Disclaimer: I may not be 'Uniting the galaxy one planet at a time' (Cool slogan!), yet I help however I can. I own nothing but this story's plot line, and even that is suspect.

A/N: This story works under the assumption the Sam never went to Jack's house in the episode Threads, but she is very aware of who Kerry Johnson is, the reason why Kerry was in General O'Neill's life, but not what happened to her.

Introspection: Sam! Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

by Linda Bindner

It was 1930 hours. Sam was still amazed that she'd been able to finish her analysis of the device from PR2-967 so quickly. She had driven home and entered the house that she shared with her husband, Pete, through the garage, thinking that a nice long bath was a great way to spend this Thursday's unexpected free hours before bed.

But the minute that Sam walked through the garage door and into her kitchen, she stopped in surprise, then regretful resignation. He had done it again. Pete had spent the evening hours hosting another 'get-together' with his friends from the precinct. In a foggy daze, her gaze traveled around her kitchen.

The log of Velveeta cheese sat on the counter, open to the world, growing hard from exposure to the air right before her eyes. The cheese slicer rested beside it, a generous hunk of cheese still attached to its wire cutter. Knives lay scattered on the table, dirty spoons rested on the counter, bowls half full of new and old food graced the island in the center of the kitchen. The stove, what she could see of it's smooth glass top, was littered with crumbs of chips and other treats, and empty glass bowls that had held cheese dip for the chips. Beside the stove, pancake batter lay splattered across the counter leading in little droplets to the white refrigerator where, upon inspection, half the containers were full of moldy leftovers.

Sam shut the refrigerator door, then heaved a disgruntled sigh at the state of her kitchen. She sighed again in her growing sense of resignation born of familiarity, then crossed to the counter where she swiped several large crumbs into her hand and dumped the whole lot in the trash can that she replaced under the sink beside her. As she straightened, she smashed her head on the edge of a cupboard door that had been left ajar.

Sam saw stars explode before her eyes just before the pain of contact hit her in hot waves that would put a Goa'uld pain stick to shame. Crap! she moaned and held her head while squeezing her eyes shut tight against the pain.

Sam? came the tentative call of her husband from the direction of the living room. Is that you? The sound of the TV shut off, and the inane voices of yet another news show ceased their droning. A second later, Pete stepped into the kitchen. He was wearing the casual t-shirt and shorts that indicated he'd spent the entire evening relaxing. The sight somehow made Sam even angrier. Sam? he asked, the hesitation at seeing his wife holding her head in obvious pain still evident in his voice. Honey? Did something happen today? Is something wrong?

Sam took a deep breath in order to help her keep hold of her temper. Yelling at him about the state of the kitchen (especially cupboards doors left ajar) wouldn't help the situation, she knew from repeated experience. But even she had to admit that at this point, losing her control and lashing out, albeit verbally, might be something of a relief. Pete, Sam ground out through her teeth still clenched against her inner paroxysms of pain. How long have we been married? she quietly, resignedly asked.

Uh... Pete thought quickly, doing the math in his head. Seventeen months. Almost a year and a half, he finally answered. And we were engaged for ten months before that. Then his brow lowered as he grew puzzled. Why? What's going on?

Sam ignored his probing. Instead, she replied, And in those almost two years, how many times have I asked you to please close the cupboard doors when you're done using them?

Pete stood still, slightly flummoxed. Uh... Often? he hazarded to guess.

Sam let loose another sigh that ripped through the room. Yes, she hissed. Often! More than often! She rubbed at her head, already feeling the familiar lump growing under her blonde hair. She looked around the room as she walked rather unsteadily to the freezer/fridge combination for some ice. She was in luck; one of the ice trays actually had three ice cubes in it. She drew out the entire tray, removed the cubes to wrap two in a clean washcloth, then refilled the tray with water, and stored it back in the freezer. She carefully placed the ice against the growing lump on her head.

Did you have a party tonight? she asked/accused in a frigid voice as she held the cloth to her head.

Pete was beginning to get the idea that he was in a lot of trouble. Is there something that I did wrong, 'cause..?

Sam slammed the remaining ice cube down on what free counter space she could find. I have what I think is a mild concussion that you caused... again.., and you have the gall to ask if something's wrong? She glared at him in icy silence.

Then she pulled back once more on her temper. Showing her anger would not help the situation, she reminded herself. So she swallowed against her natural inclination to bite his head off, and simply chose to ask in a much milder tone of voice, Just tell me... Did you have a party tonight?

Pete shuffled where he stood. I wouldn't call it a party, no, he told her. A few of the guys came over and... He suddenly got tired of being treated like a six-year-old. Sam, if there's something on your mind, why don't..?

So Sam did. Clean up your mess, please, she said in a tone that told him to clean up the kitchen rather than asked him to. I've asked the same thing a bazillion times before, but I'm asking again; clean up, please, and clean up when you're done having your... get-togethers.

Sure, Pete complacently said, mentally noting that he was walking on thin ice as it was. Something must have happened to Sam while at her work to irritate her like this. Did something happen today that made you unhappy? he asked. I can give you a backrub if you think it'll help, he suggested.

Sam sighed for a third time. Why did he have to be so friendly and accommodating now? No, thanks, Sam said in a slowed voice as she gingerly probed her head under her hair. I've just been working all day on something that didn't quite go as I expected it to go. But I did finish early, so I'm glad about that.

Yeah, Pete mildly agreed with her. This is the earliest you've come home all week. We should celebrate.

Sam eyed him in abrupt suspicion. Was there something of an unvoiced complaint in there about how much time she spent at work? She wasn't certain if she was hearing correctly or not.

Sam sighed. Was that all she could do anymore? When had she become a person who was so upset with life that all she could do was sigh? I'm going to unwind in a hot bath. Pick up while I'm in the tub, and all is forgiven.

Pete smiled at her easy sense of forgiveness while Sam internally rolled her eyes at the way she seemed to be continually lowering her standards in order to seemingly ignore faults in her marriage that were once again on display. It seemed that she'd been lowering those ideals of hers for a long time. There had been a time when coming home to find a mess like this would have made her so furious that she shook. Now all she did was sigh. When had she become so... pathetic?

Still shaking her head at the way some things changed... most notably her... Sam departed, heading for the bathroom while she assumed that Pete cleaned in the kitchen.

As she ran her bath water and gratefully sank beneath the bubbles, Sam couldn't help but take stock of her life as her mind wandered down alleys that she hadn't visited in long time. Again, the mess in the kitchen rose to her mind, and she couldn't stop herself from nonchalantly grumbling, The Colonel would never have let camp be reduced to a mess like that.

Sam paused, holding her breath on any more outbursts, no matter how soft. Where had that thought come from? It had been so long since she had shared a camp with her old CO, Colonel Jack O'Neill, that it surprised her when she felt as if it was so familiar, it had happened as recently as the day before.

Which was ridiculous, she knew. Jack O'Neill was a General now, not a Colonel, and he wasn't even at the SGC any longer. She had come back from her honeymoon to find that he had disappeared in the two weeks she had been gone, surfacing a month later in the position of Head of Homeworld Security. General Hammond, who had held the post for several years, wanted to retire, she'd been told, and Jack was the natural replacement.

And he was... a natural, that is. Jack's leadership skills had saved the SGC time and time again from do-gooder politicians who wanted to strike the command's already reduced budget in half, and in half again, so that money, which always seemed to be necessary, but scarce, could be appropriated. He had personally stepped in to put a stop to an attempt to have her transferred to Quantico to become the Air Force laiason to the FBI. She never found out how he had done that, and she wasn't sure that she wanted to hear the whole story, either. But she had proof that he was out there, somewhere, working on the sidelines, where he worked best, protecting his old team as much as he protected Stargate Command.

Sam knew that he was also responsible for the six-month stint that Daniel had enjoyed in Atlantis. She had sorely missed Daniel's company while he was gone, but she would never stop her friend from realizing this particular dream of his, not in a bazillion years.

'Bazillion?' She never used such imprecise words as 'bazillion!'

Sam, she chided herself. 'Bazillion' isn't even a number. Only the Colonel ever said words like...

She stopped, holding her breath again, her brain whirling at a furious pace. It was true that she missed O'Neill's presence at the SGC. Shoot, she even missed his nonpresence! After he had resurfaced not long after her honeymoon, he had again disappeared from his position as Head of Homeworld Security, vanishing about four months before the night of Sam's current bath.

Even then, as well as now, Sam missed his presence in her life, even a shadowy presence. It seemed like there had always been this tiny ache in her soul that was reserved for him, a spot that she ignored, or tried to conceal. Despite her attempts at hiding him from herself, she had basically missed him ever since her honeymoon had ended and she returned to work only to find that General O'Neill had disappeared seemingly off the face of the Earth while she had her wedding and was gone in the Rockies for two weeks, leaving his old team behind without so much as a 'So long, see you later.' The fact that he also hadn't attended her wedding before he'd left was another mental slap on her face. She had to admit it then; though she was newly married, she had to concede that it still hurt that he apparently didn't care about what she did, so much so that he didn't even attend her wedding.

