Disclaimer: No, I don't own them! No, I didn't make any money off this fic! Thank goodness!

Blue Moon Award Nominee

Burn Out

by Linda Bindner

Sam Carter sat, and stared at her computer screen, unseeing. She was busy thinking, probably too much, as Jack had so often told her.

Jack...

Damn...

She wasn't supposed to think about Jack. It only made her ponder all that had happened in her life recently, and that was definitely not a good thing.

But it was already too late. She was busy thinking, in spite of where she wanted her mind to go. She thought of all those events that had inevitably led to the way she was sitting in front of her computer, unseeing...

She didn't cry. She couldn't afford to cry...

God, her father was dead. He was gone, and she was destined to never do something so simple as to share a meal with him again, to say nothing of participating in future missions with him. She would never see him and Selmak come striding down the Stargate ramp ever again. He would never stay with her at her house, never talk to Jack...

There was that mention of Jack again, an innocent victim in all that had gone wrong with her life.

She had screwed up sooooo badly this time. She had done nothing but make one mistake after another. Right down to the baby she had miscarried only the day before, though that had certainly not been deliberate. But what was deliberate was the way she felt now, after the fact... She should feel more dejected than she did, more frightened... Actually, she just felt thankful that the entire affair was over, as bad as that may seem. It felt like a load of worry off her mind.

The only thing that repeated over and over again in her head, a saying that was laced with a sense of urgency , was that she had lost Jack. She had agreed to become engaged to someone she knew that she didn't love, had even admitted that to herself, and Jack had taken the only recourse available to him. He had moved on with his life, as was perfectly illustrated by how he had shared his dinner only last week with that CIA Agent... What was her name?

Oh, Sam wasn't fooling anybody; Of course she knew Jack's lady friend's name. Sam sighed to herself whenever she thought about Kerry Johnson, the woman who had everything out of life that she herself wanted to have...

Kerry had Jack. What more could anybody possibly want? Sam asked herself, letting her head fall morosely into her right palm. Sam had played around, even though that had never been her intention, and as a result, Jack had found someone else to spend his affections on.

Tears pricked at the corners of Sam's eyes. God, how could she possibly live through this kind of pain? How could she see him every day, and know that he was now spending his nights going home to someone else? Not that she blamed him. He had done the only thing he could do, given the circumstances, given her very public engagement...

But... God, she had lost Jack!

Panic clawed at the base of her throat, and she fought down the emotion with a mighty sense of personal willpower. She was only half certain that she had succeeded in the action.

Jack had always been the one constant in her life, and now that her Dad was gone, along with Selmak... Pete... Janet... Martouf... Narim... The baby... Jack... Jack... Jack... She sobbed on a breath of air. What was she going to do?

The tears that had only pricked at her eyes before now slid down the sides of her cheeks. Another sob was working up her throat, and spurted past her tight control to sound loud in the darkened corner of the living room where she kept her computer desk. She really should get up, and escape this attempt at keeping busy, since it was obvious that she wasn't going to get any work done on her computer that night. Yet, she just didn't seem to have the energy to do anything else but sit and think...

Then, the phone rang, a harsh chime that reverberated throughout the house. Lord, she hoped that wasn't Pete again, calling just to check up on her, he said, to make certain that she was all right, to try once again to explain the disappointment he'd felt when he had shown her the house that he'd bought, the one that he had been so proud of, and she had been so apathetic about. He'd thought she'd like it so much, and it was a perfectly acceptable house, beautiful, even. But... But to be honest with herself, and with him, she wanted something more earthy, something more woodsy... She wanted Jack's house. Preferably with Jack in it.

The phone continued to insistently ring. She had to answer it, or it would just keep ringing, as she had finally shut off her answering machine, so that she would stop hearing Pete's forlorn messages over and over again. The bad part about shutting off the machine was that now she had to answer her own phone rather than ignore it, as she used to. Sam roused enough energy within herself to stumble through the house, and ended up standing by her living room sofa, talking just like always into her phone.

Hello?

A voice sounded loud at the other end. Sam?

It was Cassie. Sam recognized the young woman's voice the second she heard it.

How are you, Cass? Sam automatically asked.

I'm done with finals, so I'm great! Cassie enthused. I'm calling to tell you that I was planning to come home for summer vacation tomorrow, so you can expect to see me and all my junk sometime tomorrow morning.

Cassie was coming home? Hadn't they moved the girl to her dorm for the semester just the other day? How could she be done with finals already?

Groggily, Sam reminded herself that it was the fifteenth of May... It only made sense that the second year student would be getting out of school for the summer sometime soon.

Sam just couldn't take this right now. Another person, one around all the time, to pretend for? How could she possibly find the energy to do that? But, of course, she had no choice but to handle an extra person living in her house, did she? She would have to deceive another person, convince her deceased friend's adopted daughter that everything was all right, perfectly normal, in spite of her ended engagement.

And how was she going to explain that? Sam couldn't very well tell the observant young lady that she secretly loved her base commander, and couldn't fathom actually marrying anybody else, no matter what she had said nine months ago.

That's great! Sam enthused, pretending already. What final did you have today, and how well do you think it went? she managed to ask.

Cassie was oblivious to the desperation in Sam's carefully modulated tone. She said, I had Calculus at 3:30, which is why I didn't bother to go home today, it got out so late. I needed a 'B,'at least, and I think I just scraped by, but I'll know more in a few weeks. The young college woman paused to take a breath, and Sam used the pause to quietly groan as she moved to lean on the edge of the sofa. Hey, Sam, Cassie went on. I want to come back to Colorado Springs before you leave for work tomorrow morning, so I was thinking about getting there sometime before 8:00. I know that means I'll have to get up extra early, but at least I'll be able to see the sun come up over the mountains... And I have so much to tell you that I can't wait! But there's this party tonight that I've been really wanting to go to, so...

Sam sighed in relief. At least Cassie didn't want to come home tonight. She had the rest of the night to gather herself together, and...

Sam cheerfully said, Sounds great, Cass. I'll see you sometime tomorrow morning, then, and we can talk before I leave for the mountain.

Great! The happiness sounded loud in Cassie's voice. I'll see you tomorrow! And if you talk to Uncle Jack tonight, tell him I said 'hi,' and I can't wait to see him and the guys!

Talking to Jack wasn't likely, but Sam didn't bother to tell her that. Instead, she lied through her teeth, and said, Will do. Bye, Cass.

Tomorrow, Cassie said, then hung up the phone.

The dial tone sounded unnaturally loud to Sam as she replaced the handset in its cradle, and gripped the edge of the sofa as a wave of nausea accosted her. Funny... The pregnancy book she had been reading said nothing about feeling nausea after a miscarriage, but it did mention a sudden sense of emptiness at the loss of the baby... a sense that Sam did not feel. All she felt was relief...

Sam tried to move slowly, which wasn't hard, given the fact that she was still incredibly stiff from the miscarriage the night before. But she had never been told to expect this intense feeling of loss for everything that wasn't connected to the baby.

Man, she was suddenly so dizzy, and the cramps that she had been experiencing for the past day seemed to have intensified with the movement she had been required to make when she answered the phone. The room tilted and whirled, and Sam struggled to keep her breathing deep and even so that she could potentially control the tilting in her mind. But she could tell that it was a losing battle right from the start.

