Disclaimer: Same as ever: made no money - still don't own them - darnit.

'Endgame's Endgame, Part III

By Linda Bindner

A/N: Still dedicated to all those who just want this story to end (must be dedicated to me then!) Warning: resolution ahead!

Just Jack, for the Final Time

Chapter 1

'Cooking with Jack' lesson eight got off to a strange start right away.

Jack greeted Sam at the door of his house just like normal, but 'normal' ended right there. For one thing, Carter was wearing a skirt that day. Not that wearing nicer clothes was so abnormal for Carter, but that seeing her in something so... feminine... was unusual for Jack. It so surprised him that he bluntly stuttered much more than even he typically did. “I thought... today... you... we... could make... something unusual,” he blurted, looking harried, harassed, and totally flummoxed all at once.

Carter entered, making her skirt swing and sway, like she owned the place... or more likely in a manner that showed that she was becoming quite familiar with Jack's civilian residence. “What did you have in mind?” she asked, then blinked, as if she suddenly realized that her words sounded like a proposition as much as a cooking inquiry. “For us to cook, I mean,” she hastily added in abrupt discomfort.

Jack was still too out of sorts to respond. It was as if he'd never seen Carter in such nice civvies before. Or as if he didn't quite know how to react to a well-dressed, civvies-wearing Carter without the safety of the bounds the Air Force had always imposed on them. He blinked as well, attempting to collect his scattered wits, then calmly replied, “I call it 'Casserole a la O'Neill.'”

Sam seemed to be unaware of the effect she was having on Jack. Or more likely, she was aware of that effect, but ignoring it, as his tone clearly induced the faked groan she gave. “Does it have beer in it?” she teasingly whined.

Jack turned to her after jerkily leading her to his kitchen. The joking tone that he next employed was an excellent cover for a sudden case of fried nerves. “No, Miss 'Naquedah Generators are my God' - it doesn't have beer in it!”

Sam giggled at his words - she clearly couldn't help the sunny mood she was in after the way that he had greeted her at the bottom of the ramp the day before.

Jack gave a swallow of appreciative anxiety as he tried to casually continue, “This dish has a special ingredient...”

“An ingredient that isn't beer?” she continued, still teasing.

“Nope,” Jack announced, now fully recovered enough to pull open his refrigerator door and nonchalantly peer into its depths. “This dish calls for something even more special than that.” He made a huge effort to banish the image of skirt-wearing-Carter out of his head, all while appearing as calm as he possibly could. Which wasn't really very calm, but Carter was polite enough not to mention it.

In the nicest way conceivable, Sam gave another faux gesture - she gasped. “There's something that's more special than even beer?" she incredulously asked, laughing.

Jack grimaced at her laughter, but said, “Very funny, Carter. I could say that you're already more special than beer." Especially in a skirt, he appreciatively thought, then went on. “But I think I'll stick with just saying that Thor is more out of this world than beer, and as you are the National Treasure that I've already mentioned...”

“No pressure,” Sam muttered in a semi-sarcastic voice, as if she were noting in irritation to herself that he just would not leave that National Treasure stuff alone, now that he had coined that phrase while referring to her.

Jack grinned. “Pressure?” he asked, equally as incredulous. He brushed her complaint negligently aside. “You can take it,” he said in assurance.

Sam was clearly not so sure, but she chose not to argue the point with him just now. She was obviously in too good of a mood to get into an argument. “So, what's this special ingredient that's not beer?” she asked instead.

Jack cocked his head to the side to glance at Sam, and grinned again. “This is a dish that requires special culinary skills - I've just been waiting for your own skills to accumulate before mentioning it.”

Sam stared doubtfully at him. “And I've acquired the appropriate skills - is that what you're saying?”

Jack looked back at her, his face a serious mask. “Oh yes, you have undoubtedly acquired the right set of skills.” You're wearing a skirt! Of course I think you have great skills!

Sam rolled her eyes at his overly dramatic tone. “So? What's this incredible ingredient?”

Jack waggled his eyebrows while ignoring his thoughts. “Leftovers,” he announced in all seriousness.

Sam actually gave a jerk back. “Leftovers?” she incredulously asked.

Jack gave her a mock wounded look. “Hey, it's all in how you present it,” he insisted. “For example...” And he drew a bucket from the refrigerator. “This leftover chicken may be from the SG-1 deck party I threw yesterday...”

“It's KFC chicken, Sir,” Sam reminded in mock aggravation.

Jack succeeded in pulling out the KFC bucket that still held three pieces of chicken. “And don't you forget that it's 'Sir' to you, Sam.”

Sam's own brows wrinkled as she followed him to his counter. “If your 'Sir,' shouldn't you be calling me 'Colonel' then?”

A puzzled expression settled on Jack's features. “I was up all last night saying 'Colonel' in front of my bedroom mirror, but I just can't get the hang of calling someone 'Colonel' while I'm giving then a cooking lesson.” He suddenly noticed that Carter was wearing a tighter shirt that showed all her curves along with the skirt. He couldn't help but think to himself, Or while they're wearing.... stop that! he then berated himself. She's not a piece of meat, for crying out loud! He shook his head in disgust at the direction his thoughts were straying into, and rerouted his attention back to their conversation. “I can successfully do the 'Colonel' thing while giving orders to you... yes... but while cooking..?” His doubtful expression finished his statement as his voice trailed away.

In a display of how comfortable she now was with him since his forced retirement, Sam socked him with the flat of her foot right on his rear.

Jack danced away from the force of her kick. “Ah,” he said, immediately understanding. “'Colonel Carter' doesn't cook... with me... cook food with me, I mean..." Why on EARTH did I say that? "So I don't have to worry about it.”

Sam's own brows rose to illustrate how impressed she was with his intuition. “'Colonel Carter' came home yesterday from PRX-767. She's on leave now. Sam is the one who's cooking.”

She sure is.

Jack shook his head again - he had to stop!

Sam cocked her brow just a bit higher, and for a moment Jack had the uncomfortable feeling that she was reading his mind again, just as she always used to do on missions. Yet her words soothed his sudden concerns. “Got that, General?" she asked, emphasizing the last word.

Fully teased, and still not liking it one bit, Jack grimaced. “You know very well that a General would never allow a subordinate officer to kick him in the ass like that.”

Sam's smile turned decidedly satisfied. “I'm just that good.”

You certainly are... stop it! Jack ignored his questionable thoughts once more to calmly reach into his pantry cupboard to fish around for some particular can of something, but answered Sam's comment. “The only reason you're so good is because I'm the one who taught you everything I know.”

Sam canted her head, considering. It wasn't long before she agreed, saying, “I know you did,” in a light voice.

Jack shrugged. “Then the kick was for..?” He answered his own question. “No - don't tell me - it was to remind me that you can still kick my ass.”

Sam shrugged, victorious. “You said it, not me,” she pointed out in a lighthearted way.

At her comment, Jack stood still, trying very hard to look sour instead of like he was having a great time, but his best effort fell a little flat. “I won't even touch that one.”

Sam smirked her best Jack O'Neill smirk. “So that's why you're such a success at investing... you know when to stop.”

His recent thoughts proved otherwise, but he didn't tell her anything about his thoughts. “Smarty pants,” Jack instead muttered under his breath.

Sam laughed, then gestured at the can in Jack's hand. “What's that?”

“Oh.” Jack stopped staring at Sam - She's wearing a skirt! - and remembered that he was indeed holding onto a can. “This is the best stuff... ever heard of gravy in a can? All you have to do is...”

Sam laughed a second time. “Well then, if that's the case...” She crossed back to his refrigerator and pulled out the leftover KFC gravy. “Let's add this and see what we get.”

Jack sent her an appreciative look (as he had wanted to do ever since she'd arrived at his door). “I like the way you think, Colonel,” he deadpanned, sounding like Teal'c.

“How about some frozen vegetables?” Sam added, shutting the fridge and opening his freezer to see what he had inside.

“No veggies, I'm afraid,” Jack told her. “I need to run to the store.”

Sam pulled out a partially full bag of frozen food and dangled it in front of him. “Will this work?”

It was some stir fry mix that he had purchased awhile ago to show Sam how to make homemade Stir Fry since she liked Chinese food so well. Jack now gave the bag a thoughtful look. “You're really getting into the spirit of this thing, Carter.”

Sam slammed the freezer door closed. “I may be good with a naquedah generator, but my frozen vegetables are to die for.”

Jack recognized the quote he had made in Antarctica that she was paraphrasing. “But it's not frozen ice,” he pointed out.

Sam peered at the bag's contents. “There are ice particles in here,” she argued. “I think that makes it the same thing.”

“Well, in that case...” Jack pulled a medium sized glass bowl from a cupboard. “Pour them in here, and let's nuke 'em till they sing.” At her look of confusion, he explained, “No use cooking frozen veggies - might as well thaw 'em a little before we stick them in the oven.” The confusion cleared from her eyes, and he went on, “Let's see if thawed-then-cooked veggies make this mystery dish any better.”

