Disclaimer: Don't want to own them, and don't want to make any money off them, so it's a good thing I didn't do either. This piece of fanfiction is for a fun read only. If you're not having fun, then please feel free to read something else.

Unfinished Business

by Linda Bindner

It had been years.

So much had happened since then that thinking about all of it honestly made Sam's head spin. It would be a good idea for her to stop thinking about this altogether before she spun right off her kitchen stool. She had to finish getting ready for work, anyway.

However, Sam ignored her own good advice, and continued to sit at her breakfast bar, and swirl her Froot Loops and milk around in her bowl as she continued to think.

That time when the alien known as Orlin had visited her, General O'Neill had said she was nuts. True, it had been years ago, but... But now, two or three years later, she was still thinking about it. And she was still unwilling to do anything about it, like ask the General just what he'd meant by calling her that. So even after all the time that had passed, that puzzle still swam madly through Sam's mind.

Sam! she severely admonished herself. That happened two and a half years ago! Get over it!

Yet, even now her mind insisted on revisiting the past, sticking persistently to one fact: the General... then the Colonel... had called her nuts. Yes, she remembered him saying that exact thing to her when she'd seen him in an SGC corridor during the Orlin incident. He'd said she was nuts. But... she wasn't nuts! She wasn't crazy, either!

Except that she was always coming up with one crazy solution to SGC problems after another. The fact that over ninety percent of those solutions worked was beside the point. To any outsider - and to many insiders - she was as close to being certifiably crazy, crazier than anybody else in the SGC. And the Colonel - the General - had noticed. And if he had noticed, who else had?

Sam grimaced - did the Colonel... she meant the General... (she had to stop doing that! It was confusing.) But the truth was that she always thought of him as 'The Colonel.' Actually, she thought of him as 'her Colonel,' which was why this thing with his name had to stop. If it didn't, she was at risk of letting him become so personally important to her that she'd be literally unable to transition to his new military standing - and that meant that she didn't want to make that transition, because him being a Colonel was too important to her... he was too important to her. That would make him not a military colleague, but something... else. 'Something else' would ultimately bring attention to her, and to their relationship. She didn't want that to happen at any time!

Besides all that, did he really think she was nuts? Had he always secretly thought of her as nuts? Even when he did so with affection?

How could she expect herself to ever get over something like that? And so she puzzled on... and on... and on... until she thought he had a point - this much thinking would drive anyone nuts!

Sam quickly ran through the events in her mind once more, just to make certain that time had not diluted her memory from so long ago: Orlin had followed SG-1 through the 'Gate from... from... What had he called that planet? Not the number designation, as the SGC had given to that planet. Orlin had given it a name... Sam grimaced - she had always been horrible with names - not so bad with numbers, but names, on the other hand...

Velona! That was it! Sam gave a tiny grin at her ability to recall the planetary name after all the time that had passed.

Yet, her thrill was short-lived. With the planetary name came the memories of all that had come with it - the cameras set up to spy on her and her house, Orlin being invisible except to her, how she had originally done her duty by reporting Orlin, and how the SGC had...

No, the Pentagon, Sam, not the SGC, she corrected herself, though the reminder again left her feeling as empty inside as it always had. What did it matter who had decided to keep tabs on her? The point was that the SGC... no, the country... didn't trust her. Her! Hadn't she done everything she could for that country? Hadn't she let the country as a whole take precedence in her life? Hadn't she pushed aside the..?

Sam stopped that train of thought before it could even get started. The point was that she had gotten a life since that Orlin incident had transpired, and now she had a boyfriend... fiancé... and she was getting married in just a little over a month. Shouldn't she be spending her time thinking about wedding dresses, and reception menus, and florist arrangements, and photographer prices, and...

Sam cringed when she considered everything associated with the wedding that she should be doing. She knew that she should be thinking about all of those wedding plans... be happy to think of those things, actually. The fact that she would rather expose herself to the touched virus for a second time than think about weddings... hers in particular... wasn't important... was it?

Sam felt the beginnings of a guilty cringe curl her stomach. But she wouldn't give into it, wouldn't let her guilt be her guide...

But, for as useless as the feeling was, the guilt was also too strong for her. Or more importantly, she felt that she needed to cave to it. In response, the guilt curdled her insides, just like it always did when she allowed herself to contemplate the wedding plans that she was supposed to be thinking about. She knew she should be more excited about the coming wedding than she was. She should be thrilled. But she wasn't.

Wasn't yet, she reminded herself. It would come. It had to.

Sam gave another guilty little shake of her head. Was there something wrong with her? Something big, something scary? Why wasn't she more thrilled?

But then the tendril of fear coalesced on one thought in her mind: What if that thrill that she should be feeling wasn't there because it never would be? What if it didn't come at all, not just hadn't come yet? What then? What if her recent worries that she was making a big, HUGE mistake was what really came?

But that wouldn't happen. Because it wasn't true. Right? She wasn't making a mistake - she should marry Pete, the man she loved... right? Right.

She didn't allow herself to consider the fact that she might actually love someone else instead.

Besides, it was perfectly normal for her to be thinking of other things just now. Wasn't that what was called 'cold feet?' Cold feet were totally normal for a bride-to-be to have. Weren't they? And it was perfectly alright for her not to remember to mention these feelings of anxiety to the groom-to-be, wasn't it? Though she supposed that she should have said something before now, with only a few weeks left before the wedding. But she hadn't been having these feelings for all that long, had she? How long had she been having these feelings?

How long had she been engaged?

She ignored where her thoughts were taking her now. Besides, when had she ever done what she should do? When had anybody done what they should be doing? Really? She shouldn't be worrying about what she should be doing or feeling - right?

Feeling absolved now that she had pointed that out to herself, Sam gave her head one more shake to get her wandering brain back on topic. And that topic was... Orlin - yeah, that's right...

But Sam found that she wasn't thinking about the friendly alien who had chosen to haunt only her several years before. Instead she found herself thinking about the Colonel... the General... Colonel O'Neill... and the way he...

Sam gusted out a disgruntled breath. She shouldn't be thinking about the Colonel... the General... at all. What really irritated her about this entire Orlin incident was the way the Colonel had so casually noted her insanity... and then hadn't he gone to the bathroom?

