blurted the words, “I didn't always want to go home... Sir.” She winced again at the guilty sound of her words. She went on as he gaped at her, “I knew that supper would be ready at home. But... if I wasn't there, I didn't have to eat it.” The guilt she was obviously feeling at her previous situation was such a strong force in her tone that she sounded as if she had committed some awful crime instead of just not wanting to eat supper, and she was confessing it to him on pain of her death.
Jack's face screwed up at her words. “What?” burst out of him in incredulous disbelief. No breakfast? No lunch? And often no supper either? Had she eaten anything in the last year?
Carter gave a half smile, and a half moan at the sound of his voice. “I didn't... want... to...” she began to say. Finally, she blurted something so preposterous that it had to be the truth. “I didn't want to go home just to eat, so I... missed...”
Jack's face screwed up again. “I heard you the first time!” he said, his hurry making him sound much harsher than he intended. He saw Carter wince, and he quickly explained, “Sorry - I don't mean to sound like I'm angry at you... again... I'm just so...” Jack now stared assessingly at her. “Why didn't you want to go home? Weren't you tired after a long day working in your l..?”
The guilt in Carter's eyes was supreme. “I knew...” she tried to explain what had caused her past behavior, but gave up to start again. “By the time...” But this too had to be an aborted attempt.
Something was seriously bothering her. At the sight of the struggle in her eyes, Jack instantly plopped the spatula he was holding in his hand onto the countertop, turned off the heat under his skillet, moved the pan off the stove's heat so that the eggs wouldn't burn, then gathered her suddenly shaking form into his arms for another loose embrace that turned out to be much like the one that he had given to her minutes before on his dock. “Stop,” he commanded. “You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to, Carter,” he whispered into the hair on the top of her head.
Horribly, tears began to worm their way down her cheeks the minute he was finished with his sympathetic words. She was... crying? She was usually so strong that she never cried! Jack was baffled by this abruptly trembling woman in his arms. Rather than politely ignoring her emotions, or the fact that they were displaying themselves in spite of her typically tight control, he gave a start and reared back. “What did I do?” he demanded. “Did I..?”
More tears streamed down her cheeks like they were horses at the racetrack, chasing each other across her skin. “Nothing!” she blurted. Contrary to the storm of emotion he saw in her eyes, her voice was as soft as a whisper. “It's not you!” she was able to insist. Still, she immediately dissolved into more unCarterlike tears, enough to soak Jack's shirt in seconds. At this point, she admitted something that Jack had thought he would never hear. “This year has been so awful!” She shuddered a second time. “And it was all my fault!” She hiccuped. “And there was no one that I could ta... talk to... about it!” She pushed her head into his chest, clutching his shirt as if he was going to be imminently dragged away from her, and she wanted to stop such an action at all costs.
Jack was at a loss. He didn't know what to do to help a waterlogged Carter any more than he had ever known what to do for any crying woman. He just swirled his hand in calming circles on her back, not knowing that his unconscious motion was exactly what she needed him to do. “What about Daniel?” he eventually asked. “Or your brother?” What was his name? “Mark?” he finally asked in some amount of triumph at remembering the name of someone he had never met. “Couldn't you have talked to either of them?”
For some reason, the inquiry about Mark made Carter cry even harder than before. “Mark,” she said in a tone of defeat. “He... He...” She gave up trying to say what she obviously couldn't vocalise. More sobs shook her thin frame, so hard that Jack thought she might soon make herself sick. At last, she squeaked a whispered, “Jack, I'm so sorry! I was so stupid!”
“Yeah.” Jack had to agree with her, somehow knowing that she was now talking about how she had married Pete instead of how she couldn't talk to her brother, even though neither she nor Jack had specifically brought up the 'Pete' subject. Jack already suspected that the topic was going to be a hard one for them to deal with anyway.
But right now, Carter was attempting to valiantly continue on in spite of racking sobs that made her shiver in Jack's arms. “I've been... so... unhappy.” She gulped, deep breaths needed just to get that much out.
Jack gave another start. He'd never expected her to say such a thing about a predicament of her own making. In all the time that Carter had been together with Pete, and that Jack had been miserable during, Jack hadn't quite gotten around to thinking of Carter as unhappy in the life that she had chosen. He'd always seen her as so delighted with the man of her choice. This last year, he'd been so wrapped up in his own pain at the way that he apparently wasn't the man of her dreams... Not once had he imagined that Carter was in pain, too.
Jack gave a soft, regretful sigh. “I didn't expect you to say that,” he told her.
Carter gave another shudder. “I know,” she hiccuped. “But Mark...” She was unable to go on for several minutes more as she gathered herself together again. At last she whispered, “Mark was always... telling... me...” She had to breathe again before she could go on. Jack waited patiently (especially for him) until she calmed enough to say, “He told me... how great... the 'normal...' life... could be.”
By 'normal,' Jack assumed that she meant married 'normal,' in-a-relationship 'normal...' 'normal' normal. It was also the first full sentence that Carter had said since she'd begun crying. Jack again felt as if they had reason to celebrate. But what he had heard disturbed him. “You're saying that your brother was always telling you that..?”
