Disclaimer: They are soooooo not mine! I soooo did not make any money off this story! I sooooo do not care, and will write more stories, anyway! (You know what they say: 'Once a fan, always a fan')

Part III - The 'Chicken to Egg to Omelette' Interlude

by Linda Bindner

Jack and Sam grinned at each other as the door slammed behind the retreating form of the angry cop. That slamming of the front door was the herald of Pete Shanahan's disappearance from the cabin, and from their lives, Carter's especially... she hoped. Relief was one of the heady aftereffects the detective left behind.

Carter was the one who exuded that sense of relief the most. She sounded glad beyond reason when she whispered, “He's really gone this time.” Inside, her heart was dancing a happy jig in her chest - he's gone, he's gone, he's gone!

Jack smiled just to see Carter smiling so much, just to see her so... freed. If nothing else would ever come of this unplanned cabin assignation between the two, he would always have this memory of happy-Carter to visit again and again in later times if he needed it.

But at the same time, Jack was determined not to let the necessity of those 'later times' occur in the first place. He knew that he and Carter needed to talk, and they needed to talk now, whether he was comfortable with that need to talk or not. He had always used the excuse that he 'wasn't good with words' to stop himself from having any kind of meaningful conversation with her in the past, but now was not the time to let his deplorable communication skills interfere with attaining his deepest desires. He instictively knew that their short conversation near the cabin's dock that morning had opened up 'the room,' letting all that was safely stored inside out into the open. If he didn't want that room to become stocked and locked again, he had to deal with it right this minute.

Yet, as per usual for Jack O'Neill, he instantly found a last minute way to stall. “You need food,” he casually told her, his voice sounding loud in the quiet of the cabin at midmorning. “After breakfast... or during... we can talk.”

“Talk?” Carter echoed in a doubtful voice. “I thought that we talked earlier this morning - what do we have to talk about?”

Surely, Carter could not be so... obtuse? “Well, for one,” Jack began to explain as he returned to making the omelette left in the skillet that he had set aside on the stove what seemed hours ago. “I still don't quite understand why you were ever with Shanahan in the first place.” He coolly regarded her as she sat at his kitchen table while he cooked. He locked his gaze to hers, and noted her slightly guilty expression. “What were you thinking when all this was going down?”

“What were you thinking?” she instantly mumbled back, forcing the conversation to focus on him rather than her, a tactic that she often used when things of an emotional nature rose close to loom over her.

Keeping his cool rather than letting his sudden surge of temper get the best of him, Jack stared assessingly at Carter. He had always hated the way that she did that - turn a personal question around onto the person who'd asked the original question. If he actually managed to gather enough of his courage together to ask something personal of her in the first place, he wanted her to answer his inquiry, not to inquire the same thing of him.

But that's just what she had done... again. Carter looked expectant now, waiting to hear his response. But still Jack didn't know quite what to say. Truthfully? Should he be honest now, or should he lie? Did she really want to know what he'd truly thought? Or was she looking for a pat, friendly answer to her query?

Finally Jack sighed as he flipped one side of the omelette on top of the other to continue cooking. He then poured more beer into the skillet for the omelette to cook in as he carefully chose his words when he replied, “Are you sure that you want to hear about that?”

Actually, Carter looked as if she wanted to question Jack further about his thoughts on the Pete subject, but she firmly nodded. “Yeah.”

Jack dubiously eyed her. “Even if what I say might make you feel bad?” Then he paused long enough to crack a slight smile. “Well, at least worse than you already do,” he corrected.

Carter took a little longer to reply, as if she was seriously considering her answer. She looked down at the table top in hesitation and fear. But she said, “I... um... know in my mind... that this entire year... two years... should be enough to make you... make you want to throw me through the 'Gate to Anubis.” She gave a snort of a laugh, trying to add levity to her explanation, and failing. She sent a beseeching look at him, her further uncertainty broadcasting loud and clear to Jack just through her expression. “I know that you probably won't ever forgive me for the whole Pete thing,” she slowly said, looking down again at the empty spot on the table before her. “I can hope...”