She remembered that pain and emptiness she had felt then, and was still feeling, to be honest. Though she told herself at the time that she was being stupid, and silly, and ridiculous, and childish... What she still wouldn't do to see Jack come strolling down the corridors of the SGC, whistling and playing with his yo-yo. She had even bought a new yo-yo for him, but she didn't know where to send it, so it had languished in her bedroom drawer, under her socks. She didn't know why she felt that she had to hide the toy. Maybe her relationship with Jack, as amorphous as that relationship had always been, was something that she couldn't, and never had, shared with Pete.

At the thought of her husband, her mind returned to the recent scene in the kitchen, and how badly her head still throbbed from when she had hit it on the cupboard door. Maybe because of that throbbing, she found herself focusing on her wedding, or more specifically, focusing on the assumptions about that wedding that she had always made. And it was surprising that she had assumed anything at all about the wedding in the first place. As a scientist, she knew how assuming could be damaging to any occurrence. Assuming any particular outcome, or any causality, was dangerous. She knew better than to do that, but she had done it anyway. Thus, she found herself suddenly questioning some of the assumptions that she had made the preceding months concerning Jack. What if she had incorrectly interpreted all that had happened?

She shook her head. She didn't know where all this questioning was coming from. Perhaps she had hit her head harder than she thought.

But now that it had begun, and she had thought about the whole camp/kitchen/mess scene, she couldn't put a stop to that trip she was taking down memory lane, diving in to places that she hadn't thought about for ages.

What if..?

Had the reason that the General hadn't come to her wedding really been because he didn't care? That's what she had always supposed. But now she questioned that assumption on her part, enjoying the way that she automatically played Devil's Advocate with herself. Suppose... just suppose... he hadn't come to the wedding not because he cared so little, but because he cared too much. That scenario thrust the entire situation into a whole new light.

And what if..?

What if Jack had disappeared from the SGC not because he suddenly felt the urge to go on walkabout, as she had assumed, but because he didn't want to have to watch her be 'the little woman' to somebody else? He'd said at the time that he didn't mind in the least what she did, that she was free to follow her dreams. But she remembered now that his eyes had said an entirely different story than his mouth had, a story that she just hadn't wanted to believe at the time. He was hurt, very hurt, by the fact that she was going to marry another man, and he was even more hurt that it was all voluntarily done by her.

A twinge of guilt hit Sam in the middle of her stomach.

But, she argued with herself, what was she supposed to have done at the time? Should she have stayed unmarried, and perhaps become an old maid while he got his act together and finally said something to her about the 'feelings' she and he possibly shared?

Well, he waited. Why didn't you? asked a tiny voice inside her head. She tried to push aside another stab of guilt that accompanied the thought, but she wasn't very successful.

However, she continued to mentally argue with herself; she had done exactly what he'd told her to do at the time! He had said that she needed to find a life outside work, and then he looked like she had run over his pet dog when she did. Was it her fault that he was feeling so badly about the entire situation?

You saw his eyes, came that annoying little voice again. You knew what you were doing.

Argh! That little voice was becoming more irritating by the second! Where before she had begun to relax after hours worth of work, now she was a mass of knots and tenseness.

But the reason she had taken a bath in the first place, to unwind, was suddenly supplanted by a burning desire to find out the truth to her mental questions. Her bath itself was ruined if she didn't follow her newer instincts. Yet, she couldn't argue that she was more tense now than she had been before she climbed into the tub.

Irritated and annoyed with herself for giving in to her memories, she sighed (once again) and climbed from the tub to get ready for bed.

The kitchen was relatively clean by the time she emerged from the bathroom to get a glass of water before heading off to bed. She heard the drone from the television once more, and she knew that Pete was in the living room again, and was likely to stay in there while she went to bed early. She'd be asleep when he finally crawled to bed at around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Once again life got in the way of anything else happening on this day to beat all days.

Not that Sam particularly wanted anything to happen. And that desire of hers had started... when? But she had found early in her marriage that she was often too tired for any bedroom excitement when she finally arrived home from work, and the early days after the wedding ceremony to Pete had set a pattern that was difficult to work her way out of.

And again, did she actually want to work her way out of that?

Sam immediately felt uncomfortable at the direction her thoughts were taking her. She didn't want to think about that particular avenue right this minute.

Her hand suddenly stilled under the stream of water coming from the kitchen faucet as her mind whirred. Wasn't ignoring the uncomfortable things what she always did, though?

'I'll think about that tomorrow.'

That line had just appeared out of nowhere in her mind. Where the heck had that idea come from?

Sam suddenly remembered - She had been quoting the old movie Gone With the Wind to herself. She hadn't thought of that movie in... Sam filled her glass with water, and took a drink. She forced herself to swallow just to get rid of the suddenly painful lump in her throat. She hadn't thought of that movie since Janet had died. She used to watch the slightly corny, slightly overly dramatic film with her doctor friend. And when that friend had died, the movie viewing had died with her.

But now Sam remembered everything about what she and Janet had frequently discussed about the heroine's, Scarlett O'Hara's personality. As a character, Scarlett had been a bit atypical for the stereotypes of the historical period, but Sam had always argued that therein lay Scarlett's appeal. Scarlett had been a strong female before strong females were so popular.

But now she questioned her assumptions. Had Scarlett really been so strong? Had she just been... avoiding her problems... instead? Hadn't Scarlett's mantra always been to deal with her problems 'tomorrow,' thus putting everything off so that she would hopefully forget that she even had a problem to deal with in the first place?

And wasn't Sam the same way?

Sam grew immediately uncomfortable at the direction her thoughts now took her. She set aside her glass of water in order to think even more about her thoughts. She had instantly done what she and Janet used to do - compare the movie's character's personality with her own personality.

Sam suddenly didn't like what she was thinking. When one did an exact character analysis between Scarlett O'Hara and her, Sam, the same personality quirk that had catapulted the fictional character into the morass of unhappiness at the end of the movie was also frequently practiced by Sam.

Sam swallowed again, then pulled her old trick of avoidance by trying to reroute her thoughts. Why was she thinking about Scarlett O'Hara right now, anyway?

Unbidden, the infamous last few lines of the movie floated into her mind again. The Rhett character had just told Scarlett that he didn't give a damn what she did, and minutes later a sobbing Scarlett had replied that she would think about Rhett's desertion 'tomorrow.'

Sam leaned against the kitchen counter, now thinking at a furious pace, no matter how uncomfortable that thinking made her feel to begin with. Like Scarlett, was she just pushing off the things that made her feel uncomfortable, to be dealt with 'tomorrow?' Except that mythical 'tomorrow' when she was going to deal with everything that made her uncomfortable never came.

Had she really become like Scarlett? All about 'tomorrow?' Did she put off thinking about... about... Let's face it, she thought. I put off thinking about Jack, Pete, Daniel, Teal'c, the loss of Janet, relationships in general, even my own marriage... Which led her to wonder... was her marriage to Pete like Scarlett's marriage to Rhett Butler?

This is moronic, Sam! she instantaneously chided herself. You're comparing yourself to a fictional character! You truly have cracked!

But she couldn't shake the idea that she was simply a Scarlett in combat boots. She didn't want to become something so... moronic. So to keep herself from becoming the image in her mind, that of a person who ignored her own life because it made that life unpleasant for her, she forced herself to think about the things that made her instantly uncomfortable.

I can do this! she yelled to herself, and a sense of determination flooded her body. It's not difficult, she told herself. Just ask the hard questions, that's all.

Hmph, she mentally grumbled a moment later. Easier said than done. But she gathered her inner courage and aired out all those unpleasant items that she had shoved into her mental closets over the years.

First, she really had to deal with the facets of her marriage that she didn't like. Such as... The house was frequently a mess because she either didn't come home for days at a time, or her schedule allowed her only rare late night visits, leaving Pete alone in the house to turn it upside down if he wanted to. Was the house always a mess when she made those unscheduled return trips home?

No, not always. But the house was often something of a disaster.

And who created that 'disaster?'

Well... Pete. He was the only person who was home to create the mess that most often greeted her.

Had she requested that something be changed about him always making a mess, just as she had requested that the kitchen be cleaned this evening?

Repeatedly!

Had it ever changed anything, really?

It always helped keep things clean for awhile, but then a few days later, the mess was sure to rematerialize when she least expected it to.

So, in light of that 'non-change,' was Pete likely to rearrange his habits to accommodate the things she asked?

Sam snorted at that thought. Not likely, was the comment that rose firmly to her mind.

So, since she'd already determined that things weren't likely to get any cleaner in the near future, her mind turned to other facets of her marriage, like sex, an undeniably embarrassing yet important facet of any marriage.

Did she and Pete have sex anymore?

Well... To be honest with herself... They had sex about once a month. That was all that Sam could handle with her hectic schedule at the SGC.

Did that lack of sex with Pete bother her?

Well... Not really. She was just too tired all the time to accommodate sex that was (she had to be honest) mediocre at best. She had some experience with sex. She knew enough to be able to tell good sex from bad sex. And though it pained her to admit it, sex with Pete was no longer as nice as she remembered it being in the beginning of their relationship.

