Disclaimer: I don't own them. I made no money off this story, so I'm poor. I'm sick... sick and poor... and I own nothing... there is no justice in the Universe.

At Wits' End

by Linda Bindner

General O'Neill didn't set out to ruin his career that day. But by the time that lunch was over, he was a pretty determined career ruiner.

When lunch rolled around, he was just getting off The Red Phone in his office when Daniel came in to collect him for a date that Jack's old team had made with him to share a meal together.

Something wrong, Jack? Daniel asked as he took in the glowering features of his former team commander.

Jack's heretofore unfocused glower now centered on his longtime friend. He managed to restrain his desire to hit something while in Daniel's presence - the archaeologist seemed too soft and pliable for comfort - in other words, just perfect to play 'punching bag' for the afternoon.

But Jack held back, proud of himself for his self-restraint. No, Daniel, no problem at all. Let's eat - whadyasay? He rose, bounced on the balls of his feet, and the two left the office together.

It was at lunch, as Jack stared at Carter, listening to her talk about her latest research on her latest doohickey stored in her lab that he first thought of the plan. He let Carter prattle on about metal analyses and some kind of energy devices while he literally dropped out of the conversation to think more in depth about his idea.

Four weeks ago, he'd printed out a request to retire, then sent copies to The President, General Hammond, and the Joint Chiefs. After having to watch Carter meet on base with that idiot-cop she was engaged to marry... in just two months... and again feeling the tearing pain that was his heart rending in two, he had decided that he'd had enough. He wanted to retire, and had therefore sent notice to the appropriate people. One week later, he received a phone call detailing why President Hayes 'refused to allow the best damn man in the galaxy to run the SGC to retire when he's needed the most - there are still Replicators to deal with, to say nothing of the Goa'uld - there's no way that I can feel easy about you retiring right now - I'm afraid that the answer to your bid for retirement is denied.'

At first, Jack had thought Crap - well, that's that, and continued his life at the SGC, albeit a little more grumpily than the week before, a week that had gone by filled with daydreams of retiring and escaping to the sanctity of his cabin, or not having to force himself to see Carter every day, to watch how the woman he loved (he could admit that to himself now, even if he couldn't admit it to anyone else... not that even admitting it to himself did any good)... watch her appear to be happy in the arms of another man. He didn't think he could watch her get excited about planning her wedding for much longer without hauling off and punching the wall every time she walked down the corridor. So he had opted to get out while the getting was good.

Except that his bid for retirement had been denied. Crap. So much for those daydreams!

And that put him in a rotten mood, a mood that he tried his best to hide from his fellow SGC personnel. But he knew that he wasn't doing a very good job of keeping his bad mood a secret. The fact that the goons in DC wouldn't let him retire pissed him off - he didn't know how much more of the happy-Carter-marrying-another-guy he could take.

Then, one day in the middle of a crisis and while talking about his options to Master Bra'tac, Jack thought of the magical solution to his personal problem: so, they wouldn't let him retire? Then he would just resign and be done with it.

So he typed up a letter of resignation, and sent it in to General Hammond.

A week later, the same reply came singing down The Red Phone line: 'I talked it over with the Joint Chiefs, and they all agree that, sorry, Jack, you're too valuable to the program for us to let you simply resign.'

So spoke the brass in Washington.

But by now Jack had an idea of what to do next the moment the denial came to him over the phone - he would transfer! That was it - the answer that he'd been looking for for weeks! He would transfer away, spare himself the agony of having to hear the horrible sound of Carter humming in the elevator, knowing that it wasn't him who put that happy little lilt into her singing voice. He wouldn't have to watch her smile at him, really smile, as in hit-him-in-the-guts beautiful, full force, knock-him-dead-for-a-year smile, and wonder if that gesture was really for him, or because of him? Jack loved her smiles, but it practically killed him every time she made the gesture - the wondering that it caused, the not-knowing, the twist of his heart, the pain in his chest from a heart pounding the idea She's not yours, she's not yours through his body. Yep, it nearly made him blow a gasket every time she smiled at him.