At that point, Sam didn't quite remember anymore. She was only certain about the way he had called her nuts... as if he hadn't known her for five years already at that point. As if he was sure about her nuttiness.

But wasn't he just doing his job? Wasn't it his job to be suspicious... of everyone? All the time?

Yet... Had he always been suspicious of her?

Hurt shot through Sam when she had that thought. Suspicion... linked with her... from the Colonel... the General... it... hurt.

Sighing, Sam gave up trying to talk herself out of being furious at this point. She gave in to the anger that attempted to leak into her heart just when she thought about him calling her nuts. She could try to reason with herself, to justify what he had said, try to talk herself out of her feelings of hurt anger...

But she just couldn't get over her anger on this one point no matter how hard she tried. She revisted this incident every few months, and had for years. The fact that she had never mentioned her building anger over this tiny event... the fact that he'd basically called her just one bolt shy of being completely loony... That only made her anger fester and grow all the more.

The truth of the situation was that when she had again pointed out the fact that only she could see Orlin, that the alien was invisible to everyone else, he had baldly stared at her in an SGC corridor and told her that either everyone could see what she was saying she saw, or everyone would believe that she was nuts. That was it. It was a simple 'either/or' situation.

But life isn't like that, she emphatically argued with herself. It's not nearly so black and white.

Sam snorted, familiar with these thoughts, and with these arguments. She went on to argue those same ideas to herself anyway.

This was a logical situation (she always called on logic at this point). Logically, they all worked at the SGC, and the SGC was a magnet for strange occurrences. The fact that only she was aware of Orlin's corporeal form was nothing too odd in and of itself. Only weeks later, the entire team of SG-1 had sworn that a fifth member had been assigned to their team. They had all seen him, but no one else had. In fact, Colonel O'Neill was trapped off-world with this 'invisible' individual that no one thought existed.

No one... except SG-1... the Colonel included.

And no one had immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had gone collectively nuts that time! It was instantly assumed that something was wrong, yes, but not with their perceptions of reality. Given the history of the SGC for strange alien occurrences, it was additionally assumed that some kind of alien influence was at work on their minds.

If they hadn't been assumed to be nuts then, why only a few weeks earlier had it been assumed that she was nuts when linked with Orlin? That time with that fifth team member, no one instantly said, 'Either we can see him, too, or you're all nuts.' So why was she the crazy one when Orlin had paid a visit to Earth?

Why, why, why? It was maddening. Sam knew she should think about something else, that she was fixating on this one event again, but she couldn't help herself now that she had begun. How could her entire team... how could the Colonel... think she was insane simply because she claimed certain things were true when those things couldn't be verified? How many times had that exact thing happened before? Half the time, if the team, or even the entire the SGC, had waited for verification, they would all have ended up pushing up daisies.

So... why????????????

Sam felt the anger well in her heart, flood her veins, and set her blood on fire. She was flushed and breathing hard in seconds.

It all came down to the fact that they hadn't believed her. The friends that she thought she could count on for unquestioning support had chosen that moment to abandon her. Well, actually, not Daniel and Teal'c so much. What really got to her is that the Colonel had abandoned her, right when she had needed his support the most. The man she loved had said something so crass to her that...

But wait... she wasn't in love with him. She wasn't even in like with him! She was in love with her fiancé, right? And as the Colonel was most definitely not her fiancé...

But Sam shook her head before her thoughts could go very far in that direction. She didn't want to think about that right now. She couldn't focus on what she felt about the Colonel... the General... when such anger flooded her veins. She tried to halt the anger before it could get a complete hold on her insides, and she (God forbid) said something about her concerns.

Get over it, Sam! she now ordered herself in an attempt to control her emotions. It's been over and done with for years! Get a grip!

But all the admonishing in the world hadn't derailed this point of contention for Sam, and by now she doubted that anything would put a stop to these useless feelings of frustration and anger that had been boiling inside her for...

A distraction halted her thoughts right there as Pete suddenly entered the room at a hurried walk. He stopped to stare at her as she sat unmoving at the bar. “Earth to Sam!” he sang in a jovial, loud voice. “Hey, dream girl! It's already a quarter till. We got to get a move on!”

Sam gave a jerk, then more completely woke from her musings. “Oh, yeah, you're right!” she exclaimed as she glanced at her watch. “What am I thinking? I have a briefing at 0800 this morning - I've got to go!” She quickly shoveled three more bites of cereal into her mouth, not waiting to chew before taking her mostly full bowl over to the sink, and dropping the entire bowl into the receptacle. She would have to deal with it that night - right now, she didn't have the time.

Pete laughed when she spilled the milk in her bowl all over her clothes when she dropped her bowl into the sink. She scowled at the stain growing on her pants, but didn't have the time to change. Pete's laughter continued to ring through the room, a sound now filled with pure humor at how the morning was shaping up for the two of them - they were a mess... she was a mess... and it was late... and getting later... and she was taking herself waaaaay too seriously... and he was reminding her to lighten up - just like he always did.

Still smiling at both of them, causing her to smile at herself, too, he gathered his briefcase and jacket from the edge of the bar. As she gathered together the stuff she needed at the SGC that day, Sam sized him up as his laughter echoed in the quiet house - his relaxed attitude showed that he didn't have anything so dire as anger flooding his soul. Sam wondered as she hurried - maybe she needed to do as he kept telling her? To 'go with the flow?'

But Pete spoke before Sam had the chance to 'go' anywhere. “What were you thinking about so much that you got lost in thought like that?” he lightly inquired as he paused, waiting for her to catch up with him so that they could walk out of the house together. “For a minute there, you looked really piss... um, irritated.”

Sam smiled at the way he tried at the last second to cover his take on the situation. “You can say it - I looked pissed. That's probably because I was.... am... pissed. I have been for years.”

Pete's face did a hurried swoop as she joined him heading for the door. “So you're not pissed at me, right?” he quickly ascertained. “I mean, we only met six months ago, not years. Did I do something wrong?”