Sam poured, Jack nuked, and while they waited for the timer to ding on Jack's kitchen microwave oven, he leaned against the counter to pensively stare at her skirt. Jack shook his head, mortified - he'd meant to stare at her... as in, all of her... not just her skirt. Maybe the shirt... He stopped himself when he found himself wanting to stare right at her breasts. That was definitely not any better! Desperate now to cover up his own staring mistake(s), he latched onto the first topic of conversation that came to his mind. “So, how goes it with Samantha Carter's love life?” Ugh! Not love life... he'd meant life life! But it was too late to backtrack, so he stumbled on with the excuse, “It's been awhile since you gave me an update.”

Sam's smile quirked her lips, as if she were secretly amused by his 'love' life question. His voice sounded nonchalant in order to show that he really didn't care about this subject that he'd mentioned. But just the fact that he'd mentioned it at all illustrated that he was far more interested than he would have her believe. And he knew that Sam knew this... crap!

Willingly enough (but in partially concealed amusement), Sam focused on the topic he'd mentioned. “My love life...” she began, then heaved a deep sigh.

“Oh, I already don't like the sound of that,” Jack announced. He stirred the vegetable mix, then set the microwave again to thaw the frozen vegetables a little longer. “Tell Uncle Jack everything.”

Even he had to know after the way they'd stared at each other yesterday at the bottom of the 'Gate ramp that he was nowhere near an uncle to her!

“Oh...” Sam let herself sound reluctant as she chose not to comment on his second... or third... vocal mistake of the day. “There's not much to tell... except...”

Jack's brows quivered. “Except?”

Instead of answering his prompt, she abruptly changed the subject. “If you can ask about my love life, then I get to ask about how your retirement is really going.”

“Eh...” Jack hemmed. “The less said on that subject, the better,” he at last muttered.

“Uh-uh,” Sam instantly retorted. “That's not going to work this time. Be more specific.” She casually leaned on his counter, making her skirt sway and shirt constrict a minute fraction as she did.

Jack noticed, of course. He roughly swallowed, not unaffected, but trying to hide his reaction from her. Yet he knew that she knew everything he was doing - double crap! She just knew him too damned well! To distract her, he immediately came back at her with, “Then tell me something specific about... you know.” He waved his hand through the air, spattering gravy from the spoon he was holding. Beer - gravy - it's all the same. “Your love life,” he specified aloud.

“My love life,” Sam reiterated with a second heavy sigh.

“Yeah,” Jack prompted. “You know, the whole Pete thing, the Graham thing, your many first dates that I hear about around base...” Nope, he was not at all jealous, not at all! “Your love life is so torrid - I want to hear it all.” He pretended that hearing about this topic... all of it... didn't bother him a bit. Though it most definitely did!

Sam snorted now. “'Torrid...' right.”

Jack gave an interrogative glance. “It's not torrid?”

Sam snorted a second time. “I'd say 'torrid' is a good word for it,” she thoughtfully agreed, swaying her skirted hips once again.

And once again, Jack pretended that he didn't notice. he shrugged, still feigning his indifference. “Well then?”

Sam groaned a third sigh, then her expression fell, as if she'd decided that she might as well tell him the truth. “Pete keeps stopping by.”

Jack couldn't quite hide the cringe he gave when she said that.

“Not that I invite him,” she quickly assured. “He always says he wants to 'talk,'” she explained, doing the finger-quote-in-the-air thing.

“As long as that's all he does,” Jack muttered under his breath.

There was just a hint of Sam's internal smile that leaked out onto her face to give the impression that she'd heard his every word. Yet, she pretended that she hadn't heard a word he said. “But I think I may have found the one thing that drives Pete crazy,” she instead announced.

Jack was instantly interested, though he behaved mostly uninterested. “As in, crazy enough to drive him away?”

Sam gave a pseudo nod of agreement. “I talk about you,” she at last blurted as an expression of satisfaction crept through her eyes.

Jack was relieved... and astonished... and trying not to sound either. After all, he'd admitted himself that he was courting her - she had to know that he was at least interested in her on a personal level. “Me?” he grunted, knowing how talking about him would not amuse Shanahan! “You talk about me?”

Sam nodded. “I do that on base, too, when the techno talk doesn't work right away, so whoever asked me out won't bother to ask me out again,” she replied.

Which made Jack pause. “Uh,” he finally asked. “Why do you go on so many first dates with people if you plan to use techno talk to bore them to death so that they won't ask you out again?”

Sam winced. She finally capitulated and admitted, “I always say yes because I'm too nice.”

Jack considered. “This I already know.”

“And Pete,” Sam continued, seeming determined to give him the entire lowdown since he'd asked for it. “I don't think he likes it when I talk about you, so... I talk about you... a lot.”

Jack still didn't quite understand why she just didn't tell the twerp to get lost. Not that he minded being referred to... often... but... “You do this because..?”

Sam's wince turned into a grimace. “He won't take a hint and just disappear,” she told him, sharing something that had become one of her life's biggest problems. “He won't even take a very blatant hint... as in me telling him to get lost.” She grimaced again, missing Jack's expression that said he understood why she wanted to get rid of him. “Pete's just...” Her voice trailed away as she thought of the word she wanted.

“Obtuse?” Jack supplied, aping Daniel though he didn't know it.

Sam smiled a grim smile. “'Obtuse' will work.” Her grin grew. “Besides... I like to talk about you.”

That comment made Jack grin as well. “So you talk about me,” he said, still stirring the vegetable mix every now and then as if he was only mildly intrigued, yet grinning all the while. “What do you say about me... specifically?” His interest was increasing, although he was taking pains not to show it.

Sam did something that Jack had never seen her do before - she blushed. “I... uh... talk about our cooking lessons... me and you... cooking... in great detail,” she at last admitted..

Oh, yeah! She was really... cooking. Jack's grin changed to a smirk. He was visualizing Pete hearing about him ad nauseam. “Yes, that would be revolting!”

“I just hope it's enough to make him too bored to bother,” Sam confessed.

Considering, Jack replied, “And that begs the question of just why it's important that he not bother?”

Sam smiled now, one of her 'from the heart' smiles, one of the gestures that routinely knocked Jack's socks off. “Because I already have what I want,” she simply explained.

Jack's brows again shot to his silver hairline. “Oh?” His pretense of disinterest shattered as he carefully inquired, “And that is..?”

Sam sent the first look his way that truly pierced straight through him, and took a deep breath, as if to gather all her courage together. “I can't believe you have to ask that... Jack.”

Jack eyed her in such a way that suggested that he wanted her to be saying something more specific with her vague words. Instead of being specific, though, that skirt of hers swayed back and forth once again, reminding Jack that it was there. As if he needed a reminder. Jack's swallow was so rough this time that it made his Adam's Apple hurt, but he still managed to croak, “And what would that be... Sam?”

Back to her court. Sam gave a sigh - clearly aggravated that he was doing what he always did when the subject of a possible relationship between them was even alluded to - he always deferred to her.

A light suddenly zipped through Sam's blue eyes, and a determined expression chiseled itself onto her features. She had obviously just decided that if he was once again planning to defer to her, then she would just have to take his deference out for a spin.

Jack abruptly felt his mouth go dry at her expression. His heart thumped a staccato tattoo on his ribs.

That was when Sam was as specific as she had ever been with Jack. “You said it yourself - you're courting me.”

Jack instantly argued, “But that doesn't indicate that courting only goes for you seeing one guy at one time.” He sounded timid even as his voice was strong.

Equally as timid, Sam responded, “So you think it's okay... that I have more than one..?” She looked at him again, but he remained silent, mostly because he didn't know what to say now. Should he say something that would... sort of mention... her... with him... as in, why he had come up with these cooking lessons in the first place? Not knowing what to say or do, he took comfort in the familiar, and let his face take on the typically inscrutable mask that she was so used to seeing on him.

A moment later, understanding suddenly scooted through Jack's eyes. He'd internalized what she'd said: she was talking about having more men than one man... him... courting her at the same time... and she hadn't said that she didn't go for that sort of thing... not yet...

Before he had the chance to discuss this issue, Sam stopped him by giving a pensive grimace. “I'm not into having more than one guy court me at a time,” she firmly said, reading his mind again. Then she sent Jack a decisive look that matched the frightened resolve in her eyes. “I guess that makes me a rather ancient sort of girl,” she said in a voice that was shaky and afraid, but stoic and resolute as well.

Jack shrugged in his offhand way, though his heart rate had just tripled. “I'm into ancient things,” he casually remarked.

And she busted out laughing, making her skirt sway back and forth again, and her shirt to tighten. Jack could barely take his eyes off either of them now, even as he thought that one thing he could always assure... no matter how awkward the situation... he could always make her laugh. That laughter may be inappropriate... but it always, without doubt, brought a smile to her face.

She smiled now. “I'm into ancient things, too,” was what she stated with that same arch grin of hers cast in his direction.

The grin worked. Or it's archness did. Or else it was that damned swaying of her skirt. He didn't know what it was that possessed him - and he didn't care. Jack quickly dropped his spoon on his counter, closed the distance to stand directly in front of her, cradled her head in his big hands, and kissed her squarely on her forehead. The action was delivered so quickly that Jack had to wonder if he had done it before he would lose his courage to do it at all.

