Disclaimer: I don't own them. I didn't make any money off this story... It was written purely for the enjoyment of other fans.

All Because of Daniel's Advice

by Linda Bindner

Jack O'Neill had just sat down at his computer at his desk and was booting up the machine when the phone on the desktop beside him suddenly rang. He made a grab for the receiver at the same time that his computer began prompting him with user IDs and passwords that he usually had trouble remembering, though now he had no trouble at all filling in the appropriate prompts, since he had done it all so often lately. He had just enough free time left over on this Saturday afternoon before he had to start his supper preparations to play his favorite computer game, but then someone had to bother him during his free time...

Annoyed, he said into the receiver. O'Neill.

Hello, Sir.

Carter? Jack asked. Instantly, his sense of irritation vanished and was replaced by the ease and peace that just hearing her voice had always instilled in him. Simultaneously, half his attention went to his phone conversation, and half his attention went to opening up his game. So there was very little attention left over for what he was actually saying. Still, he did have enough coherence left in him for him to ask, What are you doing calling me here..? Aren't you supposed to be on downtime right now?

Yes, Sir, we are, Sam Carter answered him.

Jack was instantly suspicious. So, I ask again, what are you doing calling me when you're on downtime and supposed to be relaxing? The game began, and he was quickly drawn into its plotline as he fired a weapon on the monitor that was run by fingering his left mouse button. As he played, he continued to speak to Carter. Please tell me that you're not in your lab at the SGC, running simulations or something just as technical with all those doohickeys you keep lying around.

No, I'm not at the SGC, she answered, and O'Neill could hear her smile coming through in her voice. I'm at home, sitting on my couch, talking on the phone with you while I contemplate what's in my freezer that I can defrost and fix for dinner.

That comment caught Jack's complete attention for a moment. You got anything good in there? She had to have something better than what he had, which was chicken... how interesting was chicken, really?

I'm trying to remember if I remembered to go to the grocery store this week. If I did remember, my freezer could have all sorts of good things stuck in it. If I didn't remember to go, then I'll be lucky if there's a can of frozen cat food in there.

O'Neill began his game again. I didn't know you had a cat, Carter.

I don't. That's the point.

Now, wait a minute; you have frozen cat food for an invisible cat? he asked. You're starting to sound like me, and I don't think that's necessarily a good thing.

He could hear Sam's laughter over the phone line. I don't think I have an invisible cat, but how would I know for sure that I have one if the cat's invisible? I mean, I couldn't even see it, she noted.

That's a good point you have there, Carter. Jack shot three quick salvos into a guy at the end of an alley, then had his avatar turn a corner and enter an abandoned building. He was on the lookout for more 'guys at ends of alleys' who tried to surprise him by jumping out at him from around corners, and dropping on him from ceilings, and such things. He talked on as he played, If you're not at the SGC, and you're not in the middle of some crisis that needs the General's immediate attention, why are you calling me... something wrong?

Can't a person just call up a friend on a Saturday afternoon to see what he's got going on? It's the same thing I've done to Daniel before, but I did it so often that he takes his phone off the hook now when we have downtime.

He does? Hell, I didn't know that. Jack shot four more times at two guys carrying more weaponry than his avatar was, and he still managed to toast them.

There was a pause as Carter obviously listened to the very real sounds made by the game. What are you doing, Sir?

Ah ha, die you bugger! Jack yelled at the two guys on his monitor. Then, to Carter, he explained, I'm playing Space 'Em right now before I start supper.

Is that a computer game? Sam inquired.

Yeah, Jack answered, a little embarrassed, but only a little. It's made for kids... teenagers, I think... but actually, it's totally addictive.

So teenagers wouldn't stand a chance since it has your mind in its evil clutches? Is that what you're saying? Sam chuckled into the phone.

O'Neill's self-deprecating laugh joined hers. Yeah, that's what I'm saying, he admitted. I finally had to start limiting how much I play, or I could easily waste an entire day shooting up bad guys. He moved his mouse around, forcing his character to dive for cover as three 'bad guys' shot at him. I have wasted an entire day on playing this game, in fact.

How did you even get involved in such a thing? Sam wanted to know.

Teal'c got me started on playing it, if you can believe it. I ran into his quarters on base in order to ask him a question one day, and three hours later I finally got out again because we were wasting our time playing this... Anyway, you get the picture. I bought my own copy that night, and now, here we are.

So you're not really paying attention to what I'm saying, are you? she asked then.

O'Neill indignantly asked his own question. Now, why would you say that?

Sam laughed. I had a brother, if you bother to remember, and he spent lots of time in the basement, his eyes glued to the computer monitor when he should have been out with girls. It's a wonder he ever managed to marry my sister-in-law.

Every self-respecting boy plays computer games, Jack defended.

Did you?

Of course I did! Jack replied. I have to point out, though, that we didn't even have computers yet when I was a teenager...

Yeah, wasn't that in the Dark Ages or something? she teased.

Oh, that is soooo not funny, Carter!

You gonna feed me poison for that comment, Sir? Sam asked.

No, Jack said. But I will threaten to feed you dinner, and that might be just as bad.

You're not that bad of a cook, Sam negated. Probably much better than I am.

That's not saying much... Remember, you've eaten my cooking before just like I've eaten yours, he said, reminding her that he had been forced on many missions to eat the MREs that she had prepared... taking off the lid of MREs was very taxing, after all.

Are you talking about MREs? she asked.

Oh, remember the chicken and dumplings meal..? So tasty!

Ugh! Wasn't that one still partially frozen?

Was that your night on mess detail, or Daniel's?

That was Daniel, right when we first got together going on missions... You know, back when Teal'c thought 'nip it in the bud' meant that we planned to destroy gardens.

That's right! O'Neill laughed, then he had to give all his attention to what was going on in his game if he didn't want his character to die, and then he would have to start over. There was a long silence as he tried to recall how to make a character climb up an elevator shaft.

What's going on now? Sam queried, sounding like a long-suffering observer who had seen this type of behavior, that of becoming lost in a game, way too often.

O'Neill didn't miss her tone, or the sigh that accompanied it, but he was too far gone into the game to dredge up enough energy to care overly much about it. His game was far more fetching just then. Do you know how to make a guy climb up things on a computer? Jack asked, a pucker of concentration drawing his eyebrows together into a frown.

Can't say that I do, Sam said.

Well, what good are you to have around, then? Jack teased.

Sam sighed again. I write computer programs that extrapolate wormhole denigration, Sir, not useless games.

Hey, who said this is useless?! O'Neill demanded to know.

Teal'c.

He did not! He's the one who got me started on this thing! Jack instantly protested.

Well, apparently he wasn't all that impressed, because now he's into Go Get 'Em.

Damn... One more good guy down the drain... conquered by the competition, Jack remarked.

Isn't one shoot 'em up game kind of like any other? she asked.

Of course not, Jack refuted. They're all different.

Do you still get that same slack jawed look about you that all males get the second they see a computer monitor? she wanted to know.

Jack tried to visualize himself right at the moment to see if he was slack jawed. He couldn't be sure, and he didn't have a mirror handy for him to peer into. So, he had to say, I suppose that since most of these kinds of games are the same, most expressions while playing said games have to be similar, too.

Oh, that means you're not hearing a word I'm saying, either, Sam told him.

Of course I am, Jack instantly said. I hear every word coming out of your mouth. Then his character ran into a wall, and O'Neill once again had to recall how to force his avatar to climb... without falling backwards down to the street below the wall. He was glad it was his computer character having to make that vertical ascent, and not him! It was all for the best, as it forced him to spend time thinking about his game instead of thinking about Sam Carter's mouth, which was a far more pleasant topic to think about, to be sure, but also a far more dangerous one.

Carter's voice turned skeptical. You're sure? she asked.

Of course I'm sure, Jack told her. Actually, he was hardly listening to her words, as his computer game took almost all of his attention at the moment. Which was better than thinking about her mouth, Jack reminded himself.

But Sam didn't know that his attention was so fixed, only that he really wasn't listening to her, so she went on, saying, Right... your kitchen is on fire.

That much of his attention wasn't gone, for crying out loud! Nice try, Carter, but I can see the kitchen from here, Jack told her after a quick glance in the direction of his kitchen. There's no fire that I'm aware of. And I haven't started dinner yet, so the oven's not even on.

Um... she tried again. Did you see that bat flap out of your freezer?

Jack was quick to refute her again. Doesn't being in the freezer mean it's frozen? How can a frozen bat fly around my house? he asked. Come on, Carter, you can do better than this... Jack then yelled at his screen, Got ya, you scum sucking..!

The fact that you're now yelling at your computer screen sort of indicates that you're only hanging on to the fact that I'm here at all by just a thread of your mind.

Not true! Jack said. I... almost... hear everything you're saying.

Sam laughed. I've heard that one before!

Oh yeah? Jack asked into the receiver as he spent most of his attention on watching his character move through a marshy swamp, and trying to see what was going on around him at the same time. The three-way divide of his focus was fairly difficult to maintain, and even he had to admit that his conversation with Carter was beginning to suffer because of it. But, to cover up his lapse, he challenged, Go ahead, say something that will really shock me... see if I'm paying attention or not.

Okay... she said, obviously thinking. Finally, she settled on the one thing that she was pretty sure would shock the socks right off his feet. I called to let you know that I'm not getting married to Pete because I'm actually in love with you, she announced. Sir, she hesitantly added as an afterthought.

She might as well have shot him. Jack's heart beat stilled in his chest just as his finger stilled on his mouse. However, he wasn't staring at his computer screen any longer. Suddenly the wall and its complete blandness had become utterly fascinating. Had he heard her right? Uh...

Something wrong, Sir? Sam asked in a surprisingly steady voice.

Uh.., Jack repeated as if he were stuck in a fog. His character wilted on screen as the other players killed him off. If only death were that clean, he vaguely thought. And if only he could recover from what she had said. But he felt too numb to recover from anything just then.

And what the heck was he doing thinking about death, even vaguely, only seconds after Carter had muttered those few words that were sure to bring whatever he was doing to a screeching halt? he wondered.

And he also knew that Sam Carter wouldn't utter those words unless she had an ulterior motive.

Uh.., he tried to prompt.

What? Sam defensively inquired.

Uh... Damn, my kitchen really is on fire... Call you back! Then Jack slammed down the phone and tried hard to catch his breath even as he silently berated himself for ending their conversation so abruptly the way he had. And his kitchen wasn't on fire! He simply hadn't been able the think of anything else to say to get him off the phone and away from her detail-oriented attention fast enough.

Jack sat and heaved in air. What had just happened? Had she just said what he thought she'd just said? Had she really meant to say what she'd just said?

Suddenly, the old fears he had always battled through, of her utter rejection of any overtures he might make towards her in the event that he would someday find his courage and make them in the first place, came flooding back to his mind. The emotions hadn't plagued him for a long time, long enough for him and Carter to overcome his, and maybe her, trepidations, and for them to become truly good friends. But what was she doing now by mentioning those few words to him, even in jest?

Did she mean them? Could she possibly share the same feelings for him that he had always harbored for her? He'd thought he had done a fairly descent job of hiding his regard for her, ever since the Za'tarc testing incident, which had been years before, but now he wasn't sure... So much time had gone by, so much had happened, and she had given him no indication, no explanations...

Of course, he hadn't given any to her, either. He'd always been so careful to look at her, but not touch, to be aware of her on an emotional level as well as a purely feminine and physical plane... But, perhaps he'd always been too careful in hiding his feelings... Maybe he was too good at it, had too many years to practice it?

And now?

Jack had to admit to himself that he didn't really know if she were telling him the truth with those uttered words or not... if she had been simply trying to surprise him with her confession, or was making that confession in earnest and meant every word she'd said.

The double edge of each possibility was killing him. Maybe Daniel would know something more than she'd told him... She did say that she had spoken to their team mate before... Maybe they had discussed their past leader on missions when he wasn't around to hear them conversing?

Jack dialed Daniel's number, then remembered that Sam had said that he always disconnected his phone during downtime from SG-1. Feeling only a slight pang of guilt, Jack then dialed Daniel's cell number from memory as quickly as he could, his fingers shaking in spite of all the breathing he was doing in order to force himself to calm down.

Hello? came Daniel's worried tones.

Daniel? It's Jack.

Daniel was concerned the second he heard Jack's voice. As the leader of the SGC, it was Jack's job to keep tabs on what was going on in the underground base, and that often meant working through the weekends if a crisis was brewing. Is something wrong? What's happened?

No, that's not what this call is about, Jack told him right away.

But you're calling me on my cell phone... That means it's SGC business, which means...

Daniel! Jack yelled, cutting the other man off. I know that I'm not supposed to use your cell number unless it's for work. But this is something of an emergency...

Daniel was quiet for a moment as his brain tried to grasp the words that Jack was saying. I thought you just said that there isn't anything going on.., he insisted.

Again, Jack interrupted. Daniel! I have to know something... It's something of a personal emergency.

You have to know it now? Daniel asked, demanding in his query. It can't wait until Monday morning?

No, it can't wait! Jack brusquely told him. He ran an agitated hand through his hair. Look, Daniel, I'm sorry, but I was just talking to Carter...

On the phone?

Jack sighed; sometimes Daniel could be so obtuse. Yes, on the phone, and...

Do you two talk to each other often? Daniel inquired.

Now Jack was really getting antsy! Yes, we do that every now and then... well, actually, most nights... But the point is, something happened today while we were talking and goofing around, just wasting time...

What? Daniel asked.

He sounded like Carter when he asked that question. Jack swallowed nervously and continued, trying to banish the natural comparison that came to him. Um, she... uh...

What? Jack, what's wrong? Daniel asked. Is she alright? Is she sick? Are you sick or something?

Jack scrunched his eyes shut and blurted, Daniel, I gotta know... You gotta tell me the truth... She said that she loves me, and then acted like she didn't mean it... Daniel, you gotta tell me... did you two ever talk about this at all before? You know, when I wasn't around, or...

Jack could hear Daniel's sigh over the phone. She actually said that? he ascertained.

That, and more! Jack told him. You gotta tell me if it's the truth or not, he wheedled.

You can't tell for yourself? Daniel asked.

Jack glared at the phone and the person he was talking to by association with the instrument he held in his hand. Daniel..! No! That's why I'm calling you to ask. I gotta know, once and for all.

Daniel sighed once more. Jack... Maybe I shouldn't say... Daniel hesitated. It was all told to me in total confidence, after all.

Daniel! Jack hollered. I'm dying here!

Daniel was as forthcoming as he was hesitant. And what kind of a friend would I be if the minute someone asks me about a confidence, I start spouting off at the mouth right away!

Daniel..! Jack warned.

Daniel sighed. Jack, you know I can't say anything specific here. I mean, she made me sign a Nondisclosure Agreement before she would tell me anything.

Jack ran a hand through his hair again. She made you sign a Nondisclosure Agreement? he asked in amazement.

Now Daniel sounded disgusted. You know how she is... She's as suspicious of everyone as you are... I thought you would be proud of her paranoid tendencies. Daniel sighed again. Look, you guys are both smarter than the average person, and you still have trouble figuring this out.

