Disclaimer: Hi! I own nothing, and never claimed to. I didn't even make any money off this piece of fanfiction. And I volunteered to write this story? Huh. Go figure.

Chats, Chess, and Cheetos

by Linda Bindner

Colonel Jack O'Neill fiddled with the dirty silver box in his hands. The box, just found yesterday evening on PRC-595, opened up on squeaky hinges, and was about an inch deep. Jack turned it over and over in his hands, at first studying it, then flipping it into the air and catching it, all with a slightly bored look on his face. Sam glanced at him in amusement as he continued to play with it, but she didn't stop him, as she had another such box sitting before her computer on her lab table. And if his finger exploration turned up any new information about the box currently occupying his attention, all the better, she thought.

Careful with that, Sir, she said anyway, as he seemed to be about to drop the second box onto her lab's linoleum floor, but caught it at the last minute. Sam admired the way he deftly covered up his last minute save, and made it appear as if he had fumbled the box instead of rescuing it from crashing into the floor, and splitting into a thousand pieces.

No worries, Carter, the Colonel said in a nonchalant tone, responding to her admonition. I know that it wouldn't be so great if I dropped this. He examined the small box in his hands. You know, if this wasn't quite so deep as it is, it might remind me of the cigarette box that Sara gave me that I used to carry.

Sam gaped at him for a full minute, her analysis of the second box forgotten in her astonishment. You used to smoke? she asked then, her voice cracking with her amazement.

Colonel O'Neill smiled at her in wan enjoyment at being able to still surprise her. I know... Amazing, isn't it? he asked. But, there was a time I used to smoke quite a bit.

Sam stared at him, her amazement growing. That's... That's...

That's how dumb I used to be, O'Neill finished for her.

Sam blinked. That's... not what I was going to say, she negated with a shake of her head.

Jack glanced up at her, fairly certain that he was going to see a look of revulsion on her face. Instead, he still saw astonishment, colored with concern. Instead of being revolted, she was worried. He might have known; If anyone could still surprise him, Sam Carter still could.

But, he ignored his surprise in order to continue with his narrative. That's why I even had a lighter on me to give to Skaara on that first mission to Abydos, Jack explained a bit sheepishly. Sara used to get together with me and the boys, and have one or two cigarettes with us every now and then. He shifted a bit uncomfortably in front of her. I should have been a bit more clued in to the fact that something was upsetting her when she went at smoking a pack a day after Charlie died. But... Here, he looked back down at the silver box in his hands. But, I was a little dense at the time, he told her. A bit self absorbed, I think is what you should call it.

Sam blinked again. I still can't believe that you smoked cigarettes, she announced.

Jack smiled for a second time. Can't believe it, or are you totally revolted by it? he hazarded to ask.

No. Sam shook her head, closed her eyes for a reorienting second. No, she repeated. I mean, not revolted, no... Concerned, she ended at last.

That comment surprised O'Neill again. Why?

Well, Sam started to say. She visibly gathered her thoughts together, and began again. Well, with all due respect, Sir... She stopped, and just stared, clearly still thinking.

What? he finally asked, one hand holding the box, and the other hand flung out questioningly.

She tilted her head. Permission to speak freely?

Shit, Jack thought. She's hates me, now. I've totally freaked her out. But he nodded his head, anyway. What's on your mind?

Sam regarded him. Well, she began again. You're black ops trained, she said.

And..? He looked at her with raised brows, and an open expression on his face. You're point is?

Sam set her hands in front of her computer so that she wouldn't inadvertently strike the wrong key in her amazed state. Well, she continued. All that training... All the running that that particular training involves...

Yes?

Again, she tilted her head to stare at him. How did you do it? she asked then. How were you ever part of black operations, and a smoker at the same time?

Easy, Jack answered, and shrugged. All the guys were smokers, then. In fact, it was weird if you didn't smoke, he explained. I wanted to fit in... And there's not nearly as much running connected to black ops as you might think. He shrugged. I'm in much better running condition now than I was then. He cocked his head at her, and gave what he knew was one of his more endearing smiles. There are no Jaffa trying to kill you in black ops training, he informed. Then, he added, But black ops did teach me about strategy, and such, he informed her. I took a strategy class in college, and that's where I learned to play Chess.

Again, she gazed at him in complete astonishment.

What? he asked placing the box back on her lab table to openly stare at her. You're starting to make me nervous, he told her. Carter is never surprised, and here you've been practically knocked for a loop twice in ten minutes... What gives?

