READ THIS BEFORE YOU START READING THIS STORY!

Author's Note: This story is not always so pleasant. And while it's not always so unpleasant, either, you should be warned that not all content paints a happy, rosy view of the world - hence, the title. But, feel that you have been duly warned first. (As Jack would say, this note covers my ass... er, bases. That's why I wrote it.)

Disclaimer: I should wax poetic, but I'll take pity on you and keep this short, not to mention coherent... I don't own them. Someone else does. So please, don't sue me. This story is for the enjoyment of other SG-1 fans like myself who always wonder, 'What if..?'.

Reality Check

by Linda Bindner

The unknown doctor... what's his name? Jack asked himself. Oh, yeah, McClintock... like the John Wayne movie... Jack had to laugh at himself just a little bit to be memorizing people's names by comparing them to movie titles... It wasn't like he was so in need of a life that he did nothing during his free time besides watch old westerns on TV...

Ah, who was he kidding? Of course he needed to find a life away from his TV. Apparently, that life could begin by him actually remembering the names belonging to his coworkers...

And thinking of coworkers... Try as he might, the Infirmary would always be Janet Fraiser's domain to him. She was dead now, he reminded himself, and he needed to move on with his life. But, still, he kept imagining that she had just stepped out to check his blood test results, and would be back momentarily.

However, it was this strange doctor, a man named McClintock, who now held his medical folder loosely in his smooth hands. O'Neill absently wondered if anything as unsightly as a callous had ever dared to mar the creamy surface of that hand.

The man smiled his benign smile as O'Neill uncomfortably shifted on one of the beds in the Infirmary. God, how he hated the brutal feel of the Infirmary. He had disliked it in Janet's day, and he had actually liked what Janet had tried to do with the atmosphere! But the new doctor... Dr. McClintock... was speaking, and Jack forced his attention back onto the man, and his words instead of what he, personally, thought of the Infirmary.

... sorry, McClintock intoned in that rough, irritating voice of his. I wish I had better news to give to you.

O'Neill's eyebrows reached for his gray hairline. Excuse me? he politely inquired to hide the fact that he had been thinking, and not paying attention.

The doctor sighed. He ran a hand over suddenly tired eyes, then stared at O'Neill. I said that I'm sorry, General... I really wish that I had better news to give you, but with an EKG like this one... He lifted a long, narrow strip of paper so that they could both look at it. Not to mention the results of this Echocardiogram here...

That was done last year after my final mission, O'Neill interrupted to inform this unknown doctor. Isn't that standard procedure?

Yes, the doctor said, then continued, his expression long and serious, I'm afraid that there's no mistake in either test... Perhaps your condition hadn't shown up before, and that's why my predecessor didn't catch this... He was speaking of Janet, now. But there can be no missed interpretation at this point... An enlarged heart is not such a difficult thing to live with... He tried to smile, but his attempt at humor fell as flat as his news was falling.

O'Neill stared at him. Care to repeat that? he requested a bit testily. He hated doctors, and he particularly disliked them when they were imparting things in a language that he just didn't understand, despite his own rather extensive knowledge, illustrated by his high military rank.

The doctor sighed again. I'd heard that you're not the best of patients.., he muttered with a sigh.

Don't believe everything you hear, Jack cautioned him, slightly pleased to find out that he was gaining a reputation among the Infirmary community, probably for his stubbornness. This attempt at humor by the General was more successful than McClintock's had been; the man actually chuckled before he settled down to explain things one more time.

An enlargement, McClintock repeated. It really isn't all that uncommon in people of your age.

My age? Jack echoed back. What does my age have to do with anything?

McClintock let his arms carrying Jack's file fall to his side. Tell me, General O'Neill, do you drink a lot of alcoholic beverages?

Jack considered. Maybe.

And has this... He tried to be judicious. This 'maybe drinking...' Has it gone on for several years? McClintock then asked.

Jack considered even more. Well... How long had it been since Charlie had died, and the subsequent divorce from Sara? Nine, ten years? Yeah. I suppose so, he finally answered.

And do you find yourself under any kind of stress, lately? McClintock continued.

Jack thought again. Well... He supposed that being in charge of the entire Stargate program counted as stress. Not to mention his continual need to hide his feelings for Carter, which had been getting harder and harder to do in the last few years... Yeah, I guess you could say that I'm under a strain, at least, but I'm not sure I would call it 'stress,' exactly.

General, McClintock went on, I'm sorry... But, with your age, in addition to your lifestyle, and being commander of the entire base...

Jack blinked. What are you saying? he asked. Surely this wasn't happening to him.

I'm saying that with a stenosis that's as advanced as this is...

Speak in plain English, Jack commanded. One thing I don't need is a bunch of medical terms that I can't understand... I get enough of that techno stuff from Carter.

Yes, the Colonel has quite a reputation for having an amazing vocabulary, began McClintock.

Is that what it is? Jack asked. And I thought she just has perpetual indigestion or something. He paused. That sounded a bit too much like he was being derogatory towards Carter, when he'd actually meant to just make another joke. A distraction from that comment seemed to be in order, in any case. Anyway, say it all again, and in plain, two-syllables-a-word English.

Right, McClintock said. He held up his fist. Here's a regular, healthy human heart. He held up his other fist, the fingers quite a bit wider than his first fist. And here's your heart. Then he wiggled his fingers. Now, if we let my fingers symbolize the arteries... they take blood away from your heart straight to the rest of your body... Then he held up a pen. Imagine that the arteries leading to your heart have become much thinner than they were when you were born, like this pen is th...

Are you saying something important, something life-altering, here? Jack interrupted. Because I have a date with some cake in the Commissary...

McClintock sighed again. I'm talking heart attack, General.

O'Neill gaped at him. That bad?

Oh, not today, McClintock assured. And probably not tomorrow. Probably not even next year. Then he grimaced. But sometime in the next five years, certainly. Sooner than that, if you consume as much alcohol as you have been.

Wait a minute! O'Neill shifted again on his bed. Now you're insulting my drink of choice.

McClintock grimaced once more. That drink of choice may be the cause of your eventual death, he warned.

O'Neill balked. My death? What are you talking about? he gazed at the doctor. I thought there was some kind of procedure or something..?

Yes, McClintock told him. Bypass surgery, that you'll need sometime in the next two years, I'd wager. But there's never any guarantee that any procedure will be successful...

What are you saying? Jack slowly repeated.

I'm not saying anything, McClintock said.

Jack continued, leaning forward. Then, what are you implying?

McClintock stared straight at him. I'm implying that if you have any unfinished business in your life... Well, now may be the time to finish it, he suggested. I can't say for sure how much time there is before it becomes necessary for us to intervene in...

But I feel fine! Jack protested.

Of course you do, McClintock assured. It's been said that the patient is often the last one to know that something is wrong. But I would hate for you to find out that something is definitely wrong in the wrong way, if you catch my meaning.

Slowly, Jack nodded. I think you've made yourself pretty clear.

McClintock patted him on his shoulder. Again, if you have anything on your mind... Now is as good a time as any to take care of it, he finished.

Jack stared at him again. You're sure about this? he asked.

McClintock lifted the file folder once more. I would say that there can be no mistake in reading these tests... But, if you would rather have a certified cardiologist read them so that we better know what we're dealing with, then...

No, Jack interrupted again. I trust you. Then, he amended, More or less... He hurried on to inform, It's not you I don't trust, per se... It's doctors in general... He looked as if someone had just shot his pet puppy.

I'm truly sorry to be the one to tell you this, McClintock interrupted, as if he'd heard what O'Neill was saying a hundred times before.

Jack felt the daze of reality beginning to cloud over his consciousness. No, that's okay, he assured. Then he looked at the doctor once more. You're just doing your job, after all...

The doctor shrugged. But my job tends to stink when I have to tell my patients some bad news, he said.

Jack grimly smiled at him. So it does, he agreed.

McClintock grimaced. We'll retest everything again next year... We'll know more, then...

Fine, O'Neill agreed. You're the boss. He shook the man's hand. Guess I'll be seeing you.

McClintock took the hand the General offered. Guess you will.

With that, Jack slid off the bed he'd been resting on, grabbed the overshirt to his BDUs, and shrugged it on. He flipped the collar straight, then wandered out of the Infirmary.

Heart attack, his mind tried to say to him. But, the concept didn't seem real, yet. It seemed more like words that he didn't quite comprehend, written in some foreign language. He needed Daniel to translate what had been written so far.

That was when Carter walked cheerfully around the bend in the corridor. Hello, Sir! she said, then stopped to peer at him more closely. You're awfully pale, Sir, she announced suddenly. Would you like me to call a doctor for you, or..?

But Jack stopped her with a shake of his head. He had just come from the Infirmary, and he knew that he didn't need another doctor poking around in his medical history that day. However, McClintock's warning for him to take care of unfinished business rose to the forefront of his mind, and Jack held his hand up to catch her attention. Um... Can I talk to you for a moment, Carter? In private?

An expression of confusion settled over Carter's face. Sure... Um, about what? Has something happened?

Not here, was all Jack would say. At the park near your house, maybe? he asked. It'll be quiet there this time of day, and we can walk for miles if we need to while we... talk.

Again, Carter appeared unsure. Um... Of course... But this must be serious if you want to discuss it off base...

Very serious, Jack intoned, and he knew that he looked serious. But, at the expression of alarm that had settled over Carter's features, he assured, Not to scare you, or anything, but... Can we just go? he inquired. Do you have your car keys with you?

Carter reached into her pocket, and drew out a keyring with several keys hanging from it. Uh, yeah, sure.

Then let's go, he said. Assuming that you can just drop things right now... Is there something important that I'm interrupting?

She gazed at him, standing in the harsh light of the corridor. Well, I was going to do a simulation of the fragmented particle beams of the semipolarized isotopes on...

Jack lifted his finger to stop her rambling. Ah! he grunted.

Carter sighed and swallowed her words. Sorry, Sir... Uh, no, I'm not doing anything right now, she answered. I'm free, if you need to talk.

Okay, Jack said, then gestured down the hallway with his arm. Ladies first... And I promise not to slug you on the back! he informed.

His comment concerning their first mission together made her smile. Still grinning, they walked off together, down the corridor, and on to the surface.

* * *

It wasn't a strange thing to see General O'Neill leaving the base with Colonel Carter, especially since they often met Dr. Jackson and Teal'c for dinner. But it was a little different for them to be leaving the base in the middle of the morning. They were both completely silent as they made their way to Colonel Carter's vehicle, where she unlocked the doors, and let the General enter her car without saying a word. He had rolled down his passenger window by the time they had reached the last checkpoint, and the warm Spring air rushed into the car. Jack couldn't stop himself from wondering if he would be around to feel the warmth of another Spring on his face, and he shuddered as they pulled up to the final checkpoint before reaching the main road. He diligently redirected his morose thoughts onto what the guard was saying to Carter through her open window.

Everything checks out fine, Ma'am, the guard on duty said. Have a good day.

Not likely, but thank you, Jack muttered to him under his breath.

Both the guard and Carter gazed at him with quizzical expressions, but she had already started the car moving forward. What's this all about? she asked as they turned onto the main road and she increased the car's speed. She was trying to keep her voice lighthearted, O'Neill noticed, but was failing miserably. Her voice sounded too forced to be light. She was obviously concerned about what he had to say, if he could judge by the worried expression on her face.

I'll tell you in a minute, he mentioned, intent on soothing her anxiety, yet determined that they wouldn't be interrupted once he began to speak. I'll explain everything, but I don't want to be... He chose his words carefully. I don't want to be waylaid by people and their problems, such as happens so often at the SGC. So I'll just wait until we get to the park by your house. Then, he added, If you don't mind.

Carter shrugged, and assured him, That's fine... You're just acting plenty mysterious, is all.

Jack smiled at that. I don't mean to be mysterious. But I'd rather wait... Then, he shifted around in his mind for a topic of conversation that would dispel, or at least distract, her concern... something they could discuss where they could make relaxing small talk. But, he had no idea what to say. As a matter of pure desperation, O'Neill found himself blurting out the very words that he had always sworn he wouldn't give voice to. So, how's Pete?

