Disclaimer: Yadda, yadda, yadda... You know the drill. Don't own them, didn't make any money off of this story, this is for the enjoyment of other fans everywhere... I think that about covers it.

Life's Unexpected Challenges

by Linda Bindner

Jack had just picked up his pen after returning to his office from a short trip to the Control Room to check on the progress in SG-7's mining mission on PRX-222 when he was interrupted again by the sound of a quiet knock on his office's doorframe. Jack looked up to see Carter standing hesitantly in the doorway.

Colonel Carter! he cheerfully greeted, stressing the first syllable of her rank in a show of humor, the only way he allowed himself to display his regard for her ever since her engagement to Pete Shanahan, that cop, that dirtbag, that good for nothing, argggghhh... Jack strangled his thoughts before he could really get going down that road of morbidity.

Now, however, Carter clearly wanted to talk to him. About what, Jack didn't know, but he watched as she slowly crept forward into his office... Which was strange in and of itself... He'd always known Carter to be instantly decisive; none of this... this... Jack couldn't quite decide what kind of mood she was in, but it was definitely not a good one. And he had never seen her creep before, at least, not into his office. It was... well... creepy.

Can I talk to you for a minute, Sir? she reluctantly asked, then added, Or maybe for an hour?

Jack immediately picked up on the serious note in her voice, and asked, An hour? I take it this doesn't have something to do with your findings on that gizmo SG-12 brought back from... from... He paused, unable to recall the number designation of the planet his team had visited.

Naturally, Carter knew the correct number he needed. From PXS-797, Sir.

That's it! Jack exclaimed, but tossed his pen onto the stack of forms he'd been filling out. Okay, so you don't want to talk about your newest... What did he call this newest acquisition of hers when she hadn't told him what it did, yet? ... that thing you've been working on?

No Sir, she said, still sounding... sad. It was a very unCarterlike sound. It would have set the General immediately on edge, if he hadn't already been on edge, of course.

Carter continued, This is about something else. She turned around and shut the door to his office so that it matched the position of the door leading into the corridor on the room's other side. Then she stiffly took a seat in one of the chairs fronting his desk.

Jack was surprised by her actions. He didn't think he could ever remember Carter needing to close his office door before. Closed doors... This is serious, then, he remarked.

Yes, I confess that it is, she morosely muttered.

Jack's hair on the back of his neck raised to stand on end; he'd never heard Carter so unhappy before. He stared at her now, noticing the dark smudges under her eyes that told how she hadn't slept the previous nights, and the lines on her forehead that showed the concern she was feeling now. Equally as hesitant as she had been, acting before she had taken a seat, he stood from his desk and crossed to the window that looked into the Briefing Room. That window was typically left uncovered and wide open to anybody's view, but now Jack lowered the perpetually closed blinds that had been raised since he was promoted to General of the base. It had been so long since the blinds had been lowered that they were covered in enough dust to choke him and Carter. Through the billows of dirt, Jack hoarsely explained, I often wonder if Walter has learned to read lips over the years... It's best not to take that chance. As the dust settled from the office air, he faced her rather than taking a seat at his desk, sitting in the other chair near hers, instead. In his more regular voice, he asked, What can I do for you, Colonel?

Carter sat on the very edge of her chair and looked him straight in the eye. But her courage failed quickly, and she glanced away. I... um...

Yes? Jack prodded.

Carter drew a deep, agonized breath. Well, to begin with... Two weeks ago, I broke off my engagement to Pete.

Jack blinked, but otherwise didn't react to her words. He was too stunned to react. It seemed as if he'd had to constantly watch his emotions around Carter for years, as if she'd been engaged for much longer than she actually had been... Finally, he remembered to breath. You did? he asked in a soft voice.

Carter nodded. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but... She looked down and clasped her hands in her lap. I knew that I would never make him happy, and... he deserved more than I can give him, she brokenly told him.

Jack would have felt giddy beyond belief at her news if he wasn't too stunned to feel much of anything at all. Slowly, he blew out a breath of air that he had been holding. Okaaaay, he said. Then he was able to stare at her in puzzlement. But I don't see how this affects what you do here at the SGC, and I don't see how I can...

She interjected again, her voice forceful enough to cut him off. Yesterday... Monday... I had my yearly physical, and I'm... At last, she took a deep breath, then went on and blurted, I've been grounded, Sir, because I'm pregnant.

Jack blinked, and raised his eyebrows that time, showing his shock. Excuse me? he asked, feeling dull-witted. It had always been true that Carter was a female, and as such, could get... get pregnant... But it had never happened, and over the years she had somehow morfed into the asexual being known as 'Carter,' or 'Sam.' Now, Jack tried to wrap his thoughts around the probability of the news she had just told him, and found it hard, if not impossible, to believe at its most basic level.

Carter looked increasingly more miserable as she sat and talked to him. I'm going to have a baby, Sir, and I'm sorry about this, it's totally unexpected, unplanned, and I was up all last night trying to figure out what to do, and...

She'd been up all night? Well, that explained the dark circles under her eyes, Jack dimly realized.

Suddenly tears swam in Carter's eyes, and that made Jack even more frightened than he already was; He didn't think that in all the six... seven?... almost eight?... years that he'd known Carter, he'd ever seen her cry. It was such a foreign response for her, the resident brain of the entire SGC, to make that Jack felt he had to stop her before she really got worked up!

Jack wordlessly reached across his desk and pulled a couple of tissues towards him, then handed them on to Carter. She took them and rubbed at her eyes. Thank you, she whispered.

But the tissues didn't do much good, as they were soon soaked and useless blobs in her hands as her uncharacteristic behavior continued. Jack lifted his own hands to her cheeks so that he could carefully, affectionately, rub her tears away, the only action he could think of to do that might soothe her before he could ask himself what he was doing, and check the movement. Hey, he softly said, You don't have to cry... We'll figure something out.

Carter tried to grin, but the gesture was too watery and weak for a real smile. Thank you for saying so, Sir, and I know that, as you've said a hundred times in the past, it will all work out in the end, but it's just that I never wanted to be telling you this in the first place, and... She turned away while she worked at retaining her composure.

Suddenly, thinking of rape, and attacks, and other such nefarious deeds, Jack thought to ask, Is it..?

Sam nodded. Yeah, it's Pete's... Though it's been weeks since... But I can't tell him now, not with the way I broke things off with him.., Sam wailed in protest. She halted her speech, took a ragged breath, then went on in a forced, yet calmer, tone, It would be fairly spiteful of me to bring this up now that I've already broken our engagement... And I don't know what he can do about it, anyway, she said, still teary in her explanations. I broke things off with him days before I found out about this... this baby.

You don't want to marry, then? Jack asked, his voice showing the gentleness that he'd always felt for her that had swamped him ever since she'd started crying. It was true that the thought of her in another man's arms nearly drove him to complete distraction, but he also knew that he must be completely besotted with her if a few tears could rip him apart this way. His heart felt wrung out, left to dry on its own. One thing he'd always hated was to see Carter unhappy, and now she was definitely unhappy. And in an instinctive reaction, he wanted to fix whatever was wrong.

Sam shrugged in an attempt to cover that dejection of hers. Well, I don't want to marry Pete, but I'm open to the suggestion of marrying someone else if it's ever the right time.

Instinctively, Jack knew just what person Carter was referring to with her speech. Yet, unable to find the necessary courage to reveal his feelings to her, he still had to object, It'll be the right time someday, Sam, you wait and see, he sincerely told her. But that's a bit beside the point right now...

Sam took a deep, shuddering breath, and tried to stop her tears. I know it is.

We have something of a problem to contend with, I think.

Sam glanced up at him. You're talking about the being grounded part, she flatly announced.

Yeah, I guess I mean SG-1, Jack admitted. His hands fell down to grasp her fingers comfortingly in his. I'm not part of the team any longer, and if you go too, that only leaves Daniel and Teal'c, and they're not quite important enough for a team of their own, in spite of their past contributions to the base and to this program.

I'd already thought the same thing, Carter sniffed, admitting. She grasped onto his fingers in spite of all their past determination at being so careful not to come in contact with each other. Right now, she needed, and craved, the comfort he automatically offered.

I can justify a team of three, Jack thoughtfully told her, but not a team of only two.

That's what I thought you would say, but I wanted to tell you about... She hesitated again, but pushed on, ... about the baby first, so I haven't said anything to the guys, yet, and anyway... She halted herself once more, still silently crying even if she had sniffed earlier in an attempt to stop her tears.

What? Jack asked.

Carter stared at him. Well... Again, she hesitated, then blurted out, I was thinking, and came up with this theory...

Of course you did, Jack said, with a hint of his typically sarcastic tone in evidence, but still in an impossibly gentle tone.

Sam almost smiled at his statement. But at least her tears stopped flowing down her cheeks as she allowed herself to be distracted. Well, it's a question, really. At his stern expression, she hurried to continue. We know that the Ancients built the Stargate system.

Yeah..? Jack encouraged her to go on.

These Ancients were an extremely intelligent race.

And..? Jack tried to prod her again. Finally, his heart heavy, as if he suspected where she was going with this suggestion, asked, What's your point, Carter?

She complied by saying, When they built the series of Stargates, don't you think that such an intelligent race would have taken into account that some of the travelers would someday be... expectant mothers... and not let the 'Gate harm those mothers, Sir, or their unborn babies?

But we don't know if the Ancients were even Human, Jack softly, gently, protested the second she stopped talking. We really have no idea what going through the 'Gate on a regular basis will do to someone who's... let's say... eight months pregnant. Going through a time or two when a baby is two or three weeks along is one thing, but subjecting a baby to reconstitution every few days in the 'Gate... a baby who's thirty weeks along, say... Jack shook his head back and forth. We just haven't been able to test what would happen, yet. He saw the glint in her eyes, and he put a stop to what was clearly going through her mind. No, I won't let you be the guinea pig for a series of tests on the effects of the Stargate and unborn babies. It's far too risky.

Carter tilted her head to the side and tried to smile one more time, but her tears had started sparkling in her eyes again, and that rather nullified the effects of her attempted gesture. I thought it was worth a mention, she said at last. It was all I could think of last night to keep... Sam shivered, and drew in another deep breath. ... keep... this situation from becoming a... a total loss.

Jack lifted his hands once more to brush at the new tears that again leaked out of her eyes. This situation is certainly not lost, he said. We'll think of something, don't you worry.

Sam sniffed. I know you said that, but... Suddenly she stopped to stare at him. He was gazing at her in an unnerving manner. I'm sorry... What?

Again, Jack blinked. Sorry, he said with a shake of his head, then hesitantly said, It's just that... that I don't think... He'd had to blink away another vision of his Carter with... with someone else, he forced himself to think. Though he had claimed no previous hold over her, and she could do what she wanted, the entire situation could be very... unnerving, Jack decided. I've... I've never seen you cry before.., he said, hiding his reaction behind the convenient excuse. That's all. He tried to direct his gaze to somewhere over her left shoulder, but the feel of the skin of her cheeks under his fingers was suddenly too compelling. He'd just realized that he was touching her in one of the few times they had ever shared contact with each other, and the thought had sent his heart to a standstill, then to thumping, and his insides to guivering, like he was still a teenager. He muttered an apology anyway, I'm... sorry.

No, don't be sorry, she said in a ragged whisper. This is all my fault... I'm the one who's sorry. Then, without even thinking about the action, Sam turned her face into his hand, seeking the comfort it gave for just a second.

