Beyond 'Moebius' A Novel

Version One

by Linda Bindner

Part IV: Conversations

Jack and Sam left the base together to look at the two houses that Sam had found advertised on the internet that would fit their budget, their lifestyle, and was big enough to accommodate them and their hopes for their future.

Sam was beginning to realize how specific their ideal house was by the time she and Jack had viewed the second house they planned to look at that day, but she refused to settle for just any old house that happened to be large enough. Visions of the house that Pete had bought for her swam in her head, and though beautiful, she had immediately felt that it wasn't the house for her. Living in such a house made her future stretch before her in a way that had driven her to Jack's place to talk to him later that very afternoon. So now, a beautiful house was just a beautiful, but empty, house to her if it didn't come with everything that she and Jack wanted in a place to live in. House-hunting was already becoming harder than she thought it would be.

Jack drove Sam back to the SGC when they had finished viewing both houses, instantly deciding that both houses weren't for them.

Have patience, Jack counseled when Sam looked as if she were disappointed in what they had viewed that afternoon.

Sam morosely commented, I guess I was just expecting this to be easier, like jumping off a rock, or falling off your bicycle. Sort of like we would just walk right into the perfect house for us. She sighed, feeling deflated. Then she glanced over at him. Pretty silly of me, wasn't it?

Jack had to grin as he issued his own answering sigh. We'll find something, don't you worry, he said, taking her hand in his for a momentary squeeze.

Just then, Sam's cell phone, which was again turned on, rang from her coat pocket.

Jack scowled. Now what? he asked, taking his hand away so that she could answer her phone. Tell Daniel that we already wrote out an announcement, and that we're headed back now to work on the guest list. He grunted as they turned to the road that would ultimately take them to the Cheyenne Mountain complex. He doesn't have to bug us anymore.

Sam was about to answer her incessantly ringing phone when Jack suddenly got a mischievous glint in his eye. His scowl turned into a decidedly twisted grin. Better yet, tell Daniel that not only are we talking about sex, but we're talking about it while we're doing it.

Sam laughed. I'm not telling Daniel any such thing! He won't be able to look at either of us for a week without blushing!

Jack's grin twisted even further. I know, he said, that wicked glint now in both eyes.

Sam laughed again. You're terrible! she proclaimed as she answered her phone. Carter, she got out on a giggle. And if this is Daniel, I'm supposed to tell you that Jack and I are doing more than just talking about sex this time! Sam grinned some more as she listened, then the smile was instantly wiped off her face as she straightened in her seat. Penny! she gulped on a shout.

Jack immediately took note of her straighter posture, and what that posture indicated. Who? he softly queried, wanting to know what was going on.

My sister-in-law, Sam told him in an undertone. She's Mark's wife. She quickly turned her attention back to her phone conversation as Jack mouthed an 'ah' of understanding at her, and kept driving as Sam talked. Sorry, go on, Sam said to Penny through her cell phone.

Sam? Penny Carter asked over the line. Her tone of voice told of her curiosity as well as the concern she was feeling. What the heck's happening? I've been trying to call you for fifteen minutes. I even called that place where you work, only they told me that you were out looking at houses with some guy named 'The General.' Isn't The General your father? And Pete's no General, but he is your fianc‚ last I heard! And now, after all this phoning around, I'm getting as irritated as Mark said that he was when he called me awhile ago, cursing up a blue streak about little sisters, men in general, and all of your men in particular, she informed in exasperation. I barely understood what Mark said, he was so mad... something about a bed. She paused to issue a long-suffering sigh over the line. And we both know that Mark hasn't been this angry since he and I got married. She sighed for a second time. So, I'll try not to get mad... I told Mark that I would call you instead of him calling you just so that he can tell you off. I figured that this way, I can find out what the heck's going on. A rustling sound came over the line as it sounded like she sat down in her office chair. Penny was getting down to business, and quickly. Okay, out with it... Are you getting married, who are you marrying if you are getting married, and what are you thinking, getting married this close to your dad's funeral?

Sam sighed after letting Penny vent like she had. Penny, I'm sorry that you feel so confused, she began. I... I know that's partly my fault...

Penny broke in, I can say that it's all your fault, Sam, but I doubt that would convince you to tell me what's going on.

Sam had to give a little grin at Penny's pseudo-accusatory statement. She sighed herself, the sad sound filling up the cab of the truck. I'd be happy to tell you what's been going on, but...

Don't you dare tell me it's classified, Penny harshly stated, interrupting.

Sam grimaced. I have to tell you that some of it's classified.

Sam! Penny growled. Then she said, I'm beginning to see why Mark was so angry this afternoon when he called to...

Sam interrupted this time. That's not all he was angry about, Penny, she said with a note of despair in her voice.

Always attuned to Sam and the mood she was in at any given moment whether he liked it or not, Jack immediately picked up on her sense of despair, and decided that he'd heard enough of this family torture that Sam was voluntarily putting herself through. He reached out a hand to grab Sam's phone as he pulled up to the gate guarding the mountain military complex.

Sam quickly said into her phone, Penny, I'm really sorry, but we've reached the Mountain, and unlike Jack, I don't have a nice warm body of a General taking over for me, so I really need to get back to work. Do you mind talking to Jack for a minute... or an hour?

The suspicion in Penny's voice came in loud and clear, now, even through a phone connection. Who's Jack? she asked in distrust.

Sam meekly replied, He's my fianc‚.

Your..! Penny gave a heavy, fully aggravated gush of air this time. Sam, you better start explaining, and I...

Jack could hear every word that Sam's relative said to her over the phone, as Penny wasn't exactly keeping her voice down. Deciding again that he had heard enough, he simply plucked the phone away from Sam's ear, kissed her cheek, whispered, Bye beautiful. Get going... see you later. Save the world for me.

Sam gave a huff, first at him taking over her phone conversation so decisively without asking her first, and then, just as quickly, she felt grateful to him for taking on her angry relatives like he was. So, saying nothing, Sam let Jack take her cell phone and opened the door of his truck. Before she fully handed her phone over to Jack, she said, Penny, here's Jack. She paused, then added, And play nice! Then she was gone. The truck door slammed shut behind her.

Jack lifted the phone to his ear, but saw a sight that stilled his greeting. The soldiers on guard duty asked to see Sam's new engagement ring, and she looked embarrassed at how eager she seemed to show it to them, if Jack could judge by the smile now gracing her face. She finished signing her name on the sign-in clipboard that they handed to her, then presented them with her left hand for inspection over the counter separating them. Jack couldn't hear what any member of the group was saying, of course, but he could imagine, as Sam's smile only grew bigger at the guards' unheard commentary.

Jack watched grown soldiers gently holding Sam's fingers, but a moment later, he heard Penny inquire, This Jack... General fellow... you there? Then came an angry huff of air again. I'm really getting a tad antsy over here, she warned.

Jack recalled the phone he held, then put it to his ear and replied, Are you sure that you're not the General in this scenario? 'Cause you sure have the sound of a very irritated General down pat.

Jack? General Jack? Penny queried, just sounding confused now.

Hey, good name, Jack complimented. I like it.

Okay, Jack... General Jack, Penny declared. Tell me what the heck's going on.