Jack cut her off. He couldn't stand seeing her wanting something so badly if he could give it to her. “I've already forgiven you,” he softly and rather reluctantly declared as he flipped her entire omelette over in the beer-filled skillet. “I didn't want to forgive you... ever,” he divulged in an equally soft tone. “But...” Jack contemplated the stove top for a moment of quiet reflection. “I...” He had to stop as memories of the last awful two years accosted his mind. Finally, he forced himself to go on, “I told you that I will always be there for you if you ever needed me, and I will,” he added. “I thought that way even after I decided to go to DC.” Jack sent a peak at her as he told her that, but she was still looking at the table, and he couldn't see the expression on her face.

At last he closed his eyes, steeled himself, and for once, told her the truth. “Yeah, it... didn't make me too happy... and I didn't understand why... still don't...”

“Why...” Carter grimaced at herself, but forged on. “I can tell you about the 'why' part.”

“I'd love to hear it,” Jack carefully told her in a light tone as he slipped the finished omelette onto a plate for her, then carried it and a glass of milk over to her at the table. “But eat while you explain it to me and I make another omelette for myself.” Then he gave his brow a questioning lift. “Unless you want two omelettes?” He almost hoped that she wanted two - she was much too thin... thinner than he had ever seen her.

But Carter had already cut into her first omelette, and shook her head no, as her mouth was too full for her to reply. “It's hot,” she finally excused as she tried to blow on the bite that she had already taken. Then she sent a grin in his direction. “Hot, but good,” she affirmed. After her swallow, she added, “I like the beer.”

Jack grinned. “Glorious word to the chef... 'like,'” he said. Then, he turned back to the stove. After adding more eggs and beer to the skillet, he filled a second omelette with various bits of food. “Keep talking,” he commanded. “I can cook and listen at the same time.”

Carter smiled at his back, but went on as she ate, “Okay... 'why'...” Suddenly Carter blushed the red hue of deep embarrassment. “I know that this is going to sound stupid as I tell you.” She sent him an inquiring glance as she tried to get her blush under control. “Do you promise not to laugh if I tell you why I did what I did?”

“'Laugh?'” Jack repeated her, and grinned a small grin. “No, I won't laugh, promise.”

Carter ate in silence for several minutes, and the quiet made Jack think that she might have reconsidered, in spite of her promise that she had exacted from him. But when he least expected it, she began speaking, telling in halting phrases exactly what had happened to her aboard The Prometheus while she had been under the effects of a horrible concussion several years before, all of which had ultimately affected the direction she'd let her personal life go from that confusing point on. She had clearly not understood at that time how her own decisions about her life had then affected his life.

But at last she was done speaking, and only silently regarded him. He now knew everything, all that she had never put into her official report of the incident, that report that he had revisited every few weeks for years, looking for answers to his own questions about her motivations. When she was finished, Jack was silent himself as he thought about what he now knew.

When Jack thoughtfully asked in a slow drawl for more clarification, her sense of temerity seemed to scream at him. “So... You hallucinated... how many people?”

“Everyone,” she replied, then corrected herself. “I mean, I hallucinated all of SG-1, Dad, and a little girl blowing bubbles and singing.”

“Not your mom?” Jack asked, half in jest, appalled at the sheer number of hallucinations she must have undergone, yet unwilling to vocalize that point. But it was no wonder she had never included anything about these hallucinations in her original report - the entire SGC would have thought she'd gone crazy!

Carter shook her head. “You'd have thought that Mom would have showed up since Dad did. But no. I didn't see her.”

“Maybe you needed to be out there a bit longer,” Jack suggested, still mildly joking. If she had been out there longer, he would have seriously gone around the bend! “Not that I wanted you out there any longer than you were,” he protested. “But she might have showed up eventually.”

Carter gave a weak smile. “Maybe,” she halfheartedly agreed. “I hadn't thought of that before.”

Jack took a deep breath to get them back on topic. “Anyway... This hallucination of me...”

“Actually, of you, through me talking to myself,” Carter reminded him.