That simple, artless, gesture made Jack's hand burn like she had held a match under it. Jack looked into her eyes, trying to judge the emotions roiling inside her, and was instantly caught in a wave of confusion at the vulnerable expression on her face. She still looked forlorn, certainly, but there was also stunned astonishment in her blue eyes, either at what she had just done, or at what she was feeling as a result of what she had just done. Jack couldn't be sure, but he wasn't sure of anything any longer, except an overwhelming, pounding urge to hold her, now, right this very minute... It was a good thing his office was one of the few places on base that had always been without a security camera, or the soldiers on guard duty would certainly be getting an eyeful that day...

Come here, Jack said then, aware that he had muttered that very thing to her while he had watched her father die several weeks earlier. Like then, she melted into his side and openly sobbed, seeming not to see a solution to the desperation in her personal situation. She clung to him, and he could feel her shake.

She sent a tragic, helpless whisper to his ear, I don't know what to do.

Jack ran his hand down her hair, hardly noticing that it was as soft as he had always suspected it would be. Don't worry, he encouraged, wanting so badly to fix her plight, but not knowing what to do for her, either. Yet, he tried to bolster what seemed to be her flagging spirits by continuing on with his whispered assurance, I'll think of something, I promise. He just couldn't stand to see her so defeated like this. But then, he would do anything for Carter; he knew it, and so did she. And that's why she had come to him in the first place.

But even he had to admit that he didn't know what to do for her, except to know that he needed to think on this problem for awhile. Jack had the feeling that it was going to be a sleepless night for him as well as for Carter.

* * *

It was 2100 that night when Sam was pulled from the article on wormhole theories she had been reading in one of her astrophysics journals by the sound of someone pounding on her door. For a second, she was worried that it might be Pete, coming to beg her to take him back, as he had tried several times in the past few weeks. But the sound of the General's voice floating to her, muffled by the closed door, calmed her initial fear.

Carter! Jack called. It's Jack! I know it's late, but can I come in for a minute? I have a suggestion to make.

A suggestion? Sam hurried to open the front door, and found him standing on her threshold, wearing his brown leather jacket over his BDUs. That jacket always made him look so... hot, she thought, then squelched the idea practically at its outset; She had other things to think about, now.

Come on in... I can make some coffee, if you like?

Jack grimaced. Coffee? he echoed. At 2100? Then, he shook his head. I know that you're probably having strange food cravings right now, but coffee... At night..? No, thanks... I'll leave that particular addiction to Daniel, I think, if you don't mind.

Carter shook her own head. I don't mind at all, she said as she waved him into her house. I don't quite like the smell of coffee anymore... It makes me sick, she admitted, and wanly smiled. I know that's weird, but...

Actually, Jack interrupted. It's not so weird at all. Lots of women can't handle the smell or taste of coffee when they're pregnant. Then, once the baby is born, it all goes back to normal. He took his jacket off and threw it over the back of a chair in her living room.

He hadn't even hung his jacket up on the hooks near the door, Sam noticed, and felt a pang of disappointment shoot through her. She suppressed it immediately. But everyone knew that a jacket thrown over a chair meant that the person who originally wore the jacket didn't intend to stay long, and that idea... Well, Sam uncomfortably thought... That idea wasn't so kosher. Which wasn't kosher, either. Ugh! Damn these pregnancy hormones for screwing up her thinking! Everything was all messed up, even her brain!

Sam tried to listen to him, instead of contemplating her inappropriate visions. Jack had wandered over to her couch while she was lost in thought, and picked up her magazine from the arm of the sofa, and glanced at the title of the article she had been reading, and which she had saved by turning the magazine over when he had knocked on her door. Wormhole theories? he asked, sounding a bit astonished. Don't you already know all about wormholes, and how they work? he inquired.

She nodded. I do. But, I like to read those articles every now and then, just to see how off the author's theories really are, she admitted, taking the magazine from him and tossing it to the coffee table after closing it up. Is there something I can do for you, Sir? she asked, plopping down on the couch and looking up at him. You mentioned having a suggestion?

The General sank down to her left onto the couch, and appeared to grow immediately... nervous... she decided. She faced him head on. Yeah, he admitted, then sighed, and took one of her hands in his... when had he begun to touch her so readily? He mumbled, Um... I don't quite know how to begin...

He was hesitant, which was very unlike him. She had always borrowed her sense of decisiveness from his example. Maybe some encouragement was necessary, now? What is it? she asked. What are you thinking about? A suggestion?

Jack stared at her for a moment, judging, gauging, thinking... Suggestion... Right... Adoption is a 'no?'

She firmly shook her head. And there's no way I can live with myself if I have an abortion, either, she said. I believe in abortion on principle, she told him. I mean, I agree with the concept that women should have that choice, but...

Personally, it's not for you? Jack ascertained.

Sam shook her head. I've thought about that, and about adoption... I just can't picture myself doing either of those things... Suddenly, her expression slipped into sadness again. But I don't know what to do, either, she softly admitted. What a mess! She sighed a huge puff of air. If only... She stopped and groaned. I stopped taking birth control because of that Jolinar incident... She left that naqueda behind in my blood, that protein marker, and it then acts like birth control itself.., she explained, when he gave her a confused look. Though, apparently, not very well. She wearily sighed. We just found out that it dissipates over time, and loses its effectiveness. Carter sarcastically, and tearfully, commented, Obviously.

I didn't know any of this, Jack admitted. He wasn't sure that he liked finding out that his second in command had so many things that he hadn't known about affecting her life on a daily basis.

But she nodded. Don't worry about not knowing, she tiredly explained, swiping at the tears in her eyes. Not many people knew about it at all except Janet, and she died without telling anyone, and the few had any reaason to look in my medical file... Janet made certain of that.

Jack reached out, took her other hand, and gave them both a gentle squeeze. The fact that no one knew about any of this is... His voice trailed away. Damn! This really was hard to say! he thought, and sighed. Sam... Listen... She raised her head to look at him again. He looked... ill. But determined to continue. Sam, this may not be a good time... But, on the other hand, it might be a very right time...

She wrinkled her brow. What?

Jack gazed right at her, and just blurted out his idea; It was very typical of him to be so resolute. Sam... Will you marry me?

Sam was caught so by surprise by those words that she couldn't say anything for a moment because her throat wouldn't work correctly due to shock. When she could utter a sound, she only managed a soft, Uh...

Listen, Jack said again, his voice sounding more earnest by the second. I know that you just broke off an engagement. He shuddered at the thought of her and Pete... He couldn't quite stop his shivering. But he endeavored to concentrate only on her. I know that another engagement is not what you're looking for right now. He stared at her again. But, just think... An engagement to me might totally protect you where the baby is concerned, might be easy to use to explain that grounding order away, would explain everything to Daniel and Teal'c, to Walter, Siler... everybody. It would make such sense to them...

Sam was vehemently shaking her head, though. No, Sir, I can't let you to do that for me! She continued to shake her head back and forth. Everybody will think so badly of you, and you didn't do anything to..!

Sam, he gently interjected. There are some unpleasant truths here that we have to face, though. He carefully, reluctantly, went on, As much as it pains me to admit this... I'm a guy. No one will think anything less of me when they find out that I'm going to have a baby with you, and if we're... engaged... He paused to gather his thoughts. I know that's not fair, but it's the way things are. It will be a far more tolerated situation for me than for you... I mean, you would be an unattached female... Known as being pregnant... And we can't hide this baby, just as you might think... You can't hide a baby... You'll get... big... before you know it, he added, looking decidedly uncomfortable, now, to be saying things to her that were so personal in nature, but intent on saying them, anyway. And then... It will all come out. He drew in a deep breath. And I'm afraid that people won't be so... so tolerant... of you having a baby alone than of us making a mistake and having a baby as a result. He eyed her curiously. Do you follow?

Sam was still so surprised that she found it hard to think. She forced her sluggish brain to wrap around his suggestion. I guess I follow you well enough.

He continued. So, if it's known that we're engaged, it might be enough where people will tolerate a baby... Even if they don't exactly approve... But, if it's just you, they won't even tolerate such a thing... Besides... Here, he cleared his throat, and almost blushed. I'm... I'm the General of the base, he said. That's not why I'm doing what I'm doing, but... He cleared his throat again. I admit that... He took a breath. The rules are different for the different positions, he blurted, then. As much as I can't say that it's fair... There's a certain amount of latitude that goes with this job, he admitted at last. I think it's a way to offset the stress level that also comes with it.

Sam sat on the couch, still unmoving, still so stunned that she couldn't say much of anything. Was he serious? Could she marry him like this..? she thought. How could she possibly be so cold? Just for her general protection?

On the other hand, was he offering a marriage that would be just for her general protection? Sam noted the hopeful expression on his face, and began to lose any resolve she had ever had against this suggestion of his. She knew that she was beginning to thaw from her initial surprise because she felt her sense of shock dissipate as he continued to give voice to his idea. At the same time, she heard him ask a question.

What? he inquired. You hate the very idea of this, or you're considering it, or... what?

Thinking, Sam declared. Then she shook her head to clear it. I mean, considering.

Jack glanced away. Well, at least you don't think right away that I'm a total lunatic, he muttered. That's something.

Sh! she ordered. I'm still thinking. She had turned her head away a bit as she thought, but now she gazed at him again. What kind of an... engagement... She hesitated at that word, and swallowed. What kind are you offering, here? she asked. I mean... Is it a real one, an affectionate one, or one of convenience? What?

Jack drew in another breath again. Well... I don't quite know myself, he admitted. It's true that since the Za'tarc testing day...

But, that was years ago! she exclaimed.

Exactly, Jack said. And since then, you've gotten engaged to another, then broken things off with that person... Jack swallowed. He shook his head to rid himself of the thought of Pete Shanahan. The very thought that the cop had even existed as part of their lives, that she no longer cared for him, for Jack, made fear crawl up his spine. He went on speaking as a distraction to his thoughts and emotions. So, I can only assume that you... This was so difficult to say! But, again, he pushed on. That you don't feel the same way about me, anymore, he forced himself to blurt. So this might be an engagement of convenience, then...

Convenience, echoed Sam, and she sounded disappointed. Then, she took one of her hands from his grasp and slowly lowered her head into it in order to hide her face. I can't believe I may need an engagement of convenience. I really messed things up, didn't I?

Sam, Jack said, instantly attempting to soothe. No, no, you didn't mess things up... Well, it's a mess, but it's not your fault, he insisted. I... I...

I just had an engagement without any true love from my side of things.., Sam told him in a quiet voice, looking down at her hands now clenched in her lap. I don't know if I can go through with another one, even for a baby, she admitted.

She again sounded so forlorn... Jack almost couldn't stand to hear that sound coming out of her. Sam, please, I... Oh, hell. He'd known this was a bad idea. Why couldn't he ever accept that things just weren't going to work out between him and Carter? he asked himself. Why did he always get his hopes up, and then, when something adverse happened, have to torture himself like this when things didn't work out again for them? Forget it... It was just a dumb idea, anyway. He tried to smile, but couldn't quite pull off the gesture, as his own emotions started to edge closer to the surface of his tight control. I'll just go now. He made as if to rise off the couch, and...

Carter's hands darted out to grab at his once more, stopping him in mid flight. No, that's not what I mean. I don't want you to go like this.., she immediately said. She swallowed, and amended, admitting, I don't want you to go at all.

He slowly resumed his seat beside her. No? he repeated.

I mean... Sam sat for a moment, and they were both silent as she stared at the floor, and he stared at her face, an expression of agonized waiting marring his own features. It was clear that he didn't want to influence her decision in any way, but he was obviously waiting for her answer at the same time.

Could she really do this? Sam asked herself. She tried to ignore the feeling of excitement that took hold of her gut when she thought of being married to General O'Neill, but couldn't disregard it. She looked at him again, and his expression encouraged her to try to explain, I'm sorry... She sighed and morosely said, You deserve a bit of honesty, I think...

