Disclaimer: If wishes were horses, then I'd be an SG-1 rancher. Alas - 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.' So therefore, I don't own them, but I'm still wishing that I did.
A/N: I know that this story has already been posted. I decided to repost it to explain that it's the first story in my new series 'The Divorce Series,' a set of six stories that all revolve around the Sam/Pete/Jack triangle. It's set somewhere in season nine. The series is complete, and I plan a posting schedule that will turn out to be something that looks like this: The first two stories are being posted now. Then story #3 will be posted next Monday or Tuesday. Story #4 will be posted by the following weekend. Story #5 will be posted the next Monday or Tuesday, and story #6 will be posted by that following weekend. Spreading out my posting schedule like this will hopefully keep readers from feeling too overwhelmed by lots of reading given to them all at one time (I'm sure that by now everyone knows how wordy I can be). Here's to a reader-friendly series!
And thanks goes to anyone who has ever taken the time to write a review for one of my stories. I really do read all the reviews (sometimes several times) and think about replying, but something usually distracts me between the time a reply is formulated in my mind, and one is actually written on my computer (usually a new story distracts me... or sometimes the ten-year-old who wants to make me look like a premature silver-haired Jack.) You have my deepest thanks.
Ah, this is the life! Major General Jack O'Neill contentedly thought to himself as he stretched out both his arms in opposite directions. He was oddly pleased at the pain from the pull of his muscles, and at the fact that he didn't bump into any staff member like he would have done if he was still at the Pentagon. Pentagon hallways were just so... cramped. Oh, the corridors there were wide enough for several people to walk abreast, certainly, but there was just so many people working at the Pentagon.
Unlike here, Jack thought to himself in satisfaction. There was just so much room here at his cabin by his lake - Washington DC seemed ridiculously crowded by comparison with the wilds of Minnesota. He almost didn't know what to do with so much space... 'almost' being the operative word. Jack gave a decidedly wicked smile at the thought of so much 'alone time' spread out before him as he prepared his fishing pole for his first cast of a week of a well-earned fishing vacation from the rat race that was the Pentagon.
An annoying fly was just beginning to buzz around his ear. He swatted it away, then held his fishing pole in just the right position, arm and pole cocked back, ready to make this first historic cast...
When suddenly, the quiet was painfully interrupted by the sound of a ringing cell phone screaming into the air.
Jack sighed, briefly closed his eyes against the harsh ringing tones, then groaned aloud. It had to be his aid, calling him from DC, as she'd been instructed to do if there was a crisis. So much for his long awaited fishing vacation...
Jack carefully laid down his fishing pole on the planks of his worn wooden dock, then reached into his trouser pocket for his cell phone. He grimaced even as he pulled it from his pocket - he understood that he needed to be within easy reach at all times now that he was a Major General, and head of Homeworld Security, even if he also understood that he didn't have to like this arrangement at all. He didn't even look at the caller ID when he answered the ringing phone, but only tiredly said, “O'Neill.”
Surprisingly, it was Daniel's anxiously frantic voice that came over the line, and not that of his DC aid. “Jack! Thank God I found you! You've got to help, now, or..!”
Daniel? Wasn't he still in Colorado? Jack broke in on his friend's demands. “Daniel - how did you get this number?” he questioned in irritation rather than asking Daniel what he 'had' to help with.
Jack's query stopped Daniel's hurried statement. “Uh...” This was clearly an unexpected inquiry, according to Daniel's sputtered response. “Um... I... I... called your office, and told the person on the phone that I had to talk to you - it was urgent...”
“And they just up and gave you this number, without even asking you what the problem is this time?” Obviously he was going to have to train his staff at better knowing the difference between a crisis and a crisis.
“Of course not!” Daniel sounded peeved as he said it. “I told them...”
“Daniel,” Jack cut in to say. He leaned forward on his chair in a pose of supreme aggravation. “You do know that this is the first vacation that I've had in months, right?” Jack's voice turned even more sarcastic. “You'd better have an awfully good reason to be interrupting my...”
Daniel really did interrupt to say, “Sam's missing.”