But, the Regulations are pretty clear in this type of... Jack started to protest.

Oh, the Regulations! Daniel scoffed. I am so sick of hearing about those dumb Regulations, I could..! It's just an excuse for you guys, anyway, he ended.

It's no excuse, Daniel! O'Neill objected. Those Regulations would become very real very fast if Carter and I ever ended up in front of a court-martial review board!

There's no chance of that happening, though, is there? Daniel scathingly spit into the phone. Not unless you two are ever honest with each other.

I'm honest, Jack protested, a hard edge creeping into his defensive tone, hurt that his friend thought that he would be anything else. Then, thinking that he did have a job that required his consent to keep everything top secret, amended, Well, most of the time.

Daniel groaned, then said, Just the way you're both living in one kind of hell right now, always pretending and hiding and denying the way that you do... He paused, rethinking what he wanted to say, then continued, Has it ever occurred to you that getting caught in a relationship with your second in command would probably be hell, too, but at least then you would have done something worth being thrown into Hell for? And if you ask me, that kind of a Hell wouldn't necessarily be so bad after all... At least, you would still have each other.

Daniel, Jack said, Have you ever been to a court-martial before? Do you know how awful they are?

Daniel groaned again, as if he were beating his head against a wall. As a matter of fact, Jack, yes, I have been to a court-martial, and one that was about that damned fraternization rule of yours.

Jack was a bit taken aback. When did you go to a court-martial? he asked, stunned.

Daniel told him, Right at the beginning, like seven years ago, or something, just so I would know what you guys were both facing from the military, you know, just in case something ever transpired, or... He stopped, then went on, And it wasn't nearly as bad as I had always thought one would be. Daniel was quick to admit, It's true that both parties were found to be in defiance of that frat. rule of yours, and both were kicked out of the military, but...

That's what I'm afraid of! Jack instantly said, relieved to finally be able to unload all of these fears onto his friend's broad shoulders, glad that he could finally share what had always accosted his own mind in his most unguarded moments. I can't do that to Carter, to her career! She's worked so hard to get where she's gotten to that I...

What an excuse! Daniel muttered angrily. Does that idea keep you warm at night, Jack? 'Cause I think it's a rather...

Hey, that is hardly fair, don't you think? Jack asked, stopping him.

Daniel sighed once more. Look, all I know is that if Sha're were here, alive, and with me right this instant, nothing would keep me from going to her, and... Being caught acting on the wrong side of a fraternization policy can't be as bad as life already is for both of you, can it? he asked.

Daniel's question caught Jack like a wrenching blow to his gut, and made him pause in his arguments for a moment. Finally, with his brow furrowed as he thought, Jack said, Um, thanks, Daniel, I gotta think for a while... With that statement made, he snapped his phone down, pondering, staring at the wall in his office.

He sat as the gloom of evening slowly encroached into the corner where his desk was situated. He stared at the wall. He stared at his computer. He finally shut down the entire computer system. The quiet that followed the silencing of the fan turning inside the computer was almost deafening in its intensity. He wondered about that... How can something like silence be deafening? Wasn't something that was silent already probably be deaf just by its definition of being silent?

And was that what he had done to his feelings? What she had done? Had they rendered mute something beautiful that was buried deep inside the other just by denying the fact that it existed? After all this time, had they strangled the very thing that had been, and was, the essence of their souls simply by pretending that it didn't exist, by not acknowledging its presence?

And that bit that Daniel had talked about... That this life of hiding and denial was hardly fulfilling when compared to its alternative... It was, in fact, a life that was as hellaceous as Daniel had suggested, Jack admitted. He had just spent so much time denying the very existence of his emotional state of being that he was beginning to believe that he had made the entire thing up...

But, he couldn't hide any longer. Those yearnings that he had always felt for Carter swooped down on him now in hot waves of unforgiving sensation, grown intense and strong over the years rather than weak or invalid... They left him breathless and prickly and dizzy...

The dimness of full night crept up on him, but Jack continued to sit in his desk chair, immobilized by the fear and the dread that also crept up on him with the intruding shadows of the night. In order to beat aside that sense of vertigo that he was experiencing with each of his thoughts, he walked like a man sleeping towards his living room, where he turned on a lamp, then sank onto his sofa, but didn't move beyond that. He supposed that he should find something to eat, but couldn't dredge up the sufficient amount of interest necessary for feeding what was, in essence, a body that wasn't very hungry as he continued with his pondering.

Jack stared at his empty fireplace and thought. He considered what Daniel had said to him over the phone, that life as he knew it right now was as much an ordeal as the possibility of a court-martial... That, given the possibility that something... Jack refused to name just what might happen between him and Carter... could potentially occur... Then even getting caught at letting it occur in the first place was only as bad as what they each had right now... Which was nothing. Neither of them had anything right now... Well, she had a supposed marriage coming up to a man whom she did not love in the right way... that is, she had a little bit of something, even if it was the wrong thing... Unlike him, who had nothing but an empty house... No special someone waiting for him at the end of the day... No relationship of any kind, really... and that was considering that 'what if' scenario that questioned that they had ever had anything in the years before...

And if they let something grow between them now, and they got caught at letting it blossom, even encouraging it to happen... Then, the unpleasantness that was sure to follow could not possibly be any more unpleasant than what they already had now... Which, he reminded himself, was nothing. But, given the second possibility, they would be left with no military, yet they would still have each other... Was it worth the risk they would be taking?

In answer to that mental question, Jack kept hearing Daniel's voice, repeating over and over again in his mind, that point he'd made about hoping that worry over Carter's career was keeping him, Jack, warm at night, because, right now, that was all he had. For the first time, it seemed to be a downright poor excuse that he was allowing to keep him from going after something he really wanted. And, if he were honest with himself, it had long since stopped keeping him warm at night, or during the day, for that matter.

With a start, Jack suddenly realized that it was nearing midnight. A new day was beginning, and he was still sitting like a lump of naqueda on the couch in his living room, as unmoving as the mineral he compared himself to. He blinked against the darkness.

Then, with the speed of a run away train, he knew what he needed to do. He had to ask Carter how she really felt about him. If he didn't, he would never know the true state of affairs between them, and he would never be able to forgive himself for not asking in the first place if something happened to either one of them... Such as her marrying another man...

He jumped up, and grabbed his coat of the hook near the door, as well as his keys off the small table he kept in his front hall. Jack slammed the door shut on his way out, forgetting in his haste to lock it securely against intruders and wayward travelers... Instead, he headed without hesitation to his truck. He was done with hiding, with denying the truth, at least, he was to himself.

What Sam would decide to do was anybody's guess. But he wanted to give her the option of choosing her own personal kind of torture to live through. The fact that his mind had changed from calling her 'Carter' to calling her 'Sam' was a first baby step in the right direction of that change. It might have been a tiny step, but it was a first step nontheless.

Jack felt ridiculously proud of himself as he steered his truck down his driveway, out into the deserted street, and turned it towards Sam's house.

* * *

The insistent, peeling sound of the ringing doorbell drug Sam from the sound sleep she was in. Intermittent pounding on the door accompanied her as she made her way through the dark house to answer her front door, silently cursing each banged shin and stubbed toe she received on the way. The appeal to open her front door sounded urgent, as if some emergency had occurred at the SGC... She hoped that wasn't the case, but experience had taught her otherwise. When she reached the door, she muttered, So help me, if you're a drunk kid...

It's Jack, he answered, fully aware that he was a man pounding on a woman's front door in the middle of the night. He would have been surprised if she opened the door to him if he hadn't identified himself first.

Sam yanked the door open, hard pressed not to display the ire she was feeling at being called to answer her front door at night.

I'm not drunk, and I'm no kid, Jack immediately soothed as he stood on her front step, turning appealing eyes towards her. General! Sam exclaimed, her eyes growing wide in shock and surprise as she took in his bedraggled form. It's a little late for a social call, isn't it? She paused, looked at him once, then announced, This isn't a social call, is it? When he didn't answer right away, she asked in some concern, General?

Jack slowly shook his head back and forth. Don't.., he said, then took a deep breath. Don't call me 'General' unless you can stand there and tell me that what you said earlier on the phone isn't true. Now, I know you were just talking at the time, but... Was it true? he asked. Was it?

Sam stared at him, the cold night air hitting her flannel pajamas with a vengeance. But she just continued to stare at him, ignoring the shivers created by the cold air.

If you can say that you need to call me 'General' because of the job, I'll go, and let you get back to sleep, Jack promised. But if you can't, then I think it's time that we talk about this... whatever it is... between us.

Sam persisted in her staring, open eyed and gawking. She could only stand, frozen, on her door step as she first breathed in, then breathed out in a silent communication of her shock at seeing him and hearing what he was asking.

So he repeated his comment one more time. I'll go, Sam, the minute you call me 'General' again, if that's what you want to do.

Finally Sam looked him straight in his eye and muttered, I can't do that... Jack, she said. Not if I want to be honest with you... I can't... She sighed, and her breath puffed a white cloud on the cold air.

Jack turned his gentle brown gaze straight on her features. You're feet must be frozen... Can I come in for a minute? Then, he was sure to emphasize, Just to talk, nothing more... I promise.

Sam continued to stare blankly for a moment, then she slowly took a deep breath of the cold air, letting it travel down her throat in a glacial journey to her lungs, where it burned out into the frosty air practically without her knowledge or permission. Her attention was too consumed by him, by his request, by the simple fact that he was standing at her door, frigid, in the cold, at midnight. He could tell by the naked look of astonishment on her face that she was still too sleepy to properly cover her features, that her propriety and sense of duty were at war with what she was feeling at the moment. But eventually, she just stepped aside and invited him in with a nod of her head.

Jack somehow forced his nearly frozen blood to move through his legs, and he entered Carter's familiar front hall, the warmth of the house hitting him like a ton of bricks on fire. The heat strafed his cheeks and attacked the cold in his fingers with as much diligence as the frigid air had penetrated his skin a second before. From there on after, he would always associate the feeling of warmth with Carter, but he didn't yet realize much of anything as he slipped out of his coat and hung it from the hook near the door. Thank you, he whispered when she grabbed it to keep it from sliding to the floor, and the leather touched the side of her coat next to his on its own hook. He felt the contact like it had burned his own skin, but he did his best to ignore the sensation as he preceded her into a living room that was lit with only a single lamp spilling its dim light over the carpet and furniture crowded into the room.

I'll only be here a minute, he said when she asked if he needed anything from the kitchen. Why don't you take a seat, and get your feet off the floor, he suggested, and took a seat himself on the edge of her coffee table when she sat on her sofa and tucked her legs under her thighs.

Jack sat for a moment, not looking at her, regarding instead his linked hands resting between his legs. Finally, he glanced up, only to have his gaze fall straight into her blue eyes. He struggled to battle against his obvious emotions that he didn't have time to hide, and swallowed noisily.

Sam, he began in a quiet, ragged voice that broke when he tried to speak. Her first name felt strange on his lips, but he was so determined to have his say that he didn't take the time to mark a momentous occasion such as calling her by her first name. He only had a large enough sense of coherence to blurt, I spoke to Daniel on the phone this evening.

Daniel? she asked, immediately confused by the fact that he seemed to think talking to their friend and team mate was a significant event. Why'd you call him?

Nothing's wrong, he said at last, to set her concerns at ease. He told me about the nondisclosure papers that you made him sign, O'Neill bluntly told her.

The effect of those words on Sam was instantaneous and chilling to watch. Her face hardened and her eyes grew so wide that to compare them to dinner plates almost seemed like an oxymoron. He had no right to.., she began.

Jack interrupted her. Don't blame him... He was under extreme duress at the time, he tried to absolve their friend. Daniel didn't tell me a thing... at least, nothing specific. But the fact that you made him sign something like a Nondisclosure Agreement to begin with tells me that you have something you don't wish for the general populace of the base to know. He held up his hand to stop her from explaining to him the second she opened her mouth. Don't.., he said again. You don't have to tell me anything. At least, not now. His hand that was hanging in the air between them was trembling. I have my own ideas about what you want to hide... It doesn't really matter right now... What does matter is how Daniel finally told me what he truly thinks of us and what we should do... do about what... He had to swallow again before he could nervously go on, ... what I think is between us.

Sam sat silently on the sofa for a minute, almost imperceptibly leaning towards where he sat on her coffee table. What did he say? she asked at last in a voice that was so low, it was practically a whisper.

Jack stared straight into her eyes, for once not having the energy to force himself to look away from her. He said that he thinks we're both total idiots for doing what we're doing, that if Sha're were alive and here right now, that nothing would keep them apart... Certainly not a fraternization rule that threatens only to cashier people out of the military, but isn't a danger to life and limb.

To Sam's sucked in breath, Jack was quick to say, I explained right away that I didn't want to put your career on the line like that, and that I think that my own career is not nearly as important as yours. He said that something like a career, something that he could start over again, wouldn't be enough to keep him from her if he were in our situations.

But how could he know? Sam asked, almost under her breath. How could he know what to say in...

I wonder when he got so smart myself, Jack cut her off. That he's so tuned in with what's going on around him. He blinked, then said, I think there's a lot more to what Dr. Jackson is aware of than he ever lets on with his vagueness and distracted manner. Then Jack smiled. Usually, he drives me nuts, but I have to give him credit for pointing out to me that he hoped that what we're doing to each other is worth it in the long run. He sighed, then, and ruffled his fingers through his graying hair. I don't know how you feel about it, and he held up his hand to stop her from speaking again before going on, and I don't want to know, not... not right now. But, for my part, I would have to say that it's not worth anything that we're currently paying right now... Look, Sam, Jack finally said. I don't want to pressure you in any way... Nothing changes, at least nothing at work, and nothing in our personal lives has to change... not unless you want it to, he added in an attempt to allay his own rising sense of panic at his own feelings. He took a shuddering breath, felt the warmth of her house once more, then continued, That's all... that's all that I have to say, he told her. I'm leaving so I won't have the temptation of trying to influence you in any way... It's your decision now... Determinedly, he went on, I'll be at my cabin in Minnesota if you need me for anything... For just a second, Jack allowed himself the luxury of staring at her beautiful face, her deep blue eyes. Then, he rose and moved back to her entryway, grabbed his coat, and, without putting it on, opened her front door and left, leaving her sitting on her sofa in a heap of indecision and confusion.

* * *

After spending the rest of the night deep in thought, at exactly zero six fifty-nine in the morning, Sam knew only one thing for certain; she had promised to marry the wrong man, and she had to tell the General right away... now... immediately... ASAP. Jack, not the General, she reminded herself. But in order to get in touch with Jack, who was incognito at his cabin in Minnesota, a cabin with no known phone connection, she would need directions for how to get there, and for that, she would have to talk to Teal'c. So, the minute she was done thinking after doing nothing else for so long, and had reached the conclusions she had reached, she grabbed the phone receiver off the end table of her sofa in her living room. As quickly as she could, she dialed Teal'c's phone in his room on the base. Just as insistently, it began clanging for attention.

And clanging, and clanging...

