Disclaimer: I don't own them. MGM/UA, Gekko Productions, and Double Secret Productions owns them. I'm just playing with them for awhile.

How One Simple Hole Can Change the Universe

by Linda Bindner

The minute General George Hammond saw Daniel Jackson and Major Carter helping Colonel O'Neill down the ramp of the Stargate, followed closely by Teal'c carrying their weapons and packs, he knew that something had gone terribly wrong with the mission to PRX-251. The fact that the group of four had just left an hour before, and was returning almost a full day early were other hints.

SG-1, what happened? Hammond asked as they picked their way down the ramp towards him. Colonel O'Neill walked on one good leg and hobbled on his left leg.

Major Carter was clearly fighting for breath as she said, We'll explain everything, Sir, but we need a medical team down here, first!

Damn! swore Jack O'Neill then as he rested too much weight on his left leg. He grimaced and winced in pain. I knew things were going too well when we first got there!

Hammond looked on in concern as Dr. Fraiser helped to wheel a medical gurney right to the bottom of the ramp. Will someone please explain to me what happened? Colonel? Major? he demanded.

Sam Carter was starting to almost bend over double from the weight of her Commanding Officer. She helped to heft him onto the side of the gurney with a shove of her hip as she grunted, Hole!

I walked into a damned hole, General! O'Neill finished for her. It wasn't deep, but I tripped, and that twisted me knee up pretty bad.

Carter heaved a sigh that imitated the one just made by Dr. Jackson, and wilted near the steps leading up the ramp. She panted, but managed to say, Colonel O'Neill... needs... to see a... a doctor... Sir!

Yes, that's quite clear! Hammond was saying as he waved an arm to tell the SFs surrounding the 'Gate to move out of the way as Dr. Fraiser and her team instantly set to work on stabilizing O'Neill's leg. He groaned loudly every time she so much as touched him as he lay back against the sheets on the gurney.

Ouch! he exclaimed, and glared at Fraiser. Can you possibly be more enthusiastic, Doc? he sarcastically asked.

Fraiser tightened the temporary splint she had already applied to his leg a bit too tightly, and the Colonel groaned again. Just lie back, Colonel, she brightly said. We'll take care of everything.

Yeah! Jack grunted, and winced again. I bet you will!

Sam Carter grinned at O'Neill's complaining, and at Fraiser's apparent happiness at getting him as her patient again. Sam wasn't certain about things, but she tended to think that Janet Fraiser lived to get difficult patients like Jack O'Neill placed under her care as often as she could. O'Neill groaned in pain, and Sam thought she heard Fraiser say something about him not being such a baby as the medical team wheeled the gurney out the door and down the corridor. Still, Sam couldn't be certain over all the noise of the medical team and the whirring of the wheels of the medical cart. Yet, she couldn't help but smile, if a bit grimly, as Daniel and Teal'c joined her to stand beside the General.

Without a word, Teal'c handed over the weapons he still carried to the SFs as Daniel shook his head, and muttered, Poor Janet. He shook his head again. He's going to drive her crazy. Mark my words. Totally crazy.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, the healthy members of SG-1 were no longer thinking about Janet Fraiser's mental condition. They were more concerned about the way Jack's knee had ballooned to the size of a small watermelon in the amount of time it had taken them to shower and change before meeting once more in the Infirmary to hear the doctor's prognosis.

It was a grim woman who confronted them as well as General Hammond with her news. The knee is pretty well inflamed, as you can see. I have him on a double dose of pain killers and sedatives, but it seems to have had little to no effect. Behind her, the entire group could hear Jack's exuberant cursing as nurses and technicians tried to make him leave the brace supporting his leg and knee alone, while he tried to take it off the second their backs were turned.

Hammond couldn't help but nod at the fuss O'Neill was making, and try not to give an inappropriate smile. Instead, he turned to the doctor and inquired, Just what does this mean, Doctor?

Janet sighed heavily, then regarded the General. It means that Colonel O'Neill may have simply stepped into a hole and tripped, but the damage he did to his knee is fairly extensive. He pulled his ACL, and damaged the cartilage around the knee, not to mention the wrenching he gave it, which is causing the swelling that you see.

Hammond's brows furrowed. How long will it take to heal?

Janet's gusty sigh again sounded in the otherwise quiet Infirmary. I can't say for sure, of course, but even if the swelling improves in the next day or so, we're looking at six or seven weeks before I can clear him for active duty again.

Six weeks! Daniel incredulously shouted, giving voice to the shock that they were all experiencing.

Janet shrugged. Give or take a week, yeah, that's the best we can hope for. She blinked at their obvious distress at hearing her news. ACLs are very tricky to heel, she apologetically told them. Then, she looked again at the file in her hands. But the good news is that he'll make a full recovery... She sighed. Eventually.

This is just great, Daniel muttered. There was the promise of some good ruins on that planet. We didn't even get to see them!

Sam Carter did her best to ignore Daniel's whining and ask, Is there anything we can do for the Colonel, Janet?

Janet flipped her file folder shut. For now, no. Colonel O'Neill's going to be under observation for the next two days...

Sam smiled when she heard that statement. Oh, he's going to love that! she said.

Janet smiled back at her. Here's something else he's going to love... He has to keep that knee brace on for all six or seven of those weeks I was just telling you about, or he has no hope of returning to active duty at that time.

Carter regarded her team mates. I suppose we can take turns making sure that he's keeping it on.

Teal'c spoke then. But it will not be easy to convince him to leave it in place, he said.

It was Carter's turn to give a sigh. No, Teal'c, it won't. She knew Colonel O'Neill well enough to predict that.

Janet continued with her report, then. I've also placed the Colonel on Medical Leave until he returns to duty... He'll be under my command until I see fit to hand him back to SG-1.

Daniel stared at the doctor. That leaves us without a leader.

Hammond jumped into the conversation again. This is an excellent opportunity for Major Carter to acquire more command experience... He turned to face the Major. Consider yourself the temporary leader of SG-1, he said. We'll juggle the mission rotation a little so that you aren't in the field as much as you were going to be. At least, we can at try to minimize the trouble you can get into. But this is almost too good of a chance to let pass by, as bad as it is for Colonel O'Neill. You'll report directly to me while the Colonel is incapacitated.

Yes, Sir, Carter intoned, all the while thinking that at the very least, the Colonel wasn't going to be happy about being left behind on future missions, even if he would get some satisfaction out of knowing that his 2IC was leading his team in his place.

As one, five people sighed and gazed at the Colonel struggling against the effects of a double dose of sedatives. It was going to be a long and loud six or seven weeks.

* * *

Sam Carter fancied that she could hear Colonel O'Neill's yells of complaint all the way down the corridor to the elevator. Smiling in sympathy, she swiped her identification card, but had to wait for a car for her planned stop at the Commissary for a cup of coffee before her further intention of working in her lab. While waiting, she amused herself by thinking about the Colonel...

They had been so careful to stay apart these past few years, ever since that entire Za'tarc incident. Even being alone in her lab with him, a frequent occurrence due to his desire for information or to simply chat, was always fraught with a little bit of distance between them. The emotions that had caused those conditions of distance in the first place were always there, in the back of her mind, but buried under her sense of duty, honor, and peppered by a healthy bit of fear. Now, with six weeks or so of no Colonel to contend with on missions, dropping unexpectedly by her lab, or smiling his secret smile that was meant just for her, in spite of trying their best not to arouse suspicion, Sam felt that she could relax her natural hesitancy just the tiniest bit while the team was off-world.