Sam, he said, halting her voice. He then shook his head. Don't think that I deserve anything in...

She interrupted him by blurting, I guess I should tell you about that engagement to Pete...

Jack shuddered; he really didn't want to hear about this...

But Sam was adamant in her need to explain. Tearfully, she went on in a whispered confession, I thought that getting involved with someone else would help me to forget about you.

Jack was so surprised by her admission that he scowled and softly cried, Me?

Sam nodded, looking miserable again, but continuing on in spite of her unhappiness. I'm sorry... I shouldn't have done that, I know... You never deserved that kind of... Then she wailed, But it all seemed to be so hopeless! The Regulations...

Sam, stop, please, you don't have to feel like you need to explain to...

Sam was crying again as she went on speaking, her voice a whisper. I'm so sorry... Things were so much fun with Pete at the beginning... I finally had a life outside of work, and a boyfriend who actually liked me instead of running the other way from me, or dying off the minute I pretended to be interested, or beating me every time something didn't work out the...

Again, Jack said, Sam, don't...

She interrupted with a sob. Do you know what that's like, Sir? she asked, wailed, really, oblivious to the way she addressed him so formally. To know that I'm the worst luck in the universe, that I'm better off being alone than being in a relationship with anybody? That I'm considered... such bad luck?

This was too much for his fragile sense of emotional control to handle! Sam, you're not...

But she interrupted him again, now more in control of her voice. I've heard what people have always said... And I can't say that it's done good things for my personal attitude...

Jack knew that she had very little self-esteem when it came to her personal relationships, but he wanted to impress on her that he had never viewed her in this particular fashion. Sam, come on! he protested, None of the guys on SG-1 have ever thought of you like that!

Sam gulped. But it's true, to some degree, she told him, the tears still racing down her cheeks despite her even voice. I'm not really certain what makes a good relationship... So, maybe, you want to rethink your suggestion, now...

Nothing could be further from the truth. Her self-reluctance only made him feel more resolved, more like he needed to help in any way that he could, and his proposal was the one way that he knew he could help alter her situation for her, make it better. You know that I could never feel that way, he pleaded with her. That's not how I feel at all. He regarded her then, his face still marred by the tragedy of the beliefs that she was expressing. Carter... Sam... I... His hand tightened around her fingers again, and his head hung down. It was his turn to stare at her carpet. He knew that he had to tell her the truth, then, since she had done the same for him... It seemed as if she merited the truth, at least, but he had spent so long running from this... The idea of revealing so much about himself to her... to anybody!... scared him half to death! His heart thundered against his ribs.

If... Jack gazed at her, a fierce expression on his face, but one so deep that it rocked her sense of stability for just a second. If anything ever happened to you.., he went on, his voice a whisper just as hers was. I don't know what I would do. He turned to her. Sam...

Sam tried not to grow too excited at his words, but, in fact, she was getting excited anyway, in spite of her firm grip on her emotions. Finally, her heart also pounding in fear, taking perhaps the greatest chance she ever had so far in her life, she answered, Yes,

Her answer was so surprising, and unanticipated, that he shot her a befuddled glance again. Yes? No? Or what? he asked as if she were crazy.

She gave him a weak smile in return. I don't blame you if you think I'm crazy, or... But her rumbling stomach cut her off.

Darn! She finally had to admit to herself that, God, she was hungry! She was so hungry that it was distracting her from a marriage proposal from the one man she had secretly wanted to marry for the last eight years! She had to enjoy the twisted irony of such a situation even as her stomach gave another soft growl. Yet, thank God... Only she had heard it... It was a small enough favor, at this point...

Sam stared at the General... at Jack... for a moment. Finally, and very clearly, she said, Yes, I'll be engaged to you.

Engaged? he asked. No marriage, though?

Sam drew in a breath of air, and brushed away the tears on her cheeks. She felt her lungs expand with her deep breath, and it felt good. I want you to understand, she said. She waved her hand through the air for a moment as she tried to speak coherently to him. I just got out of a very public engagement... Not many people know that I thought ever being engaged to Pete was a mistake.., she tried to explain. I think only you, Teal'c, and Daniel know...

Yeah? he encouraged.

She sighed. If I get engaged to you right away after that... It will look like...

Like? His voice was low, now, as if he didn't want to hear what she was going to say, but couldn't stop her from saying it.

Like...

Then, he interrupted. Look, Sam, I can't stand this anymore... His gaze pierced into hers. Do you still have feelings for me? he asked, point blank. Because my feelings for you have never changed, not once, even though you were engaged to someone else until...

Sam gaped at him. I thought for sure that you didn't care anymore! she exclaimed. You never said... Never showed anything...

Jack scowled. Of course I didn't! he said. I couldn't do that! At the time, I cared so much about the regulations, the rules...

But you've never followed rules! she protested.

Right! Jack insisted. I decided just today that following that Fraternization Regulation was rather hypocritical of me, when it has always been clear from day one that I don't much care for rules and things...

The fact that you're so willing to break the rules has always been what makes you such a good leader, she told him. Sometimes, if we'd followed the rules, we'd have not been successful at all...

I know, I know, Jack agreed. We would probably all be slaves by now, or worse, destroyed...

The fact that I had you to watch break those rules, or bend them, always gave me the courage to bend them myself, Sam explained.

Jack shook his head. But this rule... the frat rule.., he specified. This rule will really have to be bent way out of shape, he said. And there's a perfectly good reason why it exists. Now, I know things are a bit different when applied to me while I'm in this position of General, but...

Jack... I can't believe you're willing to do this for me.., Sam whispered, wide eyed. I mean, I wouldn't blame you at all if you just sat back and watched me get thrown out of the military for messing up so bad that I...

Watch you lose your career like that? Jack asked. I could never just sit back and watch something like that happen, like...

But this... this baby... wasn't supposed to happen, Sam protested. I wasn't supposed to be part of a team, but still get pregnant, she said. The military does it's best to make sure this very thing won't happen...

Which is why it's so important for us to seem to be involved, Jack protested as well. If everyone on base thinks the baby's mine...

Sam sharply looked up, tears swimming in her eyes again. Seems? she asked. Is it only seems, now? She blinked regretfully. Have I screwed things up that badly?

Jack hated to see her so unsure of herself. No! he told her. No... God... I... Finally, he reached into the pocket of his pants, and pulled out a black velvet box, much like the blue velvet box that had held the diamond engagement ring that Pete had given to her. He opened the lid to show her the ring inside, a white pearl flanked by a circle of shining diamond chips. The overall effect was beautiful, sparkly, white... But it could be sad, too, with so many pale stones involved in the setting of the ring. Jack swallowed again. I got this three, almost four years ago.

Four years? she incredulously asked as she took the box from him. You've had this for almost four years? Wow, that was..! Sam was almost overwhelmed by the concept of the very strength his emotions must have been to last four years, or longer! It didn't occur to her that her own emotions were equally as impressive for lasting so long.

I got it, had it made, right after that Za'tarc thing, Jack explained. I was waiting for the right time to show it to you... Then, he quietly granted, But it never seemed like the right time.

Sam had pulled the ring from the box. She slid it onto her finger, where it sparkled again in the dim light of her living room at night. The entire effect could look rather cold, she admitted, but still, it oddly didn't. Instead, it all seemed warm, sparkly, pretty... She knew she was being stupid, but that ring kind of appealed to her old sense of wanting to be a princess, and having nice things... How pretty, she whispered, enthralled, as she continued to look at it.

Jack went on, saying with some embarrassment, now, Well... You remember that bit about me calling you a National Treasure..? he prompted. At her nod to indicate that she knew what he was talking about, he continued, Well... It wasn't the first time I'd ever had that thought. He went on with his confession. I was thinking that when I bought this ring, too.

Sam stared at that ring. I feel treasured, she admitted Which is dumb, I...

It's no dumber than I've always felt, he said. Sam, I... Jack stopped himself again, and let his own head fall into his own hands this time, his fingers supporting his forehead. His voice came out much more mangled, now. Sam, I know that this is rotten timing and all, and it's probably not what you want to hear right now, and it's pretty damned dumb as confessions go, but I still love you like I've always loved you, and... God, I'm sorry for asking right now, but will you marry me? Then, he jerked his head away from her. Damn, this is so stupid...

Yes, Sam said in a more decisive voice than she'd used thus far. And, no, I don't think you asking is stupid, and yes, I think it's time to work around that frat rule, as we've spent almost eight long years following it, and we shouldn't let the brass dictate how we're going to live, and it's because we've both been so determined to adhere to that rule that I'm in this fix to begin with, and... I know I said that I cared about you a lot, just like you did, but the truth is that my feelings go a lot deeper than that, have for a long time, and... Yes, I have loved you since... I don't know... Since forever, and that engagement to Pete was me trying to get over any connection to you, because I thought that you couldn't possibly still care about me, and...

Jack stopped her babbling. Of course I still care about you! he protested. I thought you didn't care about me any longer!

I don't blame you for thinking that way, Sam tearfully admitted after a moment of thought. I was engaged to someone else, and you can't read my mind, after all, look into my heart... And I want you to know that I'm so sorry about that, and...

Sam! Jack groaned with his eyes shut tight against what he was thinking, remembering, imagining... I...

Sam leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace, then fiercely whispered, We are such idiots..! Yes, I'll marry you!

Marry, she'd said, not just be engaged to him. Jack shivered at her words, unable to control the strong emotions that flooded through him when she muttered her consent. You're sure? he asked, anyway. Cause you... This can be just a cover, ya know, for...

I don't want it to be a cover, Sam admitted. I want the real thing, she sighed. The roses of the galaxy... everything, just like every girl on the planet wants everything, even though I know I threw away that right to want anything at all...

Jack clutched at her, part of him not particularly thrilled that he needed her so badly, but needing her just the same. When had she become so integral to the rest of his life? he wondered. Sam...

I'm so sorry... Her stomach grumbled loudly, then. I don't mean anything by this, but... I'm so hungry, and if I don't eat something right now, I'm going to get sick...

Jack had to laugh at her abrupt change of topic, and squeezed her one last time, then drew back out of her arms. Night cravings, he shyly said, clearly not knowing how to treat her, or what to do now that a decision about marriage had been reached. So he just continued on with his memories. I do remember what that's like, even if it's been a long time since I've last seen night cravings...

I'm not craving anything specific, Sam negated, then amended, Well, okay, maybe crackers... She stood up from her seat beside him, aware of the sudden cold on the side he'd been touching. She ignored the sensation, and went into her kitchen. I didn't even used to like crackers, she told him. But they make a great snack at the weirdest times... She pulled a square cracker out of a box on her counter, then handed another one to Jack, who had followed her into her kitchen.

I can gain twenty pounds if I'm not careful, eating with you, Jack commented. I've already gained five, and you weren't even pregnant yet...

It's all that cake you like to eat, Sam told him around the cracker crumbs in her mouth. You eat the same as you always did, but you don't go out on missions, anymore... There's nothing to burn up all those extra calories. And running to the Control Room to see a team off on a mission doesn't count.

Frankly, he was surprised that she had noticed what he was doing with his time, now. I do a lot of running around with all my paperwork, Jack protested to her in a nonchalant tone.

She shook her head. Still not enough.

Jack leaned next her against her counter, and continued munching on crackers, hardly willing to admit to himself that he was thoroughly enjoying spending time with her. So.., he asked then, his tone still deceptively light. I assume you're keeping that ring, then?

Sam nodded, glancing again at the ring he had given her, smiling slightly around the food in her mouth.