Shuddering out another sigh, Carter said into his chest, “That I should be 'normal,' that I should want... 'normal' things. And I tried..." Another strong and violent wave of tears swept her away once more. She was at last only able to chokingly wail, “But... he sold my bike!”
She was talking about Pete again, not Mark, and the way she told it, the selling-of-her-bike had not been all her decision. “Yeah, I heard that you sold your bike - Daniel told me just today. I still can't believe that you did that - you loved that bike.” He looked down at the shaking hair on the quivering woman that he hardly recognized as his former kick-butt 2IC.
She shook her head, unable to give him more details about the bike-selling incident.
Jack was still confused on the bike issue. “I don't completely understand what happened, Carter. Do you mean that you and Pete decided to sell it, that Mark sold it for you... what?”
A shiver that Jack didn't understand tore through Carter's frame. “No,” she whispered, clearly upset by what she was trying to tell him. It took two more breaths before she was able to squeak, “Pete... I came home... one day... from work... and he had... sold my bike!”
Stunned, Jack could only blurt, “Without asking you first?”
“He...” But Carter couldn't go on until she had cried for another minute or two, then swallowed hard in order to get herself to stop long enough to explain. “He said... it was so dangerous... that I might get hurt...”
Jack burst out laughing, cutting Carter off in mid sentence. “Your job is dangerous, but your bike is... your bike! Like a hobby.”
Carter nodded, understanding, but continued, “Later Pete... tried... to get me to... quit the... the SGC,” Her voice was now muffled by Jack's clothes as well as her hands held over her mouth in abject woe.
Jack found that he was unable to form words as an abrupt and undeniable anger at what Pete had done to Carter swept through his heart.
She took his silence for the license to continue. “It was all my fault!” she wailed. Before he could contradict what she was saying, she added another confession as if it was being painfully ripped out of her esophagus, “I hated it all, and I... I didn't know what to do!”
What? Sam Carter without the answer? She looked up at Jack in such sorrow that Jack's anger halted when he was in mid growl, and his abrupt sorrow nearly tore him in two.
“Tell me what to do!” she softly begged. More tears rolled out of those beseeching eyes. “I don't want to hurt anybody, but...”
But you already have hurt someone, was the thought that swiftly ghosted through Jack's mind. He was referring to himself, though he didn't say the words aloud. Saying something that would sound so accusatory would hardly help them now. He didn't want her to hurt anyone anymore either, particularly himself, but he also didn't see a non hurtful way out of this situation, either.
At last he decided to quietly say, “Carter, no one can tell you what to do, not for something this big.” He gazed sincerely into her eyes, hoping she would understand why he just couldn't tell her to send Pete through the 'Gate to Nirrti. “You have to decide what you want to do next on your own.”
His inability to give her a pat response immediately caused her eyes to cloud over in despair. Yet he stopped her instant swoop into depression. “But even though I can't tell you what to do right now, I do want you to know that I would never do something like sell your bike without asking you first. Or buy a house meant for two before you had seen it.”
His smile that accompanied his words was cold comfort to her, however. So he told her, “I'm sure that hearing this doesn't make you feel better at the moment, but I just...” He had to stop, as his gaze was locked with hers again. He cleared his throat, and was able to continue even as he felt the swirl in her eyes clouding his mind, “I respect you too much to do that.”
A hint of an answering smile lifted the corners of Carter's lips. “We would get a dog together, right?”
This information was yet another blow to Jack's worn psyche. “He got... a dog... too?” Again, without asking her first? Jack gave a squeak of disbelief when he said those words.
Carter tried hard to maintain the calm that had finally settled on her. “I don't think... you understand... that...” She gulped so that she could try again. “This has been... a rotten... few years.”
For the first time, Jack was beginning to see this 'Pete' situation from her point of view. And all he was envisioning was.... well... rotten. “I should say it was,” he emphatically noted.
“I'm just saying that... I keep expecting that...” Carter buried her face again in his shirt, and didn't finish her comment.
Jack prodded, “What?” He gave her head a jiggle by slightly shifting his shoulder. “What do you expect?”
Carter sniffled, choked, sniffled again, then quietly confessed, “I expect... Mark to call... and tell me... that I'm supposed to want 'normal...' though I don't, I really don't. But I know me... I bet I'll say that I'll... try... one more time. I can't seem to help it. That...” She started crying again, and couldn't go on.
This was entirely unusual. It was so unlike Carter to cry this hard over something that seemed to be acts of simple coercion, for it to upset her this badly... Jack hadn't even seen her cry this much when her father died! He gave a snort. “Carter, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you are so not 'normal' that...”
Jack stopped his words when the distinct sound of tires crunching on the gravel of his driveway alerted him that he had another visitor at his cabin. Two visitors in one hour? He hadn't had any visitors who weren't locals for ages... what was this, Grand Central Station? “You expecting someone?” he dryly asked, trying to keep his tone light so as to restore a sense of equilibrium to the time he was sharing with her.
The light tone didn't really work. Carter's head shot up from where she had taken refuge on Jack's chest, and the returning fear ricocheted through her eyes. The sight of so much emotion in her eyes was more numbing to Jack than what she had already explained to him. “It's Pete! I know it is!” Carter turned back to Jack and grabbed at his shirt in desperation. She didn't even bother to brush her tears aside, only cried, “No matter what he says, don't let me go back with him! He'll try to tell me..! And then Mark will convince me that I already have what I should want!” Carter turned like a whip when a knock on the front door cracked across the empty air inside the cabin. “Jack! Don't let me!” she hissed as he carefully disengaged from her arms in order to answer the door.