Then, just as the elevator door opened and Sergeant Siler politely stepped around her on his way to somewhere clearly important, according to the way he hurried down the corridor, it hit her like a ton of bricks.

Janet had said that she was placing Colonel O'Neill on Medical Leave, which meant that he answered specifically to her. In the meantime, Sam herself was given command of SG-1, and she answered directly to General Hammond. Which meant that, for the next six or seven weeks, O'Neill was a noncommissioned officer, and not an official member of SG-1.

Which, in turn, meant that Jack O'Neill was not her CO until Dr. Fraiser returned him to duty.

Sam felt like someone had punched her in the stomach; her world tilted, whirled, and she was certain that she was going to be sick right there in the hallway of the SGC the second she fully understood that new information. Slowly, the swirling walls of the corridor settled into order again, and her stomach calmed with it. Still, her eyes were wide and her mouth had fallen open to form a silent, surprised 'Oh' as personnel streamed in and out of the elevator to go around her and continue on their way.

That was where Daniel found her, leaning helplessly against the wall, seeming content to hold the beige colored bricks up and to stare off into space.

Sam? Daniel inquired, then looked in confusion up and down the corridor after he had seen the empty expression on Sam's face. Is something wrong? he went on to ask. Are you all right?

Sam continued to stare emptily at the far side of the hallway. Yet, she dreamily answered him. I'm fine, Daniel, she said, habit behind her remarks. No need to worry.

But the vacuous look in her eyes didn't encourage him to go on about his business. You sure? he asked again. Because I can get Janet for you if...

No, I'm fine, Daniel, Sam repeated. Then, totally out of the blue, she said, I just realized; He's not my CO anymore. Then she amended, Not until Janet files the paperwork to return him to duty.

Her first statement confused Daniel even more. His brow furrowed in bemusement. Uh... Excuse me?

Colonel O'Neill, Sam said, as if that comment explained everything. When Daniel didn't appear to comprehend where she was going with that information, Sam said, He's on Medical Leave... He's under Janet's command. I'm under Hammond's command. I...

Suddenly, the befuddled, pained expression lifted from Daniel's features and was replaced by dawning excitement and understanding. He's not... Oh, wow!

Sam peered at him from her place by the wall. Yeah, that's what I thought, too, she told him.

Daniel tried to regulate his excitement, without having much luck in his endeavor. For a moment, he stood beside her, and didn't say anything. At last, he asked, Are you going to do anything about it?

Sam gazed at him, then crossed her arms. There's nothing I can do about anything at the moment; The Colonel's confined to the Infirmary for the next few days. He's either unconscious right now, or driving Janet up the wall. Either way, I can hardly change much of anything until he's released to go home...

When's that gonna be? Daniel wanted to know.

Sam shrugged. As soon as the swelling in his knee goes down, and not a moment sooner, or I don't know Janet.

That could be tomorrow or next week, Daniel noted with an irritated slap to his thigh.

You're right, Sam agreed with him. She drew in a deep, shuddering breath, then pushed herself off the wall she was currently leaning against. Since there's nothing I can do about this information right now... I need to think about what I want to do, anyway... Why don't you join me for a cup of coffee? I was heading up to the Commissary when I... She nervously cleared her throat, but went on in determination, When I figured all this out. Why don't you come, too? Then, she smiled and wheedled, There's always time for coffee, you always say...

Daniel answered her smile with a grin of his own. I never knew that you were so depraved as to bring up my worst vice right now, of all times, Sam. He paused, and then his grin grew even wider. You're on. He joined her in the elevator car when the doors opened just then. He was still grinning when he said, And maybe we can come up with a plan of action about how to handle this problem concerning Jack while we're there, just sittin' around the Commissary.

Sam gazed at him out of the corner's of her eyes, once again admitting to herself just how long it was going to seem to be until Janet released the Colonel from the Infirmary. Until then, Daniel was her only companion who knew of her current debacle.

With a sigh, she straightened and turned her eyes to the front of the elevator. No matter what she and Daniel decided to do about the new state of affairs, those few days while Colonel O'Neill was trapped in the Infirmary, recovering to Janet's satisfaction, were going to seem utterly infinite to her.

* * *

Sam waited, quite patiently, she thought, for three days. The Colonel was released from the Infirmary on the second day after his injury, and Sam waited for him to arrive at the door to her lab so that he could say something, anything, to her. But he never arrived to brighten what in effect was a relatively dull day. And so, she ended up spending the entire day waiting for a man who never showed up... Nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary happened that day.

Sam then asked Daniel if the Colonel had said anything about figuring out their new military hierarchy, like she had, in a flash of understanding. But he couldn't say one way or the other if Jack comprehended their new standing or not, as the Colonel hadn't said anything to Daniel since the archaeologist had been used as a human crutch on their way down the Stargate ramp the day the injury had happened.

Next, she dropped a few questions to Janet, trying to glean some information as to whether or not Jack understood how things now stood between him and his 2IC, and Janet was adamant that her former patient's new military role was fully understood, as they had discussed that very thing. So that wasn't the reasoning behind his sudden disappearance.

So Sam waited another day, but, again, nothing happened. What the heck was he doing? Sam finally wondered to herself. He hadn't seemed angry with her for some unknown reason, so what was it that was keeping him as far away from her as possible? He hadn't even come to tell her goodbye when he'd left the Infirmary and gone home on that third day. Was he a bit reluctant to have her see him while wearing that leg brace, which she knew O'Neill would imagine her to think of as a weakness? Though, Sam could really care less if he was displaying his injury or not.

So, was he afraid of what would happen if he saw her? Sam wondered next. Was he concerned about the concept of them possibly cutting loose and exploring their true feelings for each other, only to be shut down again in six or seven weeks by the fraternization regulation that would force them to revert back to pretending to not care one way or another about each other... Did he not want to put either of them through such imagined pain as that would undoubtedly be, and was therefore avoiding her like she had the plague or something?

A final possibility, one that Sam was hardly even able to consider, was that Jack no longer had special feelings for her at all. Now that he could show those feelings she'd thought he had always harbored to everybody without fear of a court-martial, he didn't love her any more.

This last reasoning was driving her to distraction. It was when she had done the third stupid thing that day, and ruined yet another project that she'd been working on for days that she decided that she'd had enough of waiting around like some passive object for him to decide on his own to approach her. She had to know at last what was going on in his mind, so she determined that if he refused to come to her, then she would go to him. She'd bluntly ask him to spell out his emotions for her; she couldn't stand anything else anymore. This 'not knowing' was taking over her life and distracting her in ways that she couldn't afford. The chances of that haze he was causing her to fall into overwhelming her on a mission was just too high, so she decided that if he hadn't phoned, or met her, or done anything by the end of this third day after his injury, then she was going to act by driving to his house and demanding answers of him herself.

This promise of action made her feel somewhat better, and she ceased to do such stupid things, like spill her cup of coffee all over her laptop, or accidentally flick grease on the blueprints of a plasma particle generator that she had created over the course of several days, or hit the 'delete' key instead of the 'enter' key while working on her cooperative on-line schematics project of a new model of small, space worthy planes being re-imagined for the Air Force. This preoccupation that she had with O'Neill and who was whose CO was costing her just too much to ignore any longer, though doing something about that preoccupation scared the crap out of her.