Jack peered back at Sam animatedly talking to the guards on duty. Well, at the moment, he said, drawling his answer, Samantha's showing off her engagement ring to a bunch of soldiers on guard duty, and she has them so wrapped around her little finger that they'd roll over and play dead for her if she'd only just ask them to do it. If she can do that to Marines... Jack thought fast... Yeah, SG-6, a team of Marines, had pulled guard duty that day. He went on, Anyway, she can do anything. I am in sooooooo much trouble!

Miracle of miracles, Penny Carter laughed. First of all, welcome to the Carter family, in case this is all true, and yes, you are in trouble, Mark's going to thump you within an inch of your military little butt, and...

Did Samantha ever tell you that I'm too old and gray to have my military butt trounced? Jack asked with as calm a voice as he could. And Mark doesn't have to feel like he has to take over the family tradition of trouncing all of Samantha's fianc‚s, ya know.

Penny sounded like she was grinning into her phone in California, and said, Oh, making puddles out of Sam's fianc‚'s bodies is too ingrained in Carter men to give up the tradition now. Mark has an illustrious calling to fulfill.

Jack grimaced. Well, tell him to fulfill it on someone else, that my poor old body is already too battered... he has to leave something left over for Samantha to batter.

Okay, General Jack, how old are we talking about here? Penny very inelegantly questioned. You might as well tell me all the dirty details, 'cause if you don't tell me now, Mark will just torture them out of you later, and...

That torture stuff, Jack quipped. Soooo overrated!

As if you know! Penny hooted over the line.

Jack grew more quiet as he softly declared, Oh, I know more about that than you think.

Penny gave an appreciative snort. You sound like you do know something about...

Jack cut her off. So does Samantha, but don't tell her I told you. She might kick my... my... how did you put it?... my 'little military butt' all the way out to your place.

From Colorado? Penny asked.

Hey, Jack said with a shrug sounding in his voice. Samantha would be plenty mad at me for telling you torture information in the first place to easily kick me all the way to California. Then he thought for a minute. Actually, she could probably do it even if she wasn't mad at me. Then he thought some more. Actually, I like her not being mad at me at all. Maybe we shouldn't give her this idea in the first place.

Penny laughed again into her phone. I think I'm gonna like you, General Jack. I hate to say this, but that Pete friend of Mark's always kind of left me feeling a little awkward. I mean, not everyone understands my sense of humor right away... or at all.

Jack winced again. And speaking of... God, he couldn't say the name! Of What'shisname, he ended. Then, he finally explained the situation. Look, Penny, I'm at the outside of the base right now, having just dropped Sam off so she can display her engagement ring for all to see. I promise to tell you all about what's been going on... or at least, I'll tell you what I can tell you... But right now I need to pay attention to my driving, and not talking on the phone about potentially accident-causing issues. Samantha will have my hide if I die in an accident now. Penny laughed again from her office in California. Jack went on, Mind if I call you back in about twenty minutes or so? Do you have a number you can give me?

Uh... sure, Penny answered at last. You can call my office phone, then we won't have that annoying potential for service cutting out all the time. The number's (619)555-4239. I'll be waiting.

Jack wrote furiously on the tiny notepad that he kept in his glove compartment. Just give me a few minutes, he said to Penny as he finished writing. I'll call back when I get home, then we'll talk, he promised.

Later, Penny said, then hung up.

Jack sighed, then snapped Sam's cell phone shut, and left it on the passenger seat for her to find when next she rode in his truck. Then he turned his vehicle towards his house as he saw Sam disappear through the bunker door and into the Mountain.

As he drove, he thought about Sam's sister-in-law, her quirky sense of humor, and the way she and Mark were going to have to be mighty understanding over the next few weeks in order to get through this whole wedding fiasco. In Penny's favor was that he had never found someone besides Samantha whom he could emotionally open up to so quickly. Most people made him feel awkward and uncomfortable when feelings were mentioned. But he felt like he could say anything to either Samantha, and now her sister-in-law... well, classified issues notwithstanding.

It remained to be seen if he would feel so welcome around her brother Mark, though. Mark's disdain for anything military was as legendary to him as Mark had always been. Sam's stories of her brother had only recently become even remotely friendly, and Jack suspected that Jacob merging with Selmac had a lot to do with that.

But Jacob was no longer alive, and couldn't act as a buffer between Mark and his sister's choice in future husbands. The fact that Sam had rejected a good personal friend of Mark's had to hurt. The timing of this entire event could be better, Jack admitted to himself, but there wasn't much he could do about it. He figured that he was already doing what he could by seeming to be giving up his entire life to marry Sam and ensure that the timeline remained intact. The fact that this marriage was hardly going to be a hardship to him, or to her, was only known to a few select people right now.

And that group of a 'few select people' was never going to grow any larger if he didn't get home to call Penny back, and soon. But his thoughts then turned to soon-to-be in-laws. He was going to have to be very careful with what he said to the California Carters in order to encourage them to be as calm and understanding as possible. There was still a good chance that Mark at least would feel so badly about this sudden wedding that none of them would even be flying out from San Diego for the event. Mark might be so angry at his sister for breaking up with What'shisname without telling him about that breaking up part that he would never be able to forgive her.

Jack sighed as he pulled off the Cheyenne Mountain road and onto a smaller, more residential street. He looked at the neighborhood for 'for sale' signs, a new habit of looking for houses to live in already forming in his mind as he went.

It was as he was craning his neck to look at one house in particular, noting that it was large enough for him and Samantha, and that it was for sale, and then looking at the surrounding neighborhood through his rearview mirror that he first spotted the dark SUV several vehicles behind his.

Hadn't he seen that same truck pull in behind him only a minute ago? Jack's first reaction was to do his best to get away, as the driver of that vehicle now seemed weirdly intent on following him.

Jack's second, more rational reaction was to squash his desire to flee, and to see if he really was being followed. This whole thing could still be a matter of coincidence. He would feel pretty stupid if he acted on his intent to lose a pursuer only to find out that that pursuer wasn't after him at all, only intent on driving to Wal Mart, or something equally as mundane. As he carefully turned another corner, he couldn't help that his thoughts flew to groups like the Trust, and the NID in spite of his attempts at controlling them. But he couldn't help but think of people in groups who had been filed away to the 'possible enemy' category in his mind, and his heartbeat sped up a tiny bit.

The SUV turned the corner after Jack's truck and sedately tailed him down the street. Now Jack was beginning to get worried. Just to see what the driver of the SUV would do, Jack turned a third corner onto another side street, purposefully taking the long way home. His gaze flew to his rear view mirror to see if the SUV turned this corner as well. It didn't. A small amount of relief shot with aggravation at himself and his paranoid tendencies crowded through his mind, and he quickly decided not to tell Sam about this incident lest she laugh hysterically at him.

Chastising himself the entire way home, Jack continued down the side street, even stopping to pretend to play with something on the floor of his truck so that he could take the opportunity to find out if he could see the dark SUV in between the surrounding houses. He noted that there were two houses for sale on the street, that one looked too small for him and Sam, that the second looked large enough, that he liked the quietness of the neighborhood, and that he should write the street name down so that Sam could look the second house up on the internet in case it fell in their price range, and...

Jack successfully forgot all about the dark SUV he'd thought had been following him, and only the glance he habitually took of his surroundings in his rearview mirror showed that he was being followed again, by the same vehicle as before. Now he was really getting a case of heebie jeebies!