At the exact same time, Carter inquired, How's Kerry?

Smiling a bit at their awkward timing, Jack said the first words that popped into his head, I wouldn't know.

Again, Carter's timing and words exactly matched his. In answer to Jack's query, she announced, I wouldn't know.

Carter's head jerked around towards Jack. Jack's head swiveled so that he could stare at Carter.

Had she just told him in not so many words that it was over between her and Pete Shanahan? Jack wondered.

Did you just say what I thought you said? Carter softly inquired. Her eyes remained fixed on her driving as she went on to ask, Have you stopped dating Kerry... uh, Miss Johnson?

Jack tried to remain slightly detached in this second attempt at an answer, even as his heart began throbbing at her own reply to his original question. Um... We're not seeing each other... Not anymore.

Why not? she asked.

Jack kind of sighed as he said, She claimed... and perhaps rightly so... that my... um... interest... That I had... issues.., he finally told her.

Oh.

And how about you and... what'shisname?

Carter actually smiled at that question, more at the fact that he so rarely used Pete's actual name, as if he couldn't be bothered to remember it, than at the subject of his question. You mean Pete? she queried, even though she knew exactly that he was referring to Pete. At his nod, she continued with her answer, It just wasn't working out between us. I mean, not to the extreme where two people had decided on marriage to the other. She paused, then added, I haven't seen him since... since right after my Dad passed away, she admitted.

So... No Pete Shanahan, Jack thought to himself. At least that particular stumbling block had been unwittingly removed from the equation of what he wanted to suggest to her. That long? Jack asked, trying to be polite while also trying to remember how many days it had been since Jacob had died. O'Neill had attended his funeral... A week ago? Two?

Who was Jack trying to kid? He knew that it had been exactly nine days since General Carter's funeral. He would never forget something that was so closely personally related to Sam Carter.

Carter nodded. That long, she ascertained, oblivious to Jack's thoughts. At least, I'm not seeing Pete anymore.

For the first time since he had walked into the Infirmary, Jack felt a smile start to tug at the corners of his mouth.

What do you plan to do now, then? Carter inquired. Personally, I mean?

With that innocent question, she had reminded Jack of the reason he wanted to drag her out to the park for a private chat in the first place. He sobered immediately. I'll tell you when there's no distractions... at...

At the park, Carter interrupted him. Then, she smiled, and the gesture reached all the way to her eyes, even as she agreed with his stipulation. Sure, she announced. Then, she moved her concentration more firmly to her driving, and they lapsed into silence again. But that quiet was much more companionable, and easy than it had been when they had escaped the base together.

It didn't take long for them to reach the park near her house. She pulled into the lot just as someone left a space available, right in the center of the parking lot. What good luck.., she murmured.

Don't get used to it, he warned.

Carter glanced at him with her quizzical look again. Is that supposed to mean something? she asked.

Jack gave a halfhearted shrug. It does, and it doesn't, I guess, he told her as he climbed from the car into the warm Spring sunshine. All mysteries will be revealed if you'll just follow me, he invited.

Carter did follow him, grinning slightly at his comment; she had always followed anywhere he wanted to lead, and he knew it. Now, what's the meaning of this, Sir? she asked when they had started an ambling walk along the provided, paved footpath. Is there something wrong?

Carter, Jack bravely began after first carefully considering his many possible openings for this conversation. I need you to be completely honest with me... Maybe more honest than you ever have been before.

She glanced at him. This is serious, then, if you want me to be more honest than I was on that Za'tarc testing day, she noted. She had tried to make a lighthearted joke, but had again failed in her attempt. But she couldn't quite repress her grin, so that O'Neill knew that she was at least trying to tease him.

Only, he wasn't in the mood for humor. That's... sooooort of what I want to talk to you about, he said, trying hard not to shrug at the same time he spoke.

Carter looked puzzled. You want to talk about the Za'tarc tests? she asked.

Jack did shrug this time. Sort of. Then, he heaved a heavy sigh, and kicked the toe of his boot into the paved ground. A pebble skittered away from them in response to his innocent kick. Hell... What to say..? How was he going to do this?

Sir? Carter prodded.

Jack decided that he didn't have the luxury of being anything but blunt. I'm sorry having to say this so abruptly... But... Carter, I saw the Doc this morning for a follow-up visit to my annual physical, and he said... Jack grimaced. His mouth twisted into thin lines on his face, and he forced himself to go on, Well, it wasn't pretty, what he said...

What did he say? Carter had grown white as he talked.

Jack sighed. He said that... Well... He said that my heart may not be in as good a shape as I would like it to be.

Silence greeted this confession. Finally, as if she couldn't quite tell what he was thinking just by glancing at the expression on his face, she was forced to swallow apprehensively, and ask in a small voice, Meaning?

Jack hesitated. Meaning that I could have a heart attack in the next few years. I'll certainly need that surgery that opens up hardened arteries sometime down the road. He stopped walking when he saw her white features grow even whiter. Look, Carter, I don't want to scare you, or anything, but...

Carter stopped as well on the footpath so that she would remain at his side. She stared up at him out of luminous, worried eyes. He didn't talk about you dying, did he? she asked. That doctor? she clarified.

Dr. McClintock, Jack told her. No, he quickly said. That's not what I'm trying to say, here.

Then what are you trying to say? she asked.

Jack stuffed his hands into his pockets. I guess that I'm...

What?

Jack's head jerked up so that he could stare straight into her eyes. What should I say now? he asked himself. He started moving forward again to keep her scrutiny from becoming too fixed on his face. Look, Carter, we have something of an... interesting... situation here, he said to her, gesturing with the hands that had come out of his pockets of their own accord. That is, if you still feel the same as you did a few years ago during that Za'tarc test.

Sam met his reluctant gaze. Do you? she asked then in a quiet voice.

Jack gazed straight at her, his heart pounding in his temples. He tried to calm it into a slower beat, mindful of what Dr. McClintock had told him. But, he didn't really have time to skirt around the issue any longer, either, did he? Or to treat either that issue or himself with delicacy? Yeah, I feel the same, he admitted to her in an equally subdued voice.

Her white features whitened again. They paled so much that Jack grabbed onto her arm with his hand. Carter! he exclaimed. You're not gonna faint on me, or anything, are you?

Slowly, Carter shook her head. She still appeared dazed, as if she were caught in a very bad dream, and knew it, but didn't know what to do to about stopping that dream. I'm all right, she answered, and gulped. Then, she whispered, I feel the same, too. They walked in silence again for a moment, internalizing the recent confessions that they had heard and made. What comes next? she finally asked, her whisper continuing.

Well, began O'Neill. That depends on you, I guess.

On me, Sir? Carter blurted, her whisper ended. She looked surprised now, which was at least better than looking so dazed that she couldn't see straight.

Jack glared at her for a moment. Do you think you can drop the 'Sir' for now?

I'm sorry, Sir, she apologized immediately, then they both laughed at her continued use of the word 'Sir.' Sorry, she said. Old habits...

Well, Jack said. I guess it's kind of like me calling you 'Carter' all the time instead of 'Sam.' Considering what he had in mind, he figured that he could at least try to call her by her first name.

Shyly, Sam smiled, I don't know... I kind of like 'Carter.' It's so... She seemed to debate with herself. ... so you, she finally replied.

Jack smiled as well. You'll like 'Sam,' too, after awhile.

I suppose that I can get used to it if I have to.., Sam said with an expression of exaggerated, faked reluctance on her face.

Jack stopped again on the footpath. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to do, you know, he insisted.

Sam paused to gaze at him. I don't know that for certain, she argued, and stared at him as if she were on the verge of making a great discovery. I want to do a lot of things that I shouldn't want to do, I think.

Like what? Jack inquired.

Like... Sam halted her rambling, and heaved a sigh of self-irritation. Impatient with her cautionary actions so far that morning, she shook her head, as if to rid her behavior of any further safety features. She purposefully peered all around them for a second, her gaze lighting at last right on him. Then, bravely, she leaned towards him and, very gently, very shyly, kissed him on the lips.

It happened so fast, that Jack almost forgot to react, 'almost' being the operative word. Instead of freezing completely, his arms lifted to cradle her waist almost of their own will. By the time he realized what was going on, her lips had already left his, though the tingles that followed her actions had only just begun to travel through him. He couldn't stop himself from grinning. I think I kinda like that thing you want to do.

She stared at him in trepidation, and looked as if she were attempting to gauge his reaction. Want me to try again? she finally asked.

Now, this was a Carter that Jack didn't know anything about! However, he was more than willing to get to know 'Carter, the woman' at every available opportunity, he admitted to himself. He didn't really need any more encouragement to get used to this idea. He had thought that particular subject to death in the past, after all. I don't think I would mind such a gesture... he conceded at last, then went on to add, Every thirty seconds or so...

Good, she firmly said. Me neither. Still grinning, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and ran her fingers through his graying hair.

Jack grinned back at her. I can die perfectly happy right now.

I'm not sure I want you to die at all. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I don't, she told him. To emphasize her point, she hugged him close.

He could smell her now, a scent on the breeze that seemed exotic when compared to the earthy Spring in the air. To him, it was a heavenly smell, one that meant 'Carter,' one that finally meant his freedom from all the hiding and denying they had both done over the years. God, you smell good, he couldn't help but murmur. He closed the last two inches between them again, and held her as closely as she had held him as he kissed her for the second time in a much more passionate display of affection than they had shared before.

When they parted, both were breathing harder, and she smiled at him. You know, we should at least try to keep to regulations.

Jack stared her in the eye; his brown gaze met her blue one head on. What do you say to totally bowling over the regulations, since it seems that we've already trashed them today?

Her brow puckered. What do you mean, Sir? He gave a slight shake of his head, and she changed her choice of words, I mean, what do you mean, Jack?

Okay... Sam... Jack made a slight stress of her name, to make sure she heard him using it. What I mean... And don't think you have to say one thing or another here... He took a deep breath, gathering his courage before he went on, What I mean is... What I would like is...

Can you just say it and take me out of this suspense I'm in? she encouraged.

Go out to dinner with me Friday night? he asked, his voice showing his fear with that asking.

Carter... Sam... smiled again, but before she could respond, her expression fell into dismay. I'd love to, she told him. But I'll be off world that night.

Off world, Jack echoed. What idiot assigned you to a mission?

You did.

Jack quirked an eyebrow. Oh, he said. He grinned. Then I am an idiot. He amended his request. How about tomorrow night, then?

At that question, Sam perked up. What a good idea!

Well?

Sam nodded. I would be delighted.

Delighted, huh?

As long as we don't go to O'Malley's and order...

... steak, he finished for her, and they both laughed again at his reference to the surprising appetite effects of the Tok'ra's armband experiments. Those same experiments had gone totally awry, leading only to despair, though O'Neill had those very experiments to thank for being forced to realize the degree to which his affection for Carter had grown... For Sam, he reminded himself.

Okay, Sam agreed. Dinner, but no steak.

Dinner, but no steak, Jack repeated. Then, he sighed again. Sam, before we do anything, we really should talk about...

The regs, she finished for him.

It was almost as if she could read his mind. Well, we are breaking them by going out for dinner.

To say nothing of those very nice, though very off limits, kisses from a few moments ago, she added.

O'Neill raised his eyebrow again. Those were awfully nice, he admitted. And I have to say that I wouldn't mind kissing you again.

Which does kind of bring us to the regs, Sam told him.

Jack sobered. Yeah, kind of, he agreed.

What if..? She stopped, looked around again as if she were afraid that they might be under surveillance.

If..? Jack prompted.

Sam paused again to stare at him with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

You're baaaad.., he appreciatively said before she had even spoken.

Sam smiled again, but continued on, What if we're really sneaky... Keep everything a secret...

At least, at work, Jack clarified.

Sam nodded.

I can't believe you're suggesting this, Jack admitted. You're so much a 'by the book' kind of officer.