That was one of the few statements that Daniel could make that would stop Jack from saying what he was saying.
Unfortunately, Jack knew that Daniel knew this. That, of course, didn't change the severity of his friend's news. He scowled as he spoke into his phone. “What do you mean, she's missing?”
Daniel took a deep breath, sounding relieved now that he had his teammate's undivided attention. “I mean that she didn't report to work yesterday, or today, and she's not at her house, or at Mark's place in California - I called him to see if he knew where she was, and he told me that he hadn't heard from her since her wed...” Daniel suddenly cut himself off, not even letting his voice fade away in a natural decline. It was more like he'd run into a brick wall.
The 'running into a wall' scenario brought more pain to Jack, though, than Daniel. He sighed, trying hard to bring the twisting cringe that his heart instantly made at any mention made of Sam's wedding under control so that he could finish Daniel's sentence. “Since her wedding, right?” God, her wedding to that..! He winced at the memory of it, then accusatorily said, “Daniel, I actually managed to forget about that whole 'Carter's wedding' thing for five whole minutes when you just had to go and remind me of it, didn't you?”
Daniel didn't stop now that he'd started. “But that's just it... Sam would never just up and leave less than a year after her...” He at least didn't say the word. Then he went on, “But to just disappear like this... it's not normal for her,” he continued in a worried tone. “Something's wrong.”
Jack sighed a long-suffering sigh this time. He really didn't like this background topic of conversation. He didn't want to accept that wedding of Carter's, because to accept that it had happened meant that he had to also accept the fact that someone else was now the most important person to... No, not going there!
However, it looked like Jack was going to have to deal with this issue whether he wanted to or not. But for Sam, he would deal with anything... even if he didn't want to... really didn't want to. So he steeled himself and asked, “Does... he... know what this is about? Did you even think to ask him?” He - Pete Shanahan - that slimy..! Jack winced again at just the thought of the man who had become Sam's husband.
Daniel explained, “He called here to the SGC, looking for her, wondering if she was on some secret mission, and that's why she hadn't come home.”
Of course that !*&+#@! had called the SGC, Jack ruminated. Probably Pete had called them the minute Sam was late getting home, expecting her to be purposefully missing, since he was hardly the trusting sort. Where any 'normal' partner might think she had just gone out for coffee with a friend suddenly come to town, Pete had the annoying tendency to freak out if he didn't know exactly where she was at all times, Jack knew. He'd had some experience with this trait of Pete's when he had been in control of the SGC. (Actually, it was to his great distress that he had experience with anything that had to do with Pete Shanahan!)
Jack grimaced again, and reminded himself to be nice, though 'being nice' was difficult. It was hard to 'be nice' about a man who did such untrustworthy things such as background checks, and following Sam around like she was less than simply the most honorable woman alive. He didn't understand how Sam could subject herself to that kind of a controlling !*&+@!. But it wasn't his business what she wanted, Jack firmly reminded himself. She'd married that cop, and he was just going to have to get used to the idea. Though, he argued with himself, the Carter that he knew wouldn't let some stupid jerk follow her around like she was some wayward teenager who didn't deserve simple trust...
Daniel unwittingly interrupted this age old argument. “If Pete hadn't called, I still wouldn't know that Sam was gone.”
Jack sighed again. He wanted to forget that Sam had found any amount of happiness anywhere that was not near him, but he had to get over that - so he continually told himself - over and over again...
But this was a different Daniel calling than the Daniel who called to 'just check' that Jack was doing okay. This time, a frantic Daniel, a very worried Daniel, had called. This disappearance of Sam's was something that truly had the archaeologist, not just Pete, 'totally wigged out.' To make sure that his friend wasn't overreacting, Jack ascertained, “You're sure that she just didn't ride away on her bike for a few days to be on her own for some down time?” He'd remembered at the last moment that Carter needed her 'alone time' as much as he did.
What Daniel told him next finally chilled Jack's heart. “Pete thought that her riding her bike was too dangerous, and he made her sell it just after the wedding.”