That 'fight or flight' emotion hit him once more, and Jack had to work hard at suppressing his instincts so that he could appear to be nonchalantly and obliviously going about his business. But his mind was spinning. Who was this person following him? Was it a he or a she, and what did he or she want? Was this person a member of some secret 'get General O'Neill' organization, or was he just being paranoid again?

Jack pulled into his driveway and parked his truck. He noted that the SUV had also come to a stop, about 50 yards away from his house, and that the driver was intently watching him as he turned to his house.

Jack then decided to do a little intel gathering of his own concerning this little problem that had cropped up. He casually whistled 'Simply Irresistible' as he headed up his front walk, making sure the sound wasn't too loud, but that it would carry to the person sitting in the truck parked on his street. Jack opened his front door, still looking painfully nonchalant, and disappeared inside. He knew that his shadow would be visible through the curtains covering his entryway windows, so he forced himself to grab a beer from his refrigerator, then saunter slowly into his den.

Jack plopped down on his couch next to his phone. He quickly called the number that Penny Carter had left with him. He caught her immediately. Penny Carter, she hastily said.

Jack lowered his voice so that it had no chance of carrying out his closed patio door. Penny, General O'Neill here to inform you that something has come up that I need to deal with, and would it be possible for me to call you back in a half hour or so?

Penny automatically lowered her voice as well, and agreed, Sure... Is this 'something' on the classified side?

Jack replied, The less said, the better. Can you help?

Works for me, Penny said, then added, And if this is military classified mumbo-jumbo... Mark's gonna be so jealous when he finds out that I helped with classified stuff before he was asked! I might make him cook dinner for a month for me for this!

Well, glad I can help, Jack replied.

Then Penny's voice changed to one of concern, even lowered the way it was. Are you gonna be okay by yourself, General Jack? Want me to call that place you work for you, get some... what do you guys call it? she rhetorically asked herself. Backup, or throw-up, or whatever?

Jack had to let out a tiny chuckle at her 'throw-up' comment, but said, No, thanks though, but I better call them myself and inform them of the situation and request backup. Only an idiot goes into an unknown situation without backup.

Penny responded, And I bet they don't make idiotic Generals.

Don't know about that, Jack answered in distraction as he snuck a glance through the very bottom of his front living room window. But... Look, I'll call you when I get back.

Thanks for not leaving me sitting here, waiting by the phone. Bye. She hung up without another word.

Jack liked a woman who didn't spend time on the polite niceties of small talk, like Sam. He quickly redialed the SGC and told Walter what was happening, then requested that he send a company of Marines out as backup, telling him to have them meet him about 50 yards down the road from his house. Then he too hung up.

He then waited his minimum requirement for setting a watcher at ease by returning to his couch and sitting there for one minute.

After he felt that enough time had passed, he took one last drag on his beer, grabbed his pistol from a sidetable drawer in his bedroom, slipped it into his waist holster attached to his belt, then slipped very quietly and cautiously to his patio door. Making sure that he was never highlighted in one of his windows, he slid the patio door soundlessly open, stepped through the gap, then slid the door closed again after making sure that he was leaving it unlocked so that he could get back into his house. It would be fairly embarrassing if he locked himself out of his own house. When all was as he wanted it to appear... innocent... he took off in the surrounding bushes to walk around the SUV and come at it from behind.

Thinking that he'd read about this very tactic in the SGC's military strategy books while he'd officially been looking for Sam's secret journal in the rec room, he continued on, hoping that this particular strategy would work.

It did. He came out of the trees covered in brambles and briars, but on the whole intact, and very close but behind the vehicle whose lone occupant continued to watch his house, completely unaware that Jack was right behind him.

As he crept closer to the truck... the sitting duck, Jack said in his mind... he suddenly realized who was bent so determinedly on watching his house.

Pete Shanahan.

Jack felt his blood chill over at the sight of the Detective, but again, he fought the reaction. He needed to stay calm, cool, and collected if he wanted to discover what Shanahan's plans were.

Moving soundlessly and slowly, Jack crept up to the back of Shanahan's truck, making sure that he stayed in the man's blind spot... and these SUVs had a huge blind spot for Jack to take advantage of... and was always mindful of the truck's side mirror as he practically slithered to the passenger door. He found that the vehicle was conveniently unlocked, then very quietly opened the door.

He made sure to scratch the door once he had it open so that it was audible to Shanahan, making him reach across the seat beside him and see if the door was ajar. Jack stayed crouched down out of the man's side mirror range, and waited, holding his breath.

Then the hand opened the door just a smidge prior to slamming it shut again, and Jack chose that second to act.

Jack pulled door open even further, yanking Shanahan off balance just enough so that he could grab Shanahan's wrist with his free hand, pull it through the opening left by the door, then shut the door again to close the man's wrist in the open space caused by the door. Jack didn't push hard on Shanahan's wrist caught so effectively, but he did push the door sufficiently closed to incapacitate him long enough to say, Okay... You tell me right now why the hell you're following me, or I shut this door the rest of the way, and break your wrist. Your choice, Detective. Jack's slightly sarcastic growl left the police officer in no doubt as to what he personally thought of Pete's detective skills.

Lying at an angle across the front seat of his SUV, and as that angle was the wrong angle for him to drive away, Pete suddenly found himself at a disadvantage as he raised his free hand into the air and said, Okay, okay, you got me, man, just don't shoot me or anything.

Shoot ya? Jack barked. I don't even have a gun on me right now, he lied, then continued, How can I shoot ya? Besides, what good would that do? If I shot you, you'd be unconscious, and then I would never find out just why the hell you're following me! He wrapped his hand around the wrist sticking towards him through the door, then slowly left off the pressure he was exerting on the passenger door. He swung the portal open the remainder of the way.

Pete lay sprawled across the bucket seats, his one hand firmly in Jack's grasp. You got an hour? Pete inquired of Jack. I'll tell you what's going on, but it could take awhile to explain it all. He sighed, sounding ill at ease as well as long-suffering. You might as well climb up here so we can talk in comfort.

Jack wondered if Pete thought he was dumb. Not a chance, he growled, We talk through the lowered window. He powered the front passenger window down, then demanded, And no funny business! Or a broken wrist will be the least of your worries.

No funny business, promised Pete, holding both hands into the air now to show that he was unarmed and not dangerous. Just talk, I swear, he said.

Jack took one more look at him, judging the puppy-dog face before him, then stared through the lowered window. Okay... talk, he ordered, And make it convincing.

Pete kept his hands on the steering wheel, in plain sight of Jack, so that the military man would know where his hands were and that they weren't reaching for a hidden weapon. Then he began to speak. I'm just concerned about Sam, that's all.

Jack's forehead crinkled, and he gave a disbelieving snort. That's why you're following me?

Pete looked chagrined for a moment. Well, he explained. I really don't know much about you to...

Gee, wonder why that is? Jack rhetorically asked. Then he answered himself, Could it be because I don't like you?

Pete at least appeared appreciative of Jack's honesty, in spite of what he was saying. He replied, I'd have to say that the feeling is mutual, General.

