Disclaimer: They're not mine. I made no money off this fic. But you knew that, didn't you? Such smart fans...

Part V - Carter's Goose is REALLY Cooked

by Linda Bindner

It took Sam a moment of numb shaking before the import of Vala's question sank home for her.

They didn't know who Pete was. That meant that he could be anyone... be anywhere... doing anything...

And all with HER money!

With the suddenness of a storm closing onto the mountains, anger engulfed Sam's heart, boiling the blood in her veins. She was livid in a nanosecond.

“That... rat!” Without explaining who she was calling a 'rat,' either Mark, or 'Pete,' she stormed through the law office door, her cell phone appearing magically in her hand. Before the door even closed behind her, she had instructed her phone to dial Mark's number in his office in California.

The phone rang twice, then was picked up by a man with a voice cheerfully saying the words, “Hello, this is Mark...”

Sam jumped furiously onto her brother's greeting. “Mark, you two bit hack driver! How could you let him do this to me? I thought you..!”

“Sam?” Mark's confusion was more than obvious in his voice. “What's going on? Where are you? Why are you..?”

“Stop it, big brother!” Sam furiously retorted. “As if you have no idea why I'm calling!”

But Mark sounded truly mystified. “I really don't have any idea!” he protested. “What's got you so riled up?!”

Sam menacingly growled, “You know what you did! You know all about how many times I asked Pete for a divorce... or ran away when he wouldn't give me one. And then every time, YOU called to talk me out of wanting one at all! You said that I should try the whole stupid marriage thing just a little while longer... every time... and you know how he skipped out on me right after I found out he was tracking me... like I'm some damned common criminal!” Sam's voice easily overrode his weaker tones as he tried to make a token protest. “And NOW it comes out that he even stole the name of Pete Shanahan! So I have no clue who this jerk was!”

“What!?” Mark barked into his own phone, but Sam barely heard his surprised tone.

“And the way you always supported everything he did... You had to know all about it!” She was beyond being able to control her emotions now - the furious sneer in her voice was more than obvious.

That was when Vala latched onto Sam's arm containing her cell phone, pulling it down with a surprisingly strong grasp.

A new wave of fury instantly washed through the interrupted Sam, but at the same time she also recalled that this woman with her had at one time been a con artist in her own right. How could she have forgotten it even for a moment? 'Pete's' duplicity had caused Sam to easily be distracted. She vowed that such a thing would not happen again, but her silent vow wasn't enough to halt Vala when she had her own mission in mind.

Now the con artist that Vala was sweetly asked into the phone, “Is this Sam's brother?” Though the look on her face as she held Sam in her own tightening grip was anything but sweet.

Mark's wariness had reached record highs by now. “Who the..?”

“This is Sam's... coworker... Vala - I apologize for any inconvenience to you... but Sam isn't able to speak right now... literally.” And she gave the frowning Sam a slight shake, then went on to brightly continue giving her own spoken information to Mark. “But if you hang up right now, a General O'Neill will be phoning you - he can fill you in on what's been happening to your sister while I try very hard to calm Sam down enough to talk to you later... alright? Thank you so much...” On that note, she snapped Sam's cell phone closed without waiting to see what either Mark or Sam thought about her plan of dealing with this situation at a later time.

Sam yanked her cell phone back into her hand, and in turn, Vala whirled Sam to her side and began to slowly walk along the sidewalk bordering the law office's parking lot.

“Vala, what..?” Sam sputtered through her clenched teeth. She wanted to ask what Jack had to do with this 'Pete-who-wasn't-Pete' situation, and how in the hell did he already know about it so quickly, at least quickly enough to call Mark and fill him in on this 'Pete' thing - but she couldn't get more than a few angrily grunted words out to her alien team mate before Vala was hauling her along beside her.

“I called the General right after you left the office, to fill him in,” Vala informed her in a low voice. “And he had just two words for you on the subject of...” She hesitated, clearly not knowing what to call 'Pete, finally settling on calling him simply, “... of that... man... you were married to... On his participation in this... your... problem,” Vala uncomfortably went on. “He thinks... 'that man'... is a 'security risk.'”

Which were words that took Sam so by surprise that she was shocked out of her anger enough to blurt, “Jack thinks 'Pete' is a security risk?” She continued to gape at her friend as she stood rooted to the sidewalk. “To the whole Program?” Vala nodded her head and walked along with Sam at the same time. Sam continued her gaping. “Why?”

* * *

Five minutes later, Sam was again on her cell phone, talking to Jack this time rather than Mark. Vala had disappeared back into the law office to try to wring as much information as possible from the real Pete Shanahan.

“Sir...” Sam was able to grunt into her phone, but she was still stuck on the idea of Pete being a security risk, and was unable to say any more of a greeting. It didn't matter, anyway: Jack cut her greeting off while she was still in mid-greet.

“Carter!” He sounded surprised that she was calling him. “I just had my hand on the phone to call your brother when you called instead.” He sounded like he suspected that something more had happened in the short time since he had spoken to Vala. The sense of 'uh-oh' was strong in his voice. “What's..?”

Still angry, Sam's voice strangled when she tried to say more. She was too mortified at the way she thought he was taking an interest in things that most definitely didn't concern Homeworld security, but concerned her on a personal level. Thus when Sam found her voice, she halted his question before he had the chance to ask it. “How is Pete Shanahan a security risk?” she demanded to know without even greeting him beyond what she had already said. The 'Sir' she added sounded like just what it was - an afterthought that was meant to show some respect for a superior officer, but it definitely didn't indicate agreement with what that superior officer was currently saying. In fact, she didn't much care about showing respect for her superior at this moment in time, either, even if that superior was Jack. She was too angry to show much respect to anybody!

There was a pause on the line after her question about 'Pete,' then Jack sighed. “Carter, try to see this from our perspective.”

“Your perspective?!” she blustered. “Pete doesn't know a thing about the Program, Sir, and how..?”

By now, Jack's voice had grown angry as well. “He sure as hell does know about the Program, Carter, because you told him!”

Carter bristled. “I told him nothing more than I was cleared to tell him!” she insisted right back to him. “You know me! I would never reveal classified..!”

What sounded like a sigh intimating great restraint sounded over the phone. “Carter,” Jack said in his 'I'm about to blow a gasket, but since you're the one I'm talking to, I'll restrain myself for now' voice. “I suspect that you're looking at this from the wrong point of view.”

“And just what point of view would that be, Sir," she snarked back at him, beyond her personal threshold of patience.

Jack said in a strained tone, “You're seeing this 'Pete' character as the Pete you knew, not the backhanded, dirty dealing con artist that he's turning out to be.”

The anger Carter felt at that comment showed admirably through her voice when she denied, “I am not, Sir, and if you're suggesting that I've been compromised by my feelings on this...”

