None of the Above

by CSuzy ©2005

~*~

"Love is not an emotion. It's a decision of the will." ~C.S. Lewis

"If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were." ~Richard Bach

~*~

Enemy fire explodes from behind every rock within my view. First, staff weapons blast us and then an Alkesh lays fire on our positions. Soldiers run in all directions and duck behind the convenient shelter of a rock or tree hoping to survive to fight another day. Gliders in the sky take aim at the ground in hopes of defeating our troops.

I distinctly remember Dixon saying there were only six Jaffa. That was a joke. I can't begin to count all the enemy fire. It's taking all we have to keep on top of this.

My radio crackles to life with a grim report from the men at the gate. "We can't hold our positions much longer, sir!"

Then Carter echoes the same sentiment. I hear her saying we must fall back just as Fraiser says she needs more time to stabilize one of the injured. There is no time to reply. I catch enemy movement in my periphery vision.

A Jaffa approaches my left from behind a tree. I move quickly to get him in my sights and then it happens. A staff weapon blast burns into my abdomen. It takes my breath away and I consider that I'll die here. The pain blots out reality and in the distance I hear Carter's voice.

"Sir!"

Her anguished face, like the face of a misplaced angel, is the last thing I see as I slip into unconsciousness. Oh, God, I can't die now. Not like this.

~*~

Jack O'Neill awoke with a start. Gasping for air and grasping for reality, his tensed sweaty body relaxed. In the darkness and quiet of his private quarters he still smelled the sterile smell of medicine and antiseptic. The constant ache in his gut reminded him why he'd been there.

War is hell then it's a damn nightmare in vivid Technicolor, he thought in frustration. Bad enough to live it but then it followed you every time you tried to catch a little sleep. It had followed him for several weeks now as he recovered from his injuries

On the other hand, his wakefulness hadn't proved to be a whole lot better since it brought the fact of loss into its clearest focus. Thankfully, SG-13, Dixon, Carter, Teal'c and Daniel had returned from that hellhole unscathed. Even Airman Wells would be fine. No, they'd all made it, he mused, all but Janet Fraiser who, in his estimation ranked to be the greatest loss.

Casualties were facts in time of war but you never expected a casualty to be someone close and dear to so many. A pall lingered over the entire base. Perhaps in the morning he could get someone to spring him from this little shop of horrors so he could go home and sleep in his own bed. The nightmares would still come but the surroundings wouldn't be nearly as filled with reminders of the SGC's Chief Medical Officer.

As if things weren't difficult enough, that nosey guy the President sent to do a documentary on the Stargate program was still on base making military communication about All Things Classified a virtual impossibility unless, of course, you could find a secret closet to pass information to someone. What did politics have to do with the Stargate program anyway? Well, okay, other than funding it. Right, so that was a big thing. SG-13's little faux pas cost the American people lots of bucks. Money they didn't know they spent to save a team of soldiers in a galaxy far far away.

Last he'd heard from Carter was that after Janet's memorial service, she would head to Washington to testify before some Red Tape Committee. Something about why they needed to continue to fund the program without letting on to the country's taxpayers. As soon as he'd healed better and after he spent time with the documentary interviewer, his turn for a visit to the Pentagon would be on the docket. Even then, Jack wouldn't rush to pack his bags.

Carter insisted Cassie stay at his place since he needed help during his recovery. Poor kid. It had been a long time since she'd lost her biological parents and Janet's death stirred old emotions and memories for her. Cassie bonded with Janet easily even though her first allegiance had been to Jack and Sam. Jack doted on her like his own daughter and Cassie had him wrapped tightly around her little finger. Cassie's presence in his life had drawn him and Sam closer than ever.

Aside from that, he'd attempt to process bits and pieces of information he'd picked up about Woolsey's interrogations from his team. Heaven knew he'd have time to think lying here alone in the infirmary. According to Sam, Barrett had said Woolsey was A Good Guy and she'd taken Barrett at his word. Reports from Daniel and Teal'c's time with Woolsey certainly didn't tend to influence Jack's opinion towards the positive. He smiled imagining how T hadn't succumbed to the pressure Woolsey had placed on him.

On the other hand, Jack's opinion of Agent Barrett and his insider information seemed to fall into a gray area. Was anyone associated with the NID clean, least of all, that pain in the mikta, Woolsey? Apparently, Barrett convinced Carter but Jack preferred to take the guy's opinion with a grain of salt. He believed that the man was more interested in climbing into Sam Carter's bed than he was in climbing the corporate ladder.

For now, Jack decided he'd just keep an eye on things. As much as he would have liked to tell her what to do with Barrett and his opinion, or that ubiquitous boyfriend of hers, Pete, for that matter, he decided to sit back and watch. Unfortunately, it would take more than Carter's degree in astrophysics to sort out the motives of these two yahoos. Intelligence was no substitute for common sense. For two cents, he'd boot both men to Ne'tu but ultimately, what he really wanted to do was save Carter from herself. Too bad she didn't know she needed saving.

~*~

Sheraton National Hotel near the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

It wouldn't have been her first choice of destinations for a couple of vacation days but a work related trip seemed better than nothing. Being away from Cheyenne Mountain dulled the pain of loss somewhat. At least here, there weren't the ever present reminders of her friend, Janet Fraiser. But she did regret leaving Cassandra at such a critical time, fortunately Colonel O’Neill would be with her. She thanked God for small favors and the colonel.

She'd flown into Andrews later than anticipated. When she'd finally arrived at her hotel she only got a sunset glimpse of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building in the distance across the Potomac. She smiled, glad that she'd grabbed a snack on the way into Arlington. Just as well there was no time to fritter away on creature comforts before hitting bed. After the hectic drive across Washington, the bed whispered her name. Jumping times zones had to be worse than Gate travel when it came to one's body catching up with current time zone.

Sam slipped out of her dress blues and hung them. She needed to be up early and ready for her 0800 meeting with the Oversight Committee. She hoped the wrinkles would hang out of her skirt before morning.

It never mattered how many times she made the trip to the Pentagon, nothing about it ever seemed easy. It would have been easier if the colonel had come. Misery loves company, they say, and a Pentagon committee meeting was no picnic. Last time she'd spoken to Colonel O'Neill, she'd filled him in on the whole Woolsey-Bregman-Oversight Committee hoopla. There had been so much activity swirling around the base over the last few weeks that one wondered how base personnel might survive to know which end was up when it was all over. Perhaps it was a plot to confuse them into revealing classified information. It may have worked because the colonel had to remind her that he'd locked horns with Bregman several times in regard to his personal interview.