Sam smiled - he was always so worried about her perceptions... of him in particular. It was cute... after a fashion. “No,” she forcefully informed now. “I'm mad about something that happened so long ago that I shouldn't even be wasting my time thinking about it now.”

Pete swung the front door open, and held it as first she hurried through it, and he followed. He carefully locked the door behind them with a key (Sam briefly wondered just when was it that she had given him his own key to her house? She couldn't quite recall...)

Pete cut into her thoughts when he commented, “But it must be something that's bothering you a lot to still be making you angry years later. You know, Wallace at work was just telling me the other day how he gets pissed all the time about something or other, but then he talks to someone about it, and then the problem he's having magically goes away - maybe the same thing would work for you with this thing?”

They quickly walked to their respective cars parked bumper to bumper in the street outside her house, and simultaneously pulled open both drivers' doors, but Sam paused to consider what he had said. Could he be right? Was it that simple? Doubtfully she conceded, “Yeah, you could be right.” She was still thinking on his idea, coming at it from several different angles (such as, who would she talk to? What would she say?) Aloud, she admitted, “I've certainly tried everything else over the years. And I'm sick of arguing with myself about this thing.” She stared at the roof of her car, lost in thought again. Could it really be that easy? Maybe...

Sam 'woke up' from her thinking again and stared at him. “Maybe talking would make this thing go away.”

Pete grinned, clearly thrilled with the concept that he might have successfully suggested that she do something that she had been unable to think of herself, in spite of being a certifiable genius in her own right. “Maybe you could do your talking to me - then I could see what's bothering you, and maybe we could...”

As in, she could talk to the civilian that he was rather than her military colleagues. But Sam was swiftly shaking her head. “I'm sorry, Pete, but this is one of those classified things... I'm so sorry - but I can't tell you.” And she truly was sorry.

Pete's attempt at a light 'no problem, dude' mein sort of wilted around the edges. Sam knew that her 'it's classified' spiel never sat too well with him, but what could she do? Telling him would be comparable to committing treason. She couldn't say anything.

But the point was that he had tried not to be bothered - right?

Sam did her utmost to ignore the shivers of doubt that were again racing up and down her spine. She tried to look at him in encouragement. “Maybe I can set up an appointment with the base shrink,” she thoughtfully added, not knowing what made her say it. She didn't exactly hate the base shrink, but her feelings of antipathy for him - like those of the other members of SG-1 - were pretty well known.

But not known to Pete. “That's the right idea!” he simply said in support of her suggestion. “Maybe a talk with a psych person will cure you of all your woes!” He laughed at his lame joke, then jogged up to her as she stood at her open car door, gave her a quick kiss (a 'peck on the cheek' Sam couldn't help but think - the kind of gesture that old married couples did before heading off to work. Thinking of herself as part of 'an old married couple' gave her the shivers again.) Then Pete jogged back to his SUV. “Gotta go - don't wait supper on me - I have a late meeting today. See you when I see you, beautiful girl.”

Sam balked at what he had said, though Pete didn't see her minute gesture - I'm not a 'girl!' was the thought that shot across Sam's mind. She barely even registered the 'beautiful' comment.

Sam again ignored her thoughts to bid him farewell. “Bye,” she called, cheering at the way he assumed that he would at least be seeing her tonight. She was thrilled at having anybody to come home to at night who she would be seeing... wasn't she?

Her smile dimmed just a smidgen: she would be seeing him... tonight... and every night... forever...

There were those damned shivers again.

Resolute, Sam ignored her shivers and the reason for them, and climbed into her car. She started the engine as Pete maneuvered his truck around her car, pulled into the street, and drove out of sight. Sam was just about to do the same when a flutter of paper from the passenger seat instead caught her attention. Pausing in her mad flight to work, she pulled the note to herself, unfolded it, and read,

Carter, you're late! You probably missed breakfast again. I know, I know... you were thinking, right? There's a donut in the glovebox for you to help ward off any hypoglycemic attacks. (Don't tell Teal'c I got one for you, and then you can eat all of it yourself.) See you in twenty - I'll hold the briefing for you. (Try not to come in with crumbs all over your face this time. Do you realize what a hard time I had explaining that one away? Take pity on an old General...)

O'Neill

Wow! That was so nice of him.

It always surprised her, even after all these year, when she found herself face to face with a reason for Jack O'Neill to be nice to her. Even if 'nice' happened at least once a week...

A warm happy glow wormed through her stomach at the same time as it growled at just his mention of more food. She had been too busy thinking to eat much of her cereal.

Feeling very rushed now, Sam again ignored her emotions in order to first quickly dive into her glovebox and pull out the donut that the General had left for her. The desert was ensconced in a baggie with a sticky note attached to it that ordered EAT! in large letters.

Smiling, her shivers conquered for the moment, Sam ripped open the bag at the first stop light she came to, and chomped into the donut. Her taste buds exploded in joy - it was just what she wanted - how had he known?

* * *

Keeping Pete's suggestion to talk to someone in mind, Sam literally ran into Teal'c in the corridor to her lab after the morning Briefing. The General hadn't mentioned the donut that he'd left for her, and she had only drawn the letters 'thx' in the water from a cup ring left on the Briefing Room tabletop during that hour long meeting to show her appreciation. Neither Teal'c nor Daniel even saw her do it, and the General only met her eyes for an instant right after she'd drawn the shortened word of gratitude, giving nothing away. But the slightly softer look in his eyes, accompanied by the minute lift of his lips into a pseudo smile left her warm for the rest of the meeting. (It was a warmth that she didn't force herself to spend any time at all analyzing - she simply enjoyed it, and refused to look into the reason behind that enjoyment.)

The moment she ran into the solid mass that was Teal'c, his hand landed on her arm. “I apologize, ColonelCarter,” he instantly said.

Sam turned to the alien. “That's alright, Teal'c,” she said, acknowledging his apology. “I was busy thinking about something - it was my fault.”

In reaction to her words, Teal'c immediately steered them both to the side of the narrow SGC corridor and asked in concern, “Is something on your mind, ColonelCarter?” After all these years on a team with her, he had to know that when Sam said that her thoughts were consuming her, it meant that she was concerned with something that was definitely not good, particularly for SG-1! It was no wonder that he was concerned as well.