Not that it mattered why he'd done it. The second his lips met her skin, his heart gave a shudder of pleasure in his chest, and the beat tripled yet again. His grin was instinctual by then, as was hers, encouraging him without him realizing it to go to even greater lengths. He softly kissed the bridge of her nose, smiling the entire time.

This second kiss sent tingles racing across his entire body. Carter's eyes fluttered for just a moment, and prickles instantly rose on his skin.

His gaze darted to her lips. Did he dare..? No. Yes. No. Yesssss...

When his lips quietly met hers, Jack couldn't open his eyes as waves of emotion crashed into him. It was exactly as he had always imagined this moment would be, and not remotely like his imaginings at all. All the fantasies and dreams he'd had about this over the years didn't really come close to the reality of kissing her. Jack felt her fingers curl into the ends of his hair, knowing that she must be feeling the scratch of his stubble that had grown since shaving that morning, and wishing he'd remembered to shave right before she'd come over... but not really caring that he hadn't. The thrill of her heart pounding against his chest kind of superseded his thoughts...

Love poured out of his every movement. He felt for the first time what a true, unworshiping kind of love felt like when he kissed her. It was raw. It was real. It was pure affection, on display for all to see in its natural form. And it was nothing like anything he'd ever experienced before. The slow, almost lazy enjoyment, the cherishing, the affection...

Never before had he so encouraged Sam to display her emotions for him so openly, or he to show her what he had always felt for her these last years, but kept closely guarded. That simple kiss took on the complex task of symbolizing in one shining moment their desire for each other, the depth of their shared devotion, their exuberant love, all without moving into the realm of the schmaltzy, the cheap, the commonplace. This was the real deal in all its glory, with all its faults, its warts and its sparkle, a manifestation of years worth of hopes and dreams, all wrapped up in one wonderful kiss.

Chapter 2

Naturally, one kiss wasn't enough. One touch wasn't enough. One look wasn't enough. It would never be enough.

The word 'fire' raced through Jack's foggy mind as he kissed Carter. He didn't even know where he kissed her - the touch of skin on lips was as essential as breathing at this point. Hot blood pounded in his temples. It raced through his body, setting off an agony of sensation at everything he touched, only to then come to a veritable standstill, where it stayed in one place and smoldered. Jack was sure that steam was pouring out his ears even as he kissed Carter in one of the most intense gestures of affection that he'd ever found himself embroiled in. He felt icy cold and burning hot in equal measures, slick with sweat, numb with fear, utterly focused, terrified, yet refusing to back down this time. It was freedom beyond every one of his wild expectations, combined with an imprisonment so precious as to take his breath away.

Not that he had any breath to steal at that particular moment - Carter was making sure of that.

In fact, Carter was making sure that a lot of things happened. It was almost as if she'd planned this entire scene - not that she had... he didn't think.

Of course, thinking wasn't exactly high on his 'to do' list just then. Feeling was much more enjoyable. And as much as he felt of Carter skin just then, Sam was making darn sure that she felt an equal amount of Jack skin.

How had their shirts come off without him even noticing? And when had that sweet, innocent kiss gone from being loving to being definitely more passionate in nature? Not that Jack cared.

Not that Sam cared either, obviously. She was currently sucking on the skin of his neck, causing delicious pinpricks of fire to swirl delightfully across every inch of his supersensitive skin. He groaned as she dipped lower, sliding smooth lips down from tasting primarily neck skin to definitely tasting chest skin. Her wet mouth was making fire lick through his blood, making his groin twitch in small eruptions that were quickly growing bigger, harder, more demanding. Her lips cajoled, teased, and finally insisted on his unending attention. Jack didn't know how his attention could get any more centered than it already was.

Then Sam's rough tongue flicked purposely once, twice, three times across his right nipple, where it stayed to teasingly swirl around in a delicious maelstrom of seduction, and Jack's control slipped another notch to hover near that dangerous line that denoted he'd moved into the realm of 'out of control.'

Sensation exploded through Jack the second he lost his hold on his reality. The fire in his veins morphed from the languid burning from before to an absolute, without-a-doubt lack of control. That's what he was - out of control. The man known for his militarily iron will, his tight focus that never deviated from his objective, a honed determination to never show a scrap of emotion, either good or bad, had been reduced to a quivering mass in seconds. And all because of a skirt.

It no longer mattered if Carter had planned this scene or not. It was here. It had become all-important, imperative... consuming.

And Jack loved every glorious, impassioned minute of it.

Which was a good thing. A few minutes was all it took before that fire inside him was burning so hot that it had to either fizzle out now, or explode. He preferred the explosive scenario. It had urged him to push her against the wall, where he could get easy access to every centimeter of her delectable amenities, a move that Sam clearly didn't mind, even encouraged. Without thought, Jack pushed her skirt up her legs... or did Sam hike the material to her waist? His pants were open, her fingers firmly wrapped exactly where he'd dreamed of them being wrapped for years. Her other hand was everywhere at once, her lips driving him crazy, the inferno inside him ready to erupt. The feeling coiled tight... then tighter yet, when with no warning, he pushed into her. She gave a momentary hiss at the abruptness of his move, then decisively settled her legs around his waist, showing with actions rather than words how much she wanted this, how she needed him... just as much as he needed her. She started the rhythm that would mold their destinies together as snugly as two strings tied one to the other, united for all eternity, in spite of the galaxy's best efforts to tear them apart.

He couldn't resist the natural spell she was weaving over him, and didn't want to any longer. Her hot, panting breaths washed over his cheek, puckered the skin on his neck, twisted the excitement inside him until it reached a fever pitch. Jack slid repeatedly into Sam with the ease of someone who had been doing this very thing for centuries. The ecstasy of their shared passion grew in leaps and bounds, fogged their perceptions, swelled... until in one simple, splendid moment, it burst for them both at the same time. He silently screamed his need and desire into the 'v' created by her shoulder and neck. Not so silent, Sam gave a cry of ardent euphoria when the first tingles of orgasm ripped whatever control she had left to shreds.

Amazingly enough, they both survived the fierce rollercoaster ride of their emotions to pant together in harmony after their simultaneous climaxes abated. Fingers clung to skin as Sam pulled Jack even closer than he had been before. Jack supported them both by planting his hands on either side of her head on the kitchen wall, his fingers sliding from where they had imbedded themselves in her hair to the unfeeling coolness of the plaster behind her. The two of them heaved for breath as the blood in their veins cooled as quickly as the sweat did on exposed skin.

It was then that the first wave of regret slammed into Jack like a run away truck. It had always been his idea that if things ever got steamier between him and Carter, he would take their developing relationship slow, not ram into her like she was a choice piece of livestock at the county fair. Now how could he expect her to ever want to even set eyes on him again, to say nothing of pursuing a tentative relationship with him? He knew her, and how she was likely to run the other direction the second anything approached a stage of emotional commitment between them. He'd meant to treat her like a treasure, cherish every bit of her, and to definitely not frighten her away. And what had he done? Lost control the first chance he could.

But the moment that seductive sense of regret built in him, Sam's second onslaught began. She kissed him as ravenously as before, her hard, teasing lips just as demanding as before. It was as if she had predicted what he was thinking, how he would react to their recent shared choices. She didn't give him time to think, only to feel. And right now, Jack felt on top of the world.

That wave of regret vanished as soon as it appeared. A second round of tingles and goosebumps accosted him, but this time, Jack was collected enough to hear her hoarsely whisper to him in his ear, “Is this okay with you?”

Jack couldn't quite suppress the throaty chuckle that burst out of him. “I am soooooo okay with this as long as you are.”

“Too fast for you?”

It was almost as if she could again read his thoughts to see what was uppermost in his mind. Once more came his throaty laugh, punctuated by a kiss here and there from Sam, her demanding mouth making short work of his attention span for a second time in ten minutes. Before he completely lost his legendary focus once again, he replied, “I imagine that... all that flirting...”

“Flirting over seven and a half years...” She didn't finish her comment, but nuzzled him in the center of his throat.

Her following kiss to that area nearly finished his attempt to end his statement. “It was enough,” he hissed at last, enjoying her too much to waste any breath on points that were moot anyway.

“How about we move this into your bedroom then?” she asked next as she attacked his stomach with her mouth and fingers at the same time.

Jack was almost too far gone by now to respond to her suggestion in any intelligible way, but he managed to grunt his acquiescence. Sam slid her legs from around his waist, letting her feet fall to the floor. Jack instantly noticed the cold air accosting his wet pants, but she didn't give him time to do anything more than notice the sensation before she was pulling him down the hall to his bedroom.

The minute they arrived, she slammed the door closed with her foot, pushed him in the direction of the bed, then proceeded to take his pants off when he felt his knees bump into the edge of the mattress and fell backwards until he was almost spread-eagle on the bed. She didn't even take time to pull aside his blue bedcover, but instead yanked his shoes, socks, and pants away in record time, dropped her own underwear and skirt, and decisively slithered atop him. She wasn't giving him time to regret anything: her hands were everywhere at once, followed by that amazing mouth of hers. She worked in fevered kisses up the sensitized skin of his thighs, to the apex of his grown, to his stomach, his chest, and she ended with a hard kiss right on his mouth.