Sam blinked again. Uh... You went to college?

Jack shuffled before her. Yeah, I went to college, he told her. Why? You think I'm not smart enough to go to college, or somethin'?

Sam blinked. She would have to come up with a better response to him than blinking all the time! But she was just so... so... phased! Uh... No, no, of course I don't think that way! she exclaimed. Geez! Then she blinked yet again. Uh... You've just never mentioned college before now, that's all.

Jack stared at her astonished form, and couldn't help but say in a deep, dumb-sounding voice, Yes, Jack went to college.

Sam hissed out a sigh. That's not what I meant, and you know it. I'm just so... so...

So what?

So... stunned... that's all! Sam said.

Jack glared at her for a moment. For your information, I went to a state run Community College that was perfectly willing to hand out degrees to the people who finished the required course work. What did you think..? That you're the only member of SG-1 who holds a degree?

Daniel holds three degrees, Sam stated, then. One more than I do. And I know that you're perfectly aware of that, she challenged.

Okay, Jack said. So... You're right... I know all about Daniel's degrees... He regarded her again, then reared back to take her totally in with his gaze. Just say what you have to say, Carter, and get it over with.

Sam gazed back at him. Um... Sorry, Sir, I don't mean to be so...

Astonished? he asked. Amazed? Astounded?

No! she exclaimed.

Then what is it?

Um.., she said.

Jack sighed. I went to Minnesota State Community College in Saratoga, majored in Military Science, learned about strategy, deploying troops, parachuting, survival in unfriendly territory... you name it, they taught it... Met Sara there, but didn't marry her for ten years because my deployments kept getting in the way of us ever having a real wedding... I was recruited into the black ops program right after graduation... In fact, that's what alerted the Air Force to me in the first place... During the school year, I used to sit around on Friday nights with all the other guys who were in my classes, smoking, and playing Chess, much to Sara's annoyance... But... He paused.

But..? Sam prompted.

But, Jack went on, and shrugged. It taught me strategy... how to see the big picture... kept me alive... and here I am, he said, flippant, now, but his tone wasn't fast enough to hide the hurt that his memories brought to him quickly enough to fool Sam: He used to play Chess with Charlie.

She flinched at the expression of pain that momentarily crossed his face.

Anyway, Jack went on, to cover his recent slip. Yeah, I used to smoke, because everybody smoked at the time. He looked at her. Anything else you want to know? When she shook her head, he took pity on her. It was Skaara who got me to quit smoking, too, by the way, he said.

Sam was astonished again. I didn't know that, she choked, barely able to talk, now. You've never said anything about it...

Jack ducked his head in some amount of embarrassment, now. Yeah, well... Sara was already gone, even though she was still living in the same house with me... I went to Abydos, Skaara took a cigarette out of my pack... By then, I had lost the box that Sara had given to me when I was captured in Iraq... And smoking one cigarette nearly choked Skaara to death. Jack smiled at this memory. It was far more pleasant than thinking about Sara, which inevitably led him around to thinking about Charlie, and Jack definitely didn't want to think about that! It was Skaara's reaction that reminded me of how... gross... it made me feel. He shrugged once more. The fact that I forgot my pack of cigarettes on Abydos kind of clinched the deal... I never bought another pack again.

Sam still stared directly at him. She had never known the Colonel to open up so much about his past before, and she almost didn't want to say anything in case she stopped him, and he clammed up. You haven't smoked since then? she carefully inquired next.

Jack shook his head, his attention once again on the box before him. Nope. Not since going to Abydos, he said.

Huh, she grunted, then. I still can't picture you holding a cigarette in your hand.

Jack grinned, then, in spite of their serious topic of discussion. I'm much more handsome now without one, is that what you're saying?

Sam regarded him then in amused irritation. Oh, certainly! she sarcastically uttered. That's so not what I'm saying!

Jack stared back at her. What's got you going, Carter? he asked. Can't believe any of this?

No, she truthfully told him, but was still aware of the pain showing in his eyes... How to distract him from that pain?... What to say..? Then she grinned at him. I'm thinking that even with all your past experience, I can still whip your ass at Chess!

Jack set the box down again. All right, Major, he retorted, enjoying the sense of challenge in her voice. Anytime, anywhere.

You inviting me to whip your ass, Sir? Sam joked.

You wish! Jack exclaimed. Chess is the one thing I can so totally beat you in! he hollered.