Still, knowing was better than not knowing, Teal'c told her on the afternoon of the third day that she spent waiting, wasting time, and not working. At this point, she was a bit hesitant to spend any time alone in her lab lest she ruin yet another project. So she stayed away from her lab and visited her friends, finished up projects that she couldn't ruin with one wrong key stroke on her laptop computer. When she reached the end of her patience, she went to her house to pack a bag full of clothes in case she found them necessary and stowed the pack in her trunk before purposefully driving to Jack's house amid the sounds of her pounding heart.

Sam knew right away that he was at home, as his truck resided in his driveway, and she had parked her car directly behind it. She supposed that he could take a cab if he absolutely had to go somewhere, but somehow she knew that O'Neill's inborn sense of independence wouldn't allow him to call a cab to ferry him to some undetermined destination. He would simply forgo such a trip, waiting instead for one of his team mates to check up on him to say that he needed something from the grocery store, and then have that team mate run to the store for him, or do whatever he needed to have done. He would see such a run to the store as an act of friendship rather than the act of charity it would have been if anyone else had performed the task.

So at least I have an excuse for being here, Sam grimly thought to herself as she climbed from her car and walked up the front sidewalk to his door. She could check up on his brace-wearing activities, and then ask if he needed her to do anything for him. That is, she could do such a thing if she lost her nerve at the last minute. So, not intending to need the excuse to see him, but still feeling well fortified with excuses for being at his front door in the middle of a work day, she knocked.

But, she didn't need those excuses, it turned out; she pounded on his front door before she could lose her nerve. Then she waited as a cold wind curled around her, heralding the coming Autumn. She was just wishing that she had worn her heavier jacket when the door was pulled open and Jack stood in the warmth of his entryway, looking... Well, looking damned good for a man with one leg encased in a white, plastic knee brace, she admitted to herself.

Carter! Jack exclaimed in some surprise. Coming to check up on me, or what? He didn't pause to allow her to pretend that she didn't know what he was talking about, but rushed on to say, You can tell old Doc Fraiser that I'm being a good boy and wearing this dumb leg thingy, just like she insists on me doing, so...

Jack, Sam interrupted with a roll of her eyes and a new, steely sense of determination to be honest in her reply, thus the reason she used his first name in her response. You put that brace on right before coming to answer the door, in case I was Janet, ready to give you a good dressing down for not wearing it in the first place. I think that after all these years, I know you well enough to predict that. But checking up on you is not quite why I'm here.

It's not? he said, and looked even more surprised than her words had already made him.

No... Um... Can I come in, do you think? she asked, hesitant now that she had started to act on her earlier decisions. It's getting awfully windy and cold out here...

Oh, sorry about that, he said of not remembering to invite her in right away, then stood aside to let her pass off the windy porch and into his warm entryway.

Sam shut the door behind her, then proceeded to remove her coat and hang it up on the hooks provided for visitors before she turned to face him, her heart still pounding wildly in her chest.

But Jack wasn't aware of her nervousness. He continued on, saying, You caught me by surprise there, or I would have...

Jack stopped talking when she moved close to him, backing him up against the wall behind him, and without introducing a new topic of conversation, said, Stop talking for a second, and just listen. I need to know... before I go insane... if you still care about me 'more than you should' or not.

Her direct approach to the quandary seemed to surprise him, if not immediately bring about the desired results. He had cut off his voice the second her hands came in contact with his arms, and now stood before her in a rigid pose of protective self control. He closed his eyes against the possibility of seeing her, as if the sight of her was slowly eating away his resolve, and painfully exhaled a breath before softly saying in a voice so low and so strained that it was almost a gasp of air, Carter, I don't think that...

Sam interrupted him again. Don't try to protect me, Jack... I've been driving myself to distraction these last few days, wondering what you were thinking. I got so worried that I couldn't even work, and you know that for me not to work, things have to be pretty darn bad.

Jack tried to gently remove her hands from his arms. Carter, we need to...

But Sam was resolute in her need to know. She interrupted him again. I still feel the same as I did on that day of the Za'tarc test, and I need to know if you do, too, or not. She didn't know how she could make things clearer than that.

Jack swallowed, then closed his eyes again, as if he were suddenly in total consternation, or in intense pain.

Sam was beginning to have doubts as to the intelligence of asking these questions in the first place of the man who was usually her Commanding Officer. He looked as if he were going to imminently hurt her emotionally, and hurting her was the last thing he wanted to do, but he couldn't avoid it. She felt the first scrabblings of desperation crawling up her spine, and her confused fear as to his reaction was evident in the way her brow furrowed in deep lines to illustrate her mental state. Maybe this seeking of answers hadn't been such a good idea after all. Discouraged, Sam plowed on one last time, anyway, and asked for further information, but in a voice growing smaller with every word. Is this not something you've been waiting for as long as I have, Jack? Am I totally wrong; don't you want this?

Jack swallowed, and the action seemed to hurt, the way his motion stuttered to a stop right in the middle of the activity. Then he gasped against whatever was holding him back.

He looked like a man who had suddenly reached his personal limits of restraint. His face, already white and drawn, grew even paler, and he breathed in once with his eyes closed tight against her image before him. When he spoke, his voice was torn from him, full of agony mixed with the sound of hope. God, yes, I want this, was all he whispered. Then his own hands rose just high enough for him to slowly pull her close to him until she touched every inch of his body with hers as they embraced each other in his entryway.

A shiver ripped through Jack, as if he were still battling his emotions for her. But it was a losing fight for him, though Sam could tell that even in his surrender to the strong desires that constantly accosted him, he still wanted to show his control of the situation, even when he had no control left. That shiver he'd undergone showed a vivid picture of just how little control he actually had at this point. She set out to destroy any resistance he still carried inside him, and kissed his chest just once as her arms tightened around his back. A groan ripped from his lips, and his own arms tightened in response.

Sam, I'm.., he began to say in a low voice that still sounded strangled and restrained. But then he went on, Sam, I'm so sorry... I tried... I tried to stay away... He lowered his forehead until it just barely brushed hers. He whispered, God knows, I tried.

Her own heartbeat somehow quickened further when she felt his lips graze the top of her head. She suddenly experienced the sting of tears in her eyes, and had to ignore that sensation to whisper, Don't be sorry... Never be sorry.

He shook his head, and drew in a shuddering breath. But, I know what's going to happen once Fraiser gives me the all clear...

Jack, I was so confused.., Sam started to explain in her shaky tones, but he cut her off when he tenderly cupped her cheek with a shaking hand and slowly wrapped his other arm more firmly around her back to hold her tightly against him.

They stood like that, leaning against the other, for a long time, neither moving. Their breathing regulated to match the other's; in, out... in, out.

Finally, Sam broke the quiet when she whispered, This feels more wonderful then I always thought it would.

Sam could feel Jack smile against her hair. You sound very content, he noted.

She sighed. I am. After the last few days that I've had, just waiting, and destroying everything I touched, it's nice to feel like I'm finally in the right place at the right time, she admitted.

You're always in the right place at the right time, Jack commented in a low voice.

That was when the ill-timed beeping came from the direction of Jack's kitchen, reaching them in their position in the entryway. Jack's head flicked up, and Sam could actually feel him look in the direction of his kitchen. Damn... Bad timing, he said under his breath, then laughed. Timing... That's rather funny...

Jack, Sam complained. You're not making any sense.

Jack reluctantly withdrew from her arms. I was making cookies when you came over... I had just put them in the oven and set the kitchen timer on the microwave when you knocked. I guess they're done now.

