Disclaimer: No creativity today, so I'm simply gonna claim that I don't own them and I got no money for this work. (Shrug) I'm just sayin'..!

Bachelor Party

by Linda Bindner

General Jack O'Neill stared across the Commissary table at his friend, Daniel, as the man continued to eat his humongous breakfast of waffles and toast. Jack watched him eat, and regretfully answered the question that Daniel had just asked, No can do, Daniel, my friend, buddy, spacemonkey...

Mwf rrry hhhaaaa thaaaa, yaaaaaa ow, Daniel replied.

O'Neill raised his brows and politely inquired, What was that?

Daniel swallowed a particularly large bite of waffles covered in sticky syrup, then stated, I said that I really hate you calling me that, you know.

The General continued to stare at his friend. I know, he nonchalantly said, though the humor was evident in his voice to anybody who knew him well. That's why I keep calling you that, he divulged. I know that it pushes your buttons, and I do so love pushing them for you.

Daniel was one such man who could read Jack O'Neill like one of the mythology books he kept in his office to pour over, but now he glared at Jack, annoyed. I know quite well where my buttons are, thank you very much. I don't need you pushing them for me. I get enough of that from Sam.

Jack smirked. It's good to hear that she's carrying on my illustrious tradition.

Daniel scowled. I'm not sure if 'illustrious' is quite the word that I would use. He watched the General grin at him. But seriously, Jack, what are you doing tonight that makes you so busy, you can't see the next Harry Potter movie that Teal'c and I rented? You got a hot date or something?

The teasing expression that Daniel was sending him across the table told Jack that his past team mate was joking with him again. So he felt free to send another glare in the man's direction. No, he informed. I'll leave that hot dating stuff to Carter.

Daniel snorted here, but Jack went on over the noise. No, I've got a thing to go to tonight that will probably last until the wee hours of the morning, and consist of lots of alcoholic products, naked girls, and guys puking their guts out. Jack considered what he'd said. Even he wasn't sure that he wanted to be around for all that puking. On second thought, maybe I should see that movie with you guys instead. It promises to be a lot cleaner.

But Daniel was confused. He gave a soft grimace and an inquisitive narrowing of his eyes. What kind of thing are you going to that involves getting sick to your stomach? he inquired.

Jack sighed, showing his irritation about the upcoming event, but replied, Oh, I've got this bachelor party thing that I promised my one cousin I have left that I'd go to, and I don't want to let him down... again. It's not like I'm gonna be gone on a convenient mission tonight, so the 'I have to work' excuse won't do it this time.

Daniel stared in sympathy at his friend. It's kind of like a family reunion, huh?

Yeah, something like that, Jack told him. So I feel like I should go, since I haven't been to anything in the past ten or twenty years, and I don't plan on being free for the wedding this weekend either... A General has to work sometime... So...

Soooooo. Daniel smirked again. Don't get too drunk and be one of those guys throwing up in the wee hours of the morning, he suggested with a smirk.

Jack rose, then picked up his tray with the one plate that'd had his one piece of cake on it only five minutes earlier. As he left his friend sitting at the table, he said, I'll be a good boy, Daniel, I promise.

Just as long as you don't call me for a ride home, Daniel cautioned.

Jack turned around to glare back at him. Huh, he grunted. I know just how hard you are to wake up in the middle of the night. Forget it... I'll call Teal'c instead.

Daniel grinned at Jack's departing figure as the man left with his tray. Have fun! he ordered as Jack went out of the Commissary.

Jack called back, Not likely, but I'll try!

* * *

That night, Jack rang the doorbell of his cousin's apartment, and looked down the hall outside that apartment, automatically noting the possible exits in case he needed to use one of them as an escape route. Not that he knew what he might have to escape from... But still... It was good to have a little intel before he needed it, he noted to himself.

Suddenly, he heard the distinctive sound of footsteps running haphazardly up to the door, almost, but not quite, in time to the muffled sound of the pounding music that poured into the hallway through the closed apartment door. That distinction was quickly remedied as the door was opened so fast that it was almost yanked off its hinges, and the sight of an already slightly inebriated Dan Jolson met his sight.

Jack! Cos! the voice of the man squealed out into the hallway. He reached up and jerked Jack through the door. Get in here, you old dog! Long time no see! Hey, grab a beer and join the fun!

Jack briefly wondered if Dan was capable of not shouting every statement that he made, but he allowed the man to hustle him over to the refrigerator, and pull out a can of beer for him. It was Pabst Blue Ribbon, Jack noted the brand, and that made him think of Carter's blue eyes, for some reason. Must be the word 'blue' in the brand title, he figured.

Then Dan showed Jack to the empty sofa in the living area of the apartment. There you go, my man! Peanuts are on the coffee table I think. Dan squinted, and looked at the coffee table fronting the sofa. At last, he nodded. Yeah! he said. Then with one more pat to Jack's shoulder, he was pulled back into the crowd by one of his other pals.

Jack sighed, sat, then ran an aggravated hand over his face as he looked around. What the heck was he doing here? He hardly knew his cousin anymore, not since the days when they were two high school boys who terrorized all the girls in their gym class by throwing the balls a little too hard at them. It wasn't until a girl threw one of those balls back, and hit Jack in the... uh... balls... and Jack had limped around for the rest of the day that he and Dan had decided to quit that particular... and particularly painful... activity.

But that was a long time ago. Now, Jack hardly knew Dan, he admitted to himself, only that the man was getting ready for his third marriage. Or was it his fourth? Jack shrugged as he slipped off the blazer he had worn over his white polo shirt with the Air Force logo on the upper left side that he had chosen out of his closet that afternoon, and tried hard to remember.

Jack gave up that memory game five minutes later as he continued to pop peanuts into his mouth and look around the room. Dan's apartment, it appeared, was like any other hundred apartments that he himself had been forced by circumstances to live in over the years. What was obviously two bedrooms opened off the main living area in one direction, and the kitchen opened off the living area from the other. It was a rather open floor plan for an apartment, and it reminded Jack of Carter's apartment where she had lived those first few months after she had moved to Colorado Springs.

Actually, Jack was such a mess at the time because of Charlie dying, and the following divorce from Sara, that he barely remembered much of anything from back then except Carter's apartment. He had crashed there often enough right at first that he figured he should remember it. Or, at least, he remembered that lumpy, second hand couch that she had found at some garage sale. Or, his back remembered it well. He recalled going furniture shopping with her almost right away so that she could get a descent couch. He figured that if he was going to be spending any time sleeping on the thing, it might as well be comfortable.

But those days were over, he sharply reminded himself. Yet at the same time, he wondered what had happened to that couch she'd bought with him tagging along. It had been in her house the last time he'd been there, but that had admittedly been several months ago. For all he knew, that Shanahan character she was engaged to now had asked her to replace it, and she would have complied, as she strangely seemed to comply to all the cop's 'suggestions.' Jack admitted that he didn't understand how such a strong willed woman could become so malleable, but he also admitted that it was none of his business what she did, so he tried his best not to think about it at all. Most of the time he succeeded admirably well.

Jack sighed a second time. He decided that he would stay at Dan's bachelor fling long enough to finish his beer so as not to appear rude, but that he had way too much work to do to sit at this party for too long. He grinned rather ascerbically to himself; work always made a great excuse to get him out of uncomfortable situations, he had found.

Hey, mind if I sit here for a sec? a man who Jack guessed to be in his forties asked him while he pointed to a chair across from the sofa Jack was currently seated on. I don't know many people here, so I feel kinda... Hey! he suddenly exclaimed in excitement, interrupting himself. He gestured to the logo on Jack's shirt. You're in the Air Force! So am I!

Jack smiled a bit, a lifting of the corners of his mouth. He didn't want to give too much credence to this guy he didn't know, after all. But he did reach over to shake the man's hand when he offered his in return. Major John Solo, the man said, introducing himself.

Solo, huh? Jack grunted as they shook hands over the bowl of nuts on the coffee table.

The man's face fell into a comical scowl. No Star Wars jokes, please, he requested.

Jack's smile widened. Fine with me, but I have to admit that I know a guy who would just love to meet you.

Instead of replying, John fell into the chair across from Jack. Where you stationed? he asked. Peterson, or somewhere else far away, like me? Then he chuckled before Jack had a chance to reply. At least we ain't comin' from overseas this time! he exclaimed. Or, at least, I'm not. How 'bout you?

That question made Jack give a low laugh in response. I know too much about overseas postings, that's for sure, he said, remembering all the times he'd been stationed at one of the overseas bases during his long tenure in the service. No, I'm at one of the installations in the area, he noted. I'd tell you more about it, but then I'd have to shoot ya, as it's a top secret installation, and I've found that shooting an acquaintance kind of puts a dampened on any of my new relationships, so... Jack continued to grin as he shrugged and said, General Jack O'Neill... Nice to meet you.

John's expression of affability slid off his face. You're a General? he squeaked upon hearing Jack's rank, and he sprang up. I'm sorry, Sir, but...

It was just the reaction that Jack had been trying to avoid all night. He would never have given his rank if the other man hadn't done so first. At ease, Major, Jack said. I'm not one of those by-the-book Generals you run into, or anything. I prefer to forget my rank, actually, so you can help me more by just ignoring all that 'Sir' crap, and just call me 'Jack.'

John slowly resumed his seat in the easy chair he'd sat in earlier, and retrieved his beer from the coffee table. He softly stated, I admit, you're a lot more easygoing than my commander. She would have bit my head off, and put me on report for not...

Jack didn't let him finish. Where did you say you're stationed? he asked, a wrinkle of curiosity on his forehead.

John replied, I'm at Minot, North Dakota this time, Sir.

Jack grimaced. What did I say about all that 'Sir' crap? Geez, this guy was as bad as Carter!

Um... John seemed confused. Uh... If you insist, he slowly said.

Jack grinned, hoping to set the other man at ease with the gesture. I do, he said. Just call me 'Jack,' and I...

But Jack was interrupted again when a shout rang through the apartment. He heard Dan loudly proclaim, Shannie, you old son of a gun, get the hell in here, man!

With a lurch of fear that shot straight through his heart like an attack of highly armed Goa'uld, Jack gave a start, and his head jerked around towards the door. He caught sight of Pete Shanahan as the cop was yanked through the door, just as he had been, and was pulled into the crowd of men in the apartment.

Crap! This couldn't be happening. Jack groaned, then lowered his head into his hand to revel in a brief moment of pure agony. Could this night possibly get any worse?

John looked around to the door, then back at the General. Friend of yours? he questioned.

Friend? Jack just groaned again. After a second of wallowing in the misery he felt, he lifted his head, and said, Listen... John, is it? The man nodded ascent that Jack had guessed his name correctly. He went on, You can do me a big favor by just staying here and talking to me for a little while until I finish my beer. I plan to leave as soon as it's gone, but I don't want to be left alone to possibly have to talk to... uh... He gestured in the direction where Pete had disappeared into the crowd.

The other man didn't need to hear a detailed description of the reason why Jack knew who this 'Shanahan' character was. He only had to know that a General had requested assistance, and he was available, so he was as agreeable as he could possibly be. Say no more, he instructed Jack. I'm there for you. He grinned, showing that he was teasing by quoting the oft utilized phrase.

Jack gave a small smile. This isn't a covert operation with lives at stake, you know. Relax, and it'll be okay. He glanced at Shanahan again, but spoke to John. Just don't... you know... leave me sitting here all alone. I'm less likely to make an ass of myself if I'm not alone, where there's no one around to stop me.

At that comment, John actually laughed. He did relax, but went on to suggest, If you'd like, we can go over to my hotel room and catch the game that's... But then he paused. Oh, yeah, Genie's there tonight, and might not understand me bringing someone I just met over to our room and all.

'Genie'? Jack inquired. She you're date for the wedding, or something?