“Let me guess,” Jack interrupted in caustic tones, some of his natural temper flowing through his words in spite of his best efforts. “That jerk tried to get you to tell him everything, didn't he?”

That comment made Sam pause. Remembering in spite of what she was so adamantly trying to deny, she at last admitted, “Okay - he did, several times, in fact.”

The pause that now filled the line with a knowing silence was as loud as Jack's voice when he asked, “And you had conveniently forgotten that part of the last year?”

Sam gave a disgruntled sigh of her own now that Jack had jogged her memory - she found that she couldn't refute his words, and sighed another guilty sigh instead as her righteous anger abruptly drained out of her.

Still, Sam wasn't able to respond before Jack was asking something more. “Doesn't the fact that he's already done what he's done sort of make him less honest to begin with?” His sigh split across the country between them. “Carter, look, I know this has gotta be hard for you, but the 'Pete' that we're dealing with now isn't the Pete that you knew. He may still be the same charming schmuck, but even you have to admit that charm of his is a lot more dangerous when taking into account what we now know he's really capable of.”

Ah - Jack was fighting with logic - her Achilles heel. “You're right,” she conceded at last, yet grumbling the entire time. “But I never told him anything,” she went on to protest. “Other than what I'd already told him. He doesn't know any real details about the Program, or the SGC, or...” Then another memory came to the forefront of her mind, and she quickly added, “And he even signed a Nondisclosure Agreement that should...”

Jack cut her off, “Carter,” he said, his sense of resignation catching her attention. “This guy is a known criminal and a thief - do you really think he'll let the fact that he signed a Nondisclosure Agreement stop him from doing whatever the hell he wants with whatever information he wants at this point?”

That gentle argument of his made Sam stop in her mental tracks. He was right. She didn't understand this inner desire of hers to defend Pete - or, she amended, the Pete she remembered, the man she had struck up a relationship with. She supposed it had more to do with the idea that she wanted to insist that the time she'd spent with him had been something more innocent than...

No, that wasn't it. If she were really honest with herself, she wanted to paint that time she'd spent with him as a time that didn't negatively reflect on her ability to successfully judge a person's character. Because - if she were honest with herself - the fact that this 'con man' had so hoodwinked one of the top soldiers at one of the country's most secret installations was... uncomfortable, to say the least. Dangerous, at it's worst. Just the fact that she had so easily been led astray - the consequences of such actions were scary to contemplate. Her inability to see through the facade that Pete had erected for her, to not be suspicious of everyone and everything, as Jack was, said something about her own character, and what it said wasn't exactly good.

This second rhetorical question of Jack's didn't garner an immediate response from her either, so he went on, “And besides, how do you know that you weren't specifically targeted by this guy so that he could find out whatever he could about the Program?”

That was a point that she hadn't thought of before. Still, Sam wasn't sure she believed that even 'Pete' could be so... purposeful. He didn't seem to be organized enough to have done that. Besides, she was still trying to make herself seem less gullible.

So she scoffed when Jack made that comment about 'Pete' targeting her. “How could I have been targeted?” she instantly wanted to know. “The way Pete and I met was a chance meeting through my brother, who...” But even as she said it, she realized that her and her brother's Pete Shanahan wasn't the real Pete Shanahan. Her first instincts about him had been correct: 'Pete' could be anyone... even someone who knew all about her connection to the SGC right from the very beginning, and in trying to get her to reveal what she knew, had struck up an innocent-looking relationship with her. He had spent a lot of the time he was with her trying to convince her that 'top secret' really meant 'top secret for everybody but him.' And he had known more about the Program than any other significant other had known - even the spouses of other SGC personnel.

Sam cringed. Mortification again shot through her as she recalled many of her past actions. She had trusted Pete much sooner than she should have, especially considering her classified work. She had been completely fooled by him, played like an instrument, led by the nose...

It wasn't the way the premier team leader should have behaved. She hadn't been suspicious enough, hadn't questioned enough. Heck, to all affects, she had endangered the entire Stargate Program, with possible repercussions going all the way up to Homeworld Security!

Another wave of hot shame flowed over her, and she closed her eyes against the sun, the parking lot, Jack's obviously waiting phone persona, against this whole nasty, horrible situation.

“Oh God,” she whispered, acknowledging the enormity of her mistake for what it was for the first time. She couldn't swallow for the thick, foul tasting sensation of self-blame that now consumed her.

But one thing she hadn't counted on was the part that Jack now played in this equation. “Carter!” His voice snapped like a whip across the still-connected line. “I know what you're thinking - this isn't your fault!” he forcefully insisted. “If anything, you were set up, and in no way did you ever..!”

“Stop,” she commanded, disheartened, feeling like he was making excuses for her actions again, trying to exonerate her, just like he always did. Right now, she couldn't stand it. “Don't,” was all she said. “Don't try to make me feel...”

The frown that had clearly taken over residence on Jack's face transferred with unnearing grimness over the line. “You're wanting to blame yourself for this whole thing,” he predicted, so sure of what he said that he didn't even turn that prediction into a question. “No such luck - I'm ordering you to knock it off!” he said in obvious irritation. “If anything, you're as much a victim here as the Program ever was, maybe even more so!”

Sam sniffed back her emotions enough for her to dispiritedly ask, “How do you figure that, Sir?” She was so disheartened that she didn't even realize that she was calling the man she had just slept with 17 hours before 'Sir.'

Fortunately, Jack had his answer all ready for her. “This guy stole all your things, and as if that wasn't enough, he also took your entire life savings, on top of making you more and more miserable for the entire previous year, if not longer. I think that if this is your fault, you've done enough penance for it, don't you?”

Sam didn't answer him because she couldn't answer. She didn't necessarily agree with him in this instance, but couldn't form the words to argue with him, either. Instead, all her attention had gone to not breaking into a million little pieces while she was with him on the phone.

Jack's regret was again audible as he said, “Carter - I'm sorry to run at a time like this when you... I have to call your brother right now and explain to him what's going on. But now maybe you can understand why I'm considering this con man a security risk while absolving you at the same time. This is not your fault,” he emphasized. “You got that?”

Sam managed to grunt something positive sounding over the phone at him even if she didn't believe it.

Jack didn't take issue with her grunt just now. It was enough of a sound of agreement to make him add, “I want you to go back to Colorado Springs with... Miss Perky what'shername. I'll meet you at the base sometime tomorrow morning, and we'll have a meeting about this character before he has the time to pull anything else over on us. I'll set it up with your brother and that police detective fella... everyone who has a part in this. All I want is for you to get back, and to not worry, though I know you'll worry anyway. I'll have Daniel meet you at Peterson.” Then he dropped the professional persona that he'd just adopted to deal with what was a highly personal situation gone professional. He instantly became Jack, talking on the phone to the most important woman to him in the world. “And Sam,” he gently reminded, “This isn't your fault, or even your doing. If you can, try not to think of it that way... please.”

