Disclaimer: I own nothing, and even got the idea for this story from a snippet of the story 'Laughter Is the Best Medicine' by Christy, so I can't even claim that I own the idea. I'm just a poor, honest (at least I admit it), thief.

A/N: This story takes place in season seven, after Daniel gets back, but before 'Heroes.'

Blue Moon Award Nominee

Problem

by Linda Bindner

Colonel O'Neill walked down the Stargate ramp as the wormhole closed behind the members of SG-1 who followed him. They all seemed to be dragging their feet, as if they had some bad news, and preferred not to tell General Hammond about it. But the General was waiting for their arrival at his customary place at the bottom of the ramp, and was saying, Welcome back SG-1. Any newsworthy items to report before the debriefing in one hour?

Hammond's cheery voice set the team members to glancing at each other in guilty silence. Then, Colonel O'Neill squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and faced Hammond. You might say that something rather... newsworthy... happened on the planet, Sir.

Hammond simply sent him a questioning look, so Jack went on with his informal report. Uh... There was this ceremony on the night we got there, Jack started to explain.

Carter broke in, What happened next wasn't exactly our fault, Sir... We didn't know about the ceremony, yet, and Daniel hadn't really had enough time to figure everything out about it, and then to tell us about it...

Hammond just looked confused. What are you all talking about? he asked, a pucker between his brows. What happened?

O'Neill looked guilty again, and he glanced in Carter's direction before he continued. Well...

Go on, Colonel, Hammond prompted when Jack hesitated.

Jack cleared his throat, looked down at his feet, looked up again before forcing himself to say, Well.., He nervously cleared his throat again. We didn't know, so we didn't do it on purpose... Hammond sent him a glare, so he forced what he needed to say out of his mouth before he lost his nerve. According to the Tolerans... The inhabitants of PRX-138... He hesitated again for the briefest of seconds, and shot another look at Carter, whose eyes were flicking towards him. Culpability settled on both of their faces. Finally, Jack said, It was a wedding ceremony, Sir, held twice a year, and anyone who touches each other in any way... though the normal way of touching is... well, normal... He stopped to clear his throat yet a third time, then rushed on, Anyway, whoever touches each other is considered married according to Toleran law... and I grabbed onto Carter's hand in order to help her over a log when she lost her balance avoiding the mud puddle on the other side, and... We didn't know, Sir, but... Jack spit the rest out in one gush of air. Carter and I got married, Sir.

The Embarkation Room was so silent after Jack uttered those words that every person present could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

* * *

General Hammond stared at Jack and Sam as the entire team of SG-1 sat around the Briefing Room table, and regarded him. Jack, Sam, and Daniel all wore supremely guilt-ridden expressions on their faces. Only Teal'c appeared undisturbed since Jack had imparted their news in the Embarkation Room. But then, Teal'c always looked so complacent, so it was difficult to judge how the Jaffa was feeling about the proceedings on PRX-138.

So, let me get this straight, General Hammond was saying. The Tolerans, who inhabit PRX-138, were set on having this ceremony that had been planned for... What? Six months?...

The members of SG-1 nodded as if one person.

Hammond continued, And they have this... What is it?... A rule?... A tradition?... that anyone who touches someone else during this ceremony is considered married... And you all were sitting down in the clearing where this ceremony was being held, so that you could watch, when Major Carter lost her balance while stepping over a log...

Avoiding a puddle.., Daniel informatively added.

Hammond looked to Daniel at his interruption before he returned his gaze to take in all four members of SG-1, then looked back to Jack, and went on, And you didn't know that this was a wedding ceremony...

Jack burst out, I was being nice, Sir! I had no idea it would mean... He stopped to run his hand through his hair.

Hammond persisted in spite of Jack's outburst. According to Toleran custom...

We're married, Carter ended on a soft note.

Hammond sighed, looking troubled. And according to American military custom, you two should have no romantic relationship of any kind.

Our behavior has always been completely professional in the past, Jack argued then.

It's been very professional, Carter seconded.

Very, Daniel repeated in exasperation.

Hammond sighed again. Finally, he looked up, and blinked in faint astonishment. What am I going to do with you people? he rhetorically asked. How do you find so much trouble? he asked, again rhetorically. If SG-1 wasn't so good at saving the planet from threats of dire proportions, I would have to ...

