Secret Journey

by Linda Bindner

Part III

Eleven months later:

My life has become an 'and then,' Sam thought. First this happens, and then that happens, and then this happens, and then that happens... she recited in her head as she mimicked the definition for the phrase that she had learned in high school English class. She continued to stare in consternation, confusion, and with a dawning sense of horror at the woman who had just walked onto Jack's deck from Jack's house. Kerry Johnson was the woman's name. The new CIA agent assigned to the SGC. And she looked more than comfortable in the house belonging to someone who was supposed to be married to her, as in Sam Carter. But, Sam had thought, things may have changed even more than she had imagined over the last months.

Other random thoughts continued to crowd through Sam's mind as she continued to gaze at the two people who certainly seemed to be on a date, all set to have a cozy dinner for two. That's what it looked like. Sam went on blinking at them in patent disbelief as stranger and stranger thoughts continued crowding through her mind: she noted that Kerry's curly, shoulder-length auburn hair couldn't be more different from her own short blond hair that she had thought Jack preferred as recently as yesterday. She noted that Kerry held a bowl of salad and something that looked like vegetables in her hands, but that Jack hated salad and vegetables of most any kind. She noted that Jack was going to burn the meat he had on the grill if they all remained in this stupefied silence much longer.

It had simply never occurred to Sam that there would ever be another woman to worry about. The thought was just so surreal!

Sam blinked one last time before stammering something about it being her fault that she had interrupted their dinner-for-two by so suddenly stopping by Jack's house unannounced the way she had. She added that she needed to go as her gaze flitted between the couple on the deck.

Kerry fairly cheerfully halted Sam's rambling by remarking on the awkwardness of the situation, while Sam could only mutter the odd phrase, and continue to stare at Jack in growing confusion. Kerry then said something about Jack not wanting anyone at the SGC to know about them, but that Sam might as well stay for dinner now that... Something about a cat and a bag... Sam was too busy staring at her husband to entirely take in what Kerry was trying to tell her.

The entire scene was more than horrible. Kerry had commented that the scene with the three of them was 'awkward,' and Sam couldn't agree more. While Sam grew more and more flustered and confused, Jack was clearly feeling only one thing... guilt. It was written all over his face in the expression that he wore as he hurried to carefully remove the bowls from Kerry's grasp, and to set them on the outdoor deck table that was already well laid for that planned cozy meal for two.

It had already wormed its way into Sam's mind that she was interrupting what was obviously a date between Jack and Ms. Johnson. It occurred to Sam that only fifteen minutes earlier, she had thought that Jack was already spoken for, and that she had done the speaking when she'd originally said 'I do.' Though she really couldn't tell him anything specific pertaining to the huge mess they were currently in, and had been in for the last year, she had tried on a few occasions to hint to Jack that all hope was not lost for them and their marriage. But now, it was becoming clear that she had failed miserably in her endeavors.

Ms. Johnson had called this situation 'awkward.' Sam couldn't imagine how things could possibly get more awkward. It was embarrassing enough to interrupt the date of a couple who had every right to date each other, but it was a different matter entirely to interrupt a date between a single woman and the man you thought as your own husband. Sam's face began turning red as her expression burned to match the color of the coals in Jack's grill as she continued to stammer something about needing... If she could only manage to engage her brain before her mouth had time to do even more damage! She didn't need Kerry to add the further pain of unwitting humiliation to the nausea that was already rolling around in her stomach!

It was then that Sam's cell phone rang, halting her babbling in mid babble. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and glanced at the caller ID. It's the SGC, she noted in some surprise, and relief, truth to tell. She then internally marked that she had just made the most inane statement in her entire life, but that it had at least been a complete sentence. She ignored her inner ramblings, and lifted the phone to her ear as she said, Colonel Carter. She listened intently to some unidentified person on the other end. Her face fell into lines of worry as she again could only splutter, What? When? Jack and Kerry continued to stare at her with vague looks of concern now on their faces, but Sam couldn't spare any of her attention for either of them at the moment. Which gave a small indication at how upsetting this news was to her. She firmly said into her phone, Okay, I'm on my way. She snapped the cell phone shut, then turned her eyes back to what appeared to be a perfectly happy couple having a cookout on the grill for the evening meal, and she told them, I... I gotta go... It's my Dad. With that as her only statement about the mysterious phone call, she turned and hurried back to her car still sitting in the driveway.

* * *

Sam stumbled up her front steps, her mind still encased in a fog. It was difficult for her to believe: her father was dead. She had spoken to him only that morning when she had nervously introduced him to Pete. Now it seemed completely unreal that he was gone forever.

Sam slipped her key into the lock, turned it, then entered the house. She'd been expecting a cold, dark, empty dwelling, just like the one she had been coming home to for years. But that's not what greeted her.

Pete! Sam exclaimed from her entryway as she gazed in incomprehension at the warm, welcoming house, and at the food resting on the dining room table. The cheerfulness of the situation she found at her home couldn't be more removed from her mood if it tried. What are you doing here? she asked, still unable to take in much more than the fact that the living room lights were turned on and the dining room table was set for an unexpected dinner. I thought you had to work today.

I traded with Jones for the weekend, Pete said in short, brusque tones that he had never used before as he stood between her at the front door and the rest of her houseful of things. Then he held up a red, inch wide binder full of loose leaf paper, and bitingly explained, I came here to surprise my fiancé with a home cooked supper, and look what I found sitting on the table as I was trying to put the plates on it. He held up the binder again, and said, These letters... entries... whatever they are... They're written in your handwriting, Sam, and seem to be awfully intimate to have been in the house of a person promised to someone these letters obviously aren't written to; I have never even heard of some of the things mentioned in these letters... journal entries... whatever. Mind telling me what this is all about? he finished in a harsh tone.

The vagueness that she had been feeling all afternoon settled again into a mirror of the horror that she had experienced at Jack's. For a second, she thought about lying to him, and saying that he had found Daniel's journals, left in her safe keeping. But she dismissed the notion as soon as it came to mind. Her heart was already so sore from the day's events that she couldn't also heap a convincing lie onto those hurts.

But Pete was going on, and she rerouted her attention to him. Or can you explain this, perhaps? He held up another binder, black this time, from where it rested on her coffee table. It was the binder of the letters that she had written to Jack at the beginning of this past year. Full, it rested heavily in Pete's hands. Maybe you have a perfectly good explanation for these books. But I have to admit that this is really strange evidence to find in your fiancé's house! He slapped the two binders together, making a loud crack like a whip echo throughout the house, then he stared at her in anger. His voice was even harder than it had been before as he demanded again, Sam, what the hell is going on here?

Sam felt her resolve firm the second he used a curse word in his demand for information. Well, time was up, she knew. She only hoped that she had enough evidence against Pete to appease the Joint Chiefs.

Sam dropped her bag to the floor, and placed the files she had been carrying on her hall table before she wearily said, I'll explain everything. I just need to grab a drink from the fridge. Why don't you take a seat, and I'll be back in a minute. She reached into her coat closet for a hanger to place her coat on.

But Pete wasn't calm enough to sit patiently in her living room. He wasn't a kid, expected to wait passively for its wayward parents, after all. He remained exactly where he had been standing, and continued to harangue her. Actually, I would really like it if you told me about this right now, he said, his voice demanding that explanation that she had promised him, and that he was still waiting for.

That harsh tone of his drove Sam past the edge of her own restraint on her temper, and in an instant, she snapped. I said sit! she fiercely yelled, and slammed the hanger now holding her coat onto the closet rack. She looked straight at him with a suddenly murderous expression in her eyes. Look, I know about ten different ways to render you unconscious in under three seconds, probably before you can even lock onto me with a weapon, and my father very surprisingly died today, and I am soooo not in the mood for this, so you go right ahead and push me, buster, and I won't be responsible for what happens to you! I said that I will be with you in a minute, and I will! Now sit down!

Pete clearly didn't know how to handle this sudden tiger who was inhabiting the body of the woman he considered to be his fiancé. Still angry himself, according to the look of fury on his face, he reluctantly obliged her own demand, and turned to a chair in the living room. He sat, after he had thrown the binders he still carried onto the coffee table. Okay, I'm sitting, he sulkily said to her as she pulled a can of diet soda from the fridge and opened it. Now what? You gonna tell me what the hell is going on here, or are you going to make up some kind of bizarre story that you expect me to swallow?

Sam took a long, satisfying drink of the soda as she briefly recalled the feeling of... something... support, sorrow, raw affection... that had seared through her at just the touch of Jack's arm as he had lent her his quiet, unending support only minutes before in the observation room over her father's death bed, and she felt minutely better. But then the image was gone, and she once again found herself alone, facing an understandably cold and angry detective. Pete, I can't marry you, Sam flatly announced in a voice devoid of any emotion. I'm already married.