That was more of what my Dad expected me to be like than what I'm really like, Sam explained.

You mean that was all just for effect? Jack asked, a bit incredulously.

Sam cocked her head in semi agreement. Well, sort of.

Sort of?

Okay, she admitted. I'm actually rather... evil, she admitted.

Jack laughed. There isn't an evil bone in your body, he protested.

Sam smiled then. Slowly. And decidedly wickedly.

Jack gazed at her in more solid show of admiration. I may have to re-evaluate my last comment, he suggested.

I've just been saving my real self for the right time.., Sam told him. And I think now is the right time, she added.

This is a new Sam, isn't it? Jack asked, though he had to admit to himself that he kind of liked this new Sam.

She shrugged at him. Well, nature has kind of outflanked us, Sir, she said. I don't intend to let an opportunity like this... though it's entirely unwelcome news on the whole... But despite that, I'm not going to let it pass me by again.

Lucky me, Jack declared with a grin. He kissed her on the end of her nose.

No, Sam firmly negated. Lucky me, she intoned as the gesture of affection turned into a very full-blown, very passionate, kiss.

Jack decided that the luck belonged to both of them, but then not a second later, all thought had ceased, and he could no longer think... to say nothing of talking... at all.

* * *

They were cursed. That had to be it, Jack decided the next night as it grew closer to 1630, the time he and Carter... Sam... had agreed the day before to meeting each other at her house. Now, there was not a chance in hell that he would have time to drive home to change clothes before he left to pick up Carter... Sam... as they had agreed. Jack sighed, and reached for the phone.

Carter, she immediately said into the handset of the phone in her lab.

Carter... Uh, Sam? he queried, his voice sounding as if he were still a little boy, and had gotten caught with his hand firmly in the proverbial cookie jar.

But Jack could hear her smile as the gesture came through in her voice. Excuses already? she asked.

Hey, it's not my fault, he protested. I'm buried in work that I didn't anticipate.

That's what they all say, Sam said.

You're right, Jack said then. Your tone tells me that you are evil.

Told ya, Sam said, the grin still evident, even in an evil tone.

Well, I'm really sorry, and I don't want to cancel or anything, especially with you going off world tomorrow...

What do you say to pizza and a movie at your place? Sam suggested next, without allowing him time to pause.

You're sure? Jack asked, reminding himself at the last moment not to call it a 'date' while they were both in the SGC; they could be overheard talking, as high a traffic area as his office often was.

Sam was not so often interrupted in her lab as he was in his office, apparently. No, I don't mind at all for our first date, she quietly said.

Just don't tell anyone that I offered pizza to you, okay?

The pizza was my idea, she said.

And what a nice one it is, too, Jack agreed. Sounds good to me... I'll call again when I'm finished here, and ready to go...

Meet you in my lab, Sam said.

Gotcha.

It's a date, Sam said, and O'Neill could swear he heard her grinning again.

You bet it is, Jack told her. And thanks for understanding.

By giving me a compliment... of sorts... and saying that I'm understanding when I'm really far from it, according to my family...

They don't know the real you, Jack said.

Sam must have grinned again. At least, her tone indicated that she didn't feel bad about being stood up on his and her first real... though clandestine... date in eight years. I'll pay, she generously said.

Now that is where I draw the line, Jack was forced to say.

Too untraditional for you?

Well.., Jack spluttered. Yeah, if you want to know the truth.

I do, she said. And I guess it won't be much of a date if I pay, Sam agreed.

You can buy the drinks, Jack told her.

For the third time, a grin sounded over the phone. You're on.

* * *

The idea of watching a movie together was abandoned, as they both blushingly reported that such an activity precluded conversation, as well as encouraged too much closeness...

In the end, Sam peaked curiously into his hallway's coat closet as she was innocently passing it by on her way to the kitchen for more to drink, and was almost buried by the junk falling out of it before O'Neill could warn her of the impending avalanche in time for her to move. She instantly declared him a menace to society, and asserted that they spend time cleaning it so that someone else... probably Daniel or Teal'c... didn't also find themselves inundated with the minutae that made up General Jack O'Neill's past that he kept stuffed in the closet.

It wasn't so bad, as first dates go. They ate the entire large bag of M&M's that Jack had hidden in one of his cabinets, and produced when she expressed an interest in munching on something chocolate. In between chewing and swallowing and tearing down of garment boxes from nine Christmases ago (Don't you ever throw away anything? Sam had asked) and folding the tissue paper, and saving it in a large bag set aside for that special task, they actually managed to have fun. At least, as first dates went, it was unusual, Sam remarked. Unusual, and memorable.

Never say that you don't know how to show a girl a good time, Sam teased, simultaneously making sure that Jack knew she was joking.

You want a good time? Jack asked. Then, without giving her a chance to reply, yanked her into the newly cleaned coat closet, and pulled the door shut behind them with a bang. He fumbled for a second, then cracked the protective seal on the twenty-year-old military issue spot light that he had shoved into a coat pocket to get it out of the way... Now, it spread its cool, white light into the dark corners of the closet.

Jack instantly backed Sam into the wall, and followed her, abruptly kissing her as if he were a dying man, and she was his oasis in a dessert.

Sam wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, and tried to pull him even closer.

Jack felt his sense of arousal ratchet up another notch... It was high enough already at just being closed in a closet with Carter... Sam, he fuzzily reminded himself for the millionth time that night.

A moment later, they parted due to something as inane as a lack of air. They heaved in deep breaths, and stared at each other.

It took you long enough, Sam said.

Jack raised a brow again. How was it that this woman had been his 2IC for years, and just when he thought nothing about her could surprise him anymore, she dealt him such a blow that it left him feeling... well, surprised and reeling and feeling quite a bit younger.

I was trying not to move too fast.., Jack started to say.

Sam interrupted. I think eight years is enough time for us to say that nothing could be construed as moving too fast... In fact, you might not be moving fast enough for my taste, but I'm trying not to feel too frustrated.

Jack was surprised again. Sam was nothing like the other females he had dated. To his delight, she seemed almost... eager. Hey, I meant that I didn't want to move too fast for me... Take pity on an old guy...

Sam spluttered laughter when he said that. Old? she echoed. You're not old.

Tell that to my knees, Jack refuted.

Sam instantly knelt down, and said to Jack's knees, You're not old, you hear me?

The action left Jack laughing at her antics as he hauled her back up to face level. Once there, he embraced her, grinning. Dating you is dangerous, in a very nice way, he told her.

Here's to danger, Sam announced, grinned, and kissed him long, hard, and promising... oh, so much more. But that was to be saved for a later date, she evilly told him, and grinned.

* * *

The next day, as the three members of SG-1 stood at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the Stargate, patiently waiting for the wormhole to engage, Jack suddenly entered through one of the side doors, a large bag of M&M's in his hand. He jocularly crossed over to a very stunned Lieutenant Colonel Carter, and stuffed it into the top of her pack. Thanks for helping me clean out my hall closet last night... It's ten times neater now, thanks to you. And I noticed how much you like M&M's, after the way you polished off the entire bag I had stashed away in my kitchen cupboard.

My pleasure, she said, Both for the closet, and for eating your supply of M&M's.

The way she said those simple, innocent words, instantly reminded him of the heated session of making out that had taken place in the very closet currently under discussion. He swallowed, trying to remind himself that they were in the SGC, and she was, therefor, off limits. So, instead of referring to that make-out session the way he wanted to, he simply said, Eat these... M&Ms... fast, as you don't want them all to melt.

By the way he named the candy in question, she knew that he was using the name 'M&Ms' to mean something completely different. So, she answered in kind. But warm is the way I like... M&Ms... the best, she protested, stressing the chocolate candy's name.

He stared at her grin, and it was all he could do not to grab her and kiss her right there. Jack grinned back at her; she was so evil. He loved it. He especially loved that he had never known about that personality quirk of hers in the first place.

Hey, Daniel said, breaking them out of their silent communication. What do I get?

Come help me clean out my garage on Sunday, and we'll find out, Jack invited. 1300. Be there.

That left Saturday night for Sam, as long as SG-1 returned from their mission on time.

Jack was already looking forward to their second date.

* * *

Tuesday, right before another mission scheduled for SG-1, Jack made certain to slip the bag of Gardettos into the side of Daniel's pack. Thanks, Pal. I didn't even know that I had a garage floor until you helped me clean it.

Gardettos... Cool! Thanks, Jack!

Jack leaned in to whisper, Share... And that's an order. Oh, Carter likes those little round wafer things, and Teal'c has always gone for the pretzels. The rest is all yours. Then he turned to the rebel Jaffa, and slapped him on his chest. I plan on painting my bedroom, Teal'c, so you're my next victim. Start thinking about what you can't live without... Help me paint, and I'll get it for you.

I like books, O'Neill, fiction books, Teal'c informed as the wormhole kawooshed into the Embarkation Room. And what color were you thinking of painting your bedroom?

Jack's eyes immediately leapt to Sam's, and then he had to stare at Daniel too, in order to cover his behavior. What do you guys think of..?

Purple, both Jack and Sam announced at the same time.

Jack stared at Sam. That's what I was thinking, too! he said. A nice light shade, kind of like lilacs.

Sam smiled. I can smell them already, she stated.

Jack grinned. Lilac would be really nice.

Yes, it would.

And Jack knew that Sam had just given him her opinion on the painting of the bedroom that would someday be theirs, not just his, as long as nothing went wrong with this new relationship of theirs. And he totally liked the fact that her opinion mattered, now.

* * *

'The Life of Pi,' Teal'c stated one day from the doorway in General O'Neill's office. I've heard several times that it is a fascinating read.

Okay, Jack said as he looked up. 'The Life of Pi' it is, he said as he wrote the title on a scrap of paper.

It will make a nice addition to my book collection that is currently stashed under my bed, Teal'c added.

Jack stared. You keep your books under your bed? he incredulously asked.

Teal'c explained, I have kept them there ever since DanielJackson tripped on the collection that I kept in the middle of the floor of my quarters, and nearly suffered a broken arm because of that mishap. I have endeavored to keep my collection in a more out-of-the-way place ever since. Under my bed seems to be the only out-of-the-way place that is DanielJackson proof. He was referring to Daniel's penchant for getting into calamities without even trying to get into them. And Teal'c hadn't said a word.

Yep, I'd keep them under the bed, too, Jack said, and sighed.

There was no way that he had to worry about Sam in the field the way he had to worry about Daniel in the field. He would much rather spend his time worrying about Sam, though... It was so much more pleasant. But, darn... Why did she have to be so competent?

* * *

Just before SG-1's next mission, Jack met Teal'c at the bottom of the Stargate ramp. He was holding out a book with a purple and pink cover. Teal'c took it without a word.

* * *

It really does look nice, Sam said as she and O'Neill stood in the doorway of his bedroom late the following Friday afternoon, surveying the lilac walls. You and Teal'c did excellent jobs as painters. I'd never know it wasn't done by professionals if I didn't know, ya know?

Yeah, I do know, Jack replied.

Sam continued, And getting that bookcase for Teal'c was awfully nice of you. I don't think I'd ever seen him so surprised as he was when he opened the door to his quarters yesterday. He actually grunted.

Wish I been there to hear that, Jack said. As he spoke, he tried to push her comments about his niceness aside. They sounded an awful lot like compliments to him, and compliments made him feel uncomfortable. When I heard the story of Daniel almost breaking his arm by tripping over Teal'c's book collection...

So, Sam interrupted, changing the subject. As nice as it is to talk about Daniel and Teal'c, I'd rather break in your newly painted lilac bedroom. Even the paint smell is gone.

Jack deliberately took her small hand into his larger one, and kissed the skin of her knuckles. I thought you'd never suggest it, he said, then grinned at her when she glanced his direction. What? he defensively asked. There's a first time for everything, after all.

So there is, Sam appreciatively murmured. And it was a... She hesitated, then continued, ... a good comment. Very...