No answer.

At zero seven hundred, Sam found herself dialing Daniel's cell phone number without hesitation.

Dr. Jackson, he sleepily answered, then didn't pause before he went on, And if it's you again, Jack, I swear, I'm going to wring your neck for calling me this early, then get a new cell phone number, not necessarily in that order.

Sam couldn't help the smile that lit her face. No, it's not Jack... the General... it's me, Daniel.

Sam? Even through a phone line, Sam could detect the concern in his voice. What are you doing calling me on my cell phone? Is anything wrong? He paused again. Jack wasn't so upset from talking to me yesterday that he got into a car accident, or anything, did he?

God, she hadn't even thought of that! No, not that I know of, Sam answered. And nothing's wrong... That's not it.

Thank goodness. Daniel breathed a sigh of relief, followed by yet another pause. Then why are you calling me on my cell? Doesn't that mean something's up?

Sam strafed her fingers through her hair, and a vivid image of Jack O'Neill doing the same motion with his own hand struck her mind. She tried to better organize her thoughts and turn her attention back to Daniel. Nothing's up that I know of, she apologized, and I'm really sorry to be calling you on your cell phone like this, but...

This conversation isn't about the SGC, is it, Sam? Daniel demanded to know, sounding suddenly suspicious. This is a call that's about the same thing that Jack's call was about yesterday.

Sam didn't respond to Daniel's demand for information. Look, Daniel, I'm sorry to bother you, but is Teal'c there with you, by any chance? Did he spend the night with you? I tried to call him at the base, but he's not answering his phone in his room, and I really need to talk to him.

There was a pause, noise, static, then breathing as Teal'c's voice answered, ColonelCarter.

Teal'c! Sam's relief couldn't have been greater than if he'd just bodily saved her life. I'm so glad that I found you!

Teal'c's voice was dry as he said, So it would seem, ColonelCarter. What is it that you wish to know? Another pause went by, then Teal'c added, And DanielJackson wishes to know what is so important at zero seven hundred in the morning?

Without hesitation herself, Sam blurted, I need to know how to get to the General's cabin in Minnesota! I've never been there, but you have... I don't even know for sure what town it's in...

Teal'c responded, I will gladly recount how to reach his cabin in the woods of Minnesota, but... Here, Teal'c again faltered. Would it not be simpler to just call his own cell phone number? There is always a possibility that he took it with him, now that he is leader of the entire SGC, not just SG-1.

God, Teal'c, that's brilliant! Sam enthused. I'll do that... And remind me to bring you something that's truly chocolate as repayment for such a good idea the next time I see you.

I believe it is you, and not I, who has an abiding love of chocolate, ColonelCarter, Teal'c informed.

But Sam was already too excited by the prospect of calling Jack on his cell phone to think properly through the scenario Teal'c was mentioning. Think of something you need, then! I owe you one!

Sam disconnected the line before he could reply. Then, she dialed Jack's cell number. Heart pounding with trepidation, she waited through five anxious rings before another voice responded.

O'Neill.... and if this is Walter, I swear, I'm in Minnesota and can't come in for... for hours and hours.

Sam chuckled softly at how much he responded like Daniel to early morning phone calls. No, it's not Walter, she said. It's Sam.

There was a pause, the definite sound of bed springs creaking, then Sam?

Um.., Sam said, not sure of what to say next. She finally settled on, I think we need to talk, but not over the phone. I'll come find your house in Minnesota if you tell me how to get there.

There was yet another pause, then Jack said, Uh... You're welcome at my cabin at any time, you know, but... I'm not there.

That was a surprise. Then where the hell are you? she blurted, then reminded herself that she was speaking to a General, after all. Excuse me for the rough language.

S'alright, O'Neill immediately said. And don't you go adding any 'Sir' after that, like I know you want to do.

Sam grinned at his humor. I won't say a word, she promised. At least, not that word. Now, where are you?

Jack hesitated. You promise not to tell anyone? he asked. Not even Daniel or Teal'c?

You have my word... Jack, Sam said. You can tell me and feel fairly certain that you won't be getting an unwanted welcome party in an hour.

There came the low sound of a chuckle over the line as Jack laughed at her own humor. You're sure in a good mood for it being so early in the morning.

I'm always the punchiest after sleepless nights, she answered.

I didn't know that, Jack told her back, as candid as she was being with him.

So, she reminded him. Where are you?

Okay, he responded, I'll tell you, but you're not gonna quite believe this... I'm at home, but no one knows I'm at home. My truck's even in the garage.

Another surprise. I didn't even know that your truck could fit in your garage, Sam remarked.

I spent a whole half hour when I got home last night moving boxes out of the middle of the floor so that it would fit, Jack sheepishly admitted.

So, Sam said, I don't suppose you want my car sitting in your driveway, then, if you don't want anyone to know that you're at home. She curled up again on the sofa, in spite of what she needed to talk to him about. He could make her feel comfortable no matter the situation, she ruminated with a tiny smile.

Uh, no, that's not my first choice, Jack admitted. He thought for a second, then said, Here's an idea... You call a cab, have it drop you off about a block away from my house, walk the rest of the way to my back door, and I'll have a mug of hot coffee waiting for you.

Sam grinned. Okay. I can smell the coffee already. See you in a few minutes. She hung up the phone, then rushed into her bedroom to dress. The fact that she hadn't slept at all, in her bedroom or in any other room of her house, since she'd been dragged from sleep the night before didn't seem to affect her; she felt far too excited to suffer from sleep deprivation now.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, Jack was standing, barefoot, in his kitchen, leaning negligently against the counter, waiting for her to arrive, when Sam started knocking on the sliding glass door that led out onto his back deck. He flipped the lock aside, and let her in while holding out the cup of coffee he had promised her. Grinning in unadulterated delight, she slipped out of the cold outside air and into his bright, warm, sunny kitchen. She was barely inside before she was shrugging out of her coat and gloves.

The second she was free of her cold weather items, Sam took the mug of coffee out of his hands without saying a word, and, still grinning wide enough to make the gesture take over half her face, turned around to set the mug of hot liquid on his counter and her coat and gloves out of the way on the floor. Then, still without a word of hello or explanation, she turned back until she was facing him, and slid straight into his surprised arms, burying her face until she could only breathe the scent that was Jack O'Neill, still clinging to his flannel overshirt.

In the slowly encompassing warmth of solid joy, Jack stood still for just a breathless second, then found that, completely of their own volition, his arms wrapped securely around her waist until he held onto her as tightly as she clung to him. For the first time, Jack breathed in the scent that had always touched her hair and that now teasingly tickled his nose. He spread his fingers through her hair, tenderly rested her forehead against his shoulder, and reveled in the fact that she was, without reservation, finally in his arms.

Jack couldn't help himself; he grinned, too, his own gesture of affection lighting his features. At last, he felt her tilt her head back into his hand as his fingers naturally cradled her head in a soft caress. Still with only their breathing making any noise in his kitchen, he lowered his lips towards hers in a kiss that was slow, deep, loving, and infinitely full of promise. His gut clenched in instant reaction at the feeling of her soft skin against his, and emotion swelled his heart, no matter how much of a cliché it was. He touched the skin of her cheeks, kissed her smooth neck as she craned her head back to give him as much access as possible, and smiled each time he skimmed his lips across her taut skin.

Daniel's right, Sam whispered at last. And, boy, am I glad that he is!

Jack chuckled deep in his chest, laughing with her as she kept grinning. I promise not to tell him, he said in a voice so low that only she could possibly hear.

Then she was kissing his own neck, her lips gliding around the edge of the opening of his t-shirt, immersing her entire face in the smell of his inviting skin, standing on her tip toes so that she could gently nip him in an evergrowing emotional explosion of desire.

Not one to fight the inevitable tug of his own body, Jack felt himself give in to the craving passion rushing through his veins, and he carefully led her to his bedroom and shut the door behind them.

Making love with Jack was incredibly gentle. It was incredibly moving. It was just plain incredible. Sam thought for sure she was going to implode, or explode, or shiver to a death brought on by nothing but pleasure and Jack's loving caresses, his worshipful hands that touched her skin like it was hallowed ground, as if no one had ever tried to affect her before in such a way with strokes so tender that they made her ache for more of the skim of his fingers. The release he brought her to again and again caused her to arch towards him off the bed, to clutch his back with moans of agony, fire, impatience, and wild desire. Her sudden climax came so close on the heels of his that she didn't know whose started first, lasted longest, or stirred whose blood more as the hot waves of sensation brought them both spiraling up to the heighest of heights, only to crash down again in soft pleasure as they each groaned the other's name through teeth clenched so tightly that only soft sighs of total fulfillment could filter through their barriers. Sam couldn't think of a time that she had been so relaxed, or so fulfilled, or so in love that it had wrought such exquisite emotion in her.

Still joined as one, Jack and Sam lay on his bed, unmoving, as they each panted for breath and attempted to recover from such a strong demonstration of emotion. When the sounds of breathing had evened out in the room, when the heaves for air weren't so obvious, Jack gazed at Sam, smiled softly, then kissed her lingeringly on her cheek before he rested his own forehead against hers. There are a few details that we should take the time to sort out, now, he whispered, reluctant to break the quiet inside the calm house.

Sam knew he was right, even if she was just as disinclined to speak as he was. She let a few beats of her heart pass between them before saying, As much as I don't want to deal with anything even remotely unpleasant, I know that you're right. She paused, staring straight into his brown eyes. I'm in love with you, and that creates something of a... a problem, she whispered at last.

Jack was not so cautious as she was; his voice was much firmer when he said, You are so what I've spent my entire life looking for, Sam... I can't even begin to try to explain to you what I'm feeling right now... so much love that it's almost embarrassing...

She grinned, then shifted under him so that she could breathe more easily. I know what you mean, she interrupted him. But there's definitely something we can't hide from for long... Something, or someone...

Pete, Jack grimly said. I noticed the second you stepped trough my back door that you're not wearing your engagement ring... Not that wearing something like that would have exactly been... He tried to remain diplomatic and fair, though talking about Sam's fincée had always caused the worst case of nausea to stir in his stomach. It wouldn't have exactly been appropriate, he finally settled on, in this instance.

No, Sam said, so firmly that she surprised Jack a bit. I didn't think it was appropriate, either, and that's what I spent a great deal of the night thinking about, she told him. Sleeping with you was not much of a consideration for me, really... Showing you how I truly feel... There was nothing that I wanted more, she declared, then continued, But that I was engaged to another man entirely than the one that... I... I just couldn't deny it any longer. It was something for me to think very seriously about. She swallowed, uncomfortable with the things she had to say, but knowing that she had to say them, anyway. I had to... had to accept a lot of things about myself that I didn't want to admit to, she finally went on, still whispering. Then she looked straight into his eyes again. I want you to know that the visit you gave me last night brought about a really unpleasant, but necessary, time for me.

Jack grimaced into the intoxicating skin along her left shoulder. I certainly didn't intend to make things unpleasant for you, he said to her.

I'm glad you did, she quickly soothed. It made me think through what I had been avoiding thinking about for a long time. She considered what her life of the last few months had been like. It's as if I've been trapped in a fog, or a mist, and you finally showed me the way out. I should be grateful to you, actually. She paused again. I am grateful, to be honest.

Jack shook his head back and forth. No, please, never feel grateful to me... I was motivated by nothing but purely selfish needs the entire time...

Sam suddenly smiled. She hugged him close. I'm so glad that you were able to become selfish at last, she declared. One of us had to. I only wish that Pete didn't have to be hurt in the process... I guess I'm something of an idiot for getting myself and him into such a mess in the first place.

Jack grinned back at her. You are many things, Samantha Carter, and I love all of those personality quirks of yours, but you are not an idiot.

Sam laughed. Pete will surely think so when I give his ring back to him in just a few hours.

Jack sent her a questioning look. You're sure you want to do that? he forced himself to ask.

Sam grinned again. I've already decided to do just that... long before I came over here. He looked at her in inquisition once more. How can I marry you if I'm engaged to somebody else? she asked.

Jack appeared as if what she had said shocked the hell out of him. Not much shocked Jack O'Neill anymore. You want to get married?

She hugged him once more, and he settled happily into his tight embrace. She grinned. I'm not letting you go after this, she said. There are far too many women in the Air Force who think that you're as hot as they come for me to want to set you loose in the SGC again.

Jack still stared in surprise. He'd never thought of himself as 'hot' before. You mean you want to get married now? he asked.

Today, she said, nodding. Or as soon as possible. If you get a license while I do... She swallowed guiltily again, but continued, While I break things off with Pete...

You want me to come with you? he asked. Be there for moral support?

But Sam shook her head. I could never do that to you, force you to watch something like that. It should be my job entirely. After all, she said, I got myself into this mess with him... I need to get myself out of it again.

But, you know, if he sets you free and we get married, there won't be any big wedding at such short notice, Jack protested.

All the better, she insisted. There's nothing we need to keep quieter throughout the SGC than us being married. She halted in order to think once more. I could never be the cause of somehow hurting your career, she told him.

Jack had to respond to such a blunt statement. I always thought that it would be me hurting your career someday, he said. Mine hardly seems important right now.

It's as important as mine is, she insisted. And don't you ever forget that, she said, firmly touching the end of her fingers to his cheek hanging above her.

Jack smiled. I don't intend to ever forget anything about you, he said, then kissed her one last time.

* * *

That day was a Tuesday. The second Sam crept back in his door again, Jack handed her a mug of coffee that she immediately set aside on his counter in order to hug him tighter than he ever imagined that she could hug.

It's done, was all she told him. Let's celebrate.

Jack laughed, but kissed her on the lips when she was finished speaking. I'm finished, too, and you need to sign the application in order for us to get a marriage certificate, and we're never going to get to drink our morning coffee at this rate. But he didn't seem to mind.

On Wednesday, Jack took the first day off he'd taken all year, and they were married in a civil ceremony that literally no one who worked in the SGC was aware of. They even grabbed two witnesses whom they had never met before from the crowd of marriage wannabes in the court's waiting room.

Jack set out to thoroughly enjoy his day off in order to 'celebrate' for as long as Sam wanted to.

* * *

Four months later:

General Jack O'Neill rolled over to his side in his bed and grinned at Sam Carter O'Neill's form as the sleepiness left his system and she came into better focus. Hi, he said, and grinned.

Sam smiled back at him. Hi, she whispered, and gave him a kiss on his lips.

Jack sighed with a happy grin on his face, and hugged her, hard. Can you believe it's been four months already? I keep pinching myself so that I can make sure I'm not just dreaming. He released her, but only because he could hear that her breathing had become labored while she had been pressed up against his chest.

It's real, Sam assured when she as able to, her grin turning slightly more serious. There's nothing dreamy, though, about the way we've had to treat each other at work for...

Jack interrupted her. ... for the last eight and a half years? he guessed.

Sam smiled once more. I was going to say 'for the last four months,' but you're right in that we had to pretend for a good deal longer than that when we were around each other.

And now it's so much nicer when we pretend than it used to be, Jack announced. Thanks be to Daniel.

