Secret Journey

by Linda Bindner

Part II

It was amazing, Carter reflected to herself as she stared at the blank piece if paper before her one evening almost two years later. Simply amazing.

It was amazing that so much time had passed since the day of her birthday after those Za'tarc tests that had changed her entire life. It was amazing that she and Jack had never been caught in breaking the Fraternization Regulations. It was amazing that she had even considered such a thing as breaking the Frat Regs to begin with, but that had sooooo been the right decision for her to make! It was amazing that in not getting caught breaking those Regulations, she and Jack had managed to somehow get married in those intervening years. It was amazing that their marriage had never been discovered. And most of all, it was amazing that their first year anniversary had come and gone already, and that the relationship that had begun with those innocent letters written back and forth to each other had flourished as well as remained completely secret.

Wow, Sam reflected now. That was pretty darned impressive.

Still thinking about impressive topics, Sam bent her head over the paper before her and began to write.

J.

It's been over a year since the wedding, and I'm thinking that we both deserve awards for continuing to pretend while at work that we don't mean anything special to each other when in actuality, I would rather be dead than see you die yourself. That feeling has, admittedly, caused a great deal of heartache over the years, but I think it's been totally worth it.

Finding time to actually get married comes to mind as one of the hardest things we've ever tried to do, but we did it, somehow, though I thought I'd lost you for sure that time right before the wedding. Like I can't imagine how hard it must have been for you to take on that symbiote like you did, I can't quite convey how awful the Tok'ra were about not sharing their mission files with us, and how that made me want to shake them all until they either died from physical shaking torture, or agreed to cough up the files. Or, on the third hand, it made me want to jump through the 'Gate to their homeworld, even though we didn't know where that was at the time, and to grab the mission files myself. It's a good thing I didn't do that, as such an uncharacteristic action on my part would inevitably have ended up in everyone, including General Hammond, asking awkward questions as to why I was acting so worried about you to begin with, which would have led to me spilling everything in the long run, and who knows what would have happened then. It's a good thing I kept my head, and my mouth shut. I bet you didn't know that you married such a neurotic head case, did you? I'm glad it all worked out in the end, and even though I know that I've said that I was so sorry for that mess so many times before now, I want to say it one more time. I know that you think that I don't know what you did for me by taking on that symbiote (who shall remain nameless) in the first place, but I soooo know, and it's darned... um... darned humbling. I'm sorry. Again. And thank you. Again. Thank you for not dying... so much.

I don't have anything that I specifically want to talk about right now, so I guess that I shouldn't waste your time.

But... Since I have the chance right now, (and I'm not wasting your time with this, honest) I also want to say again that I'm sorry that I put you through such a bad time while I was onboard The Prometheus last month. Even though I was still so out of it with that concussion I had, at least I was able to write letters to you in my head. It kept me from going completely crazy. You were there with me the whole time and didn't even know it. Thanks.

One thing I need to mention before I forget... Mark called to ask me to show some guy friend of his around Colorado Springs next week. I certainly don't mind playing tour guide for his buddies for a few hours, but he had that lilt in his voice again, the one I recognize from when I was younger. He's doing it again, I can tell. He's trying to set me up with someone he knows.

Not that I plan to let him set me up with a guy friend of his. But this whole Mark's-gonna-set-me-up thing gave me an idea, and I want to run it by you first, see what you think about all this. My idea is to go ahead and give the tour for this guy... How harmless can that be, right? But if I refuse, it will look suspicious, and we really can't afford to look suspicious right now. I can only use that 'I have too much work to do' excuse so many times before Mark will start to wonder about me working so much. I'm probably at my quota of being the believable workaholic, anyway.

But I want to make sure that you're not feeling jealous about all this... Are you? I think I can use that work excuse one more time if you don't want me to lead this guy around. I don't anticipate that anything will come of it. In fact, I know that nothing will come of it. I would never put you through something like that, and I certainly don't want to.

It's also occurred (did I spell that right?) to me that this would make the perfect cover for us. I could protect everything we have from more stupid gossip about all that goes on between us. And the gossip has been pretty rife lately, you have to admit, after that Prometheus thing. I just want to see what you think first, I admit. This comes to me as the perfect protection for you (not that you need any protection, but you get the idea). So, any thoughts?

And you know that I love you, but I can't seem to say it often enough. I'll sleep better tonight if I know that I've said it. Isn't that kind of stupid? But then, I guess I'm a stupid person.

Isn't being stupid great?

S.

The next night, Jack read the letter she'd written to him, thinking about all she'd said while he went about making supper for himself in his empty house. As he waited for the red sauce to boil for his spaghetti, he sat down to begin a letter that acted as a response for her letter to him.

S.

Hey, you know that I don't think you're stupid, but you're right, it is great, and that if you want to call yourself stupid while being a genius at the same time, who am I to argue? And you can say those three little words to me any time you want, and you won't get any complaints from me. If it helps you to sleep at night, I'm all for you saying them. In fact, I'll say them myself right now, just so I can be sure that you sleep just fine tonight as well. And I'll say the whole phrase a lot, to make doubly sure: I love you I love you I love you I love you...

Too much? Okay, I'll quit for now, but remember, I love you.

Okay... You asked about Mark, and that guy friend of his who wants a tour. Right away you should know that of course I'm not jealous! 'As if!' as Cassie would say. And you have such good ideas, like that whole thing about us getting boxes at the Post Office to put these letters in, so we wouldn't get caught once we started thinking about dating. I'm inclined to keep giving you the benefit of the doubt, and say 'Good idea again, Carter! Keep it up with those ideas of yours!'

But you're right, I don't need protecting, though I agree that it might be a good idea to protect 'us.' It can't hurt, anyway.