Well, good, Jack grunted as he gazed out the front window so that he wouldn't have to look at the man beside him. But, I repeat, Shanahan, why the hell are you following me? He rolled his eyes, And don't tell me any bullshit about being 'concerned for Sam.' It has to be more than that. He faced Pete again for a second, then turned back to the stare out the front window a second time. I'm not her, ya know, he reminded. I'm not likely to give you the benefit of the doubt the way that she did. Stalking is stalking, and this is stalking, right, Mr. Police Officer? he sneered.

Pete issued a sigh into the vehicle. I just want to explain...

Then explain, Jack ordered in an unfriendly voice.

I saw you and Sam in the park the other day...

That comment did make Jack snap his attention around to stare at Shanahan again. At 0630 in the morning? he gasped. And this is supposed to make me feel better about you? he barked in incredulity. What the hell were you doing at a public park at 0630 in the morning?

Shanahan raised both his hands again. Just listen! he demanded. He put his hands back on the steering wheel, and Jack once again faced forward, grumbling, but docile enough for Pete to go on. Like I said, Pete continued, I saw you in the park... I was just coming off my night shift, heading home, which is why I was even there. I wasn't casing the place, honest!

Oh yeah, Jack nastily said. Like I'm going to believe that.

Hey! Pete defended himself. I happened to be in the area... so shoot me!

Yeah, you 'happen to be in the area' a lot, Jack said, quoting the very phrase that Pete had also employed right after the Osiris Op that he'd 'coincidentally' stumbled onto. How often do you think you can use that line and have people fall for it? 'Cause I never fell for it, even if Samantha did. And while you were doing your cute little security checks on my team member, I was doing security checks on you. A stint in jail for disobeying a restraining order? he questioned. A fine for stalking? His face darkened as he went on. Oh, yeah, you have quite an adventurous past history to read through.

It's better than yours! Shanahan defended himself.

Jack's scowl darkened. You can't find anything out about me through a stupid little security check!

That may be... Pete bligerently began, then he gave a defeated little sigh. Look, he said at last to Jack. I'm not here to fight with you...

Yeah, Jack sneered. Just why are you here? he asked. You haven't bothered to answer that question to my satisfaction yet. Oh, and the truth this time would be nice.

Like I said, Pete patiently spoke. I'm just concerned about Sam...

Samantha broke it off with you, Jack grunted. I'm sorry if that brings you pain, but deal with it. She is not your concern any longer.

Don't you think this whole thing is a bit on the fast side? Pete then asked. That she's just on the rebound from me, and you're second choice?

Jack snorted. You were the second choice, buddy, not me. And if I ever catch you tailing either of us again, I won't hesitate to throw charges of 'disturbing the peace' and 'stalking' at you. Again, he added. At last Jack huffed a breath. And another thing... You'll stay as far away from Samantha as possible if you know what's good for you.

You can't make me do anything of the kind, Pete said in a low voice, sounding contentious again.

Jack grinned a grin that held no warmth in it. Still looking out the front window, he casually said, Go back to Denver. Or better yet, get out of Colorado altogether.

Don't you threaten me! Pete growled. Or I'll have the whole police force down on your head so fast you won't know what hit you!

You won't know what hit you, either, if an army under my command suddenly makes you disappear, Jack softly replied.

Like I should be afraid of that! Pete scorned. What Pete didn't know was that the softer Jack's voice grew, the more dangerous he became. So he blithely went on as he reached for the concealed gun at his left side. Like you can ever just make people disappear, He snapped the fingers of his right hand while his left moved to his side. Just like that!

Jack nonchalantly and softly said, I wouldn't reach for the gun you have hidden below your belt, either.

Pete balked at him. How the hell do you know if I have a weapon or not? he asked, decidedly pissed now, according to his tone. He went on, And how do you know if I'm reaching for it to begin with?

Jack gave a loud sigh, and looked irritated at having to answer what seemed to him to be stupid questions. First of all, he said anyway, You're a cop... It only stands to reason that you have a gun that I can't see. Even you aren't so dumb as to stake out a house unarmed. Then then he quietly added, Though one of the things that you can count on in this screwed up universe of ours is that there will always be stupid people. Jack scratched at his chin then with his own left hand. Unfortunately, I'm not on of them.

Pete growled, What, you were just playing dumb with me? And you expect me to fall for that?

Jack ignored Pete's query about his intelligence level to say, And second... I've been watching your reflection in the front window for the past fifteen minutes, and I can see the bulge of your handgun from here. He smirked at a flabbergasted detective then. What? he innocently asked. They didn't teach you that trick in cop school? He turned back to coldly stare out the front window again. And third, he calmly stated, I didn't come here completely unarmed either, and you should have expected that. Then he slipped his right hand out from between his under he window ledge.

Before Jack could bring his own weapon up to bear on Shanahan, Pete sneered and said, Don't you threaten me, old man. You stay away from Sam, or it'll be heyday a la policia, he ended, bringing up his own gun to point at Jack. Now, hand over your weapon... He took the gun away from Jack before Jack could even do anything with it. Now get in, nice and slow, Pete ordered.

Jack let his head fall back on the headrest, Ah, man! he theatrically groused, as if he was appalled at the way another person had gotten the upper hand on him. I was so hoping you would do that! he unexpectedly exclaimed. And he pulled the second smaller gun out of his coat pocket, thankful that Samantha's paranoia had ignited his paranoia, and that he hadn't decided to walk into a possible trap carrying only one weapon. He pointed this second gun at the detective, looking like a weapon of any kind, even one as small as the one he held, was so familiar that it was actually an extension of his own hand.

You said that you only had the one gun! Pete acrimoniously protested. No, first you said you were unarmed, then you said you only had one gun!

Jack waved his gun in an arc, wondering how long Pete Shanahan would last against an army of Jaffa if he believed people so easily. So I lied, he retorted. Then he more fully steadied the weapon. Pete aimed at Jack, and Jack aimed at Pete. Neither man moved, and neither man's weapon moved a centimeter.

After several quiet moments of this where both Pete and Jack sized the other up, Jack calmly inquired, So, what do we do now? The guns still hadn't wavered, and Jack went on, This is your truck... You seem to have all the advantages.

Pete chuckled a bit after that statement. Oh, I bet you'd like me to think so, he said.

What? Jack innocently asked. No tire iron hidden under the seat? Then he stared seriously at Pete, thinking Well, at last he finally got some smarts. You know, you have a problem with having hidden weapons.

Like you should talk! Pete snorted. I somehow don't think that Sam is getting a particularly open and honest guy!

Jack retorted, She doesn't seem to have changed her preferences much then, has she?

Pete snorted in only slightly restrained fury. So I suppose that I need to equate the older guy with the wiser guy, huh? He snorted once again. Older and more used up is more like it.

Jack appeared to be wounded. Hey, age is just a number!

You tell yourself that if it makes you feel better! Five years down the road, I bet that Sam...

Jack interrupted, Samantha doesn't care about something so petty.

Pete snorted a third time. Yeah, right! Like I believe that!

Samantha has never cared about that, Jack informed in a hard voice. And she never will! If you think any differently, then you didn't know her as well as you'd like to think!

I knew that she would never just pick an old...

Older and wiser, Jack acrimoniously corrected. They uneasily stared at each other through the open window. Finally Jack laughed, finding some hidden humor in the fact that they were both so evenly matched and just watching each other like they were caught in some infinitely long staring contest. So, what do we do now? he asked at last. Stay here forever, pointing guns at each other, or start shooting like this is some cheap version of the Wild Wild West?