Jack was struck dumb. She'd sold her bike? The bike that she babied? The bike that she'd restored with her own hands? The bike that she wouldn't even let anyone else ride? That bike? Finally he managed to squeak a breathless, “What?”
“She can't have gone off on her bike,” Daniel hurried to say, as if he knew that this Sam-selling-her-bike issue was going to be as tough for Jack to take as it had originally been for Sam to take. “That's not what she did, since she doesn't have her bike anymore,” he went on. “Are you at your cabin?” he asked, smoothly changing the subject.
That was supposed to be confidential information! “Daniel..!”
“It's no secret that you have a cabin refuge, you know, even though no one knows the address,” Daniel said next. “Not even Teal'c or I know, and we were both there just last year!” Then, without pausing for a breath, said, “Hey, do you suppose she could have been kidnapped again? The NID...”
That was when the throat clearing sound that came from behind Jack overwhelmed what Daniel was saying on the phone about the NID. Jack jerked at the sound - how had that person got behind him? No one had been able to sneak up on him for years! It was a testament to how rattled he was at this news of Sam's mysterious disappearance that someone could sneak up on him now.
Annoyed at the interruption, Jack turned to stare behind him and still tried to listen to Daniel at the same time. What he saw surprised him enough to make him momentarily drop his phone.
Jack scrambled to keep the phone in his lap rather than to let it drop all the way to the dock, where it would probably slip into the water from there - he wasn't sitting so far from the water's edge that he felt safe about talking on his cell phone. Their small sizes made cell phones too easy to drop.
Now, Jack put the phone back to his ear, and in a slightly strangled voice, said, “Emergency - I'll call you back.”
'Emergency?' Code word for 'I found her, but I can't say that over an insecure phone line.'
The next thing Jack knew, he was staring straight at Sam for the first time in... months. She looked... Well, actually, she looked like hell. She was thin... too thin. She looked frightened of something - her mouth was tight and lined with nerves, her forehead had a permanent wrinkle in it, and her hands... God, were they shaking? Her nervous, “Hi Sir,” sure was the sweetest words he'd never expected to hear again, but her voice sounded strangled in her mouth. On the other hand, the beautiful sight of Sam, actually standing at his cabin, something he had desired for years, stunned him so much that he finally did drop his phone as he was trying to flip it shut. He was so bamboozled that he didn't even know if it slid into the lake water or not.
Slowly Jack stood up. He didn't say anything as he regarded her, drinking in the sight of her. She didn't say anything more, either. They simply stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Neither of their eyes slipped to gaze at anything else, not even when the lake flies began to buzz around their immobile figures. It was if a state of paralysis had invaded each of them.
Then Sam cleared her throat again, making the first sound since her earlier greeting.
Jack didn't respond, even with his own throat clearing. He also didn't know what to do with his hands. He stuck them into his pockets, just to keep from touching her. He wanted to touch her, ached to touch her, had felt like that since the moment he'd set eyes on her. Yet, he clenched his fists so tightly in his pockets in order to keep them under his control, to make sure that he didn't touch even a hair on her head, that his fingers hurt.
After her wedding to... that cop... Jack had thought that he would never see her again. That concept had pained him many a time, when he had allowed himself to dwell on the thought of her.
Now Sam hesitantly gave a graceful shrug of her shoulders. “I... I heard...” She stopped speaking to just stare at him once more. A funny expression crossed her face, one of longing, and self-flagellation, and anxiety. He wondered what she was thinking - it scared him that he didn't automatically know... as he had always known in the past. But his Carter had been successfully turned into the controlled wife of that freak. And now, there was no way that he could predict what she was thinking behind that wonderful exterior of hers.
Finally, Sam gave an irritated sigh, as if she was finished with thinking her thoughts, as if she wanted to put a stop to an old argument once again. She bluntly stated, “I couldn't stand it anymore - Yesterday morning, I called your office once I got to work, and when I heard that you had gone on vacation, bribed the secretary to tell me that you were here instead of in DC. Then I used my security clearance to access your private file and get your cabin's address, packed a bag, and here I am.”