John smirked. She's my wife. Then he amended, But I guess she is my date for the wedding, isn't she, as one of the only reasons I'm even here is because of her. He went on to explain, She's Julia-the-bride's second cousin twice removed, or something like that. Then he smiled a guilty little smile. Actually, I don't really know how they're related. I just asked for leave when she told me that I needed it, and I promised her that I'll show up at the rehearsal on time so that I can be one of Dan's ushers, and do things right, and not embarrass her by seating people on the wrong side of the church, or somethin,' he confided. This whole bachelor shindig really isn't my scene.

Jack felt, if he hadn't found a kindred spirit, then at least John was someone he could empathize with. I know what you mean. The whole 'getting drunk until you throw up' thing kind of played out about a decade or two ago.

Yeah, John answered. 'Been there, done that,' and all that sort of thing, he continued. He took a drink, then grabbed a handful of peanuts and started popping them into his mouth one by one. You never told me if you're married or anything... Genie would really like it if I can produce someone for her to talk to during the wedding reception.

Jack smiled, a bit sadly. But he answered, I'm afraid I'm one of those swinging bachelors that you've no doubt heard of.

You mean that you go to a party every weekend? John asked, and grinned, clearly teasing again according to his sarcastic tone of voice.

Jack didn't miss a beat. He matched sarcastic comment for sarcastic comment by saying, I'm so booked with social events that I meet myself both comin' and goin'

John gave a nod. In other words, you work all the time, and haven't been to anything quite like this shindig all year.

Jack grinned again. Yeah, something like that. He just knew that he would like this sardonic guy, he noted to himself, and took a drink of beer as he considered his new friend. John was so laid back as to be practically dead. But Jack rerouted his attention to the conversation they were having. The dating scene isn't exactly my thing anymore, he confessed. If I'm lucky enough to get home, I'd rather have a beer and watch some Simpsons on TV than have a hot date.

Yeah. John chuckled. It's been so long since I've had a hot date that I think I wouldn't know how to behave even if I had one. I'd probably open my beer can with my toes or something.

That would hardly impress a lady, Jack agreed.

Especially not one of them military ladies like I've met over the years. Tougher group of people I'll never meet! John emphatically said.

Jack had to agree. They can kick my sorry butt from here to Timbuktu in five seconds flat.

Don't you know it! John stated, then took another swig of beer. It's been so long since I had a beer that I think this is going right to my head!

Jack laughed, and lifted his own can in a salute to the other man. I know someone just like you, he said, referring fondly to Daniel. He can't hold his liquor for anything!

Kind of like these guys. John gave a rueful look around the room at all the swaying party guests. At least half the men at the party were drinking hard enough to already be drunk. You'd think cops could hold their liquor better than this. He added, Or at least know when they need to stop drinking alcohol.

Cops? Jack questioned.

Yeah, John replied. Isn't that groom guy a cop?

That would explain Shanahan's presence at the party. If he is, then Dan's changed professions since I last saw him, Jack told John. But I admit that when I last saw Dan, it was a loooong time ago! Like, about twenty years or so!

John shrugged. Yeah, it's kind of like those early postings of mine. You lose touch with the guys after awhile.

Jack smiled and took a drink from his own beer. Yeah, those guys that I knew twenty years ago would hardly recognize me now.

They didn't expect the whole rank thing? John queried.

I didn't expect the whole rank thing, Jack confided. I think the Joint Chiefs were asleep when they decided to give me that last promotion. I honestly don't know how else I could have gotten it. Then he mumbled, Unless everyone in Washington went crazy for a day, all at the same time.

John laughed, then changed the subject so that his wife couldn't later accuse him of talking only about military topics. Hey, do you know of any good places to eat around here? he asked Genie was saying just yesterday about wanting something besides pizza.

* * *

Surprisingly, several hours passed with this joking type of conversation before Jack even knew what was going on. He had already drunk his second beer, but stopped drinking alcoholic beverages after downing his second can from Dan's fridge, knowing that Daniel... or Carter, for that matter... would never let him hear the end of it if he needed to call a taxi, or heaven forbid, one of them, to drive him home from the party. He drank water for the rest of the evening, and he and John continued talking until John finally gave a big yawn.

Sorry! John quickly apologized. It isn't the company, but I must have jet lag or something. I'm really bushed!

Yeah, Jack agreed. I have a million bits of paperwork to authorize before I turn in for the night, he divulged. Gotta love that paperwork, he sarcastically said.

John grinned. Something tells me that I shouldn't be actively seeking that next promotion, he said, just as sardonic as Jack he been a moment earlier.

Oh, you can seek it, Jack told him. Just don't get assigned to lead anything. That's where all the paperwork is. And they never tell you about that, either.

John opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off when another shout rang across the apartment. Do... Do... The shouter drunkenly laughed, then tried again. Any of you guys... know... who to call... for a ride for this guy?

Jack and John looked back towards the kitchen as that question was asked, and saw none other than Pete Shanahan seated at the kitchen table, his head cradled in his bent arms, his face green as he groaned again. He didn't look up at the shout. Jack didn't think that he could look up at the shout.

But the original shouter was shouting again. He... He... kinda needs a... a lift...

Is that a lift home? someone else called back. Then the voice leeringly went on, Or a lift somewhere else? The gathered men all collapsed into a fit of laughter then.

Crap! Jack thought. Double crap! Carter would kill him and serve him for dinner if he didn't say something, and come to Shanahan's rescue. So he reluctantly called, Yeah I know where he can go. Literally.

The first shouter pointed to a corner of the kitchen, and said, There's the... the... He tried hard, but was unsuccessful at saying the word 'phone.'

Jack rescued him by interrupting. Nevermind, he ascerbically replied. I think I can find it. He set his glass of water down on the coffee table, then crossed to Dan's kitchen wall phone. He heard Pete give another groan as he passed near him, and gave a shudder. The man wreaked of beer, sweat, and vomit, and even Jack's seasoned nose wrinkled. He waved a hand in front of his face. Whew! It had been a long time since he'd been that drunk! He picked up the phone receiver just as another thought struck him.

He could never do this to Carter, never wake her up in the middle of the night, and ask her to drag herself through the dark to take care of... He gave Pete another glance, then finished his thought... to take care of her fiancé that also happened to be in Pete's current condition. Besides the fact that she would hardly attribute a nice attitude to her Commanding Officer (and Jack always wanted her to visualize him as being nice), but after seeing him in a place like this... with people like this... and he didn't want Carter equating her fiancé's behavior with her CO's...

Crap! With an aggravated bang, Jack returned the receiver to its place on the wall phone. He turned around to look where his new acquaintance had gone off to. There he was, still in the same chair. Jack crossed back over to the apartment's living area. As he replaced his blazer, he asked John, You up for helping a really pissed off General be not so pissed off?

John rose until he was standing beside the chair he'd spent the evening in. Sure, he replied. I was thinking about leaving, anyway. Genie must be ready to turn in for the night by now.

Jack gave a sigh, but gestured at John, then looked at Pete drooling now on the kitchen table. Come on then, he said to John. Give me a hand with him. He led the way over to stand beside Pete's form, and wrinkled his nose again. This might be a short bit of helping, but it sure as Hell won't be pretty. Man, the things he was willing to do for Sam Carter! He was turning into a total sap in his old age, he grumbled to himself as he reached for the lump at the table that was Pete. He turned to John. Can you grab hold of his other side? he requested. I got this side.

Ugh! John grunted as he helped lift Pete from the table. Come on, dude, give us a hand here! he told Pete in a low voice. You better be worth all this effort!

He's not, Jack said, making sure to do his part and support Pete from his side even as he made the comment.

If he's not worth it, John grunted, indicating Pete as they made their way towards the apartment door, Then why are we helping him like this?

Jack replied, Because his fiancé's a very good friend of mine. I can't just dump him on her as he is. I'm mean, but not that mean.

Fiancé? John grumbled. She must be one heck of a special lady for us to go to this much trouble.

Jack's reply came readily. Oh, she's one of a kind. Too bad cop-boy here doesn't know what he's getting. Jack grunted as he led the way into the much quieter hallway. It figures that there would be no elevators in this building, and Dan would have to live on the second floor, he grumbled.

They struggled to pull Pete towards the outside door, then down the stairs built into the side of the building. Pete was so heavy in his drunken stupor that Jack almost lost his grip on him as they reached the final step. He would have hoped that Carter appreciated what he was saving her from, but he knew that, without a doubt, Carter could never hear about this from anyone. If she even suspected that he would go to this level just so that he could be considered 'nice' by her...

They made their way over to where Jack had parked his truck for the evening, and Jack fished his keys out of his front pocket as John supported the mumbling police officer.

With a heave and a lot of maneuvering, the two men got Pete situated into the front passenger seat of the vehicle, and the seat belt around him, then Jack slammed the door shut with another expelled breath of air. Whew! He turned to smile at John. Think I earned my General's stars over that one.

John agreed. I would guess so! Too bad he won't remember any of this, or maybe he could have put in a good word for you at your next personnel evaluation, he lightly joked.

Jack snorted. Like I want him to put in a good word for me. No, think I'll just give it my best shot on my own.

John drew in one final deep breath. I somehow think that you'll be okay, he said. And if you need any help getting him home...

Naw, Jack commented. I'll just sort of let him roll down to my couch.

At least it's not uphill... You don't have to drag him all the way to a second floor, do you? John asked as he peered at Jack.

Jack shook his head. It's the couch for him, I think. He smiled once more at John, then offered his own hand this time. If you're ever in town again, look me up and give me a call.

Sure thing, John answered. Sure wish you were coming to the wedding, he lamented. It would give me someone to talk to. Then he sighed. But, I can't have everything, I guess. So I'll be seeing you around, he said, then turned to walk to his own vehicle.

Thanks, John. I owe you one, Jack called after him. Jack sighed, then clutched his keys even tighter in his hands. He mumbled to himself, I sure hope that in one of those alternate realities, Carter appreciates the heck out of this. He climbed into his truck, and while Pete snoozed, snoring softly on the seat beside him, Jack drove home through the darkened streets.

* * *

The next morning found Jack sitting at his dining room table, calmly eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, and reading the daily newspaper headlines, when Pete slowly slipped around the corner from the living room. The cop's surprised, indrawn breath alerted Jack that he could no longer pretend that he didn't have an overnight guest.

I wondered where I'd gone off to, Pete said as his opening sentence.

Jack continued to read the headlines and didn't bother to look at Pete, but said, You were passed out drunk, so instead of inflicting the likes of that on Carter, I brought you here.

Pete remained standing in the doorway leading from Jack's front hall to his dining room, appearing ill at ease, but carefully looking the house over as well. I know that we've only met a few times... He gave Jack a quizzical glance. I thought you didn't like me, he stated. Sam says that I'm being stupid when I say that, but that's...

Jack cut him off. This isn't a complete change around for me, you know. I'm doing this for Carter, he said in such a no-nonsense tone that anyone listening to him had to believe every word he said as the God-honest truth.

Pete stared some more, not completely comprehending all that was happening around him, clearly, as the expression on his face became more and more confused. So, what's this whole sleeping-one-off in your house for? Is it because of Sam? Is that why you're being so nice to me now?

Jack suppressed a desire to roll his eyes at the other man's seeming lack of ability to quickly think on his feet. Of course, he reluctantly realized, it was hard to think at all, let alone quickly, when a hangover was pounding on your skull like a hammer blow to the head. And Pete Shanahan had to have a doozy of a hangover right now, Jack had to remind himself. But he needed to answer Pete's question. I've always liked Carter - certainly well enough to know that it would be a very good idea to keep this from her. Then his face grew harder as he said, But make no mistake... You're here because I don't want her to be bothered with drunks.

Pete grunted, and continued with his looking around Jack's house by openly peering at everything, looking for clues... but clues to what, Jack couldn't say. Well, at least you're being honest, Pete said as he looked, then muttered, Uh... Thanks for that. But... uh... where's my car?

Jack crisply folded the paper in his hands, letting it make lots of noise as he answered, Your car's still at Dan's apartment parking lot.

There was another silence, so Jack rose to place the bowl he'd been using for his breakfast cereal in the kitchen dishwasher. If his chair scraped against the dining room floor, making Pete wince at the noise, then he could hardly help it, could he?