She wasn't giving him time to do anything but feel in this situation. She rubbed her chest against his, the rasp of skin on skin sending tingles straight to his center, making it coil and zing once more in a record short time. He was quickly harder than he had ever been before, twitching and aching against her own thigh. His breathing was coming in huge gasps, when she let him breath. Her tongue was an exacting spear when it came to finding and touching every one of his particular pressure points to persuade him to give just the reaction she wanted him to give. Her hot fingers scraped over his thighs, his groin, his chest, encouraging him to do the same to her. His own index finger instantly delved directly into her hot center. He knew that he wasn't being gentle when he flicked against her clit, but she didn't appear to mind in the least.

She arched against his hand, and the expression of bliss in her eyes was truly the hottest thing he'd seen in many, many years. He was marginally aware that he was very close to losing control again, but couldn't quite bring himself to care as he watched her eyes dilate even more when his free hand moved to caress all other parts of her anatomy. He could tell that she wanted this as much as he did, more maybe.

The idea that Sam Carter wanted him in the same way that he wanted her acted as its own aphrodisiac - the tight feeling of a wound spring swirled even tighter inside him. Frantic now, he kissed her back when she kissed him, pulled her closer atop him, and at the same time, plunged straight into her. That same tight feeling that he was already associating with Carter assailed him, sending him one step closer to the edge of his control. He rolled them over in one swift move so that he was positioned differently. The new angle gave him access that he hadn't had before - he pushed himself into her as deeply as he could, taking pleasure when she looped her legs around his waist again, forcing him in deeper yet. Sweat soaked his body as he concentrated on maintaining some kind of rhythm, on not hurting her by going too deep, on not moving too quickly.

Sam had other ideas - she met him halfway, move for move, forcing him much deeper than he would have gone on his own, wringing from him a pace that was at least twice as fast as anything he'd set before. He thought he heard another strangled cry work up from the back of her throat, but that tight, springy feeling inside him grabbed at his attention, twisting so that he couldn't think beyond it. Painful pleasure shot through him, building, spiraling high, then higher, tighter... and burst.

Jack muffled a yell in the skin of her shoulder as wave after orgasmic wave washed through him, stealing the breath he had left, soaking him, twisting from him every last ounce that he was able to give. He clenched his teeth at the onslaught of sensation, barely aware that Carter was again sharing his explosion. Tears leaked from his eyes to mix with the sweat running down from his forehead. His famous control lay in tattered remains as she wrung him dry, coaxing all that was him from him, giving all that was her. It was the most scary, intimate, intense, emotional moment that he'd experienced since Charlie's death.

The Jack and Sam Part of the Story

Chapter 3

The practical, however, always invaded the sublime before it had the chance to become too self important. Before the peeling of Universal bells, before the swelling of mythical trumpets, before either Jack or Sam could get truly carried away in their suddenly freed feelings for the other, the real world painfully reasserted itself.

“Are you cold?” Sam asked on a whisper, her question acting like the proverbial slap in the face.

Cold? Jack gave a joyful inner grin, an internal shout at his sudden change of fortune, a silent cry of absolute triumph... and gave a definite shiver as the air in the house accosted his naked skin. It seemed like the very air was out to get him.

Cold? “Yeah, now that you mention it...” Jack laid his head on her soft, creamy, smooth... bony, lumpy, hard shoulder, and heaved a sigh of true bliss. “Maybe we should...” He gave something of a wave in the direction of the pillows. “Use the bed as it was intended.”

“It would sure be a lot warmer,” Carter nonchalantly agreed with him.

Jack looked at her and smiled. “I can always count on you to burrow to the heart of every situation.

Sam grinned back at him in her playful, right-from-the-soul smile that she'd always saved just for him. “You are my heart,” she firmly said.

Jack's smile grew even wider. “I'll savor this moment... in every room I'm ever in, particularly in the SGC.”

Sam giggled. “But especially Infirmary Iso Room #5.”

“The Za'tarc Room.” Jack knew exactly which room she was referring to. “From now on, that Room is whatever room you happen to be in.”

His announcement made her shiver even while she kept grinning.

Jack's face took on the familiar shade of doubt when dealing with something personal. “I hope that was a shiver of delight,” he said, trepidation in his voice.

To Jack's surprise, Sam rolled her eyes. “Jack, need you even ask that?”

Jack huffed a breath to wash over her bare neck. “Yeah, for right now, I'm afraid I do. This is too new, you're too new.” His regret washed through his brown eyes just as it oozed from his pores. “I've dreamt of this happening for so long that I can't believe it's finally here... which is the problem.”

Sam's eyebrows rose in confusion. “That you've dreamt of it so often?”

Jack gusted a sigh. “No, that I can't believe it.”

Sam snorted. “Your always so skeptical.” Then she sighed in the relaxation of complete happiness. “But I know what you mean. I keep expecting to wake up. I know I won't... but with SG-1 luck like it is...”

Jack was more adamant than she expected when he replied, “No, I don't think you quite get it,” he said with a sense of finality in his tone.

Her brow furrowed again. “What don't I get?” she asked. Trying to predict what he was going to say, she said, “I don't regret any of this, if that's what you mean.”

Jack laughed. Now that the blush of the moment had dissipated, he would expect her to start feeling regrets. The fact that she proclaimed not to feel them filled him with satisfaction, and a brilliant delight. “I'm not talking about regrets. If this hadn't happened...” He looked straight into her eyes. “That would be another of my deepest regrets.” He shook his head. “No, I mean that I've wanted this for so long, had even given up on it ever happening...” Apology shot out of his eyes then. “I'm sorry Carter, but all the signs said that I should just give up on you as gracefully as I could, that the ship had sailed. I'm not one to ignore something that's hitting me on the head... at least I can admit that to myself.” He shrugged a chilled, exposed shoulder. “I thought you were happy, and that I should be happy, too... for you, I mean. Happy for you.” He gave a wince. “And I tried. I really did.”

Sam gave him a tight, sudden hug. Her arms wrapped entirely around him, and she buried her face in his neck. “I thought I was happy, too. Or at least, happy enough,” she confessed, her mournful voice muffled by him. She gave an energetic shake of her head. “But I was stupid to think I could ever convince myself that I could be remotely happy without you.”

Jack curled his own arms around her as best he could on the bed the way they were. Not much for words, he simply whispered, “Ditto,” in her ear, but the tears in his voice conveyed far more than his simple word communicated.

They held each other desperately, as if they thought the other would disappear at any second. It was a fear that wasn't too ridiculous, considering that Asgard beams frequently came out of nowhere to whisk them away to parts unknown.

This time, however, they were visited by no unexpected Asgard beams. Beamless, they tightly held each other for several more solemn moments. Neither spoke a word, but they shared an entire conversation with the franticness of their embrace.

At last, Sam sniffed once, then abruptly told him, “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Jack divulged, “And one of us should put the food away before it spoils.”

He felt her smile against his skin. “It would be a shame to waste such good food, too. No one in the SGC wastes food.”

Jack couldn't help but remind her, “I'm not part of the SGC anymore.”

Sam sighed, a sound that was part satisfaction, and part regret. “Did you plan it that way?” she at last inquired, cutting to a point that she had wondered about ever since he'd 'given' her that meadow full of flowers.

Jack lifted his head so that he could stare at her, his gaze flicking hesitantly over her face. He was always so strong, so sure of himself, except when it came to her. He'd always been like that. “It didn't start out that way,” he confessed now. “Wasn't the idea for a long time.” Then he shrugged. “But they wouldn't let me retire, Sam,” he plaintively told her. “Or transfer.” His sorrow was in his brown eyes. “And you were...” His voice broke in a display of how horrible he'd felt concerning the topic of having to watch her marry someone else, of wanting to be happy for her, but not wanting to see any of it. He roughly cleared his throat and tried again. “You were... getting married... to...” His voice once again grated to a halt.

“I was marrying someone else,” she dolefully finished for him. Her gaze focused on the coverlet for a moment. “It was a mistake,” she sighed.

But was she sure about that? “A mistake?” he repeated her in timidity.

Sam swallowed the pain and guilt she felt for what she had done. She'd had her reasons... but that was not an excuse. “A mistake to think that I could ever find happiness... normal or not... with anyone but you.” Her voice hitched in her throat. “I know I already told you that... and I'll work the rest of my life to make it up to you...” She dissolved into tears. “I'm sorry... I thought for sure that I'd ruined everything.”

A crying Carter was something that instantly terrified Jack, but he forced himself not to shy away from this particular fear this one time. “Well... it was our wake-up call,” he finally said. “And we've certainly woken up.” He couldn't help the grin that crept across his face. They certainly had woken up! “Let's not speak of it again.”

Sam's tears continued to trickle through her hair and onto the bed. “Really?” she asked, giving the impression in that one word how very terrified she had been of his giving up on her, on them. In some ways, she believed it was what she deserved... but it wasn't remotely what she wanted. It had grown to become her biggest fear - that in trying to find something she was told she ought to want, she had irrevocably screwed up what she already had.