Timing was everything and frankly, the timing of this disastrous mission sucked. Big time. Bregman, documentaries, Woolsey, interrogations, film crews, fatalities. SG-13 had proved to have a tragically ill-fated number on this mission. At least they'd lived through it.

She reached into her briefcase and pulled out paperwork to go over. She hoped to sort the facts tonight to be ready for whatever questions the committee might throw at her tomorrow. Confident answers would be the only thing that might convince this group of men and women that the Stargate program was worth all that the military and the United States could pour into it. Her intention was to exude confidence.

Papers and files filled the desk. She sorted and searched facts and figures anticipating what the committee might ask her. Knowledge of the details was her best weapon.

She yawned. The bed no longer whispered; it called her name with insistence. Pushing the folders and files into a neat stack, she retreated to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth before pulling back the covers. Her final thoughts as she drifted to sleep were of Colonel O'Neill. She wished he could have come with her. She felt safe with him at her side in these situations. She knew that he would encourage her even when the questioning got rough. Maybe it was a tactical move by the NID to play both ends against the middle and, in the process, catch them in some minor inconsistency of the facts. Then again she was glad he hadn't come because she knew that he would be there for Cassie. The whole situation had become a damned if you do and damned if you don't experience for her and the colonel. Short of cutting him in half, she couldn't have it both ways. She fell into a restless sleep conjuring interrogation scenarios in her mind.

~*~

The Pentagon 1130 hours

"Major Carter! Wait up!"

Sam Carter had just emerged from her first session with the Oversight Committee. Her mind was tired from the mental gymnastics and hoop jumping. She hadn't heard the voice in the hallway.

"Samantha Carter!"

Hearing her full name, Sam stopped. She turned to see who called to her. There were several people in the corridor but she finally saw him. Agent Barrett. She stepped out of the moving mass of people to wait for him.

"Fancy meetin' you here." He huffed, out of breath from running.

"The Air Force does allow me to leave the mountain every so often, Agent Barrett." She smiled, clasping folders to her chest.

"So, what's up? Another pocket of rogue NID?" he joked.

"No, I'm here because of your buddy, Woolsey. Oversight Committee." Her voice reflected her irritation at being in Washington.

"How'd it go?" There was an audible gulp.

"As well as could be expected, I guess." Sam heaved a silent sigh and glanced at the floor.

"And that means. . . ?"

"That means I think it would have been better if the Colonel had been here but I suppose they wanted to interview us separately. I was able to give them the more technical aspects of the mission. He could have told them about the tactical facets of the actual fighting. They intend to call him to testify. I just have no idea when that will be."

"Ah, I see. So, are you done for the day?"

"Yeah."

"When do you fly back?"

"Not until tomorrow sometime. They want me to hang around in case any other questions come up."

"Great!"

Sam gave him a puzzled look. "Great?"

"Yeah, I thought since you were here you would agree to go out to eat with me. You know, the Thank You dinner." He gestured quotation marks around the "thank you."

Sam cocked her head to one side and looked at him curiously.

"I thought we covered that subject last time you asked me."

"We did but I figured since this is Washington, DC, not Colorado Springs, that no one would be the wiser if I took you to dinner. I know this really great Chinese place just up the road in Bailey's Crossroads. It's the President's favorite Chinese restaurant. I figure if it's good enough for the President . . ."

Sam looked at Barrett's face. She saw anticipation in those blue eyes. Maybe he was right. No one would see them and report back to Pete or the colonel. The colonel? Pete was an understandable concern. Why did it matter if Jack knew? It shocked her that he came to mind so easily within the context of the question.

She smiled. "Persistent, aren't you?" The words had barely escaped her mouth when she saw him relax.

"Yes, I am, Major Carter. No guts, no glory, as they say. Besides, if I have to take some responsibility for your current state of affairs I should make it up to you by taking you to dinner. Why don't I pick you up at 1900? Where are you staying?"

"I'm at the Sheraton National. I'll meet you in the lobby."

"That works for me. See you then."

He turned and left her standing in the hallway. She watched as he melded into the flow of military and nonmilitary people.

Sam looked down at her watch. If she played her cards right, she could manage a power nap and a nice long hot shower before heading out to eat with Agent Barrett. Right now her mind wasn't ready for small talk.

~*~

Jack O'Neill was tired. Not physically tired just tired of being cooped up. Time healed wounds but physical activity would be better for healing the psychological scars of battle. Those wounds were deep. So where was Jack? He was behind a desk writing a mission report. Bored out of his ever-lovin' gourd. Flying a desk was not his idea of a good time but, unfortunately, someone had to address the pesky paperwork. The higher the rank the more paperwork and red tape he got tangled in. He scowled. Only the lowly Airmen got the fun stuff. He took a gander at his desk piled with folders and grimaced.

He stood up and stretched, wincing as pain shot through his midsection. Time to move around. Sit too long and his joints froze up. It made sense that the brain stiffened up too. Time for a change of scenery and some mental stimulation.

Jack made his way into the corridor and decided to go up to Carter's lab to check out what she'd worked on as of late. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't touch anything. Not an easy task since Carter had a great memory and always knew if someone had messed with her doohickeys. Besides there were some interesting looking gizmos on her table and Jack's fingers itched to examine them closer.

He missed her. The lab just wasn't the same without that blond head poised over another whatchamacallit or do jigger. He could picture her greeting him with that smile of hers accompanied by a "Hi, sir! What's up?" He'd answer and ask the same. Then there would be the five to ten minute dissertation on the current project of which he would understand nothing. Thankfully, nodding like he understood was all the encouragement she needed.

He sat down on a stool in the work area. The table held an array of parts from that Goa'uld drone. If only Dixon had realized earlier, maybe none of this would have ever happened. Too little too late.

Once again his mind led him through the details of the last weeks in a logical order. The whole Woolsey-Barrett thing had him concerned. A demand for separate testimonies from himself and Carter just didn't sit well in his mind. Something was up. Perhaps he would have a chance to talk to Sam before he gave testimony. Heaven help them, their jobs and the SGC budget if their stories didn't match up.

The phone rang startling Jack out of his disturbing thoughts. He reached to answer it.

"O'Neill" There was only silence from the other end. "This is Colonel Jack O'Neill. May I help you?"

"Um, I'm trying to reach Major Samantha Carter." The voice hesitated. This is her lab, isn't it?

"Yes, it is. May I ask who's calling?" He already had a pretty good idea with whom he was speaking.

"Pete. Pete Shanahan."

Bingo!

"She's not here, Pete. Did you try her house?"

"Yes. . . yes I did. I got her answering machine," Pete cleared his throat nervously.

"Well, she's out of town. Just leave her a message," Jack continued.

"Funny, she didn't say anything to me about leaving town."