But that wasn't Pete's fault. Was it? She was just always so tired...

Oh God...! She was always tired! Was she... maybe... pregnant?

Sam quickly answered that question after indulging in a weak moment of blinding panic: there was no way she could be pregnant! She reminded herself that she was still on the birth control that the Air Force required of its female personnel who went through the Stargate. Such a requirement didn't keep rape and sexual attacks from happening to anybody while on missions... not that Sam... or anyone on SG-1... had ever been raped or sexually attacked... but it did prevent any unwanted pregnancies from occurring after any rape or sexual assault had occurred if the victim was female.

So... she wasn't pregnant then. So why was she always so tired? It could be because she worked so hard.

And why was she always working so hard?

So she could avoid her life?

Am I just making excuses again? Sam asked herself. Is that what this avoiding is? I'm making excuses so that I won't have to examine something that makes me twinge and wish I was doing anything else, even cleaning the house, rather than thinking about whatever it is that I'm currently thinking about?

Sam now had to force herself to think about those things that she had been avoiding in order not to fulfill her own possible predictions.

Okay, she conceded that the lack-of-good-sex problem was a marital contribution of both herself and Pete. She was often too tired to fool around in the bedroom (and the exhaustion was due to overwork, not pregnancy!). And compounding the problem, Pete often came to bed well after she did, thus limiting any sexual encounters that they were likely to have.

Yet another question (and Sam didn't quite know where this question came from): Did she still carry something of a torch for the Colonel... the General..? Was that really why there was so little activity in hers and Pete's bedroom?

Sam blushed. To be totally honest with herself... Lately she had indulged in a few... fantasies... about the General... (Well... not so much 'lately.' More like, 'ever since she'd gotten married.')(Actually, ever since she'd met the man, but who was counting the years?! Counting really wouldn't help in this situation.) But all that fantasizing was harmless! Wasn't it?

Tell yourself that if you want to, Sam, if that makes you feel better about yourself, she thought. The truth of the matter is that you're cheating on your own husband, mental cheating, true, but that only seems to be semantics at this point.

Sam blushed again, this time with just a twinge of shame at where her thoughts had taken her. How... and why... was she even thinking about the General, anyway? He had disappeared, was gone completely from her personal life and from the SGC. So why was she even thinking this way? Hadn't she just told herself that she hadn't thought of him in what was basically years?

Except in her fantasies?

A sense of honesty again hit her. If she were being honest, she would admit her own self duplicity in the situation. Didn't she lie to herself particularly well? Didn't someone give out awards in the lying-to-yourself category?

Sam squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to ask another question: Was her imagined sex with General O'Neill better than her real sex with Pete? And how on Earth could she think about sex and call Jack 'General O'Neill' in the same thought? Wasn't that kind of sick?

Sam snorted a second laugh. It was kind of sick.

You're avoiding again! she yelled at herself. Don't do that! Just answer the question!... questions!

Well... If she were totally honest... completely sincere, aboveboard and candid...

But, she interrupted herself, was it fair to compare fictional sex with real sex, anyway? Fictional sex was bound to be so good, so perfect, that it would undoubtedly win such a contest. That was the point of sexual fantasies, after all, wasn't it? To be really great sex... phenomenal sex... amazing sex?

Well... Yeah, Sam conceded. But that didn't mean that a comparison between the two shouldn't be made, only that she should admit to herself exactly what she was comparing.

So... Was sex with Jack, even imagined sex, better than the real thing with Pete?

Just the thought made Sam squirm in discomfort against the kitchen counter. But she forced herself to answer the mental question.

Even when she made allowances for fictional sex versus real sex... Crap, yeah, it's better!

Part of Sam couldn't believe she was thinking this way. She was in essence thinking about cheating on her husband. And Sam had never condoned cheating on anybody.

Immediately came the ghostly thought, But didn't you cheat on Jack by even dating Pete in the first place? Did the fact that he told you to 'get a life' outside the SGC actually mean that it was okay for you to in effect cheat on him to begin with?

Sam's face grew a hot, flaming red. Yeah, okay, she admitted it... She was one of those people who could be called a cheater.

Is that so awful?

Of course that was..!

Sam stopped herself in mid thought. Was that really awful? Or was she simply repeating to herself in a self scold what she had always been taught to think and to say in these situations?

In order to answer that question, she had to take a deep look at her own beliefs about relationships in general, or else she would never...

Sam? Pete suddenly called from the living room, cutting into her thoughts. You okay?

Sam was quickly and irrationally angry at his interruption, but that thought was followed by a second thought that she was being silly. It wasn't his fault that he shared Daniel's bad timing.

Pete's voice continued. Do you plan to stand in the kitchen all night?

Uh... no! Sam called back in a placating tone. I got lost in thought for a few minutes! It's nothing. She quickly drank the rest of the water in her glass and went to bed, turning out the kitchen light as she went. I'm going to bed now, she said as she passed through the living room to the bedroom.

When had she started to feel like she needed to report her every move to Pete?

That's not fair! she chided herself.

But she had to admit that if she didn't tell every little thing to Pete, his jealous temper would engage, and she would really be sorry then when he and she had one of their famous verbal fights.

When had she started catering to what was nothing but a projected temper fit? When had life become about such a thing?

Was her life about avoiding now? And wasn't that a lot like... like life with Jonas had threatened to become?

It was why she had left Jonas like she had. So why did she put up with the same type of behavior from Pete? Was she becoming soft in her old age?

Sam entered the bedroom and pulled down the covers so that she could climb into the bed. She couldn't help but imagine how she might feel if Jack was climbing in right after her. Instead, only the cold sheets wrapped around her, making her shiver.

God she missed Jack. A wave of longing like she hadn't experience in ages accosted her. Seconds later, she actually wanted to cry. She hadn't felt emotion for him that intense since...

This is nuts! He doesn't even want to be found! You don't even know where to find him if he did!

But I bet that Daniel knows where he is.

Suddenly, in the wink of an eye, and not even glancing at her bedside clock to see if it was late or not, Sam was dialing her bedroom phone. She had memorized Daniel's number years before, and he had never changed his number. He hated having to memorize something he'd already spent time memorizing, he'd argued. So he had kept the same phone number in spite of repeated moves to new abodes.

Sam dialed the digits now and impatiently waited as the phone on the other end rang.

It seemed to ring forever, but eventually Daniel picked it up. Hello? came his sleepy voice over the line.

Sleepy? She'd woken him up. But Sam didn't care. It suddenly felt imperative that she find Jack now, so she forged ahead without blinking. Daniel, it's me.

Sam? Daniel asked, and the sound of blankets rustling as he sat up in bed flowed over the line. Is everything all right? he quickly and worriedly asked.

For a split second, Sam thought about telling him the things were fine, and that he should just forget about her nightly call, but then she thought the word 'avoidance!' again, and she instead replied, No, everything's not all right.

Daniel was instantly even more concerned. Sam! What is it?

Sam immediately tried to calm him. It's nothing life threatening, and I haven't been kidnapped or anything... honest!

Okaaay, came Daniel's confused voice. Then what is it?

Sam sighed, but plucked up her courage to continue. Daniel, I was wondering tonight about Jack.

Jack?! The befuddlement that Daniel was feeling at the moment transferred over the connection between them.

Yep, the General, Sam responded. I know where Teal'c is, where Cassie is, where you are, and how to contact any of you in case I need to contact you in a hurry. But I know nothing about where Jack is or how to get in touch with him. She paused. And suddenly I found this to be very weird.

Daniel hesitated. Uh... Sam? Did it ever occur to you that maybe he doesn't want you to get in touch with him?

What? Well, no, that thought hadn't occurred to her. Daniel, do you know his phone number? Or where he lives now? she asked. Even if the General doesn't want to get together with me, I can still call him or send him a note without knowing where he is, she pointed out.

You can find out his location by researching the area code if I give the number to you, Daniel instantly reported. So I can't give it to you.

Sam sighed. Darn, Daniel already thought of that! He knows me well. Daniel, Sam said on another sigh. That's not really what I asked, she said. Do you know where he is?

Daniel paused in a telling silence.

Please don't lie to me, Daniel, Sam suddenly entreated. I don't want more lies.

Daniel quickly latched onto her comment. Why? Has Pete been lying to you?

Sam was just as quick to assure, No! Then she amended her statement. At least, not that I know of. It discomfited her to realized that Pete could have been lying to her at least about his whereabouts over the last months, and because she always worked so much, she would never know if he was telling her the truth or not.

Sam shook her head to rid herself of the abruptly disquieting thoughts, Daniel, do you know where Jack is? she repeated.

Again came the silence.

Daniel! Please? she begged.

The 'please' did it. Okay, Daniel told her. I know where Jack is.

Sam gave a soft whoop that carried over the phone.

Then Daniel went on, But before he left almost two years ago, Jack made me promise to never tell you how to get ahold of him.

Sam's brow creased. What?! Why?