Damn, was that her door? she asked herself, in a sense of delirium. Why did it seem to be so close?

She was completely disoriented, now. Without much thought, too tired to fight the sensations ripping through her, and not sure she wanted to do much fighting, anyway, Sam slid down the side of the couch. She made one halfhearted attempt to grab the sofa somewhere, and slow her descent, but she was really beyond caring at this point. The darkness of unconsciousness was actually welcome as it spread its soft blanket around her body.

* * *

8:00 the next morning arrived before anyone was noticing that it had arrived. All except for Cassie, who pulled her packed car up to the curb outside Sam's house, hoping that the man that her friend and guardian was engaged to wasn't already there. It was no secret that Cassie didn't like Pete, just on principle, and that she had a wish to see Sam and Jack happily together somehow. She didn't much care how such a twist in their shared relationship came about, only hoped that it magically did. Therefore, she had given it no more thought than a naive acceptance that it just had to be so, not how it was all going to happen. The fact that neither Sam nor Jack had told her that they were free to see each other didn't bother her a bit. She had enough blind faith that it would eventually happen that she hadn't questioned that faith to begin with. It never occurred to her that either Sam or Jack would ever really want to see other people, anyway. So, she blithely went about her life, and every time she traveled back to the Springs, she expected Sam to tell her the big news that she had started dating Jack while Cassie was distracted by the occurrences during the semester.

Thus, Cassie was totally blown over when she opened Sam's locked front door, yelling, I'm home! to find that half of the couple she expected to get together was currently lying in a dead faint on the floor, covered in blood.

Cassie stood, gaping, in the open door for just one second. Then she rushed forward, shouting, Oh my God! Sam! Sam! Wake up! When small slaps on the cheek did nothing to rouse the astrophysicist, Cassie started to panic. She had just enough presence of mind left to make sure that Sam's pulse still throbbed steadily in her neck, but when she lifted her left hand away from where she had placed it on the floor for balance, and found it covered in red, sticky blood, she finally panicked. Heart pounding in her ears, she screeched aloud in utter horror, then grabbed for the phone. She didn't care that she was leaving a trail of gore behind with every movement she made, only that she knew that she needed help, and she needed it now!

Thankfully, the ringing of the phone at the other end stopped quickly when it was answered. O'Neill, came the tired reply.

Cassie didn't stop to think what could possibly have caused the man she had called to sound tired so early in the morning, only felt the relief to be talking to another live human being. Jack! Cassie yelled into the phone, fighting the panic in her chest, and the tears on her cheeks. It's Cassie... I'm at Sam's house, and... Oh, God, Jack, it's Sam! I found her unconscious, and on the floor when I came in this morning, and... I don't know what to do! There's so much blood..!

Cassie heard the unmistakable sound of a chair being pushed back so hard that it rebounded off the bookcase behind Jack's desk. Hang on! Jack said. I'll bring Doc Brightman as fast as I can! Don't let her...

But Cassie interrupted. You have to hurry! Just...

I'm coming! Jack yelled into the phone. Stay there!

Cassie dropped the phone, letting the receiver land where it wanted to, not caring that blood started to pool around it as well as Sam. She jerked off her coat, trying to force herself to think what her mom would have done in this situation had she still been alive to help. Cassie balled up her coat, and stuffed it under Sam's head, then reached for a towel from the pile of clothes that Sam had left unfolded in the middle of the living room, and used it to clean the blood that seemed to be slowly seeping from the unconscious Sam lying on the floor. Cassie pushed her hair out of her face, streaking blood across her cheek as she did so. She was just about to grab a second towel when she heard the sirens from the only ambulance kept on base pierce through the early morning air.

Cassie was busily grabbing for another towel to continue mopping up the mess on the floor when the doorway suddenly filled with people who entered what had been an eerily quiet house all morning until then.

Then, among the noise that accosted her, Cassie was aware that Jack had his hand on Sam's shoulder, too, shaking her and calling, Sam! Wake up! I order you to wake up!

Nothing.

Cassie fell back, her tears wetting her hands enough to keep them slippery. She's alive, but I can't find anything wrong with her!

Jack's hands had transferred to Cassie's shoulders by then, and he pulled her the rest of the way back so that both he and she would be out of the way of Dr. Brightman and her crew of scurrying medics as they swarmed around Sam.

I.V.... now! Brightman ordered. Vitals?

Pulse, 90, but strong; BP, 80 over 60! responded one of the many field medics.

Wounds? Brightman inquired next, and someone answered that there didn't appear to be any lacerations disturbances, or bruises on her exposed skin. Brightman muttered, That rules out an assault and rape. Come on, people, let's move her to the gurney in three, two, one! A group of people lifted Sam's inert form onto a white sheeted stretcher held steady next to Sam's form on the floor, then prepared to wheel her out of the house and to the Infirmary when one of the technicians standing beside Sam's hip area grunted a yell, Doctor! Take a look at this!

Brightman knelt beside both Sam and the technician who had yelled, then bent her head to take a look at where the technician was pointing between her legs, where much of the blood had pooled together. She shone the head of her penlight at the area she was inspecting, then without a word, hastily rose, shouting, Go, let's go!

Jack spoke up, then, pushing his way forward so that he could be heard. I'm going with you!

No! Brightman yelled, perhaps the only person connected to the base who dared to raise her voice to the General. No room to bring you along! You want to help, then stay away, and let us work!

Jack found himself shunted aside towards the wall as a stream of white-coated people shoved past him, down the entry way hall, and pushed Sam's stretcher out the door.

I can't... Cassie then wailed, but she didn't finish her final sentence, telling no one what it was that she couldn't do.

Jack grabbed hold of her shoulders, and firmly said, My truck! Now!

But, this mess! Cassie exclaimed, pointing with her reddened fingers.

Leave it! O'Neill ordered. He reached into the pocket of his BDUs, and pulled out his keyring as he followed the stretcher through the front door. Let's go!

* * *

Jack was in a state of shock. Even he knew that he was dazed as he drove down the roads of Colorado Springs in the early morning towards the base. His heart beat so fast and hard, that it was a wonder that it didn't beat right out of his chest to race the morning sun. He turned a corner, automatically straightened the truck's wheels, then blinked twice against the glare of that rising sun.

Jack, slow down! ordered the frightened Cassie. I don't want to be dead when I get there!

Sorry, Jack mumbled, slowing the truck only slightly as they careened around another corner, then pulled up to the checkpoint in front of the base a few moments later. He reached into his pocket, and managed to yank out his I.D. card to show to the guard on duty. It seemed rather surreal to be doing something so mundane as giving identification when Sam could be dying right that very minute.

Jack groaned once the thought of Sam's untimely death had coalesced in his mind. How had this happened? he asked himself. How had it come to this? He had tried not to bring attention to himself by not noticing much abut Carter since her engagement, a reflex of his defense mechanism against the situation she represented, he supposed. Now the guilt he was feeling was extraordinary. How could he have possibly missed the fact that she was getting sick enough to faint in her living room?

And what was all that blood from? Had she been wounded on a recent mission, and just never bothered to tell anybody? Had Jacob's death been the proverbial last straw on her already taxed system? What?

Finding no answers to his questions, and also finding it useless to ask them in the first place, Jack jumped out of the truck he had parked in the General's special parking space, and joined Cassie in sprinting to the bunker door that led into the mountain.