Sam was astonished. You make cookies? she asked, partially incredulous. I can't follow a cookie recipe to save my life, she said. I'm a bit surprised that you can, she admitted as she followed his limping form into his kitchen.

Jack looked back at her and grinned as he grabbed the hotpad he had laid on his counter, waiting to be used. What? he asked in a mocking tone. Do you mean to tell me that there's something that Sam Carter can't do?

Oh, that's soooo not funny, Jack O'Neill, Sam answered, though her words were softened by the tiny grin displayed on her lips.

Jack kept grinning at her. Above all, they were friends, if perhaps a bit more, and his tone of voice now fully indicated that friendship he felt for her. I think you've been around me too much... You're beginning to sound like me.

Sam sighed. There are worse things to be like, I suppose.

Jack paused as he set one cookie sheet on his stove and was reaching into his oven for the second. He looked at her. Either that's a really camouflaged compliment, or I'm not being hard enough on you on our missions off-world. The look he sent her, though, indicated that his idea of 'hard on her' was a little different than most people's concepts of how difficult their behavior should be.

Oh, I think I can deal with anything you can dish out, she remarked.

Jack straitened up, cookie sheet in hand. Is that a challenge? he asked with a glint in his eye. He set the tray of desserts on the stove to start cooling off.

You can take it however you want to, Sam told him.

Jack pulled a spatula towards him and began removing the cookies from the first cookie sheet in order to set the desserts on cooling racks already waiting on the counter. You know, he absently commented, over the last few days, when I was trying not to think about you and go insane at the same time, I actually looked at those junk magazines you get in the mail, just for something to do.

You were getting desperate, Sam announced with a grin.

Jack shrugged back at her. Anyway, I was looking at this catalog I'd never seen before, and I saw some sort of advertisement for wooden signs, you know, the decorative kind, and I saw one that said 'Life's short... Eat cookies.

Ah, noted Sam, That explains your cookie-making venture.

Don't kid yourself, O'Neill told her. I'm making cookies just because cookies sounded good, and I was trying to do anything to keep me from driving over to your house and throwing myself on your well-developed sense of mercy.

Sam thoughtfully paused, looking inward. That's rather like what I did to you, she said. Throw myself at your mercy, I mean. Then, she added, Minus the cookies, which I would burn if I somehow managed to make the dough correctly in the first place.

Oh, these are frozen cookies, Jack said conversationally. The dough comes already prepared... All you have to do is break the squares apart and cook them, and... voila... Cookies.

They come that way? she asked, amazed, and at Jack's nod, remarked, I'll have to remember that.

Anyway, I was trying not to think of you, but then I couldn't help but think of you in light of this new situation... I was thinking about that wooden sign's saying, 'Life's Short'... And all I could think about was that life's too short... Pretty soon, the saying from that sign had changed to 'Life's Short... Kiss your Second in Command,' and all sorts of ridiculous things like that. And then there you were, knocking on my front door. Seeing you when I was thinking about you was like all those miracles that Daniel is always talking about all wrapped up in one...

Sam smiled again, thinking along the same lines that he had been. What about 'Life's Short... Kiss Your Commanding Officer?'

I'm not your CO right now, O'Neill reminded her.

Sam stared at him, but raised her eyebrow. No need to remind me! she exclaimed.

Anyway, Jack continued, I kept coming up with all these sillier and sillier sayings about 'Life's Short...'

Like..? she questioned.

Jack smiled. Promise not to laugh?

Promise, she said.

Jack stood still, spatula in hand. He wasn't aware of what an incongruous picture he painted; a seasoned soldier standing in his kitchen in a shaft of late afternoon sunlight, spatula poised over a sheet full of cookies, lost in thought. It made Sam choke in order to hold back the laughter that bubbled up inside of her.

But Jack knew exactly what she was thinking. Sam should have known that he would read her thoughts, as he had... always... almost... been able to... practically... read her mind. Again, that glint of mischief came back into his eyes. 'Life's Short... Attack the woman you love,' he said, and grinned.

It was the first time he had ever mentioned loving her, and Sam was a bit surprised by his admission. Even in the Za'tarc test, he had claimed only to care about her 'more than he should.' There had been no mention of being in love with her. Now, the admittance rolled off his tongue as easily as if he'd always been saying it.

Still, she endeavored to act like hearing it didn't affect her so much that it almost made her turn into a pile of goo at his feet. Instead, as a way to distract herself so she wouldn't turn into mush from just looking at him, she thought for a moment, then said, 'Life's Short... Jump Your Superior Officer While He's Not Your Superior Officer.'

'Life's Short... Be Happy About Being Jumped By Your Subordinate,' Jack shot back at her in a rapid fire sense of the ridiculous.

So that was the way he wanted to be... Sam smiled even wider, then said, 'Life's Short... Hug the Man You Love... Naked.'

Jack grinned again when she said that, then went on to comment, 'Life's Short... Marry the Woman You Love Who is Currently Naked.'

Marry?! Sam choked, her heart rate increasing again. She was once more so shocked that it was hard to think. It made her more blunt, again, than she wished to be. We haven't even slept together yet... Heck, we haven't even kissed..! And you're already talking marriage?

Jack threw the spatula onto the counter top, and grabbed her hand to pull her till she had slid into his arms, and was right up next to him to stand beside the warm oven. He took a moment to affectionately grin down at her. He dropped the hotpad in his hand, and placed his fingers on either side of her face to allow his thumbs to lovingly rub over her cheeks. Without giving Sam time to retaliate in kind, he kissed her on her forehead, then on each cheek. I love you, he whispered. And, then, he kissed her full on the lips.

It only took an instant for Jack's kiss to turn hot and passionate, for his hands to glide over her jeans-clad bottom, the rest of her clothes... Sam was so quickly lost in a haze of returning desire that it was before she even knew what he was doing that she felt his hands reach under her untucked shirt (how had her shirt come untucked?). Those amazing hands caressed across her stomach, over her back, up her chest... Oh God... The sensations of his probing fingers caused quakes and tingles to erupt all over her skin... She couldn't breath. Her heart was pounding in her throat... Oh, God,... his hands covered one of her breasts... It felt so good, so right... She yearned for more of his touch...

Sam groaned into his mouth as Jack sensed her own spiraling passion, and his kiss deepened, claiming her, inviting her... His tongue was doing amazing, incredible things to her lips...

Heat... It exploded through her body, eating away any resistance she had left... He passed his hands across her back, her breasts, her abdomen, down to the waistline of her pants...

That building desire raging inside her exploded then into shivers and shudders as it twisted, and grew so hot that it licked like fire through her veins to... Suddenly, she clung to him as she fell over the edge of that craving... she pushed into him, felt his own reaction to her pushing into her hips, moaned into his mouth, swallowed his own sigh of desire, shaking with the force of her explosion of passion...

It took a moment of quiet for Sam to calm her breathing after Jack slowly withdrew from such an incredible, deep kiss, turning that kiss into one of light affection, one of steadfast love, one of an emotional promise of his constant permanence. Then, he wrapped her in his arms, his head resting on her own as they both gasped for air like fish out of water, standing there, incongruously in his kitchen, of all places.

A moment later, Sam was able to whisper, Holy... Holy Hannah.

Among other things, Jack whispered back.

That... That... She couldn't quite wrap her mind around the concept she was trying to get across to him. At last, she gave up. No one's ever made love to me with a kiss before.