Um, Pete finally said. How am I supposed to get back there? he queried. You want me to call Sam?

As if! Jack brusquely announced, Carter only hears about this over my dead body. I'm not loading a hungover... Here, he glanced at Shanahan, and decided that after the kind of night he'd had pulling the man into the house all by himself, it was as accurate a description as he could get without using curse words. So he went on, I'm not foisting a guy who's sick with a hangover on Carter right off the bat one Friday morning, he finished. I wouldn't do that to her.

Pete looked like he didn't know quite what to say. Sooo.., he tried. How am I going to get back to my car, then?

Geez! Could this man think of nothing by himself? Jack dropped the bowl into the dishwasher. It clanked loudly against the other dishes already in the machine. He allowed himself a pleased, inward smile as Pete winced again. He straightened, and asked, You got money for a cab?

Pete reached around to draw his wallet out of his back pocket. He opened it up, peered inside, then shook his head, as if he were trying to clear it.

Double vision? Jack asked, not quite sounding polite in the asking.

Um... yeah, Pete responded. Finally he had to close one eye before he could get a good look at the contents of his wallet. All I have is one dollar... That will get me to the next block, he said. I guess I can walk from there.

Jack gave a sigh, and looking irritated enough to take on the entire world by himself in a fight, he dug through the front pocket of the BDUs he was wearing that day, and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed a number, but while the phone was still ringing, Pete said to him, I really don't know why you'd drag me all the way over here for the night, then call the police to haul my sorry ass back home.

Jack sent a glare at Pete standing in his dining room. Relax, he ordered. I'm not calling the police. Then he returned the phone to his ear just as the other end was answered. Hey, Walter, Jack said into the phone. This is the General... He paused as Walter said something. Keep your shirt on, Jack testily replied. I'll be there in about half an hour, but can you do something for me first? Can you call Motor Pool and have an Airman drive to the house to give someone a ride home? Jack paused again as Walter said more. An expression of irritation crossed over his face. It's not what you're thinking, Walter. Jack listened again, then said, It's not like that. But Walter cut him off once more, and Jack was forced to listen to more words from his aid. Jack tried several times to cut in to explain, and finally, had to coldly interrupt Walter to bluntly tell him, Look, I have Shanahan here, and he needs a ride home, so send an Airman to my house. He shrugged. That's all I'm after, so just call, please. Then he added, And don't say anything to Colonel Carter about this, will ya? She might think that I'm the one who needs a ride after last night. He paused again, then confirmed, Yeah, the party was all right. You know, there was a lot of alcohol, food, general debauchery... The usual. He smiled a bit as Walter then said his good byes. See you in about half an hour. He slapped the phone shut, then looked at Pete. That gives you a few minutes to take a shower, clean yourself up a bit before an Airman gets here. He looked Pete over with a critical, discerning eye. You are capable of taking a shower this morning, aren't you?

Pete would have glowered back at him, but the nausea he was clearly fighting, according to the greenish cast to his face, kind of ruined the whole 'tough guy' image he was trying to project. Yeah, he replied to Jack's inquiry as most of his attention remained on not throwing up in front of his fiancé's friend. His dilemma must have reminded him of a problem in that plan for a shower, for he next commented, I don't have anything that's clean to wear with me, so..,

Jack interrupted him. There's already some clothes in the bathroom. At Pete's look of surprise, he shrugged and explained, The clothes in the bathroom are too small for me, anyway. Go on and keep them.

Uh... Pete obviously didn't know what to say to that kind of generosity when Jack was obviously not being very generous at all, according to Jack's earlier harsh tone. Thanks, he said anyway.

Jack pointed him in the right direction to the bathroom. Just don't forget that all this is for Carter, he said.

I'm not likely to forget, Pete muttered as he disappeared in the direction of the bathroom.

Jack let himself truly smile the moment the man vanished down the hall. Good, he said to himself, and grinned some more.

* * *

Ten minutes later, a dark colored, nondescript car pulled into Jack's driveway just as Pete appeared again, wearing dark blue sweats and a white t-shirt with the Air Force logo emblazoned on it. Just that morning, Jack had secretly thought it was appropriate for the man to be wearing the clothes that not only hadn't fit him for ten years, but also advertised the organization that both he and Sam were part of. It was unvoiced commentary that Jack and Sam belonged to something bigger than themselves, and belonged to that organization together, while Shanahan didn't belong to it at all, not according to his usual attire, minus the logo in this case. But Jack didn't say a word to Pete about the outfit other than to say that it came from what was meant to be a pile of cast off clothes due to sizing issues, and that he guessed all those extra muscles from saving the world were catching up to him.

Pete didn't know what to do with that information, either. Uh, he stuttered. Thanks for the clothes.

Geez! What did Carter talk about to the man, anyway? Jack shook his head in amazement, but hid the gesture under the guise of answering the knock that they heard on the front door just then.

An Airman stood stiffly on the front step. He saluted. General, was all he said.

Jack pointed to Pete. I want you to take him to this address. He gave a piece of paper with Dan's address written on it to the Airman. And I order you to say nothing to Colonel Carter about this transaction. Am I understood?

The Airman gave a brief nod. Perfectly, Sir.

Jack went on. Is there anyone else I need to order not to talk?

The Airman immediately replied, Major Cornell, Sir, my superior officer. And we need to have the record of your request deleted from the computer database, or ordering us to silence won't have much of an effect.

Okay, Jack briskly said. You take care of recording the information of this ride in some other way, and of wiping this entry from the database when you get back to the mountain, and I'll take care of talking to Major Cornell, Jack continued.

Yes, Sir, the Airman replied. Then he turned towards Pete. If you will follow me, Sir, he respectfully said.

Don't forget your clothes, Jack reminded the hungover Pete.

Pete tried to keep up with the conversation as he gathered his clothes into his arms. Thanks, for everything, he said to Jack as he passed by on his way out the open door and on into the morning sunshine. I won't forget any of this, he promised.

Oh, Jack quietly said. I hope you do. Then he added, And remember, you don't owe me for anything. You don't even owe me any thanks for this. Any gratitude you owe, you owe it all to Carter. Then he looked like he felt a bit awkward to even be mentioning Carter in the first place to her fiancé, but, his voice quieter yet, said, Treat her well... that's all I ask.

Jack was about to issue a sigh of relief that both men were gone, and close the door behind them, when Pete stopped him with a hand resting against the wood of the still open front door. He commented, You ain't doin' this for me... You don't even like me, so... He looked at Jack through the open door, the Airman standing one step behind him. He thoughtfully added, You really must love her a lot to do this for her.

For a moment, Jack remained silent as he frantically considered how best to respond to such personal commentary. But mostly, he was busy trying to keep his emotions under control. He was almost too angry to think straight, but he did know that it wouldn't do for a General to lose his temper and strike out at an unsuspecting civilian. Yet, he felt the deep fury laced with remorse course through his veins. Through the silent moments that followed Pete's statement, Pete calmly leaned on the door frame as he waited for Jack to reply to what he had said.

But Jack couldn't reply. He worked his mouth through his teeth clenched against his anger. By making such a comment in the first place, if the observation was innocent or not, Pete had insinuated that a respected military officer was silently suffering under the curse of feeling affections for one under his own command. He had made that same comment of Jack while, if not knowing for certain, then at least Pete had to suspect that such affections were against military regulations. The man couldn't know Carter well enough to be engaged to her and not know something about the military she worked for. And worst of all, Pete had made his comment right in front of a witness of that same military.

The best side of Jack's personality made him guess that Pete had said what he'd said out of ignorance, with no real idea of what he had just done. But the fact that Jack simultaneously wondered at Pete's more dubious reasons behind saying what he'd said in the first place, due to Pete's naturally suspicious nature, was entirely too disturbing; The thought that Pete could even consider harming Sam or her career by referring to her in that sentence just to hurt Jack at the same time was reprehensible in Jack's seasoned opinion.

Shanahan, Jack began softly, and employing the same tone of voice that he used right before a battle; soft, serious, and deadly. What you just said could lead Carter straight to a court-martial in the worst scenario. I hope, for your sake, that you didn't mean those comments, as an accusation against either myself, or Carter, because if you did, you had better leave, now, before I choose to forget that I'm a General in the United States Air Force, and beat the crap out of your sorry hide right here, and right now. He drew a deep breath in through his nose, trying to calm himself, but felt his grip on his anger slip another notch nonetheless. You have Carter to thank for all the good that has happened here so far today, but don't make the mistake of thinking that even she can protect you from all that I might choose to do to you. What she sees in your slimy, suspicious, control-freak little mind is beyond me. He continued on in the same subdued tone, And what a distrustful guy like you is doing with someone whose middle name means 'classified' is also something I can't quite comprehend. But she's made her choice, and I accept that. Once again he met Pete's gaze head on, and bitingly said, Now get out of here before I completely lose my temper, and forget how truly awful a court-martial really is. 'Cause it's seeming less and less awful all the time. Jack breathed some more, shaking in the anger he felt tumbling through his body.

But Pete just didn't seem to know when a good thing was a good thing. He said, Don't try to convince me that you and she haven't been involved in the past, or...

The second that Pete referred to Carter, and Jack's and Carter's past 'involvement,' was when Jack finally lost his fight with his temper. His voice lowered even further to grow quieter yet. I'm only going to explain this once, Shannie, he dangerously growled, deliberately shortening the man's name. I care about all the members of my old team. We're all 'involved' in friendly relationships. However, by making such a comment like you did, you are insinuating that I, as well as Colonel Carter, have broken regulations, and I won't allow a slimeball like you to insinuate anything of the sort. He jerked his head towards the car parked in his drive. Airman, take him out of here.

The Airman put a cautious hand on Pete's arm, as if he were telling him to 'Come with me,' and they both backed away, leaving Jack alone, trembling in his opened doorway. He clutched his fists and let them thump in small, controlled motions against the door jamb just before he slammed the door shut with a satisfying thud. It was only then that Jack let his true feelings wash through him.

Crap, crap, crap, crap! Jack rested his forehead against the wood of his closed door for a moment, silently cursing his noble streak that made him let drunk people sleep on his sofa after parties. Anybody could see that the only reason that he could possibly be this upset at those comments was that there had to be some truth in Shanahan's suggestion. The people at the SGC weren't dumb... They would see the truth long before he was ready for them to see it.

Crap! Jack softly cursed again, ground his head painfully against the wood of the door, then finally pushed himself off and away from the paneled wood. Crap.

Feeling highly mortified, but still able to think fairly clearly, Jack grabbed his car keys from the tiny hall table beside the door. As soon as he heard the other car leave the driveway, he jerked open the door to head for his truck. As he walked, he concentrated on slowly regaining his sense of himself, and he finally began to calm down. By the time he'd reached his truck, he was mostly in control of himself again. But even as he gripped the steering wheel, his hands still shook.

* * *

Jack entered the SGC ten minutes before an oblivious Colonel Carter stepped into the Control Room. It was long enough for him to talk on the phone to Major Cornell of the Motor Pool, and order the Major not to speak of the morning's details to Colonel Carter. By the time Carter first visited her lab to read any email she'd received after she'd left the day before, then start for her visit to the Control Room to check on the 'Gate, a normal morning routine for her, Jack had spoken to all those he needed to speak to in order to keep Carter from ever hearing of the events that had transpired the previous night and that morning. Or at least, that's what he thought.

In the time it took for Carter to reach the Control Room for her usual early morning diagnostic of the 'Gate, the entire base personnel knew all about the event that she wasn't supposed to know about. The fact that General O'Neill had said 'don't talk to Colonel Carter' to the key players in the drama meant that they didn't talk to her... They talked to everybody else who would listen for a few moments to their story. They weren't breaking orders... technically. They were just... bending them... a bit.

And so, with her usual, perky, happy-to-be-alive expression on her face, Carter approached a free computer terminal that Friday morning, and sat in the chair pulled up to it. But before she'd even had time to type her access code on the keyboard, she was aware of the hush that had fallen over the room from the minute she had walked in.