Sam's reaction gratified Jack more than he wanted to admit. Asking her to begin with had been hard enough, but not being sure if she had agreed to marry him was frazzling at best! Now, relief flooded his being. Okay, he said, and smiled, but made sure not to do more, and show her just how relieved her decision made him feel. This is kind of sticky, I admit, but... Sam, are you gonna move in with me? he inelegantly inquired. I admit that I would love to witness every minute of you being pregnant, even if the baby's not mine...

We're not telling anybody about that, though, right? she asked in order to ascertain that she was correct in her assumption. I mean, that's what made you even ask, right?

Jack gazed up at her as he leaned against her counter. Nooooo... That's not why I asked... It was a mighty convenient excuse, though, I admit. He looked at her, but she seemed to be still confused. Well... Okay... I guess we should set some ground rules, or...

This baby is yours, Sam said. That's what we're telling everybody. Only you and I will know any different...

And we'll never tell anybody...

Sam interrupted again to ascertain, But we should both consider that this baby is yours...

And this is to be an open engagement...

She turned to him questioningly. We plan to flout the rules?

We should let everybody know... That is the entire point of this... Even though I have loved you for years and years...

Sam grinned when she heard him say that. Okay... She looked at him and considered. Wow, an open relationship with you... That's more than I ever dreamed of...

We can fudge the baby's dates a bit. How..?

She cut him off. That's possible, I suppose, she said. I haven't known about him for very long. I hope he's a late arriver...

'Him? Jack asked. How do you know it's a boy and not a girl?

I don't, Sam admitted. It's just that... She paused, then went on, Just that today is an odd numbered day. The baby's a girl on even numbered days, and a boy on odd numbered days, and I know that's really pretty...

Cute, Jack told her, and grinned. That's damned cute, he admitted again.

Sam rolled her eyes. That's stupid, you mean, and we both know it is. But it was the only thing that I could think to do where I can be fair. I decided the other day, that until I... we... She turned to regard him, then, just as she took another cracker. Do you want to find out what gender the baby is?

Jack thought about that. He'd been so caught up in what a baby would mean to an unattached Sam that he hadn't considered what he thought about genders, before. He finally shrugged. Boy... girl... I guess I don't much care... Just as long as you're okay...

Sam nodded. I don't care, either, though I've always seen myself having girls, I admit... Which doesn't make any sense...

I've already had a boy, Jack said, deceptively nonchalant. He knew that she knew all about what had happened to that boy he'd had. A girl would be a nice change.

But a boy would be all right? Sam asked in sudden trepidation.

Jack shrugged again, but said, Give me some time on that. I need to think before I'll be okay with any of this baby... Though Charlie always said that he wanted a brother or a sister. But I...

Sam gazed at him with an expression of understanding that wasn't full of the pity that he was so used to having other people show to him. Sure, she said, trying to keep her own voice light, letting him know that whatever he decided to think about all this was okay with her. You take as much time as you need... You think...

Jack snorted, but changed the subject, as well, saying, We never did decide... Do you want to move in? I mean, my house is plenty big, and your house is kinda small, I admit, but it's a possibility, too...

I've always loved your house, Sam admitted, then. I, kinda... used to... daydream about living in it... But don't tell Daniel... He'll tease me forever...

Really? Jack asked, delighted but trying not to sound too delighted. I admit, it's a nice house, but it'll be nicer with you in it.

Don't forget that where I go, Cassie goes, too, Sam said. She's away at college, now, but there are school vacations and things...

Jack stopped her again. This could be a big change for a college girl, he thoughtfully said. Why don't you take Cassie for a drive or something this weekend, and sort of... feel her out on this... See what she wants to do...

Sam chewed her last cracker, then closed the box, and set it back against the wall. That sounds like a good idea. At least I'll know where she stands on this whole engagement thing... Sam yawned, then, and tried to cover up the movement, but wasn't very successful at it. Sorry, she said. It's not the company, but...

You need sleep... Jack's eyebrows raised. Um... Sticky subject again... But... How would she feel about this next suggestion? I could... stay... if you want? He looked at her, hopeful once more.

Stay? Sam repeated.

Not that I mean for anything to happen, Jack ascertained right away. I mean... that I might stay for comfort, and to make sure you sleep, and... If you want.

Sam shoved the corner of the box back into its place on her counter top, and regarded him a bit uncertainly. She was entertaining visions of Jack, a large man, trying to sleep on her undersized living room couch, and rejecting the idea even as it came to her. But she asked, How do you know that I haven't slept well since... well... since I first suspected this whole mess? And what makes you think that having you with me will make me so comfortable that I'll sleep better tonight?

Jack shrugged again. Intuition? he suggested. How will we ever know what will happen if we don't try it, first? he asked.

Sam regarded him again. But he didn't seem to have any ulterior motives when he had made such a suggestion. She stared at him once more. Then she remarked, I get the side of the bed by the bathroom for when I have to get up in the middle of the night...

Bed? Not the couch? But Jack sure wasn't going to complain about the arrangements, now. Works for me, he agreeably told her.

It doesn't bother you that my bladder seems to have shrunk to the size of a peanut overnight? she inquired, still sounding suspicious.

He wondered who she'd been sleeping with who would care about such a thing. But he wasn't sure he wanted to know, either. I couldn't care less, as long as you don't expect me to dress... Jack cleared his throat. ... how other people might expect one to dress... correctly for bed, I mean, he mumbled. That hadn't come out quite how he'd meant it to come out. He explained further, I didn't exactly plan for the long haul, here, tonight.

Sam shook her head, and gave a tiny smile. I don't mind. I mean, we are engaged, and all... Her expression sort of froze. God, this baby makes things kind of awkward, huh?

Suddenly, Jack grinned a huge grin. I don't know... Me, you, in bed, you in my arms all night..? he asked. Then he went on. Stuff of years worth of daydreams. He slapped the counter top, his decision made. Let's go, he said.

You daydreamed about me? Sam asked, then, still smiling her small smile that was quickly growing into a bigger smile.

All the time, Jack admitted. Every day, at least once. Together, they made sure the front and back doors were locked.

You too? Sam asked, grinned, and looked at him a bit shyly. She turned out the lamps in the living room as they went by.

Missions were the worst, he said, then, sounding like he was reciting a recipe, but she wasn't fooled; He really did care about this, and was trying to make his tone sound light so that he could cover up the true depth of his feelings on the subject. Guard duty.

That was awful! Sam agreed as they worked their way companionably to her bedroom. All that opportunity to stare...

And no one but Teal'c to see it, and put a stop to...

And he knew about our feelings, anyway... Sam pulled her flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt out of a drawer. Yuck! she exclaimed, then retreated to the bathroom where she quickly dressed for the night.

Jack sat down on the bed and began removing his combat boots, which he still wore from the day; he'd forgotten to change clothes when he had gone home from the SGC, as the idea of proposing to Sam had become paramount in his mind. Both boots clunked onto her bedroom carpet just as she re-entered the room and tossed her clothes in a hamper sitting in a corner. He continued undressing, and was amazed that he felt so natural with her watching, considering he was here... with her... in her bedroom... and they were about to go to bed... together...

This is so strange, she commented. We're about to hit the hay, together... We're not on a mission or anything, so we can't pretend that that's the reason for it... And this feels good, she announced. Comfortable.

Like we've been doing it forever, he said as he pulled back the covers of her bed.

Yeah, she agreed with a shake of her head. She had never felt this complacent around a man before. Weird. She crawled into the bed next to him, dressed in her pajama pants and t-shirt. She instantly spooned up against him, with her back to his front.

Jack just as immediately curled his arm protectively over her, not that she needed the protection, but he really liked the way it made him feel, so calm and complete... I like this, he admitted, then. More than I ever thought I would.

Yeah, she agreed. Then she reached up and turned out the lamp resting on the bedside table near her side of the bed. She sighed, but it wasn't a sad sound. It was more a comfortable sound. Funny... No one had ever made her sigh in total happiness before, either. Sam snuggled in closer to Jack, and he pulled her tight against his front.

I think I like this being engaged stuff, Jack commented, then yawned. Feels... nice, he finally ended. He rubbed against her hair, then. Good night, Sam.

Night...

Then, they were both too comfortable to fight off sleep any longer, and good dreams began for both of them. It was the fastest either of them had ever fallen asleep.

* * *

Jack woke to see the sun just peeking in through the window. Wait... His foggy brain refused to place him right away. He didn't recognize this room. He glanced around. Was he on a mission?

Then he remembered everything as Sam moved her head a few centimeters, and her hair tickled his nose. Right away, he recognized who's head that blonde hair belonged to, but at first, he thought he was having a particularly vivid daydream about her. But in the next instant, he knew that he wasn't having any daydream, that this figure smashed up to his front was the real thing... was really her... Slowly, he smiled.

Sam groaned, as he couldn't dredge up enough resistance this early in the morning to ignore the draw of her soft hair, and kissed her on the back of her head. Sam leaned into his head, as if she enjoyed that first-kiss-of-the-morning feeling. Jack felt a tad encouraged, so he let his lips stray where they wanted to, and the next thing he knew he was kissing her beautiful, enticing, warm skin along her shoulders above the collar of her t-shirt.

Sam groaned again. That feels really good, she admitted with a low, light, laugh.

Jack had the briefest of flashes, wonders, really, that she could possibly be remembering him as Pete, but her next comment set his concerns to rest.

Why did you stop, Jack? she asked, and he could tell she was smiling into the sheets. Please, don't feel like you have to stop on my account...

Jack wasn't planning to wait for another such invitation from her... He buried his face in her hair, took a deep breath, and kissed her skin all the way up to her ear. He smiled.

Mmmm, she purred. That's not supposed to feel so good, she complained a bit. When he purposefully didn't kiss her again, Sam eventually rolled over to stare right into his eyes. She could hardly miss them, as his eyes were about an inch from her own. She grinned. Morning, she said, and she kissed him squarely on his lips.

Jack wasn't emotionally prepared for such a fast response to his endearments, and the sensations that crashed over him almost swept him away. God, her lips were so soft, and so inviting, and compelling, and warm, and... He loved her so much...

Within seconds, it was rather evident that he desperately wanted her as his erection slipped out of the hole in his boxer shorts... darn style of shorts to choose to wear to bed... and pulsed steadily against the skin of her thigh.

It happened so fast that neither of them could even think of stopping themselves. Sam.., Jack whispered in the one break she allowed him, freeing his lips for just a second, long enough for his moan to break through, and for him to brush his fingers over her cheeks before she again asserted control. She buried her fingers in the short strands of his silver hair, and kept kissing him, so gently that it would have stolen his breath away if he could breathe at this point...

Still so soft that they were almost invisible, Sam's kisses crawled and slid their way up his jaw, onto the edge of his cheek and into his ear, where her tongue began to do the most wonderful things to him... She made him writhe beside her with a gentle nip to his earlobe. He groaned a second time. Sam... I can't take much more of this before I explode...

Good, she surprised him by saying. I don't want you to be able to take much more... With no preamble, no warning, she pulled off her t-shirt and exposed herself to the world and to his hungry gaze.

So smooth.., he whispered. His fingers seemed to have a life of their own as they traveled up her smooth arms, to her smooth shoulders, to even smoother breasts. She sucked in her breath and closed her eyes, a rapturous expression on her face when he touched her sensitive skin. Yessss! she whispered, and tossed her head back.

Jack wanted to feel her skin on his... The urge was becoming a frantic feeling in his heart... He sat up long enough to yank off his black t-shirt that had complimented his BDUs the day before, and kissed her greedily on her lips while his arms wrapped like steel around her back.

Sam again arched her spine, levering her chest into him in a frantic, yet gentle, move. Too many clothes.., she whispered. This feels too good...