Sam couldn't disagree with him. You're right about that, too, she said, laughed, and didn't argue. But, pretending aside, we need to get a move on... You have both SG-12 and SG-1 to see off this morning, and we're due in to the mountain... She glanced at the clock on the table beside the bed. In forty-five minutes... That's just enough time to...

Jack interrupted her again. Just enough time for me to show my appreciation for the last four months, he said, and, grinning, moved closer to her so that he could kiss her more deeply than before.

With no reservations, Sam answered his endearment, which led to other, more intriguing endearments, that, in turn, made the time go by so fast that Jack was late arriving at the SGC, and she was even later, having first to run to her house to drive her own car down to the base at Cheyenne Mountain.

Still, Sam was suited up in full military vest and holding tightly to her weapon as she stood between Daniel and Teal'c at the bottom of the ramp to wait for the Stargate to engage thirty minutes after her rather precipitous arrival at the SGC. She glanced up at the control room and swept her gaze across its personnel as they all scrambled to see their teams off in a timely and safe fashion. If her gaze lingered just a fraction longer on her commanding General's form, no one noticed except Jack. He leaned in closer to the microphone that was wired into the Embarkation Room just as the Stargate finally activated at the correct address for P3C-271. Good luck, SG-1, he said, and looked at his old team members before they left on their scheduled mission. Bring us back a souvenir... I'm thinking of one of those shirts that say 'so and so went to P3C-271 and all I got was this lousy t-shirt,' he suggested, and they all laughed in a final farewell.

Will do, Carter called anyway, and, grinning at the ribbing nature of the command from the General, followed her team members up the slanted ramp and into the Stargate.

* * *

Jack, Sam, Walter, Lieutenant Davis, Daniel, Teal'c ... no one... Not one of them expected that, souvenir t-shirts aside, this might very well be the last time the members of SG-1 would be seen by anyone in the SGC.

* * *

It was five hours beyond the scheduled time for SG-1 to return to the base, and Jack was caught standing behind the bank of computers, close but not in the way of the technicians and computer experts hovering around the dialing computer as they once again tried to connect to the 'Gate on P3C-271.

Chevron five encoded! Walter sang out.

Jack started biting the nail of his right thumb in an unconscious display of nerves that would hopefully help to make the 'Gate work this time.

Chevron six encoded! Walter continued.

Jack closed his eyes, hoping against hope, a tide of feelings surging inside his chest.

Chevron seven... will not lock, Walter reported as his light tone changed to one that sounded much more dismal.

Jack felt his heart plunge to his toes at Walter's words. But he couldn't show the sense of infinite disappointment he felt that the operation to contact his missing team hadn't worked again. Swallowing his mounting fear, he looked at his aid through eyes that he hoped didn't show the despair he was currently feeling. We'll try again in half an hour, he said while his fingers clutched at his shirt hem, twisting it into only a semblance of its normally crisp lines.

Sir, Walter said to catch Jack's attention while the General fought to retain his neatral expression; the struggle he was under was showing on his face in spite of his best efforts to keep all emotion hidden. Sir, Walter repeated, President Hayes just called again to ask if we were having any better luck at finding the team, but if we weren't, to move to a schedule of hourly checks for...

Thirty minutes, Walter! Jack barked as he momentarily caved in to his inner turmoil. That's my order! Then, he closed his eyes to concentrate on reigning in his growing temper... his mounting sense of helplessness... at the situation. He couldn't let anyone know that he was more concerned about the sudden disappearance of his flagship team than a man should be worried over the strange disappearance of his three best friends. If someone guessed that the absence of a certain member of that team was causing him more concern than was believable... Until we're ordered otherwise, I want that 'Gate dialed for 271 every half hour, on the half hour, he said in a much more modulated tone of voice than he had used before. He heaved a breath. We need to do all that we can while we can do it, he added. We can do little enough as it is. Then, before he could give anyone an appropriate reason to scrutinize his face even more than they already had stared at it that day, he strode to the stairs leading up a level to the Briefing Room and his office. I'll be upstairs if you need me, he said quietly. I have briefings to attend.

Jack left the bustling room behind. Quiet descended, and only the click of his heels on the steps echoed through the stairwell, and even that noise vanished as he reached the carpet of the Briefing Room. Only, he had no intention of waiting for SG-12 in the Briefing Room's comfortable leather chairs. The group of five individuals would just give their final report on PC4-whatever, anyway, and he already knew basically all that had happened to them while on their last mission. So, Jack continued on right into his office, and shut the heavy door, having to force himself not to slam the unoffending portal behind him.

Jack sank into his office chair, lowered his head to his crossed arms on the desktop, and for just a minute, gave in to the panic flowing through his heart. Oh, God, Sam was gone... on a planet at the other side of the galaxy... they couldn't connect the 'Gates together... SG-1 might be lost for good... Daniel... Teal'c... Sam... Sam... Sam...

But Jack indulged in the sensation of panic for only a moment. Then, as he had in the Control Room, he took a firm grip on his emotions, and pulled himself together. One thing he didn't need was the threat of someone figuring out the reason behind his additional anxiety, added to his concern about SG-1's whereabouts because he was no longer concealing the true state of his and Sam's relationship. He and Sam had done such a fine job misleading the entire SGC as to the current state of their association with each other that even the rumors about them had halted, and rumors concerning them had been flying throughout the base for eight years... He had no desire to waste all his and Sam's past hard work to remain distant while at the mountain, no matter how close they might have gotten while on their mutual time off. Besides, this wasn't the first time something had obviously gone wrong with one of SG-1's missions, even during the few months the team had been under his direct command. They would find a way out of this trouble as well.

Jack took a vise grip on his emotions, then was ready to face the scheduled briefing of SG-12 after all. But his distress was already becoming an undeniable part of his mind, one that he had to keep hidden at all costs unless he wanted to face a court-martial as well as an absent team.

* * *

A week later, and still with no trace of SG-1, and not able to connect to the 271 Stargate, that sense of distress in Jack's brain was beginning to leak out when he least expected it to. But all the personnel around him pretended they didn't notice the intense strain he was under. Ever since the President had ordered the SGC to curtail their search for the missing SG-1 to one dial of the 'Gate per day, Jack's mood had started to slowly deteriorate a bit at a time. His voice became rougher, as if he wasn't getting his required amount of sleep, and his suggestions grew into orders, even when he was only getting coffee for Walter and himself in the Commissary. Jack was so gruff that as many people as possible stayed out of his way while he glowered and skulked around the corridors of the SGC, doing his job, but just barely.

By the end of the second week of SG-1's unscheduled absence, Jack didn't even try to pretend that he didn't feel any more concern than a General would feel for any missing team under his command. It was fairly obvious that something more was going on according to the haggard expression he showed to the rest of his employees. The rumors about him and Carter zinged around the base again, but for once he didn't mind, as he hid in his office or stared at the star chart he'd had moved to an unobtrusive corner of the Control Room the weekend before. Jack tried not to show the current state of his feelings, but it was becoming more difficult each day.

SG-1 had been missing for two weeks and one day by the time Jack dropped again into the chair in front of the star chart and stared at it with tired eyes that crossed, and refused to stay focused on the chart before him. He had just tried to catch a short nap in his quarters, as the doctors had ordered him to do, but within fifteen minutes, it was clear that sleep was going to remain as elusive as SG-1 presently was. He figured that time spent staring at the star chart was just as relaxing as a forced nap would be, so he once again found himself staring at the familiar configuration of stars, binary numbers, and the connecting circles that Carter had loved so much.

Jack stared, but his brain refused to process the numbers delineating the planets as separate entities from one another. The only thing he could concentrate on at this point was the planet that Carter had 'Gated to with her team, and how very far it was from Earth, located at the center of the chart. The rest of the planets had long since become just numbers and dots on a board of clear plastic to him, not even really registering in his exhausted subconscious any more.

That pall of weariness and despair threatened to encompass Jack as he sat and stared at the chart. He could see the black, foggy sensation of complete depression wavering at the edges of his control. He firmly pushed back the feeling, recognizing it as the self destruction that it promised to become, but he didn't know how much longer he could resist that haze. He did his best to stave off its allure, but he could feel what the loss of his favorite team, to say nothing of his personal loss of Sam, was ultimately doing to him. It was sapping his energy and will to live a little bit more every day.

That was how Siler found him, hunched in a chair and staring uselessly at a star chart that was only inches from his face. Unlike most of the SGC employees, Siler had known Jack for so many years that he found himself a member of a small group of people who could actually still talk to the General and not expect to be yelled at or further reduced to tears at daring to bother him with details of his job.

Siler paused, stared at the star chart, then sent O'Neill a sympathetic look. Can you show me where Sg-1 'Gated to, again? he requested, as if he couldn't quite recall the exact location.

Jack pointed at the dot representing P3C-271. He didn't say anything, but it didn't pass by his wandering attention, either, that Siler had chosen to request the location of the entire team rather than Sam's personal position in the galaxy. But it was almost a foregone conclusion at this point that he and Carter were an 'item,' despite the often referred to Air Force fraternization regulations.

Siler shifted the wrench he was carrying to his other hand as he leaned in closer to peer at the appropriate dot on the chart. You know, he conversationally noted as he continued staring. I have no idea why those government types chose to label everything with these funny numbers instead of the names of the planets themselves... Numbers are so hard to remember.

That's what I've always thought, Jack told him. But no one ever listened to me... until I became a General, and now they all listen to everything I say a little too much, Jack said, his natural sense of sarcasm sounding even stronger in their corner of the Control Room.

Siler smiled at what Jack had said. Feel a bit like you're under the spyglass lately, Sir? he kindly asked.

Jack grinned a rare grin, and nodded.

I don't blame you, Siler compassionately told him. It's enough to make a grown man forget what he knows, he continued. For example, it would be easy to forget that this dot here, and he pointed with one finger at a dot on the star chart, then went on in his nonchalant tone, is really close to P3C-271, in space terms. And he gestured at 271 on the chart, And that this first dot is that place Jonas Quinn is from... What was it called? Kelowna... that's it.

Jack stared for a breathless second. What did Siler just say? he asked himself. That Kelowna is extremely close to the dot representing P3C-271 that I've been staring at for weeks?

Jack slowly edged upwards in his chair and stared even closer. The dot that Siler was pointing to, the planet called Kelowna, was actually quite near to the dot that was labeled P3C-271, nearer than Jack had first thought.

Siler went on, And as we have a space ship at our disposal... We do, don't we..? One would have to wonder why the heck we don't just send someone through the Stargate inside that starship that we got from the Ancients, then fly to P3C-271 and find out what's going on with SG-1... But, like you said, General, no one asks me what to do, and the government claims to know what's best, so...

Siler, Jack croaked as he stared at the chart before him. He hadn't used his voice in so long that it was growing creakier every day. Then he whipped his head around to gaze at the technician. You. Are. A. Genius.

Siler smiled. I know, he said. But, as I was saying, nobody admits that, so...

Jack interrupted him again by jumping up from his chair as if he'd been shocked in the seat of his pants. Then, he grabbed hold of Siler's arms, making him drop his wrench to the floor. It's right next to Kelowna! he yelled.

Siler stared at him as if he was stating something that was so obvious that it had to have been a previously accepted fact. Still in a tone of confused nonchalance, he said, I know. That's what I just told you.

Jack continued to stare at the star chart, at Siler, and at the star chart again, his mouth hanging open just a bit as his sense of awe grew to fill the room. Siler...! You genius..! You..! But Jack couldn't finish what he was trying to say. Walter! he barked all of a sudden, so loudly that his tone made everyone in the Control Room jump.

Sir? Walter asked, swiveling his chair to stare at his General.

Have the ship, that one we got from the Ancients, sent to the Embarkation Room! Now! Jack demanded like a man possessed. Paper... I need paper, he muttered, and Walter shoved a yellow legal pad of paper and a pen at him before he left the Control Room to supervise the moving of a very large, though small, though... Oh!

Jack whipped back towards the technician standing beside him as Walter hurried to fulfill the order he'd been given. Siler, said Jack to the technician as the man bent to retrieve his rather large wrench that had fallen to the floor, I owe you one.

But, I didn't do anything! Siler protested, appearing even more confused.

But Jack had already moved away, out of the Control Room, aiming for his office and a red phone, determined to call the President to tell him of this news and what he planned to do about his latest information before he assigned a team of people ready to help him 'Gate to Kelowna.

* * *

Food, enough for three months, for five people, Jack wrote on the top line of the yellow paper he'd been handed. As he scribbled, he continued his conversation with the President of the United States. That's right... I intend to take the ship we got from the Ancients and 'Gate to Kelowna, grab Jonas Quinn... he's an old friend... then fly for a month or so to P3C-271, where I hope to find the members of SG-1. Replacement General needed while I'm gone... for about three months, Jack wrote next.

Won't you be gone for a long time if you do all that? President Hayes inquired.

Jack heaved a sigh. I don't personally care how long I'm gone, Sir... I have to let you know that if I have to steel that ship, I intend to take it through the 'Gate... But, I admit, this would be a lot easier mission if I have your go ahead first.

SG-1 means that much to you? the President ascertained.

Sir, Jack firmly stated, that group of individuals has saved this planet more times than I can count... I know it seems like a big operation for only three people, but...

Suddenly, the President laughed. You don't have to convince me, Jack, he said. I know everything that you've already said. General Hammond, who's here with me now, in fact, just explained the importance of SG-1 to me in order to beg me to do something about them.

Jack sighed again, this time in relief. Well, you can tell him that it was Sergeant Siler who came up with this rescue plan that...

There was a pause on the line, then the President's voice was replaced by the sound of George Hammond's incredulous bark of, Siler?

Jack found himself fighting an instinctual straightening of his spine when he heard that particular voice. Yeah, Jack admitted. I think I at least owe him a steak or something...

Or a lifetime of steaks, Hammond corrected him.

Jack chuckled. You got that right.

Listen, Jack, Hammond interrupted. Bring them home safe and sound, he ordered.

Jack grinned, his first real smile in weeks. Oh, boy, I intend to, Sir, he said.

* * *

Walter? Jack asked next into the much more often used SGC phone resting on his desk. Which SG combat team is currently here on base, but not assigned to other duties?

A few seconds went by as Walter accessed the schedule on his computer. SG-8, he answered.

Page them and have them come to the Briefing Room, Jack ordered.

Oh, and Sir? Walter said quickly, arresting Jack's already wandering attention. The Ancient's ship is already in the Embarkation Room, the aid told the General. Blocking traffic in and out of the Stargate, he ruefully added.

Jack grinned again, glad to have something different to worry about at last. Good... thank you, Walter. Now fill it with enough food and water for five people for three months, then put two packs with two changes of clothes in that ship, as well as sleeping bags and whatever else you think we might need.

Don't forget to gather together something to keep you busy for several months, Walter told him. Though Jonas can be fascinating when he wants to be, space can get pretty darned boring in such long stretches as you say you're planning on flying through.

Good thinking, Jack said, and wrote the suggestion down on his ever lengthening list on the pad of paper. Will do.

On my end, too, Walter said. The grin he was wearing sounded in the tone of his voice coming over the phone line.