Jack interrupted again. Look, General, we're sorry for putting you in this position. But it's not like Carter and I knew what was going to happen, or anything.

So you're saying that the Air Force should take no action, then, since you knew nothing, and none of this is your fault? Hammond went on.

Jack protested, No, that's not what I'm saying... He blew out a gusty breath of air. What I'm saying is... Well, it's like a marriage performed in another country...

Carter cut in with, We honor those ceremonies, Sir.

Hammond looked at them in incredulity. So you're saying that we need to honor this... this...

This interplanetary wedding, Daniel finished for him.

Carter added, If we don't, then it will be like America is saying that the equivalent, a wedding held in other countries, isn't good enough to withstand American standards, and... Her voice trailed off as she looked at the thunderous expression on her General's face.

And it's not like we don't already have precedents, Jack pointed out. Teal'c got married on Chulak... And Daniel got married on Abydos... Both weddings were on other planets... same as this one was, and we've always honored both of their marriages to their wives... when those wives were alive... He glanced across the table at his team mates, an apologetic expression on his face. Anyway, we honored those weddings without question. Can we really treat mine and Carter's wedding as a situation that's any different? He paused. Should we?

Hammond sighed a third time, the sad sound loud in the room. But you have to know that the military's Fraternization Policy is in place to prevent this very thing from happening.

With all due respect, General, Jack stated, The writers of the Fraternization Policy never had our kind of situation in mind when they wrote it.

Hammond stared at Jack. So, you're saying that it doesn't apply to you and Major Carter in this case?

Jack shrugged, and drew a nervous circle on the surface of the table with his finger so that he wouldn't have to look at General Hammond. I'm saying that if we let it apply this time, then we have to let it apply to everybody, in every situation...

But it doesn't refer to every marriage made in the world, Hammond protested. Just any marriage made to those serving in an American shared command situation, like yours and Major Carter's.

But, Jack went on, If we let that Fraternization Regulation stand, even in mine and Carter's situation, then we're saying that the American military's rules... or traditions... are more important than any rules... or traditions... from any other country... or planet. But we can't say that. America has to honor marriages made in other countries just as much as marriages made on other planets.

And with Teal'c's and Daniel's situations already setting precedent.., Carter butted in.

Hammond glared in her direction. You two sound like you don't want the Fraternization Regulation to apply this time.

Carter straightened minutely in her seat, as she always did while discussing primarily military situations. It's not that we don't want it to apply, she said. It's just that we're not certain we can let it. She blinked, and added, Or, I mean, if we let it, we're effectively saying that marriages made in other countries... or on other planets... don't mean... what they mean... even if the marriage under consideration isn't between a shared command situation... And then, we'll have nothing but social anarchy... Sir. Her voice trailed off into quiet as she ended her argument.

Again came the sigh. There was another pause as Hammond thought for a moment. He looked more resigned than angry as he nodded his head once, coming to a decision. Finally, quietly, he ordered, All right. He looked up at SG-1. All right, he repeated. Here's what I'm going to do. He sat forward in his chair, as if coming to attention himself. I'll call the President, tell him the situation, and ask what, if anything, he can do about it. Only a special dispensation from the President can nullify the Fraternization Policy, even for a sudden marriage like this one. And I have to tell you that such a dispensation is very rare... His gaze pierced into Jack and Sam as they sat before him, both officers looking miserable, and nervous, and cowed. I want Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter to return to PRX-138 to see if the Toleran belief systems contain anything pertaining to annulling unconsented marriages. Doctor Jackson will stay here on Earth, and study old records and reports until his eyes water from lack of sleep to see if he can find any mention of other weddings performed on another planet other than Earth.

And I, General Hammond? Teal'c inquired. What am I to do?

Hammond considered the Jaffa for a second. I think that you, like Dr. Jackson, need to remain behind, Teal'c. I want you both to stay as safe as possible, since the two of you are direct witnesses for some of the previously proven cases of marriages that have already been established, ones that took place on another planet. You can help Dr. Jackson in the meantime.

They all nodded, and stood now that their next orders had been set.