* * *

Half an hour later, Jack and Cassie stood anxiously outside the closed Operating Room door. Cassie had washed her hands and face, but other than that, neither of them had taken the time to leave their unofficial posts in order to do more personal grooming.

Suddenly, Teal'c and Daniel came hurrying down the corridor. We just heard about ColonelCarter! Teal'c informed them when he had practically floored Jack as he ran straight into him. What's her prognosis?

No word, yet, Jack said tensely. Cassie found her unconscious on her living room floor this morning, but there's no telling how long she'd been there. Dr. Brightman has Sam in surgery right now. He was so bewildered about all the proceedings that he hadn't noticed that he had started calling her 'Sam' instead of his more customary 'Carter.' But no one seemed to think that it was important just then what he called her.

Daniel peered over Jack's shoulder, but saw only the closed door of the OR. Damn! he uncharacteristically swore. God, this waiting is killing me!

Well, get used to it, Jack said, his voice low and sounding like he was dragging it across an empty chalk board, it squeaked so badly. We haven't heard...

Just then, the Operating Room door opened, and Dr. Brightman poked her head through, her body slowly following. Four people pushed themselves off the walls of the corridor, ready to hear anything, just as long as they heard some sort of news about Sam.

She's stable, Brightman immediately said, not leaving them in suspense. We don't know for sure what occurred, and won't know until the Colonel wakes up, and is able to fill us in completely herself about what happened to lead up to this event. She lowered her voice. There is evidence of several lacerations from her miscarriage that could have...

Jack was the first to react. Her what? he exclaimed.

Miscarriage? Daniel echoed in confused irritation.

Dr. Brightman glanced at the three men and single girl standing before her, all staring at her in stupefied bewilderment. I take it from your tones that you hadn't heard about this recent development? she carefully asked. Or, I would assume that someone would have been with her when this most recent development... uh... developed?

All eyes swung to Jack, but the disorientation clearly displayed in his eyes told them all that he had known nothing about this affair. She hadn't said a word that she was pregnant, he slowly informed them all. Carter had been pregnant? He tried to wrap his mind around this information, and found it difficult to grasp.

Brightman continued after she gravely looked at them all in turn. She's in recovery right now... We took care of the after effects from the... Brightman looked momentarily uncomfortable, yet gamely continued, But she still needs rest... You can see her one at a time.

Jack instantly interrupted, I'll go last, and just stay with her, then...

Brightman glared at him. You don't understand, General O'Neill... She'll stay asleep for...

Jack was just as adamant as the doctor was. I don't care how long she's gonna be out of it... I don't want her to be alone when she wakes up, and as I'm gonna stay anyway...

I don't think.., Brightman began to say.

Daniel cut into her speech this time when he softly said, Just... Just get used to him being here... Work around him.

Jack added, I'm not leaving.

Brightman looked doubtfully at Jack. What about all the work you have to do? she asked. Didn't I hear you complaining about that just the other day in..?

Jack stopped her. Walter can bring it all to me down here.

I'll go and get it, Daniel instantly offered.

Jack repeated, I'm not leaving... Daniel, you and Teal'c take turns with Cassie... You can tell me when you're done... With that, he did everything but say 'Dismissed' to them as he sat down to wait in the provided chairs outside the Infirmary's OR.

Brightman obviously didn't know quite what to do next, whether to get firm in enforcing her own rules, or to give in to the General this one time.

It was Daniel who again saved her from having to make a decision. You might as well accept that this is the way it's going to be. Short of locking him up, you aren't going to be able to keep him away from Sam's side. He sighed loudly in the quiet corridor. Trust me... I've had some experience in this... I know.

General O'Neill can be most persistent, Teal'c noted in his dispassionate voice.

Brightman stared at the seated General for another moment, then gave in as graciously as she could. Very well... You all have a few minutes each... I'll be in my office if you have any questions, or she wakes up... With that information, she turned and strode to the Infirmary. Cassie went the other direction, into the recovery room.

Jack had no idea what Cassie or the guys said to Sam, or if they said anything to her, but only stood next to her, giving her their emotional support. His own mind was meanwhile whirling with so many questions that he ignored what was going on around him.

His heart beat so fast again that it hurt. A baby? he asked himself. Was it Pete's? Or, had she been attacked and raped? Was it a stranger's? If it was Pete's, had she told him about the coming child? Had this baby been an accident, or had they both decided to have a child together? The last thought made Jack sick to his stomach, but he had to concede that it was a possibility...

Jack waited with his head cradled in his hands, the questions running over and over in his mind until Daniel stopped by his chair to tell him, Teal'c took Cassie to the Commissary for some breakfast, then she's going back to Sam's house with me, and we're going to clean up the mess...

Carter will appreciate that.., Jack said to him without meeting his gaze. At last, he glanced up, and asked, You done, then?

Daniel nodded.

All of you? Jack queried.

Daniel nodded again.

Wearily, Jack rose. He remembered then that he had been at the base the night before, all night, working on the personnel files that Walter had been pestering him about for days. He said to Daniel, If you have time, before you leave with Cassie, if you can drop by my office, and bring down what you find lying on my desk... Don't look at any of the files there! he ordered. Then, in a softer voice, said, Just bring them down, and a pen, and something to write on... Thanks...

You in for the long haul, then? Daniel inquired of his friend.

Jack nodded this time. Wild horses, Daniel, he said, resurrecting an old joke among the original team members of SG-1 to tell Daniel that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Just bring that stuff, he requested again. Thanks, he added in unusual gratitude.

Daniel nodded before he took off down the corridor, heading for the elevator that would ultimately take him to the Briefing Room, and Jack's personal office.

Jack watched him go for a second, then he turned in the direction of the Recovery Room, and walked through the door. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his pants, and sauntered over to Carter's bed.

When he reached her bed, he simply stood there and studied her as objectively as he could. God, she was so white! Jack imagined that she had to have lost a sizable amount of blood, and he briefly wondered if Dr. Brightman needed him to donate a pint or two, as he shared the same blood type as Sam. He reached the chair that one of Sam's other visitors had left at the head of her bed, and he fell into it, then leaned forward so that he could continue staring at her. His back was to the security camera, and as long as no one looked in their direction, his actions would go unseen. So, he stared at Sam's black rimmed, bruised eyes. How had he not noticed how tired she was getting? That the bruises indicated her extreme fatigue? He didn't know...

Sam? he whispered. Carter? he asked. You hear me?

Sam didn't wake, or otherwise stir on her bed.

Well, Jack had known that her responding to his voice had been a long shot. He sat back, then sat forward again, agitated. He slowly stroked the end of his index finger once along her hand that Brightman had lain outside the blankets. Sam was engaged to another man, he knew, but if she never found out what he was doing... Hang in, there, Carter, he whispered, And that's an order, he added. Then, to soften his tone, supplemented his command with a heartfelt, Please?

Jack never begged like he had just done, but he doubted that anybody besides Sam could hear him. But the idea of Sam not 'hanging in there,' of her dying, was intolerable, so he begged that it didn't happen. If begging was what he had to do, then he'd do it. He'd do almost anything for Sam, and she knew it, though, she never took advantage of his generosity by asking for anything, anyway. But this time, he didn't care if she asked for the moon, as long as she woke up, and would be all right.