Pete looked totally astonished at this statement. Wh... What? he stuttered. When he had recovered, he swallowed and began beseeching. Now, let's not be hasty, he retorted back to her in befuddlement. We don't have to let this disagreement end anything here. Just as long as you tell me what's going on. That's all I'm asking.

But Sam was continuing, her voice equally as harsh as his had been a moment before, and loud enough to override his protestations as emotion once again crept back into her body and tone. If you breath one word of the conversation we are about to have to anybody... If I, or those I care about, are ever prosecuted for absolutely any reason with regards to you, I will not hesitate to insist that the Joint Chiefs use the documents I've managed to uncover to charge you at the very least with evasion of justice. I don't need to remind you of the agreement that you signed when you first learned of the Stargate Program, do I?

Pete now just looked confused. Sam.., he said, breathing harshly into the quiet of the house. His brow furrowed even deeper. Wh... He swallowed. What documents? What are you talking about?

Sam set her drink on a small table near her bedroom hallway and said, Wait... I'll get them. Without another word, she disappeared into her bedroom. Once there, she removed a large yellow envelope from a dark corner of the floor in her bedroom closet, under a pile of donation clothing that she'd been meaning to give to the Salvation Army for the last six years, and returned to collect her soda and join Pete in the living room.

As she took a seat on the sofa, she felt the familiar sense of self-assuredness creep through her that always took over her body when she was in soldier mode. She set down her soda can, then tossed the envelope onto the coffee table in Pete's general direction. Pete, she said in a softer voice than she had used since entering her house that evening, There isn't an easy way to tell you this. I wouldn't have told you at all, but you found out about this from something that I didn't intend for you to see. So it's sort of my fault for leaving these binders out on my tables in the first place. She gestured at the binders on the coffee table, then went on, And it's sort of your fault for looking at something that's so obviously not yours to look at in the first place, and discovered things that were not for you to know. She firmed her resolve again, and straightened her spine in minute increments. But discovery is discovery, and you deserve to know, whether either of us likes what I'm about to tell you.

Sam then explained, I was ordered by my general superiors to do whatever I had to do to 'get close to you' as you had been placed under investigation, an inquest to be led by me. There was a need for that investigation because those superiors of mine were afraid you were somehow involved with a group of notoriously evil people who are part of a branch of the U.S. government. I am now nearly one hundred percent certain that you're not involved with them.

Wait! Pete held up his hands to slow down her explanation. Wait! he repeated in a softer voice. Then he stared at her. You investigated me? he sarcastically asked.

Sam gave a reluctant nod. Yes.

'To 'get close to me?' That was the reason behind the dating... the engagement... everything? He stared at her in hurt bewilderment. You needed to be near me? Because of orders? His voice was incredulous now.

Sam nodded again, and winced. Yes, she said in a soft, slightly guilty voice. She wasn't proud of the way she had behaved in the last year as regards to Pete, but she'd had her orders, after all.

Pete's eyes hardened as he gazed at her. All those endearments that you said to me... they weren't true? he queried. You used me as part of an investigation?

Sam's gaze grew harder even as his did. If I used you, it was because you used me first, she announced.

Pete was flabbergasted at her statement. What? he managed to exclaim at last.

Sam reached for the envelope still resting on the table, and turned it over so the contents could be shaken onto the table top. There were pages and pages of printed computer documents, work schedules, and photos included in the envelope's material. She shuffled through the collection with her fingers until she found the photo she was searching for.

She held it up to show to him. It was a clear representation of her street, with her house in the background, and what was obviously a dark colored SUV pulling out of the place it had been parked between two other cars on the side of her street. The license plate showed clearly in a corner of the photo. That plate was registered to one Pete Shanahan, as another printed form declared. The photo was dated 'Tuesday, September 18, 1600.'

So, Pete said with a shrug as he gazed at the photo. That doesn't prove a damned thing, only that I'd been to visit you that day, and then I left. He glared at her. I have every right to visit my fiancé, and not be spied on when I choose to do it!

Sam wasn't as convinced as he seemed to be. She patiently explained, This photo was taken on a day that I know I didn't see you. She then reached for the binders on the table, grabbed the black one, and flipped to a dated page. There was no salutation, and she hadn't signed any of the letters that she had written. But they were definitely in her hand writing, no matter how she had attempted to disguise it. The date was the only thing that differentiated each entry from the one before. She now read aloud from the page dated September 18. 'I feel like the investigation is going well so far, even though it's 2300 hours, and I haven't seen Pete yet today.' There was more in the letter/entry, but she stopped her reading as she recited those words. Since I wrote these letters, or entries, or whatever you want to call them, and as using journals in a court case is already set as precedent, and as what I wrote has to be taken as the truth, it's a fact that you, or at least your truck, was in a place it wasn't supposed to be the day this picture was taken. If you didn't loan out your truck to somebody who just happened to live on my street... a mighty big coincidence, if you ask me... then what were you doing that day parked on my street, several houses down from mine? Were you spying on me?

Pete instantly sat forward in his chair so that he was closer to being in her face. He pointed at the picture resting on the table, and proclaimed, A picture doesn't prove a damn thing, Sam, and you know it!

Sam remained calm while he was obviously getting more and more agitated. Trying not to let his word choice bother her, she again searched through the pile of material from the yellow envelope until she found what she was searching for. She pulled a piece of paper towards her, then handed it to Pete for his perusal. On that weekend we met at the hotel in Denver, when I was a bridesmaid at my friend Charisse's wedding, you told me that you worked for the Denver PD, and that you had been at a conference that morning. You even had a pamphlet in your hands that you claimed was from that conference.

Pete looked mystified. Yeah... And?

Sam pulled another sheet of paper towards her. This is a printout from that same hotel in Denver... the Hyatt Regency. She interpreted what the paper indicated with its words, It shows the wedding as being held on February sixth. That was the day we ran into each other. The conference, however, was scheduled for... She consulted the paper in Pete's hand. For the following weekend, the twelfth and thirteenth. She gazed at Pete. You told me, and you told the Colonel, who was a witness, that you were there for a Police conference that wasn't to be held until the following weekend. I asked the hotel desk clerk about when that conference was to be held, and he is more than willing to testify in a court of law that the police conference was held at the Hyatt on the following weekend. You lied to me on that day we met at the Hyatt, not only about the conference, but about working for the Denver Police Department. You had said you worked for them at the time, but you have not been on their payroll since January sixth. You had been employed by the Denver PD, but they were no longer your employer. I have proof of that right here. She handed another sheaf of paper to him, then went on speaking, This printout shows that you no longer worked there when we ran into each other by 'accident' at the Hyatt Regency. Your work status is clearly illustrated by the word 'terminated' next to your name on the employee schedule. She glanced up at him. You lied to me that day we met in Denver, and you lied in front of Colonel O'Neill, a respected and highly decorated officer in his own right. Now, who do you think a jury might believe is speaking the truth if it ever comes to a testifying situation; you, who is an already confirmed liar... and I have proof of that, as you've seen... or the Colonel? Sam shook her head. I mean, the General. She grinned at him. We can't forget about that promotion of his.

Pete only gazed at her in stupefied incredulity. Wow, you've sure done your homework, was all he stated.

Were you spying on me? Sam demanded again.

Pete looked up at her, looked down, then looked up again, and his belligerent expression turned to one that was far more blameworthy than combative.

Sam was reminded of the expression that had been on Jack's face earlier that afternoon, but forced her mind to focus again on Pete. And did you follow me to our Osiris Operation site, where you were shot? she asked next.

Pete didn't say anything to her question. He only said, Um...

Sam went on to say, On one of these pages is proof of your 1998 conviction of voyeurism, and on another is proof of your 2001 conviction of stalking the person named 'Rachel Halloway,' and of your fine for those convictions. I also have proof from the FBI database of your background check of me, conducted through a man named 'David Ferrity.'

You can't get into the FBI database! Pete proclaimed in certainty. I know for a fact that it's hacker proof!

Sam grimly smiled a tiny smile. Not when I'm the hacker, she simply stated.

Pete stared at her again until his combative expression suddenly crumpled. All right, he morosely said. I did follow you on that day I got shot. I admit it. And I was doing it again in that picture you have of my truck. So... He sighed. What do you want me to do now?

Sam leaned back on the sofa cushions behind her and relaxed a little now that he had vocally agreed with her assessment of the many lies she'd caught him in. Okay, here's what I'm going to do with all this stuff... and don't burn down my house, or anything drastic, just to get rid of these papers. I have copies of these documents in several places known by the Joint Chiefs, with orders to collect them if anything of a suspicious nature happens to me or my house. So don't get any bright ideas about arson, or...

Pete only gave her a withering look. I wouldn't do that.