But Hammond wasn't finished. His serious gaze trained on Jack. You should know before you go, Colonel, that if the President and Joint Chiefs decide that the military can't afford to uphold the Toleran wedding ceremony, and don't honor this union, that they also can no longer honor Teal'c's former union to his wife, or Daniel's...

We understand, Sir, Jack said, then glanced again at Carter. We've kind of got the President and the entire brass over a barrel, haven't we?

You could say that, Hammond noted. There's only social collapse to look forward to if the President can't be convinced, Hammond continued.

We know.

Hammond went on, Well, there's nothing you can do about it now. Suit up, Colonel, Major Carter... See you in the 'Gate Room in ten minutes.

Yes, Sir, they all chorused, then left the Briefing Room together.

Hammond gave one final sigh into the quiet of the empty room. The sound echoed eerily back at him, predicting nothing.

* * *

Five hours later found Jack and Sam on PRX-138, communicating with the SGC by way of the MALP and its video camera.

Colonel, what did you discover? Hammond asked through a computer's microphone in the Control Room.

Jack responded via the MALP, That the Tolerans do give the occasional annulment to the marriages they perform.

That's good news to hear, Colonel, Hammond enthused.

Unfortunately, Jack continued, the annulments are specifically for physical or mental abuse, and as Major Carter hasn't whipped my ass lately...

Those in the Control Room laughed at Jack's humor, yet Hammond was anything but amused at the gathered information. Well, I don't have much better news for you.

You spoke to the President, then? Jack asked, a hopeful sound apparent in his voice. But he didn't express exactly what he was hoping for.

Hammond nodded. Yes, I spoke to him, and he then spoke to the Joint Chiefs... His voice trailed off into silence.

What did they agree on? Jack prompted. He sounded tired now as he couldn't help but respond to the finality in Hammond's voice.

Is Major Carter there with you? Hammond inquired instead of answering Jack's question. Might as well explain things to the both of you at once.

Major Carter stepped forward until she was able to squat next to O'Neill, and appear in the camera's image. I'm right here, General. Tell us that you have good news.

Hammond sighed, but the soft sound didn't translate across the distance spanned by the open Stargate. That depends on what you want to hear, he said.

Why do I think that you're going to tell us exactly what we don't want to hear? Jack asked as he knelt beside Carter. He didn't go for the dispensy thingy, and both Carter and I are facing court-martial the minute we get back, he declared morosely.

On the contrary, Hammond interrupted the Colonel's dark mood. The President did consult with the Joint Chiefs, and I've been instructed to tell you both that any decision... since there's not any immediate hope for an annulment in this case, as you've told me... Any decision should ultimately be left up to Major Carter and yourself. If you choose to continue with this marriage, he'll grant you that special dispensation I was talking about. And if you choose the alternate route, he'll have one of the judges at his disposal write up an annulment contract. But keep in mind that such an annulment will also automatically annul any previous marriages that took place on other planets as well as yours.

Teal'c? was all Jack had to ask.

Daniel? Carter added.

Hammond nodded. Yes, to both, he said.

So Daniel found some records of existing marriages besides his own that took place on other planets in his research? Carter inquired.

He found three others, Hammond told them.

Jack spoke up. Well... Then, he changed the direction of their conversation to one of more common information, something they were all more familiar, hence, more comfortable, with. It's getting close to nightfall on Tolera by now, General. Carter and I plan to spend the night near the 'Gate, and return to the SGC in the morning.

Hammond said, The two of you have some things to discuss, anyway, and you won't be disturbed if you remain the night on the planet.

That's what I was thinking, Jack admitted.

Then you have my permission to stay overnight, and we'll be seeing you in the morning, Hammond said. You can tell us what you decide to do when you return. Hammond out.

The Stargate's connection cut out, and the MALP camera went dark. Jack leaned back, his hand resting on the butt of his weapon. Not that he had needed that weapon on this particular mission, with this planet's extremely peaceful natives, and no pesky Goa'ulds to worry about... But... It was simply a habitual position for him to take as he leaned next to Carter's squatting form.

Well, that's that, he quipped, and slowly stood up.

So, what do you want to do? Carter asked, also standing, and adjusting the military regulation cap on her head.