“It'll be alright, Carter,” Jack insisted while simultaneously thinking that he had never had reason to calm Carter before, therefore had little practice at it. He felt woefully inadequate for the task appointed to him as he moved to answer his door.
Unlike Carter, Jack wasn't convinced that it actually was Shanahan at his front door. He yanked it open, and at the same time brusquely greeted, “Yeah?” He wanted to get rid of this interruption as quickly as possible so that he and Carter could continue their talk.
But it turned out that Carter had been correct again, as usual. Unsurprisingly, it was Pete Shanahan who stood on Jack's front porch. Jack almost turned to stare at Carter, and stopped himself at the last moment. But... How could Pete have found her already?
Not offering a greeting either, Pete gazed like a rabid hawk at Jack, then around him when he couldn't see through the military man. He demanded, “Is Sam here?”
Luckily, Jack hadn't thrown the door open too wide, so anyone else in the cabin could remain hidden for a few minutes. Yet, Sam's car was parked in the driveway... How could Jack hide the fact that Carter was at his cabin? In the face of such overwhelming evidence, Jack decided he shouldn't even try to hide Carter's presence. Instead, he stalled. “What's it to you if she is?” he just as brusquely retorted back to the other man.
Pete ran agitated fingers through his hair. “She's missing!” he blurted, convincingly agitated at his news, behaving like any 'normal' husband would be if his wife were missing. “I haven't seen her in...”
Abruptly, from behind Jack, came the chilling voice of a suddenly calm Samantha Carter. Gone was the sobbing hysterics from just a moment ago. Carter was now so controlled and quiet that her voice held the flatness of steel. Just hearing it gave Jack the creeps. “What do you want?” was all she voiced.
“Sam!” Pete cried in relief, in spite of her less than warm tone. He tried to shoulder past Jack the moment she spoke, but Jack held his ground. Faced with a large object that didn't seem to want to budge, Pete craned his head to peer over Jack's shoulder at his wife. “Where have you been?!” he continued to her. “I've been looking everywhere for you!”
Jack broke in before Carter had the chance to respond. His nose wrinkled in thought, he commented, “That's funny - Carter's only been here for a while, an hour tops. How is it that you've showed up already if you've been looking everywhere for her?”
Slightly stunned by such a direct question when his motives had obviously not come under question before, at first Pete's eyes widened in alarm, and he clearly didn't know how to respond. But a second later, Jack actually saw the cop recover his thoughts enough to say, “I figured that when I couldn't find Sam anywhere in Colorado Springs, I might find her someplace near her old friends. I tried calling the SGC first in search of Dr. Jackson, but was told that he no longer works there. So then I thought of you...” His own nose wrinkled, as if he was suddenly remembering something she had told him years before. “But don't you usually work in DC now?” he asked Jack. “I think that Sam told me something like that. Yeah... I tried calling the number that Sam had in her address book to look for you, but your staff told me that you were here...”
Which was certainly a possible scenario. At least the staff part was possible. Jack felt sure that anyone unaccustomed to picking up on minute details would have believed the man's entire speech. But Pete must have forgotten - Jack wasn't just anybody.
Jack now inhaled a slow breath as Pete's rambling story trailed off into the silence of the empty outside. Jack didn't opt to break that silence - he simply stared at the detective standing before him, not batting an eye. At last he let his suspicion begin to cloud his features, letting Pete know that he didn't automatically believe the man's story. This disbelief was obviously something that had never happened before, either, as Pete's eyes grew more and more anxious the longer Jack remained silent.
Finally, the lack of a response so unnerved Pete that he stated, “You don't believe me.”
Jack snorted. “You were doing fine... until you mentioned Dr. Jackson not being at the SGC any longer.”
Jack didn't say anything more, and Pete finally had to ask, “Why does that make you..?”
This time, Jack didn't let him finish his question before saying, “I just spoke to Daniel this morning - he said nothing about leaving the SGC, only that he was concerned for Carter's whereabouts.” He stuck his face right next to the cop's, close enough to smell the morning breakfast still lingering on the man's clothes. How would a man consumed with worry about his wife's recent disappearance want to eat breakfast? As Jack let that question roll around in his mind, he said to Pete in order to keep him distracted, “And Daniel hasn't said anything about leaving the SGC for the past months. And he would tell the news of something that important to one of his best friends, I'm sure.” He openly smirked at Pete now, knowing that he had the smaller man as unbalanced as he wanted him. Feeling magnanimous, he went on, “Besides, even if Daniel decided, for whatever reason, not to tell me about leaving the SGC, the nature of my job means that something as important as Daniel quitting the Stargate Program would have gotten into a memo that stated as much.” His eyes widened and narrowed simultaneously. “The kind of personnel memo the I see every week.” Here, he gave a loud, melodramatic sigh, patted his stomach, and looked away, as if what he was thinking about didn't really hold his attention. It was an old interrogation trick that Jack had learned years earlier that wrongly informed the person being interrogated that he didn't care in the least as to the topic under discussion. But truthfully, he found Pete's response to his Daniel-info more than a little interesting. Jack gave a disarming smile in the cop's direction. “I know that what you're telling us isn't the truth,” he stated in the most mild tone that he could produce. “Why don't you tell us the real reason why you're here?”