There is one thing that I don't think you've thought of, though. In the strange event that something does come of all this, and this guy gets a bit more involved than either of us might like, isn't agreeing to even meet with him in the first place kind of... 'using'... his good and ignorant intentions against him? I know that I wouldn't like that one bit if I ever found out about it, and I don't want you to get into any unpleasant situations because of this. I'm not worth it. I mean, 'we're' not worth it. (I know that you don't like I when I'm showing my supreme lack of self-confidence in personal issues, so I'll try not to show it... at least, not show it so much.)

So, I guess you should do what you think is best, that I don't mind you showing this guy around... at least, I don't mind you showing him around right now (though later I may have to beat his brains out if he ever touches you)(Just kidding!)(Honest!) And that I know you can handle yourself in any situation that comes up. I just don't want you to get hurt, either emotionally or physically, and that keeping this secret a secret isn't worth it if you're ever worried about getting hurt. That's all.

And The Prometheus thing was pretty horrible, though being alone and consumed by worry isn't something I haven't done to you in the past. Done several times, actually. It's so not your fault, and you need to quit saying 'sorry' for it. No apologies necessary. Now, if you hadn't come back more or less in one piece, safe and sound, then you could expect to need to apologize by haunting me to my dying day. But that didn't happen, so we should probably just forget about it, and move on from there. Right?

'I should do...' Wish I could listen to my own advice. Damn, though, if that didn't scare the crap out of me! Don't do that again, Carter, you hear me?!?!

Sleep well, and know that someone who's usually somewhere in the SGC loves you. See you in your lab tomorrow when I come round to bug you, right after I get done bugging Daniel.

J.

Sam smiled as she read the letter early the next morning while sitting in her car at the Post Office before work. Her smile only grew as she read. Then she sighed, shoved the letter back into its envelope, the envelope under her seat, and pulled out her cell phone to call Mark and tell him that she agreed to play tour guide for an afternoon.

The following Tuesday, Sam showed the high points of life in Colorado Springs to a police officer friend of her brother's, but she forgot his name by the time she wrote her next letter to Jack that evening, so she couldn't tell her husband even that much about him. But at least she'd done what she could to stave off any gossip about her and Jack. Though she thought that Jack had made a good point in his letter, she also thought that stopping any stories about her and her CO before they even got started was worth an afternoon of her time.

But then, that cop with the forgotten name called the following evening and asked Sam out for dinner that Friday, and suddenly 'worth it' took on a whole new meaning. Not knowing what to do in this situation, still wanting to not arouse suspicion by saying 'no,' but wanting to say 'no way are you kidding I'm married geez!' she gave him a very tentative 'yes,' but told him that she would probably have to work, even on a Friday night, and once she hung up the phone, quickly wrote to Jack to ask his advice.

J.

Got a call from What'shisname... I'll have to remember to ask about his name... but you remember the guy I gave the tour to? The friend of Mark's? Yeah, him. He called to ask me out to dinner on Friday night. I said (now, don't get mad... keep reading) I said 'yes' but that I'll probably have to work (which I plan will happen), so he shouldn't expect me even though I've agreed, and mostly I agreed just to get him off my back for the time being so that I have the chance to ask you what I should do about this. I can't think of what I need to say to discourage this guy without sounding too mean. It's not like I want to go out with him, after all. But I don't see that I have a whole lot of choices in the matter right now. I mean, you and I are married, and I'm very happy about that, so I can't go out with Mark's friend, obviously, but I can't tell him that I'm married and use that as an excuse to say 'no,' either, so I have to go out with him to allay suspicion. See the dilemma? So, do you have any ideas? See any options that I'm missing, here? I'm sorry to put you in this position, but I'm at my wit's end right now, and I know me... I'll start acting all nice, but thinking mean thoughts really soon, and though I want to discourage any gossip about us, I also need your help with what I should do about this at the same time. You were right... I'm not sure this whole 'protection' idea of mine was worth all this.

But you know that I excel at getting into messes.

Please help!

S.

Sam waited the entire Thursday for his reply, feeling antsy, and nervous, and sick, and antsy... She couldn't settle down to anything. She left work at the earliest opportunity, made a run to the Post Office right away, and found what she was waiting for in the box that she had reserved in her name years before. With trembling fingers, she grabbed it, then took it to the relative safety of her car in order to read what he had written.

S.

Okay... That whole thing I said earlier about me not being jealous? I admit it, I was wrong to think that way. I'm jealous. I must have been in a really good mood the night I wrote that letter to you telling you to give that guy that tour. So, I'm trying to be not so jealous, at least enough to give you the advice you asked for, but I might give in and say something stupid, so I apologize ahead of time if I say something dumb.

Alright... No, I don't like the idea of you going out to dinner with any guy who's not me. But I also realize that I'm not your keeper, either, even if it doesn't make me so happy to realize that. And besides, you're a free woman who should be able to do what you want. I don't want to piss you off, cause a pissed off Carter is a pretty damned scary Carter, and... But you already know that.

Well, I don't want to tick you off, and I do believe all that I said, but If you still feel the need to kick my ass, go right ahead.

Advice... Hmmm... I still say this whole 'protection' thing isn't worth it, just like you're saying now, only I admit that your first arguments for it were pretty convincing, too. But just the thought of you going out with another guy while I sit at home makes me pretty hot under the collar (BDUs or not).

But still, you need to do what you think is best, and not think about me so much. I know that really doesn't help, but this (as much as it hurts me to say it) this isn't my decision. I think you should tell this guy where to go, but then, you know that I want to send every guy who talks with you to Netu. So I'm not sure that I'm the right person to ask about this thing, either.

And no! I'm not just being Mr. Nice Guy here! Have you ever known me to be a nice guy? I mean, when I have the chance to say what's on my mind, (even if saying that thing that's on my mind isn't going to make me a very popular guy? No? I rest my case.) And I'm thinking more about you than about him, here.

But don't think that I feel too bad about you leading this guy on anymore, either. No, I don't think there's any 'leading' going on in this case. It seems more like he's running to the sacrifice rather than trying to avoid it. He lost my sympathy the minute you told me he called you.