Please, he whispered once again, then leaned back in his chair. He didn't know who he was asking, Sam, or some other entity, or being, one who decided what someone's fate was to be, he guessed. Whatever, he decided. As he stared at the white woman lying prone on the bed, his heart flipped over, in spite of all the things he had firmly told himself. He somehow knew that his personal vigil had begun.

* * *

In the Commissary, Cassie suddenly stopped eating the oatmeal she had taken, letting her spoon rest against the side of the bowl as she stared uselessly into space.

Teal'c noticed her preoccupation. What is on your mind, CassandraFraiser? he inquired.

Cassie shook herself, but not quick enough to hide her response to Teal'c's question. It was obvious that she had been thinking something... I'm thinking that if anything happens to Sam, and she dies, she'll be the third person who's been relegated as my personal guardian to die on me. She looked apologetically at the two men seated opposite her. Sorry, guys, I know that's a morbid way to think, but I can't help it.

I don't blame you for thinking that way, Daniel said around the bite of waffles in his mouth. Then he shrugged dismissively. But you don't have to worry this time... Sam's not gonna die... Jack won't let her.

The amount of raw faith that Daniel had in his simple words did more to calm Cassie's fears than all of Brightman's reassurances thrown together. Thanks, Daniel, she said, then returned to her oatmeal as if she hadn't spoken at all.

* * *

Jack splashed his signature at the bottom of the requisition form currently on his lap, then placed it in the 'done' pile at the foot of Carter's bed. She had been moved to the Infirmary, but was still not awake hours later. He sighed to himself, and was reaching for the next form that needed his attention, when he happened to glance up, right into Carter's blue eyes. She had clearly woken up.

His gaze falling into Carter's suddenly bottomless blue eyes happened so quickly that he was caught unprepared for the emotion that coursed through him. Had he been forewarned that this would happen, he would have made certain that his personal defenses were up. But as it was, his face positively glowed with the relief he was feeling at seeing those blue eyes once more. He didn't particularly care any longer if she got a hint of the regard he had always felt for her, as long as she stared at him again.

Jack got his wish. Sam blinked once, and unabashedly stared straight back at him, running her gaze over his entire face as he sat, watching her. Jack was first hit by the sorrow he saw reflected in her eyes, and immediately assumed that she was grieving for the baby she had so recently lost. Then he was hit a second time with her own emotions that she typically hid away under her tight control.

It was immediately clear... She was still... Well, she still felt something for him... That much was obvious. Affection blazed out of her eyes as her waking gaze instantly sought out his own. It wasn't the first thing she happened to see... No, she had purposefully sought out his own gaze, then held it for a prolonged minute.

Then, tears swam in her eyes, and the sorrow was back. Quickly, she glanced away.

Jack almost sighed in pain at the loss of her gaze, but stopped himself just in time. Carter.., he said in a soft voice.

Hi, she said back to him. She was looking at him again, but this time there was no evidence of the raw emotion that he had seen earlier in her.

Jack leaned forward a little, almost touching her hand once more, but not quite. How do you feel? he quietly asked.

Sam squirmed a little on her bed, then grimaced. Sore, she told him. Tired.

Jack gazed at her, trying with all his might not to react to her words, and brush her hair back in comfort, as he wanted to. Instead, he simply inquired, Want me to call the doctor for you? And this second question he dreaded asking, but asked anyway. Want me to call Pete for you?

Sam's eyes narrowed. Pete? she queried in clear confusion. Why would you call him?

Jack sat back for a moment as he stared at her. Well, I just assumed you would want your fiancÚ here...

Sam blinked, and a tiny smile lifted the corners of her lips for a minute. He's not my fiancÚ anymore, she finally told him.

Jack was totally surprised for a second, a long time for him to be astonished. He's not? he asked then, just to make sure before he did something silly, like grin a huge grin, and totally embarrass himself.

Sam shook her head. I told you at your house last week that I thought I was making a huge mistake by marrying him...

I remember, Jack told her.

Three days later, I called off the wedding, the relationship, everything...

But, Jack protested, confused. You... He sighed. Brightman said... You had a miscarriage, Carter, he quietly, solemnly informed her, as if she wouldn't know. If...

Sam interrupted him, looking down at the blanket covering her legs. I... I know. She was slightly uncomfortable to be talking about this, he could tell, but she went on, I found out about that baby when I was mis... She halted, blushed, then continued, I won't go into gross, descriptive details, she wryly informed him. But, before that, I had no idea, and once it was... Sam stopped again, and cleared her throat, but seemed to force herself to go on. Once it was all over, I decided that there was no point in changing my mind about the engagement or the baby, and telling Pete about what had happened to...

Carter, Jack cut in on her speech. What's going on? he gently asked. You mentioned that the baby was Pete's...

From quite a while ago, actually, Sam divulged. We hadn't had... She paused. We hadn't had relations for at least a month, she said. Maybe two... I couldn't even remember the last time... Why was she saying this to him, of all people, as if he were a priest, and she was at Confession? It wasn't like he might care anyway, especially since he had that Kerry woman now...

But he's sitting with you, a tiny voice inside her head argued.

He always sits with me when I'm in the... Where am I? she asked next, looking around.

Infirmary, he replied. You scared Cassie half to death, you know.

Sam shook her head. No, I don't know, she said.

What happened, Carter? he asked then. Were you attacked? What?

Sam concentrated on what she remembered. I was working...

Of course you were, he interrupted to affectionately say.

Sam continued, speaking over the sound of his voice. I was working on my computer at home... At my desk, she filled in. The phone rang... I answered it. It... Who had been on the phone? It was... Cassie! And she sighed, much more relieved than she should have been to recall such a small thing. Cassie, telling me that she was going to be home the next morning...

That was yesterday morning, Carter, Jack told her. You've been unconscious... or asleep... for awhile, he informed her.

Yesterday?! Sam repeated, shocked.

Okay, it's only 0110 right now, Jack admitted. So it hardly happened yesterday morning, or it just barely did.

Wow, Sam commented. I must have really been tired.

Or something, Jack said for her. Cassie found you lying on the floor by your couch, covered in blood. Now you tell me how you got that way, and I'll give you the purple heart...

Sam glanced at him in fond irritation. You can't award purple hearts in the Air Force, General, she sarcastically reminded.

Jack tried to ignore the way her tone made a shiver of longing crawl up his spine. Tell me, so I can tell Brightman, and she can finally stop chewing her fingernails.

Well, we can't have that, Sam quietly quipped. She was amazed at the light banter she was sharing with Jack. Ever since the appearance of Pete, General O'Neill had retreated behind the emotional wall that she and he had always employed, and they had lost their ability to share the stray teasing comment. But, now, she was teasing him as if she had never stopped. And, she reminded herself, teasing was hardly the way she should treat a man she had so recently lost due to her poor decisions as of late...

Carter? Jack reminded. You were about to tell me..?

Sam nodded once. That it was Cassie on the phone, and she was calling to tell me that she was coming home the next morning, because there was some party that she wanted to go to that night...

Oh, to have the energy of the young, Jack quipped. Then what happened?

Then... Sam stopped, and furrowed her brow in concentration. I don't remember...

Cassie found you when she got home the next morning, Jack recited. Were you lying on the floor, bleeding, all night? he asked, amazed.