It was so rare for Jack O'Neill to use the word 'please' that it instantly caught her self-directed attention. “That's the first time I think I've ever heard you say that,” she quietly remarked.

There was an awkward pause, then Jack added, “You know that I mean it, don't you?” The pause grew even more uncomfortable, but still Jack forged on. “You've been so unhappy... for so long... all because of this guy...”

“But I almost told him what he wanted to know, just to shut him up, Sir!” Sam cried in horror. “I'm a liability now, a..!”

“You're the only link to this guy that we have!” Jack firmly retorted. “You can give us more information on him than..!” The pause this time wasn't so much awkward as it was aggravated. “Carter, don't you realize that you are our one hope in finding this guy without reducing ourselves to searching for him like a needle in a haystack?” His voice had taken on persuasive tones. “You're our ace in the hole, and I bet that if he's smart enough to do all that he's done, he's smart enough to know that about you, too. There's no way that I want you up in some city in New York with only some... friend... watching your six. I want to do that myself. 'Cause I know that this isn't over, not by a long shot. He'll come after you like that whiny little... and I want to be there when he does... if that's alright with you.”

It was the longest, most sincere speech she had ever heard Jack make on a personal topic. Sam blinked away the cloud of mortification that had fallen over her eyes. This was how 'he' wanted her to feel, she suddenly realized, broken and hurting, ashamed of herself for being his link to something that she automatically cherished. Jack was right - this wasn't her fault. This wasn't even her doing. True, she had been vulnerable when she had met the man calling himself Pete Shanahan. She and Jack had been at a very uncomfortable crossroads in their complex relationship... non-relationship...

Sam briefly wondered how she'd behaved to give 'Pete' the impression that she was ready to be plucked like a ripe apple from a tree, but the important part of what he and she had done was that he had managed to take advantage of her vulnerability, and to even drive a wedge between herself and Jack... between herself and all her friends. No wonder he hadn't wanted her to talk to anybody besides him. He couldn't control those conversations that he wasn't part of. And he needed that control - needed to control her.

So many details abruptly made sense to Sam when she had that thought. Pete was a controlling, paranoid man who was a thief and a criminal, as well as...

It was then that Sam recalled that Jack knew as much if not more then 'Pete' about turning the tables of hopeless situations like this until what had seemed to be excessively bad for all involved had mutated into something more resembling a party. In fact, he was a genius in his own rights at doing that - she couldn't count how many times he had changed her perspective on a situation from 'everything is lost, and we're gonna die,' to thinking 'this might turn out right in the end after all.' It was his specific talent, and one he was always able to use when it was the least expected thing to do.

Now he said, “It's to our advantage that 'Pete' thinks of you as someone who's gullible and easy to control. The fact that now you're seeing him in a whole new light has to be a good thing.”

Sam was still dubious. “A good thing?” she asked, doubt strong in her voice. “I don't see it, S...”

“Yeah,” Jack affirmed, stopping her from vocalizing the dreaded 'Sir.' “We're on to him, and more importantly, you're onto how awful he can really be - and now he's got you mad. I'd rather face Ba'al again than an angry Samantha Carter.”

He'd rather face Ba'al? That was some confidence he had in her! “Really?” she asked, hating the sense of hesitancy in her tone, but unable to believe in her to the high degree that he always had.

“You're on to him, Carter. For a guy who's obviously relying on the fact that he can keep playing you exactly the way he's been playing you for the last year, it's his death knell. In fact, I figure that it's time for him to start getting a little sloppy.”

Now Sam was truly doubtful, and it showed. “Sloppy?” she disbelievingly questioned.

“Listen, Carter,” Jack said in no small amount of irritation. “I know what these guys are like, how they think. And right now he thinks that he holds all the cards. In actuality, he's nothing worse than the typical... bad guy we see all the time,” he said at last, recalling how he and Sam were talking on an insecure phone line, and he had to watch what he said. But to add some levity to the situation, he said, “This 'Pete' guy just dresses better.”

Sam continued to be unconvinced. “How do you figure?” she dryly asked.

“He's sure he's got you right where he wants you, and I bet he'll be as arrogant as they come about that fact. It's up to us to take full advantage of that arrogance. It's just like Teal'c has been telling us for years - it's the one mistake that he'll make that we can count on, and then we can use his attitude to kick his slimy, worthless butt.”

Sam had to admit that she still wasn't completely convinced of this point. But Jack sounded so sure of himself, and she had implicit trust in Jack if not this situation. And to her, implicit trust meant implicit trust - she would follow that point of his just because he had made it.

“Okay,” she finally agreed. A moment more of thought led her to a much more solid belief in this 'Pete's fallibility than she'd had so far. He was arrogant, she had to admit to herself. He really did think he held all the cards. Plus, she was slowly beginning to understand one important fact: she didn't owe that man an ounce of remorse. If anything, she deserved a medal for having put up with him for as long as she had.

“Okay,” she repeated, her voice low, not sounding as strong as she wanted to sound, but sounding stronger than it had so far in the conversation. “Let's do whatever we have to do.”

Jack's smile burst across the line through his beaming voice. “That's the Samantha Carter I know and love!”

Sam was able to smile a full smile when Jack said that. He wasn't the kind of man to admit to his feelings, even in person, and she knew that... intimately. To hear such a confession spoken aloud and over the phone was quite literally amazing!

And his comment, so casually said but so sincerely meant, deserved confessional words in kind. “I love you, too,” she firmly told him.

“What, no 'ditto?'” Jack's teasing words were as light as his tone.

“NO!” Sam practically yelled. “I love you, and I mean it! And I don't care who hears me say it!”

Jack chuckled. “Will you yell it over the PA system at the base?”

“Do you want me to?” she saucily replied.

“Right after I say the same thing about you!” he promised, still laughing. “I'll see you tomorrow, Carter. Be careful!” he reminded, then hung up.

A new sense of determination flooded Sam's being as she snapped her cell phone closed. “You know I will,” she said to thin air. After all, she had so many reasons to be as careful as possible now. More than she'd ever had before.

Pete Shanahan... the con man... was marked and targeted. He wouldn't know what hit him.

* * *

Alas, that isn't the way that it worked out. Sam and Vala did immediately fly back to Colorado Springs, and Sam spent the rest of a very long day looking through the FBI's National Crime Database with Detective Albers frequently glancing over her shoulder as she searched. They both had hopes of making a positive identification for the man calling himself Pete Shanahan. But the time for Sam to relinquish her search arrived before that positive identification happened. If 'Pete' had practiced criminal ways in the past, he hadn't been arrested for it before he had moved on to practicing his smooth moves on Samantha Carter.