"That's the way things are around here. We're called away at the drop of a hat. No warning."

Silence.

"When do you expect her back?"

"I have no idea."

"Okay, thanks!" There was an abrupt click.

Jack smiled a satisfied smile. Now, THIS was mental gymnastics. Pete was just disturbing on so many levels. Of all of his quirks there was one thing Jack would never understand, until the day he died. How and why a man of very little consequence had gotten security clearance to know all the highly classified information that Sam told him that day in the infirmary. The logic of that revelation totally escaped Jack's military mind. Maybe a better question was what did Carter see in this lowlife cop?

"Yo, Jack! Whatcha doin' in here? I thought you had time off."

Jack looked up from his self-satisfied train of thought to see Daniel standing in the doorway.

"I got bored. Even paper work is better than staying home but I needed a break. Away from the desk, the papers, and the gray walls. You know." He said, flashing Daniel a Cheshire cat grin.

"It certainly looks like it did the trick. You didn't mess with any of Sam's stuff, did you?"

"No, not exactly." Jack playfully touched one of Sam's tools.

"And that means. . .?"

"Pete called."

"You didn't."

"I did. Come on; let's go get something to eat."

He grabbed Daniel by the arm and dragged him in the direction of the elevator.

"Does General Hammond know you're here?" he protested as the elevator doors closed.

~*~

Peking Gourmet Restaurant

"This has been really nice, Agent Barrett. The food is outstanding and they don't skimp on the portions either. I may need a doggy bag."

"Please call me Will. My first name is Malcolm but since my dad is also a Malcolm my family calls me Will, short for William. I'm Malcolm W. Barrett III." Agent Barrett rolled his eyes in frustration.

Sam gave him an understanding smile.

"Would you mind if I call you Sam?"

"No, not at all, but if you don't mind when we're working I'd prefer that you call me Major Carter. It keeps things more professional."

"I can live with that." He shook his head in agreement then changed the subject.

"So tell me about the lucky fellow who's my competition." Will snagged a snow pea with his chopsticks.

Competition? Sam thought with surprise. She suspected he wanted to get to know her but competition with Pete? Who knew?

"His name is Pete. He's a cop in Denver."

Barrett stopped eating abruptly and stared at Sam chopsticks poised in midair.

"And here I thought you were seeing someone else. Possibly Colonel O'Neill." Will smiled at her, knowingly.

Sam choked on a mouthful of tea.

"Jack?" Sam stammered, startled at hearing the name of her commanding officer.

"Yeah. You mean you aren't seeing him?" The FBI agent appeared amazed. He continued to pick through his dinner while he awaited her reply.

"Agent Barrett, um, Will, you obviously have no idea about the military restrictions regarding anything like that." She faltered.

"As a matter of fact, I do. The FBI has rules too but I was going on my observations and gut feelings. We're trained to be observant, you know."

"That there would be anything of the sort between the colonel and me is impossible."

"But it's so obvious that you two have a connection. I mean, what you do on your own time should be your own business, shouldn't it? Surely, there are other couples who sneak around away from work and the base to keep their relationships off the radar."

Sam felt her cheeks flush and suddenly she was very warm. Will had made an astute observation but it didn't fly with Air Force policy. Getting caught doing that would put a huge black mark on their records. Still, she was shell shocked and speechless that he would even consider that she or the colonel would show such little integrity.

"We've been on SG-1 for several years together. Perhaps what you sense is the team cohesiveness and the trust we've built." She quickly recovered.

"You couldn't prove it by me. I've seen how you two work together." Will Barrett's face bore an incredulous look of disbelief.

"Not only that," he continued, "The way you look at him and vice versa. You hang on his words. You've picked up some of his slang."

Sam blushed as she drank her tea. She rarely found herself without words, but she was truly without a defense. An awkward silence hung over the table as she picked at her food with the chopsticks. She chased an errant scallop around the plate never lifting her gaze to meet Barrett's probing glance.

"Why don't you let me tell you about Pete?" She hoped she could change the subject even though Will didn't appear to want to.

"Ok, tell me about this Pete. It's always good to have a handle on all the contenders."

"He's a friend of my brother, Mark. He arranged for me to meet Pete and we hit it off. It was like we were meant for one another." She volunteered. Too bad she was no longer as confident of their compatibility but would never admit that to Barrett. Her and Jack? Wow! She couldn’t get that image out of her mind. Not that she still didn’t think about the possibility. Okay, so she thought about it a lot, but. . .

"How does he feel about your job? The one you can't tell him about because it's classified."

"I guess he doesn't mind although he followed us to a stakeout and managed to get himself shot in the process. We brought him back to the base and Janet, Dr. Fraiser, treated him in our infirmary. Considering all the alien stuff he saw, I got the go ahead to tell him everything. Okay, almost everything." She smiled.

Barrett's eyes got big and then as she finished telling him about Pete he looked concerned.

"Did General Hammond feel that was a good idea?"

"He must have or he wouldn't have given me the go ahead. I've had my doubts since then that it was such a good idea. The more unnecessary people know about what the Stargate program consists of the more likely the whole story will get out to the public."

"I understand. You probably have enough issues to deal with without the whole of Colorado Springs knowing they are first in line to defend the planet from aliens." He said seriously.

Will Barrett drank the last of the tea in his cup. He dug for his wallet and placed a credit card on the tray with the meal receipt.

"I suppose I should be getting you back to the hotel. Early to bed, early to rise and I have a meeting in the morning." He scowled.

"I need to be up myself. Just in case they need clarification from me again, that is, but I doubt it. My flight back to Peterson isn't until late afternoon so I'll probably have time to kill."

The waitress returned with his receipt and they stood to leave.

"I could run you out to Andrews if you like." Barrett offered, shoving his wallet into his back pocket.

"I have a car from the pool but thanks for offering." She gave him a bright smile.

They rode the short distance back to the hotel in silence. Sam watched out the window deep in thought. Will Barrett wasn't a half bad guy. She thought. Very nice, good manners and good looking. If there were no Pete, she could picture herself with Will. It would be easy to date him yet she dared not lead him on. Just like she was leading Pete on. Wow, where’d that come from?

They arrived back at the hotel and Will was out of the car and around to let her out before she could object. He stopped her as she rose from the seat. Placing his hand on her waist he leaned in and kissed her on the lips. She surprised herself and kissed him back.

"Thank you, Sam, for a wonderful evening." He said softly, and before she had time to react he walked away and into the driver's seat. He rolled down the passenger window.

"Good night," he called, and disappeared into the darkness, leaving Sam Carter on the curb looking dazed and confused.