Daniel's sigh came heavy over the phone line. Because... He sighed a second time, regret again heavily lacing his voice. Sam, Jack was pretty much a mess when he left, Daniel admitted. I knew it, Teal'c knew it, Cassie knew it...

Why the hell didn't I know it? she instantly wanted to know. Why didn't you tell me?

Daniel erupted, Because Jack made us promise on the Stargate that we would never say a word to you, that's why!

Sam's forehead wrinkled again. He made you promise on the Stargate?

Well, Daniel amended, On going through the Stargate.

Soooo, Sam began, unsure of what to say now. He doesn't want to talk to me so badly that he made you swear on your future trips through the 'Gate?

Daniel sighed. Yeah, that about sums it up.

Sam sighed too. Daniel, where is he? she asked one more time.

I can't tell you that, Daniel said. Do you want me to become known as a man who gives his word, then breaks it at the earliest convenient opportunity?

Well, no, not when you put it like that.

I can tell you that he's alive... he's all right... But that's all.

Is he seeing someone? she carefully asked next in a painfully nonchalant voice. Is he, and neither of you want me to know about it?

Sam, Daniel began. Then he grunted in a sound of near pain. Dammit! he uncharacteristically swore. How am I supposed to deal with the both of you when..?

Daniel, I want to get a divorce, Sam announced.

Where had that statement come from? She wasn't even thinking along the lines of a divorce, so... But to be honest... Sam had been thinking along the lines of divorce for a long time, just hadn't let herself take note that she was thinking about it...

Good grief! Now she was avoiding her own thoughts! What had she come to? This avoidance tactic of hers was reaching new heights!

But it was still true. She was thinking about divorce...

What?! Daniel yelped. Sam, you've never given any indication that...

She interrupted him to confess, I know I haven't, Daniel, and this is still a pretty new idea, even to me. But I'm finding that I need to tell Jack about this, that... Her voice lowered as her face flamed red again. Daniel... I think about him all the time, whether I want to admit it or not. And I have dreams about him. And daydreams... And fantasies...

You what?!

Daniel! Sam was getting irritated. Just... Where is he? I need to talk to him so that I can get some perspective about these feelings for him that I'm apparently still having. Sam sighed in regret this time. We should have talked about our feelings so long ago. And it's becoming more and more clear to me the longer I think, I know that I should never have gotten married to Pete in the first place, and...

Sam! I've never heard you talk like this! Daniel called. Are you sure that you're all right?

The longer she thought on the subject of divorce, the better she felt, actually. Yeah, I'm good, Daniel. I just need to find Jack.

I can't tell you where he is, Daniel reminded her. I promised, and for his own piece of mind, I have to keep that promise.

His peace of mind? Sam inquired. A minute ago you said that he had been a mess.

Piece of mind, Daniel repeated. Not peace of mind.

Sam's heart fell to her toes even as she clarified, As in...

He was falling to pieces at the thought of you getting married to someone else, Daniel told her. He tried to hide it, but... I knew. With a sigh, he continued, I know this pains you to admit it Sam, especially for a person who likes to avoid personal feelings like you...

I'm done avoiding personal anything, Sam firmly told him. I know that I've never talked about any of this before, but... Daniel, you can tell me, she said. I hurt him... a lot... when I got married.

Yes, you did.

Because he still has feelings for me, Sam announced to her friend.

But that friend was irritated with her, and quickly! Sam, Daniel said. How can you be so... avoiding... even when you say you're done with avoiding? he asked.

Huh?

The guy's in love with you, has always been in love with you, and totally fell to pieces when you got married to Pete! Daniel yelled. I'm sorry if this isn't what you want to hear, but I'm so sick of not dealing with this anymore! He sounded like he rustled the blankets of his bed again in annoyance. You two are so...

Don't say it, Daniel, Sam immediately tried to calm him. I, at least, am pathetic! I know that now! But please... I can't fix it... or even try to fix it... if I can't talk to Jack. Where is he? she asked once more.

Daniel groaned. You know that I can't tell you. He paused in a thoughtful silence. But I can forward any message that you want to give to Jack on to him for you. You know, you can write his name on an envelope and then I can write his address, or dial his number when you're not in the room... And no! I'm not calling him from an SGC phone where you can then figure out my finger movements just by zeroing in on them in the image on the security tape!

I wouldn't do that, Daniel! Sam gasped.

But Daniel snorted. Oh, yes, you would. You forget, I know you, Sam, and know perfectly well what you're capable of doing.

Sam sighed, sounding aggrieved now. Daniel, this is Jack we're talking about. I would never do what you're suggesting. If it's what he wants, I plan to keep his whereabouts a secret, too.

Again Daniel snorted. Sam... Just stop while you're ahead.

Suddenly Sam grinned. Thought I had you going there for a minute.

Remember, always, that I've known you for almost ten years, I know just how low you'll go when you want to find out something.

That was a true, if unpleasant, description of her. Yeah, she agreed in a thin voice.

Are you all right with this whole Jack thing? Daniel suddenly asked. I mean, I know what he wants... I'm not so up on what you want.

Sounding wholly sad now, Sam said, I'm not sure that what I do or don't want should come into play right now. I've treated the whole me/Jack situation soooo cavalierly...

That's not what I want to know, Daniel cut her off. I want to know how you are with this whole thing.

Daniel, Sam stopped him. I don't quite know how to answer that.

You could answer in all honesty, Daniel suggested.

Honestly... But could she be honest? She had worked for so long to be anything but honest... Scarlett O'Hara she abruptly reminded herself. You don't want to 'avoid' and end up like Scarlett. Honestly... Sam swallowed in discomfort, but forged on. Honestly... when I look at what I feel... really feel... God, Daniel, why don't you just give me a root canal or something! she sarcastically exclaimed. Sam then gusted a very unhappy sigh. I shouldn't have married Pete the way I did, she announced. In all honesty, I was an idiot to even listen to Jack when he told me to get a life. I could see what was in his eyes the entire time. I should have made him speak out, and if he didn't, or he couldn't, then I should have spoken out. But I'm always so scared or what can happen...

To you? Daniel asked.

No, to him, Sam readily replied. He was... is... a General. I don't want to hurt him by making him chose between me and the regulations. She snorted into the phone. But I ended up hurting him anyway, she said.

Daniel didn't disagree with her assessment of the past situation. Yes, you did, he said, though he didn't say it unkindly. Like I said, Jack was almost the unhappiest I've ever seen him at that time when he left. He was only a bit more unhappy when Charlie died.

God, Sam said then. He wasn't..?

Suicidal? Daniel finished for her.

Yeah.

No, Daniel told her. But I think he would have liked it better if you had died, to be honest. It would have given him a better sense of closure.

Daniel, that's awful! Sam stated.

She could hear his shrug in his voice. Just giving you my honest opinion, he told her.

Do you think it's... too late... to apologize... too late for an 'us?' Sam asked in a quiet tone.

No, Daniel firmly replied. And don't sound so lost. Jack might have said that he didn't and doesn't want to talk to you, but I don't know who he's trying to fool. I can see what's in his eyes as well as you can, and his eyes are saying something different than what he's actually saying, you know what I mean?

Yeah, Sam finally managed to get out. For such a... a... soldier... he has the most expressive eyes.

It's like they're unconsciously trying to make up for what he can't show on his face.

I know what you mean, Sam agreed.

So, Daniel said after a short pause. Do you want me to send something to him for you?

I would be sooooo grateful, I can't convey my gratitude, Sam said.

Her emphatic statement made Daniel laugh. Oh, I think I have an idea about how grateful you are.

I'll write something now, Sam started to say, but again Daniel interrupted her.

Are you really thinking about divorce, Sam? he asked. Don't you think you better talk to Pete about that first?

Oh, yeah, he was right. Ew! Sam suddenly balked. That was one conversation that she instantly didn't look forward to. But she had started this, and now intended to see it through to the end. Jack deserved that, at any rate. I suppose that I should, Sam said. I messed up, big time, Jack paid the price...

Not Pete?

Yes and no, Sam quickly imparted. He didn't deserve to be part of this whole mess, but I can't say that I led him to the slaughter, either. After all, he's the one who volunteered to move here from Denver way back in the beginning of our relationship. He popped the question way too soon, in my opinion. He never has liked me working so much...

He hasn't tried to get you to leave the SGC, has he? Daniel asked on a sudden burst of insight.

More than once, Sam admitted. Especially right after we were married. We had a big fight about it, I recall. I told him that if he wanted me to give up work, then I would give up him at the same time.

Sam! You didn't! came Daniel's astonished yell.

Sam blushed again. Don't tell anyone about that, she cautioned. No one knows about that. But, yeah, I did.

And he said..? Daniel prompted.

He cooled it about work. I think he's okay with it now.

Wow, Daniel proclaimed. I still can't believe you said that.

I would have done it, too, Sam insisted. Should have listened to myself a little more, she then muttered. I knew even then that something was wrong... Her voice trailed into quiet.

Daniel heaved another sigh. Well, why don't you talk to Pete, see what's going on at that end, and...