The following day, Sam sighed as she steered her car towards the SGC and the prearranged meeting with General O'Neill. She had looked through a huge chunk of the FBI database the day before, and the images of so many wanted individuals were still swimming before her eyes. Perhaps it was this reason that she was so distracted from her immediate surroundings that it was easy for 'Pete' to pop the lock on the passenger door of her Volvo, then dart out to the street from a store and climb into the vehicle while she was waiting at a stoplight in downtown Colorado Springs.

Sam gaped at the man as he slid casually into the passenger seat. It didn't seem that he was even aware of the audaciousness of the act he'd just carried out. He didn't bother to wrap the seat belt around him, and his nonchalant, “Hi Sam,” was stunning to her ears.

He sounded so confident in himself, so...

The next topic of conversation to pass 'Pete's lips was really stunning to her in it's simplicity. “You're still wearing your wedding ring I see.” He pointed to the band sitting snugly on Sam's left hand. At his words, she quickly fingered the underside of the band, her response of handling the ring automatic. 'Pete' went on, “It's nice to know that I still have an effect on you.”

Sam continued to gape at him for making such a personal comment at such a tense time, her eyes widening even when the stoplight had changed from red to green. His entire demeanor simply oozed 'arrogance,' and she was again reminded of Jack's insight into this situation.

The sound of sudden honking tore her out of her thoughts. The person in the car behind her was getting impatient of how she was still sitting at the stoplight after it had clearly turned green. Aware just how such an action on her part would be taken by 'Pete,' she allowed the honking sound to jerk her out of the numbness, and drove through the green light, but continued to gaze in anger at 'Pete.'

“You can't just sit in here!” Sam finally exclaimed as 'Pete' more firmly settled himself beside her. “This isn't some talk show, you know!”

'Pete' turned to her and grinned. “Oh, and I suppose I can't sit here because you locked your car door like a good little girl, right?”

Now she really was angry! She was much more than just a good little girl, wasn't she?

When Sam proved unable to utter more than incoherent grunting noises, 'Pete' continued, “As if something like a silly locked door is enough to keep me out of a car I want to be in.” And he held up a car fob in his hand, dangling it from his thick fingers until the black fob swung mockingly back and forth. “I already had the key code for your car - getting here was as easy as pie,” he continued to gloat, and leaned back in his seat. “You know, I always did like the seats in these Volvos - not too reclined, not too...

“Pete!” Sam barked. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Ah, found your tongue, eh?” the man asked in a jovial manner. “And cursing, too!” He chuckled. “I must...”

But Sam wasn't in the mood for playing the congenial host. “Either tell me what the hell you want, or get out!”

“Testy!” the man commented, a small grin still plastered on his lips. “Glad to see that I really can still affect you.” Sam didn't respond in any way except to glare at him in even more fury. He relented with a chuckle. “Okay, I'll tell you why I'm here,” he agreed after taking in Sam's determined countenance. “First of all, I'm not Pete Shanahan.”

“I know!” Sam furiously growled.

'Pete' seemed taken aback for the first time since entering the vehicle. “Oh, you've figured that out already?”

Sam gave another growl as her only concession to that fact.

“Okay,” the man who had claimed to be Pete Shanahan said. “That was faster than I expected, I admit, but not detrimental.”

“Are you going to tell me who you really are?” Sam asked next, her voice acrimonious.

'Pete' laughed again. “Patience never was one of your strongest suits, Sam!” he declared. “I used to bet with myself about how long it would take before you would blow a rod with me.” He took on a befuddled expression. “It turned out to be a lot longer than I ever anticipated it being.”

His comment didn't go over very well, as Sam's growling turned decidedly more deadly. “I ask again, 'Pete,' what the hell do you want?”

“Don't call me 'Pete,'” the man answered.

Completely frustrated, Sam struck the steering wheel with the palm of her hand. “Then what am I supposed to call you?” she demanded. “Paul?” she huffed, calling him what the General had always called him.

“That's as good as any other name,” 'Pete' replied.

Which was an answer that did nothing but irritate Sam even further. “Look, you took my stuff, you took my money, and I want it back, now, or I throw you out of this car right into traffic!” she threatened.

'Pete's response was to level the gun he'd had hiding beside his right leg straight at her. “Not if you don't want to get shot, you won't,” he said, that wholly aggravating tone of nonchalance back.

Wary now that a weapon had been introduced to the scene, Sam tightened her lips, but conceded to herself that she needed to play nice for the present. It beat the choice of getting shot.

With the plan in her mind that she needed to keep him talking if she was to get him to divulge any useful information, she said, “Alright, 'Paul,' let's hear it - you must want something more, or you wouldn't be here.”

'Pete' grinned again. “Smart lady!” he exclaimed. “Alright, I'll play.” He turned more fully to face her in the car. “If you want to get your stuff back, you'll tell me what you know about the NID.”

Which was another issue that made Sam give a start. “How do you know about the NID?!” she bellowed.

'Pete's reply was more thoughtful than Sam anticipated it being. “So, there is such an organization?”

Sam scowled at him, angry with herself for being so expertly tricked into divulging even that much information, and pissed at him for knowing exactly which of her buttons to push in order to 'persuade' her to open up. “Of course there's such an organization!” Sam spat. “All you have to do is an Internet search for 'NID,' and...”

“None of your tech-talk,” 'Pete' warned as Sam steered the car onto a new road that she knew led only to Cheyenne Mountain. It was obvious that 'Pete' at least wasn't familiar with the road she turned onto, for he would never have let her turn onto a road that had no outlet besides Cheyenne Mountain, and was sure to be filled with her friends and acquaintances from the base. Sam, however, said nothing. What 'Pete' didn't know was all to her benefit.

'Pete' wasn't paying much attention to where they were going, anyway. It seemed that as long as she continued to drive, he was happy to continue the conversation. So he went on speaking. “I'm not one of your buddies you can distract by your tech mumbo-jumbo. Talk about boring! Besides, I didn't have to do an Internet search just to find out about the NID,” he proclaimed. “I just had to listen - you talk in your sleep.”

“I..!” Sam growled in a decidedly unfriendly manner. “That traffic is getting mighty hungry, 'Pete!'” she warned. “And I've been shot before and survived just fine - I think I'll try my luck!”

“Yeah, sure,” 'Pete' agreed with her. “You've been shot by Jaffa.” His remark was casual, as if he thought Jaffa shots were piddly-squat. “We're talking shot at point blank range here - how many Jaffa have been that close to you?”

Sam glared at him, forgetting for a moment to look at where she was driving. “How is it that you know about Jaffa, too?!”

'Pete' sighed, as if he was disappointed in her. “Sleep talking, Sam,” he sang to her. “You talked, I listened, even when I didn't understand what exactly I was listening to. You never know when some bit of information is going to come in handy.”