Sam shot what was supposed to be a soothing smile in his direction. “It's not important, Teal'c, honest.” But her smile was too forced and anxious to be very soothing. She focused more on her grin, and her gesture grew more full blown. “In fact, you'd probably be bored if I tried to tell you about it, so I won't even...”

But Teal'c interrupted her with a gentle, “How will you know if it will bore me if you do not 'try me,' as you humans say?”

Sam stared straight at him. “Is that an invitation, Teal'c?”

“Perhaps,” he finally replied in as persuasive a voice as he'd utilized before.

Persuasion aside, Sam still doubtfully eyed him. “What if it's something of a completely technical nature? Or one of those science things that practically makes the General go to sleep on his feet? Or..?”

“I do not believe that could be so, ColonelCarter,” Teal'c told her, and a slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “If you are having a problem, perhaps I can be of assistance.”

Sam's doubtful stare grew assessing. “But it's a personal problem, Teal'c,” she told him. Sam expected Teal'c to run the other way the minute she mentioned her problem's personal nature, but he only smiled gently at her.

“Continue,” he instructed.

Sam furrowed her brows - how could one of the most A-personal people on base be able to help her with a personal problem?

But then, what did she have to lose by telling Teal'c all about it? She had been going to talk to somebody about this, after all, maybe even McKenzie. She knew that Teal'c was a closet psychologist in his own right. So maybe she ought to take this opportunity to open up while she had it?

With a firm resolve not to run the other way, as her instincts told her to do, Sam instead did her best to be as purposefully open and honest as she could be after being so closed-mouthed about this issue for years. “Alright, Teal'c, I'll tell you.” No - that sounded too defensive. She cleared her throat of her defensiveness, and clasped her hands behind her back in an unconscious mirror image of the thoughtful pose Teal'c had just adopted. “Do you remember when Orlin visited me several years ago?”

Teal'c nodded. “I do indeed, though that incident does not bring happy memories to mind.” His voice had become softer. “I wish to apologize again for my actions during that event. Or rather, my lack of actions.” His eyebrows furrowed under his golden sign of Apophis.

Haltingly she told her story to Teal'c. “In short,” she ended, “the Colonel... now the General... said that since he couldn't see Orlin, but I could, that it proved that I was crazy.”

Teal'c looked pensive for another moment. “And this bothers you?” he simply asked at last.

“Yes!” Sam exclaimed. “It's bothered me so much that it's been on my mind every few months, even after all this time!” She sighed, disgruntled.

Teal'c's brow furrowed again, and his 'thinking' pose deepened. “O'Neill has clearly never behaved in such a way as to give that impression.”

“That's what I always thought, too,” Sam imparted as SGC personnel continued to rush right by them. “In fact, it's made me really angry several times over the years. But I can't figure out what he meant, no matter how many times I argue with myself about it.” She gave Teal'c a look of desperation. “Did he mean what he said literally? If so, it's like you said - he sure never acted like he thought I was crazy before or after that. Or did he mean that I was crazy in the 'you're funny' kind of way, as in, I was being weird, the typical scientist, and so was the situation?” She shook her head. “I just can't get it out of my mind.”

Teal'c carefully considered the points that she had suggested. “I do not know what he meant,” he finally admitted.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It could be either.” A few more minutes of silence followed, which she broke when she went on to argue another point that had just come to mind. “Or he could have meant something completely different that I haven't even thought of yet.”

Teal'c nodded his agreement with her. “Perhaps,” he slowly said.

Sam smirked. “I am talking about the General here. I suppose that he could have meant lots of things!”

At last, Teal'c spoke up to advise, “You must speak to General O'Neill about this, ColonelCarter.”

Sam blew a breath of air out to fluff her bangs off her forehead. “That's easier said than done, Teal'c.” She further admitted, “I'm not sure I want to bring this up to him, anyway. I...” She hesitated, but forced herself to go on. “I'm not sure I want to know the answer.”

“Did you not say that you are often very angry when recalling this event?” Teal'c instantly argued.

“Yes,” Sam answered.

Teal'c's voice was assured now. “Then these feelings of anger will continue if you do not talk to him.”

Sam sighed, struck with his logic concerning this, but feeling hesitant at the idea of implementing his solution. “I guess that I am tired of being angry about this.”

“Then your course of action is clear,” Teal'c commented. “You must seek out O'Neill at your earliest opportunity.”

Sam sighed a second time, unhappy at the thought of speaking to the General about this, but not seeing that she had much of a choice in the matter, just as Teal'c said. Although... she could stall with the best of them. “I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't,” Sam quoted to him.

But Teal'c either didn't know what she was talking about, or didn't call her on her avoidance techniques. All he said was, “Precisely.” He then turned to again placidly meander beside her down the corridor towards her lab, ignoring Sam's occasional grunts of discontent, showing her wariness at a promised conversation with the General. When they reached Sam's destination, Teal'c didn't ask if Sam had decided what to do as to her problem, but only bid her farewell and continued on alone.

Which was so like the Jaffa... stoic to the point of supreme irritation.

* * *

Nine hours later, Sam crept up to the door leading to Daniel's lab. She might not want to talk to the base shrink about what was STILL bothering her, but she could talk to Daniel.. right? He was her friend... and knew when to be discreet about a topic of conversation... right? He'd always been discreet about the existence of the SGC... he would be discreet about this, too... right? He wouldn't talk to the General about this, right? The last thing she wanted was for the General to find out that she was still fixated on this stupid point that should have been forgotten years ago.

So, long after her talk with Teal'c, she found herself outside his office... skulking. As always, she had rationalized her presence there, but was again drawn from her thoughts by Daniel himself.

“So, are you going to tell me what's on your mind, or are you gonna stay in the corridor all night?” he called after stopping himself in mid translation. His gentle smirk reached her in the corridor. “Just think of the gossip that will be flying around the base if you're still out there tomorrow morning.”

Sam chuckled when he said that, and entered his office. “Gossip about you and me is as crazy as I'm feeling right now.”

Daniel simply sighed in aggravation, not rising to the teasing bait that she had laid for him.