Not for the first time did Jack think that he was lucky to have such an organized and cheerfull aid as Walter Harriman. He really ran the SGC, whether he admitted it or not. Get that food and water, Jack reminded, though he knew no reminder was necessary, then hung up. A minute later, the page for SG-8 came over the loudspeakers, and Jack rose to meet the four man team in the Briefing Room.

Gentleman, Jack greeted as he took a seat in the leather chair at the head of the table. We have no mission report for you to look at because there wasn't time to write one. Here's what I want you to do: 'Gate to Kelowna with me in the Ancient's ship, fight off any threats we might encounter when we get there as I talk to the Chancellor... President... High Minister... Prime Minister... head honcho guy... I can never remember what that man is called... in charge of the country of Langarra and convince him and the other two leaders of Kelownan countries not to fire on my ship long enough for me to leave Kelownan air space in order to reach P3C-271... hopefully with Jonas Quinn along for the ride... I'll go nuts without anyone to talk to... and then 'Gate back here to the SGC on your own. You'll probably be back by the end of the day, if all goes well. Four men nodded once at him. Good, they were as businesslike and brusque as he was. I'll need two vests, two P-90s, and two sleep rolls.

We'll find them in the Armory as we suit up, promised Colonel Irlin, the leader of the group.

Good. That's all. General O'Neill rose, pushing his chair back so far and so energetically that it almost hit the wall behind him. You have ten minutes before we leave. Dismissed.

* * *

And then, they were through the Stargate, the ship leaving nothing behind but fumes and memories and wishes of success.

Jack, too, fervently hoped for success as he left on the first leg of a mission to, hopefully, find his old team members, as well as his wife.

* * *

Kelowna was exactly as Jack remembered it being from the first time he'd been there, before Daniel's ascension due to radiation poisoning. He figured that the Langarran government owed him for that attempted smear on Daniel's record, at least, and he intended to 'gently remind' the population of Langarra what had transpired when Earth saved their butts during Sg-1's first visit to their planet, and what the attempted governmental cover-up had ultimately done in order to get what he wanted. Sam's life hung in the balance of whatever occurred in the next half hour, he reminded himself.

Such dire circumstances as threatening to blare the truth about the attempt to hush up the circumstances of Daniel's unfortunate ascension wasn't necessary, though, as the man in charge of the entire Langarran population promised to see Jack immediately, and sent for the presence of Jonas Quinn the second Jack requested to talk to him. The General and the current High Minister were sitting in office chairs, conversationally catching up on the happenings of the last few months when Jonas suddenly burst into the office.

He wore his hair slicked back again, much in the same way as Jack had first seen him, and the maroon colored radiation vest he had been wearing hung negligently from his finger tips as he said, High Minister, you wanted to... Then, he caught site of the General, and interrupted himself to blurt, Colonel O'Neill... Jack! This is a surprise! He embraced his former team commander with exuberance. What brings you here? he asked, a smile on his face. Just a visit?

Jack peered at Jonas' figure for a moment, wondering how best to phrase his request. How much could he tell this enthusiastic young alternate from his team? he wondered. It was true that Jonas had once been a member of SG-1, but he was no longer a member of the SGC... Did that make him privy to all the information Jack could tell him, since it didn't really matter how much he knew? Or was it just better all around for him to keep his mouth shut about the status Sam played in her General's life? Still undecided, for the moment, at least, he chose to slowly shake his head back and forth. No, not exactly a visit, he said.

Not exactly? Jonas echoed. He was completely confused now, and his face showed his emotions like a book set wide open for Jack to read: Jonas never could keep a lid on his feelings the way that his former leader could. Jack had always been able to see what Jonas was thinking the second he set his eyes on him.

It had been a useful enough ability... Many people thought that Jack was a mind reader as well as leader of SG-1, Jonas included. But now, hiding the skill for what it was served little purpose to Jack, so he explained, First thing's first: There's been a slight change in the command of the SGC... I'm a General now, and don't lead SG-1 any longer because I'm in charge of the entire SGC.

Jonas looked delighted the minute the news left Jack's mouth. The whole SGC! he exclaimed. Wow! So you're the big man behind the desk now!

Jack looked a little red in the face as he said, Yeah, scary, isn't it? But Jonas was already capturing him for another congratulatory hug. Actually, that's what I'm here about, Jack went on to explain over Jonas' natural exuberance.

Jonas took a step back. What do you mean?

Jack decided that the entire story would have to be relayed in order to convince the Langarran government to cooperate. To make a long story short, SG-1 has been missing on P3C-271 for two or so weeks. The planet is about a month away from Kelowna by ship, a ship that I have with me, and only I can fly... long story, he said to Jonas' expression of curiosity upon hearing that statement. Let's just say that I'm on a rescue mission, a mission of mercy.

You have my most sincere wishes as to your success, of course, said Jonas, But, what does that have to do with me, if you don't mind my asking?

Jack sighed. Okay, here's what I need, he said. I need you, and he turned to the High Minister, to tell the other countries on this planet not to incinerate me the minute I show up on their satellite probes and blow me and my ship from the sky. Then, he turned back to Jonas Quinn. And I wanted to know if you'd like to come with me? The planet of P3C-271 will take a month to reach, give or take a few weeks. But it's a hell of a lot closer to Kelowna than it is to Earth, and it would make me eternally grateful if I can leave from here instead of returning to Earth without SG-1 again. We don't even know what happened to them, or if their even still alive. Here, Jack had to swallow hard, as the panic he had only pushed to the side of his conscious mind took over once more for a terrifying moment.

You want me to come with you? Jonas asked, to make certain he was hearing correctly.

Jack nodded. It would be nice, Jack almost reluctantly admitted... He hated to ask anybody for anything... It was a humbling feeling that he didn't like; to have to admit that he owed something to somebody... it left a sour taste in his mouth. And he was already in debt up to his ears to Siler, Daniel, and Sam herself... He didn't know how he felt about asking Jonas to accompany him to P3C-271, but he did know that he would rather have his company than spend a month, give or take a week or two, all by himself with only his worries for entertainment. He might drive himself insane in only a week! So he continued, in spite of the inherent threat of adding a debt to Jonas Quinn, It would be nice, he repeated, if you could come with me, and, sort of, keep me company. Then he hurried to add, But you shouldn't feel like you have to go, or anything... Man, this was why he hated diplomatic missions full of emotion... That emotion was bound to get in the way of good ol' black and white common sense at the best of times.

But, to his surprise, Jonas was nodding his head before Jack had even finished speaking. Of course I'll come with you. He turned to the High Minister. High Minister, if I may speak plainly..? he requested.

The High Minister tersely nodded once.

Jonas went on. What we almost did to Daniel Jackson should be enough to convince us that I need to go on this mission, as the officially delegated representative of Kelowna, if nothing else.

Jack interjected. This whole trip is a dud unless you agree to let us leave in peace.

Jonas said, And these are the members of my old team. He glanced at Jack. My friends, if you will. His glance then slid to the High Minister. We owe it to them.

Jack was certain to say to Jonas, And I owe you one if you decide to go... I mean, who knows what we'll find when we get there?

Jonas smiled. Another vat of bubbling liquids full of snakesheads, maybe?

Jack grimaced. I hope not.

The High Minister sighed, filling the room with the sound. You didn't choose the best of times to come to our fair planet, he said. This is the time every year when myself and the leaders of the other two countries of Kelowna come together and discuss planetary peace... That is, we discuss it if we can avoid ripping each other apart.., he added.

Jack was quick to jump in, Then I offer you the diplomatic skills of Dr. Jackson as mediator, if we find him alive and well on P3C-271.

Mediator? questioned the High Minister in a skeptical way. Dr. Jackson?

Yeah, Jack went on, you know, skinny guy, knows about a zillion languages, you tried to frame him for sabotage a few years ago?

The less said on that subject, the better, the High Minister reiterated.

Yes, Jack agreed, letting the High Minister off easily. I would hate to have to bring that up again.

The High Minister stared at him. Is that a threat? he finally asked.

Of course it isn't, Jack assured. Just know that I haven't exactly forgotten our past... dealings, he finally settled on.

Boy, Jonas thoughtfully said then. You have changed a bit.

You have no idea, Jack said, while he kept his eye on the High Minister. To him, he said, I think we understand the way things can become unless we proceed with caution and common sense.

Mediator, the High Minister firmly repeated, the expression on his face changing from worried to feigned delight as Jack's words sank in. We would be overjoyed to have Dr. Jackson listen to the grievances between our planetary governments.

Jack shrugged with his shoulders. That is, if he wants to have anything to do with Kelowna at all... And that's if we even find him alive... Anything can have happened to them... Then, he said, I don't want to promise anything here, exactly...

Jonas smiled again. But you'll promise anyway, he guessed.

For Sam? Jack asked himself. I'd promise to give you our moon, but I don't own it... yet, he said.

At least the short meeting ended with all three men laughing at the General's parting joke.

* * *

By that evening, Jack had the verbal promises of all the Kelownan governments that they would not blow the Ancient space ship out of the sky if it tripped the planetary satellite sensors... Jack wished that Sam was with him to keep track of all the technological mumbo jumbo being flung left and right, but he had to rely on Jonas Quinn to comprehend what was actually being said and translate it accordingly... Sam Carter's presence had rarely been so sorely missed.

But, SG-8 was sent back through the gate with the good faith promise that nothing would happen to Jack's ship, and Jonas Quinn had all but been ordered to accompany him on the month long voyage... Which secretly suited Jack perfectly...

The moment the two former team members found themselves completely alone as Jack went through the preflight procedures of warming up the Ancient ship's engines, he conversationally said, I wasn't exactly up front with you back in the High Ministers' chambers...

Jonas sent Jack a look that indicated that he had suspected something like this would happen. Okay, he said to Jack, employing the Earth English slang without even looking like he realized he was doing it: Teal'c would have been proud of him. Out with it... What are you talking about?

Well, Jack said as the Ancient ship took off from its landing site, hovered for a second, then shot up into the air. The black of space quickly took the place of Kelowna's blue atmosphere. We are looking for Sg-1, he told Jonas. And they have been lost for two weeks. And we can't raise them by Stargate, which is why we need your help in the first place...

Jack, Jonas interjected. Just tell me.

You remember Sam Carter? Jack asked.

How could I forget her? Jonas asked back. Blonde, brilliant, but I never understood half of what she said. He shrugged, then shifted and crossed his legs, staring out the front window as he contemplated the inky depth of the surrounding space. What about her?

Well, Jack went on in a smaller voice. About four months ago, I married her.

Jonas could only blink at his former commander. You what?

She's my wife, Jack said as blandly as he could in the hopes of downplaying the importance of this information he was giving to Jonas. But then he added, So you can see how much is riding on the success of this mission.

I'm beginning to, Jonas slowly conceded.

If I don't get her back, I'll go nuts, Jack calmly stated. Then he regarded Jonas. Of course, you know that this all has to be kept very quiet... I don't think Teal'c and Daniel even know about it...

You never told them? Jonas queried.

Jack blew out a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. I think they suspect... But no, we haven't told even them.

Why not? Jonas blurted.

Because, Jack tried to explain, the minute we tell anybody, we have to expect them to tell somebody else, no matter how good their intentions are at the beginning...

But you just told me, Jonas protested.

I know, Jack said, nodding. But you aren't from Earth, he pointed out. You don't often show up in the SGC, therefore, the damage you can cause is minimal.

Unless I say something to Dr Jackson, Jonas pointed out.

Very conversationally, Jack continued, You say one word to him about any of this, and I will personally rip your insides out through your ass... Make myself clear? he said with a smile.

Jonas blanched a bit at the image of what Jack was promising to do. I won't say a word, he said.

Good. Jack turned back around as the first of the defense satellite orbiting stations came into view on their scanners. I'm glad we had this little chat, then.

Are there any more 'little chats?' Jonas asked. Like, Teal'c's not your long lost child, or anything?

Jack sent Jonas a look that could have curdled eggs. No! Tealc's older than I am, for crying out loud!

I missed you yelling the phrase, if you can believe it, Jonas told him. It's good to have you back, if only for a little while.

The cockpit area of the ship was shrouded in their silence. Then, Kelownan space eventually gave way to the deepnees of the point of 'no turning back.' Finally Jack muttered to Jonas, It's good to have you back, too. Sam would have been proud of such an emotional outburst from him if she had been there.

Jack settled in next to Jonas in the pilot's chair. No matter how good the company was, it was going to be a long month.

* * *

One month and half a week later:

It was evident what had happened to the Stargate from the minute that Jack and Jonas dropped into orbit of the planet the Earth government had designated P3C-271. It showed up as a strong signal on their long range scanners, but seemed to be lying on its side on the ground...

That's not much help to Sg-1, Jonas commented right off as the hilly terrain came onto their screen, showing quite plainly that the Stargate was intact, but uselessly lying on its side.

So near, and yet so far, Jack said under his breath at the discovery. Then, he didn't have time to mumble anything, as the population of the planet made itself known with the first cracklings of a staticky message.

This is the planet Colar... We have nothing of value except friendship... Come in peace and you are welcome... Then the message was repeated again in one language that neither he nor Jonas understood, followed by a second language, followed by a third...

Where is Daniel's skinny little butt when I need it? Jack muttered as he listened.

Sounds like a recorded message, Jonas said. You know, in an unmanned welcoming beacon, or something.

Yeah, Earth has a similar thing floating around in our solar system, Jack admitted. But it's sort of like saying 'Here we are, come get us' if you ask me.

Jonas glanced at Jack as he slipped back into the co-pilot's chair. Boy, you are getting paranoid, he commented.

Jack smiled at that statement. Thank you; it's all just part of the job, he said.

They entered the planet's atmosphere, after a rather heated debate as to whether or not the orbiting message indicated the presence of satellite capabilities. Then they decided that they would just have to risk being detected by unfriendlies and land the ship anyway. So Jack set the ship down in a clearing of trees... There's always trees, Jack noted... near a large city like structure that filled their viewscreen with light from the moment they broke orbit.

Cautiously, Jack checked the air again, recalling to himself that it had been months since the MALP'S first atmospheric readings, and a lot could have happened in that allotted time period. Only when the ship's sensors claimed that it was a perfectly breathable atmosphere to Earth lifeforms did Jack lower the aft ramp to the let the first outside air it had touched in a month to wash through the ship.

Well, it wasn't the oxygen that got them, Jack claimed as he stood up from his place in the pilot's seat and strapped a P-90 across his chest. You ready? he asked his companion.

Jonas nodded.

Then let's go, Jack said, and stepped hesitantly onto the first alien soil his boots had felt in almost a year. It was good to breath fresh air again, and walk on exotic soil once more. He hadn't realized how much he had missed it until he was actually doing it again.

Jack and Jonas had only been walking for a few moments when the rustle of the nearby vegetation told Jack that they were being watched and followed. He motioned for Jonas to catch up to him, then whispered, We've got company.

Jonas glanced warily at the surrounding bushes. How do you know? he asked.

Jack glanced along with him. Besides the rustling in the bushes? he asked. Following us is exactly what I would do in the same situation.