I'm glad you draw the line somewhere, Sam muttered. She went on, As I was saying... The Joint Chiefs already know most of what's in this envelope. They tentatively admit to the fact that you don't belong to... Sam hesitated, for Pete didn't have clearance to know about the Trust. At last she said, To any governmental group, either good or bad, and they're also willing not to press charges of stalking an Air Force officer if you agree to quietly leave the country. If you don't, and you talk, not that anybody will believe such a story as one about me and the Stargate Program, they'll charge you with treason, win such a court case, and you will linger your life away behind bars. That's the deal I've been authorized to offer you for tricking you into thinking that you and I were engaged.

Pete looked at her again, an expression of revulsion on his face.

Sam went on, I admit that I misled you, and I apologize for having done that. But you have to admit that stalking is a bigger crime than misleading someone. The deal that my superiors are willing to give you is more than fair, in my estimation.

Pete continued to look like he was weighing the issues in his mind. So it's leave the country, or stay and be charged with stalking again?

And this will be your third conviction of a minor felony... and three strikes, and you're out, Sam said. I'd hate to risk another conviction if I were you.

Pete lowered his head until he stared at the floor. A minute later, he asked, Do I have time to get my affairs in order?

Sam swallowed the sudden bile that collected at the back of her throat. She remembered that Jack had made a similar statement about ordering his affairs when they had all thought he was going to die from the Ancient download. She shook her head, and focused again on Pete. I've also been authorized to tell you that you have a month to get out of the United States. After that, you are required to ask other citizens to handle any unfinished business that you have.

Pete again looked at her. He sighed once in sadness. Okay, he said, agreeing. Then he asked, Can I have my ring back before I go?

Sam said, Oh, let me get it. She ran back into her bedroom, pulled out the drawer in her bedside table, and grabbed at a jeweler's small velvet box. She hurried back into her living room, and handed the box to Pete. He opened it to study the diamond ring inside. His face was unreadable. Then he snapped the box shut. Can I ask who the lucky bastard is who you're already married to?

Sam smiled softly. You can ask, she replied. But I'm not telling you who he is.

Does that mean you won't tell me who he is, or that you won't tell anybody who he is? Pete inquired as he rose from his chair in preparation to heading for the front door.

Nobody knows, Sam said. And I intend to keep it that way.

Pete shrugged. I figured it was worth asking you, he said. Even if you wouldn't tell me anything.

Sam gave him an enigmatic smile. Yes, it was worth it, but it's still a secret. She pulled open her door, and Pete moved onto her front steps. Good bye, Pete. If it means anything to you, I did have fun when we were out doing things, she told him, though she suspected that her information didn't make him feel any better. But it was true that Pete had also distracted her from worrying about Jack during those months that he had been frozen in Antarctica. She was at least grateful for that.

Thanks for telling that to me, Sam, he said. Bye. Then he slowly turned, headed down the steps, and onto the sidewalk in front of her house. He climbed into his SUV, and drove away.

Sam sighed. Well... That was the end of Pete Shanahan.

With his disappearance from her street, and from her life, a sense of moroseness crowded through her mind as Pete's disappearance also again brought to mind her father's death, not to mention the fact that her thoughts instantly turned to what she had interrupted that afternoon at Jack's house. Determination stole over her as she closed the door. There was no way that she was going to let someone else steal Jack right out from under her nose. Not even her own father's precipitous death could completely phase her now.

She had to prepare for the operation that she had in mind. But it had to wait to begin until after she ate. Successfully completing any mission always made her hungry...

* * *

Samantha Carter could be counted on to be many things - a scientist, a soldier who consistently put duty and professional responsibilities before her personal commitments, a diehard motorcycle fan, an adrenaline junkie, a true and loyal friend, a woman of great ethical integrity, a self-sacrificing leader who was willing to take the fall for any of her team members... But one thing that she was most definitely not was naive. She knew that, given Pete's history with stalking, and how he'd already behaved towards her in the past, she was relatively certain that she hadn't seen the last of Pete Shanahan when he had driven away down her street that afternoon. She expected him to be gone for the remainder of the daylight hours, but she wasn't sure at all about the hours after nightfall.

And as it was already approaching the darker time of day, Sam was quite accepting of the fact that she shouldn't traipse immediately over to Jack's house, binders in tow, and present him with evidence of what had transpired over the last months, also incriminating him with her actions. So she decided that she had to come up with another way to let Jack know about what had occurred with her 'affair' with Pete. But because she was sure to be followed and spied on by Pete, at least for several days (he had to be burning with curiosity by now about who she was truly married to, and would act accordingly). So she had to get the two binders into Jack's hands while neither of them could be in any way linked back to the binders - she would have to give the binders to him while on base, a place they were both expected to go.

But, at the same time, the base was the last place that Sam wanted the binders to be - if they were found, in or out of her possession, they could possibly link her to Jack, or to any SGC husband, as whoever those letters were written to obviously had SGC clearance. However, the military regs stated quite clearly - no fraternization! She didn't want to break regs, not by any means. So what was she to do?

An idea wormed suddenly through Sam's mind. After a moment of reviewing the details of her new 'plan,' Sam phoned the SGC, in the hopes that the General had chosen to work late that day. It was always simpler to get things like her letter binders by the noses of anyone forced to remain awake at 0300 in the morning instead of during regular working hours. But she was informed that General O'Neill had already gone home for the day.

So Jack was home... alone... Unless he was out with that Kerry woman, she considered, a grimace again on her face. She really didn't like the idea of Jack seeing another woman. But she figured that he had probably disliked the way she had been 'seeing' that Denver Detective of hers for the last year, so she knew that she just had to 'suck it up' and accept the fact that it was possible that he wished to pursue other relationships now that it seemed that she had defected from his side as his wife. The only way that she could be certain that he understood how defective she hadn't been was to be sure that he read those letters she had written to him. But how could she get those letters to him while on base, when base was the last place that she wanted them to be?

Sam let her mind drift, knowing that was the way she thought of her best and craziest ideas.

She could... leave the binders in Jack's truck, under the front seat?

But the General's truck was always parked out in the open so that no one could tamper with his vehicle, just as she was wanting to do.

So... on to idea number two: She could... leave the binders in his hedges, where no one would see them?

But she'd already ascertained the fact that she couldn't go to Jack's house, as Pete would be sure to follow her there and see her messing around beside Jack's hedges. And what if it rained? The weather was always chancy in Colorado Springs - and it could rain, and she wouldn't even know it, buried the way she would be during a work day inside a mountain, and all her letters would be ruined without her even knowing it. So no, she couldn't leave them out of sight in the hedges.

So... Idea number three: She could... leave the binders near his coat in his locker? But how was she supposed to get binders inside the locker room - the men's locker room - without raising suspicion? Should she call on Daniel or Teal'c to help her?

But Sam instinctively knew that if she trusted her friends with the binders for her, they would want her to turn the favor around and tell them what was in the binders in the first place... and she couldn't do that.

She shook her head after only a minute of considering this wild idea. The fewer people who knew about her clandestine attachment to General O'Neill, the better. She didn't want to get her and Jack caught, after all, not now!

Idea number four: She could... put her binders with other binders of military importance, then give the entire stack to Jack, with a hint that he would want to look at the binders right away? But she would never get away at doing that with her red binder, only her black one, which looked identical to every military binder ever used in the SGC. Should she leave a note with her black binder, letting him know that... she would keep the red binder in her lab, holding on to it till he collected it?

Would that work? Giving the binders to General O'Neill at work would at least be certain not to arouse Pete's curiosity about them in the case that he followed her to the base tomorrow. And it would definitely not implicate the General to the cop in any way. Pete would never be suspicious of her just going to work and carrying binders in.... her laptop case? Whether or not she was actually carrying her laptop or not? Pete would never know that she hadn't brought her computer home with her - she'd done just so often in the past that she wouldn't pique a bit of his 'curiosity.'

So that's what she decided to do. She quickly wrote a note and left it taped to the outside of her own black binder.

Sir,

The other binder that you want to look at is still in my lab - I'm holding it for you. Please come by when it's a convenient time for you to retrieve it.

Carter

There... that shouldn't rouse any kind of suspicion in the case that someone saw her note. And if she exchanged the contents of the red binder with those of a black military binder... That should also not rouse any suspicion.

She could do the exchanging in the SGC rest-room, where there was no security camera...

Okay, that should work.

And that's just what Sam did the very next day. She was glad that she was anal enough not to trust any part of this operation to chance, for sure enough, Pete tailed her to work, his dark SUV sticking out like a sore thumb two vehicles behind hers. He tailed her all the way to the Cheyenne Mountain Road, where he turned off on a side road before pulling onto the mountain road, which had only one destination - the base.

Shaking her head in amazement, Sam wondered how he had risen to his current rank in the Police Force when he showed such poor tailing abilities. She'd known he was there almost from the moment he pulled in behind her. Of course, she conceded that she knew what his truck looked like, and was easily able to spot it. But, as a detective and a cop, he should have anticipated that she would be able to identify his vehicle, and do a better job of disguising it while tailing her.

Unless... Unless he actually wanted her to know that it was him tailing her. But why would he do that?