Sam sighed, really aggravated with herself now. “Get out!” she demanded. “I'm not telling you anything!”

“Tell me about the Trust,” he next ordered as if he hadn't heard a word she'd just said.

It was an order that again stunned Sam into numbness. How could he know about the Trust? Was he part of that organization? Was he fishing for information on the Trust so that he could hopefully contact their members? Or was he already a member, and hoped to put her off that particular trail be asking about them now? Sam didn't know, and she wasn't going to ask. She was no idiot to make the same mistake three times!

Sam said nothing.

So 'Pete' wheedled her a bit when she wasn't instantly forthcoming. “Come on, Sam, you might as well give - or there's a nightmare I can tell you about - about something that happened on some ship... with your team mates... and General O'Neill saying something you didn't quite understand near the 'Gate Room...” He continued to grin at her as her face went white with the recognition of what he was referring to. “What he said must have been something personal for it to make it into one of your nightmares,” he commented.

Which was the wrong thing to say at this point. “Don't make this personal!” Sam shouted, her cool fraying the moment the General was mentioned. “You will regret it!”

'Pete's pleasant demeanor dropped away the moment she spoke. “No, I think it's you who will regret it, Sam!” he bit off. “I have all your things, all your money, and it would be a crying shame to get your General, too, wouldn't it?” he warned her. “Now tell me about the Trust!”

But Sam was incensed. “You stay away from General O'Neill!” she hollered.

“Pricked you in a private spot, did I?” 'Pete' inquired, his voice full of menace. “Tell me, did you two ever get your heads out of your butts about each other, or..?”

“There's a professional regulation against that!” Sam reminded in scorn.

“So what?!” 'Pete' scorned back. “What is this? The follow-even-the-dumb-rules part of Samantha Carter? Honestly!” 'Pete' gave an irritated growl of his own. “You follow all the rules, don't you? Even the ones that hurt.” He gave a twist of disapproval. “How someone can be professionally so smart, and at the same time can be so personally stupid is beyond me!”

Surprisingly, Sam sent him a grim smile. At his comment, she held up her left hand, palm up, showing a small black recording device attached to what 'Pete' had assumed was her wedding ring. “I now have this entire conversation on tape,” she retorted through clenched teeth. “How 'stupid' is that?”

'Pete' sneered at her announcement. “Oh, and like, that's supposed to scare me, is it?”

Sam's grin became much more feral. “I know how to calibrate this to match anyone's voice tones in any database I choose. I may be an idiot when it comes to personal issues, but now you've gone and made it about something that's professional, and professionally, I'm your worst nightmare!”

Sam had the satisfaction of watching 'Pete's features drop just a hint as his eyebrows rose in astonishment at the same time she swerved her car into the other lane full of oncoming traffic that was just now leaving Cheyenne Mountain. She slammed her foot onto the brake at the same time her car careened directly into a phone pole on the opposite side of the road. The pole crumpled the hood like the car was made of tissue paper, and the force of her sudden braking threw both vehicle's occupants forward, setting off the airbags with a loud pop.

Sam recovered quickly from her abrupt vault forward, her seat belt saving her from immediately colliding with the oncoming air bag. 'Pete' wasn't so lucky, as he wasn't wearing a safety restraint of any kind. His impact with the air bag was far more detrimental. He sat, inert, and groaned as the car came to an agonizing, screeching, wailing, metal-ripping stop against the phone pole.

The air bags quickly deflated, leaving one con man conscious only enough to continue groaning, and one Air Force Colonel with several ribs that felt like they had been broken by her safety restraint, according to the stabs of fire shooting through her torso at the moment. She was, however, in far better mental shape than her companion. In an instant, she had released her seat belt and, ignoring the pain in her chest, had thrown all of her weight against the drivers' door. It creaked open half way. Sam had to throw herself against it again to make an opening large enough for her to heedlessly fling herself through.

Sam landed on the gravel spread beside the road, then rolled down an embankment, landing in a ditch. She didn't even have time to do more than cringe as again her broken ribs gave a mighty protest of searing pain at being treated so roughly. Sam's determination instantly kicked in, and still ignoring her rib pain, she managed to climb laboriously to her feet. Her hands cradling her chest, she turned to see if 'Pete' was following her.

But 'Pete' was otherwise occupied. A bright glow encompassed the inside of her car as she looked. In less than a second, she knew that 'Pete' wouldn't be following her, in the car, or on foot, as the beam of light focused on just him in the front seat. In a flash of light, an Asgard beam swallowed him up, and an instant later, he was gone.

Crap!

Sam took one last look at the smoking wreck that had once been her beloved, classic Volvo, and at the crowd of onlookers streaming out of vehicles and rushing towards her to help the accident victim. She vaguely heard someone shout something about a Colonel... or a corn kernel... but she couldn't be sure any longer. A rushing sound rang in her ears, and in another instant, the black of unconsciousness swept completely over her.

* * *

Sam woke up to the steady and rhythmic beeps of an Infirmary heart monitor. Confused for a moment as to what had happened, and why she was in the Infirmary (again), she frantically searched her immediate memories. But she came up blank on anything of a dangerous nature, other than that she felt sure she had just been talking to someone of the male persuasion in some kind of moving vehicle. What precisely happened, and how she got in the Infirmary, were too cloudy for her to piece together just now.

So she turned her head to see if she could discern any clues from what she could see in that direction. Her gaze instantly caught on the sight of General O'Neill sitting in a chair that was too small for him, pulled up close to her bed. She instantly grinned at the sight of him, then after a moment thought to wonder if she should be grinning at her CO in such an unabashed manner. But the answering grin that he quickly sent back to her set her mind at rest. His resounding, “Carter! Wow, am I glad that you finally woke up!” settled the last of her nerves on this one point.

The General gathered her hand in his, which made her heart flutter, and was about to say something more to make Sam's heart give another flutter, but he was arrested by the intrusion of a second male voice coming from the other side of her bed. That doesn't sound like Daniel, she inanely thought. When she was able to work her head around a lump in her pillow, she could easily make out the worried face of her brother. But what was he doing here, in a classified facility?

For one heart stopping moment, Sam thought she had been allowed to tell him about the Stargate as well as Pete, and only remembered that she hadn't told him any personal details about her life at all. She was glad that she recalled such information at the last moment, for she would have blurted, 'Mark, what are you doing in the SGC?' Fortunately for her, she stopped herself in time before doing any more damage that day than had already been done.

And speaking of damage... Now she remembered... She had been talking to 'Pete.' And he had asked about the NID. And The Trust. And she had crashed her...

“My car?” she weakly asked.

Mark snorted beside her. “Really, Sam, you're amazing. Here you have three broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, bruises enough to make you sore for a week, and the first thing you think about is your car?”