~*~

The coffee tasted so good especially accompanied by a sinful Danish pastry. Most of the crowded room had cleared leaving Sam alone to enjoy the silence. She'd planned it that way. A late breakfast meant most businessmen and travelers would be gone. She needed some solitude to think. Think about what Agent Barrett had said last night.

Since her time alone on the Prometheus, she hadn't allowed herself to mull over all the images of Jack O'Neill that had come to her while she'd fought to survive. She had taken those memories and pushed them into the farthest recesses of her mind. Yet Will's comments lead her to believe that maybe there was a subconscious acting out of the emotions brought to the surface on Prometheus. Even Bregman had commented on what seemed to him the obvious. Her glowing comments about Colonel O'Neill lead to his probing into the matter. His questions searched into their relationship until she blushed and stammered while finally talking her way around it.

Then the deep space conversation with her father came back line-by-line until she got to the question he'd posed.

"Are you really happy?" he'd asked.

She'd stopped counting how many times she'd asked herself that question. Now she spent her time trying to answer it. None of her answers satisfied her. Jacob's question had forced her to look beyond her career and her life at Stargate Command for true happiness. Up until then it hadn't existed.

Okay, so she'd started on the route to 'getting a life' by agreeing to meet Mark's friend, Pete Shanahan. They'd hit it off immediately. The match seemed so perfect she should have started wondering about Pete even then. No relationship could be this perfect. However, for Sam Carter, who did virtually nothing outside the SGC, it was something different. It proved a delightful distraction from doohickey drudgery. A new kind of adrenaline rush pushed her into sleeping with him after she'd known him for only a short time. Now she wondered what the hell she'd been thinking. She wasn't a hormone crazed teenager, for crying out loud! Was she just that desperate to find someone? Anyone? Or was it love? She could kick herself thinking about it.

Lost in thought, she drank her coffee.

And, to add insult to injury, there was Agent Barrett. He proved to be a problem only because she liked him. He'd kissed her and she'd kissed him back without provocation. She wished she hadn't been so hasty with Pete and given Barrett a chance but now that seemed out of the question. Would it be possible to juggle dates with two very different men? Dating Will meant dating a man who understood working for the government. He would understand about classified information and not be bent out of shape if he didn't know everything. That's just the way it went. Sam doubted that Pete would ever be satisfied not knowing about her job. She felt emotionally confused. She was eager to leave DC and get back to the SGC. Back to the solace of her lab with no Pete or Will. There was, however, her safe bet. Jack O’Neill. To hell with the happiness of a Real Life! It's a jungle out here and she wasn't prepared to hack her way through the tangled vines to happiness.

"Excuse me, Major, anyone sitting here?"

Deeply entrenched in thoughts on the meaning of her life, Sam just about jumped out of her skin hearing the question directed at her.
Agent Will Barrett towered over the table awaiting permission to have a seat.

~*~

There could be no doubt that Pete Shanahan was pissed. Not only had Sam left town without letting him know, that damnable commanding officer of hers had covered for her. Jack O'Neill acted like he owned Major Samantha Carter but the reality was that Pete Shanahan had the property rights. Or, at least, he thought so. Pete spent as much time as he could spare keeping an eye on Sam and the team activities. He'd even put in an application with the Colorado Springs police department. It was hard not to notice that the SGC foursome spent a lot of time together whether work or play. He remained jealous of their intimate relationships with one another, including Sam, O'Neill and that Cassandra girl. They were thicker than thieves. He was the odd man no matter how things got sorted. Marrying Sam wouldn't help. He would always be an outsider to the 'team.' There would always be a barrier of secure Classified information separating the two of them.

Well, he'd put his foot down when she returned. There would be none of this flying off to unknown destinations without telling him where, when, who and why. Perhaps, in time, he could get a civilian job at Stargate Command then he might accompany the 'team' on a mission now and then. It would keep him sane to know what they were up to on those off world missions.

For now, he'd plan an evening out for the two of them and approach Sam when she returned.

~*~

"Will, what a surprise. I didn't think I would be seeing you again so soon. Please, sit down." Sam hoped that her face didn't betray any emotion confusion brought there by her meditation.

Will Barrett pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down.

"I didn't think so either but I'm glad I caught you. I thought you may have checked out already."

"Would you like some coffee or something? I can get the waitress to bring you some." She offered, cordially.

"No, that's okay, I can't stay long. I'm meeting a colleague for lunch later and I have things I need to clear up before then." He shifted forward in his chair and leaned in closer.

He paused to take a deep breath and letting it out slowly looked directly into her eyes. "One of those things was that I needed to come back and apologize to you, Sam."

His eyes never left hers and she could tell that he was being sincere as he spoke those words. She gave him a smile of encouragement. She found herself impressed with his integrity.

"For what?" She let her gaze drop to the lukewarm cup of coffee in front of her and lifted it to her lips for a drink. Yeah, like she needed to ask him that but then there was the Never Assume Anything rule.

"For presuming you had a relationship with Jack O'Neill for one thing. I'm sorry." He stammered. "But I guess I never thought too much about the whole regulation thing. I should have known better than to accuse you. It would be out of character for either of you to do something like that."

"Agent Barrett, um, Will, it's okay. You aren't the first person to think that. Daniel, Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill and I are very close as a team. So close we often finish one another's sentences. Easy mistake. So what's the other thing that's brought you here?"

The sooner they got off the subject of Jack the better. She hadn't lied but lingering on this topic might just bring out the rest of the story. She wouldn't risk that. If he was anything like Bregman, it wouldn't take much digging for her to confess who she really loved.

"Listen, I'm sorry about the good night kiss. No, I'm not really sorry," he rephrased. "But I could have been more of a gentleman and asked. In all honesty, I would love to be able to see you more often. That is, if you weren't already seeing someone." Disappointment crossed his face as he made his last statement.

She smiled sympathetically.

"No need to apologize, Will. If I hadn't been appreciative of your kiss, I wouldn't have kissed you back and you might have found yourself on the ground holding an injured body part I won't mention."

He half laughed.

"The only problem I have is another long distance relationship. I don't do those very well. Juggling a private life and working as much as I do is close to impossible. If I didn't already have someone, I might definitely consider seeing you."

"So there's hope, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that."

Sam watched Will Barrett's face go from serious to bright with the knowledge that he might be able to date her at some point in time. His smile lightened the moment and eased the emotional confusion she'd just been wrangling with before he'd dropped by.

"Listen, I need to get going. Have a safe trip back to the Springs. Give me a call the next time you're up this way. Maybe we could do dinner again. And just perhaps, Pete will be ancient history by then." He winked at her.

"Thanks. I'll think about that. See you later." She couldn't help but smile at his assertiveness.

Once he'd gone she paid her bill and went to gather her things to get back to the mountain.