Unless... But Sam refused to believe that he was trying to goad her into being afraid of him so the she would get frightened enough to run to her husband for help, thus revealing the identity of her unknown husband. She wasn't that much of a softy. Pete should know that by now.

But Pete had always insisted on 'taking care of her' during his and her 'relationship,' as if she needed someone to 'handle' things for her. Sam readily believed that he might think that his presence now would make her nervous enough where, eventually, she might run straight to her husband in fear that Pete might 'do' something to her.

Well, if that was the way that Pete Shanahan viewed her, then what she had done to him the day before had been the right thing to do, in spite of how it had obviously hurt the man. Sam chuckled a bit at Pete's present shortsightedness, thinking that she had outwitted countless Jaffa warriors bent on stewing her for dinner - she could more than 'handle' one police detective. Unperturbed, Sam drove on.

The moment that she reached her lab, she walked back out of it in search of several black military binders that she could stack with her own black letter binder, and give the whole stack to General O'Neill, as if he had asked to see them.

In the end, she just placed the letters that she'd had in her red binder in with the pages of 'Military Regulations of Firearms, binder three.' She removed the note she had attached to her own black binder, stacked her two letter binders on the top of her pile of black binders, then took all of them to the General in his office.

She barely gave him time to react to her comment, Here's those folders that you asked to see, Sir.

While his mouth was still opening for his words of, I didn't... she left back down the stairs to the Control Room.

Jack was confused by Carter's inexplicable actions, and he hated being confused. What was she playing at? But he couldn't think of anything. So he decided to look at the binders that she had brought to him, hoping that something in one of them would explain her odd behavior to him.

Inside the top black binder, what turned out to be her black binder, she'd left a short letter relaying what she wanted him to do:

Pete and I mutually broke things off. You have a week to read these letters (in the top two black binders) that I've been writing to you all these months since you stopped collecting them at the Post Office. If you don't read them, and then call General Hammond by week's end and tell him what I suspected that Pete Shanahan was doing, he plans to then begin an investigation into how you've possibly been letting your emotional problems interfere with your job performance. That's a promise of a personal nature, I know, but I can't think of any other way to make sure that you read these letters, and I don't think you want me to hold your hand until you've read them all.

The minute he took a closer look at her letters to him that this first binder held, he surmised that this black binder obviously had nothing to do with the military. Jack read the note stuck to the inside cover of this binder, his eyes widening a bit at the personal threat that she had made, but he was much more intrigued by what he found in the binder than angry at the means she had chosen to 'encourage' him to read what she had written. The binder was full of letters that were clearly the beginning of an explanation for the whole Pete/engagement thing, as well as messages that picked up from when he had stopped reading her letters almost a year ago. Now, he couldn't even remember why he'd stopped reading them. He remembered being angry about something, and he also remembered later regretting the actions that his anger had encouraged him to take, but that he had been too self-conscious to fight Pete for her, especially after the cop and Sam had gotten engaged. After all, they seemed to be happy together, and he didn't want to wreck that for her. At the time, it had seemed the least he could do.

At any rate, that's what he'd always told himself.

Though at the time, Jack had also wondered how a married woman could get engaged to marry anyone else...

Jack shook his head, then realized that there were more letters in the second binder, just as Sam had said - the last letter in this first binder was dated in August, and it was now February ninth. So Jack looked in the next binder in the stack, and found more letters that Sam must have written to him over the intervening months. He flipped to the end of the letters, found the last letter dated only a few days before, and concluded that she had only meant for him to see the top two binders in the stack. At least he had evidence of Sam's honesty in this whole Pete mess, as she had suggested that he would be especially interested in the top two binders in the stack she had brought him this morning.

But he made sure to take the entire stack out to his truck, put them all on the passenger seat, then throw a coat over them, and lock his truck as an added safety precaution, and returned to his office as if nothing had transpired that would fire his intense curiosity for the rest of the day.

But he refused to read anything of a personal nature inside the base. He didn't want anyone to find out about his and Samantha's marriage, no matter the state of that marriage right now.

It was only after Jack had resumed his seat at his desk that he realized that he hadn't had time to inform Carter of the way that Kerry had dumped him the day before. But all he could do was wait to tell her of the news, so he went through the day just like it was any other day. Though he did spend some time on funeral arrangements for Carter, who informed him by email that due to her father's death, there was too much for her to do to remain at work past midday. He then told her through answering email that he would handle the arranging side of Jacob's funeral if she would handle the getting-the-flowers part, as well as calling the nonmilitary relatives. He was especially hopeless at knowing what flowers were appropriate for a funeral, and if she would call the nonmilitary people who needed to know about Jacob's untimely demise, then he would inform the military friends of the event. She said that would be fine, so he gave her the last few hours of the day off. She left without speaking to him, and therefore, he would have to wait until later to ascertain how she was really doing with her father's death (saying the she was 'fine' was too expected of an answer from her in particular for him to unconditionally believe her.)

Jack went home himself after an uneventful day ('uneventful' especially for the SGC), and started reading Sam's letters practically the minute he took off his coat at the front door and ambled down into the living room, carrying the two binders that he had brought in from his truck.

He started reading with the first letter she'd included in the binder/book. It was the letter of apology she'd tried to give to him way back in January of 2004, carefully copied to avoid including any form of address or signature. It was followed by two short messages that basically noted that he was obviously still too angry to retrieve any letters from her. The memory of how he had behaved during the incident she was referring to made him flush in embarrassment. But he forced himself to keep reading anyway.

Then the letters had stopped, picking up only during the time he had been sleeping in Antarctica. It appeared that the reassigned General Hammond must have come to talk to her during that time, for the first letter she'd written after Jack had come back from his frozen sleep in Antarctica... that first letter posted in July, 2004... that letter... journal entry... whatever it was called... It explained the beginning of a personal mission for Sam that Jack had never anticipated.

I won't give any salutations, and I won't sign these letters, as I want to make these letters as hard to use as possible as evidence against either of us in the event of a potential future trial in case we're ever caught at this. But they are to the man I've known for... eight years at this point. And I'm not talking about Daniel, or Teal'c, or anybody else who is on my team at any time. I have to trust that you know who you are.

I got a visit from a previous commanding officer today. He came by to tell me that I had new orders to 'get close to Pete Shanahan' while investigating him as a member of The Trust, because those in charge of me are thinking that his being a covert member of the group is a possibility. At this time, I don't think he's a member of The Trust, but I have these new orders that include the fact that I can't tell you about them.

But these orders of mine don't say anything about not writing about them. I realize that I'm reading in between the lines with this, but I want you to understand what I'm doing, and more importantly, why I'm doing it. I'm so sorry if any of my actions, or future actions, causes you any pain. I truly regret that possibility, but there's not much else I can do about this situation besides grin and bear it.

But I do love you, even though it often won't look that way...

And I'm sorry again about the fight that we had. What were we even arguing about? I don't remember any longer. (See, I am capable of forgetting things! It just doesn't happen very often. Maybe you should write this down somewhere?)

And so the letters continued, everything from plain, pedantic technical explanations for the things... never named... that she was working on in her lab at the SGC... also never named... to definite love letters when the mood struck her. These particular letters made Jack blush, but he liked them the best, and the way they made him feel so warm and special inside. It was obvious that she loved him, even when she had been angry at him, even when he'd been frozen thousands of miles away. It came across even in the simple way she had written her letters. The messages weren't at all like the didactic reports that she wrote for the SGC. Jack was impressed at the lengths she had gone to in order to mask her writing style so that no one would ever suspect the letters had come from her if the binders ever fell into the wrong hands.

Jack found himself spending the entire night reading, and when the sun rose the next morning, he did something he had never done before: he called in sick to the SGC. He apologized to Walter for his absence, left Colonel Reynolds in charge for the day, canceled all his appointments, or postponed the ones that he couldn't cancel, then hung up the phone. He went back to his reading, eating only things that he could eat while he read.

Jack finished reading the second set of letters in the second binder by 1100. He shut the book with a soft clap, then sat back on his sofa to think.

Crap... He couldn't think... He could only stare straight out in front of him. He was just too... too overcome... overcome with his own emotions...

Jack ran his hands across his face, and groaned. All he could think now was that despite what he wanted to do about what these letters said, or who they accused, he only knew for certain how stupid he'd been all year, which had to be a record length, even for him. He'd been such an idiot.

And Sam... Sam had done nothing but follow orders, and uncomfortable orders at that. She'd been the fine officer that he'd always known she could be...

Crap.

He wasn't surprised by the moisture of tears on his hands when he drew them away from his face.

Double crap.

Jack took a shivery breath, then gave a tiny shake at the tears that still leaked down his cheeks. He had to get control of himself, and soon, as he had a phone call to General Hammond to make.

* * *

That morning, when Sam walked through the door of her lab after taking care of a few last minute things for her father at a base with a conspicuously absent General, she instantly caught sight of the black 'Military Regulations of Firearms, binder three' sitting in the middle of her work table.