Without explaining her reason for being there at such a ridiculous hour, Sam had already turned to go. “I can see that you're busy... I'll just...”

“Sam.” Daniel's aggravation had risen another notch. “Stay,” he invited.

She balanced on one foot, feeling awkward. “I don't want to bother you,” she assured. “I just...”

“Stop right there,” Daniel commanded. “I know why you're here - Teal'c told me.”

Sam settled on both feet again, surprised. Typically, Teal'c never said much of anything... about anybody. He must be far more worried about her and her problem than his stoic front indicated.

At the look of consternation that immediately graced Sam's face at his words, Daniel added, “But he only talked after I said that if he didn't tell me what was up with you, I would ask Jack if he'd heard anything - Teal'c told me specifically to keep Jack from hearing about this 2nd hand.”

Sam found herself propelled further into his office. Daniel was right, of course - the idea of Jack... the General... finding out about this now, when she hadn't spoken about this for the two or three preceding years...

Daniel then took matters into his own hands. “Teal'c's right about this, you know,” he instantly told her. “As nice as it must be for you to finally get this off your chest by talking about it to anybody, you do really need to talk to Jack about this.” He eyed her in slight reproach.

“I never said that it was still bothering me,” Sam muttered. “Not exactly.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, Sam.” He sighed a dramatic explosion of air. “I agree with Teal'c on this one. Neither of us was really here during 'the Orlin thing.' We don't know what happened. Jack is the only one who can help you with this.”

In a burst of honesty, Sam then blurted, “Pete said that I should talk to the base shrink.”

Daniel snorted. “Somehow I don't think talking to MacKenzie is going to cure you of this particular problem,” he sarcastically said, giving the indication with his sardonic tone that he thought a talk with McKenzie was likely to be as useful to her as hitting herself in the head with a rock. “I don't think that will do it,” he politely said. “But then, you already know what I think,” he said in aggravation. “Talk to Jack, not Teal'c, not me, not Walter, not MacKenzie, not...”

She stopped him before he could really get started, and scowled. “Okay, Daniel, I get the picture.”

Daniel grimaced. “I know that thought makes you uncomfortable, Sam. But nothing else will really help in this,” he reminded. “We can conjecture all day long, but only Jack can tell you what he truly meant.”

“But that's just it,” Sam protested in a weak voice. “How can I be sure that... the General...”

“'Jack,'” Daniel corrected, his voice showing his irritation on this point. The formality with which his two friends treated each other had always been galling. He had, in fact, spoken at length to Sam this year about her formality around Jack several times while they had been safely off-world, out of Jack's hearing.

But now, as then, Sam's stubbornness asserted itself. “I don't know if he would tell me the truth, or just another of his pat answers.”

Daniel seemed mollified by Sam's reference to their friend, for he glossed over it to suggest, “You'll never know if you don't try.”

Sam growled a low growl, then turned away, finally ready to head for home, but thinking over Daniel's advice as she went. She knew she was avoiding things again... but the idea of confronting Jack... The General!... about this at last was so scary that...

The problem, she decided as she entered the locker room to change and gather her things, wasn't the idea of talking about this particular subject after all these years. Sam just wanted to do all she could to avoid talking to him about this subject after all these years. To Daniel, the idea of talking to Jack didn't mean as much as the idea of her talking to Jack. The truth was that talking with Jack was growing more and more uncomfortable for her every day, for reasons that she didn't want to think about right now. All she knew for sure was that she should avoid a confrontation with him for as long as possible.

Though she couldn't deny the warm feeling that again invaded her insides as she recalled how 'nice' it was of him to still make sure she was taking care of herself in spite of all that she had recently done (which she wouldn't think about, either). She could ignore the meaning of that warmth, couldn't she?

Being the Queen of Denial of the SGC the way that she was, she did just that as she walked to the surface and her car. But she couldn't help trailing a finger along the side of his truck as she passed by it on her way to her own vehicle.

* * *

A week went by. Sam studiously avoided any contact with the General during that week. If he entered a room, she made sure that she had a ready made excuse to leave that room immediately after his arrival. The few times that she absolutely had to speak to him, she kept their conversations on the professional realm. That task was easy enough, as their relationship had degraded so far in the recent months that the professional realm was practically the only place they made a connection anymore. Sam knew that Daniel and Teal'c were aware of this 'professional phenomenon' that had arisen between their two best friends, but she also understood that so far, neither man knew what to do about breaking through the barriers Sam and her CO had erected.

So, it was a week for maintaining the status quo. She spent all her time hiding away in her lab, going out only to head home. She spent the rest of her time pretending that her problem of anger didn't exist, and when she had no choice but to consider it, she ignored it and its solution of talking to the General so successfully that even she had to remind herself that she'd had a problem to begin with.

In the meantime, she aimed the little energy she had left on studiously evading any and all entanglements connected to her approaching wedding. Pete, she knew, was rather baffled on this point, but she didn't enlighten him with her secret doubts and fears concerning her forthcoming marriage. She didn't see what good would come of her divulging any of her thoughts anyway, especially now, at this late date. Yet she still could not get excited about her approaching nuptials, no matter how hard she tried to talk herself into such an emotional state.

The ensuing craziness of the SGC helped in that regard, and if Pete persisted too heavily in his attempts to get her involved in the decision-making process, she could always count on the SGC falling inadvertently into the middle of a crisis at the opportune time. After making several excuses of 'I have to work' in order to get her out of a planned visit to the caterer or the photographer, she was finally able to give her excuses before the crisis actually materialized. She was starting to count on just such a work problem occurring in order to let herself back out of any wedding related visit she had planned to mollify Pete into basically leaving her alone that entire week.

However, Sam wasn't nearly as successful at hoodwinking herself as to the real reason why she was backing out of so many planned visits as she was at hoodwinking Pete. A tickle of panic had started at the back of her brain on the day that was just three weeks shy of her wedding, and it only grew in exponential proportions whenever her thoughts so much as brushed that wedding area of her brain in the coming days.

But at last, her downfall arrived in the form of a determinedly approaching General O'Neill just as she was finishing up a phone call from Pete regarding a planned visit to a wedding photographer that she and he had set up, but she was now postponing yet again due to 'work constraints.'