~*~

The calls came early in the evening.

No more wondering about a trip to DC. General Hammond had reached Jack at home to tell him that Carter had given it her best shot and had hit the bull's eye spot on. Jack had never doubted her abilities. There was an inward glow of pride for his 2IC. Give the committee enough of Carter's techno babble and they were as lost as tourists on the Beltway. Besides, they looked good wrapped in their red tape. He smiled a smug smile just thinking about it. It looked like they had job security at least until they screwed up again. Hopefully, it would be a while before that happened.

Cassandra was spending the night with a girlfriend so Jack rewarded himself and grabbed another beer from the frig. He screwed off the top and tossed it at the wastebasket for the three pointer. Good one, O'Neill, he thought as it swished in. He sauntered back to the living room and flopped on the couch to listen to his favorite music. All was well in his little world or so he thought.

That's when the next call came.

"Hello."

"Hello, Colonel O'Neill?" The man's voice asked.

"Speaking"

This is Agent Malcolm Barrett with the FBI."

"Yeah, Barrett, what's up?"

"I wanted to give you a heads up on some information I acquired today."

Jack's mind raced with all the unpleasant possibilities. Kinsey and his minions? Woolsey? The muckedy mucks had offered Carter a job in Area 51? God knows she had the expertise to run any military lab. Geez, just when things were looking so peachy keen too. He should have guessed it was too early to celebrate. It appeared the other shoe was poised to drop. Crap!

"I wasn't sure what the protocol would be in regard to sharing this. But, I know, for sure, that I didn't want to create a personal political/military scandal with it. So I've come to you because I don't know who else to tell." Barrett began.

"Ok, shoot." Jack answered with a calmness that belied his concern.

"I had lunch with an FBI buddy of mine today."

"Yeah, so?"

"Colonel O'Neill, I know you care a lot about Sam Carter so I decided you had to be the one to hear this or it could ruin her career perhaps even jeopardizing General Hammond's leadership on the base. I considered telling her myself but didn't think it would go over too well coming from me. Frankly, someone over there needs to know this."

"Spit it out, Barrett." Jack shot back impatiently. If this guy didn't spill soon he'd reach through the phone and strangle it out of him.

"I ran into Major Carter while she was up here in DC. She told me about her boyfriend, Pete something or other."

"Pete Shanahan. Cut to the chase."

"My buddy, John, shared that his partner, Dave Farrity, knows him. The guy wanted a background check done on Sam. Wanted all the skinny on her including what she does there at SGC. That Pete guy told Dan that Sam told him she was into Deep Space Radar Tele. . . something or other. He figured that was just a cover."

"Did your agent friend say what he'd told Sherlock?"

"Only that she must be into some pretty important stuff because he couldn't trace her background very far. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I trust this Pete guy. How much does he know?"

A long silence followed on Jack's end of the phone. This was serious stuff. He felt sure that Carter had no clue as to what that boyfriend of hers was up to. If any of the information that she'd entrusted to Pete got out into the general public, well, Jack hated to think what would happen.

"More than he should. Hey there, Barrett, thanks for the heads up on this. I'll check into it and make sure this gets straightened out."

"Thanks, Jack. I think very highly of Major Carter and I'd hate for something like this to ruin all that she's worked for through the years. Not to mention the excellent work of Stargate Command and SG-1."

"Yeah. Thanks again."

Jack sat the phone back onto the cradle. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw. Scrubbing a hand through his hair he decided he needed a game plan. Carter needed to know what was going on and it looked as though he would be the bearer of bad tidings. On the other hand, telling her wouldn't be easy. He knew that she liked Pete a lot. To tell her he was a jerk would probably have a counterproductive effect on the whole team. It would put a barrier between himself and Carter. Off world missions required teamwork and he couldn't afford to have his 2IC carrying vindictiveness into the field.

Thanks, Barrett buddy, for throwing this in my lap so you could save your own ass in regard to anything you might have going with Carter.

Nevertheless, when push came to shove he liked Agent Barrett. While he may not have chosen the guy as the perfect match for Carter, he seemed a damned sight better than that rat Stranahan or whatever his name was. Just where did he think he was getting off? Background checks? How low can you go? Love is built on trust not secrets, at least not those kinds of secrets. 'Classified' secrets were whole other ballpark. They were 'classified' for a reason. His anger bubbled over at the man Sam had trusted.

No matter his opinion, Carter needed to know the facts. Then she could make a decision about this relationship thing. Frankly, he didn't see it lasting and now, even more so, with what Malcolm Barrett had shared. Jack would show Pete Shanahan who had the final say in this matter. Somehow.

~*~

There's no place like home. Sam threw her coat on a chair and carried her overnight bag into the bedroom. She unpacked the few items she'd taken and decided to relax a bit before calling Pete. A hot shower and some fresh clothes would go miles toward relaxing after the excitement of Washington. Excitement was an understatement. It was more like mind boggling. Two days felt like two weeks.

A message blinked on her answering machine. A simple greeting from Pete wondering about her and her whereabouts. Her caller ID painted a fuller picture of his frantic attempts to reach her. He'd called at least three times a day but he'd left no messages those times. One of his more immature and irritating qualities.

She hated to think what Pete would say since she hadn't told him about this spur of the moment trip. Business regarding base operations happened that way sometimes. He would have to learn to deal. Desperate times called for desperate measures especially when it included the possibility of not having a job or putting the proverbial black mark on your service record. Besides, he didn't exactly own her, just yet. Their relationship was still young.

The phone rang as if on cue and as if prompted by the thoughts that even now traversed her mind. She knew it would be Pete. Mr. Hyperkinetic himself. He reminded her a bit of Rodney MacKay with a less grating personality. At least Pete was fun. Fun was not always a word in her vocabulary. Her words were work and perfection. Pete's personality had added a new dimension to her life. One she enjoyed because it was so different from her own.

"Hello?"

"Sam! Hey babe, I'm glad you're home. Where ya been?"

"In Washington attending very tiring committee meetings."

"How's that?"

"It's a long story and I'd bore you to death with it."

"Try me! Or say, how about I pick you up a later and we'll have dinner. You can tell me all about it then. Sevenish sound good?

"Sure. Fine."

She hung up the phone and blew a huff of air in frustration. There was no sense trying to explain that she couldn't tell him about her trip. Frankly, she couldn't tell him much more than what she'd already shared. She could wait for dinner when they were face to face to disappoint him. She'd given him some privy information in the past and he expected it now. What he didn't know was that from here on out, there would be no more revelations per orders from General Hammond.

~*~

SGC

"O'Neill, I had not expected to see you here so late." Teal'c sat down at the table with Jack. He carried a commissary tray piled with food.