So he wanted a transfer, anywhere that didn't come with the acronym 'SGC,' accompanied by the name 'Samantha Carter.'

Until, six days later, Hammond called him up on The Red Phone again, and asked, Jack, is there a reason that you're making all these requests? Because even though I talked it over with the Joint Chiefs again, and the Secretary of Defense... I have to tell you that your request for a transfer is denied. I still want to fix whatever you seem to think is wrong at the SGC - is the position getting you down, Son? The crisis-a-day atmosphere getting to you? Sending people through the 'Gate when they have to leave you behind - is that it? You're feeling left behind? Then, without giving Jack the time he needed to come up with an answer that wasn't the real answer to the General's questions, Hammond said, I just want to help, Son.

Except that there was no help. Jack couldn't even tell his old boss that, after seven years of hoping, after another nine months spent in a horrible limbo watching Carter carry on with someone who wasn't him, he just couldn't stand it any longer. He had to get out.

But Jack couldn't tell Hammond that - not if he stayed true to the regulations. Simply admitting that his emotions had attached themselves to Carter to begin with, someone who had been under his command for eight years... It would be enough to court-martial him and get him thrown out of the military that had been the underlying reason behind his entire adult life.

His other reason - Charlie - was dead. And then Carter had taken precedence in his emotional life. But now there wasn't even any Carter! And a Carterless life was just one more nail pounded into his coffin of a life lived, but not lived. He just wanted to get out so that he wouldn't have to witness this wedding of hers. If he was already gone by the time of 'the blessed event,' he had a ready-made excuse to hide until the day was over. He was sure that getting snorting drunk was on the agenda for that day as well.

But here was General Hammond, telling him that even his transfer request was denied. I-- uh... Jack stuttered, unable to tell him the truth, and unable to quickly think up a convincing lie, either.

I just want to fix this, Son, Hammond was again saying, his voice full of his worry for his former second in command.

Except that no one could 'fix' this. The only thing that could possibly 'fix' this entire situation as far as Jack was concerned would be to throw Shanahan-the-fiancé through the 'Gate to Ba'al with a note telling the Gao'uld, 'Regards from Earth.' Like that would ever happen! It was more likely that the Goa'uld would throw a party for the Earthlings and promise not to enslave them because of their wonderful all-around fashion sense. Ha! There was no 'fix' to this mess, plain and simple.

And Jack knew it. He said some kind of... something... to Hammond, then went to lunch when Daniel had fetched him, and stared at his team, joking and teasing as if nothing was wrong.

Only everything was wrong. He had to continue to watch Carter smile, hear her tease him, listen to her technotalk, all the while knowing that in the background, her mind was taken up with details of the wedding, with photographer assignments, with flower arrangements. And none of it was because of him... and he hated that.

And then it hit him, just as he was reaching for his customary red Jell-o before his real dessert of apple pie a la mode: Why the heck did he care if he followed the rules anymore? he asked himself. He had followed the rules set down by the Air Force, for seven, almost eight long years, and what had it gotten him? A humming Carter marrying Cop Boy, and three 'request denied's - that's what it had gotten him!

And if he didn't care any longer if he followed those rules, why shouldn't he break those rules?

Jack's sense of duty instantly argued with that traitorous concept: If he actively broke those rules, as in the Fraternization Policy, as in willfully pursuing a relationship with someone under his command, and as Carter was the only person he wanted to pursue that relationship with, wouldn't he be ruining her career right along with his own? He could never do that to Carter! He respected her too much, loved her too much! He must be going crazy for him to even think of that hair-brained idea!

But as Carter prattled on, and Jack stared at her, not paying attention to what she said (as he could only understand every other word anyway) and just listening to her voice, instead, the idea of ruining his career so he would summarily be tossed out of the military that wouldn't let him retire, resign, or transfer became slowly more and more appealing. His grin wormed across his face, though he didn't know it, until Daniel stopped Sam with a comment to him.