“Really.” His firmness couldn't be misinterpreted. “Now I mean it - it was unpleasant... for both of us, I suspect.” He correctly interpreted the shivery sigh that gusted out of her. She was immensely sorry for giving up on him, and wanted his forgiveness, but didn't think she deserved to ask for it. Therefore, he freely gave it to her without question. “But it's part of the past...”

Sam caught her breath, then gave a tremulous smile. “I don't deserve you.”

Jack gently smiled at his Treasure. “I don't deserve you, either. Yet now we're stuck with each other.”

Sam laughed a tearful laugh. “Sucks, doesn't it?” she teased in an attempt to tell him again that 'Pete' had been a big mistake, and to apologize for the things she had done to him, all in the name of finding a 'normal' life.

As if he could read her mind, he grinned down at her in utter delight, and reassured her, “Carter, I'd rather be sucky with you than the epitome of greatness with anyone else... and that makes me the happiest man in the world.”

Chapter 4

So Sam went to the bathroom while Jack snuck through the gathering gloom and into the kitchen to put the food back in the refrigerator. He had forgotten that it was past time for dinner, and was surprised that it had grown so dark in the hours that he and Sam had spent together. He also felt a tad weird to be creeping around his house while naked, but he hadn't taken the time to throw on a shirt and boxer shorts to cover his slowly freezing skin. He just prayed that no one chose this untimely moment to come to the door.

Once Jack was finished, he wasted no time returning to the bedroom. Just as he was about to slip between the covers on his bed, Sam joined him with no hesitation. She eyed his exposed form as eagerly as he eyed hers, and their common blush did some good at warming their cold flesh.

“Get in here,” Jack playfully demanded when she reached the bed. “I'm freezing.”

“And you expect me to help you with that?” Sam replied in an equally teasing tone.

“You'd better - I'd hate to have to ask someone else to share my body heat.”

Sam gave a slow grin. “I'll share with you - only if you promise to have your side arm ready and available for me to play with whenever I want.”

Jack gave as good as he got. “My side arm is incontestably yours, now and forever,” he declared. “Not to be loaned out to anyone else.”

Carter snorted. “As it should be!” Her smirk took on a decided air of aggressive satisfaction. “I wouldn't let anybody else use it, anyway.”

Jack's playfulness increased as he slid in next to her in the bed. “Ah, do I detect a possible cat fight between you and every other eligible female in the future?”

Sam curled up next to him, her own sense of teasing only growing. “No,” she told him in finality. “You detect an all-out slug fest.”

Jack's grin was illustrated in the tight hug he gave her. “I'll sell tickets.”

Sam's sigh of contentment hit him in the next second. She yawned, and pulled him a centimeter closer. Their shared body heat was indeed warming him up, which was good, as his toes were freezing. “Don't bother with the tickets,” she advised. “Take bets, instead. Maybe Sergeant Harriman can help you with that. At least by now he's had some experience.”

Grinning at the fact that Sam had mentioned the base-wide betting pool about them that she and he were not supposed to know about, he added, “I thought Daniel was the one who was helping on that - I can just ask him to...”

“Daniel's not the right one to ask,” she sleepily cautioned. “He's not organized enough. Remember the state of his finances.”

“Ah, good point.” Jack recalled exactly what Daniel had done... several times... to matters that required a certain flair for organization. Then he forgot about Daniel as he nuzzled into her hair. “As long as you're there when I get to fix the mess, I don't care who I ask about what.”

“Mmmmmm,” came Sam's almost-asleep reply.

But Jack couldn't let her fall asleep just yet. He gently shook her on the shoulder. “Sam... Carter... before I forget to ask... did you do this whole... get-the-General thing... on purpose?”

Sam's eyes instantly popped open in wary surprise - it was strange for Jack to actually ask such a bold question about a personal matter. “As in, did I plan a... seduction?” she ascertained.

Jack had to admit that the idea of being wanted so badly that she had planned a scenario to get him did good things to his ego. “The thought crossed my mind a time or two,” he said. “Not that it matters if you did or didn't,” he quickly assured her. “I don't really care one way or the other. I'm just... curious.”

Sam's smile reasserted itself as she closed her eyes again in preparation for sleep. “Daniel's got nothing on you in the curiosity department, does he?”

“Nope. I learned everything I know from him.”

Sam's giggle slipped out, and she knew that Jack secretly liked her giggle, but always told her not to giggle so that he wouldn't have to torture himself by hearing it. Now she only giggled harder, especially as she thought about what she had done that evening. “I didn't wear that skirt on purpose... not exactly,” she hesitantly told him.

Jack's brows furrowed as he thought about Sam's non-answer. “'Not exactly?'”

Sam shrugged, her shoulders rustling the blankets. “I wore what I wore tonight so that...” She tried again. “If events went a possible direction...” She shrugged, and sleepily muttered, “I gave things a nudge to... optimize... the outcome. If it happened - great. If it didn't - then I wore a skirt for the fun of it.”

Jack's appreciative grin blossomed across his cheeks as he settled into his pillow. “You can nudge me anytime, Colonel.”

“I plan to,” Sam grinned. “Now go to sleep, Jack. I'll see you when it's time to make the donuts for our morning briefing.”

Jack quirked an eyebrow, knowing that the word 'briefing' referred to certain things other than true briefings. “Do you promise?”

Sam smirked, then snorted. “Do the Goa'uld dress bad?” she rhetorically asked. “Do the Asgard have horrible taste in food? Yes! Now... sleep?”

“I'm going, I'm going,” Jack grumbled. “Slave driver,” he muttered.

Sam grinned again. “I can't help it - I love my slave.”

Jack grinned, too. “Good.”

They settled together under the covers, and slept.

Chapter 5

The ringing of the phone woke Jack at 0800. He sleepily reached onto his table for his cordless phone, only to discover that it wasn't under his probing fingers. Jarred slightly more awake as the phone gave another annoying ring, he followed the sound, and finally discovered it on the floor next to his bed. That was more often than not where he found it so early in the mornings. He gave a stretch, then a tired groan (he ached more than usual in several unmentionable places) and slowly reached down from the bed to the floor in order to find the phone before it gave yet another clang. He wasn't successful, and felt more than heard Carter wake beside him, but she refused to crawl out from under the blankets to join him in his phone detecting.

The second the phone slipped into his hand, Jack said, “O'Neill,” into the receiver, only to quickly figure out that the phone was backwards when a gruff sound issued from the space near his mouth. Jack turned the phone around, fumbled it, then righted it enough to again mumble, “O'Neill.” With a bizarre sense of déj vu, he recalled the many times he had said the same greeting into his phone just prior to being told about some crisis brewing in the SGC. But he no longer had to worry about such a thing happening, as he was no longer part of the SGC, the Air Force, or anything that would require his presence at such an early time of the morning.

A glance at his bedside clock told Jack that it actually wasn't such an obscenely early hour of the morning - in fact, Carter was already late for work if she had to work this morning. However, despite the hour, despite Carter possibly being chastised for tardiness, Jack was aware that it was also admittedly nice not to have to even be concerned that something was wrong. His only thought was that Carter might be marked as late for work. There was no anxiety making butterflies flutter through his stomach. The Free Jaffa might need Tau'ri aid again, but he was sure that it didn't have anything to do with him. Or the Tok'ra had another hair-raising mission for their Tau'ri comrades. But again... not his problem. It had been weeks since his discharge had been finalized from the Air Force, but he still wasn't entirely accustomed to this lack of his necessary presence. Yet, accustomed or not, he knew already that he thoroughly liked it!

The voice that issued out of the correct part of the phone immediately erased several weeks worth of meticulous effort of trying to forget about the SGC on Jack's part. “O'Neill, it is Teal'c. I am calling per General Linderhofer's orders: your presence is requested in the Briefing Room at 0930.”

“Teal'c?” Jack queried. “Is that you?” he sleepily asked. When no answer was immediately forthcoming, he went on to inquire, “You're calling for who? For why?” Jack was confused; it was usually Carter or Walter who called him in for early briefings - Teal'c had never called him like this, not once, in all the seven years they had worked together. Yet, he was pretty sure that the voice on the phone wasn't Carter's (she was in bed with him - he hadn't actually looked at her yet, but the memories of the previous night were too nice for his bed partner to be anyone else!)(And he was sure that it wasn't Walter!)

No, it wasn't Walter, but Teal'c. His reply now rumbled over the phone. “I am calling to save the General time; she is in an emergency briefing with SergeantHarriman concerning the brand of coffee used in the Commissary. You are required to come to base.”

“Uh...” Jack grunted. Was he in trouble? How could he be in trouble when he wasn't part of the Air Force any longer? “Am I in trouble?” came his slow question - he was still drugged with sleep - the later he slept, the more groggy he was in the mornings, he'd found.

“You will be in trouble with General Linderhofer if you tarry for much longer,” Teal'c replied. “You are needed...”

“... on base,” Jack interrupted. “Yeah, yeah, got it. Do I need to bring anything?”