Jack's fingers moved down her spine in soft caresses, wringing sighs from her, making her wriggle against his chest, which made him wriggle to feel her... He couldn't quite get enough of the sensation of her skin...

She breathed in hard, short gasps of air, then pushed down her flannel pants and underwear in the same smooth motion. Her fingers whipped to the waistband of his boxer shorts, and pushed them down, away from her hot little fingers as she wrapped them around his erection.

Jack thought he had died, or would die right there, with the Sam of his very best dreams hovering over him in sleek, naked splendor... Her tongue was driving him crazy, darting over every part of his body, followed by lips so soft, they felt like air...

Sam kissed him again, and that tongue of hers licked the roof of his mouth. Even more fire exploded to make his palms itch with the desire to stroke every inch of her, setting his very blood on fire, scorching his fingers as his legs tangled with hers under the covers. He stroked her thighs, her back, her chest... She couldn't keep her own hands away from his waist...

Jack... she whispered. God, I want you so much right this minute...

It was exactly what he'd always wanted to hear her say in the throes of passion, her throaty hiss worming its way in sensual curls into his ear as she touched his face with reverent passes of her hands... He couldn't withstand her any longer... With his mouth tenderly on hers, tasting the sweetness of her lips, feeling her tongue probe his, he would have entered her, but she beat him to that motion, as well, by lowering herself onto him in one smooth motion that would have made him gasp if his mouth had been free. This felt so good! Much better than any dream he'd ever had. He bent into her, and she took all of him, even in her unstretched tightness... She writhed, breathing into his mouth in short gasps of air, biting his lips in gentle nips of her mouth just prior to snuggling closer to him to slide her breasts over his chest... The motion made him tighten in sweet torture, made him want her with such a strong wave of desire... He had never wanted anyone so badly before... His passion for her was like a smoldering flame in his heart, ready to burst in twists and spirals of heat, melt in a single burst of pleasure, ready to split his very soul in ragged halves at the swipe of her fingertips...

Sam had her eyes closed, and groaned again, so softly that he might have missed it if she hadn't been breathing right on his ear. She bit his earlobe again, licked once with her tongue, and his emotions erupted as he grunted, and gasped into her shoulder, gripping her thin waist with his hands, his fingers digging into her back... She writhed once more, then tensed for just a moment, long enough for him to feel her toes raking across his calves once, her breath coming in great sighs when she remembered not to hold her breath, an expression of pure ecstasy on her face.

A powerful release held her captive for just a second, then split her in two, carving through her insides like she was made of water. Sam groaned softly, quietly, hanging on to him for dear life as the throes of desire swept her up with him again and again in the longest, most intense orgasm either of them had ever experienced.

When the sensations of pounding blood and rushing emotion had ceased, Sam enjoyed the leftover twinges that twisted through her frame, twitching against him in further rapture that made him smile until she gently lowered herself onto his chest, her heart beating rapidly against his sensitized skin, contentment now on her face.

Jack, you're so... perfect, she breathed out on a sigh of air. He was still inside her, and had he not just filled her with everything that made him him, he would have done so again at her whispered statement... He had never been so blissfully content before in his life...

Why did we wait for so long? he asked, half to himself, half to her.

Sam grinned against his chest, looking so euphoric, now, that he almost didn't want her to respond and fracture that blissful expression on her face. But she said, Waiting so long made us appreciate each other even more... Even if I could have been perfectly happy enjoying a bit of what we just did to each other on a regular basis for the last few years... She sighed a huge breath of air. I love you, Jack, no matter how stupid and corny that sounds... That was ssssoooo good!

Jack breathed in the smell of her hair, her skin, the mixed smell of their shared pleasure... Repeat performance tonight on demand...

I'm demanding, she insisted immediately. Consider yourself conscripted, General. Her grin grew even bigger, even more proprietary, even more content as she rested against him. Then she kissed his chest once before rolling away to snuggle into his side, letting him free to breath more easily. He instantly felt the loss of her as she slid off him, leaving just that wetness and ache of hardness behind. The twinges shot through his groin until he had gathered enough strength to ravish her lips once more. Colonel, you are way too incredible for my own good, he declared, then grinned at her, and kissed her again.

Sam seemed to relish his languishing endearments, showing her deepening affection in the gentle way she immediately responded to him. Flushed with the heat of their morning lovemaking, she sighed yet again in utter rapture. You make my toes tingle, she whispered, giggled, then pushed her feet into him.

Jack yelped. How can you be so warm, and your feet so cold at the same time?! he wondered aloud. His continued grin let her know that his bark was far worse then any bite he might give to her...

Is that your 'General' yell? she wondered as well, her head cradled on his shoulder, and she yawned, then, and closed her eyes.

Jack shook her a second later. Hey, don't fall asleep... We have to get up and get going or we'll be late, and that will make everybody at the SGC wonder about us, and...

They'll wonder anyway, Sam predicted. Their food is gossip. Teal'c listens...

Teal'c? Jack inquired. I would think that Daniel would be of more worry to us...

Teal'c, Sam forcefully declared. If you want something spread around before noon, he's your guy. If you want something buttoned up tighter than a steel drum, he's also your guy. You just have to tell him not to say a word.

Jack stretched, feeling her slide deliciously against his skin. I don't know.., he hesitated. I may want that first option after this morning...

Sam smiled. I'm flattered that you would prefer him to talk... Then she rubbed her cold toes into his warm calves. Come on, General, last one to the bathroom has to cook breakfast. She threw back the covers, and the frigid air of morning spread over them without mercy. Or at least, cook the toast, she corrected.

Jack instantly gripped her thighs with his fingers, keeping her in place no matter how she struggled. Think I'll let you have the bathroom first... Remember, I've tasted your cooking before.

Rat! she yelled, just as his fingers tickled her in unmentionable places. She retaliated in kind, and he laughed. Sam leaped up and zipped into the bathroom, but Jack lay back on the bed to let the air cool his heated skin. At last, after several minutes had gone by, he yelled, All right, I'm up! He slowly rolled off the mattress and let his knees adjust to holding his weight after nearly melting into goo moments before.

You're cooking, Mister! Sam called from the bathroom.

How about if I get the paper first? Jack called back.

Sounds good! Sam replied. Just remember to get dressed first! Don't want any of my old neighbors to see too much of what they're missing out on, and I don't want you to freeze into a statue! Been there, done that, didn't like it the first time, never want it to happen again, don't even go there..! Her cries ended as the sound of the shower replaced them.

Jack ruffled his fingers through his hair, yawned, stretched, and tried to get his morning blood flowing. It was going to be difficult, as he would have to do it without coffee, and he still felt too languid and relaxed... How long before they could do that again? he wondered to himself, and grinned. Then he got dressed in yesterday's clothes, which he relished wearing two days in a row, because of the reason he had of wearing them again...

Sam grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt as he passed the bathroom, and she dripped water on him as she kissed his lips in a glory of that just-showered wetness. I love you, she said.

Jack answered with a grin and a kiss in return. When they had parted, and he could breathe again, he inquired, Yeah, great, isn't it? Love you more.

Not possible, Sam proclaimed.

Gotta get the paper before it grows moldy and sticks to your sidewalk.

Get going, then, and make me some toast before I waste away to nothing right before your eyes. She snapped her towel in the direction of his BDU clad behind, but he jumped away before she could come even close to contacting his skin.

You are so gonna pay for that! he threatened. I'll give you that healthy toast with nothing spread on...

Oh, that sounds terrible! Sam exclaimed. Too bad I don't have any healthy bread!

Next time! Jack threatened her again.

Sam kissed him one more time. Toast, please.

And no coffee, Jack remembered. I won't even have some. I'll wait till we get to the SGC. But I warn you, I won't be awake for the next hour.

If this is your down attitude, I'd hate to see how energetic you are on a normal morning. Well, actually, Sam amended, I wouldn't hate it... love it, is more like it...

I'm gone, out to get the paper, he said, and left Sam to towel herself dry as he rushed through the cold morning air, grabbed the paper, then stood on her front walk, caught by the headlines, until no less than ten neighbors had seen him. Then, with another yawn still splitting his cheeks... this coffee ban was going to be as hard on him as it would have been on Daniel... he went back inside, put toast in the toaster for Sam, then spread out the paper on her kitchen table.

Sorry if a few nosy neighbors got an eyeful, Jack said absently as Sam appeared in her kitchen. Then he looked up... and gaped. Are you wearing glasses? he incredulously asked.

Sam tried to look innocent, and failed. They were in plain sight on the coffee table in the living room, she pointed out. What's the matter? she teased. Can't you see very well? He continued to gape at the multi-brown wire frames adorning her face.

What? she finally demanded, her hands on her hips until her toast popped unexpectedly out of the toaster. Well, I'm not as young as I used to be, ya know, she complained.

This morning might have told a different story, Jack negated. But he tilted his head, and stared some more at her brown frames contrasting with her blonde hair. She looked... Maybe you wore glasses full time in a former life, he suggested.

The comment made her swat at him with the hand towel.

What is it with you and towels? Jack asked absently.

You prefer that I use my hands? she questioned.

Without a doubt, he shot back.

I can't read without glasses, or I get a headache, she said, then.

And at the SGC? he asked in protest. You read all the time, there.

I wear contacts, she answered.

You're kidding! he sarcastically yelled back, though with an incredulous smile adorning his lips.

If you don't believe me, ask the guys. Daniel once caught me putting in my contacts while I was at home, and he didn't give me peace for six months. I had to promise to buy him enough coffee for a year, just to shut him up.

Did you? he asked. Buy the coffee, I mean.

Yeah, Sam told him. And Daniel shut up.

But what about post-mission physicals? Jack asked. How on Earth... and every other planet in the galaxy... do you get around those thugs known as doctors in the Infirmary?

Sam tilted her head, grinned, then slowly explained, I never wear contacts on missions... I take them out beforehand... Then, right after each mission physical, I take my shower while the guys are in the Infirmary, and while I'm in the Locker Room...

Jack was beginning to understand her strategy. ... and the Locker Room also happens to be one of the few places on base that doesn't have security cameras.., he said for her.

Right... Then I go into the rest-room stall, which happens to have a closable door... She shrugged. Then it's an easy matter of taking out my contact case, which is stowed in the pockets of my BDUs, put my contacts in, and voila, I can see to read again. Even as Jack was admiring her for her ingenuity, Sam went on, But contacts are the least of my concerns right now about things that could potentially get me kicked out of the Air Force.

I take it this eye thing of yours happened after my promotion? he questioned dryly.

Among other things, Sam told him, and peered into the bowels of her refrigerator, looking for the jam... She had been sure she had half a jar left.

It's right here, on the table, Jack said, even though she hadn't exactly asked for it out loud. She turned to retrieve the jar. To what else are you referring? Jack asked then, still teasing her. I don't suppose Teal'c has glasses, too?

Sam shook her head. We couldn't find frames to go with his tattoo, she joked in a deadpan voice. No, I guess I'm just talking about babies again. It's hard to forget about her for long when I'm so nauseous, I could heave a brick.

That might be difficult, Jack said. Bricks are square the last time I looked. I'd hate to have you force one through a round mouth.

Sam straightened up suddenly, one hand holding her toast and the other hand soothing her belly. She painted a cute picture, Jack thought to himself. But she asked, Should we tell the guys, or should we wait awhile?

About her... the baby? Jack asked, using Sam's method of playing if it was a baby boy, or a baby girl.

Sam nodded.

They might wonder why the heck they're on so much downtime, Jack cautioned.

We can buy them more coffee to guarantee silence for awhile, Sam suggested. And if you're going to catch a shower, you better get a move on.