Jaaaack, Daniel's warning voice sounded.

Jack glanced away from Carter for the first time in ten minutes, and centered on the linguist. Yeah?

What's the grin for? Daniel asked. I know that look on your face - you're planning something.

Jack's brows rose in genuine surprise. How did you..? Then he grimaced. It wasn't like he could tell his friend about what he was truly thinking! I'm just remembering something that Jacob said to Master Bra'tac the other day... He didn't finish his comment, since he could really think of nothing that Jacob had said to Master Bra'tac that could be construed as funny. They had been talking about the destruction of the galaxy, after all... how funny was that?!

Silence really was golden in this instance. Before Teal'c could question the comment made to his old friend, and before Carter could question the comment made by her father to Teal'c's old friend, Jack abruptly rose. Well, I have tons of paperwork... and paperwork... and paperwork... Did I mention that I have tons of paperwork to do? Jack joked.

But Sir, Carter peered up at him, confusion in her eyes. You haven't even finished your dessert...

Jack grabbed the plate that his piece of pie was resting on, and a spoon, and a fork. He didn't know which he would want, as his pie was a la mode. I'll take it with me, he suggested. It will be good company for my... paperwork. Then, looking perplexed himself, he turned and left the Commissary.

But Jack was too busy thinking about his new idea to work on his reams of paperwork. He ate his pie in thoughtful silence at his desk, pondering the idea of actually getting a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force. He argued with himself that he had worked too long and too hard, and had saved the planet far too many times to accept a dishonorable discharge at this late date. Besides, he was a General - Generals just didn't do what he was contemplating doing!

On the other hand, his choices were to leave - and the only way that he could do that at this point besides suddenly dying of a broken heart... er, heart failure... was to be discharged. Or he could stay and continue to watch this horrible show of happy-Carter preparing for her wedding to... he couldn't even say the name.

At that thought, suddenly, 'dishonorable discharge' wasn't such an awful combination of words as it always had been before. Which was surprising. Was he really considering doing this - trying to get a discharge, whether dishonorable, psychological, medical, or whatever? But what else could he do?

What else? Jack pulled out a piece of paper and wrote Options at the top of the sheet. Underneath he wrote 1) I could stay and watch Carter become 'Mrs Shanahan' like a good little soldier, all the time pretending it doesn't bother me when it really bothers the hell out of me. In a second column, he wrote the word Consequence then wrote 1) If I stay, I might end up 'accidentally' shooting Cop Boy with a Zat - three times. (Hey, my finger slipped - so sue me!)

Jack smiled at the thought of shooting Shanahan, all the while knowing that he would never do it, because Carter would never forgive him for interfering in her life like that - this had to be about her choice to be with Jack or to not be with Jack... and right now, she appeared to have chosen not to be with Jack, much to Jack's regret. So he went on to his second option.

Option #2) I could go AWOL. Consequence #2) I want to slip into obscurity at my cabin, and if I go AWOL, then if I'm ever discovered, SFs will either take me to jail, or shoot me. And as the cabin is the first place any SF worth his or her salt would look for me, I would be found practically before I even get to the cabin, so this option is less than perfect. I prefer to die of old age, not by being shot by my own SFs.'

So... Option #3) I 'accidentally' send Pete through the Gate to Netu. Consequence #3) The Tok'ra destroyed Netu years ago - bummer.

Option #4) If I can't retire, resign, or transfer, I either sit back and watch Carter get married to Cop Boy or... How to get thrown out of the military, since they won't let me out on my own?

Right next to that question, Jack then slowly wrote his recent idea of just how he could get thrown out of the military.

(Real Option#4) I could start up a relationship with someone under my command - an open relationship, so there would be no mistaking what I was doing - and knowingly break the Frat Regs. Then I could refuse to cease said relationship, get court-martialed, thrown in jail, and then I would be summarily discharged from the military.