Carter looked up, noticed that Sergeant Harriman was taking nanosecond long glances at her, and she widened her puzzled/startled study of him to include those in the entire room. Then she nervously smiled, but whispered out of the side of her mouth in the Sergeant's direction, Why is everyone staring at me?

Harriman 's nervousness increased exponentially the moment she spoke directly to him. Uh.., he tried to stall.

Carter continued whispering, overriding his attempt at an explanation. Did I do something yesterday that I shouldn't have done? she asked. Should I be prepared for a court-martial that I didn't expect this morning? She was only half joking.

Panicked, Harriman glanced around the room, but finally said, I really shouldn't say.

That statement surprised Carter. She'd been right about something happening... Sergeant Harriman hadn't said that something hadn't... but she couldn't even begin to imagine what she had done wrong. She decided that she needed more information before she drew the incorrect conclusions. What did I do wrong, Sergeant? she asked.

You didn't do anything wrong that I know of, Harriman responded, still whispering to her as the noise in the Control Room only now began to return to its normal chaotic hum.

Carter raised her voice so that the Sergeant could hear her over that hum. So... If I didn't do something wrong, then why is everyone staring at me? Harriman remained quiet after her insistent question, so she tried once more. Sergeant, what..?

Harriman cut her off. I can't disobey the direct order given to me that I shouldn't say a word to you about what happened yesterday, he eventually divulged.

That statement surprised Carter even more. Her eyes slid to take in his fidgeting form. You were ordered not to tell me about yesterday? she quietly asked.

Harriman nodded, his eyes wide behind his glasses.

Carter went on, making her tone as comforting sounding as she could, specifying, You were ordered not to tell just me, or me and a whole lot of other people?

The Sergeant first nodded his head, then shook it as she voiced the second half of her question. That way he told her a bit of the specifics about his orders without actually saying anything to her. I know that I'm drawing a fine line with my interpretation of my orders, Colonel. Perhaps you should continue asking these types of questions to someone else who can tell you more, like Sergeant Siler, who won't be breaking any orders, Ma'am.

Carter's forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. Siler? she questioningly repeated.

Harriman nodded. He knows about everything that happens around here, the General's aid nervously acknowledged. I'm fairly certain that he might know what's going on if anybody would know.

So, still unsure of what had happened, Carter thoughtfully narrowed her eyes, then crossed the room to an empty chair near Sergeant Siler, and sat so that she could interrogate him in comfort.

But Siler had anticipated her wish for information. I wasn't there, Colonel, he informed her the minute she sat down. You would be better off speaking to... His expression clouded over, as if he were mentally running through a list of people he had heard through the SGC grapevine who couldn't talk to Colonel Carter, versus those who could speak to her about the events of he day before, and finally said, If I were you, I'd have either Doctor Jackson or Teal'c visit the Motor Pool to speak to Airman McGillis sooner rather than later, before he gets off night duty, and leaves for his home. Teal'c and Dr. Jackson haven't been ordered to silence, after all.

For the third time during her first hour at work, Carter was shocked enough to show her surprise. The Motor Pool, she repeated. Teal'c or Daniel. Siler nodded. All right, she slowly agreed, then rose from her chair and headed out of the Control Room, an expression of curiosity on her face. Even Siler's behavior had been a puzzle. But she loved puzzles, so she agreed to his suggestion with a only a sense of bafflement in her demeanor. Thanks.

She felt like one of those historically great detectives attempting to uncover an equally great discovery by following the appropriate clues in the correct order. Daniel hadn't arrived at work yet, so she soon found herself knocking on the door to Teal'c's quarters.

The big man answered her summons, and upon seeing her, smiled his pleasure at her unprecedented visit to his quarters. He asked, May I be of service to you, ColonelCarter?

Yep, Teal'c, you can, Carter replied. Sergeant Siler told me to come see you so that I can get an explanation of what happened yesterday. Her expression turned to one of bewilderment then. Sergeant Harriman would have told me, I think, but he's been ordered not to say anything specific. It's all very mysterious, if you ask me, she commented with a grin. So Teal'c... do you know what's going on? Or went on? Or something? Then she stared at him more closely. Unless you've been ordered not to talk to me, either, and no one was informed about it?

Teal'c took a moment to stare at her. At last, he very softly spoke, as if what he was about to tell her was not for her own good to hear, and he didn't want to be caught as the one finally telling her, but wanting to speak of it all the same. I have not been ordered to avoid speaking to you, and will therefore tell you what I know of the topic, he reluctantly said. Then he continued, However, I do not think that you will like what I have to say about yesterday's and this morning's events.

This morning? More had happened this morning? She hadn't heard that so far. Sam's forehead puckered. What could have possibly happened that garnered this kind of a reaction from everyone, including the unflappable Jaffa? What did you hear, Teal'c?

But Teal'c drew her into his quarters and shut his door before he said anything. When he did speak, even with the door closed, it was still in subdued tones. Sam sat on the edge of his bed, listening intently to his every word. What I heard, Teal'c began. As well as what I witnessed for myself, all came to me through regular gossip channels, and should be treated as the gossip that it is. However, he conceded, Gossip and rumors usually have their roots in truth. It does well to keep this point in mind.

Teal'c, Carter prompted, now curious beyond her wildest imaginings. Just tell me, she ordered.

So Teal'c said, Yesterday, DanielJackson told me that O'Neill had a marriage party to attend for a relative last evening, he said with a wrinkled nose.

A bachelor party, Carter said, showing that she understood his meaning. Go on, she invited.

Teal'c contined, Because of this party, O'Neill would be unable to join us in viewing the Harry Potter film we had rented. He paused, and Carter waved a hand through the air to 'encourage' him to hurry on with his story.

So Teal'c went on. This morning, I was walking with Sergeant Harriman in an SGC corridor when we met Airman McGillis after his night duty shift ended. Airman McGillis said that he had recently arrived back on base after taking a MrShanahan home from O'Neill's house. Then, Teal'c's face took on an air of puzzlement as well. I did not connect the two occurrences until several minutes later, but I do believe that PeteShanahan also attended this 'bachelor party,' and that PeteShanahan then spent the night at O'Neill's residence, much the worse for alcohol, as Airman McGillis reported it. Upon leaving O'Neill's residence this morning, PeteShanahan... Teal'c hesitated, and finally muttered, 'Accused' is not the correct word to use in this case. He thought for a moment before settling on a different phrase. PeteShanahan wished to know if it was true that O'Neill is guilty of having broken regulations by having 'feelings' for you that are less than military-professional, and acting upon these feelings. Airman McGillis then reported that O'Neill was 'so angry at hearing such an asinine story that he vibrated with the effort not to tear the man limb from limb.' Teal'c's puzzlement increased. How would it have helped in that situation to tear PeteShanahan's limbs off?

It was by far the most Sam had ever heard the Jaffa say at one time. Still Sam balked, barely paying attention to how many comments Teal'c had just made, or to his last question. She was busy considering the details of Teal'c's story.

Pete had been at the General's house? All night? And when he had finally left, he'd basically accused the General of...

Carter's heart froze in her chest as a feeling of absolute horror accosted her. Crap! She managed a weak smile for her friend, but felt sick even while she answered him, Threatening to tear someone's limbs off is just an expression, Teal'c. But in truth, she felt the cold ball of horror congeal again in her stomach. In her mind flashed images of an angry General O'Neill vibrating back and forth as he yelled at Pete.

Yet, she was more worried about General O'Neill's reputation than of her own. People had been court-martialed for lesser offenses than what Pete had suggested she and O'Neill had done! She still turned red at the way that the General's 'concern' for her had manifested itself. No wonder all the base personnel were discussing her this morning! But she didn't know who she was turning red for, O'Neill, for vibrating in anger, acting like her protector, as if she needed a protector (she didn't)(and protection from what?), or for Pete, for making such a ridiculous comment as he had made in the first place.

But Teal'c had more information to relate. Airman McGillis then said that he had been ordered by O'Neill to say nothing to you about PeteShanahan's accommodations, nor condition, neither of last night, nor of this morning. McGillis declared that his superior officer had also been ordered to say nothing to you, and that the Motor Pool ride database should be wiped of any recording of this morning's occurrence, after the data had been recorded in another way. Teal'c looked at her in curiosity again. Does not O'Neill's order to wipe the computer database also break with regulations, ColonelCarter?

Carter managed a weaker smile this time. General O'Neill only had the Motor Pool wipe out the one transaction, Teal'c, not the entire database, she guessed. That distinction was important, but she couldn't force her sluggish mind to understand why. Still, she knew that it was important that Teal'c understand this point, so she automatically soothed him, It'll be all right for the General. In the meantime, her mind churned over several issues at once as she said her words. She barely grasped the fact that General O'Neill must have given a drunk Pete a ride to his home, and a place to spend the night, as well as providing him with a ride this morning. What she didn't understand was why he hadn't just called her to the party to deal with Pete on her own.

She had known none of the goings on the night before, nor the morning after the party. She didn't doubt that Pete had lost his common sense, and drunk far too much beer the previous night, as he occasionally did at parties such as the one he had told her he planned to attend the night before. It had indeed been a Bachelor Party, she knew, and she planned to attend the wedding for Pete's friend Dan with Pete this weekend. The coincidence that Pete's friend also happened to be General O'Neill's relative made her reel. She hadn't even known that the General had any relatives!

Added to those facts, she felt the bitterness of anger at hearing of Pete's 'observation' of the General. How could he treat General O'Neill that way, after being provided with a place to sleep that night? And she was highly concerned about the way he had employed her name in that same 'observation.' No wonder General O'Neill had been angry. She was angry!

At last, she took a breath to calm her churning emotions, and turned to her friend. What do you think I should do? she asked in a small voice as she thought about the situation. What kind of advice do you have to give for this..? She didn't even know what to call what had happened! An instance of a really bad choice of words? A soap opera? A love triangle? She immediately discounted the idea of it being a love triangle. She knew it couldn't be that... didn't she?

Ignoring the implications of her own thoughts, and uncomfortable at the direction of those thoughts, Carter looked at Teal'c again, concern laced with guilt written all over her face.

Fortunately, Teal'c had an answer ready for her. He said, I suggest that you call PeteShanahan and ask him for an explanation of what happened at last night's party that caused this morning's occurrence. Perhaps this is merely the product of misinformation, and will be cleared up with a phone call.

Carter brightened momentarily at that idea. Call him... That's good, Teal'c! I bet he can tell me what went on, she exclaimed.

But it turned out that a phone call was not as helpful as Carter had at first thought it would be. Pete sounded groggy when he answered the summons of his cell phone. Hello? he said.

Pete, Carter said as neutrally as she could given the circumstances. Are you just waking up? Is this a bad time to talk?

Pete quickly replied. Um... Late night, is all. What do you need?

Carter gave a little laugh into the receiver, and without even thinking that she shouldn't, concocted a story to give as the reason behind her early morning phone call. Well, you see, it's like this... I don't quite know what to give to Dan and Julia as a wedding gift, and I thought you might have seen Dan's need for something while you were at his apartment for the Bachelor Party last night. She practically crossed her fingers for Pete's not knowing that she was telling him a fabrication, just to see what he would say.

Pete gave a tiny laugh himself. Sorry, Babe, but I was a bit too drunk to notice anything last night.

Carter was gratified that he had at least admitted to being drunk the night before. So what happened? she asked. How is it that you're home if you got drunk?

Pete's laugh was stronger this time. No worries, Babe, he said. I didn't get drunk and then drive home. He laughed again. I was too far gone for driving, and I knew that much, at least, he said. I was going to crash at Dan's, but there wasn't room, so a friend of mine from the Force said that he would take me to his place. Then I called a cab this morning, had the driver take me back to Dan's apartment building, got my car, and drove home. I've been home for a few minutes, but I guess those few minutes was all I needed to fall asleep again. Something tells me that there was too much general debauchery going on at the party last night for many of the guys to show up at the office today.