I'll shower at work, Jack told her. I say, let's tell 'em, before they hear about it from someone else.

All right, Sam hesitantly said, but ultimately agreeing with him. Oh, this toast settles my stomach right down, for some reason.

Suddenly, Jack eyed her more seriously as she eyed the paper. He carefully asked, Are you ready for what's going to happen?

Sam straightened to stare at him. What do you mean?

Jack was having some trouble getting used to seeing her in glasses. He vigorously shook his head, but continued to regard her, and tried again. I mean.., he carefully said, I guess I'm talking about... The reception we're bound to get at the SGC, he finally said.

Sam wrinkled her nose a little. Because of this whole baby/engagement thing?

Jack nodded. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. He squinted his eyes closed and turned his head towards the ceiling, appearing to be thinking. It was a pose that Sam wasn't used to seeing him in, but one she had always suspected him highly capable of. The shit's gonna hit the fan on this one, and I give it about a day, no more than two, before that fan starts blowing.

Sam sank into the kitchen chair facing his across the paper-strewn table. What do you think will happen?

Jack considered. Well, Hammond'll want to know what's going on... Remember, I was his 2IC for years before all this happened... And, there might be an investigation into both of us, and whoever investigates can only recommend one thing at this point.

A court-martial, Sam bleakly said in a dead tone.

Jack nodded. You don't have to worry... I won't let it get that far, he promised.

Sam gave a start. What can you do, though? she asked in sudden despair. It was only a matter of time before news of the baby became common knowledge, and if Jack claimed that the baby was his, as he had said he planned to do, then he would be in definite danger of losing his career. You know, I can't let you face a court-martial, she said. It wouldn't be fair to you at all... I would tell the truth before I let you do that, she went on.

Jack's expression darkened. Like hell you will. If you do that, then the entire bit about how you've always thought that the Jolinar incident had acted as birth control will come out, which will reveal that you didn't use anything, which will make you're judgment appear suspect, which will smear doubt all over the decisions you've made in your own career. You'll lose command of SG-1, certainly, and there's a good bet that you'll lose your entire career, too. He stared at her in grim determination. There is no way in Hell I'm going to let that happen. I mean, you're the 'Gate expert... Who will keep the 'Gate running if you don't do it? No offense to Walter and Siler and all, but they're not you... and it's been you who's fixed the 'Gate time and time again.

Sam stared back at him. And it's been your strategizing that has saved the SGC's collective butts so many times over the years... If it hadn't been for you and your fast thinking, we would all have been destroyed or enslaved by this point.

Jack shook his head. No, the military needs the both of us far more than we need the military.

Sam gazed at him out of anxious eyes. But I guess we can only count on that as long as whoever investigates us believes what you just said... What can either of us do if he or she doesn't believe us, and it comes to a court-martial?

Jack's voice sounded like it was made of steel, he was so determined. I'll threaten to resign, then, and do it, if push comes to shove.

Sam looked horrified. But I can't let you do that! she insisted.

Jack took hold of her hand on the table. Sam, he gently said. I can resign if I think I need to, or want to, and after yesterday's engagement, and this morning, I'm pretty damned sure that I want to. I don't want to give up even a moment of you.

Sam blushed to hear him say words like that. I wouldn't say that I'm such a fair trade over your career, though, she insisted.

Jack sent her a brief smile. I would, he answered.

You would?

In a heartbeat.

Sam sat back and removed her glasses to rub at the bridge of her nose, just as she'd seen Daniel do for eight years. Jack grinned momentarily at her unconscious gesture. But Sam said, Jack, I'm still a bit amazed that you're willing to give so much up for me for what was one of my more stupid mistakes...

Jack leaned closer to her across the table. He gently pulled on her left wrist, and regarded her palm. You make it sound like there's something to be won in this situation, and I'm losing, big time.

Sam sighed tiredly. Well aren't you? she asked with her eyes closed so that she would not have to stare him in his face. Losing, I mean.

Jack leaned in so close to Sam until he was only an inch from her face. Sam, look at me, he ordered, and touched her chin with the tips of the fingers of his right hand. Sam opened her blue eyes, only to find her gaze captured by Jack O'Neill's intense, brown, stare. When he could see that she was gazing into his eyes, he ran his index finger across her chin. He leaned the rest of the way forward and kissed her slowly, enticingly on her lips. He whispered, I love you. I have always loved you, and I always will. And I promise that I will always be there for you, no matter what happens. And we are in this together, and if the best thing for all three of us means that I retire or resign or whatever, then that's what I'll do.

But, Jack.., she began to say in protest.

Jack held out that index finger that had so recently stroked her chin. Sh, he gently commanded. You've handed me a second chance at fatherhood, and another marriage to a beautiful woman whom I love more than anything in the universe... You have no idea what you're giving to me...

What I'm giving to you..? Sam said.

Jack interrupted. You're giving me a second life, Sam. This situation isn't all about me giving, here. I'm getting, every dream I've ever imagined, and don't you forget that.

Sam kept staring at him, then kissed him on the lips with such affection that it made shivers run through Jack's feet. Thank you, Jack, she whispered.

I think it's you who should be thanked, Jack told her, his voice still low, still almost a whisper.

Sam smiled then, that smile that reached all the way to her eyes and made them light up, the smile that had always made Jack melt. She ran her own hand down his cheek, and said, Thank you anyway, and I love you, Jack O'Neill.

I have to wonder why you do, but I'll accept even that miracle, at this point, Jack said. Are you sure that you're not under some alien influence or something?

Sam giggled when he asked that question. But she nodded. Yeah, I'm sure.

Jack leaned back to sit correctly in his chair. Well, now that we've got that all settled... He propped his chin in his hand and just stared at her.

Finally, after she had swallowed a bit of her toast, she asked him about his behavior. Now what are you doing? You look kind of silly, just staring at me.

Jack gave a half grin. I'm silly when I'm in love.

Sam colored. She took another bite of toast in an attempt to cover her flush. For a man who doesn't say much, you sure say extremely revealing things when you do.

You've figured me out already, Jack told her. And it didn't even take you a full day.

Jack! she admonished, making it sound a bit more like the teasing she had begun earlier that morning. What do you mean by that, being so... She shrugged and shook her head. So... I don't know... So open and emotional when you finally do say something?

Jack continued to stare at her. At last, he gave his half grin again. I like to see you blush. He kept smiling as she blushed. It's worth a little revelation or two to see you turn red.

Sam couldn't help it; She blushed one more time. In order to cover up her behavior this time, she looked over the table. I'm going to read the paper for five minutes... Jack handed her the Sports section, and she let him know by wearing an aggravated expression on her face that she wasn't amused. Five minutes later, Sam announced, Now I'm off to put my contacts in... be right back. But she stopped right at the edge of her kitchen, She grinned shyly back at him. And the way you wear your BDUs? she half asked, half said. Your shirt with the sleeves rolled up?

He looked up from the article he had started reading. Yeah?

She smiled a huge smile. That's damned sexy, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Jack suddenly grinned at her. Which is why I decided to wear them that way in the first place.

Surprised, Sam gaped at him. You knew?

Jack admitted, About a year before she died, I overheard you talking to Janet one day in the Commissary about liking to see a man's arms. He shrugged. I remembered what you'd said in that conversation, but I only had the nerve to do something about it after you got engaged to Pete. I figured that at that point, I didn't have anything to lose.

Sam gave a sort of grinning grimace. I miss Janet.

I do, too, Jack quietly told her.

And just like that, Sam grinned. Boy, would she ever appreciate this! She crossed back to his side and gave him a brief kiss on his cheek. Keep the sleeves rolled up, General, she quietly commanded him. It's working, big time. Then she turned to go.

Jack blushed this time. He watched her leave, thinking of rolled up sleeves, and of contacts, wondering how she had managed to keep something that went so badly against military rules quiet for so long... He shook his head, then reached in to her corner cupboard and pulled out a small Ziploc bag that was still large enough for several handfuls of crackers. He stashed the half-full bag in the pocket of his BDU trousers, gave his sleeve a flick, then yelled, Time to go! in the direction of the bathroom, and put his leather jacket on.

Finished! she yelled back, then hurried to put her coat on, too.

Jack grabbed her, and kissed her one last time at the door.

An open relationship, she reminded him, then firmly took his hand in hers.

Jack loved the feel of her skin touching his, but he asked again, Are you sure that you're ready for this?

She grimly nodded. The gossip about us will hopefully distract everybody enough to keep them too busy to notice that I hurl in the bathroom several times a day.

Jack grinned at the thought of Sam running to the bathroom nearest her lab, holding a naqueda generator in her hands... He grinned some more at the thought. Can I trip you along the way? he asked.

You try, and you... Nevermind, Sam hurriedly said.

I die, Jack finished for her. He pulled open the door. I get the picture.

You die, I cry buckets, Sam said. Gallons... Unless you want a flooded SGC, you'd better not die in a car crash or anything.

Safer off world, Jack noted as he neared his truck to carpool in to work with Sam. Who would have thought?

Oh, har, har, Sam said, letting him know by her wry tone that she knew he was still teasing her. She released his hand so he could move to the other side of his truck. Just drive.

You sure are bossy in the mornings, Jack complained lightly. I don't remember that about you on missions.

I was behaving with extra care while on missions. If you would rather I be that way...

Jack grimaced. No, that's all right, actually, don't feel like you...

If you like, I can call you 'Sir' again, Sam suggested with a wry, puckish grin on her face as Jack pulled away from the curb and started the truck moving towards the SGC.

Jack grimaced even more. Don't feel like you need to do that for me, he said. I can't say that I ever really liked the 'Sir.' Or maybe, it was the reason for your need to call me by my rank that I didn't much care for. Then he looked over at her in the passenger seat, and grinned. Whatever the case, I have to say that I like the situation now so much better!

Sam stared at him from the corners of her eyes, letting him know by the overly calm expression on her face that she was still teasing him. Then I'll do my best not to call you 'Sir.

Jack frowned. You'll do your best? he sarcastically inquired.

This time, Sam did grin. Well, I might slip up every now and then. Eight years of habit is rather hard to break, after all.

Jack glared at her. Okay, I'll give you an incentive; For every time you call me 'Sir,' I get to kiss you however I want, wherever we are, doing whatever we're doing.

Sam's grin grew even wider. That might make me... mess up on purpose, she said.

That's the idea, Jack said, grinning as well, now.

Sam harumphed. You drive a particular nasty bargain, you know that, don't you, Sir?

First halt in the proceedings, Jack loudly claimed, pulled the truck over to the curb, then peered at her with a grin. He reached up to gently caress her face. Come 'ere.

Sam leaned across his truck's two seats, and he kissed her deeply. When they parted, she smiled again. Keep that up, and I may call you 'Sir' every other minute.

That's the idea, Jack told her again, smiling himself.

Sam whispered, Which is why I did it in the first place. She ran her fingers through the hair on the back of his neck, dreamily grinned at him, then pulled him in for a second kiss. Freebie, she said.

Jack didn't look like he minded at all.

* * *

At the SGC, they parted, she going to her lab, and Jack to the men's Locker Room where he planned to shower, shave, and change into a fresh pair of BDUs. He also planned to roll the sleeves as far up his arms as decently possible.

Besides a quick lunch that they shared with Daniel, and an eventual Teal'c who joined them after a workout shower, Jack and Sam barely saw each other the entire day. There was a brief moment at 1500 when he and Walter neared her lab, and Jack suddenly halted his aid, pulled the Ziploc bag filled with crackers out of the pocket of his BDUs, yelled, Hey Carter, catch! Then he tossed the bag to her on his and Walter's way to the Briefing Room where he was scheduled to listen to one of the scientists on SG-5 enthuse over rocks.