“If you can take care of it yourself, go ahead,” she was advising just as the General entered her lab on feet so quiet that at first she didn't hear him. Her attention was on what she was fabricating for Pete's benefit, anyway. “I have to stay here for the next hour or so, but things should have calmed down by then, and I'll be home tonight around 1900.... uh, 8:00.” Sam grimaced at the phone as she spoke - she hated always having to convert military time to civilian time just for Pete's benefit, but he would never bother to do it for himself, she knew. She was briefly aware that a feeling of irritation at the necessity of doing so shot through her, but she also didn't see a way around it. Pete was a civilian - she couldn't deny that - and as a civilian, had never been subjected to the idea of a 24 hour clock. It wasn't his fault, and besides, it was really nothing but a small hiccup to his character in the grand scheme of things, anyway. Still, she couldn't explain aware an irrational aggravation at his lack of instant understanding, either. It made sense that he didn't know military time, but she missed that instant comprehension just the same.

Pete seemed more resigned at her cancellation than angry at her, though she would be the first to admit that he had a right to be angry at this point. He had to be thinking by now that she had made so many alterations to their planned wedding schedule that it was almost as if she didn't want to make those visits in the first place, though she always had a viable reason for missing. His resignation made her sense of guilt and panic grow another notch. It would be easier for her if he finally got angry, and spoke out against her, but his unfailing understanding as to the responsibilities of her job made what should be easier for her much harder to contend with.

But it was a situation that she refused to ponder. Her other 'situation' took precedence in her mind, at any rate. In fact, her mind was once again consumed by that problem, and she was just becoming aware of the anger stirring in her roiling stomach when she hung up the phone receiver and turned. It was then that she jumped about a foot in the air, her hand on her pounding heart. “Sir!” she exclaimed in fright. “You scared me!”

“Didn't mean to scare you, Carter,” the General assured as he reached out a hand to steady her. The moment she was more solidly on her feet, though, he released his hold on her shoulder so quickly that it was almost as if she'd burned him. “I heard that you wanted to see me?” he asked in a curious tone, unconsciously massaging his hand. Suddenly aware of what he was doing, he then threw out his freed hands in an interrogative gesture. “I'm here - so what's on your mind?”

Sam blinked. He knew that something was on her mind? After all the trouble she had gone to the week before to keep him from finding out? Sam couldn't stop herself from gaping at him for a second before managing to hastily cover the expression. How had he found out? She hadn't told him. Actually, she hadn't even talked to him for almost a week! She knew that she hadn't told him - had the guys said something to him after all?

“Um....” Sam cleared her throat of the panic that was clogging her voice. She wasn't ready for this, not by a mile. “Um,” she repeated. “How did you..?” Clear throat again. “... find out?” she managed to choke.

General O'Neill sent her the faintest of grins. His gesture was really just a lifting of the corners of his mouth, but his evident enjoyment of this scene was still obvious just from the twinkle in his eyes. “Well, you could say that a little birdy told me, but this little birdy amounts to about twenty or thirty different little birdies.”

Sam was confused in a nanosecond. “Sir?”

His smile grew just a trace. “I heard that you needed to see me - every day - from Walter... or Siler... or Daniel... or Reynolds... or around the Infirmary... or...”

Sam sighed a regretful sigh. “In other words, every person I've spoken to has spoken to you.”

The General hesitated to immediately agree with her. “Not exactly,” he hedged.

Sam's eyebrows shot up. “Not exactly? What does that mean?”

The General casually leaned against her worktable. “It means that though I've practically been accosted by every person under my command... except you...” and he eyed her in a decidedly suspicious way. “I still have no idea what it is you want to see me about.” His twinkling eyes narrowed just a fraction. “I've been trying to see you to find out what this is about, but you've been unusually busy this week, Carter.” The accusal in his tone was unmistakable, as was the teasing. Then his arms once again opened wide in a welcoming gesture. “So - I'm here - you're here - what's on your mind?”

Sam wondered if he would be so welcoming if she actually told him what was on her mind. She opened her mouth to give the first excuse not to speak that came to her, but he interrupted before she could even begin.

“And no 'I'm fine' from you this time.” He wagged his finger under her nose in a mock threatening way. “I know you, Carter - something's bugging you... and everyone on base knows about it except me.” His casual demeanor grew even more laid back. “So - what gives?”

His attitude was meant to put her at ease and open up. She didn't know how she knew this, but his posture practically screamed at her to trust him. He had always been like this, using his body language in order to convey the mood he wanted. It was a subtle form of coercion that Sam had been aware of from day one at the SGC, but he'd never turned it towards her before in all the eight years they had known each other. Yet here she was, facing it now. Did he think she would need this kind of convincing? Panic again clawed at her mind.

“Um...” she stuttered, not knowing what to say except to explain her problem, and she still wasn't prepared to hear what he had to say. Her worry that he thought her insane had grown in the week that she had been avoiding dealing with him, and with this.

“Relax, Carter,” the General said then. “I won't bite.” He adjusted his posture to be less purposefully casual. “I promise not to do or say anything rash,” he said as added encouragement to her. “Seriously, what is it?”

Clearly, she was going to have to concentrate on keeping her mouth shut even more than usual in the future.

“You must have heard wrong, General,” Sam said in as genial a tone as she could muster on short notice. Her shrug was meant to be artful. “I have no idea what's going on - I don't need anything.”

Anything like you telling me that you've secretly thought me insane - for years! she thought to herself.

But one thing she didn't take into account - this was Jack O'Neill she was confronting. He was a master at reading the language of body postures. He saw her artful shrug for the lie it was before she even managed to finish the action. “Come on, Carter - you know me better than that - or I thought you did. More importantly, I know you better than this - you're avoiding talking to me, you've been avoiding me all week, and though I've spoken to everyone else on base regarding you, I'm still as much in the dark as I was seven days ago. Out with it.” Then he smirked. “That's an order.”

The pulling rank routine. It was the one thing she wasn't likely to be able to resist, and he knew it. She was enough of a by-the-book airman to be unable to resist the call of an order. He really did know her well.