That's what it comes down to - I don't like it, but I know that it's your decision, your life, not mine. I trust you, but I also want to throttle him. Okay?

Does that help? Nope, probably not.

Sorry if this ain't what you want to read, and I'm sorry if it's not too helpful, but I'm too mad to say much more, and I'm scared I'll say something dumb, and...

Crap... I trust you. Better go before...

So... He was mad... He hadn't even signed his letter.

However, the fact that he said that he was jealous showed that he loved her enough to get angry in the first place. That made this an easy decision.

Sam called the number that What'shisname (whoever he was) had given to her, and canceled for Friday night, using the whole 'I really do have to work' excuse one more time. In the end, there really was no decision to make on the subject as far as she was concerned.

But she didn't even have the opportunity to tell Jack about what she had decided, for in that same phone call, What'shisname asked her to go to dinner with him Saturday night if she couldn't make it Friday night, then Sunday night if she couldn't make it on Saturday night. When she gave the excuse that she had to stay home so that she could be with Cassie, who she had promised to take around to see some colleges that weekend, he jokingly wheedled at her to promise to have lunch with him on Monday. Sam had to tell him that she was going to be out of town Monday and Tuesday (thank goodness for missions!), and he mentioned having lunch together on the following Wednesday. Sam sighed, but when he begged, Pleeeaaase! she felt like it would be cruel of her to turn him down, so she said 'yes' even though she had the idea that before the next Wednesday came around, she would think of another excuse to tell him that she'd changed her mind.

But that's not what happened at all. Cassie called from a friend's house that Friday afternoon, asking if they could reschedule the college visits for the following weekend, since a friend she wanted to see was back from college herself for the summer, and Janet had already agreed to let her spend the night with this college friend as long as Sam agreed to reschedule her school visits. At work, and distracted herself, Sam agreed, saying that it was fine with her, as long as Janet had already agreed to take Cassie on those college visits herself the following weekend, as she had a wedding to attend in Denver as a bridesmaid for her college friend Charisse, an event that she'd had planned for at least a month.

Sam worked straight through the weekend, since she was unexpectedly handed so much free time. And if she worked, she didn't have to think about the fact that she hadn't received a letter from her husband since the previous Thursday letter. Such protracted silence was rare, but not entirely unprecedented, even for him.

It certainly wasn't the first time they had disagreed over some issue, and his temper had gotten the better of him, and thus they didn't talk to one another for several days. She'd be worried, but she was also sure that he would get over it on his own.

And he seemed to. The mission on Monday and Tuesday went just like normal, though the mission they had planned to partake in was superseded by the sudden arrival of Jonas Quinn, who claimed to need SG-1's help. So she spent time with Jonas, and even though she and her former team member found several scrapes to get into, as any member of SG-1 often did while on missions, she also found fairly routine solutions to the problems that she encountered. All in all, it was a pretty satisfactory way to spend a day and a half. The promise of down time for the next few days gave her enough freedom after the debriefing to grocery shop for herself. She was surprised by how fast the chore went, and that she remembered to shop at all.

Tuesday afternoon by 1600, she was sitting on her couch, eating the candy bars she had just bought that day, and writing again to Jack.

J.

I hope you're not mad anymore. I don't even remember what we were disagreeing about. Or even if we were disagreeing in the first place.

What did you do this past weekend? I don't know if Daniel told you, but Cassie called off the whole college visit I was planning to take her on, and Janet is going to do it this next weekend so that I can go to that wedding in Denver for my old friend Charisse that I told you about ages ago. Do you want to come with me to the wedding? I think that we can both get away if you just casually mention that you plan to go fishing, and we can meet up at the hotel in Denver where the wedding's going to be held. I would like to talk to you, I admit, and it seems ages since I've seen you. Though I was assigned to stay with Jonas Quinn on that mission, you didn't go. I just got back from 'Adventure Hour With Jonas' where we didn't see each other for an entire day and a half. But a mission (even ones we all go on) is never the same as regular real life.

This whole 'go to the wedding with me' is just a dumb idea if you're still not talking to me, though for the life of me I can't remember why we're fighting in the first place. If you still don't want to see me, tell Daniel about having something else besides fishing to do this weekend, and he can tell me so then I'll know.

S

Feeling nervous, but determined to make the first gesture of good will in this scenario, Sam slipped her letter into Jack's PO box before it got too late for him to possibly collect his mail that very night, or the next morning. Then, even though she felt slightly sick with nerves, she headed home, stopping at a nearby deli along the way for a sandwich and chips for dinner.

The next morning, she stopped by her own PO box on her way to the mall in order to find a birthday present for Lieutenant Rush from the Infirmary. Janet occasionally included Alicia Rush on their girl's nights due to her single status, and that she was a nurse working in the Infirmary, so they knew her from their 'Infirmary' time. They all welcomed a new face on their nights set aside for the few females who worked on base, plus Cassie.

But now, Sam wasn't thinking about that birthday present for Lieutenant Rush. Instead, Sam was delighted to discover her own white unmarked envelope waiting for her inside her small PO box. But she waited to reach her car again before reading it. She almost shook with a heart full of trepidation at what she might find that he had said. So she carried her letter stealthily to her car, then ripped open the envelope to read what her husband had to say.

S.

We were disagreeing about that whole What'shisname tour/date thing, if you remember now. But you don't even have to ask Daniel at work about the fishing thing... Are you kidding? You bet I still want to go to Denver with you! So pack your bags, and reserve a room for me already. We're off.

And I owe you an apology for this past weekend. I was mad, and that whole not talking to you thing was kinda childish, I admit. But, what can I say? I'm a childish guy - I'm not jealous anymore, and that whole thing was pretty dumb in the first place. You were only concerned about keeping 'us' safe, so getting jealous is kind of a dumb thing, isn't it? I'm sorry about all that, and you know how rare it is for me to say 'sorry' for anything. I feel kinda stupid when I say it even now, but you're a good reason to feel stupid over.