Jack glanced at the area surrounding the Stargate. Well, first, I think we should set up camp. Then, we can... talk. He uneasily gestured at a grove of trees to the left of the field near the Stargate. I don't want to be caught out in the open without any cover in case someone comes calling... We should be fine there, in the trees, and we'll have plenty of firewood, too.

Carter nodded. That sounds good, Sir.

Carter, we're married, Jack succinctly commented as they started walking together towards the woods he had indicated. Call me 'Jack,' for crying out loud.

Carter squinted up at him in the fading sunlight. I will, if you agree to call me 'Sam.'

Jack shrugged his shoulders in a friendly fashion. I can do that, I think.

You won't mind me not addressing you according to military protocol? Sam inquired then, to make sure.

Jack grimaced. The military never anticipated this situation, Carter.

'Sam,' she interrupted.

Sam, he repeated, a soft, inscrutable smile on his face. But, instead of explaining, he went on, I hardly doubt if anyone will complain if we drop the rank salutations.

Yes, Sam agreed. Then, she glanced at him a bit nervously out of the corners of her eyes. But will you?

Jack paused to stare at Sam beside him. Again came that same enigmatic grin, one he hadn't allowed himself to display all day, but one that came out in abundance now. I can't say that it's uppermost on my mind, no, he told her.

Carter gave a shrug, and a tiny grin as well. She said, Okay, then... Jack.

Jack's small smile grew into a larger one. I admit, that sounds nice, he told her.

But Daniel always calls you 'Jack' Sam protested right away.

Jack grinned again. What... You want me to marry Daniel now?

Sam giggled in response to his joshing, and with the teasing, her nerves abated. She dropped the smothering military protocol that she had been relying on to act as a buffer between Jack, herself, and their new, enhanced, relationship, using it as her defense against this unusual situation ever since they had become aware of the wedding. But as she helped to set up the camp, to discard of her cap, and pull the MREs from their packs, she continued in a much more genuine tone, Joking aside, though, we do have a fairly serious problem on our hands.

You can say that again, Jack deadpanned back as he spread out the sleeping bag he'd taken from his pack.

It's a good thing I'm not Teal'c, Sam said, Or I would say it again.

Jack laughed at her humor. I'll collect some firewood, start a fire, and then we can have some coffee, he promised, and at Sam's nod, took off into the trees nearby.

Fifteen minutes later, he returned to find a permanent camp, and a fire circle of stones, already placed near two logs lying on the ground. No mud puddles? he asked, dropping the wood he had gathered near the stone circle, and looking around.

Sam barked a laugh. I thought I would steer well clear of any puddles, she told him. Hope you don't mind.

Who, me? Jack went on in the same joking vein they had established earlier. I don't mind at all. We're in enough trouble as it is. We don't need to be covered in mud, too.

At his unintentional reminder of their situation, Sam sat, sighed, and leaned back against one of the logs surrounding their camp. She surreptitiously stared at him. I guess we don't have any more excuses not to... talk, she quietly stated. Did she want to talk? she asked herself. No matter what they decided, a 'talk' between her and Colonel O'Neill could become fairly embarrassing fairly quickly.

Jack spread out some kindling, lighted it, then added several larger logs to the fire he'd started. Sam placed the MREs near the flames to warm. When they were both heated, and the two humans had a bright fire to stare into, and to keep them warm, Jack sat back with a sigh. Thoughts of making coffee were forgotten as he surreptitiously watched her. I guess you're right, he muttered. It's time for us to... talk.

Sam took hold of one of the MREs before it became too hot to handle, and opened it, but halted her consumption of her food to stare at him. Well, what are your thoughts on all this?

My thoughts, Jack repeated. He cleared his throat as nerves suddenly fluttered in his stomach. Uh... He looked at Sam, then asked her, What do you think about it, Carter... uh... Sam?

Sam set her MRE aside. She couldn't eat... Her nerves were back, and butterflies tied her stomach into knots, but she went on in determination. Jack, you're changing the subject again. You do that when you're nervous, you know.

Do not, Jack quickly argued as he took hold of the second MRE, but set it aside unopened as well.