Just as slowly, Jack wrote Consequence #4) The only person I would even consider starting any kind of a relationship with is Carter, and she's taken, and not by me, and how do I start a relationship up with someone who doesn't seem to want to be with me, anyway, and how do I do all that without ruining her career in the process of ruining mine, and what the hell am I supposed to do about it?

Jack tapped his pencil on his chin, thinking. He was so heavy into thought that he didn't even hear Walter knock on his office door until the knock had turned into a pound. Jack swiftly covered his sheet of paper with 'Options and Consequences' on it, then turned to his aid, who simply placed more papers onto his desk.

These need to be signed today, General, Walter said as he turned back to the door to leave.

Jack just sighed, said, Of course they do, and watched Walter leave, shutting the door behind him. Jack noticed that Walter had not commented on the General's earlier preoccupation, and Jack was grateful for the lack of prying.

But Walter was gone, leaving Jack alone once more. He drew out his paper, and stared again at his final comment, still wondering what he could do with Carter in order to ruin his career, but not touch Carter's career. She would need to be completely blameless in the whole affair... Then Jack grimaced at his mental use of the word 'affair.' For that's what he was really contemplating... and how could an 'affair' with Carter work if Carter wasn't involved in that 'affair?' And how could he not involve her - make her totally blameless while still breaking regulations enough to get him discharged, while at the same time leaving her so unscathed that she would still want to marry Cop Boy in two... make that one... month from now and still have her career in the military, still have the respect of those at the SGC, and not be known as just 'the General's girl?'

This conundrum made Jack's head spin, so he quit thinking about it so hard, and let himself daydream about that vague future relationship that he was 'going' to start with Carter... not that he could... not that he couldn't... not that he could go to his cabin... not that he could stay at the SGC to watch Carter become a cop's wife... What a mess!

Jack next contemplated the fact that in order for him to adhere to the Frat Regs all these years, he had withdrawn from Carter for several years, to the point that she must have wondered if he cared for her at all anymore. Then, when he stopped withdrawing so much, stopped protecting himself at all costs, telling himself that he was actually protecting her (who was he kidding!), he still didn't tell her what he really felt about her. No wonder she had gone off and found Cop Boy! Shanahan could at least treat her with the affection that she deserved, treat her like a... no, that word was too much like a the description of a Goa'uld...

It was pretty clear - Shanahan loved her... or appeared to love her... After all, he always treated her so... so carefully... with such fragility... as if he didn't really know what a badass person she could be. But Jack, on the other hand, would treat her like... not like a Goa'uld Queen... and not like she was so fragile it seemed that she would break at any moment... No, he'd treat her like... like royalty!

But... thinking along the lines of who loved who loved who... Had he ever heard Carter say that she loved Shanahan? No. If she couldn't... or didn't... say it... at least, not around him... did that mean that she was still actually in love with...?

Jack took a sudden cleansing breath - it didn't matter what he had heard or not heard Carter say in the past, how she felt or didn't feel... It only mattered what he did about his own feelings. And if his feelings had changed over the years, then they had just deepened rather than disappeared. Except he had never told Carter how he felt... not for years...

Did that mean that she didn't know?

Jack screwed up his features in amazement. How could she not know?

But then, did he know how she felt about him? How could he not know?

But then, Carter had always been just a bit better than he was at covering up her emotions. She came off as so taciturn, so nonchalant about him.

Yet... there had been those test thingies a few years ago...

Her feelings could have changed since those test thingies... Obviously, they had, as she was now engaged to marry Cop Boy...

But what if she had only promised to marry Cop Boy because she didn't truly know how Jack felt? What if she had been had never seen... had missed for years... that look of longing and affection that Jack knew showed in his eyes in spite of his efforts to hide it? What if she suspected that the General didn't care anymore? Was she..?

It. Doesn't. Matter! Jack ferociously told himself. Carter had made her choice. It wasn't him. End of story.