Jonas shook his head even as he grasped his P-90 closer. You're letting your paranoid tendencies take over.

Hey, Jack softly protested. It's because I'm so paranoid that SG-1 had such a good record.

Sad, isn't it? Jonas asked. But, there's no indication that these bush-rustling individuals are dangerous, he pointed out.

Jack responded, I never said they were dangerous, though it's good to make some early assumptions on what I know... After all, SG-1 was lost when they met these people, he pointed out, himself. The least we can do is...

Assume the worst, and go from there, Jonas finished for him, sounding like he was quoting an often repeated mantra.

Jack spared a second to glance in his direction. Hey, I'm rubbing off on you, he said in a surprised voice. That's what spending a month together will do for you. Then, not giving Jonas a chance to answer, he raised his voice and said, Hey, you guys out there! We don't mean anything... We're just here looking for some friends of ours... I don't suppose you know where they are?

Jonas piped up then in a much quieter voice, And I don't suppose they speak English...

Sure we do, informed the man who stepped from the trees, brandishing what looked like a good representation of this planet's version of a gun. Jack swiveled his own gun around until it was pointing directly at the speaker. We just don't want to assume anything until we know otherwise, he said.

The man was quickly joined by a group of about ten individuals who crept from the bushes surrounding Jack and Jonas until the two men were obviously outnumbered.

You were right, Jonas stated. We were being followed.

Don't sound so surprised, Jack stated back.

How did you know? Jonas asked next.

Good question, the man who'd greeted them said. He was dressed in what could pass for a military uniform for this planet.

Noise, Jack reported. From the bushes.

I ordered everyone to stay quiet and out of radio contact, the man protested. I didn't hear a thing.

'Radio,' Jack thought to himself. They use the same word that we use... Could mean we developed along similar paths... Then, it could also just be one hell of a coincidence. Well, Jack said with a small grin on his face, If you don't mind me saying so, you need to clean your ears. Your group of people were making enough noise to alert an entire Goa'uld invasion fleet.

The man nodded. It was clear that he was the man in charge of this group of individuals. Then we'll have to work on our stealth. We sure don't want to alert any... What did you call them?

Goa'ulds, Jonas told him.

The man nodded. We don't want to alert any Goa'ulds around here.

Then you've heard of them? Jonas queried.

The man nodded again. They put my ancestors on this planet as slave laborers, but we revolted when the time was right and drove them off our world. Now Colar is a free planet. But things like language and culture have remained.

Glad to hear that you're free, Jack said.

The man stared at Jack. You came through the Circle? he asked.

Jack knew instantly that the man was referring to the Stargate. No, Jack corrected him. We came in a ship, and we're looking for some friends who would have arrived about a month ago now? He told them the details like he was asking a question. I don't suppose you've seen them or anything?

Three? asked the man. Two men and a woman?

Jack swallowed his excitement back. That's right.

Yeah, the man said, maddeningly calm. Just like you said. And who hasn't heard of them? he asked rhetorically. It was on all the info channels, but I was there, so I know. We were on our way to see the High Priest when those bad guys... the ones from the stars?

Goa'ulds, Jonas supplied again.

Yeah, them. Anyway, they attacked, and your three helped us fight them off, even though it wasn't their fight by any means. Impressed me a lot.

Yeah, Jack said. They have a way of doing that.

The man went on, clearly enthusiastic about his opportunity to retell the string of events as he remembered them. Well, before we knew it, we had snuck up on about fifty or so of their guys, stunned them using those funny ray guns those three had...

Zat guns, Jack said.

We want about a million of those things, by the way, the man told them. Anyway, we took the bad... Goa'uld?... We took their Goa'uld weapons, and pretty soon it was a fair fight, at least, from then on.

You must have won, Jack pointed out. You're still standing here.

Yeah, the man agreed. but when one of their ships crashed to the ground, the blast forced the Circle to its side as it hit the ground.

Jack recalled how the same thing had caused Teal'c to go AWOL inside the Stargate, and he had to concede that a crashing ship could take out a Stargate like it was made of firewood instead of heavy naqueda. Nothing else was big enough. Then what happened?

The man shrugged. We took them to the High Priest, like we would have if the Goa'uld hadn't attacked. Then, that big guy of yours..?

Teal'c, Jack helpfully said.

Yeah, him... He's teaching us how to use those weapon stick things of theirs.

Staff weapons? Jonas asked.

Yeah, that's what he calls them.

And what about the other guy? Dr. Jackson? Jonas inquired.

The man shook his head. That guy knows more about languages than I can shake a stick at.

Yeah, said Jack. That's Daniel, all right.

He's doing research with some of our scientists...

And the woman? Jack prompted, not able to stay quiet any longer. The Lieutenant Colonel. What about her?

Jonas raised his eyebrows in surprise. She's a Lieutenant Colonel now? At Jack's nod, he went on, You weren't kidding when you said things had changed.

The alien man snorted a soft snort. Says she's in their equivalent of the military.

Says? Jack asked, and his heart started beating quickly in overtime.

The man nodded. I say she can have whatever dream she wants to have. But whoever heard of a woman in the military?

Me, Jack said with a shrug.

The man's expression only changed a bit. He seemed to shrug back. It's a woman's job to cook, to clean, to take care of others... not protect. That's what men are for.

Jack gave a low whistle. Something tells me that she told you a thing or two.

I don't know about that, the man said.

What do you mean? asked Jack, fighting off the nausea that came with the man's statement. What is it that you don't know about?

The man glanced at his companions, gave a laugh, then said, She doesn't have to worry about the military, or anything anymore; she'll be too busy.

The man was maddening. Jack asked for more information, Because?

The man laughed again. Well, it's rather delicate...

Jack couldn't stand it anymore. Is she alive? he demanded to know. Is she alright?

The man nodded. Oh, yeah, all three of them have some sort of dwelling over in the commons of Green Area.

Whatever that means, Jack thought. Can you take us to them?

The man shook his head. If I take you anywhere, it should be to the High Priest, Molar.

Jack had to internally chuckle at a man named after a tooth, but all he said was, Lead on, then. We don't want to keep High Priest Molar waiting. Maybe if they saw the priest and got that over with, they'd be told more about SG-1.

The man grinned, then said, I'm second rank Footsoldier Heller, by the way.

Jack nodded. General Jack O'Neill, he said, then glanced at Jonas. This is Jonas Quinn.

No title? the man noted. Not military, then?

Jonas grinned. Head Kelownan scientist and lead Goa'uld... He shrugged. ... dealer, he finished.

Kelownan?

Your neighbor, Jack told him. About a month away... it's where we came from, but I'm not Kelownan... I'm from Earth.

Just like the others, Heller said appreciatively. The High Priest should like to see you. He went on then, Or at least, he'll like to see your weapons.

Jack was beginning to get a strange feeling about this tete ta tete. He usually trusted those gut instincts of his, even when they proved to be wrong. Our weapons aren't for sale, he quickly said.

Heller laughed, which Jack was not expecting. That's what the first three told us. His laughter slipped into a grin. We don't want your weapons... We only want to take a look at them. Maybe we can build some of our own...

Technology in the hands of a race too young to handle it is a bad combination, Jack warned.

Heller laughed again. The young have a lot to learn, and all that,

Jack was surprised. You've met the Nox, then? he asked.

No, Heller told them. But that Daniel of yours, he said the same thing.

Jack smiled at the reference to Daniel. Well, you do keep at least half of your population out of your group... And he gestured at the men ringing in himself and Jonas. How smart is that?

Heller laughed again. I'm not going to get into culture clashes right now. It's not my job. But taking you to see the High Priest is my job, so if you'll come with me..?

He led the two through the city streets, strutting like he was a hero and that Jack and Jonas had been captured, rather than being visiting dignitaries on a mission of peace. He took them to a low, solid looking building, and through its circular corridors and into an office. Dizzy, Jack wondered how Heller knew where they were.

Heller ignored the lady who was obviously a secretary of some kind just inside the hallway door, and went on into the inner office. The second he opened that door, a voice carried out to Jack and Jonas that they would have recognized anywhere as the eleven Colaran military men slipped to the back of the office.

Daniel! Jack blurted the second he was over the threshold.

Daniel whirled at the sound of the familiar voice. Jack!

What the hell are you doing here? Jack continued on, and ran to wrap Daniel into the biggest hug he'd enjoyed since Sha're had disappeared.

What the hell... pardon my bad language... Daniel said to the man who was sitting behind a long desk, then went on, ... are you doing here? Then he took in Jack's companion. Jonas Quinn! He fell over hugging Jonas when he had stepped out of Jack's welcoming embrace.

Hello, Dr. Jackson, Jonas answered. We meet again.

Guys... or rather, men, Daniel said, as if had just rolled his eyes in Jonas' direction. Jonas just grinned.

Sam, Jack stated without preamble. He simply couldn't contain himself any longer. How is she?

Daniel stepped back from Jonas and was hesitant for the first time. She's..

Jack picked up on his body language immediately. What? he asked, alarmed. She's what?

Daniel looked at Jack, looked at Jonas, looked at the man sitting behind the desk, then seemed to give in to the expression of utter terror on Jack's face. She's pregnant.

Jack felt as if Daniel had slapped him. She's what? he screeched, not bothering to modulate his voice in accordance to his surroundings.

Jonas glanced between them. I take it that you didn't know anything about this, Jack?

Jack grimaced. No, nothing.

Then the man who was High Priest Molar piped up. She claims that the child belongs to her husband, but I'm not sure if that's just her wishful thinking or not.

Jack blanched this time. I am her husband!

So you're..? The High Priest came out from behind his desk. You're..?

Jack introduced himself totally out of habit, not because he was feeling friendly at the moment. General Jack O'Neill, and this is Jonas Quinn.

Hi. Jonas gave the High Priest a watery smile.

The High Priest nodded much as Teal'c would have done. He went on, General... is that a good designation? he asked.

One of the highest, Daniel responded.

If you'll excuse me, fellas, said Jack, I think I need to sit down before I fall down. Actually, he felt like he was about to throw up. He hyperventilated as the soldier man... was his name Heller?... brought over a wrought iron chair, the first any of the men could get their hands on.

Daniel stared at Jack. You do look a little white, he noted. Then his face took on an apologetic appearance. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this...

God, she was raped, Jack declared without thinking about what he was saying.

Daniel gave him a confused look. No, not that I know of, he said,

Then... what? Jack asked as he tried to fight his breathing back to normal. His Sam..?

Maybe a glass of water, suggested Daniel, and the High Priest poured water siting his own desk in compliance.

Something that resembled a glass was thrust into Jack's fist, and he drank more for not wanting to offend everyone than because he needed the water. But as the liquid slid down his throat, he realized how dry his he was, and he was glad for the refreshment. Still, his stomach heaved at the invasion of the foreign substance.

Breathe, the High Priest reminded. I always found that to be very helpful.

What do you know about all this? Jack asked, not thinking how rude his question sounded.

I have three children of my own, Molar explained. They were all something of a shock.

That's how Jack felt; shocked; sucker punched; surprised as hell.

Finally, Jack stopped shaking so much, and he was able to think about the fact that he was sitting in front of this country's equivalent of a leader. I guess this is sort of inconvenient, he said to the other man, referring to the personal conversation, his and Jonas' presence in his office to begin with...

On the contrary, the High Priest answered. I haven't had this much excitement since... oh, for years!

Jack swallowed. Where is Sam? he asked in a whisper.

She's at the house, Daniel started to say, then halted himself.

Whose house? Jack asked.

Ours, Daniel responded in explanation. Mine, hers, and Teal'c's, he went on. She's probably making the evening meal. It's called 'Susta' here.

I don't care what it's called! Jack sarcastically said. I just want to make sure she's all right!

Yeah, Daniel reiterated. She's fine. Cooking.

Sam can't cook, O'Neill reminded him.

Well, if we want to eat, she does, Daniel told him.

I thought Teal'c would want to cook - he does pretty good at that domestic stuff.

The High Priest Molar broke in. He's busy teaching us about staff weapons...

Oh, that's right, Jack said.

Molar went on, Besides, it's a woman's place to...

It's not a woman's place to do anything she doesn't want to do, Jack loudly said with a shake of his head. She can whip all our butts and eat us for dinner if she's got a mind to do it.

Dinner..? asked Molar, confused.

Susta, Daniel explained, and the look of confusion cleared from Molar's face.

Finally Molar put his hands on his desk and looked dignified for the first time since Heller had brought Jack and Jonas into his office. Well, for what it's worth, welcome to Colar, despite the rather strange social customs you seem to have regarding women...

Hey, ours are not strange! Jack said.

Daniel broke in to the conversation. Be diplomatic, Jack.

Jack answered, And did you feel diplomatic when Sha're... He managed to stop himself before he unwisely went on. Sorry, Daniel.

Daniel sighed. That's all right, he said. And no, I didn't feel very diplomatic at the time, Jack. You're right, he admitted,

Jonas suggested then, Perhaps now is the right time to just take us over to your... to the house?

Daniel had to agree with him. That's a good idea. Then he glanced again at Jack. Jack, I know all about you and Sam being married... Well, she had to tell us when we noticed that she was... And you said the same thing just now... You can trust us not to say a word, you know, unless you want us to.

Jack looked up at Daniel. When had he grown into such an understanding man? he asked himself. Not for the first time, he found himself missing working together with the three closest friends he had ever had. Thanks, he said, and found that he meant it.

Well.., Molar spoke and clapped his hands together at the same time. Welcome to Colar. Your presence is highly treasured.

Thanks, Jack said again. My presence has never been treasured before.

Don't be too sure, Jack, Daniel negated. You haven't heard Sam cry every night for weeks and weeks.

That statement caught Jack's attention. He looked at Daniel. She's been crying? he blurted.

Over you! Daniel burst out. Then he turned a quick circle around the chair in the middle of the room. God, Jack, you can be so dense sometimes!

Only when it comes to Sam, Jonas said to Daniel, stopping his tirade.

Just take me to her, Jack demanded. Then he turned to Molar. Oh, and thanks, for everything. I'm just not at my diplomatic best right now. I haven't seen my wife in... He glanced at Jonas. How long has it been?

Six weeks, give or take.

That was a good use of a colloquialism, Daniel muttered then.

Daniel! Jack gruffly said.

Right, right. Well, let's go, Daniel said to them. He turned to Molar and inclined his head. I'll be back with that report...

Take your time, Molar told him. I'm sure you want to be with your clansman tonight.

'Clansman?' Jack asked.

Daniel had the distinct expression on his face that he wanted to get Jack out of Molar's office before he had the opportunity to really screw up the relations between Colar and Earth. High Priest.., Daniel said in lieu of a formal goodbye, nodded, then led Jack and Jonas out of the office.

He waited until they were out of the building before saying, I see that you haven't changed, Jack.

Changed!? Jack said right back. Daniel, I've been worried sick..! Jonas, tell him how worried I've been! Jack demanded.

Jonas complied immediately. He's been worried sick.

And you knew nothing about this baby? Daniel queried.