It was too much of a coincidence that the same firearms binder was again being utilized, unless it was being used as a mode of transportation for Jack's own letters written to her over the last several months.

It was clear, Jack had been to her lab sometime during the night. For a moment, she felt a pang of disappointment at not seeing him while he was on base, but then realized that seeing him in any other capacity except 'funeral arranger' would have looked suspicious to everyone else. That much was quickly obvious to her.

But at the same time, she couldn't help but half expect him to come strolling out of the Gate Room towards her, as if they had spent only a few days apart rather than almost a year. She sighed, put the Firearms Regulation Guide into her laptop case, where it couldn't be seen, so that she could read it later, once she'd reached the anonymity of her house. Then she quickly got to work, in spite of her nagging curiosity as to what he'd had to say to her all those months ago.

The moment she entered her house that night, however, the book was in her hands. She hefted it more securely, then opened the binder.

She was instantly gratified to see that the binder contained letters that Jack had obviously written to her, letters that were much the same as the ones she had written to him. All the time that had elapsed during her investigation hadn't squashed his feelings for her, if she could assume as much, according to the number of collected papers in the binder.

He had chosen to store his letters to her the same way she had stored her letters to him. The messages were written on wide ruled, loose leaf white paper with holes already punched in the left side margin of each page. They had discovered how well such paper adapted to the binders that Jack liked to use to store Sam's letters in, and had used such paper since early on in their letter-writing history.

Now, Sam carefully scrutinized the binder's first page. Inside, Jack had written a note that he hadn't included in the 'captured' pages addressed to her. He'd had no reason to hide her identity beyond the greeting he'd always given her, and he had signed his letters the way he'd always signed his messages in the past. But on the front note, Jack had sprawled another directive to her.

Read - please. And you know how often I say the word please, so you know that this is important to me.

I reached your week deadline by several days, called Hammond, only to have him tell me that he had no clue what I was talking about when I mentioned what you had instructed me to say. Very clever of you to tell me something that wasn't true like that. Once we had things figured out, General Hammond laughed at what you had done, though he mostly laughed at me for taking such a ridiculous threat as yours as even remotely serious. Oh, and George told me to tell you that he thinks you did a fine job with 'that Shanahan character,' and that he also sends his regards.

Kerry finished things with me a few days ago... the same day that you dropped by my house. I was going to say something to the same effect to her myself, and soon. It's just that she got to doing it to me first. But after I saw you at the house that afternoon, I knew that I couldn't pretend any more. And pretending was what I was doing. I only lasted for two weeks with Kerry, and she and I only had a few dates in those two weeks. It was a pretty miserable two weeks when she wasn't distracting me from thinking about you. You have much more staying power than I do. I could never have lasted in another relationship like yours with 'that Shanahan character' for nearly as long as you did. I honestly admit that I'm impressed. I didn't much like any of it, and I wished that you could have told me about what your orders were, but I understand why you couldn't say anything, and really, I'm impressed that you never did. I'm aware now, after thinking about the happenings over the last several months, that many times you tried to tell me (without telling me anything specific) that something was going on. As usual, I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to listen and to think. I'm sorry that I didn't figure this out sooner.

When you get done reading these letters that I wrote to you, call me at the office, or in the middle of the night, or when I'm at home, or wherever, whenever that is, and tell me that you've finished reading the letters. That's all you have to say over the phone. Then come over to my house the next time 1800 rolls around so that we can talk. We need to talk, I think, though if you just yell at me, that's fine. It's what I deserve anyway.

Sam immediately stopped reading, and called General O'Neill at his home, her heart pounding with the urgency of imparting her message racing through her chest. Don't say a word, she instructed the second that Jack picked up the phone and greeted her with a sleepy, O'Neill.

Crap! She had woken him up. Not wanting to take up too much of his time if that was the case, Sam got right down to business. I was instructed by our superiors to give Pete a month to get out of the country before doing anything about his presence in the US. But I'm worried that in that month, he'll spend most of the time that I've given him not in getting his affairs in order in preparation for leaving the country, but in following me around, hoping that I'll lead him to you... as a former 'team member' who is important to me. Since I don't want to do that, and he'll probably be tailing me for a month (he's already tailing me, true to form), I won't be able to contact you in any way for another month, since I don't want him to find out who you are... as a former 'team member' of mine. Please be patient with talking to me about all these firearm regulations and things. I'll be much freer in exactly one month from yesterday.

Then, without waiting for him to respond once again, Sam hung up the phone and turned back to Jack's letters in the binder he'd left for her.

The letter that she had already read, and had prompted her phone call to him, was the only letter that he hadn't signed with a 'J.' But that didn't stop Sam from smiling a soft smile at the fact that she could hear his voice in the simple words he had chosen, and she ran a fingertip lovingly over the note.

Then she ordered a pizza to eat, and began reading in earnest.

Jack's first letter was dated much later than her first one had been. It was brief, but sincere.

October 2, 2004

S.

God I miss you. Even if I know you're with someone else, I still miss you. I miss the way you smell, how you always give a vague blink when I interrupt you working in your lab, which is stupid, I know. But I miss everything about you. And now it's too late to say anything about that dumb argument we had way back when we had it. I don't even remember what that argument was about now. Isn't that dumb? I guess the Air Force has one dumb General.

A General who dreams about you every night. If only my dreams were real.

J.

Oct. 3, 2004

S.

Oh, yeah, the fight we had was about Cassie, and spying, and... Cassie spies totally on her own. I don't have to set her to do it. You should hear what she has to say about Daniel. No, on second thought, if you heard about what she says about him, then you might fall asleep from boredom, because all he ever does is read big fat books full of the rules of dead languages, even in his free time. That's a guy who needs a girlfriend, that's for sure. Actually, I think he needs something else, something related to a girlfriend, and I would recommend the name of one of his colleagues, but then I know he would just look at me out of those huge eyes he has, hidden behind his glasses, and pretend that he doesn't get what I'm saying if I ever do say something to him. Or he would use the idea that he's remembering Sha're as an excuse not to understand me. You and I aren't the only ones who've been stuck on using excuses all the time.

J.

Oct 4, 2004

S.

Okay, I have to wonder what you see in the guy that you're dating. I'm trying to be understanding, and sympathetic, and all those things that Daniel is always saying that I need to be. But...

Crap. The truth is that I'm not a very understanding or sympathetic guy. I hate it when I see you two together. In fact, I go out of my way not to see it. When I have no choice but to see you guys, like when we're at a party or get together or something... I'll apologize right now for behaving so dumb, like I know I will, but the truth is, this hurts, and it hurts a lot.

Crap, I promised myself not to say that, and I've gone and said it in my third letter.

J.

Oct 5, 2004

S.

The way I feel isn't your fault, though. Just remember that.

J.

Oct 6, 2004

S.

I went to that party that was scheduled for Watson's promotion to Major. That was quite a party. I only stayed for half an hour or so, then left. I saw you the minute I got there. You and him (who shall remain nameless)(you did that same nameless thing once sometime over the years, and I liked it, so I'm keeping it. Wish you were as easy to keep, but that's my fault for getting mad like I did, and acting stupid because of it.)

Anyway, like I said, you were already there. I saw your car parked on the street as I walked to the house, so I knew you had beat me to the party, and I couldn't help but look for you the minute I got into the house. It wasn't like I was spying or anything... I just saw your car, then I wanted to see you so badly... (Kind of like being homesick the first week you're at college.) I knew I wouldn't like it if I saw you and him (who shall remain nameless), but crap, I wanted to see you outside of work, in civvies, smiling, enjoying yourself. I just wished you could be enjoying yourself with me.

I left soon after I got there because I couldn't stand seeing you and him (who shall remain nameless) together at a social event. I'd rather that the two of us were together, but apart, like we used to be all those years, than that you and... won't say it... So I left. I didn't need an excuse to leave, but I also got the feeling that the General's presence put kind of a damper on things, so I also thought I should get out of there because of that. I took one last look at you, burned it into my brain, then got real depressed on the way home. So now I intend to get very drunk... very very drunk... very very very drunk... even if I know I'll have to work tomorrow with a hangover headache. (I already have the bottle of aspirin sitting on the counter in the bathroom, the lid off the bottle, ready and waiting for me in the morning.) But sometimes I just can't stand this. I'd rather be drunk and able to forget than sober and dreaming...

J.

The letters went on in that same vein for page after page after page. Sam felt completely horrible by the time she finally finished reading what he had written. But it was no worse than what he had been feeling for the entire year.

Sam found herself cursing her orders to investigate Pete Shanahan not for the first time. The military had inadvertently done her and Jack no favors when they had targeted her to play inquisitor for them.

But her superior officers had had no way of knowing what they were really asking their Lieutenant Colonel to do, Sam reminded herself for the millionth time. As far as they were concerned, she had simply been a good and loyal soldier who was following the orders they had given her. They had no idea she was hurting someone so badly in the process.