“That was unspecified,” Teal'c replied in his businesslike growl. “I only know that I was to impart this information to you as soon as possible. I am also to inform ColonelCarter of the same request, though she is not answering her phone.”

Before Teal'c had the chance to ask Jack if he knew of Carter's whereabouts, Jack jumped in, “Maybe you should try her cell.” He mentioned this alternative to his friend not because he was afraid of Teal'c somehow discovering Carter's whereabouts, then putting two and two together and finding out about this new relationship that Jack had with Carter, but because he wasn't yet prepared to share his news of that relationship yet. It was still too new. He wanted the time to enjoy Carter on his own before he was forced to share her again with the rest of the world. That included Teal'c and Daniel. He planned to tell them both, soon, just not yet.

“Perhaps I will have better luck reaching her by calling her cell phone,” Teal'c casually agreed. Then he added something that seemed very mysterious to the half asleep O'Neill. “In the meantime, tell her Tak mal tiak.”

Teal'c was speaking in Goa'uld, that much Jack could figure out. He rolled his eyes in aggravation. “Teal'c, I'm not Daniel; you know that I only speak a few words of Goa'uld.”

Teal'c informed him, “That is an obscure phrase. I am not surprised that you have not heard that particular phrase before.”

Which didn't really surprise Jack as much as it did Teal'c. The former First Prime had clearly been under the assumption the everyone was like Daniel - that they actually studied strange alien languages for fun. “What does it mean?”

Teal'c paused before simply blurting, “'Hello.'” Then he promptly hung up.

So without saying a word or calling her cell phone, Teal'c had intimated that he knew all about the present location of Samantha Carter.

Jack internally groaned: so much for the not-telling-anyone-till-I'm-ready idea.

He heaved a disgruntled sigh, then pushed the button to end the phone call. Well...

A second later, he made himself roll over to gently encourage Sam into further wakefulness. He hated to do it, but the thought of letting down Teal'c... after he had called and everything... “Carter... wakey, wakey. That was Teal'c with General's orders - we have to be at the SGC in an hour - hour and a half.”

Groggily, Sam stirred beside him. “We have to be where in the when?” she slurred.

Jack smiled - she was so cute first thing in the morning! “We have to go in.”

But Sam was not the cooperative little soldier that he'd expected to see this morning. Instead, he discovered that some mischievous girl had invaded the body of his former 2IC. More awake now, Sam instantly dove back under the covers. “No, I have the morning off,” she declared, as she now very unsleepily attacked a certain part of Jack's awakening anatomy. “And this is the first time I have reason to actually enjoy my mornings off - I intend to take full advantage of every second.”

Jack was impressed; Carter clearly went from sleeping to complete wakefulness in a much shorter timespan than he did now that he was no longer on Air Force time. Discharge had obviously affected his military clock more than he'd expected.

And Carter was also affecting the state of his groin in a much shorter time than he had expected. “Uh... Carter? Whatchadoin?”

“Having fun,” Sam lightly informed. She popped her head out from under the sheet, and regarded him. “Gonna join me?”

Jack shrugged, then grinned. “Teal'c did say that we have about 90 minutes.” His grin intensified. “You betcha. Defend yourself, Colonel!”

Sam giggled as Jack 'attacked.'

Chapter 6

Even though they had plenty of time to make it to base from Jack's house, he and Sam decided to share a shower in order 'to save time.' The fact that their shared shower almost made them late was enough to cause guilty giggles from both of them as they pulled up to the main gate in Sam's car. Sam passed over her ID badge and received permission to enter the base. Jack was issued the visitor's badge that Linderhofer had waiting for him with the guards. “It's good to have you back with us, Sir,” one of the airman said as he passed the badge through Sam's window to Jack.

Jack took the pass, attached it to his collar, smiled, mumbled, “Thank you,” but was glad when Sam drove on before any more pleasantries occurred. If there wasn't time for pleasantries, then there wasn't time for unpleasantries, either.

“How did you know that I wanted to leave the Gate like..?” Jack began to ask.

Sam stopped him when she rolled her eyes again. “I knew,” she simply replied. “We're SG-1 - we finish each other's sentences - we read each other's minds - in Teal'c's case, he used to feel whenever I entered a room.” She eyed him as she pulled into a parking space and shut off the car. “So did you, come to think of it,” she pensively said, then remembered what they were discussing and commented, “Forgive me for saying it, Sir, but you have 'don't say anything to me!' written all over your face.”

Jack instantly thrust his fingers into Sam's ribs, and aggressively tickled her. “Stop!” laughed Sam, writhing. “What did I do?!”

Jack gave one last twitch of his fingers. “No 'Sir,' remember?”

Sam snorted. “Do I get to do that to you every time you call me 'Carter?'”

Jack grinned as he opened the car door. “Absolutely!” He would always find any reason for Sam to touch him to be completely agreeable!

The elevator ride down to the half way atrium was mostly silent. Sam looked at him, smiled, then sighed sappily. Jack leaned back against the elevator's railing, and played with the fingers of her left hand. He slid his own fingers through hers, firmly linking them where everyone could see.

In response, Sam started to hum.

Sam hummed all the way down to level 28. Jack clutched her hand to him, and for the last few floors, hummed an odd sounding counterpart to Sam's throaty tune. When she simply glanced at him in a query meant to ask him what he was doing - she'd never heard him hum - he explained, “Teal'c taught me that song - something about celebrating a warrior's good fortune...”

Sam grinned. “On Chulak, there's a song for everything.”

Jack grinned as well. “And Teal'c knows them all.”

Sam went to change her clothes in the women's locker room, and Jack impatiently waited for her in the hall. His thoughts weren't on the upcoming meeting, like they should be, or why he'd been summarily called into the SGC like he had been, but were instead on how it bothered him to be parted from Sam so soon for even these few moments. He should be allowed to tease her, to tickle her, to steal her t-shirt from her, to laugh at her antics when she stole his in return. They shouldn't be parted even this long, not when things were still so new between them. But Jack realized that the women's locker room was akin to a sacred place to the Unas, and unless he wanted every woman in the SGC to rain retribution down on him in the most creative ways he could imagine, he'd respect the sign on the door that said 'women only,' and wait for Sam in the corridor.

The second she again appeared through the door, wearing BDUs now instead of civvies, he couldn't help but smile at her so hard, it made her heart turn over, and answer him with a similar gesture. Resuming their trek to the Briefing Room, they turned into the level 28 atrium, hands linked once again, and Jack had the satisfaction of watching everyone stare at him and Sam while pretending not to stare at anything. Maybe a 'tell-everyone-about-me-and-Sam-right-now' policy was the way to go, Jack considered when he saw everyone's strange non-reactions.

Sam too noticed. “Am I seeing that..?”

“Nope, not seeing things,” Jack interrupted. “They're...”

“... thrilled so far,” Sam finished for him. “Though we haven't said anything to...”

“... Daniel and Teal'c yet - I know.” Jack grasped her hand more firmly in his. “Part of me wants to save it for a surprise.”

Sam stared at him. “Are you really that evil?”

Jack smirked. “You answer that.”

Sam smirked as well, remembering the previous night... and this morning. “You are.”

Jack leaned into her ear to whisper, “You should know. After all, I...”

“... taught me everything I know,” Sam ended on a slight laughing sigh.

Jack leaned in again as they started up the stairs that ultimately led to the Briefing Room. They had taken the long way around - again by unspoken mutual agreement - and he was getting used to the stares, and was almost able to ignore them. “Something I want to ask...”

“Yeah?” Sam prompted him.

Jack paused, then softly said, “If we know each other well enough to finish each other's sentences, then how come we've never been able to just know... how we... feel... you know... without saying anything?” The last he'd whispered, as they'd reached their destination, only to find the Briefing Room empty. Well, this is anticlimactic, Jack thought to himself as he stared at all that emptiness.

Sam hesitated before answering, taking in all that emptiness as well. “Um... maybe we're more comfortable with professional guesses than... personal ones.” Then she shrugged as she pulled out a chair, refusing to let go of Jack's hand in the process. “After all, that's what we're really doing... just guessing,” she remarked. “We're just better at... the professional... guesses,” she finished, uncomfortable again.

Jack considered her theory. She was probably right - she usually was - and the way she described why they'd been doing what they'd been doing for years was a better guess than he'd been able to come up with: that the two of them had drawn years worth of convenient blanks when concerned with personal subjects just because 'talking personal' had been too scary for either of them to contemplate. Running from anything personal was so much more their style than talking!

But that had been then - this was now. And now... “Of course,” he started, “I can handle getting used to making personal guesses pretty easily.”

Sam smiled her sock-Jack-dead smile. “Me, too.” And she squeezed his hand.

Just then Daniel entered the room, climbing the Control Room stairs while saying something to Teal'c. He stopped speaking the moment he caught sight of Jack... and of Sam... and of their joined hands. His studious expression slid into a grin, one that was pleased, satisfied, yet sarcastic at the same time. He stared pointedly at their hands, and said, “Still cooking, I see.”

Sam sent a grimace in his direction, but before she had a chance to tell Daniel to stuff it, Jack mocked, “Need your finances done again, Daniel?”