And with no more fight, she gave in. “Alright, I know I shouldn't even be thinking about this after so much time... and I have no reason to be so angry... and I've known for years that all...”

O'Neill centered on one point in her self-directed tirade. “You're angry?” he asked, his voice instantly illustrating his abruptly intense focus. “About something that I did... or said... years ago?” He looked at her, baffled. “What did I do?” His looked stricken now.

Sam sighed a second time, her reluctance to bring this up to him warring with a sudden need to discover the truth about this issue once and for all. “It's not like that, Sir,” she eventually said, trying to soothe away the look of concern that had invaded his eyes. “It's not so important that...”

Again he cut her off. “Carter,” he said in warning. “Why do I hear 'I'm fine' in there somewhere?”

Sam winced. “Um... probably because you do,” she honestly answered at last. His quizzical expression prompted her to continue. “Remember Orlin?”

The change that came over him was immediate. His pleasant expression disappeared, instantly replaced by one of deep regret. The fact that it was an emotion that was directed firmly at himself was what surprised her, though. “Crap,” he swore softly under his breath. “I was hoping you had forgotten that by now.”

His response was enigmatic enough to forestall any need for further explanations on her part. It was obvious that he did remember Orlin's visit to Earth three years before, but why he remembered was still unknown. “What do you mean 'you were hoping?'” she slowly asked. Then her eyes narrowed in thought. “Is there something about Orlin that I should know?” she inquired. “Is he back?”

But the General didn't immediately answer her questions. Instead he did something much odder. He instantly crossed to her phone, and before she fully grasped the situation, he had placed a call to the security office. “Security? This is General O'Neill,” he introduced. “Code Autumn Gold 529, level 19, Colonel Carter's lab,” he said into the phone. Sam didn't know what 'Code Autumn Gold' was, but the security personnel obviously knew all about it, for he acted like his strange order wasn't strange at all to his listener. “Give me half an hour,” he suggested, then abruptly hung up the receiver before looking straight at the corner of her lab that housed the security camera. She too turned towards it, uncomprehending, and was astonished to see the red light that indicated that it was working suddenly wink out. Sam started, but the General gave the impression that he'd expected this to happen all along.

Odder still, he moved on his cat feet to the door of her lab, pulled it shut, then locked it. “Now we can talk,” he told her as he resumed his place by her workbench. “Yes, I remember Orlin,” he began while Sam gaped at him like a fish. “What about him?” Then he smiled in obvious enjoyment. “And Carter - close your mouth before something flies into it.”

But Sam was too stunned to listen to his advice. She looked instead at her phone, then the security camera, in complete astonishment. Then her gaze settled on him. “How did you..?” she stuttered. She gestured at the camera. “You shut it...” She blinked, still trying to acclimate herself to this change in her situation. “I didn't know you could...” She stopped again, unable to finish her comment.

The General continued to simply grin, and finished her comment for her. “No one knew about...” And he vaguely gestured towards the security camera. “General Hammond didn't need to use it until...” His face momentarily darkened, and he cleared his throat in obvious discomfort. “Not until I had to... um... to brief him on... things... during that Maybourne op I did back five years ago.”

The Maybourne op? Did he mean that time he went undercover and stole that piece of technology from the Tollan in order to..? That time he couldn't tell his own team about what he was doing? That time he was...?

There, Sam put a halt to her memories. This incident held as much or more personal pain for her than the Orlin incident did. It wasn't something she was prepared to revisit just now.

Besides, the General was still grinning at her. “Call it General's privilege,” he suggested by way of further explanation. “Let's just say it's 'O'Neill's top secret' secret.”

Sam gaped at him anew. “This is top secret?” It was so top secret that he didn't even want anyone in the security office to possibly get wind of this through the security camera in her lab? “But Orlin wasn't...” she began by insisting. At his continued look of amusement, she added, “Is this really necessary, Sir?”

The amusement vanished the moment she asked her question. “Unfortunately, it is,” he explained. “So, out with it. We only have thirty minutes,” he cautioned. A quick glance at his watch prompted him to correct, “Twenty-seven minutes.”

Which meant that she was on the clock here. So Sam just blurted out her problem of the recent week. “Do you really think I'm nuts, Sir?”

It was clear that the General didn't understand what she was referring to. “Huh?” His wrinkled eyes conveyed as much confusion as his tone.

Sam tried again. “During Orlin's visit - when I could see him and no one else could...” At his continued incomprehension, she added, “In the corridor...”

But it was no good. “What does this have to do with me thinking you're nuts?” O'Neill asked in increased puzzlement.

Sam blushed to the roots of her hair. “It... um...” She sighed in aggravation: she was just going to have to tell the General everything. “Right after I showed you the security camera that I thought the Code 5 team had left behind, the one that I later figured out was used to... spy on me.”

The General finally understood, according to the look of recognition in his eyes, but he still refused to say anything.

“Well,” Sam went on at last. Sam wasn't sure what to say at this point, so she blurted her problem with no further ado. “Next you said that I was nuts.”

Yet, clearly, the General still didn't know what she was talking about. “I did?” he asked.

Sam blushed again, but forged on now that she had begun. “You said that until everyone saw what I said I was seeing, you'd all think I was nuts. Sir.” She paused for a beat. “Did you mean it?” she timidly asked.

This second jog to his memory had solidified it for O'Neill. He made an 'Ah' grunting sound, then braced his hands against the scarred top of her worktable. But still he remained annoyingly mute.

Finally, Sam prodded him to give some kind of response to what she'd just said. “I never got the idea that you thought I had lost it before then.” When he didn't say 'I didn't' or even 'I did,' she added, “But I've been thinking about it all these years, and... I really need to know now.” Though I'm scared shitless, she said to herself. He didn't need to know the state of her aching heart, however, in order to reply.

But he didn't reply, either in the affirmative or negative. He just stood there, contemplating the surface of her workbench. After a silent few minutes, she couldn't stand it anymore. “Yes?” she asked, and looked at him. “Or no?”

After a protracted silence, he gushed a sigh that sounded loud in the closed off room. “Carter,” he began at last in a cautious tone. There he hesitated, and finally leaned upright so that he could stare assessingly into her eyes. It seemed as if his attention was delving inward. He must have liked something he saw, either in her, in him, or in both, for at last he asked, “Do you think that I ever thought of you as nuts before Orlin's visit to Earth?”