But it was obvious how Jack had suffered as she fulfilled the orders she had been given. Of course, she realized, the way Jack had felt must be the same way that many military spouses must feel, and had felt for decades of following their respective military partners around the globe. Sara O'Neill must have often felt that same sense of anxiety that Jack now felt because of Jack and his missions - that he had often been ordered not to talk about. Sam wasn't so far consumed by her own guilt that she felt at making Jack so sad that she couldn't also enjoy the irony of the fact that it must have been Jack himself to have made Sara feel the same way during the years of their marriage. It was a sick kind of irony that Sam enjoyed, but she did appreciate it, even as she hated the need for that appreciation in the first place.

However, one thing came through loud and clear in the messages he'd written to her. Though he'd never expected her to read any of what he had penned, and even said as much several times, he was totally and completely in love with her. His feelings hadn't changed by the time he'd written his latest message, a letter dated February seventh. He'd been seeing Kerry Johnson by then, and had mentioned how guilty he felt for dating Kerry while still thinking about the woman who was technically his wife, and that he didn't know yet what to do about that situation, but that he had to do something before it drove him nuts.

He just couldn't let go of his feelings for the person that he'd always been told that he shouldn't care for. He'd tried not to care about Sam, tried many times, and this dating Kerry Johnson was only his latest, and most desperate, attempt. But right away, he'd known it wouldn't last, even though he'd tried his best to make things work out between him and Kerry. He figured that it wasn't fair to Kerry to do anything less, and he had enjoyed her company... as a friend, he emphasized. His attempt at finding a normal life outside the SGC that he and Sam had often discussed had failed spectacularly. But he'd thought that he had no choice but to try to forget Sam, and Kerry sometimes helped him almost succeed in that forgetting, so he gave it his best effort. It was almost a pity that it hadn't worked out for him.

Well, not a pity, exactly, but Jack had so obviously been so sad, and for such a long time. He wasn't happy with his personal life, and he hadn't been very thrilled with his work life, either.

Sam pinched the bridge of her nose when she had finished reading all of Jack's letters to her. Jack had been so sad, and it had been her doing, if not her fault.

But that couldn't be changed now, she morosely reflected. She could only call her husband, tell him that she was finished reading his letters, and that she was ready to hear what he had to say to her in exactly one month. At the end of a month, she would be finished with this whole waiting game that she had been playing with him - playing for years.

So she ended the phone call with Jack, then prepared to sleep the rest of the day.

Life resumed the following day, and the next, and then before she knew it, the day of her father's funeral was upon her, and she knew that she would somehow have to stand up in the Gate Room in front of the many alien and Human eyes, all belonging to individuals waiting to see if she would be able to handle the strain of another family death, or would collapse under the pressure of it all.

Sam tried hard not to focus on the eyes that she felt skewering her into the Gate Room wall, willing her to become more humane, to behave just like they would, to fall apart at the least provocation. That provocation almost came when the wormhole backsplash burned Jacob Carter's body into smoking ashes, as was the Tok'ra tradition of burying their dead. In this way, she was told by a well-meaning Anise, no sarcophagus could be used to re-animate what was and should remain deceased. Sam thanked Anise for the explanation, all the while contemplating getting sick.

Still, she felt that she had been holding herself together rather well until then. The motion, when she finally saw it performed, just seemed so final to her - seeing the smoking remains of her father's 'life-extinquishing board' sent deep waves of shivers straight down her spine. Only the fact that Jack stood beside her throughout the entire service and reception after kept her together enough to speak intelligently to Human and alien alike.

The second funeral service, the one for all those wanting to attend a funeral, but who did not have the clearance for the SGC Gate Room, was just as dramatic in its own fashion. Sam was much calmer with Jacob's death until all the funeral rites were 'performed for the grieving children of General Carter.' Sam hadn't actually felt like a 'grieving child' until those rites that were supposed to help her feel better, but ended up making her feel worse, turned her into that 'grieving' individual.

But again it was Jack's presence that buoyed Sam up and kept her from dissolving into a useless heap of sludge and human bone on the cemetery grounds. He never so much as touched her, but just being there was exactly what she needed. She wondered how he knew that.

The days after the funeral were a blur of hours spent going through Jacob's personal effects that he had left in Sam's attic, and the few personal things he'd kept either at the SGC, or at the Tok'ra base. The fact that Pete had never officially showed his face at either funeral service raised a few eyebrows here and there, and when asked about his sudden disappearance, Sam simply explained that they had broken up, not that her mission involving informing on the cop was over, and so was her 'relationship' with him, thank goodness. She just didn't have the energy for lengthy explanations right then, and Teal'c saw to it that even Daniel didn't become too nosy.

Every few days, Sam remembered to come up for air from working like one possessed in her lab (or Jack made her go home), and she took the time to look at the world around her. Those were the times that she inevitably saw Pete following her car at a distance, or creeping through crowds behind her, or tailing her from across the street. He didn't take the time to be particularly careful about her seeing him, either, and Sam had to again wonder if he was trying to drive her to distraction, and into her husband's arms. But she refused to do that to Jack after all that she had already done to him. It was a little enough way for her to protect her husband from a man who was fast becoming searingly annoying.

But at long last, even that month of Pete's grace period came to an end. With the General's reluctant permission (he hated to knowingly place Sam in dangerous situations), he 'gave' a squad of SFs to Sam, who then led the soldiers to what had lately become Pete's hideaway of choice - a house near the entrance of the Cheyenne Mountain Road - and burst through the quiet neighborhood and into the house at 0300 the morning of the last day plus one of the month-long grace period for Pete. He was surprised to see them, as he had clearly been expecting just such a raid, but in daylight hours, where he could easily avoid the retinue of military soldiers. It gave Sam a great deal of satisfaction to hold Pete down on the floor with just her boot exerting pressure in just the right spot while Pete writhed against the handcuffs that were being slapped on his wrists.

Hmmmmm, Sam thought. The cop being arrested by cops, albeit military cops. What does this say for our 'hired protectors...' the police - that one detective can't even evade capture on this, of all days? Doesn't Pete own a calendar? He does know what day it is, doesn't he?

Five hours later, after a highly protesting Detective Shanahan was shown to his temporarily permanent home at the Peterson Brig, and after Sam had heard him plead that he thought Sam was kidding when she had told him that he only had a month to get out of the country, Sam admitted that she was in a rotten mood. She had been serious at the time she'd first spoken of this month long grace period to Pete, and now she was seriously pissed as well. The reason the she had been kept from speaking to her husband to settle the details of her own personal life 'thought she hadn't been serious.' Oh, Pete was lucky that rules and regulations about the treatment of prisoners didn't allow Sam to demonstrate exactly how 'serious' she had been!

Still, it took hours for her to calm down. When she felt more in control of herself, and trusted her restraint enough not to let her temper take complete control of her, she finally let herself approach Jack's house. Then, before she knew it, she found herself on Jack's steps leading to his front door. She began to get excited about the prospect of talking to him again. At this point, she simply couldn't wait until 1800 to speak to him. She hoped that he wasn't too bothered by her early morning invasion.

Sam met Jack as he opened his door to her knock, armed with nothing but a binder full of outpourings straight from the heart of a man who had rarely admitted to having feelings of any kind, except to her, through letters that had been transitory at best. As she stared at her future, and felt him staring back at her in surprise, she felt a sad sense of finality to something she greatly treasured. She hoped she was wrong, and this wasn't the end between them, but Sam Carter was a pragmatist if she was anything. She could hope for some kind of positive resolution between them, but she also knew that her hope might be in vain.

And there he was, standing seemingly so calmly at his front door, dressed much like she was, in jeans and a long sleeve shirt prior to changing into his BDUs at the SGC. She hated to interrupt his morning routine, but she had to take this last chance for her... for him... now while she had it. She handed him his binder without a word.

He slowly took it from her. I take it... that the cop... guy... is..? he asked about her recent activities without putting a name to them.

She rolled her eyes a little, as if she couldn't resist, acknowledging the predictability of the reason for those recent actions of hers, and at the same time letting him know that, for now, things were under control - for the first time in what seemed like a looooong time. Giving voice to her movements, she explained, You were right - Pete never expected us to come in the middle of the night the way we did. He was completely taken off guard, and didn't have the time to run. Catching him was as easy as wrapping a Christmas present. He's in the Peterson Brig for now, and will probably be there for a month or so longer while he awaits his trial for stalking for the third time. Then she considered what had happened during the previous night. You know, she said into the pensive silence, Pete's a cop - he should have expected that we would catch him - why would he almost go out of his way to make it easy for us?

Jack shrugged. Maybe it's his way of saying that he's sorry for the whole thing, he suggested. Then he eyed her meaningfully, and went on. But he can't be nearly as sorry as I am. He placed the binder he was still holding on the hall table alongside his truck keys, then, also without saying a word of explanation, pulled her straight into his arms.