Damn! Teal'c's right! I talked to him (discreetly!) a bit right before he went off to find the Tok'ra yesterday, and he yelled at me for basically being such a jerk (as much as Teal'c ever yells), though he phrased it in a much nicer way. Actually, Teal'c just stared at me with that eyebrow of his raised until I felt like a jerk... Teal'c didn't have to say anything at all.

So, what did you decide to do about this guy, and dinner, and all? I don't know what's been going on because I've been so stupid lately. I'll sleep on the couch tonight even though you're not here, and the bed will be completely empty the entire night. I'll do it just because I deserve it.

J

Sam laughed at his comments, and had to think that his offer to sleep on the couch tonight even when she didn't plan to be at his house was too sweet for words, but now she remembered that she had to call the phone number that What'shisname had given to her, and cancel that lunch she'd promised to share with him. So she did.

And that night, she rode her blue bike that Jack had bought for her, and that was now several years old, to his house once it got dark, surprised him, and didn't even make him sleep on the couch for the duration of the night.

* * *

But it was Sam and Jack who were surprised that very weekend while at the hotel in Denver for the wedding that Sam was in.

After a light lunch on Saturday, they were crossing the hotel lobby to return to their rooms, joking and laughing the entire way. They always reserved two rooms when staying out of town in order to convince any visitors they happened to have that nothing was going on between them. It was all part of a very useful and familiar charade.

A call suddenly stopped them, and Sam turned abruptly to identify the caller, half of her ready to spring into action if this unexpected situation suddenly became a time when she needed to defend herself. She relaxed when she was able to quickly identify the man who had shouted at her.

Samantha Carter! exclaimed the man who Sam had dubbed 'What'shisname.' He rose from a generic lobby sofa, and folded the pamphlet he had been reading shut. Fancy seeing you here! he pleasantly exclaimed, continuing with his greeting.

Hi! said Sam, sounding more enthusiastic than she felt. Could she not get away from the guy? What a coincidence! Sam could almost hear Teal'c intone the word 'Indeed' in her mind as the man first smiled at her, then held his hand out for Jack to shake. Detective Pete Shanahan, nice to meet you.

Jack warily accepted the man's hand for the quick greeting. Colonel Jack O'Neill, was all he said.

Pete Shanahan smiled. (So that was what his name was! Sam thought to herself.) I see the military is taking care of my tour guide just fine! he joked.

Jack's eyes narrowed a hint at Pete's reference to Sam being Pete's anything. So he said, Carter doesn't need much help in the 'taking care of herself' department - I think she's plenty able to take me on at any time, and probably beat me into next week, to say nothing of tours!

Sam laughed at the teasing compliment he was giving to her, and decided that such a statement must be complimented in turn. She knew that even meeting this Pete character like this didn't make Jack particularly happy, so she turned her attention to her Colonel, and said, I should be able to beat you with all those great moves you took the time to teach me over the years! Still smiling, she saw the confused look on Pete's face, and explained, Colonel O'Neill is my CO. Sam had to explain even more, Oh, um, military speak for Commanding Officer. Then she went on, He's taught me a lot more than hand to hand combat over the last... She turned to Jack. The last six years? Is that right, Sir?

Jack grinned only slightly at her in response, but he did say, It's been seven years, Carter. Then he turned to Pete to say, A genius who can't count... Yep, that's my Carter!

Sam had to clear her throat in order to gloss over Jack's use of the words 'my' and 'Carter' together in the same sentence, and asked the first question that came to her mind. You're a detective? she inquired of Pete in order to distract him.

As a tactic, it worked. People could always be guaranteed to like talking about themselves, and Pete was perfectly happy to answer her inquiry. Yeah, he told them. I'm at the Denver PD right now. Then he looked at Sam and archly informed her, That's the Denver Police Department.

Sam laughed again, but had to force the gesture in order to get it out. She knew perfectly well what 'PD' stood for! She was pretty certain that Jack knew she was faking the merriment of her expression with the following conversation, but that Pete would have no idea what she was doing. Instead of answering the comment that Pete had made, she said, Mark told me that you have a fairly sarcastic sense of humor, but I didn't really get that on our tour the other day.

Pete grinned, and said, I thought I should be nice to my friend's kid sister, and not let too much of my sarcasm out... not since you were taking the time to show me around town like you did. I didn't want to 'spring' too much on you right at once!

Sam grinned as well at his attempt at a joke, but her thoughts weren't quite so accommodating. Uh, she thought. Baaaad joke! she went on, silently referring to his use of the word 'spring' in quotes, as if it meant something that it really didn't. She continued speaking aloud so that she wouldn't have to share those thoughts with the two men. So, what brings you to the hotel life of Denver?

Oh, Pete said, Conference... For the PD... Just got over. I was reading through some of the things I got at some of the sessions today when I saw you. And what brings you to my fair city? he politely inquired.

Jack replied to that question, as if he felt a need to explain why he was with Carter at a hotel for the weekend in Denver. Oh, Carter's in a friend's wedding, and she lugged me up here to keep her company for the day. She likes to share the torture...

Jack was interrupted when Sam teasingly protested, I do not!

Jack did give a full on grin this time, and he recalled, Well, okay, I did volunteer to be abused this weekend, even though I have tons of work to do back at base still.

He was joking, Sam knew. His 'tons of work' consisted of bugging on a daily basis first Daniel, then her, then eating a piece of cake in the Commissary, unless he accidentally broke something in either Daniel's or her labs, and then he would spend the next hour trying to find a broom to clean up his mess.

How many messes has he had to clean up over the years? Sam silently asked herself, and she was so lost in her memory that she almost missed the next part of the conversation. Pete said to Jack, If you have all that work to catch up on, I don't mind keeping Sam company for the day. It's already a wasted day for me, as I had that conference this morning. There's no sense in you wasting the entire day, too.