At Jack's request, Pete's face fell into mass confusion. Jack wanted to laugh in mocking amusement as he watched him, but the fact that Carter still stood behind him helped him to maintain the sense of good behavior that had somehow invaded him.
“Uh... I....” Pete continued to stutter as Jack continued to block the door. At Pete's ongoing inability to produce a plausible explanation for his presence at Jack's cabin, Jack couldn't help but let his smirk creep back onto his face.
“Let me explain this for you, Shanahan,” Jack conversationally began. He shoved the door open wide at the same time he curled his fist into the shirt that Pete wore under his jacket. Jack spoke as he began hauling Pete through the front door and in the direction of the chairs he kept around the table in his cabin's kitchen. “I know for a fact that Carter doesn't have this cabin's address to keep in her home address book, as I've never had a reason to give it to her, since she's never come here before. I also know that the only way for Carter to find this address is to access my records kept on the closed military personnel database. She told me just this morning that she had searched that database for this address. So, since she wasn't speaking to you at the time... a state that you've confirmed by not knowing where she even was... the only way for you to acquire the location of this cabin, and to find Carter visiting me at such an early hour on this fine Spring morning is to either follow Carter here, like the snake that you are, or to have somebody with the proper clearance hack into the closed - as in, not for a quick public look-see... Someone had to hack into the closed military personnel database and find that address for you, since I know that no one on my staff at the Pentagon would dare release something so personal as a vacation address to a stranger over the phone.” Inspiration prompted him to add, “And since I know that no one around this area would ever give out my personal information without asking me first... and no one recently called me to ask my permission to give out my address to a complete stranger...” Jack then posed thoughtfully as he dramatically paused directly in front of the cop. He stared at the ceiling for a few heart stopping seconds, before again regarding a frightened Pete. “Therefore, I have to come to the conclusion that having a comrade-in-snakedom hack into said military database is a realistic scenario for me to guess.” His voice became hard near the end of his tirade. “Or, you followed Carter here like the snake you are.” Then he also added, “Or... both.”
Without saying anything further, Jack abruptly thrust Pete into the chair behind the man. Leaning closer to the cop, he again got right into his face and growled, “Which is it - following Carter, having a friend hack into a closed governmental database, or both? Is all that really how things truly went down, Shanahan?” he growled.
But Pete had gathered himself, and conquered his fear. He was no longer cowed by Jack's anger or his 'scare face.' Instead of acting as if he was quaking in his shoes, Pete belligerently glared up at the older man. “I came here to talk to my wife, not answer stupid questions about computers from an old man who's being less than friendly!”
Carter took that moment to lean forward on the table from the chair she had taken across from Shanahan. “No Pete,” she said in a quiet voice. “If the General wanted to be 'less than friendly,' you would know it by the broken bones that he had given to you. Actually, he's being rather restrained for him - DC must be having a mellowing effect.”
Pete gave a mirthless laugh as Jack's face moved minutely closer. “This is mellow? What other lies has our military..?” He didn't get any further in his particularly unwise question, for Jack took that opportunity to again move even closer to him, then whisper into his left ear, “Stop right there, Shanahan, before you say something that will ultimately make me hurt you.”
“You wouldn't dare!” Pete exclaimed from his position below Jack.
Jack simply gave an evil smirk, and slowly ran his fingers across the side of the chair in an evil caress where he was sure that Pete would see it. “Don't push me, Shannon,” he remarked in a pseudo friendly tone. “I'm off duty, on vacation, and out of uniform. I could...”
That's when Carter just leaned back in her chair again, and rolled her eyes in aggravation. “Okay, you testosterone junkies, stop it. I'm sick of dancing around this issue. No talk, no quarter, no negotiation - Pete, I want a divorce. And Jack, I need a place to stay for awhile, and wonder if I can stay with you.”
Pete erupted when he heard her make that statement before Jack was even able to agree to her request. “No way!” he said. “No divorce! And you're not staying with him, or with anybody! You're staying with me, when you come home, right now!”
Carter sent him a withering glance. It was as if now that she had cried out her previous grief about the situation that she had created, that situation and everything connected to it only irritated her instead of grieving her. She had no patience for dealing with it anymore, or with anyone connected to it. That meant Pete.
So the expression in Carter's eyes became merely tolerant, bordering on fury, as she gazed at Pete. “The General has a good point about the way you must have followed me here in order to find me so quickly. Are you telling me that I can go out to my car right now, and I won't find a tracking device of any kind inside it?”
Pete actually laughed at her question. “You go ahead and look all you want... there's nothing in your car that isn't supposed to be there.”
Carter scooted out of her chair. “Fine, I'll look. Be right back.” This last she said to Jack, who nodded at her as he fell into a third chair pulled up to the table. He chose to stare at Pete, saying nothing, while Carter was gone from the cabin. His unblinking stare unnerved the detective.