I'm not letting him talk me out of this, Sam then declared. I always let people do that. I'm done doing that, she said. Done doing that to Jack, she corrected herself.

Sam, Jack has nothing to do with your relationship with Pete, Daniel reminded her.

She disagreed. He does, and he doesn't, she said. He does in the way he never said anything to me about how he felt, and I admit that I got tired of waiting for him to say something. But then, I didn't have to listen to my brother and let him set me up with another man. That's what started all this, she reminded Daniel. But I really can't blame someone else for this. Jack might have stayed silent, Mark might have set me up, Pete might have been too eager, but it was really my fault for all this, wasn't it?

Sam, Daniel announced, sounding for once like the academic that he was, sounding as if he knew more than she did. You didn't cause all this. Don't feel like this is all your fault.

I want to take the blame for this, though, Daniel, Sam said. Really, what did I expect? I hurt so many people... I only hope that Jack can forgive me in time.

I think he will, unless he goes all stubborn on us, Daniel said with a lighter tone of voice. I'll tell him not to be too stubborn.

And tell him... Sam paused. There was so much that she suddenly had to tell Jack. How did she decide on what Daniel should say to him? Tell him... I miss him. And I'm so sorry. Her voice trailed off again.

I will, Daniel quietly promised.

I don't mean to put you in the middle of this, Sam said. That was never my intention.

It's either be in the middle, or make Jack fight his own battles for once, Daniel said. This is definitely the lesser of two evils.

I still feel bad.

Don't, Daniel assured. I don't mind, really.

Okay, she hesitantly said. If you're sure.

Sam, go talk to Pete, and I'll see you at work tomorrow. Then we can decide what to do next.

Good night, Daniel, and thanks, Sam said.

Hey, that's what friends are for, Daniel assured. See you tomorrow. He hung up his phone, severing their connection.

And just as Sam was placing the receiver back in its cradle of her own phone, Pete came into the room, standing hesitantly at the door. Sam, he said while he stuffed his hands in his pockets. I know this will come as a total shock to you, and I'm sorry about that, but the guys were talking to me tonight, and they said... I need to tell you... He looked decidedly uncomfortable, but determined. It's been months... His eyes met her gaze in brief glances. The truth is... More furtive looks.

Yes? Sam tried to spur him on.

Pete's brows furrowed over his eyes. The truth is... the guys were trying to convince me it was time that I tell you...

This was getting irritating, especially as Sam needed to tell him that she wanted a divorce. That wasn't going to be easy, and she could only keep her courage up in order to say something about it for so long! What is it?

Pete let out a whoof of air. Sam, I met someone else and I want a divorce.

Nothing could have surprised Sam more. You did?! You do?!

Pete nodded.

Sam sat, flabbergasted in bed, but feeling admittedly relieved. When? Then she clarified, I mean, when did you meet her? How did you meet her? Who is she?

Pete replied, She's... He scrunched his forehead. Well... She's working on a case with me and James... my partner if you don't remember.

Wow. Of course she remembered James, but... Had she been not at home so much that he didn't expect her to recall his partner's name?

Pete continued, oblivious to Sam's thoughts. She's FBI, not with the police.

FBI? Sam got chills just hearing about the FBI. Don't tell me, she instructed. Her name's not Kerry, is it?

Pete did a double take. How did you know?

Was this the worst case of coincidence ever imagined? Kerry Johnson? she had to ask.

Yeah. Pete gazed at her in suspicion. Again, how do you know? Have you been following me, checking me out?

Sam choked. That was so something right up Pete's alley! But not hers. Uh, no, she replied. Sam slid down in the bed. Let's just say that Kerry seems to pop up in the worst places for me. Yeah, like a bad penny.

I met her in the SGC parking lot, actually, Pete went on. Before the wedding.

You were dating her behind my back even then?! Sam asked in incredulity.

No, Pete was quick to explain. We got to talking, and it turns out that she had just dumped her boyfriend the week before, and...

Sam groaned. This was getting stranger and stranger by the minute!

I tried to offer some friendly advice, Pete went on. But we were just friends, for years, I swear!

Then... what started all this..? What did one call it? An affair?

I knew she was FBI, Pete slowly told her. And when it seemed to be the right time to call in for help from the Feds on one of my cases, naturally, I remembered her. And... Well... You're never home, he said in a lame attempt at excusing his actions.

I'm home tonight! Sam huffed.

And where are you? Pete asked. You're in bed, and left me to watch TV on my own... again.

Anger exploded to worm its way through Sam. And you left me to go to bed early while you watched TV by yourself... again! she yelled. Talk about being unapproachable!

Pete's hands once again made a beeline for his pockets. Okay, okay... I'm sorry. He sighed. I guess we're both to blame on that one. Let's not fight.

Okay, Sam said in tremulous agreement.

Anyway... Divorce? Pete questioned her in a reminder tone.

Sam huffed a breath, but was glad that he had worked them back to the original topic again. Yeah. I don't suppose it will come as any surprise that I was thinking the same way?

Your General? Pete knowingly asked.

Sam snorted in the biggest show of honest feelings she'd ever given Pete. I would like to say 'yes,' but I can't. I don't even know where he is, and when I asked Daniel, he wouldn't tell me, so... no! I don't have a way to find him.

Pete's brow wrinkled again. I think Kerry knows how to find him, he said.

Sam perked up in a sense of morbid curiosity. She does? How ironic was that?

Pete nodded. Yeah, I think he's a notation in her address book. Or it was a notation the day I was looking through her collection of friends for her for someone in particular one day when she was in the shower.

This was getting stranger all the time. But Sam did strange, she reminded herself. It was part of her job, her life...

The Universe sure worked in weird ways.

Can you ask her? Sam asked. Like, right now?

Uh... Clearly Pete wasn't prepared for this particular... and particularly... civilized request. Sure, but I... I didn't expect you to take this so well.

Divorce, Sam said to herself. I can't pretend that I didn't want one, too, but it's not because I'm seeing anyone else.

Then why?

Oh, come on, Pete, Sam said. I'm such a... a...

Bitch?

Sam stared at him with a dark look. If I am, then being a bitch is one darned good thing.

The cupboard... the cleaning... I could never keep things as clean as you and the military like them, he said.

Sam shrugged. I can't help how I am, she excused back. Perversely, she decided that if she ever had the opportunity to talk to Kerry, she wouldn't tell her how messy Pete sometimes grew. She would let Kerry discover that for herself!

Call her? Sam reminded. Please?

Oh, yeah. Pete crossed to the extension and dialed a number. He waited for a few seconds, then his face seemed to brighten.

God! How long has it been since a face has brightened like that because of me? Sam wondered.

Hey Kerry... I know that I didn't plan to call tonight... I know that I said that Sam is on world right now...

On world? Was Pete talking about top secret things that he shouldn't be to..? But then, Sam remembered that Kerry Johnson knew all about the Stargate, the SGC, on world, off world, Jack, Daniel, the SG teams... the whole shebang. Well, Sam figured that she ought to be glad that if Pete found someone else to spend his time with, at least he'd found someone who shared his clearance.

I need you to check your address book again for me. Actually... and I know this is really weird... for Sam. Pete suddenly grinned. Yeah, I know, but she knows everything, and... Okay, for... Pete glanced at Sam, and asked her, Is it General O'Neill, or does he go by Jack now?

Now? What do you mean by 'now?'

Kerry says that since he retired, he might...

Sam gaped. Jack's retired?

You didn't know?

Well, no, how could I? Sam asked, incensed. I haven't seen or heard from Jack in... ages!

All right, all right, calm down, Pete gently admonished. Then he suddenly returned his attention to his phone call. No, Sam was just blowing a fuse. He laughed at something Kerry said. You don't know Sam like I do, he explained. She can go off like a lighting bolt.

Sam abruptly realized that she had gotten married to Pete in the first place because of this woman, because she thought that Kerry was with Jack. She was about to remind them both of that tidbit of information, but she cut herself off at the last second, deciding that it didn't matter anymore as long as Kerry was able to give her the address she wanted.

Pete reached for the pen and paper set they kept by the phone, and he scribbled down an address. Got it, and... yeah, I'll wait.

Pete waited patiently, and Sam wondered how he could be so patient with Kerry. He was never so patient with her.

Okay, give me those, too. He scribbled more addresses down.

Sam thought of something. He didn't make her promise not to divulge this information, did he? she asked. I'm not breaking a vow of his or hers by asking for this information, am I?

Pete relayed her question, then shook his head. No, he and Kerry were ever just friends in DC.

Sam was relieved to hear that.

They had drinks once a month, to unwind, Pete told Sam. Kerry says that there weren't many other people in DC who knew what a Tok'ra is!

That would be true. Sam was glad that Jack had found somebody to hang out with, that he hadn't been completely alone in his new city, even if she didn't like the fact that it had been Kerry who was the person he hung out with.