I'm so sorry, especially for what I did during the whole 'Pete thing,' he whispered into the top of her hair. I know I should be upset about Jacob, and I am, but I've been so dense for so long... And I've made you so sad...

You've made me sad? she asked into his chest, interrupting him with her question. But it's been you who's been sad because of what I did, not...

Sam, we have to talk, Jack desperately whispered into her hair. I know that I'm not a great talker... You should actually be talking to Daniel if you want a great talker. I think he gave up on me ever being a great talker before he even came back from Abydos...

Sam giggled into his shoulder at his self-deprecation.

She could feel Jack's smile as he continued, And no giggling, Carter.

A moment passed while Jack just held her. Then a second moment passed. It entered her mind, stunned as it was, that she was being held again, and by Jack, that his front door was wide open to anybody looking their way...

Jack, she quietly noted. The door... We should move away...

No, he instantly said. I'm done with hiding, and pretending that this, that we, don't exist. We can hide things tomorrow when we're at work, after I call in to take personal leave for today. Right now, I'm not hiding the fact that I feel stupid, and slow, and so, so sorry.

Sam stopped worrying about the open door, and instead just breathed in his scent. She had missed that so much over the months! It was a funny thing to miss, but Pete had never quite smelled the same...

Now that she was reminded of what they needed to accomplish together, she moved back half a step. Let's at least move this into the living room, where you can make your call, and we can sit down.

Jack gave her one last squeeze, then totally released her to close his front door and give a gesture towards his sunken living room. He didn't kiss her. He didn't even try. Ladies first, he said instead, his arm swept out in the right direction.

Sam preceded him to the living room, feeling cold where he had touched her, longing for that touch again, and sad that it had just come along with his apology. If he loved her like he had said he did in his letters, she wanted to hear him say that, for things to go back the way they had been for so many years...

Except, things could never go back to the way they had been before. Both she and Jack had been hurt too badly. She knew that, but she silently mourned the loss of the two men who had been the most important to her in recent years. Because, in effect, she had lost them both. Both Jack and Jacob.

She'd never felt so alone.

Sam sat down on the couch with a sigh. She patiently waited while Jack phoned the SGC and informed Walter that he needed to take an unplanned personal day, and that he left Colonel Reynolds in charge. As the Colonel had been taking charge of the SGC with alarming regularity as of late, Jack knew that Reynolds would know what the SGC needed in order to cope without its Commanding General for a day. Then with instructions not to bother him unless the world was in imminent danger of total domination, he hung up, and turned back to Sam.

She felt the cushions sink beside her as he took a seat next to her. Then, they waited, quietly, neither talking, for a good five minutes.

Finally, she couldn't stand not knowing any longer. Her voice very quiet to match the quiet of the room, she asked, Jack, do you want a divorce? She trembled as she asked the question, and didn't dare look at him to assess his mood through his expression as she did the asking, but she had to know.

Jack sat beside her, not saying anything, for several heartbeats. Sam was about to repeat her inquiry when Jack suddenly spoke, his voice as small as hers. No, he said. He added, All I've ever wanted was you.

Sam gave a quick intake of breath, and turned her head towards him in a sharp, jerking motion. But now that she knew for certain, there she stayed. I didn't expect you to still want me.

Flabbergasted, Jack asked, How can you think that I might possibly not want you after reading all my letters? His voice was also as quiet as hers. Of course I want you. But... Here his voice trailed off into the empty silence. Finally, he whispered, I didn't think that you wanted me anymore.

Sam drew in another quick breath, but she tried to restrain her natural affection for him. I can certainly see why you'd think that. She leaned in just a hint closer to him, unable to help herself. After you read my letters, it should have been pretty obvious to you that I regretted every minute of that charade that I played with Pete. That... She paused and sighed. But at last she quietly forged on, You should know that I still love you, and never stopped.

Neither of them said anything again for a long time. They just sat on the sofa, staring out at the empty room that mirrored the emptiness in their lives, and surreptitiously watched each other from the corners of their eyes.

It was Sam who finally broke that awful, heavy silence. I'm sorry, Jack. I can't say it often enough. I am sorry. And I tried to tell you about it all... sort of, she admitted, and sighed. Crap... She shook her head back and forth, fighting the tears that sprang to her eyes. She kept repeating to herself I will not cry! I will not cry! over and over again. Aloud, she said, I wish this year had never happened.

Jack groaned at her words. That makes two of us, he morosely said.

Sam turned to face him a minute later. What do you want to do now, if you don't want a divorce?

Jack sat unmoving, leaning forward with his elbows cradled on his knees. He blinked. He blinked again. But he remained eerily silent.

Sam couldn't stand this! You look so sad!

Jack blinked a third time, but looked directly at Sam with his suddenly piercing gaze. I'm not sad, he negated in a flat, dispassionate tone. Then he blinked a fourth time, and all his unemotional detachment from this scene disappeared. Well, that's not entirely true, he admitted on a sigh of regret.

It's not?

Jack shook his head. No... I guess I feel sad for you, for what you've gone through...

Again came Sam's incredulous response. What I've been through?

Come on, Sam, Jack said with some impatience finally coloring his voice. You have to admit that it must have been a bit... or very... uncomfortable for you to know what was going on, but to not be able to do anything about it. Hell, you couldn't even talk about it. He turned again to stare out at the room. At least I could do that.

But did you? were the disbelieving words that flew out of Sam's mouth before she had the chance to think twice about them.

Surprisingly, Jack nodded. Yeah, to Daniel. He probably thinks I'm nuts by now.

Sam stuttered. You talked... to Daniel? About me?

Once again Jack nodded. I had to talk to someone, he said. Being the Commander of the base kind of precludes that rapport I used to have with the other team members, he explained. That left talking to those on SG-1. That meant you (and you weren't talking to me for obvious reasons), Teal'c... who likes talking about emotions as much as I... don't... and Daniel. I would have gone totally nuts if it hadn't been for Daniel.

Sam suddenly realized something. No wonder he was always asking me if I knew what I was doing this year!

Jack showed a spark of interest in his eyes for the first time all morning. He talked to you about this... thing... over the past year?

Sam nodded. At least once a week.

Jack looked away again. It's more than I thought that I could do, he quietly said.

Sam drew in another sharp breath. She couldn't hold back the pain that erupted in her heart at his softly uttered, slightly accusatory words. What did you want me to do, Jack? she rhetorically inquired. I couldn't not take this assignment because to not take it, I would have had to give a reason, and I could hardly say it was because I was already married to my own CO! That would have been a sure way to see that you would be...

No! It was the first impassioned word that Jack had said all morning long. That's not what I want you to think at all! he insisted in despair. He ran an agitated hand through his hair as he muttered, We seem destined to misunderstand each other. And I don't want to fight.

I don't want to fight, either, Sam admitted in a softer voice than she had used before now. But I also admit that I don't understand what you were talking about, either. With that comment you made about not being able to talk to me. She looked at him again. You...

Jack was quick to explain this time. I meant that I didn't talk to you, and I was feeling bad about that fact. He looked at Sam once more. It wasn't like I did anything to try to convince you to not hook up with that guy.

And I'm glad that you didn't, Sam retorted, just as quick to affirm him of her original intentions as he had been to assure her of his. It would have looked rather odd for you to have spent much time with me while I was supposedly dating someone else, especially if we saw each other in any kind of a public setting. She sighed. That would have gotten you court-martialed for fraternization faster than anything you could have done.

Jack looked pained as he softly explained, But don't you get it? She shook her head in consternation, so he continued, A court-martial would have meant nothing to me if I lost you. I wouldn't have cared what happened to me...

But I would have cared, Sam cried. Then, softer, she added, I still do.

Again came that same silence fraught with anxiety. At last, Sam broke it when she said, This isn't getting us anywhere.

Jack agreed. We're talking in circles. He sighed a loud sorrowful gust of air forced out into the room. Finally, he inquired, What do you want to do about all this, Sam?

Sam sat in silence for a second, then she did something that Jack least expected her to do: she laughed.

What are..? Jack asked, but she interrupted him.

I'm thinking about what I would really like to do rather than what I should do to...

Jack couldn't help the tiny smile that curved his lips. He couldn't help his reaction, either; her laugh was infectious. Just out of curiosity, he began, interrupting her. What do you want to do?

Sam sighed, but smiled when she made the noise. Thus, the sound seemed more appreciative than sad. She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes. You really want to know?

Jack just nodded his ascent.

Sam sighed again, and her enigmatic smile grew. Okay..., she said. Here goes... and remember, you have been warned. Again, Jack nodded. Sam continued, All right... I really want to wrap my arms around you and never let go; give you a passionate kiss in the middle of the SGC hallway on level 27; mentally undress you in every briefing between you and SG-1; eat lunch with you in the Commissary while holding your hand; hug you the second you set foot in my lab; make wild love to you all weekend. Then she turned pain filled eyes onto her husband. But, realistically, I know that what I want isn't possible... not without us talking first... talking a lot... so...