“What are you trying to prove, old man?” Pete asked in a 'good grief, let's get this over with!' tone of voice. “I know all about what you're doing!”
“I doubt it,” Jack casually said.
“Why are you doing this?” Pete asked next. Then he smirked as he regarded Jack. “You got some special Stargate investigation powers or something? You and your interrogations don't scare me!”
“Good,” Jack proclaimed, his voice still nonchalant. “I wouldn't want you scared.”
That answer was clearly not what Pete expected to hear, for he reared back in confusion. “What?” he inelegantly sputtered.
“I'm not trying to scare you,” Jack informed him. “I'm memorizing your pristine face so that I can identify you when Carter finds what she's looking for, and beats the crap out of you.”
Pete gave another irritated sigh. “For the last time, she's not going to find anything in her car because there's nothing for her to find!”
Jack blinked a slow, languid blink. “Then what are you doing here so soon after her arrival?” he repeated. He leaned in close to the other man, casually smiling. “Are you telling me that you did the government computer hack job?”
Pete gave an amazed snort. “What do I have to do to convince you? I did not follow her here! Or do 'the hack job!' Me being here so soon after she got here is just a coincidence!”
Jack's casual smile suddenly turned wicked. “You seem to be suffering from coincidence-itis,” he muttered. “You just keep telling yourself that it's all 'just a coincidence' if it makes you feel better, Shannon.”
“It's Shanahan!” Pete angrily remarked. His own patience was growing less as Jack's was growing bigger.
“I know,” Jack told him, still in the same conversational tone. His tone, however, was deceiving. “I'm just seeing how long I can push your buttons before you do something stupid, like explode in anger.” He gave another wicked grin that was bigger than his last. “The AF wouldn't accuse me of attacking an unarmed civilian if that civilian attacks me first. I can get a lot of mileage out a plea of 'self defense.'” Again his smile grew. “Then I get to beat you up with impunity. And I am sooooo looking foreword to that!”
Pete's answering sneer showed more stupid bravado than good sense, but it also displayed his confidence in his own knowledge of self defense, should he have to use that knowledge. It was a known fact that the number one rule of self defense was 'never let them see you sweat!' And his arrogant demeanor was definitely more 'System Lord' than 'sweating Jaffa.' “Bring it on, yes man!”
The insult didn't have the effect of rousing the famous O'Neill temper that Pete obviously had hoped that it would have. Completely unroused, Jack kept grinning. “That's 'military yes man' to you!” he mockingly said.
Just then, Carter burst back into the cabin through the front door. She was carrying two things in her hands. Both looked like small black boxes from where Jack sat. She instantly slammed down on his coffee table in his living room the box in her left hand. The sharp slap of metal hitting wood made Pete flinch. She visibly reined in her temper, aiming for a much calmer demeanor.
Jack remained unmoved, even at her apparent slippery moods, paying attention instead to the box she had slapped onto his coffee table. That box was beyond his limited techie knowledge, however, and he suspected that Pete too had only a rudimentary knowledge of what it was.
She then held up the other black box so that Jack and Pete could both see it. “Do you know what this is?” she asked Pete, now ignoring Jack, her gaze boring straight into her husband's eyes.
Pete shook his head no, though Jack recognized this particular doohickey from SG-1's mission days as something that read electronic emissions and radio waves.
For the benefit of both men, she answered aloud, in a brittle voice that clipped off each word, “I use it to read things like energy signatures, such as, to point us in the right direction to find this certain metal that emits a strong energy signature when we're on a mission. I've been using it for years,” she announced. “I imagine that Jack recognized it immediately.”
Jack stretched, cementing his nonchalant attitude. “I once thought that thing was molded to your hand, Carter,” he conversationally said.
Sam's eyes glinted. “I keep this one not for missions, but for car trips, in the car repair kit that I keep in my trunk, in case of engine problems.”
Pete gaped at her in obvious confusion. “That's not possible!” he exclaimed, talking about a car repair kit, not engine problems. “I've looked inside your trunk dozens of times!” he went on. “Like when we got groceries,” he told them, “or... or when we were on a trip... There was never any car repair kit that I ever saw!”
Sam actually snorted. “No, it's not a surprise that you never saw it,” she said. She leaned forward just a tiny bit, as if she wished to emphasize what she was going to say. In a harsh voice, she continued, “You never saw it because I keep that repair kit in the spare tire well, under the floorboard of my trunk!”
Pete looked as if he was trying to visualize her trunk, and suddenly understood the implications of what she was saying. He fidgeted, attempted to recover the equanimity he had lost in his internal search all at the same time. “What of it?” he then asked in an explosive voice. He let anger color his tone, as if he knew that Sam had rarely withstood his anger in the past. “Having that thing doesn't really mean anything!”
Carter snorted a second time. “If you knew about energy signatures,” she began, “you would know that any kind of tracking device...” And here, she again picked up the black device on the coffee table, as if to convey that this particular thing was a tracking device, just like she was speaking of. “Such a tracking device constantly emits a low level energy signature, almost like a beacon, a signature that you can follow with the accompanying computer software in your own vehicle, so that someone can follow anyone - for example, how a cop..." and she spat the word, abruptly furious again, “would follow a criminal!” As if, because she had found this tracking device planted somewhere either in or on her car, Pete was comparing her to a criminal. And she didn't like that one bit!