Jack nodded his understanding. “Yeah - me through you.” Carter gave another nod. Jack continued with an imploring expression, “I told you that I was a... what? A 'safe bet?'” She nodded once more, still eating. So Jack went on when she would have otherwise answered, “And as a safe bet, you... decided what? That I was 'safe?' As in 'too safe?'” He carefully eyed her. “Not what you wanted out of life?” He patiently waited for her to answer. When she didn't, only hung her head to stare at the table, prompted, “You were thinking... what?” She still didn't respond, so he continued, “But this is the reason that you decided to go off with cop boy, huh?”

Carter winced, but nodded that was why she had decided to start a relationship with Pete. She still didn't explain her interpretation of a 'safe bet,' or whether Pete or Jack was or was not that 'safe bet' that she was looking for, as in, the traditional sense of the phrase... none of that was yet clear. But she did say, “I didn't think that I should include this hallucination-decision in my final report of that Prometheus thing. I didn't want General Hammond thinking that I'd gone crazy.”

“Probably a good idea,” Jack agreed, ignoring the way she still had refused to give him the pertinent information that he wanted. His own vague response to her comment showed that he was also still lost in thought. He tried to give her a nudge in her responses to her interpretation of the phrase 'safe bet.' “But you say that I said I was your...”

“Safe bet, yeah,” she said, filling in for him. Then she took another bite of omelette before he could reply just as Jack joined her at the table, a plate of food and glass of milk in his hands.

“'A safe bet,'” he repeated her one more time, his tone pensive. He cut off some omelette, then burned his mouth on the bite that he shoveled inside. He quickly took a drink of the milk. “A 'safe bet,'” he said again when he could talk. He added, “Well, I suppose that's true enough.” Then he shrugged. “That is, if you want to interpret that 'safe bet' bit literally.”

Carter sent him a quizzical stare. “How else should I have interpreted that if not literally?” she asked, clearly confused as to what he was getting at.

Jack took another bite of omelette, blowing on this one first to cool it down before eating it. “A 'safe bet,'” he again repeated. “That I'm your 'safe bet.'” With every repetition of the words, it was clear that he was trying to stay open minded about this event, trying to figure out her thought processes at the time, and that he was considering the many different ways that one could interpret those words.

Carter shot him another stare full of furrowed brows. “That's what you said... I mean, that I said.”

Jack then pointed his empty fork at her. “Is that specifically how you remember those words, though? As me saying them?” he slowly asked. “Even though you really said them.” It was kind of nice to know that Carter thought of him as a 'safe bet.' And at the same time, it rankled him - he didn't like to think that he was so predictable as to be a 'safe bet,' either!

Carter stared at him with a frown on her face now, the rest of her omelette forgotten. “What to do mean?”

Jack sighed. What did he mean, really? He spoke slowly, trying to articulate his ideas, not something he was naturally good at. “Okay, here's what I'm thinking,” he began. “You can interpret those words - me... you... saying that I'm your 'safe bet'- as in, that I was a 'guarantee,' that the fact I would want to get involved with you was a no-brainer.”

Carter blushed when he spoke of them getting together, in spite of the words that they had recently shared on his cabin's dock. “My dad also mentioned that it was time for me to let someone love me, and for me to love them.” She gave a second shrug. “That comment of his, coupled with the 'safe bet' comment of yours, led me to believe that...”

Jack cut her off. “You thought that it was time to let me go,” he grimly said for her. “That it was time to start a relationship with someone else, someone who could give you the 'normal' life that I always said that you needed to find,” he added. She winced again, but didn't disagree, so he knew that he was right.

Jack sighed a loud, resigned sigh. “I understand your thinking now.” He looked pointedly at her through the fingers scrubbing over his face. “I may not agree with you on it, but I understand what motivated you, at least.”

Carter's brows gathered together in another wrinkled forehead. “What do you mean that you might not agree with my interpretation of things?” She gave him another lost look. “Like I said before, how else can you interpret that?”