She didn't respond to his brotherly jab, but tried to unfurl the fog blanketing her recent memories. When she couldn't do it, no matter how hard she tried, she turned back to look at Jack. “Sir, what..?” She had to swallow before she could go on. “What happened?”

“No 'Sir,'” Jack instantly reminded. “And you were in a car accident, Carter. Do you remember anything, or is the concussion getting in the way of your memories?”

So that's what the problem was: another concussion. “My head does hurt a bit.”

Jack gave a snort that sounded much like Mark's. “I bet it hurts more than 'a bit.' It should be pounding like a...” His voice trailed off as he glanced uncomfortably at Mark, obviously remembering that there were more people around than just Sam who was hearing his every word. “It was a pretty bad accident,” he said instead to end his comment. “Are you sure that you don't remember any of it?”

Sam nodded, then regretted the movement. Her head swam for a second, and she had to swallow again in order to quiet her roiling stomach. “I was talking to 'Pete,'” she said, thinking hard. “And... a pole...” Suddenly she groaned and raised a hand to dispiritedly rub at her forehead.

“Yep, she remembers,” Jack remarked in finality.

Sam groaned again. “My car... is it ruined?”

“Totaled,” Jack told her. “But on the bright side...”

“There's a bright side?” Sam asked, mentally screaming about her car.

“Sure,” Jack firmly told her. “You survived an accident like that with only a few broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder.”

“That's the bright side?"

Jack then gusted a sigh, a sound of someone long-suffering, and thoroughly relieved. “Carter, you're alive, and you're gonna be fine. That's a bright side in my book.”

Warmth rushed through her at his words. She grinned an unabashed grin at him - she couldn't help herself. She decided to blame it on her injury if she was ever questioned about her insubordinate reaction. She was certainly in violation of at least three separate regulations right now, not the least of which was the frat regs, but at the same time, she wasn't sure she cared.

It was Mark who set her anxieties over the regulations to rest. “Your... partner... seems to know what he's talking about, Sam. Seems he's had a few concussions in his time. Just lay back and tell us what you feel like telling us.”

Partner? Then..? “He told you?” she asked Mark. “It's alright with you?” Before Mark could respond, she faced Jack once more. “How can..? What about... regs?”

Mark grunted, but it was Jack who was looking down on her in clear affection. “Regs be damned,” he said. “If they want to court martial a General for loving someone, then let 'em. This is the one time too many that I almost lost you,” he told her, his voice soft, but firm. “I thought I did lose you last year. And I'm not going through that again, not in this lifetime, not if I have anything to say about it.” Amazing to Sam, he then brushed his hand across her forehead in what was definitely a loving caress. “You're alive, and that's what counts.” He then smiled in Mark's direction. “And I fully expect Mark to haul my sorry ass topside, where he will then pound it into the ground for thinking that I'm nearly good enough for his sister, which I ain't, and never will be, but I'm a sight better than that...” Here, he stopped again, and sent another inscrutable glance in Mark's direction.

“Ok, stop it,” Sam brokenly growled in concussed reproach. “You're sweet... and wonderful... and so great, Jack... but what... is going on?”

Mark sat back, instantly disgusted with what must have seemed like a very demanding attitude from his sister, but Jack just cocked his head to the side, showed his affection on his face for all to see, and said, “That's my Carter - bite first, ask questions later!”

Sam tried to stop the laugh that bubbled up inside her at the memory his words resurrected - laughing hurt her ribs! She had to scowl fiercely to stop her chuckle. “Tell me... or I bite!”

Mark interjected, “I don't think I want to know about this biting thing.”

Jack succinctly explained that it wasn't the kind of biting that Mark was clearly thinking it was. “One of our first missions - we were captured, imprisoned, and... it was too dark to see our surroundings. I jogged Carter awake, and she didn't know who I was, so she immediately bit me.” Jack sat back with a smirk on his face. “It's one of my fondest memories of life-with-Sam.”

Sam was just thinking that she would have to create fonder memories for him when Mark said to Sam, “Well, biting aside, I suppose you want to know why I'm here.”

“Yes,” Sam replied in a dry fashion, wishing she could make her mouth say more, but unable to form as many words as she wanted to.

“I was invited,” Mark next told her. “He invited me.” Mark tilted his head in Jack's direction.

Sam gave such a violent jerk that Jack had to catch her flailing arms. “Careful there!” he admonished. As if seeming to know what had amazed her so that it tangled her tongue, he explained, “This 'Pete' guy had been a friend of your brother's - we needed to know how he set you up in the first place.”

Sam finished for him. “You mean... is he NID? Crap! Did it again.” She swore at the way she so easily gave away classified information. What was wrong with her lately? Had 'Pete' scrambled her brain?

Jack assured, “He already heard it all in the tape you made, Carter. You aren't telling him anything he doesn't already know.”

Which surprised Sam anew. Mark had already heard it on the tape? Meaning, that they'd had the time to listen to it already? Without her? “How..?”

Jack seemed to anticipate this question, too, for he said, “You've only been asleep for half a day, but it's seemed like forever!”

Half a day? The 'Pete' meeting had been scheduled for 1000 hours... she must have completely missed it, but they went ahead and held it without her...

She glared again at Mark for being part of her work environment at a time when she wasn't available. She had always secretly fantasized about being able to tell him all about the SGC. Yet, she had slept right through the very occasion that she had been anticipating for years!

However, she couldn't do anything about it now. She might as well accept the fact that her brother knew about the SGC, plus knew more about the man she had spent the last year married to than she did. And the only way she could find out what he knew was to ask. “Tell me... what I missed,” she instructed, her eyes closing, but her mind remaining alert.

Naturally, Mark misinterpreted his sister's mein of indifference. “If you'd like to rest, or if this is a bad...”

Jack was the one to set him straight. “She's fine - just resting her eyes. Why don't you tell her about how you came to be in cahoots with a con man?”

It was clear to Sam that Jack was not particularly pleased by this point, but a person would need to know him very well to hear the slight sarcasm he'd slid behind his innocent sounding words. Mark missed this entirely, even if Sam didn't. Yet, she chose not to enlighten Mark, either. She didn't have the energy for it. Instead, she listened as she'd rarely listened to her brother before.

Mark began speaking as soon as he was assured of Sam's interest. “Pete called me up one day, totally out of the blue,” Mark reported, his hand resting on the covers of her bed. “He said that he was my one-time friend, Pete Shanahan. He sounded exactly like an old friend who was expecting me to know him right away!”

Sam's eyes popped open at this, and she glared at her brother. “He doesn't... sound anything... like the real... Pete Shanahan!” she argued. “I've met him - his voice... much gruffer,” she declared.