The hardness of her eyes had turned to definite knives by then. “And after I had collected this," she accusingly added, and held up her energy reader thing, “then found this," and she held out the tracking device, “I took a chance and searched your car, Pete, and right away I found a laptop computer in your car, still running the software program that goes with this tracker, and that pinpointed your 'criminal quarry' as being very near Jack's cabin!” Now she looked at the ceiling, as if she were thinking hard. “How is it, I wonder, that my car has a tracking device hidden under the passenger side back wheelwell, where I found this device? Hmmm?” She had rounded again on Pete as she spoke her final words. Her tone, like her eyes, was sharp. She regarded Pete out of eyes that looked as if they were full of blue ice chips, and Jack found that he was very glad that those ice chips weren't currently aimed in his direction.
Carter hissed at her husband, “I'll tell you what happened: you had to have put this tracking device on my car, which explains the two other times you somehow 'found' me when I tried to leave you!”
What? Jack sat, frozen again, feeling like a dork, but powerless to stop his sense of shock. Carter had tried to leave the cop twice before now? If Carter wanted to do something, Carter usually did it. But Pete had clearly managed to stop her leaving before now... twice! How?
Jack instantly had his answer: the cop had somehow tagged Carter long ago, showing him her whereabouts at all times. And if Mark had talked Carter into what he thought of as a 'normal' relationship at the same time that Pete had found her again...
The two men had shanghaied her, even if Mark didn't know precisely what he had been doing. But whether Mark had known or hadn't known about what he was doing to Carter was not on Jack's mind at the time. The fact that she'd needed a friend at just the right moment was. No wonder Carter had needed his help to leave her husband this time. The odds were totally stacked against her.
But Jack's attention was ripped back to once more consider that husband of hers. Again Pete gaped at Carter's conclusions like he was a fish, and he was unable to come up with a pat excuse for her discoveries as she brandished both the tracking device as well as the techie energy emitter that she had used in order to find the tracker in the first place.
She went on in an unfriendly tone that Jack had rarely heard Sam produce, and one that clearly Pete had never heard before as he continued to gape at her. “Care to explain, oh trusting husband of mine?!?”
Pete didn't say anything, but then, neither did Carter. Jack was about to point out that as a cop in the CSPD, Pete had access to things like tracking devices, but, the noise of Carter's ringing cell phone cut him off. Carter sent one last murderous look in Pete's direction, then crossed to the jacket she had left thrown on one of Jack's living room armchairs. She searched its pockets, then pulled out a phone. Pete now had an oddly satisfied smirk on his face, as if he knew exactly who was phoning Carter. Carter missed Pete's weird expression, but Jack didn't.
Mark, Jack instantly thought. The typical 'Mark' call that Carter had told Jack about only that morning while crying in his kitchen.
Jack was already rising out of his chair, prepared to go to her if she needed the moral support to say what she wanted to say to her brother, when she answered the phone.
Jack couldn't hear the voice of the person on the other end of the line, but he didn't have to guess who it was as her exasperated voice easily verified the identity of her brother for him. “Look, the 'normal' thing just isn't what you say it is. I...”
She was interrupted, and stopped speaking as the hidden voice of Mark Carter cut her off. A flash of anger shot through her eyes as he continued to speak. She responded through teeth clenched in sudden anger aimed at her brother, “Mark, you aren't here, you don't...”
But again Mark interrupted her. When she answered, she now sounded more tired than the pissed from just before. “No, Mark, I don't want to...”
For a third time, he cut her off, and as the man spoke to her, Carter's hand raised to her forehead, where she rubbed dispiritedly at the exposed skin. “No, I don't want to make a rift in the family, you know that, Mark,” she groaned. “The family...” Her sense of defeat was large by now. “That's not fair, Mark, and you know it!” she said. “I know that this puts a certain amount of strain on you... Pete's your friend and all...”
And that was when Jack decided to act. He had had enough of watching Carter try to handle this haranguing act that Mark was clearly giving to his sister. Mark's particular brand of 'persuasion' was painful enough to have to watch, to say nothing of hearing it, too!
Jack held out his hand for the phone, but didn't take it from her. He raised his eyebrows in a semi question, as if to ask, 'May I?' Carter hesitated, as if she hadn't been expecting his help, but then gave a look that said she should have expected those exact actions, since she was having this conversation in front of the one man who had championed her right from the very first time they'd met. So, without a word, she handed the phone over to Jack.
Jack took the phone in his hand, and swiveled around to see that Pete was no longer smirking. It was then that he knew that without a doubt, he was doing the right thing by interfering in this Carter-family dispute.
He lifted the phone to his ear, and interrupting Mark as he was saying, “Pete just wants...”
“Shut up, Mark, it's pretty clear that Pete doesn't just want anything that's good for Carter. And if you keep on harassing her like this, I'll have to accuse you of the same thing.”
There was a pregnant pause on the line, then Mark exploded out in a very suspicious tone, “Who is this?”
It was Jack's turn to smirk a bit as he responded, “It's Jack O'Neill, as in General Jack O'Neill, and being the military brat that I know you are, I also know that you know exactly what that means.”