Sam wasn't sure she liked the idea that a wedding she was in was considered 'a waste,' and Jack at least seemed taken aback at first by Pete's suggestion. But he also appeared to be considering the suggestion at the same time. Still he said, Oh, I don't mind, really. Actually, keeping Carter out of trouble at a wedding keeps me from spending time on any more paperwork, and we all know how the military just loves its paperwork!

Jack was being sarcastic again. He never did his paperwork, and everyone on base knew it. Sam wondered what he was trying to do by making that suggestion about his work in the first place.

Pete grinned. I don't mind at all taking Sam around Denver today. The sun's shining, the fountains around the city are running (I assume), and I don't even mind going to a wedding tonight. I need to ask Sam something anyway.

Who is Pete trying to kid? Sam thought. All men disliked going to weddings! She'd practically had to bend Jack's arm to get him to go with her this weekend when she'd first mentioned it, and when she had been dating Jonas Hansen, he had claimed that she only wanted him to attend weddings so he could 'experience the atmosphere' of weddings for free, in order to get ideas for his and her own future wedding. But then, she reminded herself, Jonas had been a demonic egomaniac jerk, and Jack was just a reluctant dance partner. It was no wonder that she'd had so much trouble getting her guys to go to weddings with her. Jack probably wouldn't be here, either, Sam admitted to herself, but he loved seeing her in the bridesmaid dress that Charisse had chosen. Bare shoulders had always enticed him! Or, at least, her bare shoulders always had.

But Jack was looking at Pete as if he suddenly felt relief at a possible way out of the evening's planned torture session. You don't mind? Then he turned to Sam. I really do have a lot of work to catch up on.

What was he playing at? There was no work that she knew of. All she could think of that was planned to happen that afternoon was a Canuck's game being televised on ESPN 2. She knew that Jack wanted to see it, but didn't think he would be willing to trade off his escort duties for it, duties which had been promised weeks in advance, with a guy he had proclaimed feeling jealous of only a week beforehand.

But maybe Sam didn't know Jack as well as she thought she did. He suddenly seemed pleased at Pete's suggestion. Sam remained foggily silent while Jack spoke up again. You're sure you don't mind? he asked Pete.

Pete amiably replied, Not at all, as long as Sam doesn't mind being on her own for awhile tonight while I go home and change for the wedding. What time is this wedding, anyway?

Jack answered. 1700... Oh, I mean five O'clock. And you're sure that you're free, and don't mind?

Pete rolled his eyes. He couldn't seem to help it. But he smiled as he made the action. Of course I don't mind... even a wedding's better than a conference.

Jack seemed just a little taken aback again, but said, Well, okay, guess that's settled then. I'll just go up to my room and grab my things... I'll see you on Monday, Carter.

For a moment, Sam experienced panic, and she was pretty sure it was leaking out in her expression. He was leaving? This was the wedding that he'd only two days ago proclaimed that he wanted very much to attend with her? He must want to see that game more than she had thought!

Uh.., she stuttered. She looked between Pete and Jack, then back again, then back to Jack. Uh... I didn't know about all that work I was keeping you from, Sir, she finally said, trying to stall for time.

Jack replied, It came up all of a sudden just last night. He shook his head at her. You couldn't have known. But... He gestured with his thumb towards the hallway, and began backing away. I really need to...

Pete seemed to indicate the door with a wave of his hand in order to give Jack an extra encouraging shove. Go ahead, work away! he invited.

Jack took him up on the invitation by fully stepping in the direction he and Sam had been going. He again called, See you Monday, Carter.

Still slightly flummoxed, Sam shook her head to clear it, then said, I'll be there, Sir, ready to work again.

Jack smiled a little, and as a parting shot, said, You're always ready to work, Carter. Just don't stay out too late tonight. It's a bit of a drive back to the Springs. And with that, he was gone.

Still slightly astonished at Jack's quick disappearance, Sam turned to face Pete.

Nice guy, Pete said as Jack disappeared down the hall of the hotel. Then he turned back to Sam. So...

But Sam interrupted him. You said that you needed to talk with me?

Oh... Pete gestured her to a chair in the lobby next to the sofa he'd just vacated. I guess that's not really important...

Sam took a seat in the chair, and gazed steadily at him, an interrogation technique that she had picked up years ago from the Colonel before they'd gotten married. You've got me for the rest if the day... Might as well pick my brain, she invited, trying to sound casual and pleasant while she was really highly concerned about what had made Jack leave like he had.

Pete blushed slightly. Oh, well, he said. I... um... was kind of wondering if... Colorado Springs... His voice trailed off again.

So Sam prompted him. Yes? she asked. If Colorado Springs... what?

So Pete hastily said, If Colorado Springs has a zoo?

Sam's eyebrows shot up. A zoo?

Pete seemed to blush again. I know that's dumb, but... See, my nephew got me started on liking to see zoo animals, see things from other parts of the world, and...

I understand that, Sam exclaimed, thinking of a herd of extremely large and carnivorous monkeys that SG-1 had run into quite by accident on a planet two years before. The monkeys had looked harmless enough, but had turned out to be anything but harmless, and SG-1 had had to run for the 'Gate only ten minutes after arriving on the planet they'd intended to explore. It had only been at Jack's insistent prodding that they had managed to get started back to the 'Gate before things totally went South on that mission, and had saved them in the long run. Of course, she couldn't tell Pete, a civilian, what she was thinking about. So Sam decided to focus the conversation on a safer topic. You have a nephew? How old? I have one who's ten.

And so the conversation went for the next few hours. Then, as Pete excused himself to return home in order to change so that he could escort Sam to the wedding, as he'd promised to, Sam waited for him to walk out the front door before she indulged a whim she'd had ever since she and Jack had run into the cop in the hotel lobby.

It was possible that the Denver PD had promised that its employees would be at a conference that day, but it was an awful big coincidence that such a conference had been that particular day, and at that particular hotel. So Sam sidled up to the desk and asked the clerk on duty, Could you check your computer system to tell me if I missed a police conference scheduled at this hotel for this weekend?