You're the Army guy, you tell me, Shanahan demanded.

Geez, how long were you with Samantha? Jack asked in a gravelly voice. We're Air Force, not Army. I'd think you would know that.

Oh, like there's a difference! Shanahan shot back at him. One military is about the same as any other! You're all just 'yes' men with no will of your own!

The sudden swinging wide of his driver door made Pete whirl around to see Sam standing outside his SUV, pointing her own small weapon at him through the open space she'd just created.

Well, this is a nice surprise, thought Jack, always glad to see Sam, even in a situation that was as tense as this one was quickly becoming.

Sam went on, retorting to Pete, If that's what you really thought of my job all along, then dumping you was the best decision I ever made! Now hand me your gun, nice and slow! she ordered. And get out!

Pete carefully did as he was told by crawling out of his truck, but only behaving like he planned to hand over his gun, He never quite got around to it. The entire time he was moving, though, he groveled, Sam, this is not what you think it is!

Oh? Sam queried, noting what he'd chosen to do and to not do. I suppose that you're going to tell me what I think is going on here, right? She whisked his gun out of his grasp the second it cleared the edge of the door, since he wasn't giving it to her, as she had demanded. She held it in her left hand while her right fingers still curled tightly around her own small handgun that she had pulled from her coat pocket. I guess this is just like the time you 'told' me that women don't belong on the front lines, right? I thought we had already settled all that 'women' stuff.

Pete's shoulders slumped. That's not what I said at all, he whined.

Oh? she caustically inquired. I find you here, a gun pointed at the head of the man I plan to marry, and the best you can do is whine that I didn't understand you? When did I ever understand you?

Even though Jack was thoroughly behind Sam all the way, he had to softly comment, Ouch! at her words.

The truth seemed to hit Shanahan in his guts. You're not actually going to marry this geezer, are you?

Hey! Jack protested. This old geezer is quite capable of kicking your ass from her to Milwaukee, so watch it!

Pete stared at Jack standing beside his SUV, but he spoke to Sam. I can't believe you would choose this 'has been' over me!

I never said that I made Samantha choose, Jack felt like he had to clarify. There was no choosing involved, if I recall.

When Pete thought that Sam was distracted with his last comment, he made his move, flinging out his arm towards her.

Sam easily blocked his action, making it look like it was no effort at all. When are you ever going to remember not to telegraph your punches? she asked of him, then without warning, shoved her leg into the back of Pete's knees without even looking down to see if her sudden activity was executed correctly. The move was common practice for Jaffa to use on captured prisoners, but apparently hadn't been widely practiced on the Colorado Springs PD. Pete never saw it coming. His knees automatically bent, just as they were supposed to, and he crashed to the ground, almost hitting his head on the concrete street.

Jack sprang away from the truck at the same time Sam made her move, and sped around the vehicle as he scowled, but it looked like Sam had everything well in hand by the time he arrived to stand beside her, and just as a troop transport carrying a squad of Marines from the base screeched to a halt nearby. By then, Sam had thrown the detective's gun away from him and under his truck, her own weapon still in hand.

Do you have your cell phone on you? she casually asked as Jack joined her and the Marines surrounded the three of them.

Jack gave a terse nod. It never leaves my person, not even when Walter brings me cake, he told her.

Sam smiled a tiny smile at what he had said. But she suggested, Maybe you should call the police department and have them detain this irritant over night. She grinned at the men on every side of her. As much as I like having Marines here, the police should really hear about what's been going on today.

Ah, Samantha, Jack feigned a whining fit. And I was so hoping that you would let this nice much of AIR FORCE Marines lead him away to a conveniently empty holding cell at Petersen, where I will then forget about his existence and he'll rot away in a year or two.

Do you really want everyone on base to know about this, Jack? she asked, always being the pragmatist. Then she glanced around at the men surrounding her, Jack, and Pete. Besides these guys? she asked.

Good point, Jack stated. I order you all to silence on this subject, Jack said to the Marines, then couldn't help adding, Maybe I should just call Teal'c.

Sam laughed aloud at that joke. Let's start with the police, and go from there.

* * *

Sam and Jack watched as the CSPD pulled away, and a wrecker dragged Shanahan's vehicle behind it to the impound yard. The troop transport and its Marines had headed back to the SGC soon after it was clear that the General and Colonel Carter had everything well in hand. Jack wound his arm around Sam's waist as the Police disappeared. He asked, So, what brings a beautiful woman like you to a place like this?... clich‚s aside.

Sam chuckled again at this new joke. I forgot my report in your truck. And when I called you to ask about my report, and you didn't answer your phone... And you weren't already busy talking to Penny... Sam sighed then. I was gonna feel real dumb if there was nothing wrong, and you were only in the bathroom or something... But you have enough enemies by now, that I thought extra caution wasn't exactly unwarranted. So I came down that new road that leads to your house from the other direction, away from the base, just in case something was going on between the base and your house. Then when I saw you and the SUV, with Pete, I practically lost my breakfast. I forgot about the report that I left on the floor of the front seat of your truck, pulled out my gun instead, and here I am. She tried to brush off her actions with a careless shrug. And I'm glad that I could help. Then, more darkly, she added, Though I have a suspicion that I was more the cause of that last little problem than I'd like to think. She shook her head as if to clear it. Anyway, I do sort of need that report of mine if I want to get anymore work done on it.

A report that's not on your computer? Jack asked next, focusing instead on her errand rather than on her involvement behind Pete's actions that day. She was not to blame for any behavior not her own, he firmly believed, but wouldn't put it past her to think that she was responsible for much more. So he purposefully ignored her 'involvement' in the adventure, except to say, Clever of you to take that new road, by the way, but it's nothing new for you to be clever.

Sam smiled at the compliment, then sighed. Thanks. Anyway, the report was on my computer until today. I deleted it right after printed it out, and before we left this afternoon. That's my hard copy that you have. I was planning on giving it a final once over again before handing it in to a certain General of my acquaintance.

This General of your acquaintance, Jack began. You know, he doesn't understand half of what you write.

Oh? And just how would you know that? Sam asked with an arched eyebrow.

Without missing a beat, Jack said, He told me so.

Sam laughed at him then. For a minute there, I thought that you were going to say that a little birdie whispered it in your ear.

A bird in a mountain complex? Jack cringed at just the thought. Think of the mess... and poor Siler would have to clean it up.

Sam did give a full out laugh this time. Well, I'll get out off your hair before a bird does its dirty work in it. I'll just grab my report, leave some more journal entries that I've written, then head back to base. They began walking companionably together down the road towards Jack's house. I bet Penny's probably wondering what happened to you by now, Sam casually commented.

Jack added, I called her and told her, he said, then continued, I like her, ya know.

Sam seemed surprised to hear this. You've already made that decision? But you hardly know her, she protested. It usually takes some time for you to warm up to someone new.

Jack snorted. You had me wanting to warm up to you before that first briefing was over.

Sam grinned, eager to hear more about his perceptions of their first meeting. And why didn't you? she asked. It's not like you knew me at that point. I was just some young, dumb scientist assigned to your team against your will.