Sam caught his offering, in spite of its unexpected appearance. Thank you, Sir! she called back once she had looked at it, too surprised and overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of the action to watch her language.

Jack held up one finger to Walter, said, Give me just a moment, here, and jogged into her lab to follow the bag of crackers into her arms. Without wasting a moment, he wrapped his arms around her, trapping her hand that had caught his snack between them, grinned, said, Hi, you, and kissed her as deeply as he had when they had been alone in his truck.

Smiling, Sam tried to swat at him anyway. Thanks, she said.

Any time, he whispered. Then he turned to jog back to join a fairly stunned Sergeant Harriman, and they continued with their trip to the Briefing Room as if nothing had happened. But Jack was in a really good mood while he spent the next hour perusing the artifacts found on PRS-569. It was one of the best times he'd ever had looking at rocks.

* * *

1800 finally arrived, and Jack was in between crises at the SGC long enough to sneak into Carter's lab and pull her away from her doohickeys. He didn't even give her time to shut down her computer, only grabbed her, grabbed her coat, said, I'll throw you over my shoulder if I have to in order to get you alone, and unceremoniously dragged her out of the room. When they had both cleared the door, he shut and locked it, then, linking his fingers firmly with hers, headed out of the mountain as fast as he could force her to go. They only had to hide twice in supply closets from people obviously searching for him in the stark, clean corridors on their way to the SGC elevator. But the side trips to the unwatched closets were put to good use as Jack backed Sam into the shelves and proceeded to find every way possible into, under, and through her BDUs. Sam had much more success than he did, since the black t-shirt that he always wore as part of his uniform was untucked from his trousers, unlike her own t-shirt. Still, they managed to get a lot further in undressing each other than was entirely proper in a top secret military facility, and Sam was almost consumed by giggles when they reached the second elevator leading to the surface.

What did I always tell you about giggling? Jack warned, giving her hand a squeeze nonetheless.

Sam immediately said, That I shouldn't do it. Then she slyly glanced over at him. But then, I always did like a good giggle. Don't you, Sir?

She did that on purpose, Jack thought to himself. He smiled, anyway. Better than anything, he said, contradicting himself as he obligingly leaned in to give her a kiss that she just as obligingly turned into a deeper gesture than he had intended to give. But he wasn't complaining.

* * *

This is extremely liberating, Sam thought to herself as she slid out of the truck, and caught hold of Jack's hand as he pulled her unapologetically to the front door of his house. He unlocked the door, entered, and was about to shut the door behind them when he was stopped by a foot in his way. He looked up to see Daniel glaring at him, Teal'c not far behind as he slipped out of the driver's seat of his SUV. The Jaffa jogged to stand beside Dr. Jackson, and offer his silent bulk of support as Daniel glared.

Mind telling us what's going on? Daniel inquired with his hand holding the door ajar.

Jack deliberately took hold of Daniel's hand and removed it from his door. If I tell ya, do you promise to get lost? he brusquely asked.

Daniel hadn't done more than utter an, Uh.., before Jack was speaking again.

Here's how it is... Sam and I are getting married whenever... haven't set the date yet, but you're both invited... Sam's pregnant, SG-1 is on downtime for the foreseeable future, we adore the both of you, but for now, get out, and that's an order. Then he pushed Daniel's hand completely aside, shut the door, locked it, then proceeded to hang up his and Sam's coats before he finished what he had started in the supply closet half an hour earlier. Sam didn't look like she minded, either.

* * *

The next morning, and after three very heated, very intense lovemaking sessions, they returned to the SGC where Jack left Sam to catch her morning change of clothes in the women's Locker Room, and proceeded up to the Briefing Room on his way to his office. He was stopped by three forms meeting him at the office door. The Briefing Room carpet would have showed skid marks, he stopped so fast, but the floor of the room prevented any lasting impressions.

Generals! Jack blurted when he caught sight of the three men that he didn't know. But all the men looked official in Air Force dress uniforms, and they also looked extremely irritated as they stood in the doorway.

Jack O'Neill, one of the Generals addressed him, and nodded, but looked grim. I realize that you don't know me at all, but... We need to talk.

Well, so much for that little vacation, Jack thought, and without preamble, asked, Where's General Hammond? I expected him to fly in personally...

The first General to come from the office, and confront Jack answered his question. General Hammond was called to an unscheduled meeting with President Hayes to apprise him about what he's dealing with in this situation that you've forced, I'm afraid. The military is currently breathing down his neck on one side of his collar, and the Joint Chiefs are breathing down the other side.

I'm sorry to hear that, Jack said, though he sounded less than apologetic. In reaction to the General's information, he whipped out his cell phone, and promptly dialed Sam's number. He waited for her to pick up her end of the line, and when she did, he said, Hey, you got a minute? I'm standing in the Briefing Room, staring at three very irritated Generals, and I really think that you need to be here before they start talking. He was silent for another moment as she said something in response, to which he said. Remember, don't let this get to you... I want to take care of everything from here on out. She said something again, and he smiled. I'll get you for that. Now, trust me, it'll all be okay. She spoke once more, and he said, See ya in a few. Then, he flipped the phone shut. What can I do for you, Generals? he congenially asked, though he had a pretty good idea as to why they were there, in his office, waiting for him like a horde of... Well, to be honest, like a horde of unwelcoming Air Force Generals bent on nailing his ass to the nearest wall.

General O'Neill, the same one softly repeated. I'm, General Jumper, one of your most supportive fans in the past... Why don't we all sit down, and try to be calm about all this. He led the way to the chairs surrounding the red and black table.

He's trying to keep the situation from blowing out of control, Jack realized, and he did set the files he'd been carrying onto the top of the table, but didn't sit down. I'm waiting for someone, he informed. Hope you don't mind...

While they were all waiting for Sam to enter the Briefing Room, Jack called, Hey, Walter!

Sergeant Harriman stepped through the door as if he'd been standing in the corridor, just waiting to be called. Jack wondered how the man could spend so much time in the 'Gate Room when he seemed to always be on call to the General of the Base at the same time. Yet, without asking his question aloud, he pulled the coffee pot out of his office, and also grabbed the pot from the Briefing Room snack table. He handed both pots to a confused Walter, who took them, but clearly didn't understand the reasoning behind the action. Jack peered into Walter's bemused face, then turned to see the exact same expressions staring at him from the gathered Generals, and explained, The smell of coffee makes Sam sick to her stomach. Thought I'd head off the invasion of the doctors from the Infirmary who want to help her with a sour stomach before anything really happens to it. He vividly remembered how Sam had run for the bathroom that morning the minute she had entered his kitchen to find that he'd momentarily forgotten her new take on coffee, and thrown up long before he could pour the rest of the strong beverage down his sink, and open his windows so that the room could air out.

Walter apologetically said a soft, but understanding, Oh, and left just as Sam bounded up the stairs from the Control Room, and Jack crossed to her before she had a chance to pull out a chair to sit at the table. He purposefully kissed her on her cheek, grinned, said, That's for calling me 'Sir' on the phone just now, then led her over to the table. He pulled out the chair beside her, and invited the Generals to sit across from them. Before you say anything, he said, stopping the three half way to a seat in a chair, you might want to read this. He shoved a folded piece of paper across the table to each of the Generals, who worked at unfolding the papers, and reading the words he'd typed that morning while Sam had been dressing in the bathroom.

In a flat, dull tone that bespoke how unpleasant this duty was for him, the man who'd introduced himself as General Jumper read aloud:

To whom It May Concern,

Effective the minute you hold this paper in your hands, I resign my commission as Brigadier General of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Due to unforeseen personal reasons, I regretfully submit (okay, not so regretfully) this resignation letter to those who it has been a privilege to serve with for the past eight... nine?... years.

And it was signed in pen with Jack's name and rank, and dated on that day's date.

Jumper glanced up while Sam looked accusingly at Jack. When did you have time to write that? she asked.

This morning while you were... Jack hesitated, and finally settled on, ... indisposed... and I printed it at home on my own printer. He turned to the Generals, then. Oh, and what you each have is not the only copies I have, either, in case the copies that I've made somehow become conveniently... lost. I have one in my pocket, and another in the safe in my closet, not to mention the one on my computer at home, and that letter can be easily reproduced if it becomes necessary, Jack told them, a faint smirk on his face now. He just loved besting authority figures!

Jumper knew of this behavioral tendency of Jack's... General Hammond told me that you've always had a penchant for displaying resourceful stubbornness just before we left Washington D.C. for Colorado Springs. He held out the paper now, but waved it around to let Jack know that he intended to hang on to it for the time being. What makes you think that a reproduction will become necessary? he asked.

Jack judiciously replied, Just a precaution.

Next, the man seated to Jumper's left held out his hand to both Jack and Sam, and introduced himself. General Miller, nice to meet you, He shook Jack's and Sam's hands, then sighed as he withdrew his fingers. We have a bit of a problem here, you know, despite impromptu resignations.

Jack spread his fingers on the tabletop, and let the natural coolness of the furniture sink into his bones. He said, I do know what you're talking about, but I don't see a problem, actually.

The third General snorted, and blurted, Then you're blind, young man, that's what!

Jack's face instantly grew dark, and he felt Sam's comforting fingers grip his knee under the table. He took a calming breath, then said, I just resigned, and don't have to show any respect that I don't think you deserve, and please don't talk so... so...

'Arrogantly' Sam helpfully supplied.

Thank you, Jack said as he swiveled to cast a glance at her before he continued. ... arrogantly... in the presence of my fiancée.

Jumper reacted only slightly at Jack's use of the pre-marriage word, and held up a hand. That may be, and you may be right in your assessment of the situation, and General Anderson respectfully submits his sincerest apologies... Here, he stopped to glare at the man on his right, the apparent General Anderson in question. Then, he went on, But you have to admit that we're a bit confused by everything that's happened in the past day, and would like some form of explanation. After a moment when no one said anything, and the feelings of antagonism rampantly zinged around the table, he sighed and said, You have to admit, General O'Neill, that you at least owe us an explanation as to what's going on, or Colonel Carter does.

The second the words 'Colonel Carter' had left Jumper's mouth, Jack's protective instincts kicked in, and overrode his feelings of antagonism, as Jumper had known would happen, just as General Hammond had predicted they would. Jack sat back in his chair, and regarded the three Generals before him. You want an explanation? he asked, still deceptively calm. All right, here's an explanation for ya...

Jack, Sam said warningly in a soft voice that was meant to defuse whatever Jack was planning on saying.

Jack glanced over at her, allowing her warning to work. It's all right, he said again. I know what I'm doing, and I want to do this.

Sam sighed, but shrugged her shoulders rather than stop him.

Jack turned back to the Generals. All right. I know that I owe you an explanation, and Sam won't be comfortable sitting here if I lose my cool, so I'll do my best to keep this civilized.

That would be preferable, Jumper softly admitted then, and sent a grateful look towards Sam. He was perfectly aware that she had always been able to assert an undue amount of good influence on the rather volatile man before him, and his look let her know that all the Generals were indebted to her. She acknowledged his expression with a raise of her eyebrows as Jack began speaking.

We all know that this is about Sam, me, and the way the two of us broke the Fraternization Regulation that has been all we've thought about until two days ago.

What happened then? General Miller inquired with a glance at Sam.

Jack's hand on Sam's fingers tightened in response. But he only went on with his explanation. I got to thinking... The way we had been adhering to the Frat. Regulation kind of made me something of a hypocrite, because I was hardly known in the past as a guy who blindly followed all the rules.

Miller nodded. We are already aware of that personality trait of yours... Please, go on, he invited.