I don't think so! Sam hollered back, both his and her tones still light and teasing. My dad and I used to play all the time when I was growing up... I can still beat him!

That's him, not me! Jack stated. Face it, Major... You have met your match!

Care to put your money where your mouth is? Sam asked.

Jack couldn't keep his gaze from flicking to her lips for just a second when she mentioned the word 'mouth,' but he reasserted control of himself again. You name the time, he said. I name the place.

All right. She grinned. Tonight.

I have just the perfect Chess set, too, Jack retorted.

1900, then? Sam inquired. Your house?

You bet! Jack vociferously agreed.

See you then! Sam responded. But before he could disappear back into the corridor once more, she added, And prepare to get your ass whooped, Sir!

It'll never happen! Jack laughed lightly as he was swallowed up in the corridor. Sam would never beat him at Chess... He knew it, and she knew it...

But Sam had not missed the expression of hope, longing, and affection that had been on his face just before he accepted her Chess challenge. Her heart still beat a bit more thunderously in her chest as she remembered. As if she were in a dream, she opened the drawer to her table, pulled out a third box that had reminded him of the one he'd carried his cigarettes in until imprisonment in Iraq had stolen it from him, and switched it with the box he'd been holding in his hands. Thoughtfully, and with her own emotions in her eyes now that he was gone, and could never see, she regarded the box, the place he'd stood during their conversation, and eventually smiled. She didn't quite understand why she had decided to keep the box he'd played with, and held in his hands, but... She just figured that one day she would be glad that she did.

* * *

1900 hours came sooner than either Jack or Sam anticipated. Before they knew it, Sam was knocking on Jack's front door, and Jack was showing her in to his living room, where he'd already set up the Chess pieces on the board resting on the coffee table. Beside the table, each leaning against a leg, sat two bags of...

Cheetos, Sir? Sam asked the second she had lifted one of the bags, and realized what they were.

Yeah, Jack nonchalantly replied as he stared at both bags. We used to eat Cheetos whenever we played Chess. I's something of a tradition. He regarded her a bit uncomfortably, and pointed at the board on the table. Ladies first, he said chivalrously. You choose which color you want to be.

I guess white will do, Sam said, and took a seat in a chair near the fireplace. Jack sat across from her on the sofa.

Okay... That means you go first.

Sam grinned, studying the Chess pieces. Wood, she announced as she turned a pawn over in her hand, studying it closely. How unique.

Jack's brows rose. Yeah, this set belongs to our family, now, but it belonged to other people at one time... I've heard the story that this set once belonged to a General who fought in the Civil War. Sam looked at him in shock. Of course, when Grandpa told me that story, I kinda thought he was exaggerating just a little, Jack added.

Sam smiled after another minute of looking impressed. Got out the nice set for me, huh? she asked.

Jack appeared slightly mortified that she had figured out what he had done so quickly. Just eat the Cheetos with your left hand, and play with your right, he sourly suggested. That way, the cheese on your fingers won't rub off on the pieces.

Sam grinned some more, seeing that she had him a tad off balance. Just play, she ordered.

You're white, Jack said then, staring at her in the early evening light that streamed in through his living room windows. You go first.

I know, Sam said, grinned, then continued, Ready to get your ass kicked?

Jack gave her a look of annoyance. Just play, he repeated. We'll see who kicks whose ass.

Sam giggled, enjoying the challenge in his voice.

And no giggling, Major, he said.

Yes, Sir, Sam giggled.

Jack simply tore open his own bag of Cheetos while Sam moved the first pawn of their first game. She ripped open her bag while he countered her move. Then it was Sam's turn again.

Within the first six moves, Jack knew that he was going to win this first game, but he maintained his straight, poker face until he moved his Queen, and said, Check, to Sam.

Sam looked at the board again, calculated the pieces she still had left, and the moves she could make with them, then moved a bishop.

Checkmate, Jack said as he moved a Knight to intercept both her Bishop and her King at the same time. Her Bishop could remove the threat he had just made to her, but her King was trapped in the corner of the board by a pawn, and had nowhere to run, and she knew it.

Crap, Sam burst out in an unguarded moment. The expletive she had chosen to use made her sound remarkably like her superior officer, and it wasn't an observation that either of them missed. But, they both studiously ignored the implications of her particular word choice. How did you do that? she asked. And so quickly, too.