The clerk smiled. Oh, I don't even need to look through the computer for that, he said in a friendly voice. We have a wedding scheduled for this weekend, and we try never to overlap a conference and a wedding. The booking nightmare just isn't worth it! The young man laughed at his own joke.

Sam continued with her charade that she had chosen to go with. So there's no conference this weekend? She sighed dramatically in mock relief as the clerk shook his head. I thought I'd missed it! Now things work out better than before!

The young desk clerk politely inquired, Do you live in Denver then, Ma'am?

Sam was a bit startled at being called 'Ma'am' in a civilian situation, though she didn't know why... she was often called 'ma'am' at work at the SGC. But she answered, I am, which is why I work at the Denver PD.

Well, not to worry, the clerk reported. That conference isn't scheduled until next weekend. You're a weekend too early.

Sam grinned. Better too early than too late! Thanks! With that, she turned and seemed to leave the hotel.

She waited for five full minutes, then slipped back into the building beside a group of newly arriving hotel guests. Once they had taken the young clerk's attention with check ins and reservations, she headed for the hall that she'd seen Jack disappear into earlier.

Confused as to why Pete had seemed to be telling her a story about that conference, as well as his attendance, she strode off to the elevator and headed to the suite of rooms that she and Jack had rented for the night before, and day of the wedding.

Her thoughts turned to contemplating her husband and his very odd behavior only a few hours before. On another whim, she peeked through the door connecting their two rooms, hoping to find Jack sprawled out on the bed, watching the hockey game on the TV, but he wasn't in the room, wasn't in the bathroom, and all his clothes and toilet articles had disappeared from either room. Disappointed, she pulled out her cell phone, and dialed his cell number. When that didn't get through to him, she dialed his home phone, then his office phone. Nothing.

Pondering, she slowly dialed Daniel's home number, her final attempt at finding her husband's location.

Daniel answered the phone to the definite sounds of a party behind him. Jackson.

Sam took a moment to appreciate the fact that Daniel answered his phone a lot like Jack did. Then she said, Daniel, it's Sam... Have you seen the Colonel today?

Daniel perkily replied, Sure, Sam, he's here, with the guys...

In the background, Sam distinctly heard Lou Feretti holler, Send her on over, Jackson! Even talking with a scientist has to be better than talking with you sorry excuses for guys, and watching a dumb hockey game!

Sam's face hadn't had time to redden before another male voice she didn't recognize responded, Naw, even hockey's better than technobabble on a Saturday afternoon! I don't need to have to concentrate during the weekends as well as the week, too!

Then Daniel's voice came back on the line, Uh, sorry about that, Sam. They're just guys waiting for some pizza to shove in their faces. Uh... Was there a reason you need to talk to Jack? Or is there something I can do for you?

Sam had to mentally shake herself again. Uh... No! No, thanks though, Daniel. It can wait till Monday...

You sure? Cause I can...

Then the sound of the phone changing hands hit her. Then whoever had the phone dropped it in something that sounded a lot like chips in a bowl, or at least the crumbs of chips in a bowl, and Jack's voice came on the line. Carter? he asked. What's up?

Sam quickly replied, Oh, nothing, Sir, I just wanted to make sure that you made it back okay...

Sure, he answered. Fine. Uh... Daniel told me about this get together he was having just last night, and...

Sam smiled in relief. As long as you didn't leave because I was boring you to death...

Course not! Jack blurted, and Sam wondered how much he'd had to drink already, as any time when several men got together surely included drinking. But she trusted Daniel not to let him drink too much and drive home. At least, she mostly trusted Daniel.

Then Jack went on in a much softer voice, Don't be too concerned about that techno talk comment. It's just Brad feeling his oats.

Sam sighed, but gave a tired smile. It's nothing I haven't heard a few thousand times over the years, Sir.

Uh... Was there something I can do for you?

Sam answered right away. No, no, it can wait till Monday. Sorry I bothered you... Have fun watching your game.

You too, he said. Have fun, I mean... At that friend's shindig...

Without even saying goodbye Sam hung up her phone. She didn't trust herself not to say something too revealing on a public line, and thus chose not to say anything at all.

But she couldn't help asking herself as she changed into the bridesmaid dress that Charisse had chosen: Isn't it an awfully big coincidence that a supposed conference is scheduled in this particular hotel at all? And isn't it a big coincidence that Pete showed up at this hotel, and on this weekend? And it's the wrong weekend at that?

Hmmm, she thoughtfully hummed.

* * *

But Sam didn't have much time to ponder weddings, conferences, or hotels in the next several days. She spent almost all of her time hidden in her lab, doing experiments, though she certainly didn't mean to disappear into her own personal work space. How was she to predict that SG-5 would bring the most interesting device back through the 'Gate from PRX-223? Pete spent what time with her that he could when she came up for air (or her team mates made certain she saw the light of day), but the time Sam spent with Pete was a relatively small amount. She had to split what little freedom she had between her husband and her new 'friend' who had the unerring ability to show up at the oddest moments. Usually, she ran into him during the few times she happened to be out with Jack or Daniel in public.

Then things took another turn and she found herself spending more and more time with Pete, to the point that Jack finally asked what, if anything, was going on.

S.

Did I miss something? Is there a reason why you seem to be spending so much time with this Pete guy? I know that I often have a lot of work to catch up on... No, don't say that I wouldn't have to work so much if I wouldn't spend my days playing on my Gameboy all the time... Remember, I know you, Sam.

But is there something going on that I should know about? You aren't mad at me, or anything, are you? Cassie said that you don't act mad, but I thought I should make sure.

And no, I'm not jealous... unless you want me to be.

J.

Sam grinned as she read the letter, but wondered how she had missed Jack talking to Cassie...

J.

No, nothing's going on... At least, not that I know of, but you can go ahead and be jealous anyway if you want to. Should I be jealous of Cassie?