Jack, on the other hand, drowned himself in commissary coffee which, indeed, was not a good sign. Commissary coffee was sludge at best.

"Hey, T. You're here late yourself." Jack stretched a bit, acknowledged Teal'c's arrival with a brief look and half smile. He then returned to staring into his cup as though deep in thought. His brow furrowed as he stirred his coffee absentmindedly.

"I was hungry. But why are you here, O'Neill?"

"Just thinkin'. Too much crap going down. That documentary guy probed where he didn't belong not to mention that his timing sucked pond water. Janet's gone and now Woolsey's damn Oversight Committee is raking us over the coals. "

"I am aware that many of the people here are feeling sadness at the loss of Dr. Fraiser."

"It's not just that. She was Carter's best friend. She trusted Janet. Now that Janet is gone, Sam has lost her confidante. And I'm afraid of losing Carter."

"I do not understand."

"I got a call from that FBI Agent, Barrett. You knew Carter went to Washington to give testimony to the Committee?"

"Yes, I understand from General Hammond that she has managed to 'make our case'. I believe those were the words he used. Major Carter has returned safely from Washington, DC, has she not?

"Yeah, she says we have job security again." He forced a smile.

"What about Agent Barrett?"

"He called me yesterday. Told me something I didn't need to hear."

"Was this about Major Carter?"

"Yeah, you could say that. Barrett told me someone had requested a background check on her without her permission."

Teal'c stopped eating to give Jack a puzzled Jaffa look.

"It was that boyfriend of hers, Pete Shanahan."

"Why would he do such a thing?"

"Leverage, maybe? Hell, I don't know. All I know is that it's pretty cheap trick."

"Have you a plan to deal with it?"

"Well, I've decided I ain't telling Carter, that's for sure. She probably wouldn't believe me anyway. She'd accuse me of twisting the facts. Barrett would have told her but he's protecting his own ass in this mess. Seems he has similar designs on Carter."

"Designs?"

"Let's just say he's very interested in dating her without Pete as competition." Jack raised his head and looked straight into Teal'c's face.

"Do you believe Samantha Carter is happy?"

"I don't know, T. She says she is, but when she thinks no one is watching, her facial expressions and body language betray her words."

"It is admirable, O'Neill, to have let her go her own way to find what she thinks will bring her happiness. Until then, she must find out who she does not love to recognize who she truly loves. It is best this way."

"Thanks, T. I know you're right. It's still hard to stand by and watch while some excuse for a man takes advantage of her."

"Have you decided what to do?" Teal'c stopped eating to await Jack's answer.

"No, that's why I'm still sitting here. I'm trying to come up with a plan."

"Allow me then to make a suggestion. I believe I have seen your solution on television. Is it not called blackmail?"

Jack pondered this for a time and a devious smile came over his face.

"T, you're a genius."

Teal'c smiled and tipped his head in Jack's direction.

~*~

Pete swirled the wine in his glass before taking a sip.

"How did things go in DC?"

"Fine. I still have a job anyway." She smiled, lifting her glass to drink.

"Tell me, what exactly was it that sent you to Washington?"

"Just an off world mission SNAFU."

"I figured that. What happened?" he continued to press.

I'm afraid I can't tell you that. It's classified." She watched Pete's face. The muscles on each side of his neck tightened as he clenched his teeth and his nose flared ever so slightly.

"I assumed that the secret society rules were a thing of the past." His voice remained controlled even though he was obviously upset.

"Classified is classified, Pete, I'm sorry."

"Rules were made to be broken."

"By you maybe, but not by me. My commanding officer expects a higher level of moral character from his subordinates."

His anger became more visible.

"You care more about Jack O'Neill's opinion than you care about me. You could have at least called to say you would be out of town on business." His voice raised a decibel.

"I didn't have time. It was spur of the moment, Pete." She didn't hear much of what he said after that. His mention of Jack had thrown her thoughts downward into a Jack-centric spiral. She remembered what she'd told Bregman that day he'd quizzed her about a relationship with Jack.

He's an amazing man. After everything he's done, he's still modest, quite self effacing actually. He even likes people to think he's not as smart as he really is. Bottom line: He's an incredibly strong leader who's given more of himself for this program than anyone has given for ... well ... anything I can imagine.

Bregman had persisted and prodded her on the subject. She'd said that there was no relationship with the colonel other than their professional one because they were really quite different in personality. To which he so aptly replied, Opposites attract.

He was right. They were attracted to one another a lot more than they should be.

The colonel was not someone she would hurt by betraying the code of ethics. He was an officer and a gentleman. While she held a deep respect for the man and his leadership abilities, she knew that what she really wanted from him was out of the question. She wanted him and was forcing herself to take the second choice, be it Pete or Barrett, for that matter. However, her undying loyalty was to the colonel and her team.

"I have friends in Washington, you know." Pete continued. "They'd do just about anything for me."

Deep in thought, Sam hadn't been listening.

"Huh?" She responded. "I'm sorry Pete I wasn't listening. Tired I guess."

"I have friends up in DC. Good friends that I can count on for favors." He repeated.

Sam didn't ask for further information. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what his friends would do. He was annoying. She was tired.

"Who is Malcolm Barrett?" he asked without fanfare.

Sam snapped to attention as he asked the unexpected question. She narrowed her eyes and looked at him across the table.

"What?" Her face bore a look of shock and anger.

"Malcolm Barrett, who is he?"

"How do you know about Will Barrett?"

He drank his wine and gave her a half smile.

"Weren't you listening, Babe, when I said I have buddies in Washington?" He smiled warmly and reached across the table to cover her hand with his own.

"Oh, the ones who'd do anything for you like spy on me, for instance?" she said, pulling her hand away. This is the just coup de grâce, she thought angrily.

"Sam, come on. It's just a simple question." He smiled.

"That's despicable, Pete! I can't believe you would go to those lengths to make sure I didn't compromise our relationship. Surely, you trust me more than that. Are you so insecure that you have people running around spying on me? Will Barrett is an FBI agent who owed me a favor, Pete, and he took me to dinner. Is that a crime, for cryin' out loud?" her voice had gotten louder and restaurant patrons were looking her direction.

"Listen, it's been a long two days. Let's just get out of here. I'm ready to be home and go to bed. I need to be fresh in the morning when I meet with General Hammond." She placed her napkin on the table with resolve and rose to leave.

"Yeah, right, okay." He motioned for the check, obviously disappointed that he hadn't gotten much out of her.

The dinner hadn't gone well. She wished more than ever she'd turned him down. She was exhausted and had said yes to a dinner date to pacify him. Now she was furious with him. She would be lucky if she got any sleep. At least, she wouldn't have to convince him to go home and not come in when he dropped her off. He'd cooked his goose over dinner.