Jack began resetting the pieces on the board, only this time, he was going to play the white pieces, leaving her to play black. Don't think of the pieces as separate entities, he suggested. Think of them as one unit... an army...

A team? she guessed.

Jack smiled at her. That'll work, he said. Ready for another game?

Sam nodded. Ready whenever you are. She took a drink of the beer he had offered to her before the start of the first game. Go.

You're on. Jack pushed his pawn forward two squares.

Sam lost the game once more, but this time she gave Jack more of a challenge.

You're getting better, Major, Jack commented, and grabbed the black pieces again. Up for another game?

You bet, she said. She moved a pawn forward. Eat mud, Colonel.

Mud tastes terrible, Major, he said. And I look horrible in it, too.

Sam was paying more attention to what she was moving than to what she was saying, so, You look good even covered in mud, slipped out before she could stop it.

Jack looked up, but she either refused to meet his gaze, or had no conscious idea of what she had just said. Either way, the comment set his blood to humming in the gathering shadows of the twilight that infiltrated the room. Just play, he softly said.

Sam beat him this third game, and they switched colors again. Jack looked around the room, acknowledging the fact that soon, they would have to turn on a lamp so that they could see what they were doing. But not yet, he reminded himself, enjoying the blankety warm feeling that pervaded the room, as well as the last of the light of the summer evening. Sam moved a pawn, and he answered, still eating his Cheetos.

Sam wiped her left hand on the napkin he had thought to provide, then returned her bag of cheesy chips to the floor beside the leg of the coffee table. You're move.

Jack negligently shoved a pawn up a space. You know, you keep this up, and win this game, and then we can introduce the use of the clock for each move.

Sam glanced up. There's a clock that goes with Chess? she asked, a bit incredulous.

Jack gazed at her, and smiled an enigmatic smile. Oh, yeah.

Ugh, Sam groaned. I'm doomed.

You're not dead yet, Jack said.

Something tells me that Dad let me win when we played when I was a kid, she noted, and moved again.

Jack didn't even look at the board, but looked at her instead, and looked like he enjoyed what he was looking at. I would never let you win, he said, grinned, then propped his head up on his hand while she studied the new configuration of pieces before her. You can win all on your own, he softly commented so quietly that it was almost something he had said under his breath.

I appreciate that not letting me win part, she absently said, as if she didn't quite know what she was saying.

Sam had barely removed her hand from her piece before Jack was countering her move. Gotcha, he said.

Sam had a retort ready on her lips, when suddenly Jack, removing his hand, grazed Sam's finger as she reached for another piece to block his attempt to swing his own pieces around her pieces.

The electricity that shot through both their fingers as they touched was as unmistakable as the setting sun. Jack looked at Sam, and Sam looked at Jack. Sam tried to clear her throat, and failed. Jack blinked, but didn't glance away. Finally, Sam absently commented, That never happened when I played my Dad.

I hope not, he answered back in a soft voice as he continued to stare at her until his vision swam with images of Sam Carter. Jack couldn't resist the urge to lift his hand, raise her hand beside it, and match his larger hand to her shorter one, so that his skin touched all of her fingers.

She sat across from him, barely daring to breathe. The feel of his hand stretched out against her own was almost overwhelming. Th action shouldn't mean so much to her, but it did. She glanced at their extended fingers, the heat that she was currently feeling intoxicating. Sir, she started to say.

It's Jack, he said back to her.

Sam seemed at a loss as to what to say to his invitation. She watched, fascinated, as Jack slowly curled his fingers down and around hers, holding onto her hand as tightly as he could.

Sam responded to his gesture by curving her own fingers around his. Her grip was every bit as fierce as his was, and he sighed once, then lowered his forehead down to touch his hand holding hers.

I'm sorry, Sam, he whispered, his voice a tragic caricature of what she usually heard issuing from him. This was supposed to be just Chess, with no strings attached.

They sat for a silent moment. Then Sam, her voice just as tragic as his, whispered, We're always connected, though, aren't we?

Jack's thumb was now roving over the back of her hand. I hope we always will be, he commented, and closed his eyes so that his emotions could more easily run across his face. I know that you asked to keep it in the Za'tarc testing room, he said. And I tried... I did.

I know you did, Sam answered, still in a voice so soft that it almost wasn't audible. Her own softness indicated that she knew exactly what he was referring to without having to ask about it. They sat for another second, then Sam shook her head back and forth. But... She was still shaking her head. I can't do it anymore.