Marry me? Jack beseeched. I don't think I can stand not being married to you after that. Then, he added, And it's the only thing I can think of to do about handling the fraternization regulation.

You're talking about the amendment about spousal exclusion, aren't you? Sam recalled the way the regulation had been written, exlcuding spouses from its confining relationship structure.

Jack sighed. Though the idea of marriage seemed way too farfetched, it was the only way I can see how we can be together while I'm still your CO... But I never expected that you would agree to it... You're constantly a surprise to me.., he admitted. ... a nice surprise.

Sam stood, encased in his arms, still wrapped in a fog of her love and desire for him. At last, she just nodded to answer his question about marrying him, again unable to speak. Wow, she finally managed to whisper.

Double wow, Jack whispered back. He caressed a hand down the hair on her head, and rubbed her back. A moment later, his sigh coiled through the darkening kitchen. I'm anticipating the real thing to come in the not so distant future.

I don't know about you, Sam said, but that kiss came close enough to the real thing to be real as far as I'm concerned.

Though... I think I need to change clothes now, Jack ruefully went on. The mischievous light was back in his eyes again. Want to help me with it? he asked.

Sure, Sam surprised him again by saying. Life's short, she reminded him.

So it is, he said, agreeing with her. Then he regarded her inquisitively. Are we truly engaged, or did I dream that part?

Do you mean, do I want to change my mind? she ascertained.

Jack shrugged. Apparently I didn't dream the part at all.

Sam shook her head back and forth. You keep kissing me like that... I would be an idiot not to say 'yes.'

And Sam Carter is anything but an idiot, Jack finished for her. Can't take compliments particularly well... (I'm going to have to work on that..,) he muttered. But I have to agree that you are not an idiot.

Sam smiled into his shirt. How can I be, with you around to keep setting me straight.

Jack smiled, then. You give me too much credit, he told her.

Or not enough credit, Sam negated.

Like right now, I don't even have an engagement ring handy for just these kinds of unexpected emergencies, Jack said.

Sam looked up at him, thinking that any jewelry shop would be closed by this time of day, and the next day, a Friday, she had to work. We can choose something together on-line, she suggested.

Now, it was Jack's turn to be amazed. You mean there's something as esoteric as engagement rings on-line?

Sam nodded. I spend all my free time surfing the 'net... I can find almost anything you want...

Slowly, Jack grinned again. Of course you can... How 'bout a duplicate of you..? She grimaced at him, but he only tightened his arms around her. I have to remember that you're Sam Carter, computer expert extraordinaire.

Sam blushed, but remembered what he had claimed about her and accepting compliments, and kept her own comments to herself. Instead, she gently corrected, I'm a 'Gate expert... Computers are just my hobby.

That comment made Jack laugh. Well, lucky for us, I have a desk top computer in the other room so that I can fulfill that hobby of yours.

Lead on, she invited.

He hesitated, though. Finally, he said, After I change my clothes...

* * *

The next morning, Sam had barely entered the SGC via the elevator when she was accosted by a human dynamite with the last name of Fraiser. I've been waiting by the elevators for you to get here ever since I got here, myself, Janet said as she fell into step beside her friend. So, tell me... What happened last evening?

I don't know what you're talking about, Janet, Sam lightly said, trying hard to distract her friend so that she forgot to delve for the truth.

What Sam herself wasn't able to remember was that Janet was completely impossible to distract. You do so know what I'm talking about, Janet insisted in a low voice so that passersby wouldn't listen in on their conversation. I mean you... the Colonel...

Which Colonel? Sam inquired, being purposefully obtuse.

At which point, Janet grabbed Sam's arm and stopped her. You know exactly which Colonel I'm referring to! Come on, Sam, don't play dumb with me, or I'll claim that you need about twenty shots in your behind... Then she stuck her index finger into Sam's face. And don't think that I wouldn't be so low as to do that, either. You know me better than that.

Sam sighed. Yes, I guess I do, Janet.

So... Spill, Janet ordered. They resumed walking down the corridor together.

Sam couldn't stop herself from grinning, then.

What? Janet demanded to know.

Nothing. Sam shrugged. In actuality, she was trying to coax Janet into her lab before the doctor did something, such as squeal like Cassie did when she was excited, and alert other personnel that something was afoot. Sam unceremoniously grabbed Janet by her hand and pulled her the last few feet to her lab.

Oh, God... We're running, Janet said. That means that what you have to tell me is either really good or really awful.

Good, Sam said, just to set her friend at ease.

Well, that's something, Janet commented. She pulled out a lab stool the second they passed into the lab. Okay, girlfriend... Remember, I have to live vicariously through you, so tell me everything.

Sam simply couldn't help herself at this point; she grinned even more. Well, as you know, Colonel O'Neill is on Medical Leave...

Sam, interrupted Janet. Don't do this to me..!

Okay, okay... Sam glanced down at the floor. He made love to me with one kiss, she quietly said.

Janet just stared at her for a minute. Then she blinked, and gave her head a shake. Wait a minute, she commented. I thought you said that he made love to you with only one kiss.

It was a damned amazing kiss, Sam corrected.

Janet's eyes widened. You're kidding me! she exclaimed.

Janet! Sam hissed. Then, she added, No, I'm not kidding.

Janet whistled a sigh. Damn, if I'd known what kind of effect Medical Leave would have on the man, I would have done this years ago.

Sam groaned. You have to promise not to say a word about this to anyone, Janet...

And lose all my fun?! Janet incredulously exclaimed. I think not!

I mean it, Jan! Sam said. One word is all it'll take for everyone to treat me like...

Like this is the most exciting thing to happen around here since Teal'c discovered what belching out loud sounded like and laughed for the first time?

Sam grinned. Yeah, that was quite a day, she agreed.

Sam...

But Sam was too excited herself to let her friend finish admonishing her. And I'll tell you something else... As long as you promise, pinky swear, not to tell a soul!

I have to tell Cassie, just in case it's life threatening, so that she can call 911 for me...

It's not life threatening, Sam soothed.

Janet continued without missing a beat. Then, I have to tell Cassie because she'll never forgive me if I don't tell her, and then she'll never speak to me again...

I am never having kids.., Sam muttered to herself, teasing.

You mean that you're never having teenagers, Janet corrected. Now... Tell. When Sam remained silent, she added, Or do I have to make it an order, and don't think I won't.

Few things made Janet irritated enough to pull rank more than not knowing some juicy bit of gossip, Sam knew. She also knew that Janet would make good on her threat if she felt she had to. So, Sam whispered, I'm engaged... We're engaged.

Janet's eyes fairly popped out of her head. You're what? she hissed.

Engaged. Sam was beginning to regret saying anything to her friend. Jack spent the last three days trying to think of what we could do when you turned in the paperwork that lets him back on duty... She saw Janet stare blankly at her. Come on, Jan, what would you do if a guy kissed you hot enough to make you...

Oh. My. God, Janet said.

Jan? Sam wailed in a whisper. What does God have to do with it? She pretended to open her laptop in preparation for the coming day so things would look normal for the guards in the security office watching the exchange. But actually, she was thinking about the incredible night she had shared with Jack at his house... in his bedroom... naked. The 'naked' thought reminded her to add, Life's short, and all that.

Janet continued to stare at her friend in bug-eyed silence.

Oh, come on, Jan! Sam wheedled. How many times have you said yourself that we're both incredibly lucky to even be alive?

Too many to count, Janet told her in a flat tone of voice.

Sam shrugged this time. So... Then, she peered down at her friend. Not one word, Janet! Remember that!