Jack's fingers passed across his face one last time, then he let his hands drop back and continued eating his omelette. In between bites, he said, “Considering what happened - you getting together with cop boy - and the words a 'safe bet...'” Jack thought about those words for another minute. “I... you... could have thought that I was saying that things... a... relationship... with me... would be a done deal... that I would be gung ho for a relationship with you... if you ever desired one. Like I said, that I was a 'guaranteed' thing.” Jack tried not to stumble over his words too much. “Though a relationship... one with me... could easily become pretty awful... if it was ever discovered.” He glanced at her with a grim expression. “That's not really very 'safe,' is it?” he inquired.

Carter conceded that he had a point, then shook her head. “No, not really,” she agreed, then admitted, “I thought the same thing later on in the Infirmary.”

Jack blew out a gush of air into the room, then went on. “Or...” And he gave her a piercing look. “I guess it could have meant that you thought I would always lo...” Out of habit, he rapidly changed his words to say, “That I would always have feelings for you.” Even though he and she had both said the 'l' word earlier that morning, he didn't want to jinx this conversation that had been years in coming by reminding her too soon of the strong emotional connection that he shared with her.

“Having feelings for me... or me for you,” she shyly admitted, “That wouldn't exactly be a bad thing.”

Jack heard her, even though she had spoken softly. “But,” he said, capturing her attention again. “You said that your dad also gave you advice.”

Carter smiled in fond remembrance. “Yeah, good advice. So was you telling me to go save my ass.”

Jack grinned. “Yeah, that is something that I would say,” he agreed, marveling at how well she knew him by correctly choosing what words he would have used in such a situation! “But... maybe...” He suddenly peered at her quizzically. “Did you have the words 'safe bet' in your mind after The Prometheus came back, or me saying that I in particular was a 'safe bet?'”

Carter shrugged. “I guess that I just had the words in mind,” she divulged. “Though I always linked those words somehow to you.”

Jack puffed out air again. “Okay... It was right about then that you met Pete, wasn't it?”

Carter shrugged again. “So?” she asked.

Jack gave a third puff of air. “Those words, plus your dad saying that you should let someone love you... and even though I did... and it seems on some level that you knew that I had feelings for you...” He made certain not to look at Carter as he said this. “What if... What if you thought of Pete as a 'safe bet' too?”

But Carter only stared at him, uncomprehending. “But Pete's a cop... how is being a cop safer than you being an airman?” She looked like she still didn't understand. “Both shoot guns... both get shot at... Yet one is 'safer' than the other?” she shrugged in confusion. “I don't get it.”

A tight smile ghosted across Jack's face. “I should have said 'a safer relationship,'” he quietly told her.

Surprisingly, Carter gave an explosive snort of derision. “It's my experience, especially now, to think that a relationship... any relationship... especially of the guy variety... is never safe!”

The comment of hers, no matter how intended, saddened Jack. He felt as if she was saying that a relationship with him wasn't safe, either, which at the time of the Prometheus incident, it wasn't, and that she found a relationship with him equal in awfulness to a relationship with Pete. Or with Jonas Hansen. Or with anybody. It was rather unpleasant to be likened to just anybody!

Jack couldn't help the sigh that leaked through his teeth. He slowly gathered his emotions to his heart, and softly said, “I hope... that...”

Carter didn't even need him to speak to understand what he was trying in his stumbling manner to say. “Jack,” she said, using his first name again to get his attention. “I don't want you to think that I ever thought...”

“Come on, Samantha,” Jack cut her off. “You've been so unhappy for so long...”

“And so have you,” she countered.

“True,” Jack halfheartedly agreed. “Okay, so we've both been unhappy.”

Sam blushed, red once more creeping up her face from her neck and into her hair. “I'm sorry about causing that,” she mumbled, sounding defeated. “But I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, what everyone had told me to...”

Jack jumped in to contradict, “No one told you what to do except you,” he reminded. “Even you agree that those hallucinations were actually you talking to yourself.”

“Yeah,” Carter immediately argued, “But they all seemed so real, as if each different person was giving me advice themselves, not me speaking to me through them.” She sent another beseeching look his way. “It all seemed so real!” she again protested. “It was simple to confuse the real with what wasn't real.” Then she leaned foreword on the table, capturing her forehead with her hand to give it a dispirited rub, as if she still had the headache she'd gotten aboard the ship, though she'd actually had that headache years before. “I didn't know what to do.”