This answer surprised Jack again. You can't?

She shook her head, too overcome by emotion to speak, though she tried. I... I...

He responded, cutting her off, Can't, or don't want to?

Sam hissed out a breath. Both, she finally answered, her breath mingling with his, now. She glanced at him, her brow creased in confusion and sorrow.

Sam, Jack whispered. Whatever happens here has consequences, he warned.

A totally unusual gleam of determination invaded her eyes, then. To hell with consequences, Sam declared, sounding like anything but her typically 'by-the-book' self that he had thought he'd come to know. We've thought of nothing but consequences for seven long years... Her whispered words trailed away.

How could Jack be surprised yet again? Are you sure? he asked, It's not quite like you... That sentiment of yours doesn't exactly coincide with a wish to keep our feelings in the room, he pointed out.

I might have made a mistake, Sam admitted to him. Do you want to keep things as they are? she inquired then.

Jack shook his head, No, he answered. I don't think I could do that even if I wanted to.

Sam suddenly grinned. Good, she said in his ear. I don't think I could, either.

Jack sighed, sappily happy at hearing her answer. She could just as easily have said that she preferred to maintain their uneasy status quo. In fact, that was what he expected her to say. But she had surprised him yet a third time. Since when did he find that such surprises made him so... giddy? He was turning into a grade 'A' sap in his old age, he decided, feeling both uncomfortable and simultaneously happy, and wondering how to sort out such diverse emotions.

Minutes later, Jack completely gave up on sorting out his emotions, letting them run wild for the very first time in the last years that he could remember. He let himself stare at Sam, a stupidly rhapsodic look on his face, one that would have made him feel like an idiot only fifteen short years before, but one that now poured out of him in spite of his famous sense of control. In a move that didn't take any thought on his part, he closed his eyes, sighed again in appreciation, and kissed the ends of her fingertips like a teenager first in love.

Sam couldn't help but respond to such devotion, and found herself leaning forward, across the Chess board, without conscious thought, mesmerized by his own gaze that she now found utterly hypnotic, and therefore, impossible to resist any longer. I love you so much, it hurts, she whispered, for once not caring if he reciprocated her feelings or not, just enormously relieved at her own emotions being voiced at last.

His breath washed over her in small waves, smelling like beer and Cheetos, a strangely erotic mix in her currently aroused state. With a quick flick of her gaze that traveled from his eyes, to his lips, and back again, Sam communicated to him that she wanted nothing more in that very moment in time than to kiss him as thoroughly as she could. Jack internalized her desires without even trying to, and leaned in the last few centimeters until his lips barely grazed across hers in a moment that incited sparks, heat, fire, molten liquid to flow between them.

He was captured in a millisecond, enthralled by the feel of her soft lips against his. In all his life, he had never felt so replete with emotion, nor so exposed. He felt stripped to his skin, but oddly didn't mind a whit. He was far too busy thinking words like 'velvet,' and 'feathers,' to be particularly coherent as he slid his free hand up and down her cheek, feeling her soft skin, tasting her uniquely exquisite taste, overwhelmed with his own emotions for her.

The kiss ended, and Jack pulled back to stare at her again. Beautiful, he couldn't help but think. He stood, pulling Sam up with him. Sam, I think that we... She cut him off when her lips landed on his again, and his heart expanded with the tantalizing feel of her mouth on his.

He felt her tongue touch his, and wanted to run his hands over places he definitely shouldn't want to run his hands over! But the urge to feel her in all those previously forbidden ways was almost overwhelming. He caressed her cheek, grazed her lips with his own, pulled her in close to him by pushing a hand against her butt, felt her shove into his own erection straining against his jeans, and...

Too fast, he panted for breath. Sam... God... I... He couldn't even complete a thought, though... How was he ever going to force himself to slow down?

Sam didn't seem as concerned about going slow as he was. Slow is good, she admitted when he released her lips to run his tongue down her neck. But I admit that I don't want 'slow' this time... I want 'fast,'... 'Fast' and 'furious...' She was panting now, as if she had run a long distance, the sound of her labored breathing peppered with the most exquisite moans coming from the back of her throat...

Jack felt fingers roam under his shirt, touching his skin for the first time, and he thought he would explode right where he was standing... He growled, trying hard to maintain some form of a hold on his stampeding emotions, but finding it almost too difficult for him to attain. Sam... You... I... He found that he couldn't quite finish those thoughts, either.