Really? Pete said into the phone. He stared at what he had just written down. You're sure you got that correct? At Kerry's obvious insistence that she was right, Pete shrugged his shoulders. Okay, I'll give this to her. She will never believe this. Thanks! And I'll call you later, he promised. Then he hung up and handed the pad of paper to Sam.

What won't I believe? Sam asked.

Just look, Pete advised.

She grasped the pad with an eagerness that she hadn't felt in years, and her hands shaking, read:

General Jack O'Neill

419 Palace Way   [Old address]

Washington DC 01019


Jack O'Neill, retired General

78119 Dundee Trail    [Old address]

Washegan, MN 53121


Jack O'Neill

321 Rosemont Street

Colorado Springs, CO 80914

He lives in Colorado Springs?! Sam yelped in disbelief. She simply couldn't help herself. But why did Rosemont Street sound so familiar? That's... Then she knew. That's... right around the corner. Sam sat, too stunned to move.

Two corners, actually, Pete said in an offhand manner.

Sam muttered. He was so close, and I never knew.

Well, is that what you were looking for? Pete asked.

Um... Sam tried to make herself focus on the here and now. Yeah! she finally exclaimed. This is great!

Pete looked pleased. Well, glad I could help.

Sam's face suddenly softened. I'm so sorry, Pete. This wasn't supposed to turn out like this.

Sam, it's okay, he assured her. I'm the one who asked for a divorce, not you.

Only because you beat me to it! Sam exclaimed.

Well... I guess we should talk about that, he uncomfortably said. His hands went back into his pockets.

What is there to say? Sam asked. I think getting married was an okay idea, but the two of us getting married was still a wrong one, and I should have stopped it.

Or I should have, Pete agreed.

Sam's eyebrows rose. You knew? Sam asked. Even then?

Pete shrugged again. I knew that it wasn't a good idea to be marrying you, but I so liked the idea of being married that... His voice trailed off. I guess I thought you would eventually come around.

That I would change?

Pete nodded.

And I thought that you would change! Sam exclaimed. She exhaled a breath, then went on. I didn't even think that then, but I did as recently as yesterday.

I'm not changing, Pete reluctantly told her. I don't think Kerry would like it very much.

I'm not changing either, Sam stated, all the while nearly overwhelmed with the weirdness of this situation. I don't think that Jack would like that so much.

I used to think that I had taken you right out from under his nose, Pete confessed then. That I had gotten the girl. Then Pete gave a soft snort of a laugh. I was so cocky then. He shook his head in memory of that time. I was such an idiot.

Sam grimaced. Jack might agree with you on that...

And he'd be right, Pete then said.

You know, this whole thing, it's kind of surreal, Sam then admitted.

Yeah, it is, Pete agreed with her. But in a good way.

Yeah, Sam agreed. It is good, isn't it?

Pete said, I feel like this is the most honest we've ever been with each other.

And she wasn't used to ever being honest. Yeah. It's good. Sam suddenly felt like she could breath.

Well... Pete seemed hesitant. Guess I'll sleep in the guest room? He sounded almost relieved at the suggestion.

Guess we need to find divorce attorneys, Sam said in reply.

Yeah.

You gonna marry Kerry?

You gonna marry Jack? he asked in response.

I don't know, Sam replied.

I don't know either, Pete divulged.

Good luck? Sam shot at him.

Hey, you too, Pete said.

Do you want me to move out? Sam inquired.

Or I could, Pete offered.

No, Sam quickly said. I never did like this house, anyway.

Pete seemed surprised. You didn't? I thought that that was just me!

You don't like it, either? Sam asked incredulously.

Pete shrugged. I mean, it's okay. But I thought that this was your dream house!

Sam's eyes showed her revulsion at that idea even as she tried to hide her reaction. Um... I know that you bought this house for me and all, but... No.

Well, that's somethin,' Pete remarked. I thought you just had really 'blah' taste or something.

How come you never told me? Sam wanted to know.

But Pete was ready for her question. How come you didn't tell me?

Sam blushed a light shade of pink. Because I thought that I was supposed to like a house like this one, she confessed. That it was part and parcel of 'normal.'

Pete snickered. Forgive me, Sam, but you could never be 'normal.'

Sam burst into a smile. Thanks! That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me!

Pete shrugged again. All part of the service.

Ah, god, don't flirt with me! Sam groaned.

Works on Kerry, he remarked in an offhand manner.

It doesn't work on me, but... thanks for the attempt, Sam said. You were still the first person to ever see me as a woman, and I won't... won't forget that.

Wrong again, Pete said. The General always knew you were a woman.

But Sam was shaking her head. No, he only...

He did not see you as just a soldier, or just a scientist Pete told her. He tried. I saw him try. But he couldn't do it.

Sam stared at him in amazement. You saw... all that?

I would have had to be blind not to see it. What really astonished me is that you never seemed to want to do anything about it.

Sam groaned again. Why didn't you stop me when you had the chance? Why didn't he? Why didn't I?

Pete shrugged. Because we're all idiots, he declared. I don't know. It was just so cool to think that my future wife saved the world on a daily basis.

I don't do it on a daily basis, Sam negated.

Okay, weekly basis then, Pete said.

I'm not sure it's even a weekly thing, Sam grumbled. She went on in a louder voice, I can move out by next week if you want.

So can I, Pete said. I've been thinking about getting an apartment again. Then if we're both out of the house, we can sell it all that much sooner.

It'll go better on the market if we replace the furnace in the basement, Sam suggested.

Okay, he readily agreed.

Sam stared at him in even further amazement. She had always thought that mentioning a need for a new furnace would be... difficult. She'd felt sure that it would cause a fight. It was her experience that any man hated to spend money, even on necessities like a new furnace. But that was easy, Sam thought, astonished.

Pete shrugged one last time. Well, guess this is it, huh, Sam?

Sam stopped being astonished long enough to nod.

Guest Room, here I come. Again, he sounded relieved. God, I hated this room, he said then as he looked around it with a fresh view now that he and Sam were talking about ending their alliance. I hate the color.

Sam peered at the pale blue walls of the room. I thought that you liked the color! she exclaimed.

Pete grinned. Boy, are we ever stupid, he said in leu of responding to her question.

Sam grinned back at him, relieved that this conversation, as surreal as it was, was going so well. Yeah, for two smart people, we are dumb.

Pete looked like he didn't disagree with her. But he didn't say anything, only started to make his way out of the bedroom.

Sam was about to ask to be invited to the possible future wedding between Pete and Kerry, but thought at the last minute that her being there might upset Kerry too much. See ya, Pete. And thanks, she settled on saying instead.

Pete shuffled further through the door. For what it's worth, you're welcome. Glad I could help.

My lawyer will be contacting you, promise, she said as he slipped into the hallway.

Yeah, mine, too. Night Sam.

Night.

Wow. This was so weird! Sam had heard of amicable divorces, but this was pushing the limit!

* * *

Sam stood still the next morning as the recently risen sun spread its light to shine through sporadically the limbs of the tree she was standing under. Dappled light filtered over her. She sighed as she stared at 'the house.'

Jack's house. His new house. Two corners over from hers, on the far side of the street. It backed not her backyard, but the far yard. It was no wonder that she had never seen him before, even when he'd been in his front or back yards.

Now, she drank in the sight of the place where he lived as she stood on the sidewalk across the street, gazing at the house before her.

His yard needed mowed.

A blue truck sat in the driveway, even though the house sported a garage. Had Jack's old house had a garage? Sam couldn't remember.

Two hours went by. People came and went in the other houses on the street, but no one stopped by Jack's house. And he didn't go anywhere. He didn't even open his front door to get the morning paper that was lying on his front walk.

Sam heard the sound of a lawn-mower split the morning air. It's whir came from somewhere beyond Jack's house. Maybe his neighbor was mowing his lawn. Sam suddenly wondered if Jack knew his neighbor or not, and whether they played poker every now and then.

Had Jack caught sight of her out his front window by now? Did he know she was there?

As she was wondering, two more vehicles rolled slowly down the street, one turning the next corner. But the second, a red minivan, pulled into the drive belonging to the house next to Jack's. Three kids emerged, and a woman, presumably the kids' mother, followed, carrying several big donut boxes. Another child, a girl, dashed out of the house and over to the mother still holding the donuts. Her brother, a young boy of about ten years,also nosed into the topmost box as he seemed to argue good naturedly with the girl. The girl suddenly stopped her arguing to stare silently at Sam across the street.

The harassed mother didn't notice the way the girl had frozen, but the brother did. He abruptly whirled around when the girl said something to him, and flapped a hand in Sam's direction. They both peered at Sam. After a moment, Sam gave a rather nervous smile, and a small wave. The girl and boy both gave a tentative wave back.

Then the family disappeared into the house after the girl looked pointedly at Jack's house. It was apparent to Sam that they did indeed know Jack, and that he had clearly spoken about her in the past. But the children didn't do anything, either, just entered their own house and shut the door.

So Sam went back to patiently watching Jack's place. Nothing happened at his house. He still didn't open his front door to retrieve his paper. Sam wanted to talk to him, but she thought that simply walking up to his front door and presenting herself might be too much of a shock for him. After all, he had no idea that she was here, watching his house. She hoped that he would see her first if he opened his front door to drive somewhere.