Jack looked off to the horizon as he and Sam walked, remembering, and smiling ever so slightly, as if he was enjoying a private memory. By the end of that first mission, I respected you way too much to want to do anything of a personal nature that might damage your career. He went on to admit, By the end of that Mongrel thing, I figured that if I ever made a move on you, you might beat me up. That opened my eyes pretty wide. He turned to stare at her, still smiling enigmatically. And I liked what I saw, I have to admit. Then he sighed. But... hands off, the regulations say. And I was already more concerned about keeping you on my team than in keeping you in my bed... though that side of the 'forbidden equation' did have it's appeal, too.

Sam gazed at him shyly this time. Huh. And all along I thought that I was the only one to be having those kinds of thoughts.

Suddenly Jack stopped in the middle of the road near the driveway leading to his house. He roughly pulled Sam into his arms. And when I was staring at you through that damned force shield... Jack squeezed his eyes shut in order to ride out the wave of pain the memory inevitably caused. It was like watching Charlie die all over again.

Sam instinctively understood that he needed her comfort now more than her reassuring words, so she just held onto him, curling her arms around his back, her hands into his hair. They stood like that for several minutes until she broke the silence that had fallen over them. Hey, she whispered at last. Let's not think about all those bad memories now. She sniffled, and suspiciously wiped her nose on the sleeve of her shirt. We have some pretty damn good memories to give them a run for their money... clich‚ intended.

Jack sniffled a little, too, but he was behaving like he was just taking a very appreciative whiff of her hair where it softly brushed her shoulder, so she wasn't sure that bad memories had caused any bad emotions to swirl around inside him. I wouldn't mind making more such memories, Jack hinted, which made Sam laugh again, though wetly. And speaking of that... Jack took hold of her hand and tugged her up his driveway. She paused at the passenger door of his truck long enough to retrieve her report where she'd hidden it on the floor. She also grabbed her cell phone off the passenger seat and slipped into her left pants pocket. Her weapon was already concealed in her right pocket. Jack waited as she stowed her gear in their proper places. You might think again on that deal I mentioned earlier about us staying on base until we find a house.

Sam sharply glanced up at him as she shoved her report into the file she was already carrying. Why? Did Pete say something to make you nervous?

Jack hesitated a bit. Not exactly, he drawled. Then he added, We just both know where he is right now... this might be a good time for you to run to your house and pack a few things that you can take back to base with you.

Sam tried to gauge what he was thinking but not telling her according to the wary expression on his face. If you think that's necessary...

I think that I like to know that someone I love more than my own life is safe inside a mountain base where I can keep an eye on her... Then he conceded, And where every other man who works there will also keep an eye on her. Now that I finally got her, that is. He smiled at her. I'm gonna make them soooo jealous, and I'm gonna enjoy it!

Sam laughed again. She had surprised Jack once more, as he had figured that she was too independent to appreciate someone 'watching over her.'

Not that I think you're gonna break, or anything, he added as he led her around to the sliding door on his deck, and let her into his house. I just don't trust old Petey Boy. I'm sorry that I have to say that...

I don't trust him either, Sam then divulged. She crossed over to the Military Strategy binder resting on the coffee table, and proceeded to work her new journal entries into place at the end of the book.

Her statement surprised Jack yet again. You don't trust him? Jack asked in a slightly astonished tone.

Sam snorted as she straightened. Well, she imparted to him. Pete certainly hasn't given me any reason to trust him. She loosely held her report in its file in her hands. Background checks don't exactly engender trust, she said.

You know about that? Jack asked, bug-eyed. Then he recalled that he knew that she had known about it for quite awhile from reading her journal entries.

Sam smiled then. Close your gaping mouth before you swallow a fly, she cautioned, then added, Of course I knew about his checks. I said that much in my journal, if you'll recall.

Jack pretended to think. I remember reading something of the sort.

Sam continued, I let that check go by, because it was just me he investigated, she told him. But if he then went after you... Sam grimly smiled. Let's just say that he would have been one detective short a leg.

Jack gaped, then finally brought his facial features under control. Lucky for him that he stopped at only going after you.

Sam didn't pretend to not understand how serious she had been at the time, and that Pete had walked a much finer line than he had ever imagined. Yeah, she whispered. Lucky for him.

Jack noisily cleared his throat. Enough about that Shanahan character... I was going to ask you if I can read the first part of your journal. Now, I'd like to read the bit that you added at the end, too... do you mind?

Sam grinned then, and shook her head. No, I don't mind, she assured. But I would like to hear a little about all those hidden bits of trivia that make up General O'Neill's life in return.

Jack feigned a huff of air. He walked into her embrace even as he predicted, You'd be bored in minutes.

I doubt that, Sam said.

Jack shrugged. If you insist.

Sam kissed the end of his nose. I do. Then she kissed him more fully on his lips.

Jack felt like he was falling the second his skin touched hers. But he resisted the tightening feeling in his stomach that accosted him. We're going to have a replay of lunch today if you don't get going, he warned instead.

Sam grinned back at him. In other words, I should leave now while I can? she asked.

Jack gave a low growl. Give me another few seconds of necking with my former second in command, and I might not want to let you go, even for a quick run to your house.

Sam smiled. I'll take the hint - I'm gone. She kissed him once more, a short peck on his lips, then dodged his grip and headed for the front door, laughing the entire way. She patted his butt once as she passed him.

You're playing with fire, Colonel! Jack called a warning after her.

I wouldn't want it any other way, General, she called back. Tell Penny that I say 'hello.' Then she was gone.

Smiling, but in suddenly uncomfortably tight pants, Jack sank back into his sofa cushions and sighed. God, he loved Sam! It sometimes surprised even him at the strength of his emotions.

Jack heaved a great sigh into the quiet of the room, then grabbed his phone's receiver and again dialed the number that Penny had given him.

The phone rang twice, then Jack heard Penny inquire, Hello? And this better be you, Jack, after all this time!

Jack had to laugh before he could say anything. Hey, I warned ya! Jack began without even bothering to tell her who he was. I had that something come up that I had to deal with, ya know.

Yeah, I know, Penny lightly groused through the phone. Then she demanded, Is Sam all right?

She's fine! Jack was sure to say. It's nothing like that! She saved my ass, in fact! Literally, he thought. Oh, and she says 'Hi'

But she's all right? The concern filled her voice as she spoke.

I wouldn't lie to you! Jack insisted, then amended, Well, not much, anyway.

Not much? she archly asked in aggravation.

Her tone made Jack feel uncomfortable again, but only for a second. I wouldn't be able to tell you something if it's top secret stuff. But this isn't. Just unfortunate. And anyway, he said, going on, She's fine. And so am I. And I guess I have a lot to tell you...

You do have an awful lot of 'splainin' to do, Penny grumbled into the phone.

Yeah, about that splainin,' Jack began. I think you need to communicate with your son, Jason, a bit more.

The statement surprised Penny this time. Jason?

Yeah. Samantha told him all about that whole Pete thing, but then I guess that it never got much beyond him. Don't get too angry at either him or Samantha, though, Jack directed then. This whole thing just sort of happened. There wasn't anything malicious about it.

Penny sighed. Why don't you tell me what's going on, and I'll decide for myself about the malicious factor.

You sound pissed, Jack noted.

Penny negated, Not pissed, just confused, and I don't like being confused. Start at the beginning, she commanded.