Daniel's sour expression was answer enough.

Teal'c and the archaeologist pulled out chairs on the opposite side of the Briefing Room table to Jack and Sam, and sat. Then they waited. And they waited. At last Jack leaned over the table to ask Teal'c, “Hey T, the General didn't say what...”

“She did not,” Teal'c rumbled, cutting Jack off in mid phrase. “She mentioned something about an old friend, but did not reveal what that old friend wanted.”

“I bet it's Bra'tac,” Daniel instantly stated. “Come to ask you what Jack did with his stamp collection.”

In all earnestness, Teal'c replied, “Master Bra'tac does not have...”

“It was a joke, Teal'c,” Daniel growled.

“It was a rotten joke,” Jack corrected.

“It was a joke at Jack's expense, so of course he considers it rotten,” Sam informed.

Mystified, Jack swiveled his chair so that he could regard Sam. “How was it at my expense? I don't collect stamps.”

“Yes, you do,” Daniel told him.

Jack eyed Daniel. “No I don't.”

“Do.”

“Don't.”

The mischievous twinkle in Sam's eyes was unmistakable as she turned to face Jack. “You mentioned having a stamp collection once before.”

Jack's brow furrowed. “Whether I have one or not... How does what Daniel said make it a joke at my expense?”

Daniel was equally as confused as Jack. “I thought it was at Bra'tac's expense... or Teal'c's.”

You are the expense of jokes, DanielJackson,” Teal'c rumbled, and Sam recalled the many jokes that Daniel really had been the butt of, and laughed at the reminder.

“Thanks, Teal'c, I needed that!” she giggled.

“Hey!” Daniel half yelled. “I think I've just been insulted!”

Sam had a remark to follow his comment on the tip of her tongue, but at that moment, General Hammond climbed the stairs into the Briefing Room, followed by a laughing, chattering General Linderhofer, putting an unintended halt to any SG-1 banter.

“I bet he wasn't happy about that!” she was saying in between her chuckles.

Hammond was chuckling, too, his lower tones a nice balance to her higher female voice. He quickly crossed to the chair nearest Sam as she instinctively released Jack's hand, then shot to her feet in the presence of her superior officers.

“Be seated,” Linderhofer instantly commanded in an almost annoyed tone, and sat at the head of the oval table at the same time that Sam resumed her seat. It was clear to Jack, at least, that this General Linderhofer didn't appreciate certain Air Force policy any more than he had done during his time as leader of the SGC.

Hammond turned to regard the once again seated Sam, and broke into a smile. “Colonel Carter! It's good to see you again!”

Sam returned his warm gesture with the a smile of her own. “General! Good to see you back at your old stomping grounds!”

Hammond grinned, then turned his gaze to the man on her other side. “Jack! How is your retirement going?”

Jack smiled in greeting as well as he shook Hammond's hand. “It's good as long as Daniel can keep his finances in order, Sir.”

Hammond chuckled, sending a look Daniel's way before studying Jack once more. “Call me George,” was all he said before adding, “You're the reason I'm here, Jack.”

The announcement surprised Jack. “Whatever you heard, I didn't do it,” he bluntly stated.

Linderhofer stifled a laugh, and Hammond smiled, more familiar with Jack's sarcastic comments than the current SGC leader. The man shook his bald head, and assured, “I can see that the discharge hasn't changed a thing about you, Jack.”

“Well, there are a few...” Jack started to protest, thinking specifically of the changes that his relationship with Carter had recently undergone, but he was interrupted by Daniel.

“You're wrong there, General,” Daniel said with a grin. “Jack's been giving Sam cooking lessons... and she hasn't blown up his house yet.”

Hammond couldn't help but grin at that news. “Congratulations, Colonel Carter, for finally taking on cooking... though I'm sorry that Jack won't have much time for those lessons in the future.”

This second announcement made specifically about him in only a few minutes confused Jack. Brow furrowed, he blinked, and shook his own head. “And why is that, General?”

Hammond leaned back in a show of relaxing into the leather briefing chair. “I'm here to personally tell you that General Linderhofer has spent the last several months convincing those on the JCS that we can't completely relinquish such as asset to the SGC as you are, that we need to further utilize your considerable tactical knowledge, your experience with the Goa'uld, and that we owe it to us and to our allies to keep you in the SGC on at least a partial basis.” Then Hammond gave a sigh of regret. “Unfortunately, we can't undo what's already been done, no matter how many eloquent speeches General Linderhofer gives on the subject. We weren't able to convince President Hayes to grant you a full pardon, and get you reinstated. However...” Hammond's smile again wormed across his face. “I was authorized just yesterday to grant you the status of part time Civilian SGC Consultant and Strategic Adviser to the General, starting immediately.” His jovial, confident tone of voice indicated that he expected Jack to accept this incredible offer. “Officially, the discharge stands. Unofficially...” His next comment did nothing to dispel his sentiment about Jack and the SGC. “Welcome back to the SGC, Jack!”

Jack blinked, Hammond's words still ringing throughout the quiet room. Had he heard right? If so, then Hammond had just offered him the equivalent of a Civilian Contract position. Even if it was just on a part time basis, the pay would surely equal the portion from his pension that he had lost. Besides the money issue, this was his official ticket back into the fold of the SGC. Jack would be nuts to be anything but instantly thrilled.

But Jack was far from thrilled. Besides his own mixed feelings on moving back under the thumb of SGC and Air Force politics, he was immediately aware of only one other thing - that of Sam's face freezing into a stiff expression of formality. He hadn't seen a look like that on her face (he had to think about it) since his promotion.

His heart fluttering painfully in his chest, Jack watched as the stiffness invaded the rest of Sam's body, and she went still beside him, hardly drawing breath now. She was being so careful not to make a ripple in the air she was occupying, she was practically invisible. She's thinking that if I become a Civilian Consultant, the Frat regs will apply to us, and keep us apart, and last night will be the only time together that we'll ever get.

Jack's next thought was wrapped in the pained twisting of his heart: We're cursed.

The silence that greeted Hammond's statement was so loud that it was like a clap of thunder. No one said a thing: Hammond and Linderhofer grinned at him, sure that this position was the answer to all his prayers; Daniel stared at him with wide eyes, looking like he was attempting to blink, but had forgotten how; Teal'c stared with his typical stoic blankness, yet his cheek muscles were quivering so much, they'd gone into overdrive; and Sam stared straight ahead with such single-minded intensity that it was clear she was too frightened to even look at him lest she burst into a rain of very unprofessional tears. The tension was so thick that the proverbial knife would have had no problem poking holes all over it.

'Tense' didn't begin to describe how Jack felt. 'Pained,' 'agonized,' and 'numb' were much better words to explain how he was feeling just then. His emotions twisted tighter, his agony sharpened just a little bit more each time he saw the deadness in Carter's eyes. He couldn't stand to see that horrified but accepting look in her eyes, that unquestioning fear... yet he couldn't not look at her, either. She was like a magnet, filling him full of her own anguish every time he glanced at her.

At last, when Jack seemed too shocked to say a thing, but could only stare at Colonel Carter, Linderhofer cleared her throat, and expectantly prodded, “Well, General? What do you say?”

Jack took a shaky breath, and tried to calm his heart. Only he couldn't quite breath past the lump that had lodged in his throat. His voice wouldn't work...

He watched Sam withdraw another physical centimeter from him, and he felt the threads of panic scrabble in his throat. He was losing... everything. Yet at the same time, this job offer was the answer to a discharged General's dreams. Or it should have been. But this particular General didn't know what to do, what to say. The only thought in his brain was, This isn't how it's supposed to be.

As he paused, Sam somehow managed to turn to regard Jack. She was white, and so stiff that she could easily have been mistaken for a corpse. Her face still in that awful mask of blankness, she murmured, “Congratulations, General.”

It was the dead tone in her voice that forced aside the lump in Jack's throat so that he could unthinkingly reply, “Don't call me that.” He just couldn't stand the emptiness in her beautiful blue eyes.

Puzzlement that briefly flashed through those eyes replaced the emptiness for a micro second. Then Carter's steely control reasserted itself. “Excuse me, Sir?”

Ow! There was that awful 'Sir' again. Before he knew what he was doing, Jack jumped up, shoving his chair into the room in his haste. “Don't call me that,” he ordered on a puff of air.

The blank of professional puzzlement met his gaze as she wrinkled her brow, and questioned, “Sir?”

Instantly mortified, horrified, and nearly petrified, Jack felt his habitual anger at awkward situations claw at the back of his throat. With a monumental effort, he beat it back down. One thing he didn't need was to lose his cool and yell at Carter right in front of her new and old COs. At the same time, he utterly hated what she was doing. It sent tendrils of fear up his spine, made his heart flutter painfully in his chest. His frustration at the look frozen on Carter's face, and the deadness of her eyes, quickly grew in leaps and bounds. Finally his heart actually skipped a beat. He briefly wondered if this was what it felt like to have a heart attack. His heart was certainly breaking every time he so much as looked at Sam's eyes. He imagined he could feel her slipping away increment by increment.