Yet, the contradictory part of him thought that Maybe..... That thought kept niggling at him, though, even when he tried to force himself to return to his ever-growing stack of paperwork. So Jack finally gave in to that niggling of his and wrote another option on his sheet of paper.

Option #5) Let's be totally screwy here... and list everything... have it all out in the open... Show Carter exactly how I feel about her, but don't expect her to respond... Consequence #5) Is that even possible? Can I kiss her... say... in the middle of the Commissary (I've always wanted to do that!) or a very busy room on base... and not expect her to respond... not expect it to ruin her reputation even if it doesn't ruin her career... why do girls always have to worry about things like reputations, anyway, and guys don't? Is it guys who start stupid rumors saying that a girl is 'fast?' I can kiss her, then yell something like, 'Say one word about any of this, and I'll have you transferred to Siberia faster than Ba'al can say the word 'torture.'' Would that work? But they would still think 'fast' even though they wouldn't say it. Can I help what people think, though? No, this is a waaaaay screwy idea... I don't want to do anything bad to or for Carter, and how can this end up being anything but bad?

Hopeless... that's what it was - hopeless.

Jack forced himself to get back to his paperwork.

* * *

'Request denied.'

'Request denied.'

'Request denied.'

'Request denied.'

'Request denied.'

Jack woke after that particularly hideous nightmare where the same words repeated over and over again wearing a sheen of sweat. He heaved in air as his heart pounded erratically in his chest. He gasped now as he reached for the lamp resting on the table beside his bed, filling his room with its dim light.

Gagh! What an awful dream! Jack rubbed dispiritedly at his face.

He considered what had woken him up in the worst sweat he'd experienced this year.

Ah, yeah... the 'Carter Conundrum.'

Jack let out another dispirited sigh - this was awful. All those requests of his - denied. Was he truly going to have to watch his best, most favorite girl in the entire world marry someone else? UGH! How could he? But the Washington Club wasn't letting him not watch it! How could they force him to go through with that?

Of course, they didn't know what they were forcing him to do...

Could he... perhaps... tell them?

* * *

Mr. President, it's General O'Neill... Jack said into The Red Phone the very next morning, the minute that he could realistically place the call through to DC. It was 0530 in the morning.

Which meant that it was 0630 DC time - breakfast-with-the-First-Lady time. Actually, it was a case of breakfast-with-the-First-Lady-and-General-O'Neill, and a nasty early morning phone call. A tired sigh met Jack from the other end of the line. What is it this time, Jack? came President Hayes's reply. A crisis again? Honestly, Jack, I don't know if...

Jack winced, but forged on. No. Not this time, Sir. It's... Wince, wince. It's... Jack's voice broke. He cleared his throat. It'ssomethingofapersonalnature, he said all in a rush.

Hayes remained quiet for a moment. Then his confused voice came softly over the line, A personal problem?

Yes, Sir, Jack croaked, his heart already thudding in his ears, and his palms sweating. This conversation was way worse than he'd ever imagined the scene where he told Jacob that he wanted to date his daughter.

Hayes's confusion grew. But Jack, you never have...

Jack actually interrupted the President of the United States. Well, I do this time, he said, rushing again. You know that retirement request... and the resignation... and the transfer?

Um... Hayes let a pause envelope his voice. Yeah, there's something that I recall...

Jack interrupted the President of the United States a second time. Ican'twatchCartermarrythatguy, Igottagetout.

The President hesitated. Then he blurted a perplexed-irritated-horrified-sympathetc, What?

Jack was sweating under his BDUs by now. He would need to change clothes... after he took another shower in the locker room. I need to retire, Sir, or resign, or transfer... I can't watch while Carter marries some other guy.

Carter... It was clear from the President's voice that he was trying to place the name with a face. As in Lucinda Carter, the politician?

Jack hurried to explain, No, as in Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, marrying that... (be nice!, he thought)... the cop who she's engaged to.