Carter forced her own giggle of agreement out of her mouth, but her insides froze. Pete's story of last night's proceedings was different from what Teal'c had told her that he had heard this morning. And she instinctively trusted Teal'c's word.

But didn't she trust Pete's word as well? A whisper in her mind argued that she had known Teal'c a lot longer than she had known Pete.

She made her excuses for hanging up, then. I don't want to keep you if you're still sleeping one off, she said to Pete. I know how uncomfortable talking is in that condition. So I'll see you tomorrow for the wedding.

1:30, then? Pete inquired. That's when I'll pick you up for the 2:00 wedding?

Right, Carter confirmed. See you later. She hung up the phone.

Teal'c immediately said, I can deduce from the expression on your face that this phone conversation did not go well.

Carter shook her head, feeling like she was trapped in a daze. No, Teal'c, she replied. You can say that it didn't go well at all. Then she tried to go on, He... Carter had to swallow before she could say, He said something about being too drunk to drive home last night, that there had been too much 'general debauchery' at the party, and that a friend from the Police Force drove him to his place. Then, this morning, he took a cab back to Dan's, got his car, and drove home. My phone call woke him up after he had fallen asleep again.

Teal'c gave her a questioning look. 'General debauchery' was the same phrase that Sergeant Harriman said that O'Neill had earlier used to describe the party from last night. It is odd that PeteShanahan would use the same words to describe the event.

Sam tried to remember to breathe. And it's not a typical phrase, she told him. It sounds more like something that General O'Neill would say than Pete would say, truthfully.

Teal'c still appeared puzzled, and looked at her with his unsettled expression. Should you not speak to someone else who was at the party for a third opinion on what happened?

That means that he thinks I should talk to the General, Carter realized. You think I should talk to General O'Neill, don't you? she asked him.

Teal'c bowed his head wordlessly in her direction.

Carter sent her friend a wan smile. But the idea of talking to the General scares me to death! she divulged in a small voice. If I do, he'll figure that I know about the gag orders, who got them, and that something's going on today at work for me to even think I had to ask him for an explanation of what happened last night and this morning. She shook her head. I don't know if I can do that, especially considering this all came from Pete accusing him... and me... Her voice trailed off.

Teal'c said into the following silence, You will not know of what transpired last evening and this morning if you do not speak to O'Neill.

Carter looked at Teal'c then, her eyes wide with a frightening thought. And what if the General tells me another different story? she asked. What should I do then?

Teal'c cocked his head, as if he were considering her plight. Would O'Neill behave in such a disrespectful manner as to create a story to appease you? he asked.

Carter tilted her own head. Are you suggesting that Pete would? she asked.

Teal'c sighed, and remained quiet while looking at her with great intensity. Finally, he said, I did not wish to tell you of this, ColonelCarter, but perhaps now is the time to say something.

There was more? Carter's brows lowered again in her bewilderment. Tell me what, Teal'c? she asked.

Teal'c sighed once again. He stood in the center of the room, his hands clasped behind his back, then told her. The DanielJackson/Osiris Operation occurred several months ago, he reported. PeteShanahan appeared quite suddenly at the scene of that Operation, and was shot as a result. He was transported to the Infirmary here at the base.

Carter nodded, still confused. That's right, she said, agreeing with him. Colonel O'Neill gave Pete enough clearance so that I could tell him some things about the Stargate program, she said. I remember.

Teal'c looked at her again, his expression serious once more. My first thought upon the arrival of PeteShanahan at DanielJackson's home was to wonder what this unknown stranger was doing there, and why did SG-1 need to be saving him? Then I began to wonder at O'Neill's decision to take him to the base for further care. Then I wondered at why O'Neill gave clearance to this unknown individual to hear about a highly secret program. After pondering all this for several hours, I decided that the common equivalent...

Common denominator, Teal'c, Carter automatically corrected, her voice sounding tired now. But she continued, saying, That's the right phrase to use.

Teal'c again bowed his head. The common denominator, he repeated, was you. When I asked for clarification as to why conditional clearance had been granted to this unknown man, O'Neill only told me that the reason behind all the odd occurrences was you. At first, I thought that perhaps you had contracted a plague off world that had infected you. But O'Neill told me instead that this man was a person you had been seeing socially for some time. He then asked me not to say anything to you about him granting clearance to PeteShanahan. I complied, and said nothing. But I also looked on the Internet in order to answer my many questions about the affair, as DanielJackson is often encouraging me to do when I have questions concerning Earth culture. This event with PeteShanahan gave me much to research.

Carter's expression was more curious now rather than had the serious cast that Teal'c's features still wore. What did you find? she asked.

Teal'c said, Ultimately, nothing. Then DanielJackson suggested that I also research the word 'stalker' in my quest. He believed that PeteShanahan 'stalked,' or followed you to his home.

Sam argued, You could say that Pete's being there wasn't him following me at all, but was nothing more than a typical police detective's curiosity.

Teal'c argued back, Yet, PeteShanahan must have been aware of such a description possibly being ascribed to his actions.

Carter gave a nervous laugh through her nose. 'Stalker,' she quietly repeated. That's the word that Pete and I talked about right before he proposed to me in the park, she next added. He and I both laughed off his suddenly showing up at the Osiris Op by supposedly 'stalking' me, but I've always wondered if I shouldn't have been so quick to laugh it off. Carter looked horrified now. I guess I should pay more attention next time to my gut feelings, she said, then gestured to Teal'c to continue.

So Teal'c continued as quickly as possible, asking the question, Do you think that PeteShanahan was, indeed, 'stalking' you?

Carter sat for a moment, not saying anything. At last, she took a breath, and admitted, It's possible. She paused, and Teal'c asked another question.

Why do you think that it is possible? Explain.

Carter smiled a small smile at his abrupt manner. That comment was so Teal'c. Then she quietly admitted more than she ever had, even to herself, I never wanted to delve too deeply into the question of just why Pete was where he shouldn't have been that day. She peered at her friend, divulging, As long as I didn't know anything for certain, then I could pretend that the explanation that he gave for his being there was valid.

You wished to pretend? Teal'c clarified.

Carter nodded, but looked down at the floor as she did.

However, Teal'c looked as if he was satisfied with her nod. To continue, he said. The internet displayed many laws about stalking. These laws differ from state to state. Colorado law states that the simple act of following a person in a public setting is considered 'stalking.' O'Neill, too, agreed with my assessment of the situation. But he then asked once more that I say nothing to you. Teal'c's expression again grew bewildered. I did not understand this request, yet DanielJackson did. He suspected that the feelings between you and O'Neill were the cause of O'Neill's request to say nothing. I then connected the two together when DanielJackson spoke of them.

Carter's eyes were huge by this time. Her heart hammered in her chest. Only Teal'c could so succinctly cut to the heart of a matter such as this, she wryly thought. Yet, she still tried to ignore the insistent thumping of her heart.

Teal'c went on when she remained silent, The fact that PeteShanahan appeared at the Osiris site that day was something that I still did not understand, however. DanielJackson proclaimed that it was a 'good bet' that he had followed you there. According to Colorado law, by following you in a public place without your knowledge or consent, PeteShanahan was in effect 'stalking' you, and stalking is considered by many people to be a... Teal'c appeared bewildered again, then remembered the correct word. It is considered to be a 'crime,' he said with satisfaction that he had recalled the right word.

Carter actually groaned out loud now. Pete claimed that I didn't trust him when I mentioned that I couldn't tell him about what I do for a living. He must have followed me all over the place, looking for an explanation to what I couldn't tell him.

Teal'c's gaze softened as he stared at her. What do you intend to do now? he inquired of her.

Carter stared up at him, her eyes still wide in fear and horror. She looked confused at the very least. I don't know, she admitted at last. I guess I should first hear what the General has to say about what he thinks happened last night and this morning, she said. If his story is the same as what you heard, then I'll know that what Pete told me is suspicious, if not an outright lie. If the General's story isn't the same as yours, I guess that I'll have three different stories about the same events, and I'll have to keep talking to people to find out what really happened at that party last night.

But Teal'c was apparently not finished with his inquiry, yet. May I ask you a personal question, ColonelCarter?

Carter smiled, but couldn't pull off the gesture well enough to make it look real. You want to know if the Za'tark tests that you witnessed four years ago... if the General and I told the truth then, she said without further prompting.

The Tok'ra Za'tark machine declared that you were telling the truth at the time, Teal'c reminded her.

Carter was able to give a hint of a smile now. You also want to know that if the General and I still have feelings for each other, then why am I engaged to Pete, right? Her question was bold, even if her voice was small.

Teal'c gave his patented Jaffa 'sort-of' smile to show that she was correct.

So Carter went on with a sigh, I don't quite know how to answer that.

Teal'c gave her a befuddled look again. Do you not have feelings for O'Neill any longer? he asked.

Carter remained silent for a moment, then gave a resigned sigh, and said, It's not that simple, Teal'c.

Teal'c tilted his head the other direction. But it is simple, he argued. Either you have feelings for him, or you do not. There is nothing in between the ideas that you feel something for him now, or that you may not feel anything for him any longer, Teal'c insisted. It is either one or the other.

Carter gave a tiny grin. Well... She sighed, agreeing that he had a point. But... It's not so simple, she told him again with a sad sigh. I might have feelings for... She couldn't call him the Colonel, or the General in this instance. For Jack, she finally said as a concession to her internal arguments. Feelings for Jack, she repeated, simply because it felt good to say his name. Then she went on to argue some more, But there are military rules that say he and I shouldn't have feelings for the other... I mean, romantic feelings, she qualified. And the regulations say that even if we do have feelings for each other, we can't do anything about them. So... Here, she glanced up at her friend, and gave a shrug. And Pete has been, and always was, fun to be with, she explained. And he was there, free to be with me, free to show some affection to me, and... She paused to beseech, Don't I deserve that?

Teal'c again looked confused. These feelings for his ability to show affection to you... Does that constitute loving him?

Carter let her head fall forward. She wasn't entirely sure how to answer such a question. Yet, the simplicity of Teal'c's words encouraged her to be honest at last. No, she finally whispered. Not really. She paused, still pondering. At least, not to the point that I should if I'm going to marry Pete, she softly added.

Teal'c again tilted his head. He did that so often that it was becoming an SGC patented gesture, much as the Jaffa smile was. Does that mean that you still have feelings for O'Neill? he bluntly asked, getting to the heart of the matter in classic Jaffa style.

Again Carter hung her head. Maybe, she whispered, still determined to keep a sense of 'perhaps' to the entire subject of how she felt about the General.

Does this not please you? Teal'c then inquired, sounding like 'perhaps' meant more along the lines of 'definitely.'

Carter's voice was stronger in her next reply, No, it doesn't, she said. I'm not with... Jack, she said. I'm engaged to Pete. I need to forget about Jack, she firmly said to herself for the millionth time.

But you just told me that you still have feelings for O'Neill, Teal'c objected, still clearly befuddled.

Possible feelings, Carter corrected. Not absolute feelings.

There is a difference?

Carter grinned wider when he asked that. Well, um... She hesitated. Um... Um... Not really, she replied, finally admitting what she felt in her heart. She blushed beet red at the admittance.

Ah, Teal'c grunted, and that grunt of his made her think of... She still called him Jack, even in her head. She had to, as she was thinking of the man, not the soldier in this scenario.

Carter sighed.

Teal'c sighed, echoing ColonelCarter. Finally, he said, If O'Neill's story is different from PeteShanahan's tail, then PeteShanahan seems to have told you a falsehood. It then makes me wonder if PeteShanahan has possibly told you other falsehoods in the past. He stared at her. Do you not wonder the same thing? he asked.

I'm beginning to, Carter admitted. She sighed, then rose from her place on his bed. She started for the door. Thanks for talking to me, Teal'c. I really needed a talk.

You are most welcome, ColonelCarter, he said. Are you going to speak with O'Neill now? he went on to inquire.

Carter gave a hint of a smile. Um... No, I need to think, first, she said. I'll be in my lab if you need me, even if the door is shut. Then she opened the door to his quarters and departed. She had much to think about, as Teal'c would have said.