Jack.., Sam whispered.

Sam.., Jack whispered back.

That was all they could say, and all they could take. Years worth of repressed emotions blossomed out of control with the speed of a sudden train wreck. Hands, fingers, lips, skin... It all merged into one gloriously wild, spectacular instinct to become one, right here, right now, and to hell with consequences, as Sam had earlier said. There was him, there was her, there was them for the first time, and they could no more resist this magnetic power between them than not fight the evil currently trying to take over the universe.

His hand buried in her hair, his other roving beneath her shirt, her hands skimming across the skin of his back, his muscles, and wanting to experience nothing but more of each other, still kissing, not wanting to let go, Jack very unquestioningly led a flushed and hot Sam down the hall in the direction of his bedroom.

* * *

Three years later:

Sam was sitting at a table with a blue cloth spread on it in the Commissary, where Jack's retirement from the Air Force party was in full swing, talking to Daniel about rocks, of all things, when a small package was thrust on the table top under her nose. Open it, she heard Jack's voice coming from somewhere behind her. And happy Anniversary.

Sam glanced up at the dumbfounded look on Daniel's face, then once at the people surrounding her. She did nothing more than place her hands on the oblong package.

Daniel screwed his face together. Anniversary? he queried in confusion, his and Sam's conversation about his rocks now forgotten.

Jack, standing behind Sam, nodded. He shoved his retired hands into the trouser pockets covering his retired legs. Yeah, he said, then amended, Okay, it's a little early for our anniversary, but only by a few weeks.

Daniel blanched. It really was an impressive sight to see, and Jack fleetingly wished that Teal'c had made an appearance at the party so that he could witness the look on their friend's face as well as he was. But, the Free Jaffa Nation had more need of Teal'c's leadership abilities than his old team leader's retirement party needed his presence, so he had remained on Dakara, where he planned to attend a council meeting scheduled at the same time as Jack's retirement party. It had been a tough choice that Jack's old team mate had been forced to make, but sometimes politics really did win out over recreation.

Go ahead, Jack was encouraging Sam. I'm all retired now, haven't even remotely been your superior officer for... He peered at his watch encased on his left wrist. Oh... For about thirty minutes... What can anyone do to us, now? he rhetorically inquired. So, yeah, this is an early anniversary gift, and one that I have been waiting to give you for three years.

Daniel squeaked a stunned, Uh... Then, he gathered his thoughts together, and blinked. As in 'wedding' anniversary? he incredulously asked.

Jack only shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. Um... Yeah, Daniel, that's what I mean.

But, Daniel couldn't quite comprehend the meaning of Jack's words. As in, you two are married? he asked.

Jack looked like he was thinking, when he was really just sweating. Um... Yeah, he responded, pretending coolness under pressure. For three years.

Daniel gaped, then blinked. You've been married for three years, and this is the first that we've heard about this?

Jack still looked calm, and still was sweating buckets from his nervous fingertips. Um... Yeah.

It was at that point that Sam, fortunately, interrupted. As intriguing as this conversation is, guys, there's more that we all have to do than listen to Daniel squeak, and Jack grunt 'Yeah' over and over again... Then she sighed, and leaned forward. We're so sorry, Daniel, she said, her voice hardly louder than a whisper. We wanted to tell you... So many times! she added. But we just couldn't! Her face took on a pained expression. If you knew, then we had to tell Janet, then... Everybody would know! she exclaimed.

Jack went on, And if everybody knew, then, well... Court-martial, here we come, he intoned. It would have been 'lights out' for both of us. Finito... The End...

Sam reached behind her to grab hold of Jack's warm wrist. So, it was no one, or everyone... Please, Daniel... We apologize... To everyone!

Janet Fraiser stepped up to the table at that point, a glass of punch in her hands. She had just returned from examining the punch bowl, making sure that there was one drink at the party, at least, that wasn't spiked. Apologize for what? she innocently asked.

They're married! Daniel spluttered.

Married, Janet inquired, just as confused as Daniel had been. Who?

Daniel waved his hand between Jack and Sam. Sam... Jack... Them... To each other! he exclaimed.

Oh, that! Janet laughed, and took an innocent sip of her unspiked punch. I've known about that for years, she bluntly told him.

Now it was three sets of eyes that turned on her in surprise. You knew? they all chorused together.

Daniel went on to blurt, She told you!?