And Hayes's voice took on an amused sheen... which was better than an angry one. Is that what this is all about? he exclaimed... with a slight chuckle added to his voice.

Jack pulled the phone receiver an inch from his ear so that he wouldn't hurt his auditory sensors when listening to such... blatant... amusement, then responded, Yes Sir, it is. I can't be here... I can't watch... I might shoot him...

Jack... The chuckle coming down the line was now unmistakable. So this isn't galactic war, global domination, do-or-die threatening stuff?

Jack hesitated. Not... not exactly... Sir.

Hayes's sigh sounded over the line. Ah, Jack what are we gonna do with you? It's a good thing you're so knowledgeable about strategy, about the SGC's allies, about how to handle Ba'al wearing underwear that passes as clothes...

Yeah, Jack said, sort of agreeing with what the President had said, sort of not. All he really knew was that his heart was still thundering, but he was determined to finish this once and for all. About my retirement...

Hayes's regret-filled voice now sounded over the receiver that Jack had again placed next to his ear. Sorry, Jack, requests still denied... all of them. You're still too valuable...

So the answer... in Air Force speak... was, 'Suck it up, Airman.'

Crap.

Jack's own sigh now heaved around his office as well as over the phone. I just thought I should explain...

George said this day might come, Hayes abruptly admitted. Though he suggested a slightly different scenario at the time... one that was dealing with the two of you...

Request still denied? Jack next solemnly asked.

Hayes sounded tired again as he said, I'm sorry for your discomfort, Jack... but, yes, request... s... denied.

Crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap.....

* * *

A few minutes after Jack talked to the President and had hung up The Red Phone, he numbly heaved another sigh. Well... It was worth the effort... It might have even worked...

Except it hadn't.

Back to the 'getting discharged' idea...

Jack wished he could think of another option...

* * *

Another day... another night... another nightmare... another round of sweat-soaked pajamas...

* * *

The following day, after yet another shower, Jack stood during the breakfast rush in front of the SG-1 table, and Daniel, and Teal'c, still telling himself that he could back out of this idea at any time....

Teal'c and Daniel had already seated themselves. Carter was still in the food line, contemplating oatmeal or pancakes...

Neither, Jack thought as his stomach gave some nervous rumbles.

Daniel heard his stomach grumbling. Not feeling well, Jack? he inquired around the pancakes in his mouth. You know, I heard that a flu was going through the...

Sir! said Carter in delight as she ambled up to the table, bearing a tray with neither oatmeal nor pancakes on it, but a nice bland, empty bowl, and an unopened box of Froot Loops. And Carter smiled THAT SMILE at him, the one that blew straight through Jack's guts and out the other side. What brings you to the Commissary? Don't you generally have breakfast at home? Why are you here? Is something wrong? She set down her tray on the table, but remained standing in case she suddenly had to sprint off to the Control Room to fix the broken 'Gate that Siler had been trying to fix for over an hour....

The broken 'Gate scenario died before it really had time to actually become a reality... which had happened often enough, just wasn't happening right now. And Jack couldn't decide if that was a good thing, thus saving him from extreme discomfort for having gone through with his hair-brained, screwy... Or if it was a bad thing, forcing the SGC not to have an unscheduled 'Gate malfunction, thus not giving Jack a convenient excuse not to go through with his hair-brained, screwy...

But it did nothing either way to dissuade Carter from her natural need to question. General..? her inquisitive tone said that she wondered just what that look on his face meant. It almost seemed as if he... Is something wrong? she asked again.

Carter... Jack choked on the words that he was trying to get out. He stared at her in a wild, painful abandon of longing and heartache and affection, too frightened to clamp down on his emotions for once. Don't... He sighed, a puff of air that was so full of the sound of tears it stopped Daniel from chewing his next bite of pancakes. Don't... don't marry him.

Carter looked at Jack in shock. Daniel dropped his fork to clang on his plate. Even Teal'c stopped lifting his fork to his mouth until the fruit he had impaled on the tines slipped off to land in a plop of fruit juice on his plate.