Sam gauged him just as he'd assessed her. But she couldn't detect any ulterior motive in him for his asking such a question beyond the typical. She had basically already addressed this point, anyway. Why was he bringing this up again? So she guardedly responded, “Nooooo - I never had reason to think that before Orlin's visit.”

He went on to inquire, “And have you ever gotten the impression that I've thought that way since?”

Sam considered, and answered, “Um... no.”

The General fidgeted on his feet a bit, shuffling his balance between his left foot and right as he continued to assess her. Brow furrowed in puzzlement, he then asked, “So, you know me pretty well. Quite well.”

“Sure.” Where was he getting at with all this information? Why wouldn't he just come right out and answer her question?

But General O'Neill hesitated again. Carefully choosing his words, he asked, “Given that you know me - is there any reason that you can think of why I would call you nuts... out loud... in an crowded SGC corridor... At least, I assume it was crowded.”

Again, instead of trying to consider the General's question, the need to wonder what he was even getting at in asking such a question in the first place filled Sam's mind.

When she didn't respond to his query, the General continued, “Since you know that I never thought of you as nuts before or after your time spent with that alien Orlin...” He raised his eyebrows, and looked at her as if he was expecting her to figure out the reason the Universe existed, and that it was an obvious reason. “Why would I say that? Any of that?” he corrected.

Sam grasped through her mind, trying to find the response he was so clearly looking for. But she felt slow, dumb, stupid... she hated feeling that way! “Um,” she at last sputtered. “I don't...”

The General didn't let her finish. “Ah!” He pointed a finger towards the ceiling. “Don't make this so hard, Carter. Stop thinking!”

Sam hissed an angry breath, losing her tenuous hold on her tamper. “Sir, I really don't know! It's not like I can read your mind, and I..!”

Jack stopped her in mid word by reaching out and taking her hands in his. Sam was so surprised at his touch, and at the quickness in which he did it, that she was too stunned to continue her rant. He quietly said, “Sam, think - why would I ever say that you are nuts? Why not that I'm nuts... or that everyone is nuts? Why you?”

Sam's gaze swirled into Jack's brown eyes as she searched inwardly for her answer. She wasn't even aware that his thumb softly stroked her fingers, leading her to the right answer...

Then mid stroke, it hit her, so clear, so obvious...

“My God,” she flatly announced, staring at him. “You were under orders.” The surprise of this revelation bit through her in prickly waves or heat that rushed through her body. “They got to you before they even started on me.” She thought about that some more, in conjunction with what he'd said to her in that corridor.... and in every other time he'd had reason to be in contact with her while Orlin was visiting. Actually, now that she thought of it, she hadn't seen much of him that entire week... had he been avoiding her? So that he wouldn't have to do exactly what he had eventually done... because she had pushed him into doing it?

But that still didn't account for the reason why he'd actually said aloud that...

Had he been wired, too, as well as under orders? Had the Pentagon... Simmons... used him... to spy on her?

“My God,” she repeated.

Jack smiled, knowing from just the look in her eyes and her to of voice that she got it. “You've already said that,” he told her, his own voice full of amusement.

Why had she never realized this before now? Why hadn't she even considered it?

And the reason he didn't come right out and tell her about it now was that he still hadn't been cleared to tell her anything about any of this. But if she figured it out for herself...

Sam was still feeling completely befuddled by this new information, amazed that she hadn't thought of this before now, angry on his behalf, stupefied on hers, fully bamboozled.

So that when he asked a request of his own, it didn't completely register in her mind what he was asking, and how much courage it took for him to ask this question, particularly of her, until she had time to consider it later.

Jack anxiously cleared his throat before she had absorbed this stunning new information, and he released her hands so that there was no contact between them at all. “Um... we have five minutes left... I'll ask now... while I have the time...” Rushed as he was, he was still able to meet her gaze and steadily ask, “Sam, are you happy?”

His question was so off topic that she instantly had trouble internalizing it. She shook her head, staring at him in confusion. “What?”

He somehow found the courage and wherewithal to repeat himself, though his voice had subsided to a whisper. “Are you happy?”

She still couldn't completely see what he was getting at. “Happy?” she dumbly repeated.

Jack now shuffled on his feet again, his discomfort oozing off him in waves. “With...” And he made a wave with his hand, a vague gesture to indicate the life she'd found... with... the... um...

Sam suddenly understood his question before he had to actually say it - was she happy... with her life? With what she had now? With... Pete?

Here it was at last, the moment she had been secretly dreading for weeks. She would have to convince not her, not the SGC personnel, not even Daniel and Teal'c, but him of the sincerity of her reply.

Heart thumping in her chest, fear flicking at the control she abruptly slammed on her emotions, Sam stared straight at him. She made certain that she didn't fidget, or blink, or give herself away through untoward body language to finally risk answering his question. “Of course.”

But she'd momentarily forgotten: Jack O'Neill was a master at reading a person's eyes as well as reading the random body movement. It was said that the eyes were the windows to the soul - if so, then Jack O'Neill had first dibs at seeing directly into the soul of Samantha Carter.

And when she had answered... she'd lied. And he knew it.

His eyes flashed hard for just an instant, a breath, the smallest amount of time that anyone else looking at him would have missed it.

But not her. She'd always been so attuned to every expressive look to shoot through his eyes. It was how she read him, it was why she loved him, it was her personal Jack O'Neill dictionary. And her eyes were his. And now he knew everything.

Without another word, Jack whirled around, slammed open the lab door, and General O'Neill disappeared down the crowded SGC corridor.

Sam stood, stunned. He had left her... alone.

Sam blinked, and tried to shake the last moment out of her head. But no matter what she did, she kept seeing his eyes during that final moment as he'd stared at her, and she cringed. What had just happened? Had she just lied... to..?

As Sam slowly exhaled a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding, the red light on her security camera blinked back on, showing that it was again working just like it was supposed to.

Strangely enough, Sam felt the least secure and the most alone that she had felt in her entire life.

The End


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