However, it was clear from Mark's irritated tone alone that Jack's rank didn't impress him one bit. “You don't intimidate me, General!" he scoffed. “Put my sister back on the phone, now! As a civilian, I..!”
“Yes,” Jack agreed, “You're a civilian, thank you very much for pointing out that obvious fact. And...” he went on without pausing or drawing a breath, “... as a civilian, you ought to show much more respect for your sister and what she really wants than to simply harass her into what you think is good behavior. That sister of yours is tired of listening to the likes of a man who spends more time understanding his friends than his own flesh and blood. And furthermore, were you aware that Detective Shanahan used his worldly detecting skills to put a tracker on your sister's car, and that he sold her bike without even asking her permission first, and bought a house that she hadn't even seen? I ask you, what kind of brother are you if you aren't supremely outraged by those facts?”
“Uh,” stuttered Mark. “Uh... I want to talk to Sam!”
Jack snorted into the phone. “Yes, I bet you do!” And with that, he hung up, sorry that a cell phone couldn't be slammed as a regular phone could. He handed the cell phone back to Carter, after first removing the batteries, walking to the door, then calmly throwing them as far away as he could into the nearby trees. When he closed the door once again, it was to see that Pete's previous smirk was completely gone from his features. Only his mouth held in a straight, no-nonsense line greeted him.
“That was rude,” Pete remarked, his own eyes mirroring the iciness of his wife's.
It wasn't quite clear what he was referring to with that comment - how Jack had treated Mark on the phone, or how he had thrown Carter's batteries into the bushes. But he realized that it didn't truly matter at this point. Mark couldn't call back, and Pete had just lost his main ally. So of course the cop had described Jack's recent actions as 'rude.' The man had nothing left to lose.
“Yeah, it was rude,” Jack agreed with a feigned casual air about him. “I bet that Mark will get over it, though,” he said back. “Or else, Mark doesn't have much affection for his sister.” He shot a look at Carter with raised brows, saying that he could only marginally imagine not having affection for her, but she was busy putting her cell phone back into her jacket pocket, and she missed his expression thrown her way.
Pete said nothing, and only glared silently at both Sam and Jack. He did nothing either. It was as if now that Mark's special brand of persuasion was out of the way, a lot of the wind had gone out of Pete's arguments as a result. He was beginning to reach the stage of not knowing what to do next, and it showed in the look of uncertainty in his eyes.
Jack noticed when he sent a shrewd glance at the cop. What he saw surprised him enough for him to take note of it. What? Jack thought to himself. Had the man not planned for things to go this far? And if not, why not? He just looked too... shifty-eyed... as if he was considering ways of getting out of this mess with all his skin still intact. Jack suddenly smirked - If he had to face an irate Samantha Carter as Pete had to, Jack would be worried too.
With that, he calmly resumed his seat, as if he had nothing more than his breakfast plans to occupy his mind.
With one last jab of her fingers into her jacket pocket, Carter finished depositing her phone, and turned back to send those tiny eye daggers Pete's way again. She didn't bother to beat around the bush when she announced, “Pete, I want a divorce, and if you don't give one to me this time, you leave me no choice but to sue you for it. It'll be a lot easier... not to mention much cheaper... if you just finally give me what I want. But it's your choice.”
'Finally?' Jack couldn't pretend that he hadn't heard that word, nor understood its implications. It was another half-admittance to the fact that Carter had gone through this before. Jack shuddered. Just how many times in the past year had Carter asked for a divorce and not gotten one? She'd mentioned being discovered in trying to leave her husband twice before, but that was just in the act of leaving her husband. How often had she asked for and not gotten a divorce?
But no one answered Jack's unspoken question for him. Pete was now busy taking the opportunity to begin the whiny 'I'm a likable guy' routine that even Jack was familiar with.
“But Sam,” Pete began, using his most persuasive tones. “We're so good together, you and I... we're kind of like a team...”
Jack couldn't let a comment like that go by, so he interrupted with a roll of his eyes, “If you think selling a motorcycle without asking about it first is typical 'team work,' then you have no idea what 'teamwork' is all about!”
Pete sent a sour look Jack's way, but reverted to 'the charming guy' routine as he turned back to Carter. “Come on, Sam, that was a mistake, a miscommu...”
Carter's face instantly blazed red in anger. “It wasn't a 'miscommunication,' and you know it! You were a jerk that day, plain and simple!” She was moving closer to him now, yet also drawing nearer to Jack in the process, as if she needed the moral support that she instinctively knew would come from Jack to get her through this interview without giving in again to Pete's more wheedling ways.
Carter went on, “And don't try to pretend that the whole bike incident was my fault this time, either! You sold my bike - you didn't tell me about it until you did it - and that was only one of the things you didn't bother to discuss with me first! This was never a matter of us being a 'team,' never an equitable marriage, and you know that, too! I've finally had it, pal, and I want out!”
Now that he could see that his usual brand of persuasion wasn't going to do any good this time, Pete quickly grew angry again. Letting it show, he growled low in his throat in response to Carter's unrelenting opinions of their marriage. “You'll be sorry if...” he began to threaten.