Evil? he interrupted to ask. At her nod, he smiled and went on, Yeah, well I've been hanging around you too much; I'm starting to get evil, too.

Sam grinned, then leaned in to kiss him passionately. She grinned again. I's fun being evil, isn't it? she queried in a whisper.

But Jack was far too busy running his fingers over every centimeter of the skin on her face to reply. However, he knew that Sam was right; this was going to be fun.

I love you, Sam whispered in his ear as he kissed her left earlobe.

I love you, too, Jack told her. I have for eight long years.

And don't you forget it, Sam playfully told him.

I never will, Jack promised just before he couldn't stand it any longer, and rubbed his fingers up and down the skin under her shirt. Thanks for leaving your shirt untucked, he said.

My pleasure, she said again, and Jack realized that it really was her pleasure.

Thank the heavens for the threat of a heart attack, Jack emphatically announced, and he only noticed at the last moment that he was speaking aloud. Or I might never have found enough courage to ask you out.

She kissed him, hard. Don't remind me, she said when they parted. You taste so good.

That's the blue jello I had for dinner...

Sam looked at him in surprise. Blue jello? she asked. Not red?

Blue... Just for you, he said right before he grabbed her to him in an embrace that was both gentle and tight at the same time.

I don't want to lose you, either, she said, now sounding desperate.

Jack shook his head. I still feel just fine, he reminded her. So you're stuck with me for now.

Thank goodness.

What had started out as a room initiation had turned into a holding session in Jack's bedroom doorway. And it surprised Jack that he found that the way the situation had ended was perfectly fine with him. You smell so good that I could stand here, holding you, the entire night.

I've never had so much fun just holding someone before, Sam noted. You feel so good that you're too good for me, if you follow.

Nothing is too good for you, Jack stated unequivocally with his eyes tightly closed, sensing her in his arms.

Sam sighed.

Jack sighed.

Being in love was really... nice, Jack admitted to himself.

* * *

Two days later, Sam suddenly appeared in Jack's office after the Briefing Room had emptied of personnel for what had been another fairly routine rescue mission briefing including SGs 1, 2, and 9. Tears brimmed on her beautiful lashes, and his heart lurched at the sight. Hey, he gently said, rising back up from where he'd intended to sit in his chair, and swinging around his desk towards her. What's wrong? He immediately entertained visions of someone dying or being mortally wounded, and he hadn't been informed.

I'm sorry! Sam explosively said. I've just never been so mad in my entire life! I was afraid I might hit someone, and this was the closest place I could go to hide out until I get better control. So I came in here in order to calm down to keep me from doing something stupid!

Jack paused. Tears were a new reaction to anger, according to his experience. Tears usually meant unhappiness, not animosity. He leaned back against his desk so that he could be near the chair she had chosen to fall into. It was the most he could do while they were at work, but it took all of his restraint not to immediately take her into his arms. What happened? he asked, and held out a tissue to her as he did his asking.

Sam took his offering as gracefully as she could, under the circumstances, and blew her nose. Sorry, she repeated.

That's okay, Jack softly said. Though I admit that you scared me half to death just now... I don't think I've seen you in tears in all our eight years together, is all. It freaked me out.

It has nothing to do with you, she assured. And usually I can control my emotions better than this. I must be tired today, or I'm in pain, or...

Pain. That was something O'Neill understood. His eyes flew over her. You don't look like you're bleeding anywhere.., he noted, recalling the reason for their latest mission.

Sam grinned in spite of her tears. Not that kind of pain. Female pain, she gently explained.

Jack's face reddened slightly. Oh. He had experience with that kind of pain, as well, but Sara had been quite secretive about any monthly cramping she had lived through, and he knew relatively little about the event of any discomfort. Is that why you're mad?

Sam sighed then, and relaxed more fully into the chair. It's really nothing, or, at least, nothing that hasn't happened before. But I guess I should tell you the entire story before you worry enough to blow a gasket, like I know you want to do... Then, she launched into her tale. The rescue went fine, just like we all reported; we got SG-9 out of that firefight with no real problems.

Jack didn't quite understand. That's it, then? Just the rescue getting to you?

Sam shook her head. No... Yes... Well... Besides the fact that two of the men who went with us wouldn't listen to my orders, yeah, that's all it was; a by-the-book rescue mission. It was so rote, it was scary. The fact that... I don't want to name any names here, but you can probably figure out who I'm talking about... She paused, gathering her thoughts. She finally sighed, admitting, Those two guys wouldn't listen to my suggestions, and tried to be heros by rushing the front lines of the enemy Jaffa that we were facing, leaving SG-1 to save their sorry butts... That was minor, in the long run.

You mean that something else happened? Jack inquired with raised brows; what more could have gone wrong that had been enough to make one of the strongest soldiers in the entire SGC cry?

Sam sniffed. We were on our way back to the 'Gate when... one of the same guys.., she said, explaining without pointing fingers, ... saw me taking some Ibuprofen, and demanded that I hand over all my pills so that he could take some for his ankle, which he had sprained while he and... another friend... were being incredibly stupid during the rescue... I had no choice but to hand over all my pills. He shares the same rank that I do... though how someone like that could make Lieutenant Colonel is beyond me... Anyway, I was taking the pills for cramps... Now, I have them so bad, I could scream, but that's beside the point, she said in an aside. She drew a calming breath, and continued her tale, Then the members of... another team... kept making jokes about women and female troubles... As if it was all my fault to begin with... Then, none of this got reported, naturally... And... I'm sorry, Sir... I don't mean to complain... I'm just tired, and...

Go home, Carter, Jack ordered then. But stop by the Infirmary first, take some medicine, rest, then come back here in half an hour. That is, if you think you can make it that long. After I have another little talk with SGs 1, 2, and 9, I want you to go home. Sit with a hot cloth on your stomach or something... That's what Sara used to do... Sit in front of the TV for the rest of the afternoon, drink some hot tea... There's no reason for you to stay here and be in pain while the rest of us saunter around, complaining about our hangnails, or something else just as dumb. Jack smiled a bit at her. Now go. And after I see you all in the Briefing Room, I don't want to see you again until tomorrow.

But Sir, I don't want any special treatment, or...

Jack sighed. Sam... You are so stubborn... Go to the Infirmary... Now get out of here.

For a fleeting moment, Sam grinned. I'm gone.

Good. Call you later.

Sam left, disappearing into the hallway. For a second longer, Jack gave in to the fury inside him that was so strong, it made him tremble. Then, he took a deep breath, and strung himself back together again. When he had once again regained control of himself, he called Daniel.

Jackson, Daniel said into his phone in a distracted voice. He was clearly already immersed in some translation or other.

Hey Daniel, mind if I talk to you in my office for a minute? Jack asked, masking his own anger so that it wouldn't look as if he knew anything about the situation, yet.

Sure.

I noticed that you had a look on your face during the briefing that gives me the idea that I'm not quite hearing everything that happened out there, Jack nonchalantly suggested. Care to expound on your report?

Daniel sighed, though more with a sense of finality than irritation. I'll tell you what I know... Just give me some time to get down there... See you in five, he said, then hung up his phone.

Five minutes later, Daniel was telling Jack what really happened on PRX-775 over two cups of coffee. All the female team members... not just Sam... simply sat there and took their comments, Jack, like they were so used to that stupid attitude... It makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with some of you military guys...

We're not all like that, Jack immediately disputed, though he ran an aggravated hand over his face.

Maybe, Daniel admitted. But it's gotta be incredibly frustrating for her... them, he amended. I mean, you never treated... anyone... like an object, and you were our team leader for years... And you were a full Colonel at the time...

I'm different, Daniel, Jack reminded him. I've been married, so I know about...

Daniel shifted in the chair he'd pulled up beside Jack's. That's not it, he protested. This was more than just making fun, or taking advantage... This was real anger, pointed at... pointed at... someone specific...

Daniel, I know everything I need, now, I think, Jack said. Daniel's story perfectly corroborated Sam's story, not that Jack expected anything else. He did promise, I'll do the rest.

Daniel earnestly gazed at him. I know you will, but I can't just sit by, and let this all happen, either.

That's funny, Daniel, Jack pointed out in a sarcastic tone of voice. You had no trouble just sitting by when we asked for your help on Abydos the last time SG-1 was there.

And the whole planet, not to mention the team, paid a terrible price for that mistake of mine, Daniel insisted. It's why I can't just sit quietly by anymore without doing something. I want to help.

Jack scrubbed at his face again. Now, he felt a bit guilty for haranguing Daniel the way he had. So he emphasized, You have helped, whether you know it or not. You've protected... certain people... in the best possible way by not naming any names, or making anyone angry. Then he looked up at his companion. Do you think you can find Teal'c, and bring him to the Briefing Room?

Daniel appeared confused as he rose. Sure. Then he stared at his former team leader. What do you plan to do?

Me? Jack innocently asked, then his eyes narrowed in determination, and he jokingly promised, I'm gonna knock some heads together... He relaxed as he sat back in his chair. Nothing, Daniel.., he remarked, tuthful then. I'm not gonna do a thing except talk to everybody, I promise. And thanks for telling me what's what.

Daniel shrugged. It's like once the guys all started picking on... certain people.., they all ganged up, and couldn't stop themselves. I'm sure glad that I don't work in that kind of an environment. I didn't know how good I had it with you and Sam being on the military end of things until all the guys blatantly illustrated it for me.

Jack sighed. If there was one thing he hated to deal with, it was personal complaints about behavior. But he hated harassment more, and this was definitely a case of harassment if he had ever heard one. Okay... Thanks again.

Daniel turned to go. Sure, no problem. I'll get Teal'c now... Then he left, after first throwing away his coffee cup in Jack's trash can.

Jack sat for a second in the quiet of his office, still seething, though his talk with Daniel had somewhat calmed his emotions. Then, he reached for the phone. Davies? he asked, purposefully noncommittal. This is the General... Can you have your team meet me in the Briefing Room in fifteen minutes or so? There's a few things that I didn't quite catch in your first briefing... Yeah, that's right.... I'd like to see everyone... Thanks. Then he made another phone call to the leader of SG-2 with the same message.

Fifteen minutes later, Jack met the six gentlemen and three women he'd requested to see in the room just outside his office. He didn't waste any time after they were all settled. Ladies and gentlemen, it's come to my attention that events didn't quite transpire out in the field today the way that you had earlier reported them. Nine faces met his, many of them wearing slightly guilty expressions. And no, I'm not going to say who pointed me in the right direction of events... Just know that this comes from a male source... And what he told me really disappoints me, not to mention makes me rather angry...

It was Major Davies of SG-9 who spoke. General, nothing else happened out there, believe...

Jack cut him off by raising his hand, loudly lashing out, Don't! There was silence as Jack did his best to regain control of his temper again before he went on, saying, Now, if I ever hear of any of you either harassing one of our female personnel, or lying to me to cover up that harassment, I'll have you court-martialed so fast that your heads will spin. And you know who I'm talking to. That will be all. Dismissed.

The three team's members hadn't said a word during the thirty seconds it had taken for General O'Neill to berate them without raising his voice. They filed out of the room now, peering at each other in suspicion. Jack remained behind, thinking. If even Sam, the accepted wonder brain of the entire SGC, was being harassed on a regular basis, then he had a bigger problem than he'd ever been made aware of.

Jack addressed that problem in an unusual way. He didn't yell at the hundreds of men under his command, as some of them deserved. Instead of getting angry, like he wanted to do, he complimented any female who crossed his path, no matter how minor their assigned task had been. In the end, he halted the harassment, raised morale, and uniquely fixed a behavioral problem that had been hounding the SGC for years. Soon, the base at Cheyenne Mountain had become the most often requested transfer spot for female personnel in the entire Air Force.

And that made Jack smile... in a gesture that was a bit evil at the same time.

* * *

The first time Jack and Sam made love, it was frantic, wild, and more beautiful than Jack had ever expected. It also set a chain of events in place that he never would have anticipated... But once that line had been crossed, it was like neither Jack nor Sam could get enough of the other, as if they had some kind of a disease.