Sam sighed, more in a show of patience than irritation at being left watching from across the street, then sat down on the curb, checked her watch, and decided that it wasn't too early now to call Daniel.

She tried his cell phone first. She got his voicemail.

So she tried his home number. She got the answering machine this time, telling her that unless she was an Egyptian mummy who couldn't speak, she might as well leave a message, and that Dr. Daniel Jackson would get back to her. Sam smiled as she listened, thinking that the way he sounded in his message (flippant) was exactly the way that Jack would have sounded in a similar situation. It was obvious that Jack had had more influence on Daniel's daily life than either man had ever thought.

Then Sam sighed again, and tried Daniel's office number at the SGC, but she was beginning to lose faith in ever contacting the archaeologist.

The little bit of faith that she had left must have been working, for he answered on the second ring. Daniel Jackson, Daniel said into his office phone.

Sam gave a start of surprise. Daniel?

Sam? Where are you? he instantly asked. I thought that you and I were going to meet...

She interrupted him. Daniel, you will never guess where I am.

Daniel guessed anyway. Um... you're at the hospital, because you got mowed over by crazy kids on skateboards while getting your paper this morning.

No, but good try. Ten points for creativity.

Thanks! Daniel said brightly.

Guess again, she instructed.

Uh... You're stuck in a traffic jam because a family of ducks is in the road, and you can't get to the SGC?

Nope, Sam said, then looked up and down the street. I don't even see a car in sight right now.

No cars means that you're not at the body shop...

Sam blurted, I'm at Jack's.

Daniel paused, then said, I'm sorry, I think this connection must be breaking up. 'Cause I thought that you said that you're at Jack's.

I am, Sam declared. I'm staring at his house right now. But I haven't seen him yet.

There was another pause. Finally Daniel cleared the shock from his throat and inquired, How do you know that the house that you're staring at is Jack's? It could be...

The house has tan colored siding, he has a blue truck that he doesn't bother to park in his garage, a green mailbox that says 'O'Neill' on it, and there's a fence between his house and the neighbor's house that's to... yours and my left as we're staring at his house, Jack's right when he's in his house.

Again Daniel paused. Yep, you're at his house, he slowly acknowledged after a silent moment. How did you find him on your own? he asked next. Jack's address isn't listed on the Internet. And his number is unlisted at the phone company. He's not even in the phone book. And...

Sam interrupted him, Daniel, you're not gonna believe this, so just accept that you won't, and listen. Kerry told me.

Daniel was puzzled, and sounded it. Kerry who?

Kerry Johnson. Remember when she was at the SGC? Oh, that was when you were ascended the second time. Maybe you've never met her. How did she explain this? She was Jack's girlfriend for awhile? she reminded, hoping he would automatically know who she was talking about.

You knew about that? Daniel blurted.

Everyone knew about that, Sam said.

Daniel gusted a breath. And Jack was so sure that he'd managed to keep it from everybody, you in particular.

This was a surprise. Why didn't he want me to find out about them?

He felt weird... Daniel sighed, took a drink of some liquid... probably coffee... then reminded, You never told me how you found out about Jack's house. Did you sneak over to my house and look for his street number in my address book while I was asleep?

No, I told you, Sam said. Kerry told me.

And who is Kerry now?

Pete's girlfriend.

Daniel was silent for a moment, then he said, You found out about her, just like that?

Yeah, Sam said, her voice devoid of any emotion.

Daniel hesitated for a moment, then said, You don't sound too bothered at finding out that your husband has a girlfriend.

Sam laughed. It made sense that he wouldn't see the irony of this situation. I'm not bothered at all. Actually, the whole idea of Pete being with Kerry, while on one hand freaked her out, didn't bother her at all on the other. Sam chalked it up to yet another weird piece of this very strange puzzle. I just found out about her last night after I talked to you.

Did you talk to Pete about wanting a divorce? Daniel queried.

Sam replied, He asked me for one first. Know any good divorce lawyers?

Daniel barked an incredulous laugh. You're kidding, right?

Sam furrowed her forehead. No, I don't think that now would be an appropriate time for a joke.

God, you sound just like Jack... or Teal'c at his most formal, Daniel remarked.

Sam brightened. Hey, do you know when Teal'c's coming back from Hak'tyl?

Don't try to change the subject! Daniel ordered.

I'm not, Sam mildly argued.

Anyway... Kerry gave Jack's address to you?

Yeah, through Pete, if you can believe that. She's the FBI agent who's working on a case with him and his partner, James. I think that's how she and Pete got together.

They met... when?

At the SGC, actually.

Daniel paused for another minute, then gently asked, Sam, are you sure that you're not on something? A weird alien fungus or something?

Sam laughed. I don't blame you for thinking that, but no.

Um... Then why are you calling?

Because I didn't want you to wait for me, Sam replied. I'm not coming into the SGC today. If all goes well, I'm spending the day with Jack. I already called General Landry and left a message on his answering machine, left a message for Walter, left one with Siler... I didn't quite know who to call, she admitted. I've never called in sick before.

You are disgustingly healthy, Daniel declared.

Sam smiled. Oh, you love it, Daniel. Just think of it this way; I was always... Oops, there's Jack. Bye, Daniel.

Sam snapped the cell phone shut just as the shape of the lawn-mower that she was still hearing came around the side of Jack's house. He followed, staring at the ground so that he would know where to push the mower next, and to make certain that he didn't miss cutting any grass. He didn't glance up as he neared a tree.

Oh, God, he looks good, Sam immediately thought as her knees went watery. She was glad that she was already sitting down, or she would have had to make a lurching beeline for the curb. She stared at him... she couldn't tear her gaze away. Even in jeans and an old t-shirt... He looks damned good! I am in so much trouble! Sam thought.

A wave of emotion crashed into Sam the second she caught sight of him. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her legs, not just her knees, turned to goo. Her breath hitched in her throat, then left her body in one giant whoosh!

He was so tan!

He was so strong! She watched Jack's arm muscles bulge momentarily as he pushed the mower around his yard.

He has no idea I'm here, Sam thought in sudden disappointment, her hand still in her pocket from replacing her cell phone.

Jack walked around the lawn once more, then finally came to the only tree in his front yard. He glanced up as he lifted the mower over the edge of a root sticking out of the ground prior to turning the mower to go around it. Jack's gaze met Sam's across the street. He blinked vaguely and looked away.

Then his gaze jumped back to hers. He did a double take and his mouth fell slightly open in surprise.

He let go of the handle of his mower, and the noise disappeared. In the sudden quiet, she had no trouble hearing him mutter, Holy... crap.

I was thinking 'Holy Hannah' myself, Sam called to him in an unusually steady voice. She took her hand out of her pocket, looked to make sure she would meet no cars, then rose and crossed Rosemont street to stand in his yard. Hi, Jack. She had already chosen to call him by his first name rather than his dreaded title that represented so much of the frustrated yearning they had endured over the years. Plus, he was retired from the military. Calling him 'General' or 'Sir' no longer seemed appropriate. Sam gave an internal shudder of delight to think of why it no longer seemed appropriate.

Hi, he said back, too astonished at the sight of her to remark on her use of his first name. Then it seemed to dawn on him for the first time exactly who he was talking to, for he blurted. Carter!

That's what they call me, she nonchalantly said back to him.

He was still almost too bamboozled to speak. Sam! Carter! He swallowed, then took in the street with his gaze, almost as if he'd never looked at it before. You live around here?

You know I do, she accused him. Daniel said that you knew... sort of.

His face darkened like a thundercloud. Daniel! You talked to him? He told you I was..? That...

He didn't tell me anything, Sam corrected him.

Jack stared at her in sudden confusion. Then how did you find out I moved here? he inquired. I know that my address isn't listed in the phone book, or in the military database.

Sam gave a nervous laugh through her nose. You're not going to believe this...

Oh? he asked, clearly not believing her already. Try me, anyway, Jack ordered.

Okay. Kerry Johnson told me.

Jack let a beat go by. Then, You're right, I don't believe you.

You're not gonna believe this either, Sam next told him. She's Pete's girlfriend. That's how I even thought to ask her. Actually, he thought of it, not me.

Jack again took on a look of a fish out of water, gasping for its next breath of air. She's Pete's..? He stared at her in consternation. You didn't get married then?

Oh, I was an idiot, and got married, she assured him. Then she gave a half grimace. And now I'm getting a divorce, Sam further informed him. A very friendly divorce. She shoved her hands in her own jeans pockets. Know any good divorce attorneys?

Without thinking, Jack replied, Yeah, I think the gal that I used years ago is still... Then he blinked. Wait a minute! he ground out. I'm standing on my lawn, talking to a person who I swore I was never gonna let get under my skin again about divorce lawyers?!? How surreal can you get?

Sam gave another short giggle. This situation has been surreal from the beginning, she announced.

Sam, why are you here? Jack abruptly asked. Besides needing advice about divorce lawyers.

Why are you here? Sam asked right back.