The wordy yet succinct explanation did one thing: rendered Jack completely speechless. “Uh...” No matter that he had yelled at Daniel a minute earlier for doing this same basic thing, now his stuttered reply filtered into the air between them. She didn't back away. “Uh,” he said again. Had she just spoken to him? As in, behaved like she and he were still in a 'normal' friendly relationship? As in, behaved like she had behaved for seven of the eight years he had known her?
She gave a sort of smile. “I... expect... that you... wonder... why I'm here.”
Jack still didn't know what to say. “Uh...”
Her smile disappeared at his repeated grunting. Almost as if she were talking to herself, she mumbled, “God, this was such a stupid idea.” But she still didn't move away. She just kept on staring at him, turning his ruined knees into Jell-o.
“No,” Jack suddenly blurted out upon hearing her earlier words. “I mean, don't go,” he added in a much softer command.
Sam didn't look as if she wanted to go anywhere. “I can stay?”
“Absolutely,” Jack told her. “In fact, stay for lunch.” That was dumb! It was only 0800! Lunch was still hours away! Yet Jack found himself next inviting, “Stay for dinner.”
Even at his second dumb invitation of the day, Sam's smile began to slowly appear, anyway.
Jack had always been a sucker for her smile. He heard himself further invite, “You can stay here... with me... forever, if you want.”
Geez! They hadn't seen each other in months, and he sees her for five minutes, and he's already asking her to stay with him forever? Did he want to scare her away? What kind of an idiot was he?
Apparently, not such an idiot as he first thought. “I was hoping that you would say something like that,” she softly admitted.
She did? Sam's words made Jack's mind whirl, but he still had to wonder: What about her cop? She had married him. Shouldn't she..?
Sam interrupted his thoughts. As if she inherently knew what he was thinking about, she blurted, “I don't love him, Jack. I never did.” Her words stunned the General anew, but what she whisperingly admitted next really sucker punched him, “Actually, I love you.” She looked down then, as if she were afraid to meet his gaze after dropping that bomb. “For all the good it does me,” she muttered.
Jack gave a start. Good? Of course if was good! Such words made his heart swell inside his chest, made his lungs hurt, made his ribs practically explode with joy. Of course it was good!
And such honesty deserved an honest reply, he forcefully told himself. But honesty was clearly something that he wasn't used to producing. “I... uh...”
He couldn't voice his feelings?! Why couldn't he just be honest, and say the words? For once? Now, if there was ever a time? “I...” Jack panicked when he couldn't vocalise his feelings a second time. He was going to lose her if he couldn't stop her from going, right now, and telling the truth would certainly be a sure-fired way to stop her! Jack tried a third time. “I...” His voice was caught in his throat again. He painfully swallowed.
It was her own expression of panic that crossed her eyes that finally loosened his throat enough for him to blurt, “I love you too.” He couldn't believe he had said that, finally admitted that to someone other than himself. Yet, he couldn't lose her again... he wouldn't! Even if it meant putting every little bit what was him on the line for her. He wouldn't let her go this time without a fight.
Sam gave a kind of grin when she heard his rushed statement. It was as if she wanted to say more back to him, to respond to such a declaration as his. At the same time, she looked as if she didn't expect Jack to want to hear that response of hers. She appeared as if she thought that she needed to proceed carefully.
In spite of attempting to speak carefully, Sam blurted out her next words to stun Jack anew, “I left him,” she announced. Then she looked sheepish, but aggravated with herself, as if she didn't really want to feel sheepish at all. “I was being smothered... changed...”
Well, Jack knew that. But he'd never told her as much, even if he wanted nothing more than to have his old Carter back. But perhaps 'old Carter' didn't exist anymore.
Sam paused again as soon as she'd spoken about leaving her current husband. She nervously shifted her weight on the uneven ground just beyond the dock, but stayed where she was, stubbornly unmoving. “I have no where else to go,” she anxiously explained. “No where else I want to go,” she finally admitted in a low voice. Even upon hearing this admission, Jack was only able to stare at her, not able to say anything more. At last, she beseeched, “Can I stay here with you for awhile?”