But Sam focused their surprising attitudes down to mathematical ends that Jack could comprehend: If they had made love every other day, as they both anticipated would have happened, and there were 365 days in a year, then for not making love during the previous eight years, the universe owed them the freedom to make love 1460 times. Even if they only accorded four years to that time period, as four years had elapsed since the day of the infamous Za'tarc test, then the universe still owed them 730 times or so of giddy, uninterrupted lovemaking. Of course, they had no idea how long either of them really had while alive and healthy, so they went after what the universe owed them with a vengeance, sometimes making love three or four times a day. But it was often several times per day, as their schedule allowed. They didn't remotely keep to every other day, as their original schedule dictated. Which made Jack a very happy camper.

Yet, it was many months into what Sam jokingly referred to as 'The time in our lives when we finally put our dual feet down and said 'No more!' that the biggest surprise was dropped in Jack's lap totally out of the blue. He never saw it coming, and could do nothing about it, in any event.

Jack had just dismissed his associate , Walter Harriman, one morning when the bomb that set the chain of events in motion first fell. Walter reached the door into the corridor, but turned back around, file folders still in hand. He had suddenly come to a complete stop. Jack had already bent over his many forms that he had to fill out for the day, and didn't acknowledge Walter until the aide cleared his throat to regain General O'Neill's attention. Sir? Walter tentatively asked.

Jack looked up. Walter! I thought you'd left... What's up?

Permission to speak freely, Sir? Walter requested.

Jack disliked those words almost as much as he disliked harassment. Those words always brooked more words that caused a lot of damage. He could never get out of their way fast enough to avoid some of the fallout. Still, he said, Permission granted, but you know that you can tell me anything. Then, he glanced towards the hallway. You'd better close both doors, though, just in case someone overhears.

Nervously, Walter complied to O'Neill's request, clutching the files he was carrying to his chest, like a shield.

Now, what's this about? Jack asked. Do we have another surprise birthday party to plan that I don't know about?

Walter wriggled under Jack's penetrating gaze. Um... No, Sir, it's nothing like that.

Then... What is it? Jack inquired.

Um.., Walter went on. He looked down, looked up, looked through the window into the empty Briefing Room. Then, finally, he blurted, I know, Sir.

Jack sighed. Know what, Walter?

Walter looked down again. About you and Colonel Carter... Sir.

Jack's blood seemed to freeze in his veins the second that Walter uttered those words; he wasn't getting quite enough oxygen. Care to repeat that? Jack finally asked. He had to find out what Walter really knew, or thought he knew, before he confirmed anything.

Again, Walter squirmed, still clutching his folders against his chest. I saw you... that day when you were at the park... I was driving by at the time, and I had just asked myself if that was you when I had to stop at a red light. That was when you... um... kissed... Colonel Carter, Sir.

Crap. It seemed that Walter knew quite a bit. Slowly, Jack tried to force his blood through his suddenly aching heart while he tried to figure out what to do. Except that he had no idea what to do. Okaaay... he slowly said.

Or, I'm nearly 100% sure it was the two of you. I was alone at the time, and could have made a mistake, Walter added on a hopeful note.

That was what O'Neill had been waiting for. You were alone at the time? he asked in order to correctly ascertain the Sergeant's information.

Walter smiled a little smile. I know what you're going to say, Sir, he cautioned. And a defense of 'no witness corroboration' to my story won't hold up in a court-martial... I already checked out that line of defense, Sir.

Double crap. Jack sat back, and dropped the pen he'd been fiddling with onto his desk top. Okaaay...

The funny thing is, Sir, Walter went on, that I was on my way to pick up Andrea Cervantes at the time.

Jack failed to see the humor in that situation. And why is it funny that you were on your way to pick up Captain Cervantes at the time?

Walter's face turned beet red. Because... um... we were going out to lunch that day, Sir.

I still don't see why that's important, Jack said after a thoughtful moment had gone by. Lots of people don't like the food in the Commissary, and eat off base all the time. Take Daniel Jackson, for instance.

Walter's face turned even more crimson. Because Andrea and I... We're dating, Sir, he blurted. We have been for a year.

Jack sat up in his chair at his desk. But I thought that she was in...

Yes, Sir, Walter confirmed. She's also in my chain of command... I'm technically her senior officer.

Holy..! Jack stared at Walter, stunned. You... He paused, caught his breath, then blurted, I had no idea!

Walter suddenly gave a weak smile. That's the way we've tried to keep it, Sir.

Suddenly, Jack looked confused. Then, why mention..?

Because, Walter explained. Because... I've been going crazy, trying to decide if I should tell you or not... Andrea says that I should just forget about what I saw, and I tried, but I couldn't completely forget...

Did you tell anybody else? Jack demanded to know, practically confirming Walter's suspicions as true even when he was just trying to be discreet. Sam would have rolled her eyes at his slip, but he was paying such close attention to Walter at the time that he couldn't waste any of those minutes worrying about anything else.

Um... no, Walter was saying. I couldn't say anything, because whomever I told would wonder where I was going in the middle of a work day when I saw you and... and Colonel Carter... and then I would have to tell him about Andrea, and then all mine and Andrea's work at hiding our... our relationship... would have been uncovered, and then that would have meant a court-martial for both of us, too, and... Andrea deserves better than that, Sir.

Whoa. Jack sat for a moment in silence as he tried to think of what to do.

Sir? Walter asked. I hope I haven't surprised you too much, Sir.

Jack came out of his reverie with a start. Uh, no, no, I'm just... Good God, I'm just stunned, is all! Finally, he admitted, I just don't know what to say.

Walter shook his head. I don't expect you to say anything, General. I just wanted you to know, that's all. He turned back towards the door leading into the corridor.

Walter... wait! Jack's voice held an appeal that had rarely been heard before.

Walter turned back around. Are you going to court-martial me now, Sir? Because I really hoped that you wouldn't do that to...

No! Jack insisted. I was just thinking... You took one hell of a risk telling me about what you saw.

Yes, Sir.

The least I can do is offer you some coffee while I tell you my whole story.

Walter sat on the first chair he came to as Jack rose and filled one of his own mugs with coffee. Sugar? Jack asked. Cream?

Both, Walter answered, then he hesitated as he laid the files on the other chair. Does this mean that what I saw is true?

Jack paused in his stirring of Walter's drink, and his heart thudded painfully in his chest. Walter, you have to understand that nothing I say can ever go out of this office...

Good! Walter smiled in relief. That works out best for me, too.

Jack resumed his stirring, feigning a confidence he didn't feel, then handed the steaming mug to his assistant. Walter carefully accepted the drink. Then Jack made another mug of coffee for himself.

The next hour as Jack talked to Walter was one of the strangest in his life.

* * *

An hour and thirty seconds later, after Walter had left his office to return to the Command Center, Jack phoned Sam in her lab.

Carter, she answered her phone on its third ring.

How ya feeling? O'Neill asked. Whatcha workin' on?

Sam paused. I feel fine, and how did you know I was working on something? she queried. What are you, psychic or something?

Jack laughed. I could say that I am, but actually, you answered your phone on the third ring, as if you had to put something down first, he explained.

Her smile came through the phone line. I am working on something, she admitted.

Knew it. Jack grinned. Did he know Carter, or what? Look, I was wondering if you're free tonight? he asked.

She paused. This is sounding like it's turning into something you don't want to say while we're at work.

It is, if you're free, Jack said. How does a steak sound?

You and your steaks...

Jack laughed. Well, I have some guests coming over at 1830, and wondered if you would like to join us? It might be worth your while; they both have a lot to say.

That sounds mysterious.., Sam began.

Oh, come on, Carter, you love a good mystery! Jack cajoled.

Well, I do have something that I need to talk to you about, anyway, she said.

Anything important?

Sam sighed. Too important for a phone line.

What is it anyway?

Nope, not over the phone, she said, but then amended, I'll just say that it's one hell of a surprise.

I can hear you grinning away in there... What was it? he wondered. Was it his birthday and he didn't remember? Was it her birthday? Was it Daniel's? Was she going to tell him she had decided to retire from the Air Force? A chill snaked up his spine when he thought of that.

But Carter was talking. Okay, expect me at 1800, or so...

That will give me a chance to explain some things, first.

Like what things, for instance?

Ha! Jack said. I'm not saying right now, either, so I can be sure of ruining your entire day as you slowly go insane with curiosity...

That is just too malicious! she exclaimed. I must be rubbing off on you.

Hey, I learn from the best.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll see you later, she affectionately said.

At 1800, Jack reminded her.

I'm putting it on my calendar so I won't forget. 'The General's house at 1800,' she read. See you then.

Youbetcha. Jack hung up the phone, and breathed a sigh of relief. Now the ball was rolling along exactly where he wanted it to go.

* * *

That ball derailed later that night, but that was after Walter and Andrea Cervantes left Jack's house, leaving Jack and Sam feeling secure in the knowledge that the four of them now shared a secret.

I can't believe that they knew all along, Sam said with a shake of her head as the door shut behind the couple. The two had headed for Walter's car parked in the drive as Sam continued, And they kept it completely quiet until now!

Believe it, Jack said from where she joined him in his kitchen as he pulled a cork out of the bottle of wine he had been saving for him and Sam after the dinner was over. Sam? he asked, holding aloft the wine.

Um, Sam said. I'd better not, thanks though, she finally answered.

Jack shrugged as he poured himself a glass. Suit yourself.

I ate so much at dinner that maybe I should just drink a glass of water to wash it all down...

Jack set aside his wine, and pulled a glass from a cupboard. One glass of water, coming up.

Sam grinned. Thanks, she said again, and took his offering before leading the way into his living room. What did you think of Andrea Cervantes? she asked.

Too skinny, Jack immediately commented. But nice, he emphasized. I think I'll stick with you, though.

Sam sent him a full smile that time, the one that often made him feel weak in the knees. Thanks, she said in sincerity. I think I won't trade you in for Walter any time soon, either.

Jack laughed, and settled beside her on his couch. I feel honored.

You should, Sam giggled, then kissed the tip of his nose.

Now, none of that, Jack protested, though he looked as if a quick trip to his bedroom to 'admire the new color of his walls' wasn't such a bad idea just then. But he stretched out with his head in her lap. I also feel too full just now to enjoy any 'extra curricular activities.'

Sam sounded hesitant as she said, That's kind of what I needed to talk to you about, Jack.

Extra curricular activities? he asked, peering up at her.

Sam swatted him with a pillow, then sarcastically told him, Oh, yes, I want to tell you that I joined the base cheerleading squad.

Lucky them, Jack said, and grinned, but shut his eyes to close out the dim light coming from the two lamps that he had lit.

Now, don't fall asleep, she warned. I really do have to talk to you tonight.

I'm listening, he insisted. Even with my eyes shut, I can hear everything you're saying.

Jack, I've been grounded because I'm pregnant.

Jack's eyes flew open when she said that.

You're right, you are listening to everything I'm saying, Sam nonchalantly commented.

Jack slowly sat up on his couch, feeling too numb to do more. Did I hear you right? he softly asked. You said you're going to have a baby?

Sam sighed, sounding sad now. I didn't mean to blurt it out at you like that, she apologized. But, yeah, you heard me right. I said that I'm pregnant.

Jack sat for a moment, too stunned to respond.

Jack? asked a worried Sam. Are you having that heart attack the doctors predicted that you would someday have? Should I call 911?

Jack jerked out of his stupor the minute she uttered numbers. Sam..., he tragically whispered. This... How..? What..?

Question number one: how? Well, you know how...

Jack's face darkened. But aren't you on..? I mean, I thought we were using birth control. It's a requirement for every female if they go off world.

A barbaric requirement, if you ask me, Sam said, suddenly ferocious. The Air Force doesn't demand that the men use anything, only the females, she protested. It's downright humiliating...

Sam! O'Neill harshly called to get her back on track of their original conversation. More calmly, he repeated, But you're on birth control.