~*~

A hot shower and two Tylenol later, Sam lay in bed trying to sleep. Her body refused to relax and her mind ran wild with the conversation she'd had with Pete. Who'd he think he was? What else did he know? Could she trust him?

"Janet, where are you when I need you?" she said to the darkened room. She and Janet had been as close as sisters and now she had no one to talk to about this. Except maybe Cassie. And Cassie hadn't shown any great affection for Pete when she'd met him. Maybe she wouldn't be the best person to bounce this situation off of. That left no one but God to listen.

The whole Pete incident reminded her how little she knew and remembered about having personal relationships. She'd joined the military and after her failed relationship with Jonas, had blocked off that part of her mind to such things. She'd thrown herself into her work. At least it was a bit more predictable than some men, particularly, Pete Shanahan. And so the cycle began again.

She turned on her side and tried to get comfortable. She glanced at the clock. Two thirty. Yeah. I'm gonna be in great shape tomorrow, she thought wryly. Finally, sleep over took her.

~*~

At the dawn's earliest light, Jack was up and fixing breakfast before heading off to Denver and Pete's place. Whether Pete knew it or not they were going to have a little man-to-man conversation about Major Carter.

Too bad Janet isn't here, he thought, pulling down the cereal box from the cupboard. She would have known how to handle this matter. Maybe he couldn't approach Sam to tell her about Pete's shenanigans but Janet could have. He wasn't sure how Carter would respond to his interference with Mr. Shenanigan. That's why it had to be this way. Carter would never know he'd spoken with Pete unless Pete ratted Jack out. What he wouldn't give to have Janet's advice now.

Yeah, he missed the doc. There weren't enough words to describe the vacuum left by her death. He felt confident that Hammond had made a good choice asking Sam to do the eulogy. Sam and Janet had been so close. No one else knew her as well as Carter. Emotionally, it had taken a toll on Sam to rise above her grief to give the eulogy. Teal'c had said that while she was Janet's most intimate acquaintance, Sam had struggled for the right words.

Jack recalled when the major had come to his private infirmary room to see him the day he'd been released. Geez, she looked worse than he'd felt. He felt amazed at the vulnerability he saw in her eyes. Hurting or not, he ached to hold her and comfort her. Emotion etched her face and her body tensed as she spoke about how well that new vest had worked in the field. That, however, wasn't the motive behind her visit. Just the excuse. He knew. After almost seven years, they had a bond bordering on telepathy.

He'd seen the sheer panic on her face as he slipped into unconsciousness. He'd longed to see her and reassure her of his love and concern. He'd clung to life knowing how much he loved her, needed her. Leaving her behind in life was not an option.

With tear stained eyes, eyes that never made contact with his, she spoke the truth. "I'm glad you're ok."

She'd silently begged his comfort. So he offered what he could by wrapping his arms about her, holding her tightly while the tears fell. He found himself taking solace in their embrace. He'd buried his face in her neck filling his senses with a fragrance that was uniquely Carter. Even now he remembered their intimate moment.

Today's trip to Denver was for her benefit.

Checking his watch, he put the cereal bowl in the sink, grabbed the truck keys and headed out the door. When he'd gotten home the evening before, he'd looked up Pete Shanahan's address. Good thing he still had another week of sick leave. It would take just over an hour to drive up to Denver and the travel time would allow him to compose what he would say. He wouldn't tolerate this breach of trust to threaten his team members no matter what. Pete prowling behind Sam's back was not a good sign and definitely created security issues for SG-1 and Stargate Command. If Shanahan did this when things were going smoothly what would he do when things were crazy? Carter's life, hell, the whole team's lives depended on following a measure of proper protocol. Yes, it was time for Pete Shanahan to understand the long reaching effects of his impropriety.

~*~

It turned out that Shanahan lived in an apartment off the main interstate on the southern edge of the city. Jack parked near the building and contemplated the impending conversation. With a deep breath, he got out and made his way into the building. He checked the mailboxes to determine the apartment number then took the stairs.

After a sharp rap at the door he heard a muffled "Just a minute!" The look on Pete's face as he opened the chained door, priceless. Jack worked to contain his amusement.

"Pete?"

"Yeah?"

"Jack O'Neill, may I come in?"

"Yeah, yeah, just a minute! Let me pull on some jeans and a shirt."

Jack watched as Pete disappeared from the door and returned to let him in.

"Can I get you some coffee, Colonel? I just brewed a fresh pot."

"Yeah, sure."

"Have a seat. To what do I owe this surprise visit?" Pete shuffed into the galley kitchen and grabbed the last two clean mugs from the cupboard.

Jack surveyed the typical single guy apartment littered with magazines, DVDs, loose video tapes, game console and the ever present dirty laundry then chose to take a seat at the cluttered kitchen table.

"We need to talk." Jack announced.

"It must be pretty important for you to come all the way up here. I don't suppose you need me for a secret mission, do you?" Pete's eyes danced excitedly.

No doubt about it. There was a puppy dog eagerness to please about the guy. Jack wasn't impressed. He sat quietly waiting his turn to speak. When it came the silence was deafening.

"So, what's up?" Pete finally asked, as he poured steaming liquid into each cup and rummaged in a drawer for two spoons. "Cream or sugar? Well, it's not really cream it's the powdered stuff." He apologized off handedly.

"No, thanks." Jack said waving him off.

Pete sat across from Jack and waited with a greater patience than he had thought possible. He'd expected the guy would act more nervous about this little confrontation but instead he got a strong steady eye-to-eye gaze from the man across the table.

He's a detective, Jack. They pay him to look cool calm and collected in the midst of stressful interrogation type situations. Just cut to the chase.

"I received a very disturbing phone call yesterday." Jack glanced down at the cup of coffee which he stirred absently.

"Yeah. And . . . ?" Pete drank his coffee while he thought.

"This person shared with me that you had a background check done on Major Carter. Was she aware of this?"

Ah, now he looked decidedly uncomfortable. Jack watched Pete swallowed the hot coffee with haste. And while he didn't noticeably squirm, Pete hurried to grab an ice cube for his coffee and popped a chip into his mouth.

"Ah, hot." He fanned his open mouth. "Yeah, well. . . yeah, I did but I didn't think it was a problem."

"When it affects my team and its members, it's serious, if not life threatening."

"The team?"

"Yes, my team and the whole of Stargate Command. When someone like yourself starts to poke his nose where it doesn't belong there is always a threat. You do have a recollection of the little problem we had at that stake-out? See? We keep things quiet for a reason."

Jack paused to let that sink in. Then he began again.