“General?” Linderhofer's voice broke Jack out the trance of inaction he had fallen into. Slowly, he turned so that he gazed straight at her. He did his best not to look at Sam as he again regarded General Hammond seated on her opposite side. But it was like his eyes had minds of their own - they slid to take in Carter no matter how much he didn't want to see that horrible emptiness on her face again. That expression might have been enough for him at one time, but he found that in less than a day, he had already grown used to the warmth she had showered on him with just her eyes as recently as an hour ago. He couldn't stand this... awfulness. And he wouldn't.

In the blink of a second, he knew what to do. The situation no longer felt awkward to him. Instead, he felt like he had to rush in order to regain even a little of what he'd just had.

“I want to thank you,” he mumbled, never taking his eyes off Sam, but speaking to Hammond and Linderhofer. “For all the trouble you've gone to on my behalf.” His voice went on in the same weakened tone, as if he couldn't muster up the energy to properly respond... or maybe he just didn't care?

Neither General said anything to his comment, so he continued, saying, “But... I'm going to have to turn you down.”

Something resembling a squeak of objection came from General Linderhofer's direction, and General Hammond looked thunderous, though his expression of thunder didn't quite look surprised enough for him to be completely unexpecting of Jack's decision. Still, he blurted out a protest, “Jack! You must be... Do you mind telling everyone here just why you feel this way?” It was as if Hammond already knew, and was drawing Jack out so that everyone else at the table would know, too.

At first, even Jack wasn't able to voice anything, to say nothing of explaining his behavior.

Hammond gave a huff of frustration, but it lacked his usual huffiness that signaled his overwhelming anger that Jack was all too familiar with at this point. “At least tell us the reason for this...” His demand trailed off as he watched Jack in incredulity tinged with resignation.

General Hammond knew... or suspected, Jack more fully realized. As if in a silent confirmation, his gaze then flicked over to Daniel and Teal'c, then settled on Carter. Slowly, like molasses, or the calm after a particularly fierce storm, his voice sort of oozed out of him. “I'm looking at three very good reasons right now, Sir.” His gaze again flicked to take in all of SG-1, and again settled on Sam. “And, no offense, guys, but the last reason is reason enough all on her own.” He drew in a deep breath, retrained his attention back to the two Generals seated at the table, and gave them both a sloppy salute. “Thanks... but no thanks.” And he again regarded the other three at the table. “When you all get passed this... I'll be waiting.” Then, just like that, he left.

The hole in the air that he'd occupied seemed to collapse in on itself as if his disappearance had taken every stable support in the room. General Linderhofer stared at General Hammond in stupefaction. She at least wasn't sure that what had just happened had really just happened. Hammond, on the other hand, had an equal amount of incredulity in his expression, and also more of his original suspicion. It was obvious that they had both expected Jack to be overjoyed at this news, but Hammond was also partially hoping that Jack would be aware that more rested on this decision of his than he'd ever before acknowledged. Jack's disappearance confused Linderhofer, and lent sparks to Hammond's hope. But he wouldn't even look at Colonel Carter.

Daniel self-consciously toyed with the ubiquitous cup of coffee he had in front of him. His finger streaked through the ring it left behind, then through a second ring when he moved the cup aside. He refused to look anyone in the eye while he played, but most importantly, he also avoided Sam's gaze.

Even Teal'c could only utter a soft, resigned sigh at Jack's disappearance. He sat back in his chair, the leather crunching from the shift of his weight, but he too refused to meet anyone's gaze. This situation that should have remained on the professional plane had clearly leaked into the unprofessional realm in seconds. Teal'c's acceptance at that eventuality was apparent in the lines that wriggled over his entire face.

“Well,” Daniel piped up in his most jocular voice. “At least we know that he can afford to turn this position down.”

Silence met his comment, and it was as if he couldn't stop himself when he continued, “He has lots of time for cooking now.”

In an explosion of motion, Sam jumped up from her chair and rushed out the door into the corridor, following in Jack's wake.

Hammond's hope blossomed.

Only Linderhofer noticed the fact that the Colonel hadn't been dismissed first. “Leaving so fast like that... is the Colonel all right?” she asked Daniel and Teal'c. “Is she sick?” Her gaze turned to Hammond. “Should I be worried?” But the expression of understanding beginning to light her eyes nullified any concern she might be feeling. Hammond's reaction to her words soothed even more concern she might have had.

General Hammond's soft, slow smile curved his lips. “I'd say that we acted a bit hastily, General,” he said in satisfaction that was completely at odds to the situation. “I think we can stop worrying now.” And his smile grew so large it overtook his face. “Finally.”

Teal'c, Hammond, and Daniel

Chapter 7

General Linderhofer clearly didn't understand what had just happened in the Briefing Room, or its momentous nature... officially. Unofficially... she wasn't that slow. But she was slow to say anything specific when none of the others did, either.

Teal'c and Daniel, however, fully understood the ramifications of the scene they had just witnessed, and General Hammond wasn't far behind them. Besides Hammond's utterance of the single word 'finally,' Teal'c lent his form of wisdom to the scene. “It is good that they do not have to fight unseen forces any longer.”

Daniel's delight at this unexpected turn of events was far more palpable than his friend's. “You can say that again,” he gushed. “This calls for cake.”

“One piece each,” Teal'c rumbled in agreement.

But before the two men could get too carried away with plans of celebration, Linderhofer stopped them. “What just happened?” She clearly wanted more information. “I just wasted months on something that obviously General O'Neill doesn't want. And you guys are... thrilled?

It was General Hammond who officially put her out of her misery by explaining as much as he could. “You might say that they're fulfilling their destiny at last.”

Linderhofer's nose wrinkled. “Their destiny?”

Daniel explained this time. “Can you imagine spending the last seven to eight years watching them dance around each other, hurting the other..?”

“They flirted,” Teal'c rumbled. “Outrageously.”

Hammond took up the narrative. “But they never gave into that flirting - at least, not under my watch, if ever.”

“They did not,” Teal'c added. “It was most annoying.”

Daniel spoke again, “And now, what with the flowers, and the cooking, and the courting...”

Hammond shrugged a shoulder. “Destiny.”

Suddenly Linderhofer laughed. “And he got thrown out for breaking the Frat Regs...”

“But not for breaking them the way we all hoped he would break them,” Daniel finished, and canted his head. “He even went so far as to save loads of money in case this ever happened - him getting kicked out, I mean.”

That struck Linderhofer a blow. “You mean he planned this whole thing from the very beginning?!”

“Nooooo,” Daniel slowly intoned, hesitant to make an unequivocal statement about this subject. “But I think he didn't discourage that possibility of a discharge once it was here.”

“Indeed,” Teal'c added.

Daniel grinned at his friend. “I knew you were gonna say that.”

Linderhofer stared at her three comrades, still a bit confused. “So, you're glad that this happened? But wasn't the point of all this to pull General O'Neill back into the SGC fold where he'll do the most good?”

Hammond grinned once again, but tried to temper his growing emotions. He gently closed the folder he had in front of him detailing the job he had been authorized to offer. He happily climbed to his feet. “Trust me in saying that things couldn't have worked out better ... for all involved.” He tossed the file folder into his briefcase and snapped it shut, closing in that offer he'd made with the motion. Then, without another word, he strode from the Briefing Room.

Sam

Chapter 8

Sam found Jack waiting at the elevator on level 28, his Airman escort at his side.

His gaze met hers. The expression on his face showed his surprise that she had come after him. Making such a decisive movement... one while at work... was unlike the Carter he knew. But then, he reminded himself that he was no longer dealing with the Carter he knew. “Uh... hi,” he said, stumbling over what to say to her.

“Airman, I've got it from here,” Sam perfunctorily said. “You're dismissed.”

The man gave a nod of his head, then disappeared up the stairs to the Control Room. Yet the look of anticipation on his face gave the impression that he planned to place his J/S bet with Walter as soon as he possibly could.

“He's off to the races, ya know,” Jack quietly stated to her.

“I know,” Sam replied, not taking her gaze from his. A beat of silence went by, then she abruptly asked, “Mind if I come with you?”

He studied her as if she were a replicator block in her microscope. “I'm going off base, Sam,” he announced. “Going home.” His studying increased. “Did the General clear you to leave the base?”

“Nope,” Sam immediately answered. “I might get in trouble for this. Might even be charged with going temporarily AWOL.”

His interest level rose a notch even as his gaze positively snapped with challenge. “This isn't a temporary situation, though. It's for the long haul.”

And she knew without him having to explain that by 'this' he meant that if she went with him now, it was for good, for always, forever. He wouldn't accept anything less at this point.

Sam was rather amazed to find that neither would she.

Without making a single reference to the position he'd just turned down for her... and his team... she let her knock-Jack-dead smile blaze out at him. “Then we shouldn't waste any time.” And she reached out her hand for him to take.

Jack's uncharacteristic grin was so wide that it nearly split his face in two. Typically a man of action over words, he grabbed her hand in his and firmly linked their fingers. He then said the two words that she just now realized that she'd been waiting a lifetime to hear. “Always awaits.”

The End


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