Jack sighed again, his half eaten omelette going ignored, congealing on its plate. “I wish that you had told me about these hallucinations way back then,” he commented.

Carter gave her own sigh of helplessness. “I thought about telling you,” she admitted. “But I didn't want you to think that I'd gone crazy the same as General Hammond would have.” She stared morosely at the rest of the milk in her glass. “Sometimes I thought that I already had gone nuts.”

That was when Jack told her, “You know, concussion and hallucinations often go hand in hand.”

Carter looked doubtful. “What?” she asked.

So Jack further explained by asking, “Did you never think to do an Internet search on concussion induced hallucinations while you were trying to figure this out?”

Carter gave her head an emphatic shake. “No! But I told you that it seemed to me like it was you guys who were talking to me all the time - I didn't even think of the hallucination angle until about a year ago.”

Jack grimaced when hearing that. “And it never occurred to you that perhaps you weren't thinking very straight at the time?”

Again Carter shook her head. “No.” But this time her voice sounded a lot less defensive and a lot more like she was culpable.

Jack went on, “Yet, you knew that you had a concussion.”

Carter nodded. “The doctors on Prometheus told me.”

Jack chose his next words with care. He didn't want to offend her. “It never occurred to you that all this 'advice' could have been induced by your concussion?”

Carter sighed, looking aggravated despite Jack's careful choice of words. “No, it didn't occur to me, but I admit that I wasn't in my right mind at the time, either. In my defense, I also didn't realize this,” she argued. “And as such, I decided that by telling anyone about my hallucinations, including you, it would accomplish nothing but having MacKenzie stick me in a mental ward like he did with Daniel that one time we all thought he was crazy, so...”

“There is that,” Jack quickly agreed with her conclusions. “It makes sense that you would remember that time with 'crazy Daniel.'”

“That whole thing scared me to death,” she softly told him. “I always thought that Daniel seemed so levelheaded, but if even he could go nuts... or have everyone think he'd gone nuts... then...” She let her voice trail away to nothingness. After a quiet moment, she took a deep inhalation of air. “I decided not to say anything,” she declared. “Maybe that was the wrong thing to do, but to do anything else was just too risky.”

Jack mentally admitted to himself that she had a point. “But now I understand a lot more of why you did what you did, and believe me, back then I wanted to understand!” He blew out a breath, then added, “Or at least, I wanted to understand once I had finished feeling sorry for myself.”

“About that,” Carter began to say with another grimace on her face. “I...”

“Didn't I say that all that was forgiven a long time ago, Carter?” Jack asked, as though repeating himself was irritating, but necessary. “I don't need any apology or...”

“But maybe I need to apologize,” she instantly negated his comment. When he didn't try to convince her otherwise, she continued, “I guess that I've wanted to say something to you for a long time... all year, at least.” She was back to staring at the table top again. She nervously picked at a warp in the laminated top as she spoke. “I wanted to explain...”

“I told you that wasn't necessary, Carter,” Jack said, cutting her off again.

Carter lost her cool at this second interruption. “Will you be quiet and let me talk!” she said in supreme irritation.

Jack held up his hands in a sign of surrender. “I said that you don't have to do this, but if you want to... If it will make you feel better...”

“It will,” she said in a much calmer voice.

“Go ahead,” he invited.

Carter let a semi smile light her eyes for a moment before that light too died. “I've been waiting all year to say something to you,” Carter again explained. “I didn't think that I would ever have the chance, especially when Pete found me the two other times that I tried to run away...”

“Yeah, what was up with that?” Jack asked. He added, “Out of curiosity, of course. You don't have to tell me anything that you don't want to.”

Carter heaved a heavy sigh, and threw her napkin over the rest of her omelette so that she wouldn't have to stare any longer at her uneaten food. Jack chose not to say anything at the motion, but determined that he would feed her something more before the morning ended.