* * *

Think... She needed to...

As if she could help it.

Carter, you think too much.

For cryin' out loud! she thought at the memory that ran through her mind.

Then, she groaned the minute she reached the safety of her lab. Ugh!! She was even beginning to hear the General's... Jack's... voice in her head.

Was that a good thing, or a bad thing?

Carter thought about that. She didn't bother to turn on the overhead light as she moved into her lab and shut the door behind her. Instead, she used the light from the bright screen saver currently on her laptop computer to see her way aroun the lab. The picture of Cassie, wearing a yellow dress on a day from the past summer flooded the room with enough light for her to see to crawl under her table without hitting her head on it, and she continued thinking.

So... Good thing? Bad thing?

It depends, she decided.

What on? her brain asked... herself.

So, she went about answering her brain as if she talked to her brain all the time. In fact, she had spent many pleasant times discussing things with her brain in the past. Now wasn't any different, in spite of the intimacy of the topic. She needed to tell herself whether she was thinking about... Jack... at the time she thought about saying one of his favorite phrases, or whether she was thinking about Pete at the time the phrase sounded in her head. If the first... Well, then, cool! If the second, well then, decidedly not cool. It wouldn't do for her to think the favorite phrases of one man while supposedly thinking about another man entirely.

So, is that who you want to think about? Pete?

Swiftly, her traitorous mind turned to thinking about Jack instead.

Well, she didn't have to answer that particular question.

But what about Pete? She was engaged to Pete, not Jack!

But didn't Pete recently tell you an erroneous story over the phone?

'Erroneous?' Now even her own brain sounded like Teal'c! She mentally rolled her eyes. But even as she silently berated herself, she was still thinking about the two men she found to be the most important to her.

Pete.. Jack... Pete... Jack...

She was supposed to be thinking about how she felt about both men. Either man. So... How did she feel again?

Okay, it was down to the wire, crunch time, the finish line, tiebreaker...

So... Feelings... She had to be honest, at least with herself...

Immediately, Carter began to feel uncomfortable. Forget honesty... She hated thinking about her feelings. They always made a hash out of something that was really quite simple.

Simple... That reminded her of what Teal'c had said. That either she loved Jack... No, she corrected herself. That she had feelings for Jack... That she had feelings for Jack, or that she didn't feel anything more for him other than companionship.

'Companionship?' Who are you trying to kid?

Okay!... She conceded to herself that... perhaps... maybe... she might... care... for Jack.

'Perhaps?' 'Maybe?' 'Might?' her mind scornfully repeated her. And only 'care?' Oh, Puh-lease!

Okay... She had to ask herself the hard question. So... Since 'care' was so obviosly not the right word... So... Did she love Jack?

There it was again, the 'l' word. She must be trying to tell herself something, and she figured that she finally needed to listen to herself, after all these years.

So... Did she love Jack?

Be quick! her mind screamed again at her. Keep it simple! Do you love him? Or not? Come on, it isn't a trick question! There isn't a right or wrong answer! Not to this...

Yeah, she still had feelings for him...

Not feelings, you nincompoop, love, as in L-O-V-E!

Yes! she finally admitted to herself, if only to shut her brain up.

Feelings? her mind said, scornful again. Eeeee gads! You can't even admit... Not even to yourself... If a brain could shake its head at someone, it would be mournfully shaking its head at her.

Carter began to secretly smile to herself. Just the thought of Jack... and she hadn't let herself think about Jack for a long time... Just the thought of him sent warm shivers down both her legs to her feet in her combat boots. In fact, she wouldn't mind taking off those combat boots, and rubbing her feet up and down his legs. In fact, she wouldn't mind doing that rubbing while he was...

Oookkkaaayyy! Scary image there! Moving on!

Did she dream about Pete in the same manner?

Well... She hadn't actually caught herself indulging in a daydream about Pete yet.

Then, what the heck are you doing? He's the one you're engaged to marry, isn't he? Aren't you supposed to be having wicked daydreams about him?

But it was much more... fun... to have wicked daydreams about Jack.

And... Well... Lately, she often forgot that she was supposed to be thinking about Pete. In fact, she had to stop daydreams about Jack far more often than she had to stop daydreams about Pete.

Oh, yeah, already established that she didn't have any daydreams about Pete that she had to stop...

Then... Forgive me for saying so, said Carter's brain to Carter's brain... Carter gave her head a shake: This was just too weird!

Ahem! Forgive me, but... What the heck are you doing? What the heck are you doing with Pete?

What are you doing with Pete?

But... Well... Pete was so normal!

Is he the normal one, or is the life he's offering so normal? And why do you want normal, anyway?

Are you normal?

Not in the... normal... way, Carter thought to herself, thinking of the naqueda in her blood.

And that's another thing: How are you going to explain naqueda in your blood to Pete? Won't he think that's really weird?

Huh. Jack had never thought it was weird. To him, it was normal.

Normal.

Suddenly, Carter crossed hurriedly to her lab phone, dialed a number from what was in her memory, then waited while the phone rang. A female voice finally responded to the insistent phone call. Hello?

Carter immediately said to the girl in her dorm room at college, Cass, it's Sam.

Sam... You sound horrible! Has something hap...

No, everyone's fine. Listen, Cass, do you think I'm normal?

Pause... Normal? Cassie echoed in obvious confusion.

Yeah.

Well...

Cass! Carter threatened. Just answer the question!

Cassie listened to threats like that. A second later, she made sure she was answering Carter's question. Well... No.

No? I'm not normal?

Cassie snorted. Well... She paused again, then declared, Okay, let's make a list, she suggested, There's your job. That's not normal. There's your blood. That's not normal, either. There's the fact that you're a female in a mostly male military. How normal is that? There's the fact that you work in a top secret installation for that military. Not normal. Your father lives... elsewhere... and has a...

Cass! Don't say it! Carter warned of speaking aloud about highly classified topics.

I wasn't gonna say it out loud! Cassie huffed. But... I won't even touch that one. Then, there's... there's Murray. There's Daniel. There's Jack.

What about Jack?

Cassie once again hesitated. Well... He's a General.

And..?

And... He gives you your orders.

And..?

And... He tells you where to go.

Cass!

I mean, to other... places... and all.., and...

And..? Carter prompted.

And... Here, Cassie's voice drifted into silence.

Carter shouted, Oh, fer cryin' out loud, just answer the...

Will you listen to yourself for one single minute! Cassie huffily exclaimed.

What?

You're even quoting him!

So.

So? Cassie sardonically repeated. You don't quote Pete.

But, Pete doesn't constantly use any good phrases like that!

Yes, he does.

He does? Carter asked in surprise. I've never heard him say...

'Lord have mercy!' Cassie quoted. Or my personal favorite... 'Flip over my cow!'

Pete says 'Flip over my cow?'

Yeah, he does when he gets all excited watching a game on TV.

What a stupid saying! Carter interjected. He doesn't even have a cow!

Well, I think it's pretty stupid, too, Cassie confessed. Then she went on, And I've never heard you say it. But I've heard you say 'Fer cryin' out loud' about a billion times at this point. Cassie paused. And what does that tell you, Sam? she inquired.

Carter didn't know what to say to that question.

Sam? You still there?

Thinking, Cass. Just thinking.

You'd be better off if you think less, and say more, Cassie suggested.

Carter sighed. That's what Jack was always telling her to do, too.

Carter sighed again. She remained standing near her lab phone, and bit her lip in confusion. She sighed for a third time.

Then, making a decision at last, Carter turned off her brain. She'd never turned off her brain in her life. This is really hard, Cass.

If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it, Cassie sagely replied.

So...

Cassie prompted, So..? Jack? Right?

Jack... I haven't thought about him in forever, Carter proclaimed.

You mean, you haven't let yourself think about him in forever, Cassie corrected. I've heard you mumble, 'Don't think about him! Don't even go there!' when you thought you were alone.

I do not say things like that! Carter cried, incensed.

You do too! Cassie cried right back.

Carter found herself considering what Cassie claimed. Okay, maybe I do.

And..?

And what, Cass?

So Cassie prompted her again. And when you say things like that, you're thinking... what?

Carter sighed. It doesn't matter what I'm thinking. Even thinking about him is against the regs.

Oh, the regs! I'm sick, sick, sick of hearing about the regs! yelled Cassie.

Well, unless they've somehow undergone a major transformation in the last week, and someone forgot to tell me about it, then...

Aren't you getting tired of the regs? asked Cassie. Or, I mean, of giving yourself the same old story, over and over, the same old excuse..?

Doesn't matter.

Oh..! God..! Will you just friggin' admit it!

Cassie, you sound frustrated.

Well, duh! I am! Cassie yelled. I'm frustrated as Hell! And you know what else? I'm sick of this whole Jack/Sam/frat regs/Pete deal! What the hell are you doing with doughboy, anyway?

'Doughboy?' Carter echoed in incredulity.

He's not like Uncle Jack, whose muscles are as hard as iron! He's...

Don't you go comparing him to Jack!

Why not? Cassie shot back. You do!

Do not!

Do too!

Do... Suddenly Carter paused, and let her head drop into her hand. She frequently compared her fiancé to... That could only mean... Oh God... Jack's... I have feelings for Jack, don't I?

Feelings? Cassie scornfully repeated.

Cassie's sardonic tone suddenly made Sam think of what her own brain had recently forced her to concede. Okay, okay! Sam then exclaimed, her eyes shut in consternation, but determined to admit to the truth... finally. She sighed. I'm in love with him, aren't I?

Cassie gave a huge sigh of relief. Well, it's about time.

And I'm not in love with Pete...

Oh, thank the-people-who-think-they're-oh-so-important, but-who-really-have-an-awful-taste-in-clothes that you figured that one out in time. Carter could hear the sound of Cassie's sarcasm come through in her voice. The college student went on, I was about ready to smack some sense into you by banging a skillet on your head, but Uncle Jack wouldn't let me do it. He said that you had made your choice, that you were happy... But, then I told him that if you were happy, I was a Cadburry Bunny.

Carter chuckled at her reply. And what did Jack do when you told him that? she asked in curiosity.

What does Jack ever do? Cassie rhetorically asked. Nothing, she answered. He didn't do anything. You know, for a man who's beaten about a dozen or more bad guys with eye problems, he's a real chickenshit.

Cassie! Carter admonished.

Well, he is, Cassie said again, not backing down. And so are you if you don't grab him the next time you see him, and kiss the daylights out of him.

Cassie! This doesn't sound like you! Carter exclaimed in horror. Just what have you been reading?

My History text book, Cassie responded, then went on, You don't want to be in the next edition as the world's... no, the galaxy's... biggest pretender, do you?

Cassie.., Carter admonished. Well, no, she finally admitted.

Then do something about it, for once in your life! Pete followed you that day to that Osiris site. He never got prosecuted for it. Staying with him and not prosecuting him isn't doing him any favors, you know. It won't stop him next time...

How do you know about that? Carter demanded in even deeper incredulity.

T... Murray told me, Cassie nonchalantly corrected herself. The way she said it made it sound as if having a Jaffa from another planet tell her about Earth stalkings... uh... following... was a common thing. Then, she went on, begging, Anyway, do something, please, before we all lose our sanity here.

Sam paused once more. She needed to think again. No... She needed to talk to Jack. Without warning, filled with a newfound sense of determination, Carter hung up her phone. She was in the midst of leaving her lab in order to run up to the General's office to 'do something' when the ringing phone stopped her. Annoyed at being interrupted at a crucial moment, Carter still felt like she should answer the summons while at work. Carter.

Sam. It was Pete.

Carter's heart fell to her toes. Pete... hungover... He'd lied to her... She'd forgotten all about him... And she hadn't yet decided how to deal with him.

Look, I need to talk to you. You got a few hours? Pete asked.

No. She didn't want to talk to him right now. Pete, I'm in my lab. He hadn't even asked if he was interrupting an experiment. Didn't he know her at all?

Well... No.

Okay, Pete continued. An hour. That's all. Can you meet me at the Starbucks on 21st?