What constituted 'awhile' he wondered. Hadn't he just said that she could stay forever if she needed to?
But Sam was going on. “At least until all this blows over.” She sort of shrunk as she added in a small voice, “Maybe for this week that you're here?”
That question made Jack give a snort. “Sam, you don't really believe that this thing is going to 'blow over' in just a week, do you?” He regarded her in sudden and knowing exasperation. “You're leaving your husband!” That comment gave him the shivers... good shivers. But he ignored them to go on, “This isn't a passing summer storm!”
She shot him her own look of exasperation mixed with no small amount of irritation. “I know that, Sir! I don't expect this to just go away in a day or two!” Her irritation was only increasing as she continued with her explanation, “It's just that the house that I rented in Colorado won't be ready until the beginning of next week, and I have no where else to go, and...” She was babbling now. Her voice trailed off as soon as she realized what she was doing, her irritation from before dissipating into the silent Spring air around them.
Jack's own exasperation vanished with her words. “Sorry, Sam, I didn't mean to get angry with you. It's just... This,” and he waved his arm around to indicate the cabin, the lake, her, her situation, the fact that she'd told him that she loved him... said that she loved him... whoa! “This,” he at last helplessly echoed, referring to their shared, and stated, feelings for each other. He automatically knew that she would understand what he was referring to. Or, at least, she should. “It's a lot to take in.”
Sam gave another nervous smile, and stuffed her own hands in her pockets. “Um... That's the third or fourth time you've called me 'Sam.'” she noted.
Ah... It was clear that she did understand.
Yet, what he called her was an inane thing to realize just now. However, Jack still got red in the face - she'd noticed what he called her! “Um... Yeah,” he timidly agreed. “You've changed... like you said... changed... these past months... and the months before that.” He too gave a shrug. “The Carter that I know wouldn't have done that stuff, wouldn't have changed so much.” He didn't go on, as his voice was stuck in his throat again.
Sam looked down to guiltily toe the dirt under her tennis shoe. “About that,” she timidly began. “Um... if I was changing so much...” She looked straight into his eye. “Why didn't you stop me?”
Jack gaped at her. “Stop you?” he repeated in incredulity. At least his shock had unstuck his throat.
She nodded, looking at him curiously now.
So Jack went on, still half incensed, “I didn't have the right to stop you! I...” He paused, gazing at her in sudden anguish. “You said that you were happy. I didn't want to spoil that for you.” Even as he'd daily hoped that she would 'come around,' he'd not wanted to be the cause of that change of heart in her - he had at least realized that she'd needed to come to that decision on her own. However, realizing this, and living with that decision of his had been two different things.
Now, they just both breathed. The fragrant air of Springtime washed over them, through their lungs, and soon they were both able to relax, and soak up the warming sunlight. Jack knew that sunlight would be sparkling off the lake at his back, dazzling Sam's eyes. He thought to move to his side, so that the light wouldn't be in her eyes so much. Her squinting that he hadn't even noticed eased as halted so that he could go on, “Besides, I... kinda hoped... that you might... wake up... on your own... one of these days... those days.”
Sam looked as if she was considering getting angry at his words, but decided that his hope had been a valid one, instead. “I guess that I finally did,” she said, then added, “Wake up, I mean.”
Jack eyed her as if he didn't fully believe what she'd just said. He wanted to believe her, but he had been disappointed so many times before... disappointed that he was only dreaming of her 'waking up.' “Really?” he dubiously asked now. “You mean it?” He wished that his voice sounded less accusatory, less disbelieving, when he said it. He cleared his throat once again in order to force out his sense of misgiving before going on, “This is the real thing? You ain't gonna change your mind again?” He sounded more hopeful now than accusatory. Apparently his throat clearing had done what he'd wanted it to do.
And Sam validated his new belief in her as she gave a firm shake of her head. “Nope, I'm not changing my mind.” She took a deep breath, then softly added, “I feel more like myself than I've felt in... ages.”