Do too, Sam said. I'm not Daniel... You can't distract me with a few well-timed questions about other things.

Jack sighed again. I never thought you were Daniel, he softly said.

Well, I'm asking for your thoughts, Sam said then.

Jack peered at her over the fire in the ever deepening gloom. Um... We can't really make any decisions about this until... He stopped to look at the ground. That seems so cold, doesn't it?

What do you mean? she asked, wrinkling her nose.

Um.., Jack self-consciously continued. Then he plunged on. We can't really discuss anything unless we...

Sam gently, and anxiously, finished for him. We should probably take into account our personal feelings that Anise so helpfully pointed out a few years ago.

Jack blushed, then shrugged. Well, yeah, he said. I guess it would be best if we... He stopped himself, and leaned forward, his distress showing clearly on his face as he stared at the ground. Geez, I still sound so cold... He glanced up at her. That's not at all the idea I mean to give.

Then, what do you intend? Sam gently asked. If you don't mind my asking, she politely added, feeling the need to fall back on ingrained behavioral patterns to get through this conversation.

Jack gusted a sigh into the night air. Okay... We need to be honest with each other, here, Carter... I mean, Sam...

Sam laughed quietly. Call me 'Carter...' You're the only one who does, and... and I kinda like it. She blushed as she admitted it.

Really? The restrained pleasure in his question was almost palpable.

Sam grinned, looking shy, now. Really.

Jack smiled, then, too. Okay, then.., he agreed. Carter... He tried to repeat what he had been saying. We need to be honest here, Carter.

Honest.., Sam echoed, and barked a laugh. So much for ingrained behavioral patterns. She, too, looked ill at ease, and gripped the edge of the log she was resting on. I have to admit that being honest will be... hard.

We've been so busy not being honest for so many years.., Jack said.

Jack, Sam interrupted, still looking down. I... What I mean is...

We're not CO and Major right now, Jack reminded her. I think it will be better if we just consider ourselves 'Jack and... uh... Carter.' He stared at her, then tried to set her at ease. Everything is off the record from here on out, ya know.

Sam glanced up at him. Well... Okay.., she reluctantly agreed.

What are you trying to say? Jack asked as his heart pounded so loud that it almost drowned out his words.

Sam's nervousness was apparent in her hunched shoulders. I guess that I... I should tell you...

Yes?

Sam looked up at him. I... I never really thought about being married to you before, she blurted. My daydreams never went that far. I didn't actively seek it, so of course, I didn't...

But, now that it's here, Jack continued for her, You don't mind?

Sam shook her head. I guess... I think... She sighed, and ran a hand through her hair, messing up the strands in a delightfully negligent way. No, I don't mind so much... not really, she admitted in a small voice. But I sure don't expect you to feel the same way.

But I do, Jack cut in. He sent a terrified glance her way. Um...

You thought I was Sara a few years ago, Sam unexpectedly confessed then. You know, when we were stuck in Antarctica together.

Where had this come from? Jack wondered. And why did she remember that at all? I wasn't exactly in my right mind at the time, he said. It didn't mean anything...

Tell me about what happened with you and Sara, Sam interrupted then. I guess that has a bearing on anything I... we... decide, she pointed out.

Jack glanced up at her, noticing the way the firelight reflected off her cheeks and forehead, sending the light to dancing. Sending his insides to dancing, as well. He tried to ignore the sensation. Okay, he agreed. As long as you tell me about you and Jonas Hansen.

Sam appeared to grow even more nervous. Um... You won't like that, though, Sir...

'Jack,' he said, then added, 'Carter.' His name for her was fast becoming a joke between them.

Sam briefly smiled. Jack, she dutifully echoed. I'm sorry that you had to learn about me and Jonas at all.

What happened? he gently inquired.

Sam drew in a shuddering breath. She really didn't like to even think about this part of her life; it always made her feel so... Like she had done something that she could never be proud of... I was assigned to a base where I didn't know anyone... Jonas was assigned by the General to show me around a bit... Jonas and I got to talking... He asked me out on a date... Sam briefly smiled again. Wined and dined me, I guess you could say. She grimaced, then. I didn't know anybody else on the base who could tell me any differently...

Carter, you don't need to feel like you have to defend yourself to.., Jack broke in on her words.