Jack went on, You're too... Too what? Too good a shot? Too good at kicking ass? Too..? Too damned beautiful for him, Jack said before he could think twice about what he was saying. I should have told you that before...

Then he turned and abruptly walked out of the Commissary.

* * *

Daniel almost beat Jack back to the sanctity of his office. The archaeologist barely waited to close the door leading into the corridor before asking, Jack, what's going on? What..?

Daniel, Jack gruffly said, cutting off his friend. He really didn't want to argue with Daniel over this. Just... he sighed, a sound full of agony. I know what I'm doing.

But Daniel, as Jack might have suspected, immediately pounced on that comment. So, you're doing what you're doing on purpose?

Crap! No - not exactly...

Daniel wrinkled his forehead. 'Not exactly?'

Jack's heart thundered again. His palms sweated buckets. Another shower loomed on his future horizons... He grimly nodded. That's right - I'm not exactly doing this on purpose. I had help.

Daniel's forehead wrinkled even more. 'Help?'

Crap - it was too early in the morning for this... and it wasn't like admitting to his feelings was easy for him... Jack's stomach was finally untying from the knot it had been in all morning, and now it was settling down into nervous jumping and twingings. Suddenly, he didn't feel so good... Yeah. Jack ignored his protesting stomach to explain, They denied my retirement request. They denied my Resignation. Hell, they even denied my request to transfer!

Transfer! Daniel now looked...and sounded... very concerned. To where?

Anywhere! Jack hollered. Then his head dropped into his hand, and he hid his face. Anywhere away from the SGC... away from having to... He stopped, too overcome to go on. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he just go on pretending that he didn't have these feelings for..? Why couldn't he not care?

But Daniel wanted to know, and wanted to know right now, and a determined Daniel was like a dog with a ham bone... resolute. Away from having to watch... what? Jack? he prodded.

Jack didn't answer. Jack couldn't answer.

Daniel leaned forward on the desk, concern for his friend resounding all through his tone. Jack? Can you..?

Jack lifted his head to reveal eyes full of anguish. I can't do it, Daniel.

Daniel jerked back from the pain that was on display in those eyes for the first time... ever. God, you look just like you looked when you were being tortured by Ba'al!

Jack's own brow wrinkled, his pain over happy-Carter-marrying-Cop-Boy forgotten for the moment. How do you know what I was like when I was with Ba'al? That was when you were ascended! he accused.

Uh... A suddenly very confused Daniel sent him an even more confused look. I don't remember... exactly. I don't think... Now Daniel sounded vague as well as confused.

Anyway, Jack said to get them back on track. I can't watch this... trauma... drama... tragedy... And they're making me...

But Daniel was still perplexed, and looked it. What... tragedy?

Jack sighed and buried his head in his arms on his desk. I can't watch Carter... marry... I tried... everything... Daniel had to understand... Daniel had seen him suicidal...

Slowly Daniel lowered himself to a chair in front of the General's desk. You're... upset... 'cause Sam's getting... married?

Again Jack hid his face. This was awful! Horrible! It was Charlie twenty times over, with Carter's imagined future death thrown in for good measure! Daniel, you say one word, and I will... Jack paused, thinking fast. I can't think of anything bad enough to do to you! he yelled at last from the pillow his arms made.

Daniel remained silent, and Jack had thought the archaeologist had left, but when he lifted his head, he saw that Daniel was still there. In fact, Jack was staring right into Daniel's blue, bespectacled eyes. Sam's pretty shook up, he announced.

Crap, Jack swore. He ran his hands through his hair in agitation, making the ends stand up at attention. Shaking up Carter is the last thing that I ever want to do, he whispered.

Then, amazingly enough, Daniel barked a laugh.

Jack skewered Daniel with a glare. This is funny to you?