S.

But in a bad sense of timing, Sam once again found herself spending time with Pete when Jack dropped by her house on the next Saturday morning. As a result, a letter was waiting for her when she had time to check her PO box that night.

S.

Okay, I admit that I did bug out during that wedding weekend, so I can only blame myself, but... I stopped by your house this morning, but you were already gone. Again, I might add. Later, Cassie said that she saw you and that Pete guy in the park near your house.

I know I shouldn't be, but I'm getting jealous, I admit...

J.

Tired out from all the time she'd spent lately working in her lab, and strung out because she hadn't yet solved the puzzle of the PRX-223 device, Sam quickly felt anger course through her veins at his words. Though on a dispassionate level, she knew that he hadn't meant to question her motives in this developing Pete situation, yet on a purely emotional plane, she couldn't help the anger that forced her hand to shake as she replied with her own letter.

J.

So much for all that trust you claim to have in me. What, do you have Cassie spying on me now?

S.

Sam was still angry the next morning when she woke, but she had managed to calm down enough to realize that she was being just slightly unfair to Jack. She hadn't been able to curtail her initial reaction the night before, though now she was beginning to feel the need to offer an apology as soon as she could.

Her need to apologize left as soon as she read Jack's letter to her that was waiting in her box.

S.

I do trust you, and having my faith in you questioned like that isn't so nice. And I don't have Cassie spying, but I may have to start if some things don't change, and soon. I am the husband in this scenario... Or am I remembering wrong?

J.

Sam read his words, felt her ire rise once again, but forced herself to wait two hours before she answered. By that time, her anger had cooled, and her tone was much more accommodating than it might have been if she'd responded right away.

J.

Okay... I'm sorry about what I said... I have no reason to be angry, and you don't either. None of this time I'm spending with Pete is planned or my fault, and you don't have any reason to be jealous, or to sick Cassie on me. (If I don't watch out, you'll sick Teal'c on me next!). There's nothing going on that you should know about, and I'll try to stop any weird behavior before it starts... Okay?

S.

But Jack didn't answer. He hadn't read her letter by the time she wrote another letter, asking what the problem was and why he wasn't reading what she wrote, and then events spiraled so far out of control so quickly that if it didn't all automatically make her head spin, she might just have gotten sick from sudden vertigo at how fast things could change.

* * *

Two months later:

Dear God! Jack was gone, frozen in stasis in Antarctica. That had been the only way the rest of the members of SG-1 could think of to possibly keep him alive while they were frantically trying to come up with of a way to save his life and his mind by circumventing the Ancient download of information he had undergone. Sam knew she was the principle person whom Jack would unconsciously be relying on to invent some drastic measure to save his butt yet again from the edge of disaster. But she was so shocked and horrified by all that had happened in the past several months, she found herself practically paralyzed from the rational thought that was necessary for her to take action of any kind in this predicament.

Jack still wasn't speaking to her. More than a month was by far the longest he had gone without speaking to her. And now, it looked like he wouldn't be able to speak to her. At least, not in English.

However, even she took several days before she was able to think of the events without tears threatening to leak from her eyes. The thought that in their last communication, Jack had been angry with her made those tears even more commonplace.

Then one night, she heard a knock on her door, and that action again changed what little that remained steady in her world, tilting it on its axis.

Sam quickly dried the salty water tracks on her face and hurried to open the door, wondering who would be calling at her house at 2000 at night. But it was a habit of self-preservation that made her hide her emotional reaction from anyone in the outside world as much as she could. So, she cleared her throat and sounded almost normal when she pulled the door aside. Her mouth was gaping, prepared to welcome the visitor, but she was surprised into speechlessness when she found herself staring into the face of the recently transferred General Hammond.

Major, is this a bad time? he asked, indicating her teary face, evidence of her mood that she couldn't quite conceal.

Despite the grief that the recent events had caused her, she managed a genuine smile in reaction to his greeting. General! she said in a welcome tone. She backed away to let him in. Come in... And no, this isn't a bad time at all. In fact, the distraction from what happened to Colonel O'Neill is nice, actually. She sniffed, and swung the door closed behind him. What has you coming to visit me here so late at night?

Hammond gave a short sigh when she mentioned the Colonel, but he preceded her into her own living room, and took a seat on a chair by the fireplace. She sat once more in the same place she had been sitting in on her sofa so that she could face him. He said, I wish I could say that I'm here as a friend who is worried about you, but I wouldn't be telling the entire truth of the situation. Sam sent him a confused expression, and he hurried on, This is official business, I'm afraid.

Sam pushed a tissue across her cheeks again, brushing away the tears. Sorry, she apologized. I've been a bit upset about the whole Colonel O'Neill situation, Sir.

His expression turned to one of concern. And how is that going? he asked. Any progress on freeing him from his Antarctic pod yet?

Sam had to shake her head at him. We've contacted the Asgard and the Tok'ra, but nothing's changed so far, Sir, she told him.

I'm sorry to hear that, he said, and Sam could hear the genuine note of sorrow in his voice.

A cool, steely sound crept into her own voice as she naturally responded to anything that might be of a military background. Is there something that I can do for you, General? I admit that I'm a bit busy right now, what with all the 'Save Colonel O'Neill' stuff I've got going in my lab, but...

Actually, General Hammond said, interrupting her string of words, This is another matter entirely. Though the 'Save the Colonel' attitude has infected all of us even as far away as Washington DC, I have something else to discuss with you.

His voice trailed away as Sam listened. Okay, she finally said, allowing him to go ahead with his explanation.

I know that I must sound cryptic to you, he said, his tone apologetic now. But what do you know about this Shanahan character who appeared at the Osiris Operation a few weeks ago?