Jack cut the blowhard off. “Save it, Shanahan,” he suggested. Then, again recalling the SGC security clearance that Shanahan enjoyed, added, “It's actually you who will be sorry if Carter doesn't get what she wants, and she then sends you through the 'Gate to Netu.” Then he pretended to have an epiphany of sorts by giving a fake gasp. “That's right! We blew up Netu when we were there!” He glanced at the cop, and sent him a wicked grin. “Nevermind!” he sang.
Pete glanced back and forth between Carter and Jack for a moment, and announced, “You guys are nuts!” He looked as if he was going to rise from his chair, and even made it half an inch up before Carter forced him to sit back down. Unphased, he sneered, “Nuts!”
Carter pushed her own face to within a few millimeters of Pete's. She ground her teeth, and whispered, “Better that I'm nuts than to still be married to you!”
Ouch! Even Jack had to think that Carter was being harsh now, but then, the guy had sold her bike without her permission - he deserved a set down or two... or three... thousand...
“You'll be hearing from my lawyer,” Carter continued. Then she jerked her head towards the door. “Now get out! And I don't want to see you anywhere but in court room ever again! No stalking, or...”
Pete couldn't let a stab like that go by, though. “Or what?” he sneered into her face. “You'll set the cops on me?” He gave a fake bark of laughter. “Oh, I'm really scared!”
Was this guy permanently stupid when dealing with ways to infuriate Carter in particular, or was he simply dumb in general? Jack entertained thoughts of clobbering the arrogant SOB, but Carter instead calmly answered Pete's threat with a threat of her own. “No, I'll throw you through the 'Gate to Ba'al and tell him to have fun with you.”
Jack knew that Carter was definitely angry now - she was mentioning highly classified names like 'Ba'al' without even acting like she was thinking about it first. She sent Pete a smile that was so evil, it made Jack shudder again. And he wasn't even the one she was looking at!
Carter went on, “Imagine what it'll be like to have the message 'I volunteer to be a host!' pinned to the back of your uniform, surrounded by big men with big guns...” She nonchalantly patted Pete's cheek, all signs of the previous timid Carter gone now, replaced with this much more lethal version. She went on in the same scary tones that she'd been using, “It might almost be worth the fire fight that would follow just to see you wet your pants and beg for mercy.”
Then she suddenly brightened before Pete could respond to her scenario, though he wanted to, according to the look of aggravation on the cop's face. She stopped him by patting his cheek one more time. “Does that sound like fun?” she asked. She eyed him with such intensity that Jack was again glad that he wasn't in Pete Shanahan's shoes. “So don't go getting any stupid wise acre ideas... no burning down of the house, no shredding of the divorce papers, no pulling a disappearing act... 'cause I'll find you!” She gave both Jack and Pete the impression that it wouldn't be pretty if any of the things that she had mentioned actually happened. Jack suspected that even Ba'al would seem tame in that situation. Last, she again gave a jerk of her head towards the door. “Go!”
One look at Pete's murderous expression, however, gave Jack the impression that Pete didn't intend to leave like a placid pet just because Carter requested it. Jack watched Pete growing more and more belligerent, and couldn't help but finger the 9 mm that he carried in a holster under his shirt - thank goodness that he'd thought to strap the weapon on this morning before he'd gone fishing! He might end up being glad that he had it if Pete acted up.
But, disappointingly, it seemed that the cop was going to behave wisely for once in his life. Still angry, but in control of that anger, Shanahan stood, eyeing Carter with contempt. She responded by eyeing him, equally as contemptuous, then maliciously grabbed a thick book on the solar system that Jack kept on his coffee table in preparation of smashing it into the tracking device that Pete had installed on her car.
Simultaneously, Jack once more noticed Pete's smug expression, and stopped Carter with a yell, “Don't! That's evidence!” Then he reached into one of his kitchen drawers and pulled out a sandwich bag. “Here...” He handed the bag to her. “Shanahan should appreciate the melodrama when I say, 'Bag it!'”
Carter gave a snort, but bagged the tracking device, just as Jack suggested, and the sneer once again slid off Pete's face. Now he was only left looking mean and sort of pig-eyed. “You're gonna regret this,” he threatened as he jumped up. His voice marginally louder, he went on threatening, “This isn't the last of this, Sam!” He once more started for the door.
Carter instantly riposted, “Yes, it is.” She sounded irritated now instead of simply angry. “Just leave... while you still have your dignity.”
And with that, Pete was gone, slamming the door behind him as he left.
Complete silence settled over the cabin by the lake. It wrapped around the building, blanketing the cabin's two occupants with a sense of calm.
Once Pete was gone, Carter's eyes sought Jack's. They blazed with sudden triumph, as if she had only just realized that she had again asked for a divorce from Pete, but this time had actually managed to stick to her purpose long enough to demand it when she wasn't automatically promised one. All of that promise had been exacted under duress, of course, but duress was better by far than going back with him to Colorado Springs, in her opinion.
Abruptly, her grin split her face as she remembered the pain of the past year, as well as the situation now. All of it fell away like a bad mood: she was free, and she was with Jack, and they were both still in one piece, and could enjoy being together... at last...
Freedom had never felt so good!
TBC in: The 'Chicken to Egg to Omelette' Interlude
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