Jack raised an eyebrow at the General's claim to knowing him better than he had anticipated, but he did as he was bid, and continued, One thing I never want to be known as is hypocritical, and the minute I found out that Sam's engagement to Pete Shanahan was off, I was there, probably making a total pest of myself, but you get the picture.

Jumper's eyes narrowed. So you're saying that Colonel was victimized in this case?

Jack would have responded himself to that question, but Sam's snort halted him. I would hardly call myself a 'victim' in this scenario, she said. Let's just say that I was a willing participant. She glanced shyly at Jack, then. General O'Neill shouldn't be shouldering all the blame, here.

Jumper's sigh cut through the room. I have to say that I find you not being a victim hard to believe, he told her. From what I know of you from all the reports I've read, I know that you're an upstanding officer who follows the rules set down by...

She interrupted again. Jack didn't seduce me, or hold me at gunpoint, or anything coercive in nature, if that's what you mean, she told them. In fact, I went to him first, and that's how all this began.

It was to the three Generals' credit that they didn't blanche more than they already had. They couldn't help but fall prey to the instituted concept that women still needed protection, and were slightly disadvantaged to hear that she had been the initial instigator in this scenario. Jumper politely coughed. I... Uh...

Jack simply took advantage of the silence that greeted him from the three older men to say, We followed that Regulation governing relationships in a direct chain of command for eight years, and it was often a miserable eight years, with only the highlight of being allowed to serve together that acted as any kind of reward to the unfairness that we gave ourselves over to. Now, we saved the planet, the 'Gate, the SGC so many times during those years that I lost count.

Teal'c is keeping track, Sam helpfully supplied, the added, That is, if you wish to ask him for the specific number of times.

But Jack only nodded at her, then went on to point out, I even put the base first once, and killed Carter, and it was only through a total fluke that she survived at all. That was a day I have done nothing but regret ever since. He studiously avoided looking at Sam as he said this, not really wanting to know what she was thinking about the particular event that he was referring to. As a distraction, he went on, Forgive me for calling in this favor like I am, but the President has said that any repayment for what we've done for the planet in the past is always on the table, and I guess I'm saying that now is the time I'm asking for a simple indulgence from him, as well as the Joint Chiefs, and the military. As much as I hate to point it out, the Air Force needs us far more than we ever needed the military. And though that sounds rather harsh, it would be a lot harsher yet if you feel that it's necessary to invoke an investigation into mine and Sam's behavior of the past. You won't find anything to be suspicious of until the last two days, and I've already informed you that I intend to resign, now that the opportunity has presented itself. And Sam's worth anything that I have to give up, militaristically speaking, so I suggest that you all save your breath in trying to convince me otherwise before we all say things that we might regret. He glanced over at Sam seated next to him, and grinned at her. I don't apologize for anything I've done, and only wish that I had done it all a lot sooner. Then he looked again at the three opposing Generals. That's all I have to say, he quietly ended, and looked down to the tabletop beneath his hands.

General Jumper finally said, Are you aware, General O'Neill, that if you resign your commission, then you are revoking any rights you have to a pension for the many years of service you've rendered in the past?

Jack sighed when he heard this. I'm aware of what I'm giving up, but I...

Sam interrupted him. I have an idea, she loudly said, catching every man's attention, then. When they had all looked in her direction, she went on, Okay, how's this... According to the rules, Jack and I both should be punished for our decisions... I won't argue with that. I mean, if we think the rules don't apply to us, then they don't apply to anybody, and the military needs to keep a base of authority, if nothing else.

General Anderson glowered at Jack, and nodded, but didn't say anything. Sam went on, The last eight years, however, have been punishment enough for us, don't you think, without slapping us with messy investigations, and court-martials, and whatever else you can devise to..?

Get to the point, Anderson demanded.

Sam instantly responded to his use of an order to get her to continue. She said, I'm getting to a point... Then she looked at Jack, and said, General, instead of 'Sir.' Jack couldn't quite hide the grin that erupted over his face. In return for the years of punishment that you don't want the Air Force to be credited with, and which I will explain in detail to the first reporter I come across if I'm pushed on this, General O'Neill gets his retirement benefits instead of resigning his commission, and I keep my mouth firmly shut. She stared at the Generals on the other side of the table. That's what a propose, she said. I've been thinking about doing that for several days, now, and... well... that's my idea.

Jumper sighed. But if it becomes known that the Air Force is willing to negotiate when it comes to breaking the Fraternization Regulation, it could set a dangerous precedent that, frankly, might not be worth the damage that can be caused by bad PR.

Are you willing to take that chance, General? Sam shot back, heedless of the fact that she was talking to a man who demanded respect just by throwing on his jacket that so clearly symbolized his military rank. She heedlessly went on, Because you are gonna have to lock me up, hold me at continual gunpoint, and then I will still shout as loud as I can if you do anything to harm Jack's retirement options at this point. And I can be just as formidable as Jack can be.

Sam's words caused a warm glow in Jack's stomach, but he tried to ignore the feeling until later. It's true, he said as a way to back up Sam's claims. I've seen her kick butt with the best of them. Maybe even better than the best of them, he amended, then.

Miller glanced at Jumper. Maybe we can have them both sign something that claims that we'll take legal action if either of them ever says anything? he suggested.

Sam held her breath.

Anderson glared. You know how I feel about making compromises to the Regulations... Anything we give to anybody now can be used against the Air Force for years to come!

Then I go to the nearest newspaper office I can find, Sam said, her voice deadly serious, now. You'll have to lock me up, and throw away the key to stop me.

Jumper raised his hands. Wait! he ordered. Somehow this conversation has turned into something that no longer even comes close to a conversation, he said. Now... He speared Sam and Jack with his gaze. No... to divulge a tiny bit of secret information here... the Air Force can't afford the bad PR that Colonel Carter is referring to, and General O'Neill surely deserves the retirement pension that he's entitled to... His head swiveled around to regard Jack and Sam. And it's an undeniable fact that General O'Neill and Colonel Carter have spent many years in nothing but a professional relationship when many who work in the SGC suspect that they each would have preferred something quite different. Then, he widened his sight to take them all in with his vision. In light of the things that have been uncovered in this meeting, I don't see how we can ignore the solution offered by Colonel Carter in this matter. We all know it will make the Air Force appear far more monstrous than we want it to appear if we don't take the Colonel's bargain, but having General O'Neill and Colonel Carter sign some sort of Nondisclosure Agreement will protect the Force in case of an unwelcome security breech, and we find ourselves in this exact same situation again in the future.

That's bullhockey, and you know it! Anderson immediately retorted. His face darkened. That's...! he spluttered. It's nothing short of blackmail!

Jumper had to concede, It's a good job of blackmail, though. And he shot a quick glance in Sam's direction.

Miller shrugged then. I don't see how we have any choice in this situation. If we indict either of them with a court-martial, it will end up being nothing but bad press, on top of the bad PR that Colonel Carter is promising. And we certainly don't want our military organization to get the reputation that it doesn't properly thank the men and women who serve in its ranks.

No, Jumper agreed. That's not something any branch of any Earth military can readily afford.

Anderson continued to glower. Well, at least we agree on something! he said.

That's the deal, Sam said then in her quiet voice. Take it, or leave it; it's up to you.

Wow! Jack had to wonder when Sam had learned to become so aggressive, but he was still basking in the glow of comprehending that she was more than willing to fight for him, too. Nobody had ever had to fight for him, before, and he didn't quite know how to respond to the sense of gratitude he was feeling.

Finally, Jumper gathered his papers together and leaned forward against the table. Okay, we'll sign the proper forms, and mail them to you as quickly as we can, so that you can sign them, and send them back. He shuffled nervously through the stack of papers in his hands. We'll also inform President Hayes, and the Joint Chiefs, as to your... He paused, looked up at Jack, at last, saying, The favor you're calling in. Then he glared at the two officers before him. But if either of you ever say a word about this, we'll deny that anything happened, and we are fully prepared to 'lock you up and throw away the key,' as the Colonel so succinctly put it. And I want to be sure that we impress the seriousness of this negotiation on you. And he glared at Jack and Sam again. Now, I think that about takes care of the reason for this little visit, so we'll be getting back to Washington as soon as we can, and start sending that paperwork through the system. They all rose from the table, two of the visiting Generals looking fairly relieved that some unpleasant business was over, and Anderson still staring in a thunderous way. But they all appeared to accept the agreement that Sam had suggested, according to the way they all saluted General O'Neill and Colonel Carter before Jumper went on to say with just a hint of a threat behind his voice, This had better work... or else.

It will, Sir, Jack said.

Sam stared at the Generals' departing backs as Anderson and Miller made their way down to the Control Room, Anderson gruffly complaining that he needed to find a bathroom, and a good cup of coffee, in that order, as they disappeared from sight. Sam peered at Jack, then, and raised her brows. Gotcha, she said, and kissed his cheek before departing to help the Generals in their quests.

Jack appeared to be pleased at the extra attention he was getting from Sam, to say nothing of enjoying the gesture she had given him, and he began to understand why Sam wanted to purposefully use the word 'Sir' so often. In fact, Jack blushed, but he quickly turned away from Sam so that she wouldn't get the immense satisfaction out of knowing that she had made him blush. He found himself facing General Jumper instead.

General, Jumper inquired then in a kind voice. I know that you don't really know me, and as such, don't owe me any explanation, but... What happened, really? he asked.

Jack paused. Permission to speak freely, Sir? he hesitantly asked.

Jumper nodded. Always.

Jack suddenly grinned. Well, let's just say that I wised up... It may have taken me eight long years to do it, but I finally realized that I was as important as my military career. Then, more shyly, he added, And as long as I'm very lucky, I may have another wedding a few months from now.

Another? Jumper asked, confused.

Jack informed, Let's just say that the first one didn't quite take. Then, he glanced towards the stairs leading down to the Control Room. But let me also go on record as saying that I have a vvveeeeerrrryyyy good feeling about the chances of this one!

Jumper grinned. Let me be the first to offer my congratulations, then.

Thanks, General, Jack conversationally admitted. That means more to both Sam and me than you can know, Jack said as they started for the stairs leading into the Control Room.

Jumper put his hand out to halt Jack for a second. But it better be the right thing this time, General. There's no going back on this kind of a deal with a military organization, he warned. And I don't think either I or General Hammond can go to bat for you a second time... It won't wash particularly well with the President.

Jack's grin grew wider. Oh, you can bet it's the real thing! he enthused. I wouldn't want to back out now for... for... another trip through the 'Gate!

Jumper chuckled. And after all the reports I've read, I know just how much that means to you, he declared. But, tell me, General, how can you possibly be so certain of the Colonel after...

What happened last time?

Jumper nodded, but appeared contrite. I didn't want to pry, or...

Jack noticed the polite way the General was referring to his failed first marriage, and he appreciated the tact, but he also knew that this time around with Sam was completely different than anything he had ever attempted before. I know it'll work this time, he said with a hard sense of finality in his voice. For one thing, this doesn't come without a rather hefty price tag, one that I'm more than willing to pay, by the way.

Jumper tried to cover the laugh that instantly bubbled out of his mouth with his hand. But the male friendship that he and the SGC reports he'd read automatically made him feel for Jack came out the victor of his internal battle with his sense of propriety, and he chuckled. He clapped Jack on his left shoulder as they started down the stairs to the Control Room, and said, I knew it had to be something pretty special to capture one of the best men in the entire SGC.

Special doesn't even come close! Jack declared, and together, the two men left the Briefing Room, and its silence that had settled over it. Not even a cup of coffee was left to mar the surface of the maroon table as they left the room. And that was exactly how it was supposed to be to leave everything right in the universe.

The End


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