Janet appeared to look as calm as Jack wanted to look. Of course Sam didn't say a word to me, Janet negated with a slight shake of her head. Just as I am said to be dead in several of our alternate universes, Jack and Sam are either engaged, married, or Sam is out on perpetual maternity leave. Her eyes narrowed then. Which made me start to think... I wondered... With all that evidence blaring at me that somehow Jack and Sam were together... About two years ago, I began to watch... that's all.

Watch? Daniel derisively questioned.

Janet shrugged. Yeah, she noted. I... watched... watched them, specifically. She glanced at Jack over the rim of her punch cup. Then, it hit me.

What did? Sam inquired, seeing that her friend was trying to play it cool now as she fell under the scrutiny of her coworkers.

Again, Janet shrugged. Jack and Sam were too damned happy about... something. They were practically glowing during the few times that Jack was here from Washington after his promotion came through... Then Janet's eyes narrowed even further. Maybe it's from trying to see what's almost hidden while staring for hours into the business end of a microscope, or something... But, the evidence was there, for anyone to notice, if he or she knew how to look...

Maybe it was all that blood work you've analyzed over the years.., Walter said then as he walked over to the side of the table.

Jack spluttered a laugh. Discovered because of the Doc's love of needles... Now, how ironic is that?

The gathered group of people laughed, for Jack's distrust of needles was almost as legendary in the mountain base as Doctor Fraiser's love of using needles on her patients.

Well, Jack prodded Sam. You gonna open this thing, then, or let it mold like some of Daniel's rocks?

Hey! Daniel objected.

But Sam only stared at Janet. You never said a word to me about what you were thinking, she accused instead of opening up her present.

Of course I didn't, Janet said. What if my suspicions were wrong, and I was totally off my rocker? Janet shuddered at just the thought of that possibility. I could hear you laugh... you know, in my mind... every time I was tempted to say anything. So I said nothing. Janet shrugged once more. For years. She added, Boy, am I glad you guys finally confessed, or I might have spent the rest of my life slowly going insane over a secret!

Okay, okay! Jack said then, turning all their thoughts back to him. My retirement party, remember? he said. Sam's present... Happy Anniversary, he reiterated.

Sam grinned, then, as she fingered the package before her. What..?

Jack scowled. I'm not gonna tell you what it is! he taunted her. Open it, and find out!

Sam shrugged in a perfect rendition of Janet's earlier moves, then. Okay.., she said at last. She ripped the paper open, then, not being careful of the wrapping. How unlike her, Jack thought, delighted that she was in such a hurry to open it now that the focus was actually on her opening it.

A polished silver box fell onto the table top.

Sam picked it up, felt it with her fingers. This isn't..?

It is, Jack said, then grinned. It's the same box that you gave to me that day of our wedding in Vegas. He flipped the box lid up, then commanded, Read.

Sam had had the box lid engraved, with one line of text that said 'Here's to Chess and Cheetos and no smoking.' Underneath it, she had simply written 'Love, S.'

And directly beneath the first engraving, Jack had added another line that said two words: 'Always Yours.' And he had signed it 'Love, Jack.' A newer engraving of 'am' had been added to the original 'S' of the first engraving.

I thought that box came from Sara! Daniel blurted, so surprised that without even thinking, he brought up the name of Jack's ex-wife right while he was in the process of giving an anniversary present to his second wife. The unthinking remark made Daniel blush a beet red.

But Jack was too busy watching Sam's expression move from surprise to awe. She snaked an index finger out to touch the words he'd had included, so he was only slightly paying attention to Daniel when he told him, You only assumed that it was a gift from Sara, and I never corrected your thoughts. That way, I could display it on my mantel in my Washington apartment in plain sight for all this time, and no one ever guessed. But I smiled every time I saw it when I entered my living room, Jack explained. Somehow, I tend to think that a certain someone planned that reaction the whole time. He eyed Sam meaningfully, and she blinked heavily watery eyes. So... Do you like it? he asked in some trepidation.

A silent moment went by. Sam opened her mouth several times to speak, but she was unable to produce a single sound. Finally, she had to content herself with letting loose a smile that would normally blow out all the fluorescent lights in one of the mountain corridors, and she vigorously nodded. Yeah, she finally, and quietly, grunted.

Jack smiled, leaned down, kissed her on the top of her head, and affectionately said, I thought you would. But he still didn't mention the Chess game he had already set up in her lab... He wanted something to be a total surprise for her, after all!

The End


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