Sam gazed at him, surprised as well. I must have been, she said. I don't recall anybody breaking in and hitting me over the head, or anything.

Jack shook his own head. There's not even a bump on your head, he told her. So that wasn't it. She shook her head as well. Then what was all the blood from, if you don't mind my asking? he inquired.

Well... Sam thought. I was having some cramps... The book I was reading for... for the baby, Sam blushingly continued on. It said that cramping was to be expected in some miscarriages...

But?

Sam swallowed. But, she echoed in determination. It seemed that I was having more cramping than usual. And, then, I don't remember anything until just now...

Now, you're in the Infirmary, after scaring Cassie half to death, and she called me, and scared me into the next life...

Sorry about that, Sam sheepishly said. I didn't intend to frighten you, she apologized. Then she looked straight up at the ceiling tiles above her bed. I didn't intend for you to find out about any of this, actually, she softly divulged. I should probably just shut the hell up.

Jack squinted through his narrowed eyes. You didn't want me to know about any of this? he asked. She shook her head, an action that sent hurt radiating though him, but he covered that emotion as well. Why not? he asked then, trying to sound curious and nonchalant instead of aggravated and jealous.

Sam sighed. I didn't want to hurt you any more than I already had, she whisperingly admitted to him.

Jack sat back in his chair. Hurt me? he softly reiterated in some surprise. Why would you think that you hurt me?

Sam fixed her gaze on him after a moment. Well, didn't I? she finally asked, trying to sound nonchalant as well about the whole thing, and failing miserably. She just sounded small. So, to cover her feelings that were leaking out in the tone of her voice, added, With the engagement and all?

For another moment, Jack just stared into her eyes. He was quickly trapped in the maelstrom of emotion he saw swirling there. Well.., he tried, and had to stop. When he had swallowed the pain that left metallic tasting bile in the back of his throat, he tried again. Well... No good. He was going to have to tell her the truth, now. Jack sighed, too. Well, yeah, I guess that did hurt me, he finally told her.

You didn't behave like that's what I did, she argued.

Jack glanced at her. I'm a good actor, he excused.

I guess you are, she said. I was never sure.

Jack sighed again, and hung his head this time. I... I tried to... He briefly closed his eyes, allowing himself to shut out her sorrowful gaze. I tried to be convincing, he said. I tried... always... so that you would never feel like I... He managed to stop himself before he blurted out everything to her. He did need to tell her that part of 'the truth.'

Sam sighed, too. It doesn't matter anymore, anyway, she said as she remembered Kerry.

Why do you say that? Jack asked in rampant curiosity. Of course it matters! he emphasized. I...

Sam looked uncomfortable again with him sitting so near her bed as she interrupted him. I'm sorry you felt hurt and.., she started. I didn't mean to do that, honest!

But Jack was determined not to shy away from her this time. He fully intended to face the problem of his and her feelings for the other head on, the way he addressed most everything. Carter... He slowly touched her hand, shaded from view by her leg under the blankets as he tried again, this time using a softer tone. Sam... He glanced down at her bed, then back up into her eyes, still determined. Isn't it time that we... we be honest with... Damn! His voice absolutely refused to put sound to his emotions.

Sam had trouble gazing at him, too, but she did whisper, I suppose you're right.

Jack continued to study her. He swallowed the fear that was clogging his throat, and whispered, Can you tell me why... why you didn't want me to know?

Sam tried, even though Jack could judge by the roiling emotions showing on her face that it was hard for her to even whisper, Because...

Because... why? he prompted when she didn't go on.

More tears were swimming in her eyes. But that was ridiculous. Sam never cried. Because... He raised his eyebrows at her this time. So she went on in a defeated tone. Because of Kerry, she admitted at last.

This truly bewildered Jack. Kerry? he inquired.

Sam nodded her head, took a deep breath, but couldn't will the tears away with her sigh this time. But she still couldn't look him in the eye. Kerry, she explained, as if that one word said it all. She's the one you go home to now, isn't she? And that's so healthy of you, that I...

Jack laughed.

Sam stopped talking. She stared at him then in something close to panic. After a frozen moment, she announced, Laughing wasn't exactly what I was expecting you to do.

Jack kept chuckling. Nothing quite meets our expectations in this, Carter, he said.

Now it was Sam's turn to look bewildered. I don't get it, she said.

Jack smiled, glad that he was unburdening his heart at long last, setting his feelings free rather than bottling everything up and hiding it as if his feelings were something to be ashamed of. Well, as hard as this is for you to believe, Carter... I mean, happening to a charming guy like me, and all...

Sam grinned as well. You're being sarcastic, aren't you? she inquired. He nodded. But... Now? How could anybody think he was just charming, anyway, she asked herself, then. He was darn hot, she thought, not just charming.

Jack went on. That very day that you came out to the house, Kerry broke off... whatever it was that we had going there for awhile.

Sam furrowed her brows. Broke off? As in, broke up with you? she asked.

Yep, Jack told her. I should have been surprised, but I wasn't, he told her.

Why weren't you? she inquired, asking the hard questions of him.

But Jack wasn't acting like these were the hard questions to him at all. He leaned forward until his nose was only two inches from her face, then gently grabbed that face and forced her to meet his stare. He must have drunk a cup of coffee while sitting with her, waiting for her to wake up, because she could smell Commissary coffee when he breathed out. Sam blinked as Jack softly admitted, Because of you.

Me? Sam was more than surprised; she was positively stunned. What did I do? I only met her that once, at your house...

You know, that was only the second time she was even at my house... Jack conversationally told her, and simultaneously released her head.

The second time? Carter inquired. What happened the first time? she innocently asked. Did you make her eat that awful potato salad that you make? she joked. He had served it on more than one of his summer team cook outs, she recalled.

Hey, Jack mockingly objected. What's wrong with my potato salad?

It's awful, and you know it.

Teal'c likes it. He always goes back for seconds, Jack protested.

Teal'c has an iron stomach, Sam told him. Anyway, we were talking about Kerry, she reminded him. The first time she was out at your house? Did you serve her that salad? she demanded to know.

Jack blushed, he was suddenly so embarrassed. He actually blushed! Uh... No, he said at last.

You didn't? Carter asked.

No, I served her something more like... Jack hesitated, feeling the heat pouring off his face. Geez, he hadn't blushed in years! But he plunged on. More like breakfast, he admitted.

Sam's face paled just a bit around the edges of her mouth. Oh, she flatly breathed.

Suddenly, Jack let his head fall onto the clean white sheets on her bed. God, I'm sorry, Carter! he said in an urgent whisper.

Why should you be? she asked, swallowing hard; She was so determined to go on, even if she didn't want to. You don't owe me anything that...

Jack lifted his head back up so that he could stare straight into her eyes again. Of course I do, Sam, and you should know that! he fiercely stated in a low voice.

I should? she asked.

She was playing dumb now, of that Jack was fairly certain. He glanced around the bed in the corner of the busy room, and, finding the area basically deserted, whispered, You can stop sounding so surprised now, Sam. He sighed once, a sad sound that seemed to curl around her bed. Come on, Sam, he whispered. You know... He stopped, but knew that this had to be said. You know how I feel... And I know how you feel... or felt, he admitted. That thing you had going with Pete nearly killed me on a daily basis, he admitted to her, not meeting her gaze. It's really no wonder that I kinda hooked up with... with Kerry for a short time, he went on. Though I... I always... He paused.