No, Sam negated. You only thought that... Actually, I never said anything of the sort. hen, she amended, Actually, I was on birth control, then I wasn't, then I was...

Sam! Jack harshly uttered once again. How do you know what you said? Jack asked. We first talked about birth control months... years... ago!

Again Sam sighed. And if you remember correctly, I said that I had been on birth control, and technically, that's true.

Jack stared back. Technically? he asked in a frantic sense of numbed horror.

Guiltily, Sam nodded. The reason I said what I said is because of Jolinar.

Jack scowled. Her again?

Sam briefly smiled at his irritated tone. But the gesture slid quickly off her lips. The naqueda Jolinar left behind in my blood system nullifies birth control, and acts like it, itself, which is why I don't bother to take any. What's the point of taking a pill every day that won't work anyway, and has rather nasty side effects? she rhetorically asked. So I quit taking them after... after the Jolinar incident.

But you never got pregnant when you were with Pete! Jack went on.

Sam was quiet for a minute as she stared down at the carpet under her feet.

She was silent for so long that Jack began to panic. Sam! he severely stated. Tell me what's going on, he demanded.

Sam sighed, and ran a nervous hand through her hair. Okay, I'll tell you everything, if you promise not to get angry before I'm finished, she stipulated.

This was beginning to sound really bad. Jack nodded, though he felt like he didn't have any choice but to agree. All right, I promise, he said in a quiet voice. Yet inside, his heart was suddenly pounding against his ribs.

Okay, Sam said. Then she looked up at Jack, groaned, paused, gathered her courage together, and at last, launched into a tale that made Jack's head spin. I had been seeing Pete for several months when I noticed that I felt weird. At first, I brushed it off as being tired, and I should have felt tired, what with all that had been going on with Daniel and Osiris, and our mission schedule... But then, I got to thinking...

I'm not sure that I want to hear this, Jack said, and moved to rise from his place on the couch, but Sam caught the edge of his shirt in her fingertips, stopping him.

No, please don't go, Jack, Sam beseeched. You need to hear this... all of this, even though I know it's going to be fairly painful for you.

So Jack sat back down on the coffee table fronting the couch, facing her. He looked white, but invited her to continue by waving a hand in the air after he had heaved a sad sigh into the room.

Sam didn't waste his silent invitation. She said, I'm so sorry to have to tell you this... She stopped again, seemed to pull her emotions together, then woodenly continued, It's true that Pete and I had... Sam swallowed. That we had slept together a few times... We did nothing more than I know that you and Kerry did, but that's beside the point, really.

Jack had been about to let his anger at the thought of her in Shanahan's arms burst out of him, but her reminder of what he had done with Kerry Johnson made him pause, as she had known it would. The thought of Sam, sleeping with another man, was cutting in the extreme to Jack, but he had to think that the idea of him sleeping with Kerry had to be equally as appalling to Sam. The reminder stopped his reaction before it could even get started.

Anyway, Sam softly went on, I felt weird, went to the Infirmary, where they ran a few tests, and confirmed what I was worried about... I was two months pregnant...

Jack drew in a deep breath, blew it out, but didn't say anything lest he say something that he might well regret.

Tears had started to worm their way into Sam's eyes, held back by her lashes and sheer willpower. She refused to cry as her narrative continued, I was in such a state of shock that, for a few days, I couldn't think of what to do. Janet and I had run tests on my blood after the Jolinar incident, and we both felt fairly certain that I could never even get pregnant, to say nothing of carrying a baby to term. So I hadn't been worried that I was sleeping with someone while not being on birth control.

Sam drew a deep breath again before she could go on. God, this is hard to talk about, she muttered, and let her head despairingly fall into the palm of her hand. But it was the only concession to her agitated state that she would give in to, for she spoke, anyway, though what she had to say, she said to the floor. I hadn't said anything yet to anybody...

Not even to... Jack swallowed the bile that was sitting at the back of his throat. Not even to Pete? he forced himself to ask.

Sam shook her head. No one. Then, out of the blue, Pete proposed, and you and I had that conversation in my lab... Her voice rose as her narrative continued. Her delicate state of control was in jeapardy, and it showed in her agonized expression. And I already knew what it was like to grow up with only one parent... My mom had died when I was just thirteen, and, even though I tried to be what everybody else needed me to be... I wasn't even old enough yet to know what the hell I was doing half the time... How could I possibly know how to be a sister and a mother while barely even knowing how to be a teenager? So, when I found out I was expecting a baby... I knew how hard the single parent thing could be... Her tears became even more difficult to contain when she brought up her mother, but contain them she did, somehow. It made me decide that I owed it to the baby at least to say 'yes' to Pete... Sam shook her head, and Jack groaned.

So... what I said to you that day in your lab... It was my fault in a round about way that you said 'yes' in the first place? What I said convinced you?

No! Sam's head jerked up. No, don't think that. Our conversation merely made me... re-evaluate... a few things.

But the fact that you were pregnant is the reason you agreed to his proposal? Jack sadly inquired.

Sam morosely nodded. It played a big part in it, she admitted. But I still didn't tell him...

Why didn't you tell me? Jack asked as he took her hands in his.

I couldn't! Sam wailed. I couldn't hurt you like that! she protested. That would have been way too cruel... The idea that I could ask for you to help me when I was having another man's baby... Sam shook her head again. I couldn't do that. And I couldn't tell Pete, because he would feel that sense of obligation towards me that so many men get when they first realize that the girl they're with is pregnant... Though in retrospect, it would have made him awfully happy, I suppose...

Teal'c... Daniel? Jack asked next in a desperate voice.

I couldn't tell them, because then you would have found out when Daniel let it slip to someone in the SGC... As we both know would have happened... We know he can never keep a secret, no matter how good his intentions are... Sam shook her head. I couldn't tell Teal'c, because if Daniel ever found out that I had confided in Teal'c to begin with, he would have never understood, and just felt betrayed... So I said 'yes' to Pete's proposal, but stayed quiet for a few more days while I was still thinking.

Sam took another breath, and shuddered this time. Then, one night, I started having pains in my stomach... I convinced myself that I was just experiencing latent bruising from a mission, that I was just tired...

Jack had the sudden, sinking feeling that he knew what she was going to tell him. But that wasn't it, was it? he asked, his heart now heavy.

She closed her eyes. No, it wasn't bruising. By the time two hours had passed, I knew what was going on, and I thought about calling someone in the Infirmary... But what could anyone do? Besides, if I called the Infirmary... and I couldn't call a regular ambulance because of security reasons... that naqueda in my blood is going to haunt me for the rest of my life, I think... Anyway, if I called the Infirmary, the doctors would feel duty bound to tell you, and I had already decided that I couldn't let you know because...

Jack's expression fell into one of horrified disbelief. God...

Sam was resolute, however. I didn't want to tell Pete about the miscarriage after that... What was the point? It would just have made him sad, and there was no reason to do that. I couldn't tell you, I couldn't tell Daniel and Teal'c... The one person I was likely to confide in, Janet, was dead... So I pretended that everything was fine... peachy... No one ever knew...

Jack blanched even further. You went through that all by yourself..?

I had to! Sam blurted on a wail. If I didn't... I had to, she repeated, quieter now. A fourth deep breath, and she went on, Than Dad died... And I didn't want to stay with Pete anymore... Then you had that heart attack scare... And now, here I am, practically in the same situation all over again.

Jack sat silently beside her while he tried to force his frozen brain to work. It felt sluggish, even if it did start churning out solutions to this new quandary. Okay, let's not panic... I can retire. Then, a baby won't be a problem.

Jack, Sam patiently negated. I can't let you do that for me, or...

Jack eyed her. It's because of me that...

No, Sam stated, and rose from her seat on the couch. I can't see you giving up something you love just to...

Sam, Jack said, stopping her, pulling her back down to sit and listen to him. It's not really a matter of giving up anything...

What do you mean?

Jack sighed, then ran a hand through his hair. I guess I mean that everyone's going to know in another month or two... When's the baby's due date? he asked, looking quizzically at her.

Sam grimaced. I was so scared that it would all happen again... So I didn't say anything until I was sure that I wouldn't just have another miscarriage. The due date is too soon to try to explain the baby away with retirement. We can't hide this, she told him.

Damn. Jack sighed again. Then it doesn't really make any...

I can refuse to name who the father is, Sam suggested.

Jack looked at her out of tragic eyes. Do you really think that I would let you do that kind of thing, just to save my hide?

Sam seemed to wilt as she looked at him. No... Then, her face crumpled on top of her wilting before him, and Jack knew that she was struggling to stay in control of her emotions now. I'm sorry, Jack! she apologized in a whisper. I only made such a suggestion because I don't want anything bad to happen to you because of me.

Sam, Sam, Jack soothed as he rose to take her in his arms. I know you don't... He heaved a big sigh again. I don't know what to... I guess I need to think about this...

Sam tried to smile, though it was a rather watery gesture. We both need to think... Her voice trailed off into silence, then.

Suddenly Jack grinned. Actually, I'm thinking about... He paused uncertainly.

What? she prodded. What are you thinking about?

Jack blushed when she asked that question, though it was a plain enough inquiry. He shrugged. Well, it does make a guy start thinking about things like... like marriage... and things.

Sam turned in his arms to face him. Jack! Surely you don't think I told you about this so that I would get a marriage proposal out of you!

Jack was horrified. No! Of course I don't think that! He wrapped his arms more tightly around her. No!

She was obviously confused. Then what are you doing?

Well... I'm... Jack paused, wondering the same thing himself. I'm thinking that this... this baby, he corrected, might...

Might what? she suspiciously asked.

That was when Jack gave up trying to be discreet. Oh, come on, Sam, don't try to tell me that marriage never once crossed your mind in all this time? You were even engaged for awhile there, so I know you were thinking about it, about wanting a family someday.

Sam had to concede that what he said was true. Okay, she admitted. Maybe. But that doesn't mean that I want you to give up your career just because...

Sam, it's my career, Jack told her in a firm, but quiet voice.

Maybe I would rather have me give up my career to stay home and take care of a baby, she suggested then. That is the more traditional thing to do.

Oh, tradition, Jack scoffed, then.

That statement made Sam smile. You're too traditional to let a woman pay for a first date, but not so traditional that you wouldn't ask that same woman to give up her career when she was having your child?

Jack shrugged, then he said, Sam, my career is almost finished as it is... I'm so much older than you are... And, admit it, you would get bored with staying home every day within the first week of being retired.

And you won't? she asked.

Jack sighed. I guess my point is that, since one of us needs to retire, because if we don't, we'll both be court-martialed and discharged from the military...

That would just kill my Dad, Sam commented. If he weren't already...

And you're Dad would then kill me, Jack added. If he weren't already... Then, he went on as if he hadn't repeated her. If one of us needs to retire to avoid all that, I'm the logical choice, he argued. You're far too valuable to the SGC, and maybe I can stay on part time as a consultant, or something.

Or I can consult, Sam said.

Jack grinned. Stubborn to the last, aren't you? he rhetorically asked, and hugged Sam again even tighter than before.

Sam was forced to pant, Jack, I can't breathe when you do that..! and Jack loosened his hold a bit. Sam exhaled in relief. Thanks! she said. Guess everything is a surprise when you're pregnant. They were both silent, then, as Jack held Sam, and she rested her head on his shoulder for a moment.

Finally, Jack ran a hand down Sam's side. Sam, I want to be available this time around. I missed so much about Charlie's life when he was little... I don't want you to go through that by yourself. I want to not miss out on anything... Suddenly, Jack sighed, and buried his face in the top of her hair. You're so important to me...

Sam grinned... (He could feel that gesture rubbing against his chin...) You're important to me, too, she said.

You're more important to me than a job, certainly, Jack clarified. After another bout of silence, he gave Sam a squeeze that was over too quickly to harm her or the baby. Let me think about this...

I'll think about it, too, though I've been doing little else, lately, Sam said in determination.

Jack smiled encouragingly. We're both pretty smart people... We'll think of something...

Sam sighed a grimace. I know we will... It's just... She paused, staring at the floor once more.