But, now that she had gotten started reliving her past, it seemed that nothing would stop her. It didn't start out bad, she went on. At least, not at first. We probably got engaged way too soon, but... It was all too good to be true... Her tone turned more cynical. I should have known better, then, really...

Is that what you think now? Jack's soft voice came out of the surrounding darkness. That something will go wrong, and I'll... He couldn't predict that he would ever develop a god complex, as Jonas had.

But Sam was worried about far more than Jack's arrogance level.

What happened next? Jack asked. It couldn't have been that bad. Please, tell me it wasn't as bad as I fear it was, he thought.

Sam gave that same bark of laughter once more, the one that held absolutely no humor in it. Well... It wasn't bad at first, like I said. It was only after we got engaged that things... She hesitated, then glanced at him again to once more see his encouraging expression. So she found the emotional boost she needed to go on, Things changed. She sat still to think for a second, and Jack didn't prompt her to continue, knowing that she would tell him what had happened to her when she was ready.

At last, her voice quiet in the dark night, she confessed, He started relaxing around me, started showing his true self, started showing a temper...

He didn't hit you, did he? Jack asked, so reluctant that he sounded as if he didn't really want to know the truth, but was helpless not to ask at the same time.

Sam scooted around a bit on the ground, too nervous, too galled, and too... Ugh, it just made her squirm in discomfort to even think about this! Besides that time after you and I met... Only... Only the one time...

Jack groaned, and ran a hand through his hair, clearly displaying agitation. He didn't understand how anyone could become so angry as to abuse those one professed to love... Especially not Carter, his beautiful, sweet, congenial... He tried not to be judgmental, but it was hard.

Sam smiled again, though her gesture was sad. I told you that you wouldn't like this very well.

Jack's sigh split the area around the campsite. Carter, I want you to know... I promise, I will always try not to hurt you in any way...

'Always try?' she repeated, and grinned in sudden humor at the words he had chosen.

Jack had to admit, Okay... I don't exactly know what the future holds, not for me, not for you... I might be ordered to do something that will inadvertently cause you harm by some weird form of association...

I guess I could be in the same position someday, Sam said.

Jack stared at her. But not everybody is like Jonas was. I could never hurt you like that.

Well, and Sam gave him a brave grin. Jonas didn't hurt me very many times, at least. I gave his ring back the day after it happened, then left the base for the Pentagon... I didn't see him again until he showed up at the SGC, somehow assigned to lead an SG team...

Why didn't you say something? Jack asked. If you had personal experience with how mentally unstable he was, why didn't you..?

Sam interrupted him with a snort of dry amusement. You're generally so understanding about everything military, I sometimes forget that you don't know how things are... Her voice trailed off.

What do you mean? Jack inquired.

Sam sighed. I'm a female, she explained. No matter how smart I am, I'll always be a female, and it's still very much a military of men... She sighed again. At the time, I thought that no one would listen to me if I said anything, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to say anything, either. I just wanted to forget about that time, about how disappointed I was...

You could have trusted me with your inside information, Jack said then, his voice sounding as hard as a knife. I would have listened to you...

I thought about it, believe me, Sam stated. Especially after I got to know you a little better... But I wasn't absolutely certain about you, yet... And I didn't want to be the cause of a big investigation that...

You have to promise that if this ever happens again, you'll tell me, Jack insisted. Then, he grinned. So I can punch the guy's lights out... after you do the same, he admitted, joking now.

His joke at least made Sam laugh. Okay... But I still don't want to get anybody in trouble...

It's not exactly fair to say that you can be in trouble, and it's okay, but no one else can ever be in trouble, Jack tried to point out.

It's not like that.., Sam tried to argue, but Jack tilted his head at her. Sam had to grin. I guess it is like that, she finally admitted. I just have a lot of bad experiences in the past.

Jack leaned forward, and covered her hand with his own. Not all experiences are bad ones, he said.

Sam shivered when he touched her so readily. If you say so,... Jack, she added anyway. She wasn't sure if she believed him or not. How could she? After all, her mom had died at a grossly early age, her fiancé had become abusive, many of her alien friends had been sacrificed to the war with the Goa'ulds... Still. she linked her fingers with his, and squeezed hard enough that he would definitely be aware of what she was doing.