Carter then leaned foreword again, cradling her head in her hands, and her elbows on her knees. She shook her head back and forth in open distress. Sounding like she was attempting not to dissolve into tears again, she morosely told him, “I guess that the details don't really matter. Just know that I...” She heaved a deep breath, gusting it out on a sad sound of rushing air. “I've been unhappy for a...” Again she hesitated. “... for a long time,” she finally whispered. “I tried to end the marriage twice, but Pete just ignored me.” Her mouth gave a bitter twist. “Then when that didn't work, I tried two or three times to run away.” She grimaced. “But Pete found me each time.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Now I know how he found me so quickly.” She didn't finish her statement that obviously referred to the tracking device she'd found on her car. She added, “He made a big show of 'taking me back,' like he was being so magnanimous, but he wouldn't talk about why I had run in the first place.” Carter swallowed the tears that Jack could see surging in her eyes. She slowly sat up to stare at her plate, and Jack thought about what she had told him so far.

Before Jack was finished thinking, Carter was softly going on, distracting him from his thoughts concerning her running. She had been unable to run to him, as she hadn't known where he was.

But she'd run anyway, even though she knew that Pete would soon catch up with her. “I always wondered about how Pete had found me so fast, but didn't think to not use my car when I ran." She shifted her fingers through her hair, looking utterly defeated. “Then it was inevitable that Mark would call me just at the correct moment... I couldn't figure out how he knew to call me, either.... or when...”

Jack leaned forward so that he was closer to her defeated form, but he didn't touch her to offer that cold comfort that he knew wouldn't comfort her at all. “I suppose that it hasn't occurred to you that Pete would call Mark just before he confronted you, have Mark wait half an hour or so, then have him call you on your cell phone so that he could give you the 'normal life' lecture, did it?”

Carter looked in stunned regard at Jack. “No... I never thought of that, either,” she admitted. “Mark would convince me to try the marriage thing a little longer... every time. He said that it just took time for the love of that 'normal life' to kick in." She gave another sigh. “It was obvious that I hadn't waited long enough, he said."

Jack drew closer to her. “I suppose that 'normal life' that Mark liked so much, and wanted for you, is Mark's definition of 'normal,'” Jack suggested in her ear. “I guess that 'normal' just isn't 'normal' for military personnel.”

Carter's brows quirked in slight sarcasm. “And Mark has never had any love for the military, that I know.”

“Maybe...” Jack hesitated, not wanting to offend her, or raise her temper, but found himself also suggesting, “Maybe Mark just doesn't understand that for you, the military is 'normal.' That to have what he has - which you've tried to have with Cop Boy all year - that just isn't the 'you' that you want to be.”

Carter snorted, as if she didn't quite believe what Jack was saying, but she didn't outright negate his words, either.

Jack went on to quietly suggest, “Maybe you should call him and tell him that.”

This time Carter couldn't hold her peace. She gave a sardonic grunting bark. “After the way you hung up on him, Mark won't even talk to me,” she predicted. “He's given me the silent treatment before, for weeks.” Carter gave another sardonic snort. “He'll do it again.”

“Maybe,” Jack said. “Maybe not.” Then he leaned back in his chair again. “Take Pete out of the equation, and you don't know what Mark will do,” he said. At last he added, “Mark's your only brother... you'll regret it if you don't try, and you know it. I'm just trying to save you some heartache later, Carter.”

But Carter snorted one more time, her biggest snort yet. “You'll see,” she predicted. “Mark can be as pigheaded as I am...”

Jack couldn't hold back the closed-lipped grin that erupted at her words. “And we all know just how pigheaded you can be,” he mocked.

Carter's eyes narrowed to calculating slits. “As pigheaded as you can be,” she declared.

Jack didn't argue with her. Instead, he nodded his agreement. “Two pigheaded, stubborn idiots - that's us.”

Carter grinned the second he said that. She cheekily added, “It makes me think that two such stubborn people belong together.”

Jack's lips cracked the first true, heartfelt smile she'd seen from him in years. He reached over the table separating them and linked his fingers with hers resting on the tabletop, boldly squeezing her hand. Continuing in the same cocky vein she had begun, he firmly added, “That's a guarantee.”

TBC in: 'Carter's Goose is Cooked'

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