Mark sent her an indignant look. “I pointed out right away that he didn't sound like the way I remembered! Geez, Sam, give me some credit, will you?”

Sam's mind rang with his angry tones, and she couldn't stop the minute wince that passed across her face. Jack immediately jumped into the conversation, stopping the family squabble that had somehow gotten started, redirecting them back to the topic at hand. “And he said..?” he prompted Mark.

Unused to being led around by a General who had all but a degree in psychological manipulation, answered, “He said that he'd spent the years since college smoking, and had only recently quit. But it wasn't in time to keep his voice at the same level as it was at college, so it was higher and lighter than it had been before.”

“You... bought that?!” Sam screeched from her position on the bed. The screech made her head throb even more that it already was, but she was too incensed to notice it very much.

Mark reared back, offended. “He commented about how we lived together in college! About how we rushed the same fraternity! About how we met at the police station when he had to give a statement, and I was doing interviews of convicted felons for my psych 101 class! He knew it all, Sam!” Mark protested, his tones angry. “How was I supposed to know that it wasn't him when he said everything just right!”

“You didn't... didn't see him?” Sam ascertained, her eyes again shut against the glare of the Infirmary lights.

Mark snorted. “I never saw him!” he insisted. “I just spoke to him over the phone!”

Sam was silent for a moment, listening to her brother's claims, appreciating the trouble that 'Pete' must have gone to in order to say just the right things to Mark so that he could get him to believe he was who he said he was... even though he wasn't... Sam instantly grew dizzy when she thought in that circular fashion. To stabilize her spinning mind, she asked, “How many times... talk to him?”

Mark sat back in his chair, and crossed his arms in a defensive manner. “Quite a few,” he sullenly admitted.

“He didn't... mention me?”

“He didn't mention you at all,” Mark reluctantly confessed. “I did.”

Sam's eyes popped open again as she gaped at her brother. “What?”

Mark glared back at Sam. “He said something about being a cop, and having a case in Colorado Springs. I mentioned that my sister lived there, and that he should look you up to -” Mark's features then twisted into a heavy frown. “How was I to know that he wanted to meet you because he was tagging you?” he exclaimed. “You think I'd tell someone about you who was just going to make you miserable while tearing your life apart?” His grimace this time was a lot more angry than his last one. “I don't think I like the opinion of me that I'm beginning to see that you have of me, little sis! In fact, I..!”

Jack again gave an expertly timed clearing of his throat, saying nothing, but giving the instant impression that he wasn't going to tolerate anything upsetting Sam just now, and for Mark to cool it with his comments, or he could leave, and Jack would finish filling Sam in on the latest 'Pete' information.

Mark drew back at the look on Jack's face. His resigned sigh ripped through the air between him and Sam, but it showed that he got the picture that Jack was giving him with just his facial contortions. He glared at Jack, the turned to his sister. “Sam, tell your watchdog here that I'm not a bone for him to toss around when he wants to,” Mark next retorted.

His comment made Sam smile in spite of the gravity of this situation. She shrugged. “My big brother,” she explained, just as Mark had ordered her to. “Had much worse... because of... him.”

To which Jack retorted, “You've got a concussion, Carter. You don't know if you're standing upright or on your head just now,” he pointed out. “I'll watch your six while you can't do it yourself, and if this brother of yours doesn't like it, he can take a hike.”

Mark continued to frown, but Sam smiled, liking the way Jack had come to her instant defense, and the way he'd not backed down, no matter what she'd said. She hadn't been able to count on that kind of immediate support for a long time!

So Sam just gave another shrug with her one good shoulder under the blankets, suddenly too tired to do more. “Go on,” she told Mark instead of calling off 'her watchdog.'

Mark gave a disgruntled sigh, but continued. “That's about it, I guess. The next thing I heard was that you were engaged to be married to a friend of mine, and that thrilled me to death, to be honest.” He sent another glare towards Jack. “Getting you away from nothing but this military life wasn't my particular intention,” he insisted. “But if Pete gave you something away from this base...” His glare intensified. “That was alright with me.”

Jack sent his own glare at Mark. “That's about it,” he said to Sam rather than calling Mark on the way he had 'colluded' with a con man. “Detective Albers and Lieutenant Bakerstone told their parts in this story, Daniel told his, Vala told hers, we listened to the tape that you had managed to get... that was quick thinking, by the way. Where did you get that recorder?”

Sam grinned a grin, but it was instantly lost in the large yawn that took over her mouth. When she could speak again, she explained, “Albers... gave it... me...” Her voice trailed off as another yawn overtook what she was saying.

“Okay,” Jack immediately said, calling this impromptu Infirmary meeting to an abrupt end when she had yawned more than once. “You rest, and I'll fill you in on everything else later.”

Sam fought the wave of exhaustion that swamped her for just long enough to inquire, “Jackkkkkk... the regs.... how?”

But before he could even respond, she slipped into a concussion-induced sleep.

* * *

The next time that Sam managed to open her eyes, it was to see that the side of her bed where Mark had sat earlier was now empty. He must have gone to... Actually, Sam had no idea where he was. He could have simply gone to the rest-room, or be as far away as back home in California for all she knew. Suddenly a new thought popped into her head: if Mark was gone, then perhaps Jack was gone as well, since they had both been inextricably tied together in their purpose in the SGC.

Stricken, Sam quickly turned over, instantly relieved to find Jack sitting in the exact same place that he had been occupying before. For that, Sam was more than relieved. Somehow, the idea of waking up alone sent shivers of dread through her. Mark being gone was bad enough, but for Jack to have disappeared too would have made her feel very tiny and vulnerable.

As if she didn't already feel vulnerable enough.

But upon closer inspection, Jack looked... off... to her. He wasn't watching over her with his typical amount of focus. He was staring unseeing at her bed covers instead of at her, intent on glaring a mound of blankets into submission, according to the frown his features were twisted into. He was so intent on that blanket mound that he hadn't even noticed that she had stirred. She didn't think she'd ever been a patient in the Infirmary and seen Jack not at least notice that she'd opened her eyes before. Whatever had him preoccupied must be something awful to have captured his attention like this.

“Hi,” she slurred, making him quickly glance at her, as if the sound of her voice acted like a mechanism to wake him from his dark thoughts. He immediately smiled when he saw that her eyes were open.

“You're awake again!” he gushed in delight that was quite loud, and also quite obviously faked. “How's the..?”

“Don't BS...” she interrupted him to demand. “More has happened... hasn't it?” She sent him a tight-lipped glare of her own. “Don't... protect me.”

Jack sat back in his too-small chair, and dryly regarded her. “I told Daniel that you would see right through me.” He glanced around the Infirmary, as if seeing it for the first time in a long time.

“Mark... where?” she impatiently asked, then prompted, “Sir?”