It's always something, Jack interrupted to humorously mutter.

Yeah, isn't it? she morosely agreed. Then she thoughtfully gave him a blank stare. Where was I?

Jack was happy to be more than helpful and to tell her what she had just said. You want to make wild love to me all weekend.

Oh, right, Sam said, as if she were reciting a list of much duller things. Actually, the list goes on sort of like that, she told him in a quiet voice. Then she shrugged. At least, that's what I really want to do. But reality was rarely an image of fantasy, and the smile slipped off Sam's face. However... realistically speaking... I know that you probably won't let me do any of those things, even if I'm allowed to do them at all, which I'm not, and...

Not necessarily, Jack said, cutting her off again.

Sam glanced at him, puzzled. Excuse me? she asked.

Jack let a small smile glide across his lips. You are so cute when you're confused, he suddenly remarked. I missed that. Then he took a deep breath and went on, blurting, All those things you mentioned... you might not be able to do them in the SGC... but what about other places? Like right here? Like right now?

Instead of the understanding that Jack expected to see creep into Sam's gaze, her sense of befuddlement only grew stronger. What are you saying? she inquired in a soft voice. Are you saying that..? She paused, and couldn't help but to look at him in a blaze of hope. Are you saying that you actually want me to do all those things? That you... That we can forget this last year ever happened?

Jack stared back at her, unblinking. Well, don't you?

Sam snorted her own sense of disbelief. Well... yes! she exclaimed in a voice that said she was speaking about the utterly obvious. But, she went on. I know that even you aren't that forgiving, that I can't just wipe away this past year, no matter how much I want to, and...

Sam, Jack stopped her. Okay, you're right, I can't say that I'm not hurt by all this. He gestured at her binders still resting on the coffee table set before the sofa. But I also know that I can't let it become everything, either. At her continued look of perplexity, he continued, We've both spent the last year hurting each other, being hurt by each other. He sighed, and ran a hand over his hair in a thoughtful gesture. In essence, we did it again... let the Air Force come between us... knowingly or unknowingly on all parties'... parts... and... He stared at her in guileless honesty. Don't you think we've spent enough time in some form of general unhappiness due to our situation? She went on gazing at him, not quite believing what he was saying. So he kept speaking, Sure, we can let this Pete situation ruin what we've found, get a divorce, whatever. He turned to her to make his point that much more imperative. Or we can know how sorry we both are, accept that things the last year have stunk to high heaven... and move on. We can either do that moving on in a way that's sure to make us really unhappy... or we can choose to forgive and forget, and just make each other as happy as possible for what time we have left to us.

Sam still gazed at him like she didn't know who had just kidnapped her husband and replaced him with the forgiving... thing... beside her on his sofa. Has the Asgard turned you into a clone again? she asked, her brows lowered in her confusion. Are you saying that... you want to forget about all this and..? But she knew that Jack wasn't a particularly forgiving man, especially of himself.

I'm saying, Jack gently interrupted her. We have a choice right now, Sam. He took her hand in his own. We can either let this, and he waved again at the binders on his coffee table, Let this ruin everything we've found together. Or... Here he gave a dramatic pause in order to cement his point. Or we can forgive, try to forget, and go on from here. Which do you want to do?

Sam sent a stupid, bewildered stare at him for a second. This was not the way she had anticipated that this conversation between them would go. She knew that Jack was one of the most stubborn men on the entire planet, and she hadn't expected this easy clemency on his part. She had to give her head a tiny shake to clear it of her inner imaginings of what she had thought would happen in this confrontation so it would give way to what was actually happening. She blinked as she shook. What do I want? she partially echoed him. Jack nodded once. So Sam continued with a snort of incredulity, insisting, I already told you what I want. She thoughtfully added, But I also know that I don't often get what I want...

Jack gave her an amazed stare. So that must mean that you want the opposite? To dump me? he asked in astonishment.

Sam's features crumbled into a look of supreme consternation. No! she insisted. Of course I don't! But I'm an adult, you're an adult, and as adults we both know that in reality...

Jack grabbed her shoulders and turned her to fully face him on the sofa. Sam, stop thinking for one minute! he loudly insisted again. This may be reality, but what we want can be as important as we want it to be as opposed to what doesn't usually happen in reality! His fingers tightened on her arms. In my version of reality, you and I admit that this last year was total Hell, we curse the fact that it even transpired, then admit we love each other, and kiss like two people who haven't seen each other for a whole year, which we haven't, then have the best makeup sex that ever existed.

Sam tried hard to squash the smile that tried to creep over her cheeks when he talked about makeup sex. I know I shouldn't, but I have to say that I like your version of reality quite a bit, she admitted.

Jack emphatically persuaded, Then make it happen if you like it so much.

Sam gave a light laugh. That's it, we just make it all go away, just like that?

Can you stand the alternative? Jack inquired. Do you want to?

No, Sam honestly answered, hesitating just the slightest bit. She was only able to give the vaguest of acknowledgments to herself that his touch was busy turning any resistance she had to his idea to dust as she felt her emotions give in to his suggestion. At last she hesitantly said, I'm willing to... try it... if you are.

Jack gave his own laugh of incredulity this time. I've been more than willing to try this for a long time. You know that from my letters.

And mentioning letters like he had gave him a sudden idea. He grabbed a note pad he kept on the coffee table for phone messages, found a pen in the mess of binders, TV remote control, and the remains of his recent lunch still spread out before them, then scribbled furiously, now, while he had the opportunity. His life was a maze of missed opportunities, and he was darned if he was going to miss out on another one just because she wasn't entirely understanding him... again. So he wrote down in a hurried hand what he wanted. When he was finished writing his scrawling message, he handed it to her to read.

S.

I do want to forget, all about this whole year, all about what we've done to each other, everything that I said to Daniel because there wasn't you around to talk to. I want to curl up next to you and watch a movie. I want to sleep with you beside me, knowing that you're there if we want to start that great makeup sex we keep talking about, but don't want there to be any pressure to make anything happen if it doesn't happen - I just want to know that you're there, that you're not leaving, that you're not going back to him. I want to snuggle on the couch for an entire afternoon. I want to pass you in the halls of the SGC and actually have to pretend that I'm not yours, when I know perfectly well that I'm yours hook, line, and sinker. I want to treasure your brains again, how damned smart you are. I want...

I just want to be yours again, to forgive and forget, and start over again if we have to.

I just want you.

J.

What could Sam say to that kind of honesty, especially coming from Jack O'Neill, known to be the most emotionally derelict man in the Universe? Who would have guessed that all anyone needed to do was give the man a sheet of paper and tell him to fill it full of his own emotions for his wants and desires to come pouring out. The fact that all those wants and desires coalesced into having her by his side was her undoing.

Sam read his words, then burst into tears.

Crap, Jack instantly muttered, misinterpreting her sobbing. I didn't want to make you cry. I'm such a dunce - putting pressure on you now, when your dad is barely... and this whole year was... He turned beseeching eyes on Sam. Carter, I'm sorry, really, please don't let...

Cutting him off in mid thought, and throwing her arms around his neck so that she could hold him in a tight, restrictive hug mangled his following words until they were an unintelligible mumble.

The second that Jack's shock gave way to his ability to feel more confident about the reason why she was responding to his hastily scrawled note the way that she was, he quickly tightened his own arms around her to return her hug. He kissed the side of her cheek, near her eye, and opened his mouth to soothe her with words as best he could.

But before he could say anything to her, soothing or not, she tearfully, laughingly inquired, What movie do you want to watch, Flyboy? I'm open to suggestions.

Delighted by her apparent willingness to at least try his plan, Jack chuckled into her shoulder. No boring documentaries on energy control, he said.

Sam laughed with him. No shoot-em-up, catch-the-bad-guys-at-all-costs boring cop movies, either, she said, making her own request. And no Simpsons.

D'oh! Jack couldn't resist uttering against the soft skin of her neck, which he nuzzled on his way to the TV area of his living room, where he had been instructed to pick a non action oriented, non shoot-em-up, non-energy related movie that wasn't too boring.

So they compromised, and spent the afternoon curled up on the sofa together watching a bloody biographical fictionalized account of the dinosaurs near the end of their reign of terror on the earth. Even the System Lords would have quaked at the power of the simple dinosaur out to have them for dinner.

For now, both Jack and Sam were content to know that the other was within easy reach of fingers that somehow managed to link together early on in the movie, and they were both perfectly happy to stay that way for the foreseeable future. It wasn't mind blowing makeup sex, but it left a wonderful and refreshing hope for their future together, at least through that particular day. Watching a movie, curled up as one wasn't a happenstance of amazing proportions, but to Jack and Sam, it was exactly what they each wanted to do.

The End


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