It was Jack's turn to ask prodding questions. Just what?

Sam shrugged. Well... Okay, this is stupid, but... Well, I sort of want this baby to live because it's a part of you, and I know that's being silly, but...

Jack grinned; he couldn't help himself. I was thinking the same thing, only that I want it to live because it's a part of you...

We're getting all mushy, now, Sam warned.

Yeah, we are, aren't we? Jack asked, sounding like he thought that being mushy was a good thing to be.

Not even being threatened with the likelihood of a court-martial could compare to the thrill that Jack admittedly felt at Sam's announcement. He had a hard time holding in his sudden joy at the idea that he was going to be a father... again. It was really more than he had ever hoped for. He smiled one more time, and hugged Sam, positively ecstatic now that the news was known. Nothing could stop him from enjoying this moment. Nothing.

* * *

The sun was shining the next morning as Jack drove into a free space at the SGC next to Sam's car. He hopped out, careful not to spill the coffee he was carrying, and grabbed the file folders he had been planning to go over as pre-bedtime reading, but hadn't been able to wind down enough to look at even once. He crossed behind his truck to where Sam stood, propping her car door open while she first pulled a computer carrying case out of the back seat, and threw it over her shoulder. She was in the process of pulling out a briefcase, when the carrying case slid foreword, and banged her in her knee. Ouch! she yelped, still trying to grab the briefcase, and keep her computer in its case from falling to the ground at the same time.

Jack switched his coffee to his left hand, then reached out for the carrying case to carry her computer for her.

She looked worried, though, and stopped him. Sam opened the case, and mumbled, I just need to check and see if it's all right...

It's fine, Jack testily said, then reached forword, slipping a note into the front pocket of the case where he knew that she stored her computer chords.

She gazed at him in suspicion, but he didn't say anything, only zipped up the case, then transferred it to his shoulder without being asked. Sam shouldn't really be lugging around anything so heavy, should she? he wondered to himself.

Sam looked around, surprised, and even more astounded at the sight of her savior. Thanks, she said anyway, grabbed the briefcase, and shut her car door. They began walking across the parking lot to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex door in a companionable silence, one that Sam broke at last.

She cleared her throat, and nonchalantly inquired, So... Again came a glance at him. She met Jack's gaze as he glanced simultaneously in her direction. Have you had time to... think... about what we talked about yesterday?

Jack smiled at her and raised his brow. I did think about it, all last night. Then he sheepishly glanced at her again. I didn't even sleep much, I was thinking so hard.

She squinted at him in the early morning sunlight, just stopping herself from asking him if he'd hurt himself by thinking so much. And?

Jack's smile grew wider. And... Darn, this is sweet, he stated, and kept grinning big enough to make her want to melt.

Sam's squint didn't lessen, however. Sweet? she cautiously reiterated.

Jack's face seemed fixed with his smile. Yeah... Very sweet. Totally sweet. He paused to grin at her again. Wow.

Sam's squint wormed its way into a small, tentative smile. I admit, that's how I was hoping you would react...

Jack punched the button for the elevator for them both. Oh, yeah, he said. Way sweet.

Sam smiled now. Did you think about that... that other thing... we talked about, too?

Jack nodded. I did. He didn't tell her that he had sat up for half the night on his couch, instead of in his bed, after she had reurned to her own house, thinking like mad about babies, retirement, Sam, court-martials, the Air Force, the SGC...

And? she prodded again.

Jack blew out a breath. He wanted to tell her without telling her in exact words that would lead to evidence that might later be used as incriminating them... He glanced at her as they entered the elevator together, appearing like two good friends arriving at work at the same time. I still think that... what we discussed as my response to this... It's still the only thing we can do, really.

As Jack feared, Sam got that set, firm look as she clenched her jaw together in righteous determination. That's not exactly fair, though, Sir, and I think...

There you go again, Carter, Jack mumbled lightheartedly, as if he had anticipated that Sam would react in this precise manner. You think too much, he went on.

Sam grimaced. You've been saying that for the last eight years, she grumbled.

And I would think that by now you would listen to me, Jack said. All I can say to reassure you is that I don't mind, really. In fact... Jack took a deep breath as they exited the elevator into the atrium, then entered the second elevator that would carry them down to the SGC.

In fact? Sam prompted.

Jack smiled again, that wide, shiteating grin that he knew she loved. In fact, he said again, I'm kind of looking forward to it.

That seemed to take Sam by surprise. You are? she blurted.

Jack glanced again at her, still smiling. Yeah, I am, if you want the God-honest truth. I am.

Sam was no less than stunned by this information. She would hate the forced inactivity of retirement, herself... and she knew that Jack loved what he did for a living... She had to stare at the elevator doors in order to repress a sudden urge to throw herself thankfully into his arms. Well, she said at last. She turned to face him, then, her own grin hesitantly gliding up her cheeks. That's... That's good, she said at last. Then she had to turn and face front again, lest she embarrass herself.

By this time, the elevator car had arrived at the floor where Carter's lab was located, and they both stepped off, and into the military corridor.

Hey, Jack, Sam, wait up! The yell was just coming to an end when Daniel Jackson careened around the corner. He was carefully carrying an ever-present cup of coffee with him, and took a sip of the hot beverage before he went on, I'm glad I caught you two... Are you headed to Sam's lab?

Jack fingered the computer carrying case slung over his shoulder, and joked, What gives you that idea, Daniel?

Daniel stared at the computer case, and smirked. Just a guess, you could say...

They entered the dark confines of Sam's lab, and Jack flicked the lightswitch to 'on' before he set the computer carefully on the lab table that took up most of the room. Well, there you go, Carter. I think you've got everything now... He turned to regard them, then grinned one more time. Seemingly with his mind on other things, he tapped the outside pocket, then ordered, Daniel, don't let her work too hard... He slipped out the door after nodding to both of them. They watched him go.

Damn, Jack heard Daniel say. He's sure in a good mood... Wonder what's up? Maybe he got some good news or something...

Maybe.., Jack heard Sam answer, and he couldn't help the snort of laughter that came out of his mouth as he blew on his coffee, then headed for the stairs that would lead him one flight down to his own office.

Daniel left Sam's lab soon after that, lugging the hefty reference book he'd been after when he'd originally caught sight of Jack and Sam. The minute he was gone, Sam unzipped her computer carrying case, and peered into the inside chord pocket. She carefully pulled out the note that Jack had secreted inside. She flipped it open and read: 'Sweet! I love you!'

Smiling wide enough to give even Daniel a run for his money for best smile on base, Sam stuffed the note quickly into her pants pocket that was on the opposite side of the security camera's view, then started to set up her computer. But she grinned the entire time.

When he reached his office, Jack flipped the lights on, then without even taking off his coat, set his coffee aside, crossed to the computer, booted up the machine, opened the correct program, chose the appropriate file, read over everything, made a few slight changes, including changing the date, then printed the single piece of paper the file contained. He grabbed the paper, grabbed a pen, and signed it with a flourish before stuffing it into an already addressed envelope that he kept in one of the desk's top drawers. Then, he grinned again.

Then he called George Hammond in Washington D.C.

Hammond, the original SGC General grunted as he answered after the first ring.

George! yelled Jack. How's the grandkids?

Jack could hear Hammond chuckle over the line. Jack.. They're fine, just fine. Then, he paused for a second. I don't see them as often as I would like, but... He laughed again. When I retire, and you take over for me, remember that you'll have even less time than the SGC gave to you in order to do paperwork. The brass wants everything in triplicate.., Hammond complained good naturedly.

Don't remind me! Jack commanded, laughing as well. Then he settled down when he thought about what Hammond had said. Listen, George, I wonder if you can do a favor for me about you retiring?

George laughed again. What..? Do you mean that you want me to retire now? Or to never retire?

Well.., Jack started to say. The never part is what I want to talk to you about.

Uh-oh, Hammond said. What is it that you have to say, Jack, that I think I'm not going to like hearing?

Jack's face turned red, but he knew that Hammond couldn't see him over a phone, of course. He was just glad that Hammond was in D.C. instead of Colorado at the moment. He felt bad enough to be needing to have this conversation to begin with. Uh... I'm in something of a pickle, Sir.

A pickle? Hammond repeated. Sounds ominous.

I need to retire, Sir, Jack bluntly stated.

Hammond remained silent for a full minute as he absorbed Jack's words. Finally, he asked, Need to, or want to?

Jack gripped the phone a little tighter, knowing that what he was going to say would be kind of a disappointment to Hammond, but then he thought of Sam, the baby, retirement, and he didn't feel like such a disappointment after all. Need to, he firmly stated into the phone.

Uh-oh, Hammond said again.

It's not an 'uh-oh' situation, Sir. But I do have personal reasons for needing to retire... As in, I need to retire now... yesterday, Jack went on Pronto. Can you help?

Hammond was silent again for an agonizing moment. Then, he said, I don't know what I can do for you that will expedite what is about a month's worth of paperwork...

I can't wait a month, Jack told him. I need to retire now, right away, if I can.

Hammond was quiet once more. Finally, he asked, Does your sudden need to retire come in lieu of... something that we won't give a name to... that has you in front of a board of Generals at the Academy?

Well, Jack nonchalantly said, which hid the fact that he was actually scared to death at the thought of what Hammond was suggesting without giving a name to it. You can say that I would prefer to avoid that board scenario you mentioned...

Well.., Hammond muttered into the phone. At last, he said, I can change the dates on your paperwork by a week, and hopefully no one will notice. Whoever else looks at your papers might think that they got buried by accident, and have been sitting on a desk for several days. Which is entirely believable around here, he said, then. That's about the best I can offer you, though.

That would be perfect, Sir, Jack proclaimed. That's just what I need.

So, shall we say... last Tuesday's date..? The tenth?

Jack checked his calendar. Okay, got it.

And Jack.., Hammond warned.

What? Jack asked, duly warned.

Hammond continued, When all this is over, I expect to be told just why it's necessary to be changing dates like this...

After it's official, Jack said I promise.

Suddenly, Hammond laughed. You sound so calm... I would be a bundle of nerves if I were you.

Jack grinned. Who says I'm not? he asked. And thanks. I owe you one.

Don't mention it.., George said, then seemed to change his mind, for he said, On second thought, mention it to anybody who will listen that you owe me one. Oh, and Jack?

Yeah? Jack asked, sensing the end of the conversation was near.

Hammond's grin came over the phone line. Tell Colonel Carter that I said 'Hello.' Then he hung up.

Jack listened to the dial tone in his phone. Why, you old.., he started to mumble. Then, he grinned.

Then he redated the letter in his computer file, and printed out the page once again. Lucky that he hadn't sealed the envelope, he acknowledged. He'd figure that he'd better talk to Hammond first, though.

After a moment, one printed letter, and one letter dated incorrectly was hidden in his own work-related case, Jack made his way down to the Infirmary, as he knew a complete physical was required for all retiring personnel. He patiently waited on a free bed until a doctor was finished with SG-8's bloodwork, and approached him.

Hi, I'm Doctor Dimity... Is there something I can do for you?

Hi... Uh, I haven't met you before...

Dimity smiled. That's because I'm new here... Only started last week.

Oh. Jack gave a nod of understanding. Well, I'm needing a full exam, if you have some time...

Dimity was already making some kind of notation on the clipboard he was carrying. Which was odd, Jack absently thought... The man hadn't even gone to retrieve his file yet.

The doctor made one last scribble on his notes. He smiled, and looked up. You're in luck... I have a free minute right now, if you tell me you're name..?

Jonathan O'Neill, Jack told him. O'Nell with two 'l's. He held up two fingers.

One moment please, the doctor said. I'll just get that file for us... He crossed the medical bay, and disappeared into the office where the base Infirmary personnel stored the file folders of each of their patients. Jack waited for a moment, then played with a thermometer someone had left on the bedside table, then moved on to fiddling with the edge of the Kleenex box sitting next to the thermometer. He was thinking of Daniel and his allergies as he played. That man sometimes sneezed at the most inopportune times, Jack ruminated, and smiled yet again.