“What about when you hafta see him again?” Jack inquired next, not yet daring to hope that she was telling the truth, yet hoping nevertheless. “You know that you'll have to, right?” he asked. “See him again, I mean,” Jack explained.
“Did you see Sara again?” Sam bluntly asked. “After..?” Then she hung her head once more to stare at the ground. “It's none of my business,” she firmly stated.
“But you're curious, aren't you?” Jack took two steps closer to her, then stopped, changing his mind about moving forward, thinking that even two steps closer was two steps too many. Instead of moving, he opted to answer her question. “Sara... I was married, but separated from Sara for a year after I met you - did you know that?”
By the look of surprise on Sam's face, it was clear that she hadn't known that. But she said, “No,” anyway.
It was Jack's turn to look at the new spring grass that he was crushing under his feet. “Yeah,” he tentatively began. “At first I thought that there was a chance we might patch things up... but...” He looked again into her blue eyes to be dazzled without the help of sun sparkling off water. “I tried to tell myself that...” He paused again, and glanced away for a moment. Then he looked back at Sam - this woman who was slowly becoming his Carter again - his blonde haired, blue eyed astrophysicist - his hot... He stopped that line of thought right there! He went on speaking in order to distract himself from his thoughts. “After that first mission... with you... I told myself...” He searched her eyes for anything except the yearning that he saw, the encouragement, but found only the courage to go on. “I was lying... and I knew it.”
A tiny smile curled Sam's lips. “You knew it?” she asked.
Was that hope that he heard in her voice? If it was or if it wasn't, Jack was done with telling lies, even to himself. Done with the fibbing, the prevaricating, the... whatever you wanted to call it. “At the end of a year or so, I was so gone for you. There was no going back, and I knew that, too.” He looked away from her, out to the lake water sparkling in the sun. He tried to let his mind absorb that sense of tranquillity that he saw at the simple sight of the sun reflecting on the water, but he couldn't calm his mind enough to do anything but to impart more information. “I asked Sara to sign the divorce papers that summer.”
Sam's smile widened almost as if she had no choice but to smile. “You did that because of me?”
Suddenly Jack grinned too. “Well, it wasn't because of Daniel. Though Teal'c was kind of like a brother to me - but not enough of one to make me want a divorce.”
Sam laughed when he said that. “I had no idea,” she said. “I wish you had told me.”
Jack winced. “I couldn't tell you! What if I had done something to your career!” His wince deepened. “I'd just lost Charlie... a few years before. So I knew that I couldn't do anything bad to you, too - I couldn't have handled it if something had gone wrong!”
She eyed him, slightly confused now. “Jack,” she protested. “You were already doing things to my career,” she said in a dispassionate voice.
“No I wasn't” he argued.
“Yes you were,” she argued back.
But he was persistent. “No, I...”
“Jack!” Sam suddenly yelled.
Jack had to grin even as she cut him off. “You called me 'Jack.'”
Sam paused. “Yeah - I did,” she noted in some wonder.
Jack's grin spread across his face. “I like it.”
Sam couldn't quite stem the giggle that engulfed her.
Her laughter died, and they just stood in the breeze, the big world surrounding them, bird chatter coming from the trees, and stared at each other. They didn't say anything more, but all they needed to know had already been said. The rest was easily observed in the other's eyes - all they had to do was look. For the first time, Jack felt that he could look as much and for as long as he wanted.
It had been so long since Jack hadn't needed to say something to someone, to instead just be with a person, to see all that he needed to know in that other person's eyes... His contentment stole up on him without him even noticing.
At long last, Jack gently moved forward, to stand directly in front of Sam. He regarded her, touched her lightly on her shoulder, her neck, her cheek, then when she didn't reject him, carefully hugged her, his arms going around her shoulders to hold her lovingly close to him while her arms went around his waist in an equally loving clasp. They didn't hold onto each other tightly, but held the other in a loose embrace. Yet, their shared and understood bond was as tough as steel.
Jack's voice quietly broke into the comfortable warmth that was beginning to surround them. In a soft pronouncement, he whispered, “Welcome home, Carter.”
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