'Always' what? she prompted, hoping that he would blurt out about his regard for her again. The words made her feel all tingly and soft inside, in spite of how her face had gone red when he spoke. The way she felt because of the way he felt was still the most wonderful thing she had felt all week...

Jack drew in a deep breath. Then, he blurted, I... um... always pretended she was... was you. He wouldn't look at her, but looked at her blankets instead. He nervously fingered the edge of the sheets as he hesitantly continued, It wasn't totally fair of me... And she told me so...

This was all news to Sam, as she had heard nothing about any of this. Even the base gossip grapevine hadn't informed her about the happenings connected to the General. Which was odd, she realized. General O'Neill had always been at the top of the interest level of every person on base. She guessed he wasn't kidding when he told her that he and Kerry had managed to keep their relationship... their fling... their whatever it had been... a secret.

Then why, Sam wondered, had there been rumors and innuendos spoken about her and Jack since the moment they had met each other?

According to the expression on Jack's face, he was thinking the exact same thing.

Jack continued. When I saw you yesterday morning, crumpled on your floor, I... I was never so scared... And, then it hit me, just as clear as a sunny day...

What hit you? Sam asked. What were you thinking?

It was an odd question, because he usually asked her what she was thinking about, as she was always thinking about something. But Jack tried to put his thoughts into words for her. I was thinking, he haltingly began. All those eight years... What if something had happened to you? Really happened?

Sam just shook her head in incomprehension.

So Jack tried again. What if you had actually died, he said, being as specific as he possibly could be. I would be all...

Suddenly, in a flurry of motion, Jack sat back, and began gathering his papers together that he had spread out on her bed. Do you mind if I leave you for a minute? he questioned.

Sam gaped at him and his abrupt need for a departure, at his hasty change of subject. Uh... No, she dutifully said anyway. But she did narrow her eyes at his odd behavior. Is there something you need to..?

Jack stopped shuffling the papers he held in his hands, and just stared at her. But a tiny smile shot across his lips. He bravely put a calming hand on her leg to keep her in her bed. Nothing to worry about... I just remembered that I have to make a phone call sometime today, and before I forget again...

I understand, Sam said, willing herself to sound as complacent as she was claiming to be. But she really didn't understand anything. You do what you have to...

I'll send Doctor Brightman around, Jack promised as he rose. She'll be delighted to see you awake. Delighted to see me gone, Jack wryly corrected himself. He grimaced inside, but smiled at her. You hang in there... he told Sam, and did something he had never done before in all the eight years they had known each other. He comfortingly squeezed her leg through the blankets covering her. I'll be back, he promised. Then he left, though he grinned encouragingly at her as he did.

Confused, Sam watched him enter Brightman's office for a moment, and the doctor emerged to walk towards her. But, confused or not, Sam was far more interested in Jack's form as he strode through the Infirmary door, and disappeared down the corridor. She sighed a bit in regret, then turned to Brightman. Hi, Dr. Brightman, she greeted, even though she was still confused as hell.

* * *

No, that's not quite what I mean, Jack was trying to explain into the red phone that was placed at one side of his desk. I said retire.... Resign... I'm gone...

Wait... Wait just a minute, Jack! chuckled Henry Hayes over the phone. I've never heard your talk be so agitated before..!

Jack smiled. I just decided to say that enough is enough, and when I say 'enough,' I want something to change right now, this very minute, yesterday...

A sigh split across the connection. Does this have anything to do with a certain Colonel that you know? the President softly inquired.

It does, Jack readily admitted. In fact, this has everything to do with Colonel Carter, and...

George always said that I would more than likely have to deal with this someday, Hayes continued, sounding weary. His resigned sounding sigh translated across the miles between Washington and Colorado. What are you thinking about doing?

Jack swiveled his chair. Well, funny you should ask that...

Jack, Hayes warned.

Jack admitted, If I don't retire, or resign, or somehow remove myself from Air Force regulations, Carter will never relax like I want her to, and she'll never agree to... to anything... anything that I decide to do.., he nervously added. It wasn't often that he was forced to openly admit his regard for Colonel Carter. Actually, it was the first time he admitted to feeling anything at all that wasn't forced out of him. Such openness made him nervous in the first place.

Hayes laughed. Man, this is refreshing, he suddenly proclaimed. You... Nervous... I think I like this new you...

Well, don't get too attached to it, Jack warned him. I'll be gone just when you...

Now, hold on there.., Hayes suggested.

Jack's heart froze in his chest, but he was adamant when he said, Sorry, Sir, I know this rather puts you on the spot, but I have to quit, or I...

Hayes' irritated voice commanded, Will you shut up for five seconds, and just listen?

Jack grew silent as the remonstration hit him.

You still there? Hayes asked then.

I am, Jack told him. But you told me to shut up...

Hayes sighed once more into the phone. Remind me to never give a military man a direct order again; You're all too literal...

You have something in mind? Jack asked, smoothing over the rough commentary between them.

Damn, you're better at this schmoozing game than you know, Hayes said to him then.

Mr. President..? Jack prompted then, trying to get them back on track.

Hayes allowed Jack to move his attention back to the matter at hand. Okay, he said. Retirement, or resignation.., he reminded himself. Then he introduced a new solution to think about. How do you feel about staying on as a civilian commander of the SGC, instead of this resigning crap?

Jack sat, flummoxed, for a moment.

Never thought I'd hear you go speechless on me, either, Hayes suddenly admitted. Wait till I tell George... He won't believe a word I say after this...

Uh... Jack tried to think of how to respond. He couldn't think of anything but, Did I mention that I found Carter yesterday morning, unconscious on the floor of her living room? And he was telling this to the President of the United States because..? he immediately berated himself. Annoyed at his tendency to babble, he lowered his head slowly into his hand, and softly groaned.

General O'Neill's question silenced the President for a moment. Um... No. Hayes eventually said. That's a rather gruesome image, isn't...

Please don't tell anyone but Hammond, Jack desperately requested. I wouldn't want word to get back to her that I told you, or anything, he said, I wouldn't want to embarrass her.

I promise, Hayes said.

Anyway, Jack went on. I had one moment where everything sort of came together for me... Did I mention that she isn't engaged anymore, either? Jack had just been about to forgive himself for his earlier slip, but now he grimaced anew.

Hayes huffed a breath. No, you forgot to mention that part...

Now do you understand why this is suddenly so urgent? Jack softly asked in a beseeching tone.

Hayes sighed one more time over the line. Damn... Well, no one ever said leading the country was going to be an easy job...

I'm begging you, Mr. President, Jack said then, And George can tell you that I never beg for anything...

Now I have heard everything.., Hayes continued. Jack was silent, so he went on. Anyway, I was thinking... You're still the best man in the entire country to run the SGC for me, and I don't want to lose you, or what you know... But I could never forgive myself if I reject your bid for retirement, and ultimately keep you apart from Colonel Carter, either...

I'll go AWOL first, Jack threatened. And you'll lose me anyway.

Determined on this, aren't you? Hayes asked then.

Jack responded, More determined about this than I ever have been about anything before. Then, he paused, and thoughtfully added, Well, not much of anything...