No, not one damned thing! Jack assured. I had no idea!

That was obvious, Jonas commented, then slapped his hand over his mouth. I didn't say that! he said.

Jonas, Jack said, I'm not your team leader anymore; you can say what you want to say.

Okay, Jonas replied, with a shrug, but also with a slight smile. Then I think you and Sam were both idiots for not getting together sooner... Am I using the word 'idiot' right? he asked Daniel.

But it was Jack who answered him. And if you knew what can happen to her if anyone finds out...

Daniel broke into the conversation, This marriage... or, at least, this baby... is rather obvious, if you ask me...

I'm not! Jack said.

She's four or five months pregnant, Jack! Daniel reminded him. She's big, and she's gonna get bigger! You should have thought what you wanted everyone to know before...

But this wasn't supposed to happen! Jack insisted. Sure, we talked about kids, but...

This is a surprise to you? Daniel asked then.

Jack raised his hands to scrub at his face. I had no idea, really. You have to believe that. We always... always... used some form of protection.

Apparently not all the time, Jonas said.

Jack shot him a dirty look. Apparently, he repeated.

Look, Daniel said then. That's not the current problem that's most important for us to consider...

Yeah, you said that Sam's probably cooking? Jack asked.

And that's a problem? Jonas asked.

Jack looked at Jonas. Do you remember what Sam's cooking tastes like? he asked.

Good point, Jonas conceded before the argument really got started.

This is a patriarchical society, Daniel said with a shrug. And that means that the female stays home while the men...

Get to do all the fun stuff, Jack finished for him. I bet Sam's been in a horrible mood for the last six weeks.

Horrible doesn't even begin to describe it, Daniel admitted.

By then they had reached a side street that was not as full of pedestrians as the other streets had been. It seemed that, though weapons had been invented on this planet, the automobile hadn't.

Daniel led then to a clean, low, white structure that was made of some kind of stone. He pushed the door in, grinned at Jack in mischievous humor, then yelled, Honey, I'm home!

Ha! came a voice from around a corner. I am not your 'honey!'

Daniel continued, I brought some guests with me; I hope you don't mind.

God, Daniel, you don't know how much you sound like the fifties husband! the voice declared. Then Sam came around the side of the wall and into view. I don't think... She stopped, and the grin that she'd obviously been wearing slid from her face. Oh, my God.

The sound of her voice had sent a thrill straight through to Jack's inner core, but it was nothing compared to the jolt that he got when he saw her. She was wearing her battle fatigues, loosened at the waist as much as they would go, and her hair was straggling into her face. It was clear that Colar didn't have barbers, either.

Hi, Sam, he said, all the while thinking that he could only say 'Hi?' What was wrong with him? But he found that he was shy in this first meeting with her in weeks.

Hi, she echoed in the flat voice of disbelief. She hesitated for a long moment while she blinked her eyes and stared at him, almost as if she didn't wholly believe what she was seeing. Then she flew at him, her slightly rounded stomach hardly making much of a difference in the way she clung on to him. Oh, my God! she exclaimed.

You have gods? asked Jonas of Daniel, who grimaced and told him that they would talk later. They both slipped quietly out of the room then without Jack or Sam noticing their disappearance, only their absence. The married couple was far too busy noticing each other to pay attention to anybody else in the room.

Jack! Sam whispered, sounding like she was in an agony of incredulity and shock. Oh, God, I dreamed of this happening every night, but didn't really believe myself!

Believe it, Jack instructed then, thinking that it was pure bliss to hear her voice again. I missed you so much! he tragically whispered back to her.

Sam loosened her hold on him just a bit. Jack! she rambled, tears in her voice. I'm so sorry that I didn't tell you about the baby! I only learned about it myself a few weeks ago... Please don't hate me..!

I could never hate you, Jack soothed immediately. Then, he looked at her. It's mine?

Sam nodded. I don't understand what went wrong, Jack, honest I don't!

I thought you always used some form of..?

Sam nodded, still horrified. I did! I had been engaged to Pete, after all, and the last thing I wanted was the complications of a baby...

Then you don't want this? The last thing Jack wanted to do was to bog down her life in unwanted responsibilities associated with a baby at this point.

With you, yeah, sure, youbetcha! Sam exclaimed. With Pete... A look of despair crossed her features. No! she said, as if the idea irritated her to no end. What a bother!

Is it still a bother? Jack forced himself to ask.

No, not now, not ever! Sam forcefully exclaimed. This is a surprise, and a double surprise, considering I was on birth control at the time, but what a nice surprise!

But Daniel said that he always heard you crying every night... Jack started to say when Sam interrupted him.

Oh, Daniel! she scoffed. Forgive me for saying this, because I love Daniel like I do my own brother, but he understands more about dead languages than he ever did about people, women in particular! My opinion of Sha're has gone up quite a bit since this whole thing began. She was a saint.

Jack smiled and hugged Sam close again. I'm just glad you're okay, to say nothing of a baby. He inwardly cringed at the idea of becoming a father again, of opening his heart to that kind of possibility for pain once more. But then, he felt himself relinquishing that possible future pain almost the second it materialized. I guess that Charlie always wanted a younger... something, he lamely ended .

Then you're not angry about this? she asked.

Angry?! Jack expostulated. Why would I be angry?

Sam shrugged her shoulders in an expansive gesture. I was worried that you would be. Not that it mattered if I never saw you again... Let me tell you that that was an unsettling concept!

I'm not angry, Jack reaffirmed for her. I'm more along the lines of delighted... and starving. Didn't Daniel say that you were probably cooking dinner? He carefully sniffed the air. The odor that emanated from the kitchen wasn't exactly enticing.

I'm a terrible cook, Sam instantly declared. Give me a naqueda generator, and I know what to do. But put me in front of a heating unit, and I become all thumbs!

Jack grinned again. I know. But I can do better, I think. Show me what you're preparing, and I'll see what I can do.

This stupid society! Sam shook her head as they walked towards the kitchen. They never let women do anything!

Did you talk to..? Jack began to ask.

I talked until I was blue in the face! Sam confirmed for him. But they wouldn't even listen to me, since I'm only a female!

Jack grunted. Huh! 'Only,' he repeated. I'm not gonna fall for that argument this time. By then, she had led him into the partitioned off area set aside for preparing meals, where something was boiling much too aggressively on a range unit. So, what are you cooking here? he asked, but wrinkled his nose at the smell.

Officially, Sam replied, Stew. Unofficially? I think it's something that resembles space garbage.

Jack had to agree with her. Smells like it, too, he announced. Why don't you show me where you're keeping the spices that you have..? he suggested.

An hour later, Jack and Sam had managed to doctor up Sam's stew into something more resembling cooked food rather than the space garbage she had predicted it would become. Even Daniel was pleasantly surprised by the results when he sat down in the living area with a bowl in his hand.

Hey, this isn't half bad! he exclaimed. Sam! You out did yourself this time!

Jack made it, she told him.

Daniel didn't look like he was surprised by this information. Well, that explains it, then.

Teal'c interjected. It is most pleasant to return home to a meal one can actually eat, O'Neill... Thank you.

Sam set her bowl on the floor in a huff of energy. All right, that's it... My cooking wasn't that bad, was it? she asked. I mean, you always ate everything I gave you.

We were being polite, Daniel told her, and Jonas spit out the mouthful of stew he had already taken as he laughed at what Daniel had said.

Thanks a lot! Sam retaliated in her irritated voice.

If you hated the food so much, Jack interrupted the two of them, I don't understand why you didn't just return the Stargate to its rightful position to begin with and come on home yourselves.

Daniel glanced at his leader, and said, Sounds like a piece of cake, but in reality...

Teal'c said in much quicker fashion than Daniel would have, This planet has many advantages, but one of them is not a tall enough crane to lift the Stargate back to its housing base.

Now, if we only had a ship that could lift something that heavy.., began Daniel, implying that he wanted to say more, but Jack broke in on him again.

I have a ship, he told them.

Three pairs of eyes gaped at him. With you? Daniel asked.

Jack looked at him in an imitation of his wife. How do you think we got here, Daniel? Flapped our arms?

Well, I.., Daniel began to protest.

But Teal'c cut him off again. This planet does have cables, though, O'Neill. Strong cables.

Sam looked at the former Jaffa and grinned. Well, then, we should be in business, she said. We'll just loop the cables around the Stargate, and then tie it all to the ship... We can have the Stargate back up in thirty minutes, tops.

Daniel gazed at her in utter amazement. Thirty minutes? he croaked.

Sam nodded.

Daniel slowly smiled. Wait until I tell High Priest Molar about this!

Jack took another bite of stew and swallowed before he said, Make sure to tell him that it was Sam's idea in the first place...

* * *

By ten hundred hours the next morning, Sam was directing how to loop the cables around the Stargate lying on its side, and Jack's ship, which he had obligingly parked near the ring on the grass. Within ten minutes and much redirecting of good intentions given towards himself and sent on to Sam... Don't these people think women are good for anything? Jack asked himself... the Stargate was gently lifted into the air, where Jack slipped it via the Ancient's ship through guiding hands and into its powerful, energized base. By the time Daniel had managed to dial Earth to send a communication though to Walter and whomever was on the other side with him, the Stargate was in excellent working order, and five individuals were ready for the hot shower that they would find at the SGC.

That does it, Sam said, then grinned. Give me some cable and a working space ship, and I can create miracles.

But just don't give her any food, Daniel commented. You might end up being poisoned.

Sam gave him a sour expression. Well at least it's done, and we can go home in about three seconds instead of the month that Jack expected!

Teal'c commented, And it's worth much hard work if we can avoid another month of Colonel Carter's...

Sam had slugged him on his bicep, knowing that such a move would hardly hurt the Jaffa. Okay, okay, that's enough ribbing about my cooking abilities for one day! she declared. It was amazing, really, how her mood had improved since Jack's sudden arrival. Where before she would have taken great offense at her companion's comments, now she only saw those same comments as the teasing they were.

Please, said High Priest Molar, stepping forward. We would like nothing better than to become the allies of such a strong society...

Jack snorted. Strong society? he asked. Tell that to the Goa'uld.

Molar went on, trying to ignore Jack's injudicious interruption. We hope that this is truly the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship between our two peoples...

That was when Molar was cut off by the tinny sound of a voice coming over an open radio channel. Minister, we've just been informed of a bomb aimed at your position and closing fast! There's sure to be casualties with such a deployment.

Bomb?! Jack exclaimed as one hand automatically reached for Sam to hold her protectively. You people are at war?

That's what the research is for, Daniel explained. War with...

With our neighboring continent and its citizens, Molar said. With Chanuck and it's allies.

What allies? Jack asked just as he turned his eyes towards the bright blue of the sky. It was funny, but he didn't hear any approaching bomb...

The Sercians and the Dolarans, answered Molar. We've been at war for... for generations.

As nice as this chat is, Jack said, Shouldn't we be looking for some shelter or something, if a bomb is set to go off right on our heads?

Molar hesitated, then laughed lightly at Jack. Oh, we stopped killing anybody years ago! he said. I would hope that our morality and technology have risen to a higher plane of existence than murdering innocent people, as in the days of our ancestors.

That's good to hear, at least, quipped Jack.

No, we let our computers handle the casualty lists.

Daniel interrupted. You ought to see their computers, Jack! They may not have cranes, but they sure know how to build computers!

Molar grinned, staring at a device he now held in the palm of his right hand. Ah, here's the list now... He paused, and the smile slipped from his cheeks. Well, this does create something of a problem.

Why? Jack asked immediately. What's the problem?

Molar swallowed, and it was clear by the slightly guilty look on his face that he had bad news to impart. It says here, that, among many other casualties, you have to join them.

What? Jack asked, just as more than a dozen rifles suddenly aimed in his and Sam's direction.

Molar turned the palm device around so that O'Neill could see his name, printed plainly in Colaran letters. It's right there. Read it for yourself.

Daniel sidled up to stand next to Jack, and he read through the names on the palm device. Yep, here it is... Jack O'Neill, visiting dignitary and head of state.

I'm not the head of any state! Jack protested, even as three or four strong men holding their weapons trained at Jack started to pull Sam and O'Neill apart from each other. What is this? Jack instantly demanded to know. What's going on?

Molar appeared apologetic now. I'm afraid that we can't allow you to stay, he told them. Or we will be in violation with our treaty with the Chanuck, and they will start using real weapons on us. I can't allow that to happen.

Jack peered at the soldiers, who outnumbered him. If he resisted, as every bone in his body screamed at him to do, then he would surely be shot down and killed instantly. Wait, he said, growing desperate now as Sam's fingers were pulled from his grasp. There must be something that we can do... A deal we can make, or something...

Molar shook his head. Even I will have to go to the holding areas if my name shows up on this list. I'm afraid that there's nothing I can do. His face fell as he continued to read. I'm afraid that Dr. Jackson's name is on this list as well! He will have to accompany you on your way through the Circle to wherever it is that you came from.

Daniel was instantly surrounded by mean-looking men and their even meaner-looking guns. His hands shot up to show that he was unarmed. Um...

Jack! Sam called as she struggled against two men who were holding her back. Will you get out of my way! she yelled to them, and elbowed one man in the face and the other in his vulnerable groin area. She was free for a moment, long enough to take three steps forward, when four more men ringed her away. Daniel! Jack! Don't let them take you!

Molar shrugged. It is our way, he said. But I warn you, we will resort to violence with this one if she persists in her futile attempts to escape and go with you.

Touch her, and you die! Jack exploded.

Jack! Daniel remonstrated immediately. Losing your temper is hardly helpful!

The ramp of the Ancient's ship came into view. With little ceremony or explanation, Daniel and Jack were thrust on board as many rifles aimed in their general direction.

How do we even know those things of yours can shoot? Jack asked derisively. With the way things are going, those are just for show!

The man named Heller stepped forward, pointed his gun at the ground, then pushed something on the side of the weapon. A green light shot out of the front of the barrel, and all the grass and flowers in its range immediately turned brown and died.

Or not, Jack said with a tight swallow. He looked up at Sam's tear-stained, furious expression, at Teal'c's look of outrage, and at Jonas and his sense of horror. Then he looked back at Sam one final time. He pointed an unwavering finger at her and promised, I'll come back for you, even if I have to blow up another sun in order to do it.

Sam sort or laughed as she cried in distress.

Then Jack looked to Daniel. Dial up the 'Gate again while I start the ship's engines, he ordered.

Jack! cried Daniel. You can't really mean to leave Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas here, do you?

Jack glanced again at Sam, who had more than five guns trained on her at point blank range. I don't see as we have much choice. But we will be back, that's a guarantee, he bit out through clenched teeth.

Molar just shook his head at these dignitaries' seeming misunderstanding of their society. Jack ignored him, choosing to think of him as being more in the line of insane rather than a true threat, and he disappeared into the cockpit of the ship as Daniel slipped out, dialed Earth, then re-entered the ship, where he sealed the ramp and joined Jack just as the whoosh of an opening wormhole coalesced in the Stargate.