The beginning... of my life? Jack inquired. Or when I first met Samantha?

Penny giggled. Very funny, she said. I admit that hearing about the life of an Air Force General does have its appeal... I mean, I bet you have enough stories to fill several books...

But I'd have to shoot you if you read any of them, Jack told her. Too much classified material.

Penny sighed her next laugh. And don't tell me, this wedding bit is classified, too.

Jack defended, Well, it is!

Uh-huh. Penny didn't sound convinced that 'classified' really meant 'classified.' You know, I worry that you government types use 'classified' as an excuse not to share pertinent information with the masses.

Are you sure you're not part of this country's secret organizations? Jack asked then. 'Cause your sounding kinda paranoid. I thought being paranoid was my department.

Penny chuckled. Okay, out with it. Begin with how you and Sam met.

Jack gave sappy sigh, remembering again, and couldn't stop the smile that stole across his face. It's been almost eight years since we first laid eyes on each other. And I never knew what hit me.

* * *

Sam carried her report in its file down the hall towards Jack's office so that she could slip it under his door and be done with it. But the presence of Daniel thoughtfully standing in the middle of his own office stopped her. She peered in the open doorway at him, but he didn't move. Finally, she inquired, Hey Daniel. What's up?

Daniel glanced up at her from the piece of paper he was currently thinking hard about. It took a moment for his eyes to readjust their focus onto her standing just inside his door. Oh, hey Sam. I'm just putting the finishing touches on some of your announcement translations. You know, looking stuff up, double checking it, fixing my mistakes. That sort of thing. He wriggled his glasses on his face until he found a more comfortable position for them to rest in. Then it's off through the wormhole with these.

Already? Sam asked, amazed at his speed.

Well, yeah, Daniel said. Teal'c already took the ones meant for Ishta, Ry'ac, Car'ryn, and Master Bra'tac. Anyway, some of the people who these invitations are for need to ask for leave first, or time off, and we're not giving them much response time as it is.

True, Sam conceded.

So, Daniel added, That's what I've been doing. What's up with you and Jack?

Sam offered him an evil grin. I could say 'sex..,'

Sam! came Daniel's horrified response. Again? God, when are you two gonna give it a rest?

Sam couldn't help but laugh at the horrified expression on his face. But it wouldn't be entirely true for me to say that, either, she said to him. Don't worry... Jack and I have been out house-hunting. Then Jack had a run-in with Pete, I had to bail him out... thankfully no one got shot... and then Pete got his ass hauled away by the police, and he's probably in jail right now, she said as she glanced at her watch. Meanwhile, Jack's talking on the phone to my sister-in-law in San Diego so that she can talk to my brother, and...

Daniel peered at her in disbelief through his glasses. It's always something, he meekly said.

Yeah, she nodded. Tell me about it. She then wandered around the vicinity near Daniel's desk, and whirled. You said that Teal'c already went through the 'Gate?

Yeah, Daniel told her. He left this afternoon around 1300. Then he mock glared at her. I bet that you didn't even notice he was gone.

Sam gave a shrug of her shoulders. I've been a little... uh... preoccupied, she absolved herself.

Daniel laughed at her comment. You mean that you've been totally head over heels in love with a guy who you've secretly been in love with for years, and you love being in love with him now, and that you and Jack have a lot of ground to cover in order to get to know each other in a way that's not CO and subordinate. He didn't voice specifically what he had in mind, but it was obvious what he wasn't saying, only alluding to.

Sam couldn't help the drippy grin that she gave him. Yeah, she said on a sigh. We've certainly been busy getting acquainted with the side of ourselves that doesn't belong to the Air Force.

Daniel sighed, then announced, I'm not sure I want to hear about this thing between you two.

We made love madly all afternoon, she bluntly told him.

Oy! Daniel yelled, and put his hands over his ears. Too much information! he called. I didn't need to know that!

Sam just giggled at her friend, reveling in her reason for his discomfort.

* * *

So, let me get this straight, Penny Carter said in Jack's ear. You've known Sam... how long?

Eight years, Jack immediately said. Then he caught sight of the journal resting innocently on his coffee table. Wait! he amended. No, make that seven years and six months.

Penny paused. You're sure? she ragged him. That's not seven years and nine months, is it?

Nooooo, Jack teased back, pretending to think. I'm pretty sure that it's seven years and a half.

The tone of Penny's voice hinted at her incredulity. It took you this long to propose to her? she asked. What's wrong with you?????

Jack laughed, showing his good mood. He would have scowled only a week ago. Nothing, he said. It's just that any relationship other than of the professional variety is against...

Against regs, she finished for him in a tired tone of voice.

I see that Mark has talked to you a bit about the military, Jack dryly noted.

A bit, she agreed. So what took you so long to ask? she next inquired. Was there something wrong with Sam? Didn't she like you?

Noooo, that wasn't it, Jack hesitantly told her. Let's just say that we had a few things to work out first.

You sure that you don't still need to work them out? she asked, continuing to tease him.

Jack remembered the reason why he was even on the phone with Samantha's sister-in-law. He was thus doubly amazed that he was able to open up even with this information to a virtual stranger. Next he would actually be volunteering how he felt about Sam! I'm pretty sure we have everything worked out, he replied. trying to remain vague.

Penny drew in a breath of cleansing air, unaware of the conundrum her questions were causing in Jack. Then what was that whole Pete thing about?

Jack stared at Sam's journal, but instead of divulging Sam's personal information without Sam's express permission, Jack instead said, That was my fault.

Your fault? How?

I ordered her to get a life. Jack admitted, and winced, both at the memory his words caused him, and the way he was kind of finagling the conversation to go the way he wanted it to. She was just a little exuberant about the outcome, he added for good measure.

Penny clarified, And Jason knew all about the Pete thing ending, and didn't bother to tell us?

Uh... Jack thought for a moment, then was forced to agree with her assessment of the situation. Yep.

Penny's next question came with no segueway. You scared?

That he could admit to being! Terrified, Jack just as quickly informed. That's why I didn't say anything before. Kind of... you know... He sighed in irritation. I didn't do too good of a job the first time around, and...

You've been married before?

Married - once. Engaged - once. Samantha has me beat by... what?... two times?

Penny sighed once as well. So, you work with Sam, and shouldn't even care about her, but do, and can marry her anyway because it's a matter of national security?

Jack was surprised at how good it made him feel to hear the whole marriage debacle stated so plainly. Something like that.

Penny whistled. You're calmer about all this than I would be in your shoes... uh, boots.

I'm not calm, Jack told her. I've been in a perpetual state of shock since last Thursday afternoon when I first heard about this whole thing from a friend or ours named Daniel.

If this is you in shock, Penny stated, then I think Sam has nothing to worry about.

Jack sighed then. Look, Penny, you can tell Mark that I'm really sorry about the whole Pete thing... Then he changed his mind. Well, actually, no, I'm not sorry that that's ended. It wasn't much fun for me at all...

Talk like this won't make you popular, Penny warned.

Would you rather that I lie? Jack asked, now in a darker mood.

No, I wouldn't. Mark might... Or he might have wanted you to lie a bit about the bed thing earlier. Pete is a friend of his, after all.

But you never liked him? Jack ascertained. Pete I mean.