This inquiry surprised Sam enough to temporarily halt her stewing about her reason for her tears. Uh... Not much more than that he says he's a detective who works for the Denver PD, and he unexpectedly showed up at that Osiris Operation, and was shot while trying to help us defeat Osiris. Sam sat up straighter on her sofa cushion. General, if this is about anything that I might have told him afterwards in the Infirmary, Colonel O'Neill gave me clearance to...

Again, Hammond interrupted. No, it's nothing like that, Major, he soothed. He held out his hands in a placating gesture as well. I'm aware of the extenuating circumstances of that operation. You have nothing to worry about.

Sam breathed a sigh of relief, and tried to calm her quickened heartbeat. I'm relieved to hear that, Sir.

The General continued. Though, now that we've mentioned his sudden appearance at a classified Air Force Op site, it has come to the attention of several of the people I work with to wonder just why he was even there in the first place when all this action was happening.

Sam's face took on a frozen mask of neutrality as fear coursed through her. She suddenly had a very bad feeling about all this mystery. What are you saying, General?

Hammond gave a regretful sigh this time. I'm saying that everyone in Washington is just now beginning to wonder what was going on at the time with this Detective Shanahan, and what's in his background that...

Sam was captured by sudden insight. They think he's working for The Trust, don't they?

Hammond seemed reluctant now. They think it's a possibility, he admitted.

Sam's forehead crinkled in puzzlement. What do you want me to do about it even if it is possible that he's a Trust agent, which I don't think he is? she asked him.

Hammond then began to explain, You have new orders to keep whatever relationship you have with him alive and well while you investigate his background and collect information on his past and present activities to...

Sam then did something that she had never done before: she questioned the direct orders given to her by a superior officer. Sir, I think that I'm a bit too close to this situation, that it's not a good idea for me to.., she began saying as more fear curdled in her stomach. She could only imagine Jack's expression at her seeming to continue a relationship with another man while covertly investigating him for those 'people' in Washington! If they ever managed to unfreeze and restore him to normal health, that is.

Once more, Hammond intervened. I'm sorry if this comes at a bad time for you, Major Carter, but it's my understanding that you and this Pete Shanahan have already begun a relationship of a certain kind...

Sam balked when he said those words. Well, yeah, I guess you could say that we're friends, but...

From what I understand from Daniel and Teal'c, it's a bigger relationship than just friends, he gently said.

Again Sam gave a start. You spoke to Daniel and Teal'c about this, Sir?

They called me to tell me about it, the General emphatically told her. Then he explained in a much softer tone, They're only worried about you, Sam, and what this stress that you're currently under regarding Colonel O'Neill might make you do. The General paused in his speech one more time, then cleared his throat before continuing, It doesn't matter, at any rate. I have orders to tell you to go on as you are, encouraging this Shanahan character to stick around while you do what you can to gather Intel on him for the Joint Chiefs. I'm truly sorry if these orders somehow compromise your own personal morals concerning civilians and civilian relationships, but these are orders. I can't do anything to change them, either.

Sam sat in total silence, too stunned to move from her couch as she thought at a pace fast enough to scramble her brain.

Major? Hammond questioned. I hope this doesn't come at a bad time for you...

No! Sam replied. Don't think that at all, General! she said, all the while internally cringing at the fact that he had spoken her rank, knowing that it would remind her of her duty as a military officer. Um... Of course, General, you can count on me.

Hammond gazed at her in puzzlement at her hesitancy. At last, he gently asked, This doesn't cause a problem for you, does it, Major?

Um... Sam contemplated actually lying to an officer of the Air Force, but he spoke again, thus effectively halting anything she might have said.

Can we count on you to do some digging for us, Major? he inquired.

Sam grimaced. Like she really had any choice in the matter. She said, I'll follow my orders to the best of my ability, General. There... She hadn't had to give a lie after all. Somehow, that fact was little comfort to her now.

Excellent, Major. Hammond seemed relieved now that she had agreed. I'll be your liaison in this matter. I'll visit again in a few weeks to get a report on your progress. He rose, then added, Oh, and Major, let's keep this just between the two of us. The less chance that this Shanahan person... or anyone, for that matter... has of hearing what you're doing on your own time, the better. Agreed?

Sam sat in silence again, suddenly more petrified even than she had been before when he had first told her of her new orders. What the General had just said meant that she couldn't tell her team members about what she was doing. More to the point, she couldn't tell Jack what she'd been ordered to do, if they ever managed to get him back...

Major? Hammond queried again.

Sam shook her head to clear it of the images that had momentarily immobilized her. That's... Whatever you say, General, she said, agreeing to remain silent on the issue without saying the words that would verbally promise her silence. Inside, she was still contemplating the idea that she wouldn't be allowed to tell even Jack, and how this might negatively impact their future married state.

But Hammond was none the wiser for her current conundrum. He nodded once, then picked up his hat. I'm sure the Joint Chiefs will be gratified to hear my report on this situation, he said to her. And there's no need to get up... I'll show myself out. He strode to the front door again, but stopped when he reached it to turn and stare gratefully at her one more time. And thank you, Major. Colonel O'Neill would be proud to see that you're turning into as fine an officer as he is.

If he was thinking about her turning into a fine covert operations officer, Sam sincerely doubted that Jack would be feeling at all proud of her at this moment, but she didn't dare voice this opinion to Hammond. In his bid for understanding such a statement, he would end up uncovering everything about hers and Jack's hidden relationship. So Sam simply stayed quiet, as the many years had taught her was the best way to handle this type of tense situation, and Hammond nodded once more. Thank you again, and you'll be hearing from us. Then he disappeared out the front door and into the calm quiet of an April night.

Once he had gone, Sam let her head fall into her hands, despairing over the situation that was sure to be created by these new orders of hers. She also knew that Jack would not understand that situation if he ever became aware of it, and that she could do nothing to alleviate the distress and unhappiness he was certain to feel because of it. She could never tell any of her friends what she was doing.

Crap.

Sam groaned into her hands as inside her chest, she felt the first pains of a heart that was surely breaking.

Go on to Part III


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