Jack punched his IDC code into the device he'd strapped to his arm that morning, and pointed the entire contraption out the front window so those in the SGC would be able to retrieve it. With his jaw set so tight that doctors would have believed that it had been wired shut, Jack and Daniel then left the planet as the blue effervescence of the Stargate carried them away.

It was a minute later that a vibrantly furious General O'Neill walked down the lowered ramp of his space ship set to one side of the 'Gate Room in the SGC, followed closely by Daniel. A quick glance up at the Control Room showed the curious and concerned faces of Walter Harriman and a man that neither Jack nor Daniel knew. Jack ignored their confused expressions, and raced up the stairs to the Control Room.

He managed to remember to hold out his hand to the officer clearly on duty. General Jack O'Neill... hi, he said as his introduction.

General Hank Landry, your temporary replacement, the man said as he took Jack's outstretched fingers.

Uh..? Walter interrupted the greeting. Where's the rest of SG-1? What happened? he asked.

Jack turned towards him then. Daniel and I are officially casualties of a war, he told Walter.

The sergeant quickly looked them over. You don't seem to be bleeding, Sir... s.

A virtual war, Jack explained. And I intend to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all, he acrimoniously answered.

Jack, Daniel cautioned. Don't do anything...

Jack held up his hand to stop Daniel's ramblings. Daniel! Don't you dare tell me what to do or what not to do! That's my wife they've got out there!

He turned back to Walter, but Walter had his mouth buried in the base wall phone as he paged Lieutenant Amanda Cook to the Control Room.

Walter, Jack blurted, You have to pay attention now...

Yes, Sir, Walter said.

I need... Jack thought for a second. I need about 100 SFs...

A hundred! Daniel exclaimed.

I need that many if I want to surround the entire Stargate and bring Sam back in one piece, right along with Teal'c and Jonas.

Okaaay, Daniel said in pseudo agreement.

A missile, ready to be launched through the Stargate at my command, three GDO's, in case we all get separated and something horrific happens to me, and I want to see the leaders of every SG and SF team in the Briefing Room in five minutes! With that, he turned and would have headed for the stairs, but the petite figure of a woman stopped his progress.

You called? the woman blithely asked, nodding towards the Generals, but ignoring everybody else in the room on the whole.

Walter sighed, reached into a drawer, and pulled out an envelope. You picked it, Cook, he said, and drew out several hundred dollars from the envelope.

Might as well hand it all over right now rather than later, Daniel dryly stated.

She's expecting, too? Cook inquired, and Walter raised his brows.

Daniel nodded.

Well.., Walter said, and slapped the entire envelope into Cook's waiting palm. Here; take it.

Jack grimaced. Betting? You were betting on us? he asked.

Walter shrugged. We find our entertainment where we can, General, was all he said.

Irritated, Jack stomped toward the stairs leading up to his office. Just get that missile ready! he ordered. Then he stopped and pointed his outstretched index finger straight at Walter. I'll deal with you later! he threatened.

Walter looked duly terrified, but Daniel leaned into him until he practically touched Walter's ear, and whispered, Have no worries... I'll deal with Jack before he can deal with you.

Relieved, Walter turned toward the base-wide phone again, and paged every SG team member and SF available.

Within five minutes, a group of men and women soldiers crowded into the Briefing Room, awaiting orders. Jack was only too happy to supply them with some.

Get in through the 'Gate, he tersely said. Surround the 'Gate and the DHD by forming a solid ring around both of them. Then, we ring in Colonel Carter, Teal'c, and Jonas Quinn, and we don't leave without them. Simple enough. Just provide me with enough backup to blow the socks off the Colarans. Briefly, Jack wondered if the Colarans even wore socks, but he really didn't care as he pointed to one of the men waiting beside the red and black Briefing Room table. It's your team's responsibility to keep the 'Gate open long enough for us to get through it, to open it again, and keep it open, all the while protecting the person holding open the 'Gate. Understood? he barked.

The man nodded once.

Good, Jack said, then continued to all of them waiting in the room, Stop by the Armory and take as many weapons as you can carry, and bring me a gun of some kind... Zat, P-90, M-13... I don't care at this point...

Sir, interrupted a soldier whose name Jack couldn't recall at the moment. What, exactly, do you need us to do? Are we supposed to immobilize the Colarans, or what?

Jack gazed at them all. Do? he echoed. We're going to kick some Colaran butt and take back what's ours, he insisted. Now, you have maybe five minutes... We meet back in the 'Gate Room... Dismissed.

The people streamed away, just as three doctors followed Walter into the room.

Sir, Walter said, stopping his General as he aimed for the stairs heading back down to the Stargate.

One of the doctors stepped forward. General O'Neill, it's our best guess at this point that it won't harm Colonel Carter any more than she's already harmed herself to come one more time through the Stargate.

Guess? Jack questioned, irritated.

Yes, Sir, the man said, then gulped. It's always been our assumption that 'Gate travel would harm a growing baby, but the Colonel went back and forth through the 'Gate for months with no ill effects. She unwittingly proved that 'Gate travel seems to be perfectly safe for expectant mothers. But, yes, guess is all we can do with this short of a time frame. We'll know more when we run more tests and have time to conduct more research into the matter.

Jack sighed, his irritation growing into anger. All I need to know is if it is, or is not, safe to bring her through the 'Gate?

The man shrugged. She'll have to 'Gate home either now, or a month from now, or she'll have to stay on Colar until her baby is born.

That is not an option, Jack retorted.

We'll then... Yes, said the doctor. It seems to be perfectly safe to bring her through the 'Gate at this time.

Great. Is that all? Jack brusquely inquired. The men in white coats nodded. Then go, do your research. Tell me what you find... The men left. Jack turned to Walter. What? he barked.

Used to his General's brisk manner, Walter only reported, The missile is ready to go, Sir.

Good. Then, dismissed.

Jack was finally able to stride angrily back to the 'Gate Room, where someone thrust a bullet-proofed vest at him. Grimly, Jack whipped off his BDU overshirt, threw the vest on, then replaced his BDU shirt. Next he added the jacket that he'd been wearing, the vest that held his assigned GDO, and added the weapon that someone thrust into his hands at the last moment.

At the same time as Jack was suiting up, the missile lowered to a stop right in front of the Stargate, just over the head of the tallest soldier in the room, as Walter had promised. In twos and threes, more soldiers kept coming in through the open door until the room was overflowing with soldiers. And still more came through the blast doors.

Walter! Jack yelled. Dial up P3C-271, will ya?

Complying, Walter quickly had the Stargate moving as the chevrons for the correct address began locking into place.

With a final click, the Stargate swooshed open to establish a wormhole in the room. Before they all moved out, Jack jumped up the few steps and stood on the ramp leading to the Stargate. You have your orders! he called. Carefully being purposeful, he handed two of his three GDOs to other people, who took the divices without question. Walter, don't fire that missile unless I specifically tell you to fire it, or the 'Gate shuts down on its own for some unknown reason after we re-establish contact! Then, he glanced at the crowd of people before him. What team is responsible for keeping the 'Gate open and for protecting the person keeping it open? he asked.

Several individuals raised their hands. We are, Sir.

Another man left his hand in the air. And I've been assigned to keep the 'Gate open, and I will, you can count on that.

Jack nodded. We don't leave without the rest of SG-1 and Jonas Quinn. Okay, as long as everybody knows his or her orders..? He paused, and Daniel chose that moment to call down from the Control Room.

Good luck, Daniel grimly intoned into the microphone connecting the Control Room and the 'Gate Room.

Jack nodded once. Then he said, Okay, let's move out! With that command, he leapt up the ramp and hurtled through the Stargate.

The scene on Colar was much the same as it had been when he had left it, though Teal'c and Jonas were now ringing Sam instead of Colaran soldiers. The group of aliens were so surprised at the swift execution of the Earther's assault that they hardly had time to raise their weapons before the SGC members had completely surrounded the Stargate, the DHD, Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas.

Jack! Sam exclaimed the minute they had poured through the 'Gate and ringed her and the others in.

High Priest Molar stood just a bit forward of the people in his group, and was surrounded by his own advisers. But he could hardly ignore Jack's presence this time. He looked over at the group of invaders. What's the meaning of this? he asked in an outraged tone of voice.

Jack gave a half smile, half grimace. 'This' is called a proportionate response, and I can only guarantee one thing.

What's that? the High Priest nervously inquired. He kept his eyes trained on the guns that the Earth soldiers had carried through the 'Gate.

Jack replied, That the missile we have programmed to come through the Stargate and impact on your city over yonder is much more likely to leave 'casualties of war' than your method is. So I suggest that you listen up, and listen good.

What do you want? Molar persisted, now looking more than nervous... He appeared to be downright scared.

Nothing, Jack said, We don't want anything other than what we originally came for.

Molar sighed. General O'Neill, I sympathize with your casualty status, but there's nothing I can do... The treaty...

No, you don't quite understand, Jack interrupted. Then he picked a Colaran soldier out of the crowd and fired at him, hitting the young man in the man. The man gasped, first in surprise, then in pain as blood started to spurt out of the wound. He fell to his knees with a look of shock. Everybody else jumped back at the noise and efficiency of Jack's weapon. Now that's a casualty of war, Jack said. I shoot anybody who keeps me from Colonel Carter, Jonas Quinn, and Teal'c. He looked at the soldier he had shot. And I suggest that he sees someone in our Infirmary, as we've made greater advances in medicine through the years over your own society. He turned to Heller. You can come with him, make sure he's treated right... You'll have quarters, a bed, hot food.. whatever you want to...

But the treaty... Molar continued.

Jack vocally exploded. I don't care a flying fig about any dumb treaty of yours! You will not keep any of my people... This isn't a negotiation! He made a visible effort to restrain his raging temper again. No, he said in a much softer voice. Let them come with us, or you'll have more carnage and real war than you'll know what to do with. The next command he gave was directed at Sam and the others. SG-1 and Jonas, get through the 'Gate... Take that man to the Infirmary, then stay there!

Jack.., Sam started to protest, but Jack interrupted her.

This is not a matter of pride, Sam, and don't make me make it an order... I want to make sure you and the baby are all right. Now go!

Sam knew and understood her orders when Jack used that tone. Yes, Sir! she said, then turned, and led her team up the steps to the 'Gate.

Jack pulled out a GDO for them, then punched in the correct code to open the iris back at the SGC. SG-1, Jonas, and the two Colaran soldiers ran through the Stargate, and disappeared in the event horizon.

We don't want any trouble.., began High Priest Molar as he lifted his hands in the universal signal of peace.

Good, Jack said. Neither do we, he finished as he slowly backed with the rest of his group towards the 'Gate. They all faced the High Priest, keeping their weapons trained on the planet's inhabitants in the case that they dished out any trouble, but that trouble never arose.

One by one, the group from Earth began to warily disappear through the Stargate. Jack was the last one to leave, just as he had always been the last person through the 'Gate when he was in charge of SG-1. Now, before he stepped backwards and into the event horizon, he said, Please, feel free to continue with your little war, fighting to your heart's content. For what it's worth, thanks for taking care of SG-1 so well while you did.

Molar took a step forward. I hope this incident hasn't adversely affected the possibility of a future treaty between our two great planets. His voice held a note of entreaty in it.

Jack gave his half grin, half grimace again, and added, Oh, I wouldn't quite hold your breath on that one. Then, the Stargate enfolded him, and he was swirled away by the blue event horizon.

* * *

Ten minutes later, Jack was firmly ensconced in the Infirmary, waiting his turn for his post mission physical as the soldier with the wounded arm and Sam got preferential treatment. Once they were seen to, bullets were removed, babies were monitored, and wounds were bandaged, the doctors assigned to the Infirmary allowed General O'Neill in to sit at the side of the bed allotted to Colonel Carter.

She grinned at Jack as he sat beside her in the room full of beeping monitors and stressed personnel. I guess I get to say 'Hi!' this time.

Hi, yourself, responded Jack as he leaned over the bed and kissed her right on her lips. By now, he didn't care who knew about them or what they said.

So, what did everybody say?

About you? asked Jack, surprised. This is what she cared about after all this time and this much effort to get her back? That it's good to see you again after all this time, and that it's great that I won't be so crabby anymore. I was awfully worried about you while you were gone, he told her.

No, that's not what I meant, and you know it, Sam said with a sigh. What did they say about the baby?

Well, Jack said, and looked grim. We made Lieutenant Cook a very wealthy woman.

Sam looked surprised. They placed bets on us?

And you'll never guess who was in charge of the whole thing... Walter Harriman.

Walter!? Sam stared across the Infirmary bay, troubled. Then this marriage of ours hasn't been any secret thing, and we were the ones who were fooled!

Looks that way, O'Neill told her.

Rats, Sam said, then snuck a look at Jack. What happens next? she asked.

Next we have a beautiful baby whatever, and live happily ever after... after I retire.

Sam gazed at him in annoyance. Jack, no one ever lives happily ever after. And what's this about you retiring?

It's our personal little hitch to the 'happily ever after' part. He gazed back at Sam. Retiring is just my way of avoiding court-martials for both of us. He stared at her surprised expression. Hey, there's no way the top brass can't know we're married now, what with the entire base in on a betting pool about us.

No, I suppose not, Sam agreed. She scratched her chin. Then she jumped. Sorry, but the baby just kicked.

Suddenly, Jack grinned. Yeah? he queried.

Yeah. Sam's hands drifted to her stomach, found the place where a leg or knee was trying to poke through her skin, then took Jack's hand and placed it in the right spot. Here? Feel?

Anybody looking had to be amused at the sight of General O'Neill grinning like an idiot as he placed his hand on his wife's stomach. Her baby kicked again.

Jack gave a start of his own. Wow!

Kind of like a regular old symbiote, isn't it? When no one was listening, Daniel and I started calling it 'The Parasite,' just for kicks.

Jack laughed until tears ran down his face. That is really sick, ya know?

Sam grinned, Yeah, it is, a bit. Now, she continued once Jack had calmed. Why don't you see to your guest's comfort, print out the letter of retirement that I know has been sitting on your computer for five years, then hand it in to Landry before we break any more regulations. I'll be fine right here. I might even manage to get some sleep if I know that you're occupied.

Jack gave her a grimace. You know too much, he groused, but dutifully stood up and kissed her again. Before his departure, Jack grinned at her. Boy, is it ever good to see you safe and sound and home again.

Sam smiled back. It's good to be here.

Don't go saving the planet without me, or anything, Jack warned as he backed away from her bed.

I wouldn't dream of it. Now, get out of here, before I call the top brass in myself.

Sam, I am the top brass, Jack pointed out, but grinned again.

Oh, get out of here! Sam ordered, laughing.

The rest of the day passed by quickly as Jack settled his guest from Colar, talked to any soldiers suffering from any shock after their ordeal on Colar (no one was), paid a visit to the man he'd shot and who was still retiring in the base Infirmary, visited with Daniel and Teal'c, saw Jonas Quinn and an exasperated Daniel through the 'Gate to Kelowna after thanking Jonas profusely for his help, and turning in his retirement letter to General Landry when he had the time. All in all, it was just one more crazily normal day in the running of the SGC.

The End


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