Well...

Sam, it's important, as in REALLY important.

Carter huffed a sigh. All right. I'm on my way. Carter out. So much for talking to the General. She hung up, and, with a sigh, went to meet Pete.

There was a good chance that she wasn't going to get any work done that day, she grumbled to herself as she walked out of her lab.

* * *

Carter took her coffee cup filled to the brim with a Starbuck's special latte coffee, one sugar, to the table where Pete was waiting for her, sat down, and took a drink of her hot beverage.

Pete didn't mince words. Sam, I want to break up.

Carter spit out her coffee, she was so surprised. What? You what?

I want my ring back.

And just how was she supposed to respond to this kind of a plea? Uh...

Pete squirmed, but a sense of resolution seemed to have found him sometime in his drunken haze. Sam, I lied to you, he blurted. This morning on the phone... Then his expression lost his resolute edge to it, and he just looked like a miserable guy with a really bad headache. I didn't stay at a friend's house last night.

What now? Was he going to tell her that in his foray into alcohol, he had cheated on her? Where did you stay then? Carter's voice was full of trepidation.

At O'Neill's.

Well, that answered that question, she admitted to herself. So much for the cheating theory. You stayed at the General's?

Pete looked like he felt a bit awkward, now. Or a lot awkward. Yeah. And he wanted me to be totally clear on the fact that he was letting me stay at his house because of my connection to you.

Carter sat, flummoxed. But... Why would he do that? Why... for me?

Come on, Sam. Pete scowled. You guys can't even be in the same room together without both of you lighting up like a Christmas Tree.

What was it with people and Holidays lately?

I've seen it, Pete went on. The guy is so in love with you that he...

Pete! Carter interrupted, worried again for what he might possibly say about her and the General that might be overheard by a military employee. Keep your voice down! she implored. Anyway, how can you say such a thing?

'Cause I'm in love with you, too, Pete miserably confessed. I'm enough in love that I'm done lyin' to you, and following you, and setting you up...

Carter looked a third horrified, a third bewildered, and a third incensed. Pete! Then she looked more confused than incensed. Set me up? She stared at him after making her confused repetition. You did all that?

Pete hung his head, and played with the lid to his coffee. Yeah, he finally admitted. And I set O'Neill up by making that comment this morning... by saying that accusation... whatever you want to call it... By saying that thing to him this morning on purpose. He paused. That thing... about you... you and him...

Carter spluttered, You... You... What?

Yeah, Pete said again. I thought he would just laugh off what I had told him.

Carter hesitantly inquired, But he didn't?

Pete sighed, then shook his head. No. He got so angry that I had said something at all, and that I had mentioned you in what I said... I thought he was going to tear off my legs and feed them to me while cackling... evilly.

He would never do something like that! Carter protested in horror.

Pete looked up. He will when it comes to you. I mean, I've never seen a guy get so angry so fast before. Not even criminals. Not even when they're being arrested, and are still full of adrenaline from doing something bad to somebody. Pete went on to explain, I left his house 'cause I thought he was going to have an embolism if I didn't go.

Carter sighed. Okay, she said at last. She sounded tired, completely worn out, even to her ears. She was one resigned woman as she suggested to Pete, Why don't you tell me what happened, what the General said, and...

Pete interrupted to tell her, O'Neill took me home last night so that you wouldn't have to deal with me being drunk, so that you... He sighed. For you. Then Pete went on to admit, I slept on his couch. This morning, he called an Airman to haul my sorry ass back to my car at Dan's. There was no cab involved in the story. Then I went home, and crashed. Ten minutes later, you called. And I told you that stupid story that I read once in a comic book.

Carter's brows shot up when he said that. You didn't even make that story up?

No, Pete glumly admitted. It was a story in The Green Hornet. Or was it Peter Halloway, Guy Detective? He looked like he was thinking, trying to remember, for a moment. At last he went on, Whatever... I saw it, and I told it to you. Pete again hung his head, still playing with his now shredded coffee cup lid. I keep doing things like that, telling you stories, and... I gotta stop.

Things like what? Carter tried to act like she wasn't horrified at what he was confessing to her, even when she was secretly horrified as Hell. She took a sip of her hot coffee while getting her emotions back under control. Then she wrinkled her nose at her drink. It needed another packet of sugar. Hold on... She rose, collected a packet of sweetener... (no real sugar this time. with no real calories...) and sat down again. She shook out the sweetener, opened the packet, and dumped it into her coffee. Go on.

Well... That's about it, I guess, Pete said.

You lied? Carter echoed.

Pete nodded.

Sam gazed at him out of widened eyes. Finally, she was able to inquire, Do you make a habit of lying?

Pete was quiet for a minute. That depends what you mean by the word 'habit.' he finally said, and winced.

More than twice a week?

Pete sighed, then slowly admitted, Sam, you kick ass as often as I lie.

Carter gave a startled jump. That often?

That often, Pete repeated. And I gotta be more honest in the future... I know that.

More honest? Carter asked in even deeper incredulity. But, Pete, this isn't something worth breaking up over, she argued. She heard the words come out of her mouth, and wondered where they had come from. Sam! she yelled at herself. What the Hell are you doing?!?!

But Pete nodded, looking miserable, and hungover, and miserable, and sick, and miserable... Don't you think it is worth it, though? he asked.

Well... Carter considered for a moment. Yeah, she finally admitted in a hushed voice.

Pete looked like he was being vindicated. That's what I thought you'd say.

Carter's brows lowered in puzzlement again.

What? he defensively asked.

Then Carter carefully implored, Um... General O'Neill actually said that this... um... this staying overnight thing... it was for me?

Several times, Pete readily admitted.

Wow. Sam sat back in her chair, too incredulous to move any more than that.

But Pete wasn't so awed. Sam, what are you still doing sitting here? he asked. I'll drink your coffee. Give me my ring back, and get out of here. Go to... wherever he is... wherever you guys go...

Carter rose from her chair and handed back his engagement ring. She'd never liked it anyway. You're sure about this?

Sam..!

You sound more and more like Cassie every day.

That won't thrill her to hear.

Pete! came her feigned, loud, admonition again. Pete just glared at her until she relented, and she gave him a more honest reply, Okay... Yeah, you're right.

Now get outta here, Pete told her. Call me and tell me how it goes.

Carter turned, feeling free for the first time in a long time, and feeling like things were finally right in her life, and feeling unburdened, and...

And she practically ran out of the coffee shop.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, she wasn't feeling so free anymore. Carter felt sick with indecision, instead.

She stood in the Briefing Room, half way between the stairs leading to the Control Room, and half way to the General's... Jack's... office, reluctant to enter his domain. If she entered, then she would have to say something to him about how she felt. And what she particularly wanted to say about how she felt, she really couldn't say. At least, she couldn't say those things while they were at work. But she couldn't say such things when they weren't at work... They might be encouraged to do something about her feelings for him, and his for her... Work, and its inherent restrictions, was a safe environment for both of them. But she couldn't just say...

Carter sighed in distressed resignation.

She had to put a stop to this awful cycle of non-action she and Jack had been caught in for eight long years!

So, determined, and feeling sick at her determination, and at what it might make her do... or say... Because of all this, she took peeks at him through the star chart window, and paced the floor as she surreptitiously watched him sign one form after another, his silver colored head bent down in concentration. She didn't know what to do, but just seeing him made her feel all warm and tingly... Confident... How had she gotten any work done in the last few months, she wondered in astonishment, if simply staring at the man made her want to..?

And she had been engaged to Pete... It hadn't really been fair to the police officer... or to the military General. Her ability to deny what should be right in front of her nose was astonishing.

In an agony of indecision now, she wondered how on Earth she was going to approach Jack at this point, anyway? She couldn't exactly go into his office and say, 'Hi, me and Pete just broke up because I'm really in love with you, and will you agree to being the father of my children?' She didn't even know if she could have children! Oh, fer crying out loud!

She groaned her indecision for about the tenth time in as many minutes.

Frustrated, and growing more frustrated every second, Carter hid her face in her hands, then ran her fingers in aggravation through her hair, thoroughly irritated at herself and at the situation she found herself in. She continued to look at the floor as she paced back and forth in the Briefing Room.

Finally, feeling frustrated beyond belief, she dropped to a chair. Her accustomed seat was one place to the right of the chair at the head of the Briefing Room table. She ground her face into her arms crossed on the table top.

O'Neill remained oblivious to her presence, intent on signing as many forms as possible in as short a time as possible. It didn't really matter if he actually read any of them or not...

Then he looked up, just to stretch his neck muscles.

Then he looked again.

He blinked. Was that... Carter?

But what was she doing here? At 1030 hours in the morning? And sitting at the Briefing Room table, her head cradled in her arms? She looked like she'd just lost a family member. Had something happened? Had..? Was it Jacob? Daniel? Teal'c? She looked utterly miserable!

Jack stood without further thought, and yanked open the door to his office. He only knew that Carter was hurting, and he could try to help.

Carter! he exclaimed as he approached her place at the table. What..?

Carter's head jerked up from her hands the second she heard his voice. Argh! she grunted softly, and turned her head towards him. Pete and I just broke up.., she told him without any segueway into the topic.

Well, that explained her demeanor... didn't it? Jack slowly sat at the head of the table, pulling out the chair so that he could still see her, and settled into the leather. This... And he gestured at how her arms were still crossed in defeat on the table, indicating how miserable she had just sounded. This bothers you a great deal? he asked, his words encompassing all that had happened to her, his voice sad, but his face a mask of proper sympathy. If it does, you can take leave, or...

It was a mutual break up, Carter told him next. I don't need leave or anything.

That comment left Jack confused. Then what..? What's bothering you so..?

Her head dropped back onto her arms, but she left her head propped on her fists just high enough to make certain with her peripheral vision that the room remained empty. With her voice still sounding thin and muffled, she quickly whispered, Because I'm a total idiot and I should have learned a thing or two by now and I'm in love with you and there's still the regs and I haven't been able to think of how not to get you court-martialed in the process of all this mess and did I mention that I'm a total idiot? And...

Jack leaned in closer to her, and whispered, Whoa! Back up there, Carter. He paused. You... You're what?

I am such an idiot! she declared, her voice still sounding muted by her arms held in front of her face the way they were. No one but him could ever hope to hear her comment, I'll have to blow up another sun just to make up for this!

Jack still stared at her with eyes as wide as that sun she had mentioned. Neither said anything more to each other, either in whispers, or in more normal tones. Neither knew what to say to the other. Finally, Jack tentatively reached out, and ever so slowly settled his fingers around her arm encased in the black BDU undershirt she always wore to work.

Sam jerked her head up to stare at him the second she became aware of his touch. There was a minuscule smile on his face that if she blinked, she would miss seeing. He quietly proclaimed, The feeling's mutual. He simply gazed at her, and for a moment, she could see his every feeling for her in his eyes. Then he shuttered those eyes, as he was facing the security camera in the Briefing Room. He went on. whispering, But... Do you think that we should even be bringing this subject up while we're both at work?

Sam peered at him by flicking her eyes to the side to look at him. She felt his breath wash over her cheek, sensing the smell of his skin, and she shivered at even that close of a proximity. Mentally, she snorted at herself: If he was this close to her, causing this much of a reaction in her..? And still she had wondered how she felt about him?!? Did she need a brain transplant? Or a heart transplant? Or some kind of a transplant?

Sam then whispered the first words that came into her stalled brain. I love you, she plaintively said.

Jack gave a start back, and he erased the millimeters he had just given by leaning so close to her. His expression was so pained that he looked like he was thinking something along the lines of Oh, Hell... Just put your head down low and forget about the security cameras for once in your life! Bite the bullet! He suddenly ducked his head close, and whispered back to her, I love you too. His low whisper was half joyful, half strangled.

There didn't seem to be much more to say on the subject of how they felt for the other. They loved each other. But... Nothing had changed. According to the regs, they couldn't do anything about their mutual feelings.

But, as Teal'c had pointed out only an hour before to Colonel Carter, such a confession as theirs changed everything.