He turned his glare on her. “How many times do I have to tell you, Carter, no 'Sir,' ever.”

She shot her own glare right back at him that perfectly communicated what she thought about the way he used his own pet name for her. “Carter?” she aserbically growled.

Jack leaned forward in his chair so as to soften his defensive demeanor a bit. “Touché, Sam,” he intoned. “I guess that I'm so used to calling you 'Carter' that I can't help myself now, especially in the SGC.”

“No different than... 'Sir,'” Sam argued.

He self-consciously straightened the mound in the blanket that he had been staring at so fixedly a minute ago. “Okay, okay,” he said, giving in to her argument before she had the chance to really argue. “You got me, Sam.”

His smoothing-the-blanket motion morphed into fiddling with her covers until she had to physically put a hand over his in order to get him to stop. “Jack, making me... seasick.”

He gave the blanket one last smooth before leaning back again in his chair. “Sorry, Sam. Didn't mean to...” Then, in a 180 degree turn, he heaved a sigh so heavy it was as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders alone. “It's just... every time I hear... that 'Sir' thing... hear it come out of your mouth, I mean... I keep expecting you to tell me... tell me that you think...” He heaved another sigh, then reluctantly admitted, “That you had... made a mistake. That we should go back to the way things were, that...” He heaved a third sigh, and explained, “That I have to call you 'Carter' again, and you need to 'Sir' me to death, and...”

Sam smiled at this stuttered, but no less sincere confession. “No chance... of that.” Her smile grew in spite of the pounding in her head and the ache in her ribs. “Call you... 'Sir' so everyone will know... I'm your girl.” Here, even she had to give her eyes a sarcastic roll at the way that made her sound like she was his special call girl. She went on with her argument when she stopped chuckling. “We're both... still needed. By day, we're... the dynamic duo... who saves the universe.” Jack burst out laughing as she said that, and she couldn't help but chuckle again with him, then admitted, “But by night... I like to cuddle up... with you on the couch.”

“Sam,” Jack interjected into this very interesting speech. He wasn't laughing any longer, and his now serious expression sent a new set of shivers up her spine. “As much as I like to hear about us cuddling on the couch together, I think I ought to tell you what else has been going on, just like you asked.”

Sam's heart skipped a beat. “I knew it - something else... has happened... you look too... serious. About Daniel? Teal'c?”

Jack gave a minute shake of his head. “No.” He looked down for a moment, not saying anything.

Which was unlike him. Usually he just got bad news out in the open right away. He wasn't one who was big into procrastinating about stuff. His silence told her that what he was about to mention had to be bad indeed. But what more could have happened to put such a deep frown on his face?

“Jack?” she prompted him once more, her brows raised in question.

“Mark left a few hours ago,” Jack told her. “The big bad General O'Neill arranged for him to get a flight back to California from Peterson. Daniel drove him there himself.”

“Okaaaaaay,” Sam said, still not understanding what was up with him. “So...”

Again Jack interrupted her, as if now that he had peripherally referred to the subject of her recent personal problems, he had to go on right now. “Not long after he left, I got the call.”

This announcement confused Sam even further. “What call?” Her voice was full of dread, even at the lowered level that she could muster.

“From Jumper,” Jack announced in flat tone.

“General Jumper, head of..?” she asked, but again Jack was ahead of her.

“The one representing all the Joint Chiefs,” he told her, his flat tone becoming even flatter. “He wanted to speak to you, but when he was told that you were asleep, he had his call transferred to me, since I was sitting with you, rather than bother Landry, even though Landry's your immediate CO, and...” Jack's explanation trailed off before he told her anything of any import.

“What did... Jumper say?” Sam asked him when he didn't go on, but glared at her blanket again instead of looking at her.

Jack's gaze instantly leapt to her face, and the solemnity in his eyes startled even her, who thought she had seen every look in his expression arsenal by now. “You aren't gonna like this, Sam,” he said with a sad grimace to accompany his look of gloom and doom. “Maybe I shouldn't tell you, since you're still recovering.”

Sam did her own job of glaring at him. When she spoke, her voice was low, but she made certain that he heard every word she muttered. “Tell me anyway... or I'll kick... your ass.”

Jack's face curled into a tiny grin at the image of her kicking his ass even while trying to protect her broken ribs, but he went back to his expression of doom and gloom quickly enough to make her feel like she was also suffering from whiplash. “His call is what made me so mad.” He shook his head, and amended, “I mean, what he told me is what made me so mad that I wanted to jump a plane and fly to DC right away to...” He stopped himself, purposely softening his voice so that he didn't sound so... hard-assed. “Anyway, he told me that the JCS feel...” Again came that heartfelt sigh to rend the Infirmary in two. “Landry might have mentioned - to one of the Joint Chiefs...” He anxiously swallowed and went on, “Someone... said... something... about... how 'Pete'... said that thing... on the tape... about you... talking... in your sleep.” Getting that much out of Jack sounded like she was throwing him into a wringer. “One JCS told another... who mentioned it to another... until...” His eyes finally met her gaze head-on, and he spit out what he was trying so inelegantly to say. “Because of the sleep talking thing... even though I said that was the dumbest excuse in the book...” He paused to sigh again in aggravation. “You've been deemed a security risk for unintentionally giving 'Pete, the con man' classified information in your sleep.”

Sam lay in open astonishment on the bed, too stunned to stop him as he continued speaking. “They've officially suspended you from 'Gate travel until...” Jack swallowed, but visibly inhaled a nervous breath so that he could go on. “... until you... you figure out how much 'Shanahan...' knows about... what he knows about,” he continued uncomfortably as he first avoided her eyes, then finally stared straight at her. “There,” he said in obvious discomfort as well as obvious determination. “Now you know.”

Sam continued to gape at him in shock, unable to utter a single word.

Suspended from 'Gate travel? As if she were any old security risk? Her? Because of 'Pete?'

In effect, she had lost her job... or the biggest part of it... because of him?????

Okay, that was it! It wasn't that she just didn't owe 'Pete' some form of retribution for stealing her things and her money, but now she also owed him for stealing her life! No more 'Gate travel? They might as well tell her she was getting a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force! For Sam, this was basically the same thing!

Sam was livid in a second. Ripping 'Pete's legs off was too good for him! Sending him to Hadante was too good for him! She would send him to a planet known to be the center of Ba'al's domain, where the Goa'uld was certain to capture him, torture him, revive him in a sarcophagus, and then turn him into a host! This was... was...

She was so mad, her bed was shaking.

“Sam?” Jack asked. His forehead wrinkled in worry. “I don't like that look in your eyes - just what are you planning?”

In a calm that was so deadly that it worried even the great Jack O'Neill, she bluntly told him, “Revenge.”

TBC in: As Deceptive as a Blue Jay


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