"Do you know the ramifications of the general public finding out about the Stargate program? Have you really thought that through? They'll find out eventually but, ya know, we would really like to control the "when" part." His tone bordered supercilious.

Jack noticed the sudden change in Pete's demeanor. He now had a more deer-in-the-headlights posture. He swallowed in a deliberate manner but remained quiet.

"Have you so little trust in and respect for Major Carter that you would poke around behind her back? Have you been following her without her knowledge? Is that how you ended up at that stake-out?" Jack paused for emphasis.

"Ah, um. . . " Pete stammered but Jack never let him finish.

"If what you know right now got out, do you realize who the military brass would blame? Major Samantha Carter. I thought you cared so much. Is that what you want for her?"

"No, sir."

"Okay, so listen, Pete, I've gone to hell and back for Major Carter and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. She is an indispensable part of my team. I will defend her. If you ever try something like this again, I will personally come and kick your ass all the way to the nearest Goa'uld mothership. Carter doesn't know I've come here. She doesn't need to know but if you so much as hint at the fact that I came and talked to you, I will tell her everything. Understand?"

"Um, yeah, I understand."

With that, Jack rose from his chair to leave. He placed the dirty cup in the sink and strode to the apartment door.

"Thanks for the coffee." He said and left, leaving a stunned Pete Shanahan in his wake.

~*~

Sam left General Hammond's office and hurried to the solace of her lab. She'd spent at least two hours of her morning going over everything discussed in Washington. The tediousness of that activity had simply added to her mental exhaustion.

She booted up her computer and reviewed the projects she'd been working on before the disaster on the planet of doom.

Lack of sleep had turned her into a zombie. She sat on the stool next to the workstation and put her head down on her folded arms. Thoughts of Pete and his audacity still swirled mercilessly in her mind. Her resentment at him had fueled her day but staying angry would just give her a headache or an ulcer. They needed to talk and come to an understanding about a few things because scenes like the one last night were not gonna fly.

Pete should have listened when she warned him about her Black Widow Curse. Her other suitors had all met their demise apart from her. Nevertheless, Pete, well, she didn't want to wait for fate to erase him from her life. Instead, she wanted to beat fate to the punch and strangle him for being such a jackass.

Happiness, at least the way her dad had defined it, continued to elude her. She'd been happy without love interests in her life. Pete was just one more name to cross off the long list of adoring admirers. Barrett had possibilities and yet, mostly, it was none of the above. She only had eyes for one man.

Having resolved to push that from her mind she began to sort paperwork from the last two weeks. Sam vowed to clear her desk of the clutter it had gathered in her absence but didn't know where to begin. She felt a sense of accomplishment about the Washington trip. That was as far as she had gotten. The colonel would be proud of her. Of course, he would be glad he hadn't had to go as much as that she'd handled it on her own. Sam smiled. She knew him so well.

The phone rang.

"Lab, Major Carter, speaking."

"Sam? Pete."

"It isn't a good idea to call me here, Pete. The general frowns on personal phone calls while we're working." She said, icily.

"I know but this couldn't wait."

"Okay. What's up?" She worked hard not to let on how mad she felt.

"I need your forgiveness."

She waited silently as he went on.

"I was wrong to pry into your private affairs. I guess I still can't believe that someone as beautiful and intelligent as you could really want me. I could use the excuse that I'm just insecure but I won't, but I was wrong. Please forgive me. Sam?"

There was a prolonged silence. Her agonized heart wanted to forgive and forget but on second thought considered that he should really have to sweat this out. She spoke to him calmly.

"It was a disappointment to find out that I was such a bad judge of character, Pete. It hurts when you discover the man in your life doesn't trust you. Perhaps I'll call you when I get home so we can discuss this further. For now, I appreciate your willingness to be upfront with me but this is not the time or the place."

Sam thought to detect a muffled sigh of relief. She hadn't exactly forgiven him but she needed to be able to work without this cloud of anger keeping her from what she needed to do. Her job.

"I feel better. Being honest, that is. I don't want for these things to come between us. I am a very lucky man to have you to love, Samantha. We'll talk more later tonight. Okay?"

"Yeah. . .maybe."

She hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and blew it out. So much for that. Of course, they needed to talk through the anger and frustration but his call relieved some of her tension. The light bulb had come on for him evidently. Perhaps there was hope for them.

Her back to the door, she jumped when she turned around and saw Colonel O'Neill leaning against the doorjamb.

"Jack."

~*~

He stared at her silently.

"I'm sorry, Colonel, you scared the living daylights out of me." He'd heard the one-sided exchange and hoped she'd give Pete the heave ho, if not, Jack would deal. He always did.

"Sorry, I didn't want to interrupt anything important."

"No, no, not at all. I've just had a lot on my mind. I didn't think you were back on duty already."

"Yeah well, Hammond said my desk had stacked up a little too high and that I could take this time to work on it if I felt okay." He gave her a crooked smile, and then looked away.

"Yeah, the wonderful paperwork." She commiserated looking at her own stack of work.

"I swear, sir, you're here more than you're home where you should be resting those ribs." She chided.

"So, I heard things went well in DC." Intentionally, changing the subject, he made his way to her table and fiddled with one of the gadgets. Then, when he realized what he was doing, he jammed his hands into his pockets and raised his head to look her in the eyes.

"Yep, better than I'd anticipated. It would have been nice to have you there to watch my six but I managed. Committee testimony can be so unpredictable."

"If it hadn't been for these injuries, I'd have been there. Even if the stuffed shirts hadn't needed my testimony. No need to ask. I'll always be here for you, Carter." He smiled warmly, thankful to be talking to her alone.

"So how were things here?"

"You know, the usual. Bregman finally got his interview. Hammond threatened me with disciplinary action if I didn't meet with the guy."

He watched as her face brightened into a smile.

"Not as bad as you thought, huh?"

"No, it was quite informative." He gave his best mischievous smirk. He watched as her face went from amused to questioning.

"Sir?"

"So, I hear there's cake in the commissary today. Comin'?" He pivoted on one foot and strolled towards the elevator, grinning.

She hurried to catch up.

"Yes, but. . . ?"

He stopped to swipe his card at the elevator doors and turned as she caught up with him.

"So, Carter," he began with a twinkle dancing in his eyes, "I'm wondering, do you really think I'm amazing and even after everything I've done, still modest and quite self effacing?"

~fin~

Plot Bunny: Jackficathon Plot Bunny: Explore the spark between Agent Barrett and Sam; Pete's concern over losing Sam to Barrett; and Jack's feelings toward the two of them (Barrett and Carter). Does he trust Barrett? Does he really want Carter to leave Pete for Barrett?