You're... What rank are you now, anyway?

What did rank have to do with anything? Colonel.

Got another promotion? There was definite pride in his voice as he asked.

Sam nodded. And you retired, she half accused.

Jack was quiet again, clearly surprised that she knew that. You know.

Yep, I heard about that from...

Kerry, they both said together. Jack continued on by himself, And you got married, but now you're getting a divorce? 'Cause Kerry is... his girlfriend?

Yep, except for the girlfriend part, she amiably told him. I'm getting divorced because... She almost said that it was because she loved him and not Pete, but old habits of silence were hard to break, and instead said, Because of the fact that Pete and I have nothing in common. Are you married? she blurted next. Sam shivered as she asked that question, even if she was pretty certain of the answer. Daniel had told her all about Jack's marital status just last night, after all. But she asked the question anyway, just to be sure.

Jack blinked again. Uh... No. No, he firmly said. Not married.

Sam nonchalantly remarked, Couldn't stop remembering? Before he had a chance to answer, she went on, divulging, I couldn't get you out of my head either. She may have sounded nonchalant, but her heart was thundering inside her ribs!

Jack blinked again. He wasn't used to hearing Carter be so blunt. Say again?

Sam sighed. Jack, this is stupid. We're stupid. Why did you come back to Colorado Springs?

To be closer to Daniel and Teal'c he quickly rejoined.

Is that the only reason? she instantly asked, not giving herself time to think about what she was saying.

Jack responded just as quickly. Of course it isn't. I like Colorado Springs.

And..?

And Hammond decided to come here, too, to be closer to his granddaughters. I followed.

And..?

And... Jack paused. He took a deep breath. To at least be near your house, to tell the truth.

Sam paused, gratified to get at least this much of a confession from the closed-mouthed Jack. We're not so good at telling the truth, she noted.

No, we're not, Jack slowly agreed.

Sam paused a second time, but worked her courage together enough to blurt, Want to tell the truth now?

Want to hear it? Jack riposted right back to her.

I'm still in love with you, Jack, Sam bluntly stated. She had already decided that pretending and beating around the bush wasn't going to get either of them anywhere. I realized it last night while I was sitting in my bath, as unglamorous as that sounds. Marrying Pete was another in a long line of really dumb mistakes on my part, and though I know I treated you horribly several years ago, I hope... you can forgive me for it. I don't expect anything, just want... want... She stared at him in brow-wrinkled consternation, unable to speak any further.

Jack mutely stared back at her in the soft air of midmorning. He looked like he was thinking hard about something, At last he was able to vocalise what was on his mind. I forgave you a long time ago, Sam, he softly told her. He glanced away, then looked back at her with his emotion-filled gaze. I didn't want to forgive you. I wanted to stay mad at you forever, but some of what happened was my fault, even if you were being dumb. Jack gushed out a breath. It took me about half a year to figure that out, but when I did, I retired and ultimately moved to Colorado Springs. To be near you. Then he grinned disarmingly so that he looked like a boy. Or as near you as I could get.

Sam squinted up at him with the sun in her eyes, but softly asked the question that was foremost in her mind. Do you still..?

I wouldn't be here if I didn't, Jack said, not letting her finish her question.

True. Her voice was still small as she inquired, Then why did you leave?

Jack nervously cleared his throat. Why did you get married? he asked instead of answering.

Sam replied, Because I'm an idiot.

A smile momentarily split Jack's features. That about sums it up for me, too.

Were you running away when I got married? Sam abruptly asked. Daniel said...

Daniel's too observant, Jack cut her off to remark. And you say that Pete... a girlfriend?

Sam smiled. She just couldn't help herself. Here she was, standing in a yard on a Friday morning and talking to him again! Yeah, Kerry's Pete's girlfriend, if you can believe that, she said.

Jack smirked as well, and said, You're really kidding me, right?

Nope, Sam decisively answered. She knew the facts about this situation, at least!

You want to come in for coffee? Jack asked all of a sudden. He gestured at his house. Get the five cent tour?

Sam at least knew how to respond to that question. Absolutely.

I still make coffee 'a la Daniel,' Jack told her as he abandoned his lawn-mower in his garage and led her into his house.

I still drink coffee 'a la Daniel,' Sam said back to him.

Still drink beer?

Undomesticated equines can't drag me away from it, she said.

'Undomesticated equines', huh? Jack asked back to her. I see you've been talking to the T-man.

Well, you weren't around. Teal'c took to bugging me in my lab. I guess he was trying to pick up where you left off.

Jack grinned again. Did he succeed?

Sam's immediate answer was as honest as it was surprising. No one can take your place, she solemnly noted,

Jack's grin grew. Good. Then he turned into a light, airy, yellow kitchen and began making coffee for them. This is my kitchen, as you can probably see.

Mind if I see everything? she blurted.

Jack glanced up at her from where he was dumping beans into a coffee grinder. Nope, he said, then turned the grinder on to whir through the following silence. Finished, he dumped the resulting coffee grounds in a filter that he pulled from a cupboard. But he shut the cupboard door when he was done retrieving the filter.

Sam absently watched him shut his cupboard. Into the silence that had fallen between them, she abruptly asked, Mind if I stay? Then she had to wonder where the courage to say all this stuff was coming from? Perhaps she had hit her head on the cabinet last night harder than she had thought. It was making her run off at the mouth.

But she was glad for what it was giving her the courage to say, at long last.

Jack flicked at his coffee pot in order to turn it on. Nope, he decisively announced in a response to her question. I have to say that... He heaved a suddenly weary sigh and leaned on the counter to catch his breath for a moment.

Before he could say anything more, Sam blurted, Can I stay forever? She sounded hesitant and unsure of herself. Do you ya think? she added in a tone of trepidation.

Jack gazed at the counter for a minute. Then he softly said, That's my choice, I admit. He vacantly stared at the bubbling coffee pot. Then his gaze moved back down to the counter. All this time, he was clearly thinking hard. When he finally spoke, his voice was slow, thoughtful, and he quietly said, Sam... He then looked at her with a piercing gaze. You had better be certain that this is what you want before you begin. I can't do this whole relationship/no relationship thing a third time. He looked down, then looked at her again. He shook his head, then levered an even more hesitant stare in her direction. First, the military regulations keep us apart... for years. Then you go off and marry someone else. He gave a bark of laughter that was filled with barely controlled pain instead of joy. As long as you're happy, I told myself that I could at least be happy for you. He negligently swiped at the counter with a wet cloth, then stared at her once more. At last, he admitted, But I can't live through having my heart ripped out and trampled on for a third time. He stared straight at her when he said his words, and she felt guilt stab through her again. But Jack went on in spite of the guilty grimace that crossed her face, So, I don't want to rush you into anything, but whatever you decide right now, it better stick, cause I'm not hanging around so that you can have another chance.

For a moment Sam was silent, internalizing his words. She stared at him, her heart giving a painful twist inside her chest at the agony she must have caused this man over the years. She hadn't meant to cause any of it. But... in spite of her good intentions, she had. I'm so sorry, Jack, she whispered in a sincere voice. It's true, I have one failed engagement behind me, and now one failed marriage to the wrong guy. She sniffed and ran a finger under her nose, which was dripping onto her shirt. She ignored it to tell him in a choked voice, I didn't mean to make you so unhappy over the years. I was only doing what I thought I had to do, not what I wanted to do. She stared at him out of beseeching eyes. Please forgive me for being such an idiot.

Jack's expression softened. You're not an idiot, Sam, and you know it, he said in a firm but gentle voice.

Okay... maybe, Sam finally conceded. A professional genius, and a personal idiot, she amended.

Jack considered what she'd said. Okay, I'll agree with that.

His thoughtful statement made Sam laugh in spite of her sudden tears. She ran a finger under her nose again.

Jack handed her a tissue that he pulled from a box he kept on his kitchen counter. Hasn't anyone ever told you to keep tissues with you at all times? he teased.

Sam gave another mighty sniff. Daniel has, she replied. Of course.

Of course, he echoed.

Jack, Sam said, helplessly leaning towards him. I'm not going anywhere this time. If you'll have me, that is. She sniffed again, and wiped her nose with the tissue before going on. I don't expect that you can ever really forgive me for what I've done, but... Here her tears ratcheted up another notch, and she did her best to quell them. I'm sorry, she whispered. And I love you, and always will, no matter what you do.

Jack gazed back at her. At long last, his hard stare dissolved completely under her gaze, and with a much more welcoming look in his eyes now, opened his arms wide to accept her. C'mere, he said, and pulled her close.

Sam felt the comforting beat of his heart, smelled his special aroma that made him Jack O'Neill, and sighed. She felt like she had at last come home. She wrapped her arms around his waist in a gentle squeeze. I love you, she whispered into his sweaty t-shirt. Even if you don't want to hear that anymore.

And I love you, he said into the top of her head. Even if I didn't want to anymore, and tried everything in my power to stop my feelings.

Some things you just can't stop, she remarked.

He vocalised everything she was thinking when he added, Thank goodness.

The End


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