Then Janet seemed to come to life again, and looked around the lab, dismayed to see how empty it was. You expect me to keep something like this quiet!? she shrieked, whisper loud. How am I supposed to do that?

Don't make me regret telling you! Sam said next. Jack and I both decided not to say anything until he comes back to work on Monday! Then you can talk about it all you want! But not a moment before!

Except to Cassie, or she'll kill me.

Sam agreed. Cassie, and that's all... And, so help me, if she says anything..!

She won't, on pain of death, Janet promised. Then, she glanced at Sam's ring finger. Why aren't you even wearing an engagement ring, then? she inquired. It's not much of an engagement if you're not, if you ask me...

I'm not, Sam said to her. And the ring hasn't had time to ship, yet... That's why. She added, We only bought it last night. Give us a break.

Janet looked as if she wanted to ask Sam where she would like that break, but she deferred. Instead, she stuck her hands in the pockets of her lab coat. Okay, she agreed, but didn't look happy about it. I won't say a word, but come Monday morning, all bets are off!

Sam grimaced, then. Did I mention that I moved in with him?

Sam! Janet exploded.

Sam groaned. Nope, guess I forget about that part.., she said.

* * *

Monday morning, the briefing at 0800 was interesting.

By the time Sam and Teal'c had climbed steadily up the first set of steps to the Briefing Room, they could hear two voices issuing down the open stair well without any trouble. Sam paused the second before her head would come into view in order to listen, and stopped Teal'c with a hand on his arm. The strange tilt to her head must have told him that she was listening, for he seemed to be tuning into the two voices they heard, as well.

It was clearly Jack speaking to Daniel that they were overhearing, Sam surmised. Jack must be already in the Briefing Room in order to get a head start on his paperwork or the like, because when Daniel ran up the stairs just ahead of Sam, she could hear him falling into a chair, where he paused for a moment, then said, So..?

Sam could see the scene unfolding right in her mind's eye just as if she were witnessing it; Jack peering at Daniel without raising his head or halting his writing. So? she heard him echo. Her heart flipped over at the sound of his voice, she admitted to herself. She did her best to calm it, as Daniel was speaking again.

Got back late last night from a scientific mission to PSC-198.., Daniel was saying when Jack interrupted him.

You're point? Jack sardonically asked. Sam could see him raising an eyebrow in her mind.

Daniel must have shrugged, then. It was too late to call by the time I got back... He would be staring at Jack's taciturn expression, then. Finally, he wheedled, Come on, Jack! You know what I'm after, here!

It would have been Jack's turn to shrug. Have no idea, actually. Sam could hear him go back to the pad of paper he was writing on, then, and knew that he was trying to look busy for Daniel's sake. He was just playing with the poor archaeologist, Sam knew.

She was about to run the rest of the way up the stairs and rescue Daniel when he said, What are you so diligently scribbling on about, anyway? Then, he must have caught a good look at what subject his intrepid leader was actually writing in regard to, and grabbed the paper.

Hey! Jack yelled. Give that back!

'To mention the wedding to:' Daniel read. Sam grimaced, and noticed Teal'c's eyes dart to her left hand, where she was, indeed, wearing the engagement ring that Jack had had shipped next day mail, and that she had been wearing since it had come on Saturday. Teal'c's eyes next darted questioningly up to hers, and she knew that hers and Jack's secret engagement was no longer such a big secret anymore. Actually, Monday morning at 0800 was pretty good for keeping something a secret at the SGC, the biggest gossip factory in America.

'Asgaard,' - Thor, Daniel read. 'Tok'ra... Jacob, he went on. 'Ry'ak; Bra'tac; Ishta; Mark, Andrea, and kids; the President... The President? Daniel inquired.

Hey, Sam heard Jack answer. Think big...

Daniel went on. Jack, who's getting married? he demanded to know. Wasn't Siler getting married last month enough of a slap in the face for all us bachelors to remember forever? he questioned, half joking. So, who is this for, really? he asked, sounding suspicious, but waiting for Jack to confirm what he was thinking.

For a minute, Jack remained silent. Then, when Daniel must have raised an inquiring eyebrow, quietly said something that Sam and Teal'c couldn't hear from their places on the stairs.

What? asked Daniel.

Jack repeated himself, only marginally louder. Sam still couldn't hear him. Neither, it appeared, could Daniel.

Huh? Daniel asked again.

At this point, Jack lost his temper. Me! he shouted. Tell the entire SGC while you're at it, why don't ya?

Daniel breathed in great gasps of air, masking the noise that Teal'c made when he jerked and hit the stair's metal handrail. What? Daniel asked again, his voice incredulous.

Me! Jack emphatically hissed. How many times do I have to tell you, Daniel? he went on, still just as forceful.

But Daniel didn't appear to be comprehending anything that morning, for next he asked for clarification. What?

Jack just sighed. Then he must have yanked the paper back from his friend; Sam could hear the rustle of paper. Me... Sam... Married... Any questions?

Teal'c's eyes were as big as Janet's had been on Friday. For the first time, Sam wondered if the Jaffa could faint.

Sam.., Daniel said, and Sam gave a grimace. Her secret was most definitely out, now.

Don't say anything! Jack demanded.

That seemed to snap Teal'c's attention back to what he was doing, as well as Daniel's. Sam... Does she know about this? Sam heard Daniel ask.

I hope so, Jack said. She's the one who... He gurgled to a stop, and Sam was glad that he hadn't revealed what she had done on Thursday after work. It was a rather embarrassing incident, even if it had brought about such wonderful results.

What? Daniel asked, his voice now much louder than it had been before.

Jack sounded as if he were embarrassed, himself. Well...

But he wasn't as embarrassed as Sam was at that moment. She could feel her face growing redder and redder by the second. She hoped that Teal'c wasn't noticing, but at the same time, knew that very little got passed the Jaffa and his x-ray vision.

What? What did she do? Daniel demanded to know as Teal'c stared at her. Daniel's voice went on, Is she sick or something? Is she all right?

She's fine! Jack told him. Then, he added, Better than fine, actually...

Jack!

Okay, okay..! She threw herself at me, that's what she did!

Sam's face got even redder than it already was, and nothing would compel her to look at Teal'c just then.

Daniel remained silent for a moment. That wasn't part of the plan, he mumbled, then.

It was Jack's turn to be so surprised that he couldn't speak. You had a plan? he eventually inquired.

Daniel must have nodded, for next he said, Yeah, she was supposed to...

What? Jack demanded this time.

Uh... Daniel changed his mind about what he was going to say. Nothing. Uh... Well... Was she worth the wait?

Sam was really blushing now, especially when she heard Jack's much happier answer of, Ooooohhhh, yeah!

Daniel didn't respond, but announced instead, I need some water! Sam was glad that he wasn't yelling what he had been told to anybody who would listen. Yet, she could hear the unmistakable sound of someone running towards her spot on the stairs that she shared with Teal'c. Sam glanced at him once, begging for help out of her eyes that had gone dark with horror. Then she loudly said, I didn't have time to go on that shopping trip to Denver that I told you about... Sorry, Teal'c. I'll get you a new hat next time I go, I promise.

Teal'c, for once in his life, got the hint, and loudly joined in their game of subterfuge. That is acceptable, MajorCarter. He jogged the rest of the way up the stairs with his companion in eavesdropping at his side.

Daniel skidded to a halt as much as anybody could skid on the carpet at the top of the stairs. Sam! he cried. Teal'c!