Yeah, that's what I thought you were gonna say, Hayes went on. So, here's the deal I can offer to you... You retire from the Air Force, collect your pension, and all that... And you become a civilian Commander of the SGC, and go on doing whatever it is that you do down in that mountain... Only, you won't have those regulations, anymore...

You're kidding, Jack incredulously asked. You would do that for me?

Well, I was hoping that we could put this off for a little longer, Hayes admitted. So that I had time to offer you the Homeworld Security job... Then he went on to say, Selfish of me, I know... But George wants to retire, too, and you're the only man I can really trust not to stab me in the back someday... I'm talking politically, here, not actually stabbing...

I don't know anything about politics, Sir, Jack protested. Can't stand politicians... Jack grimaced again as he managed to stop his talking. I don't mean you, of course...

I know, Hayes admitted. That's honest of you, at least... That honesty is why I thought of you right away, Hayes admitted. Can't do anything about what you don't know about... Anyway, he continued, I was going to replace you with Hank Landry, but...

Good guy, Jack instantly proclaimed. I served with him in the Gulf...

Hayes interrupted him once again, Now it looks like he's going to be head of Homeworld instead of you. That leaves you free to retire from the Air Force, become the civilian Commander of the SGC, like I want, and go after what you've been deserving all these years now...

Jack smiled, then. Thank you, Sir, he said. I plan to yell all about it through the PA system.

Hayes chuckled one more time. You do that, Commander O'Neill. And remember, no pressure here, but if this thing with the Colonel doesn't work out...

Jack stopped him before he could go on. Oh, it will, don't you worry about that. I ain't aimin' to let her get away this time... I'm not gonna be that stupid a second time...

Good, Hayes said. Glad to hear it. Now get going, and give that announcement you wanna make.

Jack grinned again. Will do, and thanks for this.

Don't mention it, Hayes said. Just know that I lost the bet that George and I had going over you two...

The President, betting on him? Jack didn't know if he liked the sound of that or not.

Hayes laughed again. Get used to being the center of attention, he suggested.

Oh, I'm used to that, Sir, Jack said, thinking of the never-silent SGC rumor mill. I can't seem to stay out of everyone's attention for long.

Make sure that you don't, then, Hayes said. I'll talk to you the next time we have a crisis brewing...

Heaven forbid that we have one, Jack sighed.

I'll probably talk to you tomorrow, Hayes flatly predicted.

Jack snorted. Yeah. Then he went on in a more contrite sounding voice, Until then... Thanks...

Any time... Well, almost, Hayes corrected himself. He mischievously added, And give the Colonel a kiss for me, Then, he hung up without saying goodbye.

But that was how Jack was, too... abrupt, and preferably so. He hung up the phone, then strode down to the Control Room, crossing in some haste over to where he thought the base wide microphone was located. He pointed at what he thought was the right thing, and glanced at Walter sitting sedately at his computer terminal, trying not to watch him, but watching him anyway. This linked into the PA system? Jack asked the sergeant.

Walter nodded. Whenever you want to say something, just press the black button here. He demonstrated by indicating the proper switch.

Cool, Jack commented under his breath.

But before Jack could take one last deep breath in order to gather his courage together one final time before he began speaking, Walter interrupted him to say, And we're glad that Colonel Carter is going to be all right. Just wanted you to know that, Sir, before... Walter blushed.

What was it with everybody blushing today? Jack wondered.

Then, Walter went on, Well before you make your announcement, Sir. He spoke as if he knew exactly what the General was planning to say.

Jack gazed at him, then shook his head in amazement. Thanks, Walter, I'll tell her you said that... But how can you know about something before I even say it?

Walter grinned. It's what I do, he flippantly commented.

Jack grunted. Remind me to give you a promotion, he said.

I won't forget, Walter promised, writing a reminder to himself down on a scrap of nearby paper.

I bet you won't, Jack sardonically commented then. Did Walter ever forget anything? Jack wondered. At last, he turned his attention to the microphone, and pushed the appropriate button. Attention please... This is General O'Neill, here to tell you that I'm not a General anymore, and you better start calling me 'Commander O'Neill' if you don't want to see the wrong side of tomorrow... I'm retired, now, and you know everything, so you can start gabbing the second I get off this thing... And yes, if you're wondering, this has everything to do with Colonel Carter, who is probably blushing to the roots of her hair right now... But that's the news of the day... Carry on... He released his hold on the black button, and turned to find Walter caught in his own stare of amazement.

Damn, Walter appreciatively said. You actually did it.

Did what? Jack asked as he stood for a moment beside his aide before heading back down to the Infirmary.

Shouted it over the PA system, Walter said in a daze.

I didn't shout, Jack negated. Then he smiled. But, yeah, I have always wanted to do that. Then, he was gone, disappeared down the stairs to the waiting elevator, saying over his shoulder, I'll be in the Infirmary if you need me!

* * *

The moment he reached the Infirmary, he was surrounded by controlled chaos. SG-8 had returned while he was on the phone with the President, and like a good second in command, Colonel Reynolds had ordered that the Iris be opened, and that the team should go to the Infirmary for their post mission physicals. So Jack found that he had a rather large audience to watch him as he immediately crossed to Sam's bedside, where she was sitting up in bed, propped against her pillow, watching the activity in the Infirmary. Like everybody else. Beside her, a nurse was checking her blood pressure.

General! Sam remonstrated the instant he came within hearing range. Uh... I mean, Commander..! She was still blushing from the roots of her hair all the way down to below the neckline of the hospital gown she was wearing.

See, a smiling Jack said to the nurse. Blushing... Can I call it, or what?

Yes, Sir, the nurse said, because he didn't know what else to say.

Where did you go? Sam next asked Jack as the nurse removed the pressure cuff, and returned it to its appropriate basket so that it wouldn't get lost. Then, he happily disappeared, glad to leave the colonel's bedside.

Jack watched him go, then answered, I had to pass this retirement idea by the President, see what he had to say about it. Jack grinned even wider at her. By the way, this is from him. And he leaned over her, and kissed her softly on the cheek.

It was something that Jack had never done to her before. Only, he did it now, and he did it with such a sense of calmness... Sam gaped. From the President? she asked in blank astonishment.

Uh-huh, Jack told her.

Of the United States? Sam persisted.

Uh-huh, Jack said. How does it feel to be famous? he asked then.

Sam stared at him with the cutest, most stupid look Jack had ever seen on her lovely features. But... But.., she stuttered. How could she explain what she didn't understand herself?

Oh, yeah, Jack began, as if he had suddenly remembered something important. This is from me. And he leaned down, and rubbed his cheek along hers, smiling at the soft contact it made. Then, his lips slid to hers, and he kissed her like he had always wanted to, but been way too scared of the regulatory consequences to even consider.

Sam's hands went slowly behind his neck, and she let out some kind of sound that was halfway between a whimper and a groan.

But Jack... He was definitely groaning... Hell, he thought, this is better than my best dream ever was! It didn't matter to him who was watching, who was looking... He could only be aware of the... God! he decided. This feels damned good! Yep, he was definitely groaning when he released her.

Sam blushed, but made the gesture in the most pleasant way she possibly could. Jack! she exclaimed, though she sounded more pleased than anything else.

Does that mean that you want more? Jack hopefully asked.

Sam snorted in an unladylike manner. Oh yeah.