Their feelings were reciprocated... shared... and they each knew those feelings were shared. Just knowing about her emotions for Jack, and his for her, made her toes tingle inside her socks, made her arms ache to hold him, made the skin of her cheek itch to feel the same skin of his cheek resting against it...

Want to go to a wedding with me? Jack suddenly inquired, his voice still so low, it almost didn't exist.

Carter hesitated. As in, a date? she asked him.

Jack didn't hesitate at all when he gave his answer. As in, sooooo a date.

Yeah, Sam replied, also without hesitation now. I do. She still hadn't lifted her head from her arms where she stared at him, conceding only to lying her head on her right side, still cradled by those arms of hers so that she could stare up at him in an unimpeded view.

Their postures were as nonchalant as either of them could make them. They perfectly matched their tones, and moods of the moment.

Jack went on, And, can you handle a... a date?

Again Sam's reply was instantaneous. Do birds fly South for the winter?

Is that a 'yes?' Jack lazily inquired.

Yes, she replied, still whispering.

Jack's smile was now dazzling to her, and she couldn't help sending him a tiny grin in response. Want to order a pizza to celebrate?

You can do that? Sam asked in slight incredulity. Here? She looked confused now. But aren't we still at work?

Jack firmly replied, I'm the General... I can do whatever I want.

Besides being something that she remembered Daniel saying many months before, that statement started an idea germinating in Carter's mind. Whatever you want? she echoed, asking him again to be sure she had heard him correctly.

But Jack still sounded just as firm as he had sounded before. He gave a brief nod, and added, Whatever I want. As long as I get my paperwork done on time.

And to that comment, Carter laughed lightly as her head lay in repose on her arms. And did you? she asked. Get it all done on time, I mean?

Jack's eyes twinkled in merry devilment. He answered, I'm actually ahead on my paperwork for the first time in my life.

The giggle Carter gave was louder than the one she had given a moment ago. She reached out to just barely scrape her index finger alongside his pinkie resting nearest her hand. Jack clutched at her finger with his. Want to do my paperwork while you're at it, too? she asked of him.

He grinned at her now, a full blown explosion of happiness. I would love to do your paperwork, he said, then divulged, Only yours, as we both know how much I love paperwork.

It was then that Carter was certain that he was using the term 'paperwork' to mean something much more intimate. She squeezed his finger encased with her pinkie even tighter. Deal.

His grin grew to become a far more dazzling expression yet. Most, most, most excellent. And is that a 'yes' to the pizza, too?

Carter smiled up at him now, sharing with him the secret smile she had always saved just for him. It had never even been an expression that she shared with Pete. Only with Jack. And that should have told you something, she heard Cassie's voice whisper inside her brain.

Carter ignored the voice and simply gazed at him, soaking in the sight of his features like it was water, and she was a sponge. She whispered, Better order two larges, as it's inevitable that Daniel and Teal'c will show up at the most inopportune moment, like... right... now...

Daniel poked his head into the room from the corridor. Sam... Jack... The relief in his voice practically rang in the room. He turned to address someone with him in the corridor. Found them, Teal'c. He turned back to stare at his new discoveries. Then, his expression became much more concerned. Sam? He took in her defeated looking posture, her crossed arms, her head tilted at an angle in perceived misery, and asked, You okay?

Carter grinned then, and said, Couldn't be better, Daniel, couldn't be better!

* * *

Epilogue

Jack and Sam attended the wedding together the very next day. While they stood and waited for the bride and groom to release them from the wooden chairs they had been sitting on for the last hour and a half, Jack leaned closer to Sam, his dress uniform sleeve brushing up against her arm encased in her own fancy dress bought just that morning for this occasion. (She had already bought a dress to wear to the wedding, but it seemed that wearing the dress she had bought while with Pete to a wedding she attended with Jack was a bit too much for her, if not for him, to swallow.) But, even the simple contact of sleeve on sleeve was enough to make Sam tingle in unmentionable places. He whispered in her ear, I wonder if the marriage will last as long as the wedding ceremony?

Sam loved that he could make her tingle just by standing so near to her. She giggled, and was sure that she felt just a hint of his lips rubbing against the skin of her ear as he spoke his words to her. The action made her tingle anew. Shivering, she whispered back to him, I'll always be grateful for this wedding, even if the marriage does last no longer than their ninety minute ceremony. And she gave a clandestine kiss to the air above his ear, too.

Jack's reaction was to give a definite shudder inside his uniform. He whispered back, I don't know... This has been a good Catholic wedding... lots of kneeling... lots of lighting candles... lasted an hour and a half... I must really like you a lot in order to sit through an hour and a half wedding just to be near you.

Carter giggled again. She was doing a great deal of giggling ever since the day before when they'd eaten lunch in the Briefing Room with Daniel and Teal'c. Enjoy long weddings, do you? she inquired in a soft, hushed voice.

Only with you, he replied.

I like anything with you, Sam divulged. Even pizza.

Especially pizza, Jack whispered back. And for you, I'll order that pineapple crap that you like every time.

A grin practically split Carter's features in two, it was so wide. You say the most romantic things, Jack O'Neill, she flirted back to him. I'll have to bring you to weddings more often.

Jack laughed as he proclaimed, Hope they serve pizza at the reception...

Carter was laughing gayly as she and Jack made their way out of the row of chairs they had been relegated to in the tent the wedding ceremony had been performed in.

Ten minutes later, in the reception hall, where fans buzzed on the ceiling to aid the air conditioning units, and children sprinted back and forth between the cake and the buffet tables, Jack ran into his new friend, John Solo, already seated to his right at an out-of-the-way table. Hey, John, buddy, pal, friend o' mine! he proclaimed, and held out his hand to shake.

John reached up for the offered hand shake. Hey, Jack! Then his brow creased in confusion. But... He did a quick and cute double swing of his eyes, taking in Jack, then Sam, then Jack again. Finally as his gaze settled firmly on Jack, and he asked, I thought you weren't able to come today?

Jack gave a tiny wince. Weeeelll... Carter here kinda changed my mind for me.

John's gaze widened when he again took in Sam's form to Jack's left. Carter?

Oh. Jack took a step back, then formerly introduced them. Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, Major John Solo...

Sam just about choked. Solo? she asked.

Jack frowned. No Star Wars jokes, and no telling Murray, he teasingly warned.

Sam grinned, and said, I promise... But wait until we get home...

No calling him, either! Jack ordered in a bark.

Is that the General thing? John asked then. That scary bark of his?

Sam shook her head, and couldn't stop herself from saying, When he does his 'General bark,' you'll know.

John grinned up at her. That's when we run for the hills, right?

Sam turned to take in Jack. You knew I'd like this guy, didn't you?

Jack ducked his head in feigned embarrassment. I had my suspicions...

Then it was Sam's turn to appear puzzled. Major Solo?

Air Force, Jack explained.

Sam grimaced. I can never get away from it. She shook her head in mock distress as John laughed.

John waved at the table. Well, Colonel, pull up a chair and take a load off... Suddenly the woman seated beside him wacked his suited arm. John rubbed ineffectively at the now sore area. Oh, I'm not supposed to act so uncivilized as to talk like that.

Sam plopped down in a seat as Jack took the one next to her. Clichés, she wisely said. We try to avoid them when we can. She eyed the General. Right, Jack?

Uh, Jack stuttered. Finally he tried to change the subject and, indicating the woman sitting beside his friend at the table, asked John, And is this the famous, or infamous, Genie?

John laughed at Jack's question. 'Infamous' is the right word.

Jack shook hands with the small woman. Nice to meet you, Genie. I've heard a great deal about you, most notably that you're not interested in eating pizza again.

Genie chuckled a laugh. The restaurant recommendation that you gave to John turned out to be a lifesaver! I've never had such good steak in my life!

Carter turned to Jack with a smile tugging on her lips. Where did you recommend? she asked.

O'Malley's, of course, Jack replied.

Carter rolled her eyes. Of course, she echoed in good nature.

John smiled at Carter's gesture. Why? Do you go there often? Or, not so often; They throw you out one time?

Carter nodded her head towards Jack. The General...

Call me that again, Carter, and I'll take you home right now to have my wicked way with you.

Promise? Carter saucily added.

Jack could only look at her and nod.

General, General, Gen...

Excuse us, Jack politely said as he grabbed at Carter's arm and hauled her to her feet.

Carter laughed at his impetuosity. Jack!

Buffet table, Carter, I'm only dragging you to the buffet table, Jack explained then.

Laughing, they both made their way through the crowd to the buffet table covered in hors d'oeuvres, and offering other 'before dinner' treats.

Jack's face brightened. Hey look! They really do have pizza! Jack reached for a piece of toasted bread covered in melted cheese.

Those are pieces of grilled garlic toast, Carter informed him. Not pizza.

Jack finished chewing the bite he had taken, and swallowed. Okay, so it's not pizza, but it is...

Carter interrupted him. Don't expect me to kiss you if you eat a lot of garlic.

Jack's brows rose at her words. You plan on kissing me today?

Not if you eat a lot of garlic, Carter corrected.

Jack handed her the rest of his piece of toast. Share with me, so you're infected with that garlic smell, too. And that sharing's an order, he immediately said in a deadpan tone of voice.

Carter laughed. Whatever you say, Sir. She took the bite of the toasted bread he held out to her.

How did she make such a simple thing as eating bread look so sexy? Carter? Jack queried.

Carter was too busy chewing to answer him. When she swallowed, she said, You're right... This is good!

I'm a General, so of course I'm right, Jack told her.

Carter again rolled her eyes. Oh brother, she muttered. 'Insufferable' is more the word for you, she jibed.

Oh, you love me, and you know it, Jack gleefully flirted back.

Carter had to laugh again at his comment. Yep, she sighed, a sappy smile on her face.

And I'm gonna risk getting all mushy and saying that I love you too. But I promise not to embarrass you by saying it too often, or in a room crowded full of people, or..

Carter cut him off. You can feel pressured to say it again if you want, she playfully suggested.

Jack shrugged. Okay, he said, then whispered again, I love you, and we better get back to the table, or John and his wife are going to think that we got lost on purpose.

Carter quickly grabbed a plate and some food before he led her away.

Share, he ordered before he slipped more of the garlic toast from her plate to his as they sat back down at the table.

I got that piece just for you, she told him. Quickly, the phrase 'garlic bread' was growing to stand for much more than just bread.

John turned to gaze at them again, and smiled at their smiles. So, Colonel, tell us about yourself, he said. How did you get this old General here to come to a wedding he was determined to avoid, the last I heard?

Jack replied for Carter as she ate another bite of garlic bread. He indicated Carter with a nod of his head. You remember that guy we hauled out of Dan's apartment? he asked.

Yeah, John prompted.

Was her fiancé, Jack explained.

'Was?' John echoed.

Carter answered him this time. We came to a mutual ending of our involvement with each other, was all she said.

Jon wrinkled his nose. You must have caught a wiff of him yesterday morning, he said.

Jack gave a hearty laugh at John's statement. Carter just grimaced.

Genie broke into the conversation then. Just ignore them, she suggested to Carter. John told me all about what happened, and I have to say that someone who gets dead drunk so easily is...

Heavy, Jack immediately interjected. He was heavy.

He was always a bit on the heavy side, Carter told them. At least, he was the last time I kicked his... She let her voice trail off before she said something that might be offensive. Then she smiled a bright smile. But enough about that! she proclaimed. It kind of highlighted a few things about The General here that I'd much rather concentrate on.

That, and weddings, Jack informed. And Carter taking me to weddings, and...

Carter turned to regard him, even as she fed him another slice of garlic bread. I thought that you had asked me to this wedding, she retorted. So that I could meet your friend and his wife. And she beamed at John and Genie.

Yeah, Jack agreed. That, and other things, he flirted.

John wrinkled his nose. Is this the same guy I shared peanuts with for two hours the other night?

As one, both Jack and Sam turned to regard their new friends. They both enthusiastically proclaimed, I hope so!

The End


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