DanielJackson, Teal'c greeted, as if he hadn't been listening to Daniel for the last fifteen minutes.

But Daniel wasn't done. General!

Sam whipped around, her heart sinking at the sight of General Hammond standing just behind her on the stairs. With an aching heart, now, she realized that he must have been just behind her the whole time, listening to what she and Teal'c had been listening to.

General Hammond quirked a brow. I take it that I should be offering congratulations? he quietly asked.

Yes, Sir, she meekly said, then climbed the rest of the stairs and moved into the room. Hi! she tried to say as brightly as possible to Jack, who was sitting at the left end of the table, his leg that was braced spread out under the Briefing Room table.

Hi, yourself, Jack said, with a grin, which he threw towards the returning Daniel, though his eyes remained on Sam the entire time. Long time, no see.

But they had already seen each other that morning. A moment later, Sam comprehended the joke he was trying to make.

See, or hear, he whispered after she had taken a seat on his right side.

He had known she was listening to his and Daniel's conversation the entire time! Damn. How would you like your punishment for letting out that little tidbit? Sam questioned back, referring to her decisions made on the previous Thursday.

Jack answered, Oh, it would have gotten around, anyway. I'm just helping things along a bit.

I was talking about the throwing myself at you part, Sam responded.

Oh, Jack mumbled, just as General Hammond took a seat at the opposite end of the table he usually sat at, in deference to Jack's braced leg.

Okay, people, Hammond said, calling the meeting to order. Here's your next mission, he said, passing around file folders to everyone. As you know, Colonel O'Neill has some healing to do, so Major Carter will be in charge of this mission, though the Colonel is attending this and future meetings so that he will remain apprised of your activities off-world.

Four heads nodded, and for once, the Colonel didn't even try to hide the unhappiness he felt at the reminder that he would be remaining behind.

Hammond must have known that Jack would feel less than enthusiastic about those plans, for he turned to the Colonel and quietly said, Didn't take you to as long to propose as Doctor Fraiser and I expected. And don't worry; I'll call the Asgaard and the Tok'ra as soon as we're finished here.

Sam and Jack could only look at him in dumbfounded silence, their eyes wide. Neither of them said anything, until Jack managed to croak, Thank you, Sir.

General Hammond just smiled enigmatically, and went on with the briefing.

* * *

Jack hobbled into the 'Gate Room just moments before SG-1, under the command of their new leader, was about to embark. Sam glanced at him questioningly, to which he responded, Got clearance for Mark, Andrea, and the kids, and they'll be picked up at the Municipal Airport by an Airman, as long as you tell the Motor Pool which flight and what time to be prepared for.

And who is performing the ceremony? Sam asked as she nodded her head, taking in O'Neill's information.

Jack smiled. It's a surprise.

Jack! Sam warned.

But Jack was not moved. Just know that I have someone in mind. It's all taken care of, so don't worry about a thing.

Sam grimaced. I hate it when you say that, she grumbled, but turned towards the 'Gate as the wormhole formed with the familiar kawoosh into the room.

Jack stared at the blue event horizon, and sighed. Be careful, he said sadly.

Sam reached out to rub her pinky against his hand, something she had never done before. Be back before you know it, she said.

Jack turned to her. Is that a promise, or a threat? he asked.

Sam giggled, something that she had started doing ever since his proposal on Thursday. She responded, Oh, a threat, definitely.

Jack grinned when she said that. Remember.... 'Life's Short,' ad all that.

Miss you, Sam said then as General Hammond's voice echoed in the 'Gate Room.

Sg-1, good luck!

Jack turned from Sam to Daniel and Teal'c, and said, Take care of yourselves!

Daniel grinned, as if he were enjoying this scene way too much. Don't worry, Jack, he said. We'll bring her back in one piece.

I'm more worried about you than I am about Sam, Jack said, which made Sam giggle even louder. She did her best to squelch the sound, as she knew that the entire 'Gate Room staff would be wondering about her sudden urge to utter smothered laughter.

With one last grin in his direction, SG-1 departed up the ramp, minus one forlorn Colonel.

* * *

It was General Hammond who met Sam and Jacob at the base of the Stargate at the beginning of the marriage ceremony three days later. Sam turned to glance at Jack, who stood straight and tall in his dress uniform, as Sam had requested he wear. He cocked a brow.

What? he whispered.

As if you don't know, Sam whispered back.

Hammond grinned, then explained, Not to worry... Three years ago, during one of the only slow times at the SGC... Here, the gathered crowd began to laugh softly. Hammond continued, I got certified as a minister over the Internet... just in case someone ever got around to getting married. Hammond glanced at the couple standing before him. Jack cocked his brow again, as if to ask Who... Us?. Hammond nodded. Jack had the decency to look embarrassed by the entire thing. After all, Hammond went on, who would get high enough clearance to perform such a ceremony if it weren't for me... Hammond's eyes twinkled while a mischievious expression momentarily crossed his face.

Hammond turned the expression into one more serious. Well, we don't want to keep our guests waiting... And the General glanced at Thor's tiny figure, then at Jacob, then Bra'tac... Ishta as she stood beside Teal'c... Mark and Andrea, their two kids... In a joking, pleased voice, Hammond continued with the ceremony that he had agreed to perform while the rest of SG-1 had been off-world on their first mission with a new leader. It would probably be the only wedding he would ever perform, and he looked as if he intended to make the most of it.

* * *

Three months later:

Jack's Point Of View:

The time had gone so fast, Jack mused as quiet tears leaked out of his eyes to run down his cheeks and off his chin. He was not ashamed in the least at his uncharacteristic show of emotion as General Hammond accepted the folded American flag from two unknown soldiers, and presented it in turn to Jack, who reverently took it from him. More tears followed on the tale end of the ones before them. Jack brushed them away with the thumb of his free hand, but no one mentioned the teasing that would have gone along with those tears on any other occasion.

Sam was gone. Jack had trouble fully believing that, even now, one entire day after he had emerged from the wormhole at the end of that last, horrible mission, looking more devastated than many in the SGC had ever seen him. Teal'c, following closely in his wake, carried Sam's body cradled in his arms. That one act had done much to explain the expression on Jack's face. Daniel had followed the big Jaffa to the Infirmary, but Janet Fraiser had taken pity on the grizzled Colonel and treated his wounded left arm in an isolation room.

Now, his left arm encased in a sling that held it close to his chest, Jack stood at the bottom of the Stargate ramp, wearing the dress uniform that Sam had frequently said that he looked good enough to eat while wearing, just as he had on his wedding day...

His wedding day... Jack nearly lost his tight grip on his emotions, then. As it was, he was so firm that his muscles were almost rigid with control as he turned again to watch the Air Force coffin bearing Sam's mangled, torn body slowly disappear through the event horizon towards a world that had itself been mutilated by a black hole that Sam had discovered too late to rescue the team who had been trapped on the planet nearest the spatial anomaly... She had always blamed herself for that, claiming that she just hadn't responded to their distress call quickly enough. It was only fitting now that she joined the ill-fated team in their endless ordeal; she would have enjoyed the irony of such a situation, Jack reminded himself.

The quiet in the 'Gate Room was almost absolute. Then, the tale end of Sam's bronzed coffin vanished. The gathered personnel waited for one final, breathless moment, then began to depart out the open blast doors leading into the small room.