Jack was more than definitely aware of her! Carter.., he sighed in aggravation again, not at her, but at the feelings he was having that he didn't know how to vocalize. Finally, he simply said, I'm sorry.

For what? she asked. Her voice was so quiet by now that it was almost swallowed up by the night sounds surrounding the campsite.

Jack collected his thoughts. I'm sorry that you had to go through something like that at all, he admitted. Life hasn't exactly been nice to you...

It hasn't exactly been nice to you, either, she swiftly argued.

Jack shrugged. Well, no, I guess not.

You guess?

Jack grinned at her slightly horrified tone. Okay, no, it hasn't.

Sam smiled a tiny smile at him. Well, at least you admit it. She wriggled again, but retained her hold on his hand. Now, tell me about Sara, please... How did you meet her?

Jack smiled momentarily. She was a friend of a friend of a friend... His smile grew as the humor of the situation was impressed upon him. It was one of those kinds of situations. We were set up on a blind date...

You met the woman who would become your wife on a blind date? Sam asked in some incredulity.

Her disbelief made Jack smile anew. Yeah, it is kind of too cliché, isn't it? Then, he went on, Anyway, we had that first blind date, which led to a second date, which led to a third... A year later, there was this party at a mutual friend's house... A birthday party, I think... Jack remembered as he glanced at the fire. Sara and I both had a bit too much to drink... I proposed... The next thing I knew, I was married, and Charlie was on the way. Jack shrugged. Not that I didn't love being married to Sara, but... It all happened so fast that... He paused, and squeezed Sam's hand. When things started to cool off between me and Sara, I thought all marriages were like that... How was I to know any different? He paused, then apologetically cleared his throat. I'm not really too used to talking about this, he acknowledged, surprised that he was talking about it at all. But, then, that's how talking with Carter had always been, he admitted to himself. For whatever reason, it was easier for him to open up to her.

Sam squeezed his hand after his admission. Opening up like this isn't easy, is it? she inquired. It makes you feel... sort of vulnerable.

Yeah, in a reeeaaaal uncomfortable way, Jack agreed then, the humor he was trying to show coming through in his sarcastic tone. He cleared his throat once more a moment later, though, resolute in his decision to go on. She deserved to hear about everything, even if what she heard didn't quite throw him into a good light. Then, Charlie died... And I guess that was the last straw... The fact that I couldn't talk about it was...

Why couldn't you talk about it? she asked, her voice as gentle and cajoling as his had been when she had been discussing her past.

Jack closed his eyes on the pain that automatically engulfed his heart every time he discussed this event. He shot himself using my gun, all because I couldn't take just a few seconds to lock it up in... His voice halted when he choked on the bile built up in his throat.

Sam shook her head, but her voice was still impossibly gentle when she asked, And had you ever told him not to play with guns?

Jack struggled to keep his emotions off his face. When he was more controlled, he answered, All the time. He could only manage a wooden tone now. Both Sara and I repeated that warning about using weapons of any kind so many times before he died... Jack drew in a ragged breath. But, I guess it didn't do any good, did it? He still... Jack drew in another strained breath. Sorry... His voice trailed off, then he added, You know, I'm not sure I can talk about this, either.

Sam squeezed his hand again, her fingers tightening around his for just a second. That's all right, she told him. It's more than you've ever told me before.

It was my fault, Jack suddenly blurted, his eyes shut tight to keep out the disappointment he knew would be on her face. I shouldn't have...

Abruptly, Jack cut himself off when he felt her move, and curl into his side. Surprised at the gentle action, he glanced at her. He'd forgotten how good it felt to have another human touch him so intimately. He still remembered what it had been like before his and Sara's relationship had grown beyond such caresses, but he had never expected to feel that way again. He peered at her once more, even as he slowly wrapped an arm around her shoulders. You aren't thoroughly disgusted with me, then? You don't want to transfer to a different team?

We are so well matched, Sam said instead of answering him, surprising him a second time when she said made that comment. We both feel like the world at large is let down by something we've done... Honestly, that surprises me about you...