Jack smiled at her as he drew closer to her. Any more of that, though, and my insides will resemble something close to the Jell-O from the Commissary.

Sam chuckled. As long as it's blue Jell-O, she announced.

Jack grinned some more. Is there any other kind? he asked, then covered her mouth again as if they were the only two people alive, and not in a busy Infirmary where just anyone could come in.

Unfortunately for them, it was a public Infirmary, and Daniel hurried through the door, but ground to a halt the second his gaze landed on his friends. Trying to be polite, and restrained, for him, at least, he waited until he couldn't stand it any longer. Jack! he exclaimed then. Jack!

Jack sighed, and released Sam again, but it was against his better judgment. So help me, Daniel, this had better be Earth-shattering...

Daniel flatly stated, Teal'c's married to Ishta, and has been for over a year.

That's not Earth-shattering, Jack announced, his mouth open in wild astonishment. But it's pretty darned close.

Thought you would want to know, Daniel said. Oh, and congratulations... on the title change... and... everything, he lamely ended. After a moment, he waved. Hi, Sam. Glad that you're feeling better.

Hi, Daniel, Sam vaguely smiled, and managed to say to her friend, and not sound too weirded out by his surprising news.

Are you finished now? Jack asked Daniel, raising his eyebrows at the archaeologist.

Um... Yeah, Daniel replied uneasily. He gestured to the doorway. I'll just go now, and...

You do that, Jack said. In the meantime, I have some regulations, that aren't there anymore, to blow out of the water. And he smiled again at Sam.

She gave a genuine smile, this time. Keep breaking, Commander, she advised after clearing her throat. You always were at your best when you were breaking the rules.

With you right alongside me all the way, Jack lazily said, grinning, and cupping her cheeks affectionately with both his hands. Then, he kissed her again.

Every person currently in the Infirmary breathed out a sigh as one. It's about time, Daniel quietly whispered, speaking for them all as he muttered his words. Now, maybe things can relax around here.

The blare of the klaxons cut through everything, even the pleasant hum that surrounded Jack and Sam.

Or not, Daniel said, and started for the door, answering the noisy summons.

Jack pulled back from Sam. Hold that thought, he told her. He started for the door, too, but ran into one of the Infirmary's small carts bearing medical equipment. He caught it just before it would have tipped over and crashed to the floor. Keep thinking that! he called to Sam. Though I know you'll keep thinking, anyway... You can't help thinking... He turned, and ran straight into a bed. Trying not to look too excited by the rapid turn of events in his personal and professional life, he jogged around the obstruction. Then, he joined Daniel, and together they sped out the door.

At least, he didn't hit the wall, Sam thought to herself. She openly watched him go for the first time with no fear of it being wrong, or expecting to be chastised, or... Because she was staring at them, she saw that both were smiling the entire way.

Epilogue

Two days later, Sam was finally released from the Infirmary to return to her lab, with a staunch admonition from Dr. Brightman that she take it easier than she had been, so that she would at least give herself a chance to heal. So Sam strolled down the corridor instead of walking briskly towards the shower she intended to take in the women's locker room.

For one wicked moment, Sam contemplated calling Jack on his cell phone, and taking her shower with him in the men's locker room, but decided that she had nothing to carry all her shower equipment in, and the flurry of stories that was sure to follow such an event wasn't worth the trouble of doing that event in the first place. But, still, the thought made her smile, and hum to herself in enjoyment as she slowly sauntered down the hall.

Twenty minutes later, Sam entered her lab, a place she hadn't been to in days. She flipped on the light switch, and gasped at the flower arrangements that were waiting for her on her workbench.

Slowly, Sam crossed over to all of them, thinking that it was a good thing she didn't have allergies, as so many flowers would have made her sneeze. Daniel, she figured, was going to be absent from her lab for the next several days...

Sam swiftly pulled a card from the first set of flowers that she came to. It was from Teal'c and Daniel... speak of the devil... welcoming her back after her short stay in the Infirmary, though it hadn't seemed like such a short stay to her at all. The next arrangement was from Cassie, also professing her ardent relief at her guardian being healthy, and able to return to work. Then came one from Lieutenant Davis, the shy tech with more than a crush on her... Sam smiled tolerantly when she came to that one. Following was a grouping from SG-2, in a cute little bunny pot that told her to 'hop to it.' Then came three arrangements from soldiers she barely knew, making an attempt for the Lieutenant Colonel in spite of the stories that were already circulating about the new Commander and the only female member of his previous team.

And then Sam came to the dozen red and yellow roses that were placed right by her work computer. She had left the laptop open the night before her precipitous stay in the Infirmary. But, for the first time ever, she ignored her computer, and gave her attention to the roses that held her gaze as she quickly pulled the card from its envelope, wondering what unknown soldier had been brave enough to send her roses. She expected that the roses were from Walter and the gang in the Control Room, for how else except in a group could anybody afford something so large, frivolous, and obviously expensive?

Still half overwhelmed with all the flowers she had already received, Sam's eyes strayed to the card she held in her hand.

Sam,

Marry me?

Jack

The short message was all that was on the card. But still it was enough to make Sam suck in a noisy breath of air, and hold that breath as she stared with wide eyes at the words again. That was when she caught sight of the glint from her keyboard, and saw the engagement ring winking at her from among the keys in the fluorescent lights of her lab.

She had just picked up the blue ring... 'To match your eyes,' a note said that had been taped to her keyboard beside the ring... when she was arrested by a sound near the door to her lab. She glanced up.

Jack was lurking in the doorway, leaning against the door jamb, his arms crossed in a move that was meant to convey that he didn't care about something, when he evidently cared very much. He looked worried, and scared, and hopeful, and sick, and... His brows rose in the universal sign that asked, 'Well?'

Considering making him sweat by saying that she needed time to think his proposal over, Sam changed her mind when she noticed the anxious expression on his face. He slowly crept into her lab, still looking scared as hell, and ready to lose his breakfast at any moment, but determined to see this proposal through as he cautiously approached her. Again, his brows rose, and this time he voiced the question, Well? What do you think?

Not needing time to think at all for once in her life, Sam shoved the ring onto her fourth finger... (it fit, of course)... and she smiled at him in the most winning way she knew how. It must have conveyed her feelings perfectly, for he grinned back.

Wild horses, Commander, she said. Wild horses. And, without a bit of hesitation, threw herself into his arms and hugged him for all she was worth.

Afterward

Exactly one hour later, Sam typed quickly into her email program:

To: Cassandra Fraiser cassierocks@yahoo.com

From: Samantha Carter Schroedinger@sgc.net

Cassie,

Engaged to Jack. Plan to move in with him as soon as is humanly possible, maybe sooner, if Teal'c helps me pack up some of my stuff, like the CD collection on the living room bookshelf. Do you want to use my house while you're in Colorado Springs? The only thing you'll need to get is whatever furniture you'll need to make it your home. (This includes kitchen supplies.) But there is no point in that house sitting on the market, or my stuff sitting in storage, when you need a place to stay. So consider it yours until you don't need it any longer.

How long are you here for the summer, and what's your schedule like?

Can you come over to Jack's house... our house?... for a celebration dinner Saturday night? No, Jack's not planning on burning any steaks! I won't let him. And I won't let him serve that potato salad of his, either, promise!

Let me know.

Sam

The End


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