It was only moments later that Jack found himself alone for the first time in twenty-four hours. Beside him, an aide even took General Hammond away on some urgent business. Daniel and Teal'c were quite clearly allowing their Colonel to grieve alone for now, and Janet was with them as they turned as one and retreated from the room.

Jack sighed, his tears still clouding his sight, and settled down to sit disconsolately on the steps leading up to the Stargate. He wished for the thousandth time in the last day that he had chosen to forgo their most recent mission, but even he couldn't have known how the natives of the planet would turn on them at the last minute, how Sam would then...

Jack let the sorrow roll over him as he buried his face in the hand of his good arm. The flag lay tucked securely under his left elbow, the only thing on that entire arm that didn't hurt, and Jack was only careful that the material didn't fall to the floor as his new position disintegrated undisturbed into him him resting his head onto his leg. He knew that the personnel in the Control Room were watching him through the blast window, and for once, he really didn't care if his grief was visible or not.

That was where General Hammond found him five minutes later. He took a seat next to Jack's inert blue form on the steps, then placed a hand gently on the Colonel's arm. Jack.., he started to say.

Jack sighed. I can't do this, anymore, he whispered. I need to resign, before anyone else gets killed because of my stupid tongue saying the wrong thing again at the wrong time. He shuddered, the wave moving up his body from his toes to his head. I need to resign.

Don't fill out the paperwork just yet, Hammond stated.

Jack turned bleak eyes to regard the General. Huh?

Hammond stood. Come on, Jack, I'd like you to see something, he invited.

Jack just stared at the hand the man held out to him. I don't think I can, he said, sounding the most defeated he'd ever sounded.

Hammond winced at Jack's tone. But he was adamant. Jack.., was all he said.

Jack heaved a tired sigh, then took the offered hand, and climbed to his feet, clutching the flag he held tightly to his chest with his good arm. Coming, he said.

With that promise, General Hammond led the Colonel out of the 'Gate Room and into the corridor. He said nothing as they climbed the stairs leading to his office.

Jack recalled how he'd seen just the barest hint of Sam's blond hair as she and Teal'c stood, out of sight, listening to him and Daniel discuss their wedding. It seemed like only moments before to Jack, as he again ruminated about the scene. But he knew that it had happened months before then, and he sighed once more, astonished at the warping of time in his mind. Life was definitely too short, he thought. Too short, and too long at the same time...

Jack followed behind Hammond as he led the way to his office. The thought of never sitting beside Sam again in the Briefing Room was almost more than Jack could bear, but he swallowed painfully and passed behind the chairs seated at the red and black table without saying a word. He could just make out a head through Hammond's office window, and he could only think that he really didn't feel up to visiting with anybody right now. He hoped this person was so important that only he could speak to him or her, or Hammond was going to be sorry, he thought sourly as he entered the office behind the General.

The waiting person immediately stood and turned. For a moment, Jack stared, wide eyes horror filled, then he gasped and fell back into the table that held the General's coffee pot and waiting mugs.

General Hammond stood beside his desk, letting Jack crush his semiprecious mug collection. Colonel Jack O'Neill, meet Dr. Samantha Carter, Hammond dryly introduced them.

The Doctor smiled brightly and stuck out her hand to be shaken. Hi! she said, then her face paled as she comprehended O'Neill's strained visage. She glanced to Hammond once. Is this a bad time or something? she inquired.

Hammond sighed. It will never be a better time, he intoned. Besides, it's not like we can ask you to wait for another day, he said.

Jack leaned back against the tiny coffee table and gasped again. How... How is this possible?" he whispered when he could find his voice.

General Hammond explained right away, sorry for the shock he'd been forced to give one of his best officers. Doctor Carter is from an alternate reality... Remember the quantum mirror that I ordered destroyed a few years ago?

Jack could do nothing but nod.

Hammond took that as an invitation to continue. Doctor Carter had just been reassigned from a job at the Pentagon in her universe to Area 51, where they were studying... Well, they were watching us.., he admitted, ... through their own quantum mirror, when someone spilled some juice on his desk, lurched to catch it, knocking into Doctor Carter, here, who lost her balance...

And fell through the mirror, Doctor Carter finished for him. Her voice held the embarrassment she was clearly feeling. Her face reddened in a blush that was so familiar and endearing to Jack that he wanted to run a finger down one crimson cheek. He stopped himself just in time. Not very kosher of me, she disparagingly said, then ruefully grinned.

Hammond went on. And, as we've destroyed our own mirror...

The Doctor took up his narrative. He means to say that I have no way home, she said. Then, she shrugged, trying very hard to look braver than she felt. I'm stuck here.

Oh, God, O'Neill was capable of saying, then. Is there someone waiting for you at... He swallowed again. ... at home? he managed to ask. It was weird thinking of himself without saying that he was thinking of himself, Jack thought.

Doctor Carter shook her head. Nope, which I suppose is lucky, she remarked. I was an only child, am not married yet, and my parents are both dead, my Mom when I was thirteen and my Dad from Cancer last year. She gave a small smile, even if the gesture was a bit on the watery side. I guess if someone has to fall through a mirror into an alernate reality, I'm as good a candidate as it gets.

Jack stared at her, then seemed to remind himself not to be rude to their guest. Uh.., he said, thinking of Jacob, who was very much alive and living with the Tok'ra. I think we have a surprise for you, he said.

The Doctor peered at him quizzically. Okaaaay, she hesitantly said back to him. Then the suspicion that she was feeling appeared on her face. Do I know you, or something? she queried then. Because I get the strangest feeling of deja vu when I look at you.

You might say that we know each other, was all that Jack would divulge.

Doctor Carter nodded, taking his words at face value. Then her sharp gaze landed on O'Neill's arm. What happened? she asked, gesturing towards his sling.

Jack turned his gaze to his arm as well. Uh... That's a long story, he said.

Carter gave a shrug. Well, I seem to have lots of time.., she said, and grinned.

Jack grinned back at her. He just couldn't help responding to that gesture he loved so much. He seemed to come out of his state of shock long enough to ask, Maybe you'd like to hear it over a cup of coffee, or a glass of blue jello in the Commissary?

Carter wrinkled her brow. Commissary? Blue jello? she asked.

That was such a cute expression on her, Jack thought. But he only told her, I think you'll like it.

Hammond clapped Jack on his good shoulder. I see that I'm leaving the Doctor in good... uh... a good hand, he said. Then he ushered them both out of his office. There's a ton of paperwork for me to fill out regarding this incident... Show her around, Jack, he ordered. Then bring her back here in an hour. I should have all the forms filled out by then. We can talk. He turned to Doctor Carter. I'll answer whatever questions you have at that time, he said.

Again, Doctor Carter gave a shrug. Okay... I don't have much idea how the military works... Besides knowing that everything has to be filled out in triplicate.

Jack gave a wan smile. Some things are the same no matter what universe you're in, he noted. Then, he gestured towards the office door. Ladies first, he said.

Thanks, I think, Doctor Carter remarked, then moved passed both Hammond and O'Neill and out the door. Jack gave a wide-eyed, amazed look towards Hammond before he followed her into the Briefing Room.

That man would follow that woman anywhere, Hammond ruminated, and crossed to his desk prior to filling out those forms he had been talking about.

At least, this time, O'Neill had ensured that his arm was hurt instead of his leg. An arm in a sling would take up much less room at a table, Hammond thought, grinned, then pulled the proper forms from the file cabinet behind his desk.

It was going to be the best forms he ever filled out in his entire career, Hammond decided, and smiled.

The End


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