Penny hesitated. I wouldn't exactly say that.

Then you don't like him, but Mark doesn't know that you don't like him, Jack flatly stated.

There was never a reason to tell Mark, Penny commented at last. He would have only gotten angry if I did, and then we would have ended up in a fight, and feelings would have gotten hurt, and... It was never worth that.

Does Samantha know how you feel? Jack asked her.

Penny hesitated again. Sssssort of, she finally admitted.

Sort of? Jack inquired. What is it with you Carters and your half answers?

Okay, Penny divulged. I told Jessica that I don't like him. I assume that she told Sam.

Jack sighed. He was beginning to get a headache from all these Carters. And who is Jessica?

My daughter, Penny answered readily enough. She's seven, and loves Sam to pieces.

Jack sighed. I'm beginning to think that your entire family has a communication problem.

And that statement is coming from a man who loved my sister-in-law for eight years, but never told her? When jack didn't answer, she went on to say, Uh... I guess I'm assuming that you love her...

Jack felt squeemish thinking of admitting to these feelings to someone he'd never met. But, he refused to be guilty of an act of misleading any of Sam's brother's family. He was too worried that it would possibly cause problems for Sam herself. So, he braced himself, uncomfortable, but determined to come clean with the truth... or some of it... and said, I didn't exactly say that I don't.

Penny immediately latched onto his words. So you do?

Again, Jack knew what he found plenty hard to say, but also knew what he had to say. Um... yeah.

Penny breathed out a great rush of air. For a minute there I was worried that both of you were doing this marriage thing out of some dumb sense of duty, or something.

Hey, Jack defended. I told her once... sort of... but... Point taken, he conceded. That is sort of what we might have done... once.

Penny sighed in resignation. Well, she reluctantly said. At least this isn't from that weird sense of duty that she's always talking about that she feels.

Jack interrupted her to blurt, No, it's not duty, it's... Crap! He straightened on his couch, then in a harsh tone told her, Okay, Penny, here it is... I love her, she loves me, we're going to get married in a week and a half and spend the rest of our lives making babies if I'm really lucky, okay? Just tell Mark that...

But Penny was still stuck on his confession about kids enough to blurt, Making babies?!? Even me and Mark don't sit around all day, thinking about making babies!

Jack didn't know how to respond to that. Uh...

Then Penny sighed again, but it was a much less aggravated sound. Okay... I'll take pity on you... It must be getting late there in Colorado, and you must be wanting dinner... or something, she lamely said. I'll tell Mark what you told me... all of it... babies included... But he might still be on Pete's side, you know. Pete's Mark's friend, and Mark is Mr. Sensitive Guy and all. And this engagement/marriage-to-a-new-man is rather sudden, she remarked. And this is only a week after Jacob's funeral. Mark won't take kindly to having to fly out to Colorado twice in one month, once for the funeral, and once for the wedding, just because of the cost alone, she warned. To say nothing of you being military, Sam's CO, and that this matter is classified, and you really can't tell us anything about it. To say nothing of the... the feelings... that you've had for her for so long. All of this is a lot to swallow.

Jack winced. When you put it that way... Then he redirected the conversation. But let me see about pulling some strings and getting you a flight out here. Being a General ought to be good for something, he commented.

You can do that? Penny inquired. Just who are you, anyway?

Jack laughed at that question. He answered, Tell Mark that I'm just the guy who's in... He cleared his throat, feeling uncomfortable again, but then just shut his eyes, grimaced, and again admitted, I'm the guy who's in love with his sister, and we'll leave it at that.

Penny didn't sound convinced, but agreed. Okkkkaaaaay, she doubtfully said. I guess we'll have to take your word for it.

I'm just the guy who saves the world, he added.

Penny snorted this time. What a load of Air Force bunk! she exclaimed with a laugh. That sounds like something one of the kids would say!

Jack laughed, too, more as cover than anything. Riiiight.

But I'll tell him that you said that, though what radar telemarketing...

Telemetry, Jack broke in.

Whatever, Penny said. But what that has to do with saving the world is beyond me. And what the heck are you saving the world from, anyway?

That's...

Don't tell me! Penny shouted. Then she ended as if she had intimate knowledge of military life. It's classified. She sighed and admitted, Something tells me that your whole life is classified. Then she added, Are you sure that you're real?

Come out to Colorado in a week and a half and find out, Jack dared.

Gads, Penny muttered under her breath. You're as bad as Jason.

I heard that, Jack told her.

Yeah well, something tells me that even getting Mark out to the wedding might be a big thing. He could have a lot to say to you, too.

I can handle Mark, Jack told her. If all else fails, I can always turn Samantha loose on him.

And that's supposed to be a good thing, a helpful thing?

Yeah, he responded, beginning to fear that meeting Mark would not be the family reunion that he would want it to be. So he softly cajoled, You know, you guys all being here would make Samantha awfully happy.

Oh, now you're not playing fair, Penny remarked. She sighed, then in a brighter tone said, Well, wish me luck. Something tells me that tonight is going to be an interesting night.

Tell him that Pete's in jail for stalking me, and that'll set him straight.

What? Penny shrieked, then said, No, don't tell me. The less I know about that, the better. So, see you around, Jack.

I am going too marry Samantha you know, Jack reminded her, as if she needed a reminder.

And you love her?

It was getting easier and easier to own up to that question. I'd give her the world if I could, Jack instantly replied.

Well, that's something, Penny said then. Bye, Jack. Nice talking to you.

Good luck, he wished her, then said, O'Neill out. He hung up the phone.

Jack sat on the couch, feeling shell-shocked. But after a few minutes, he began to thaw. Well, that went better than I thought it would, he mumbled to himself, and finally was able to rise up from the couch to grab another beer out of the fridge. He didn't realize that he'd managed to undo much of the good that his conversation with Penny had encouraged with his common military goodbye. But then, he'd had an eventful day, and was too tired to think too hard about how he'd sounded over the phone. He smiled, reminding himself of some of those events. He wondered if Samantha would be interested in recreating lunch during dinnertime as he sauntered to his fridge.

* * *

An hour later, Sam was working in her lab on the energy shield device that had been brought back from PMR-957 when her lab phone suddenly rang. Thinking that it was probably Jack intent on badgering her into quitting work for the day, she answered in a playful tone. Carter.

Hey Sam!

It was Mark. Sam grimaced and set her emotions against the argument she thought she was about to embark on with her brother. Mark, don't say anything until I explain...

You love him, right? Mark interrupted her to ask.

Sam was surprised by this question that seemed to have come out of nowhere. Uh... Yeah.

And he loves you? Mark inquired.

Sam thought back to the way Jack had made love to her just that afternoon on the floor in the hallway of his house, within walking distance of his nice soft bed, and the way he had looked like he had thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Without hesitation, she answered, I'm quite certain that he does.

And just this evening he told Penny that he would work out a flight for us to Colorado Springs for the wedding. See you then. Without further questioning, arguing, debating, or haranguing his sister, Mark hung up.

Sam stood, staring at the receiver she held out from her ear, a confused expression on her face. What had just happened? Was this his way of giving his blessing for her to marry Jack? It had certainly been one of the shortest conversations that she'd ever had with Mark. It had also been one of the strangest.

Sam shook her head, then slowly hung up her phone.

Sequel: The Main Event


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