Daniel drew a breath after his laugh, then explained, No! Not funny! Tragic! But how on Earth... and Vorash... and Kelowna... I mean Langarra... no, Kelowna... oh hell, I can't remember... How did you ever expect to say anything to Sam... or about Sam... How could she not be affected? Daniel blurted questioningly. She loves you, you moron!

Jack actually snorted this time. Loves me... riiiight! he derided in a disbelieving voice. And the Goa'uld are going to let us win this war out of the goodness of their hearts!

Daniel sat, silenced for a moment by Jack's bitter sarcasm. Then he sighed, stood up as if to leave, but added, If you think that she's not affected at all by you saying what you said in the middle of a crowded Commissary at breakfast... then you really are a moron. Daniel turned and left without another word.

Jack beat his head on his desk, thinking that he really was a moron, like Daniel said, that he was stupid for ever thinking that this might work, that he was a simpleton for thinking that the DC brass would ever just let him retire in the first place! Or resign! Or transfer! Stupid, stupid, stu...

Sir?

The voice was so quiet, so hesitant, so unlike Carter, that he barely recognized it as coming from her. But the fruzz that his brain always did when Carter was around told him that Carter was around. Slowly, Jack lifted his head and looked at her standing before his desk, a big... was that a grin?... on her face. What could have possibly happened to Carter that would make her... smile... like that?

Except that he'd called her 'beautiful.' In a crowded Commissary. And she was... smiling? But what had he been thinking?

Yet Carter kept grinning.

Carter, Jack finally said. Why are you grinning like that? He felt as if a headache was coming on. Yeah, right where he'd banged his forehead against his desk. He probably had a big bruise that made him look sooooooooooooooooooooooooo stupid. I thought you were shook up. What's with the grin?

But Carter just kept grinning. Until her grin turned into a hit-Jack-in-the-gut smile.

Jack's gut clenched, true to form, but his eyes narrowed in suspicion. Carter?

Carter's eyes positively shone like the stars. It was clear: she was thrilled. You said that I was beautiful, she announced, as if he wouldn't remember each painstaking syllable by himself.

Jack didn't quite get what she was driving at. Uh... You're also hot... and hot... and hot...

Carter just kept smiling like an idiot. But Samantha Jean Carter was never an idiot.

Carter? Jack eventually asked. Are you gonna tell me what has you so excited? 'Cause...

You said that I'm beautiful, she repeated,

Jack paused. Uh... yeah, you said that, he noted. And when she didn't say more, asked You gonna say something else?

Are you? she asked right back at him.

Was he? Jack didn't have any plan beyond his Commissary comment about Carter's looks. Um... He thought with the speed of an Asgard computer... a computer that had died from an overload of possibilities. He finally had to give up. No, I got nothin.

The moment he said that, Carter calmly walked around the end of his desk until she was standing right next to his leather chair. When words aren't enough... act, she said as if she were quoting some astrophysical journal, as if she was doing some convincing-of-herself in the process that she was talking to him. It was confusing. It was strange, especially for Carter, who always had the answer. It was...

And then Carter did something that Jack... in all his wildest dreams... daydreams, or otherwise... never thought she would do. Carter squatted down in front of him, leaned forward, lovingly rubbed the bruise that was beginning to form on his forehead, grinned her enigmatic grin... and like it was the most natural thing in the world... kissed him square on the lips.

Jack was too surprised to respond... for one second. Then, respond he did... in spades. Carter cradled his cheeks with her fingers, branding his skin with her touch.

When she drew back, eyes shining, lips trembling, tears brimming, Jack noticed something very odd, especially for now: she was no longer wearing her engagement ring.

Carter kissed him again. You're mine, General, she whispered, and nuzzled his nose with hers.

Heat burst out of his heart, blossoming to encompass both her and him...

And Jack had planned to tell her how he felt... but here she was, showing him...

Two weeks later, General Hammond tendered his own retirement... He said that he got the idea from Jack... And the DC goons actually let him go... as long as it was Jack who replaced him in his last position...

Jack couldn't transfer fast enough.

The End


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