Which was again a shock to Jack. What do you mean? he asked. His arm tightened momentarily around her shoulders, but he almost wouldn't allow himself to feel the thrill that raced around his veins when he made the action. It wasn't in his habit to let himself feel anything that was particularly good... 'Good' usually ended in 'bad,' in his experience.

Sam explained, Just like you insist that the whole Jonas thing wasn't my fault, I insist the Charlie thing wasn't your fault. They both just... She shrugged under the weight of his arm. ... happened. It didn't matter what we did or didn't do... Both incidents would have been the same, anyway.

Jack had to smile at her statement. Now you sound just like a scientist doing an experiment, he commented.

Sam argued, Well, I am a scientist, and a soldier...

A damned good soldier, Jack went on to say. He breathed in a rush of air again. You know, he admitted, I would have never pegged myself as learning to like scientists, but I have to say that you and Daniel have changed my opinions a bit. And that doesn't happen very often, he added.

Sam grinned. I didn't do anything but...

Challenge me to arm wrestle you, Jack finished for her with a grin on his face.

Sam laughed. I came on a bit strong that day we met, she admitted.

Ya think? Jack affectionately asked. Then, when she didn't reply, he glanced at her again, and softly smiled. He still couldn't quite believe that he had Sam Carter snuggled up against his side, and no one would yell, 'Court-martial!' at him if they saw such a display of affection. He tried to alleviate the obvious elation he was feeling by suggesting, You want to arm wrestle now?

Sam stirred a little as he brought up the challenge. What? Right now? she asked.

Jack shrugged. No time like the present, he said. But I'll tell you that if you whip my butt, I'll deny the whole thing ever happened to anybody who asks...

She laughed at that. Okay, you have a deal. She looked around the campsite. I guess we'll have to prop our arms up on one of the logs, as there doesn't seem to be any tables available...

Jack laughed, too, astonished that she had drawn him out of his morose memories so quickly, as well as so easily. It was almost as if she hadn't even been trying! But he ignored commenting on her placating abilities, opting for a little joshing, instead. Prepare to go down, Major, he teased as he slipped behind the log they had been leaning on, and plopped down his elbow so that his hand was elevated and ready. Bring it on... I'll try to be nice when I win.

Sam snorted. As if! she stated loudly. You shouldn't be so arrogant, ya know. You sound like a Goa'uld.

Ew... Jack wrinkled his nose, and shook his head in mock distress. That has a nasty ring to it, he said, then faced her across the log. Just wrestle.

Sam's fingers wrapped around his, and for a second, she smiled at the touch. But she predicted, I can do anything you can do.

Jack met her profound gaze with his. I know you can, he quietly told her, tensed though he was.

Sam put her other hand on top of both of their fingers, holding them steady as best she could. But she took a second to meet his eyes again... She saw warmth, acceptance, and something that thrilled her heart into beating double time... Her smile softened just a bit. Ready? she asked.

You bet, Jack announced.

Sam intrinsically knew that he wasn't just talking about the arm wrestling they were about to engage in. He was also referring, in that subtle way of his, to the whole marriage fiasco they found themselves in. Only, Sam wasn't so sure that the situation was such a fiasco, now. Okay, she grinned. And she lifted her hand. Go!

* * *

The next morning, it only took them twenty minutes of the silent communication they had developed through years of working side by side with each other to break camp. They were all set to return to the SGC, Jack had ordered Sam to dial up the Stargate, and she had already sent the IDC through so that everyone would know they were coming, and to open the Iris for them. But Jack's hand stopped her just as they reached the top of the stairs in front of the 'Gate's event horizon. They stood in a pose eerily similar to the first time they had ever journeyed together through the 'Gate.

Wait... Carter... Jack hesitated, then rushed on, You never said exactly what you think about this whole marriage business...

You haven't said one way or the other, either, Sam immediately noted.

A moment of silence passed as Jack gazed at Sam, and Sam gazed back. Suddenly, he grinned. I think it's sweet! he exclaimed.

Sam's grin answered his in intensity. She took his hand, weaving her fingers into his. So do I.

Jack grinned. Sam grinned. And as one, they turned together to step through the 'Gate on what could possibly become the biggest journey of their lives.

Sequel: Family Reunion


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