But the smile slid away as he sighed. He looked up, yet there was still no sign of that new doctor who'd gone after his file. Geez, he thought, how long did it take to find one simple medical file?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Doctor Dimity reappeared, coming towards him, bearing two file folders in his hands. One was quite a bit thicker than the second one.

Dimity smiled at Jack. Sorry for taking so long, but if you wouldn't mind telling me your rank..?

General, Jack answered.

The lift his of eyebrows was the only indication that Dimity understood that he was talking to the commander of the entire SGC as he said, Thanks so much... He laid one of the file folders onto the end of the bed, and kept the second file in his hands. You won't believe this, he went on in his chatty 'doctor' voice. There were two files with the name of Jonathan O'Neill. That's what took me so long.

Two? Jack questioned, as if he really didn't believe what he was hearing.

Dimity nodded. A General's... yours... and one belonging to a Colonel...

Jack sat up straighter. Mind if I take a look at those files?

Dimity seemed confused by the request, but acquiesced at last. Uh... sure... Here. He handed both folders to Jack.

Jack glanced at the name on top of each folder. One said 'Jonathan O'Neil, Colonel,' and the second read 'Jonathan O'Neill, General.' Jack slid off the bed, then spread both folders out right next to each other. He flipped them open, and looked at the long strip of paper that held each patient's EKG test results paperclipped to the folder. There, Jack pointed with an only slightly trembling finger at one of the strips. How would you read something like that? he asked.

Dimity leaned over Jack's shoulder. Oh, that's obviously a patient who's in perfect health, Sir, he said.

And this one? Jack pointed again at the second EKG.

Dimity's face took on a far more serious expression. Well, that one... That one's not so clear...

Bad? Jack asked.

Doctor/patient confidentiality, Dimity regretfully told him. I really shouldn't say...

Read it, and that's an order, Jack said tersely, still pointing with his finger.

Dimity cleared his throat again. It was obvious that he was trying to balance the need for confidentiality with a need to comply with a direct order coming from a General, one who handled things such as transfers. Then he looked again over Jack's shoulder. Um... Just glancing at it... Not so good.

A candidate for heart attack, would you say? Jack inquired then. When Dimity didn't answer, Jack sighed, and tried to compel him to say something by explaining to him. A year ago, I was told by Dr. McCormick...

Oh, he's not here any longer, Dimity told him. I think he requested a transfer...

Who authorized a transfer order like that? Jack demanded.

Um... well... Dimity looked hesitantly at him. Um... That would be you, he answered at last.

Oh, Jack said, a bit deflated.

But Dimity was continuing, I can see how such a thing would slip by a person, though, especially if several transfer requests came in at once. I know that the Infirmary, for example, only sends out transfer requests once a week, so they start to pile up a bit...

Jack supposed McCormick's transfer papers had been part of a stack of forms that he had just slapped his signature on without even reading. He tried to cover up his past habits concerning paperwork by asking, Okay, but anyway... I was told that I would probably have a heart attack sometime in the next five years.

Dimity glanced again at the two folders spread out on the bed. I would have to say that that prognosis is a bit farfetched. He picked up the folder that had the word 'General' on it. I mean, this is your file, and there's nothing in here to indicate heart problems...

Jack snatched the folder from his hand, his own heart suddenly racing. Thanks... Can I borrow these for a minute? he asked. He picked up the other folder from the bed.

Dimity blanched at that thought. Those are medical files, Sir, and aren't supposed to leave the...

Consider them requisitioned, then, Jack immediately said. He started to back towards the door. He had to see Sam right away about what he had discovered! I'll be right back...

General! Dimity protested.

Be right back! Jack repeated, then practically flew out of the Infirmary, and down the corridor to the waiting elevator, that spilled him out near Sam's lab.

Jack skidded to a halt at the door. Sam looked up in surprise from whatever she was typing on her computer. Sir? she greeted.

Jack barreled further into her lab. Sam! he yelled.

It was so rare for him to call her by her first name while at work that she furrowed her brow in concern. What's wrong?

Jack slapped the files down in front of her. Look! he demanded in excitement.

Sam looked. They have the same name, she noted right away.

You know that, and you haven't even opened them up, yet, Jack commented, once again amazed at her inborn intelligence, but tried to ignore that when he said, Go ahead, open them!

Still not entirely comprehending what he was trying to get at, Sam flipped them both open on her lab table. The folders revealed two EKG strips right away as they fell open. There's two EKGs.., Sam explained.

I know what they are, Jack impatiently said. I also know that Janet taught you how to read them... So, read, he commanded.

Sam read. She read again. She flipped the folders shut and read the names emblazoned at the top of each. She opened them one more time, then flipped the one that said 'Jonathan O'Neill, General' shut again. Then she sat back in stunned silence. At last she breathed, My God... A mistake?

The entire thing, Jack announced.

But you're always so adamant about saying 'That's O'Neill, with two 'l's,' Sam protested.

But I don't think I said anything when I was in the Infirmary last year, Jack explained. I must have been distracted, he went on, looking at Sam, thus giving credit to what had probably distracted him at the time. And the files are ordered alphabetically...

Sam finished for him, And 'O'Neil' with one 'l' comes before 'O'Neill' with two 'l's...

And the original doctor who told me about the possibility of having a heart attack asked for a transfer to another command...

Jack, Sam said, also not realizing that she had used his first name, Does that mean..?

No heart attack, Jack stated with finality.

Sam sat on her stool in unmoving astonishment for a minute. Then, slowly, she grinned. Yes! she whispered. Then, she glanced up at him.

Jack was grinning back at her. I called Hammond, he suddenly said.

And? she asked.

That thing we talked about last night? Jack asked.

The suspense is killing me! Sam told him.

I think it's gonna work out, Jack said.

You're sure? Sam asked. Things that sounded like they were too good to be true were usually... well... too good to be true, she had found.

Yeah. Let you know in a few days, Jack promised. Now, I gotta get these... And he hefted both files into his hands. back to the Infirmary before one doctor has my heart attack. And he grinned.

Okay, she said, grinning back. And I got that thing you left for me in my computer case, she said. The same goes for me, too.

Jack wrinkled his nose. My first comment, or my second?

Sam grinned yet again. Both, she said.

Slowly, Jack smiled. Sweet, he said, then left.

* * *

Four days later, Jack's phone in his office rang again. At last, Jack had to unburry it from the stack of files he had thrown over it in order to drown out its rings so that he could answer it so that it would stop that damned ringing! O'Neill, he barked, irritated that he had been interrupted from the pleasant daydream he'd been having about Sam by a ringing phone. This better be good, Walter, he continued threateningly.

But it was George Hammond's voice who reported, This isn't Walter, Jack, although you should think about giving him a promotion.

George! Jack smiled. Good idea... And I'll tell him that the idea came straight from you.

Hammond chuckled. Well, we both know who really runs the SGC, don't we, Jack?

Oh boy, do we ever! Jack exclaimed. Then he asked, What can I do for you, General?

Hammond's grin was still in place and still transferring over the phone connection. Jack, I have news.

Yeah? Jack inquired, thinking about how Daniel liked to drag things out, too. Go ahead... What's the damage?

Not to sound like Dr. Jackson.., Hammond continued. I'm holding a special decree in my hands right now... Jack, you must have friends in high places, just like that song always says, only that song says friends in low places...

Yeah, I know that song, Jack commented. Teal'c went through a 'low places' phase a couple months back...

Then he chooses well, Hammond said. President Hayes, along with Generals Jumper and Teag, signed what is your official retirement decree earlier this week, dated today, at 1100. You'll get a letter in the mail in a few days, but as of... oh... Colorado time..? He paused, obviously glancing at his watch. As of about two hours ago... You're one retired General, Son.

For a moment, Jack couldn't think of anything at all. Instead, the word 'retired' kept flashing through his brain. Then he grinned, and whooped, All right!

Hammond laughed. I somehow thought you would be pleased. So, okay, spill it... what was so important in the first place?

Jack couldn't get the grin off his face. Colonel Carter..?

I thought so, Hammond said.

You'll be Grandpa George again in about five months, Jack went on.

Hammond paused again, then whispered, Damn! I owe the president $500.00! he said. Of course, $500.00 doesn't really amount to much until I get my own retirement pension.

You wagered on us? Jack demanded to know. With the President? He could barely believe his ears.

You've single handedly made him a happy man, Jack, Hammond said. Now, you run and tell Sam everything, then kiss her on the cheek, and tell her it's from me.

Jack laughed, You bet, he said, then slammed down the phone, and shot out of his office like he was a bullet in a gun.

* * *

The President's letter to Jack gave a slightly different twist to the retirement proceedings when it arrived in the mail three days later. It read; Your retirement from the Air Force and from the rank of General, commander of the Stargate Program, is contingent on your immediate acceptance as Civilian Commander of the Stargate Program, a job position that has been instated under Article 29, Section B, of the Presidential Code. Directly beside it in the margin, President Hayes had penned, Call me and accept... That's an order from your Commander in Chief!

Jack didn't waste any time. He grabbed the receiver of the red phone sitting on his desk the first moment he could.

* * *

Six and a half months later:

Walter Harriman opened the yellow rerouting envelope he found in his in-box tray, curious as to what Commander O'Neill could possible be sending him in the middle of the week.

Out poured two stacks of paper, 100 copies in each pile, and a roll of medical tape, perforated so that it would tear where he wanted it to. Last, a short note explained everything.

'Walter'

Hang these up for me, please, anywhere you think people will see them. Thanks!'

Jack

On the two single pieces of paper, Walter read:

Jakob (named after Sam's father, of course)(We plan to

call him 'Jake.')

Sam (Named after my father and (sort of) his mother,

not my favorite character from Lord of the

Rings)(Turns out that my father served with Sam in

the 109th company in the first Gulf War, but, as

the company had over 200 members, they never met.

But the possibilities really freak you out, don't

they?)

O'Neill (for obvious reasons)


Born at University Veterans Hospital

March 2, 2006, 0300

22 inches long

7 pounds, 3 ounces

Mother and baby are doing fine, but my feet hurt.


Oh, one last thing. Jake's mother said 'yes!' though that

could have been a drug induced answer from the epidurral.

She was a bit hazy at the time.

The second flyer more simply announced:

Wedding! (Finally)

Of Commander Jack O'Neill

and

Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter

Saturday, April 2, 2006

Academy Chapel

0200 in the afternoon

Come see a baby-sitting Jaffa... Open invitation!

* * *

Two weeks and a day later, when Sam was still on maternity leave, Jack found himself carrying a crying, colicky Jake through the halls of the SGC, heading towards the Commissary while Teal'c took charge of the baby carrier during this unscheduled visit by Sam and Jake. They opened the Commissary doors, still joking about what Sam would do first upon her return to work.

Daniel was saying I wager that she'll plug in her computer first thing!

Jack was just thinking that Daniel was probably right when Sam suddenly grabbed hold of the bottom edge of his civilian shirt, and kissed him in front of everyone who wanted to watch. Jack didn't seem to mind much as Daniel and Teal'c rescued Jake from falling onto the floor when Jack would have dropped him, he was so surpised and thrilled at Sam's overture of affection. When they parted, she had a contented little grin on her face.

One fantasy down, several thousand more to go, Sam told him at the bemused expression on his face.

Yep, Jack thought, dating, and then promising to marry, Sam was delightfully dangerous.

* * *

At the wedding reception, held in the SGC Commissary, where Sam could get, among other things, blue Jello, Jack sat back at his table, covered by the special white cloth that simply screamed 'Walter Harriman' in its design and implementation, and smiled. Yeah, Jack contentedly thought as he cuddled his son, who'd had colic since the day he'd been born, and who had just thrown up on his only clean white shirt. He continued thinking as he tried to wipe up the stain with the baby's burp rag, Reality is much better than fantasy, any old day of the week! And he glanced at Sam, who stood talking to Captain Cervantes across the room, and grinned.

The End


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