Disclaimer: Don't own them... don't know them... didn't even create them. Darn. Will give them back when I'm done playing with them, though. Promise.

Games People Play

by Linda Bindner

The bottom of the Stargate ramp in the SGC hove into view, but that didn't make any difference. Not really.

Colonel O'Neill grabbed onto Sam's arm the second they both moved through the Stargate's event horizon, touching her without even realizing what he was doing, and, despite the droplets of water that fell at his feet from his dripping hair, managed to glare at her. What the hell were you thinking? he yelled.

Sam turned on him at the bottom of the steps of the ramp. Saving your butt, again, Sir. Too bad that you can't be a little more grateful. She yanked her arm out of his grasp, then headed out of the Embarkation Room for the Infirmary, not waiting for General Hammond to welcome the team home, not waiting to be dismissed, not waiting for Daniel or Teal'c to join her... not waiting for anything, but particularly not waiting for the Colonel, the man she had just saved from a savage death in an uncaring alien ocean.

Jack followed her as she stormed out of the room, but it was no use; the blast door was already sealed and she was gone, down the corridor towards the Infirmary.

* * *

But he caught up to her when Janet was sticking her arm with the thousandth needle she had survived.

Major Carter, I want to have a word with you, Jack started to say as soon as he entered through the door to the Infirmary.

Sam hopped down from the bed she was sitting on, not really caring if Janet was finished poking her. As far as she was concerned, her medical friend was done whether she was done or not. I'd rather write my reports if you don't mind, Sam said to Jack, but didn't look at him.

Again, he grabbed onto her biceps, not tight enough to hurt, but definitely tight enough to detain her. Actually, I do mind, he said. I mind very much. I want to talk to you.

What was there to talk about? When you stop trying to kill yourself, I'll talk. Until then, leave me alone.

Jack ignored her mandate, just as he had ignored every order previously given to him to to leave someone alone. We killed a System Lord today - what's to be quiet about?

It's how we killed her that I take exception with, Sam responded acidly. Or rather, how you killed her. She was beyond caring that Janet, Daniel, and Teal'c stood at the end of the Infirmary bed, listening to every word she said to Jack. The fact that neither Daniel nor Teal'c were military helped in her obliviousness of them, and she knew that Janet would never betray her confidence, no matter the personal sacrifice; it wasn't something they hadn't done for each other before, when Janet had briefly dated a technician from another team, and had told Sam every sordid detail. But now, Sam was beyond caring if anyone knew or heard something that confirmed anyone's suppositions that something was going on between herself and the Colonel. She just didn't care anymore. It didn't pay to care, as the day's events and their forthcoming repercussions were stridently illustrating.

It was as if Jack could read her mind, for he exclaimed, Care to expound on that, Major?

Sam crossed her arms and paused for a minute, thinking. What she truly wanted to say could end her career, and she needed to consider the consequences of her actions carefully before talking. After a bout of surprisingly quick, though coherent, thinking, she requested, Permission to speak freely, Sir? In asking her question, anyway, she knew she giving in to the pounding anger inside her.

The request surprised O'Neill; Carter never spoke exactly what was on her mind. But he wanted to know what she was thinking too much to listen to the little voice inside his heart that quailed at her tone. Granted, he bit out. Now, what's this all about?

Sam glanced at her audience, acknowledging to herself that just because she wanted to bite his head off, she didn't have to do in front of three of her closest friends, who would, undoubtedly, use whatever she said to confirm every rumor they'd ever heard about her and the Colonel.

Not here, she growled. She grabbed his arm, then literally pulled him towards the Infirmary supply closet, the only space available with a closable door. With no hesitation, she thrust him into the dark, tiny, enclosed space, then followed him into the closet, turned on the light, and slammed the door shut behind her. Okay. Permission to speak.., she said again.

You already have permission! O'Neill barked. Now, care to tell me why the hell I'm in a closet, of all things? he asked. The small space made him unconsciously lower his voice until he barely rasped out the question.

You could have drowned! Sam exploded, but in a whisper of her own. Or hit your head on a rock and gone unconscious! Or...

I knew what the risks were! he exploded himself. My question is, 'What the hell were you thinking when you came after me like that?' That's totally against every protocol in the book!

Like I could sit comfortably back, and watch you try to annihilate yourself... again! Sam tossed at him. When that timer flew out of your hand and fell over the cliff, that was bad enough, but when you jumped after it...

What choice did I have? Jack asked acrimoniously, cutting her off in mid-sentence. It was either push that button on the timer and blow up Lord Maat in her camp, or wait for another day while she killed thousands of innocent people in the meantime. We might never have had this chance again, in spite of the arrogance of a Goa'uld to call herself the goddess of justice... as if a Goa'uld could ever be just! If you ask me, it was worth any rocks I might have hit at the bottom of that cliff if we could end the life of yet another System Lord!

Sam clutched her head in frustration. Will you listen to yourself! she yelled in a whisper. Maybe you think that your life in exchange for a System Lord's life is a fair trade, but that just shows that you're not thinking at all!

Jack paused, looking at her assessingly in the dimness given off by the fluorescent lights recessed into the closet's ceiling. He put his hand on the shelf beside him, shoving the medical supplies it held to the back wall in a thoughtless move of irritation. Okay, Major, what is this really about? Because we've both faced equally as dangerous circumstances before and you've never acted like this at any other time. What's so bad about what I did? Militarily, I made the right choice, and you know it. So what's your problem?

My problem, Sam hissed, the sound growing in the confined space of the closet, is that jumping over a cliff into a totally alien ocean without regard for your own life is hardly a fair exchange, Sir, even for a System Lord, whose troops are just going to be swallowed up by somebody else who is just as mean and nasty as Lord Maat ever was! If you had died, it would have been for nothing, for no one, just to add one more name to the list of Goa'ulds you've managed to kill! Sam turned a tight circle, the only movement she could make without running into a wall or a shelf in the closet. She snorted when she looked at his befuddled expression; he truly didn't understand her complaint that a System Lord, who cared not one whit for anyone else's life, was not a fair exchange for a Human's, who naturally treasured all lifeforms and their situations. Let me ask you one thing, she went on, changing what she was arguing about in the middle of that argument, the irritation in her voice as loud as the whisper in which she was speaking. Did you even think about what would happen here if you had drowned, or hit your head on a rock? What I, or Daniel, or Teal'c, would have gone through?

There wasn't time to think, and you know it! Jack spat back at her. I simply reacted! Is it my fault that you felt the need to jump after me? he asked. If it had been up to me, I would have never allowed you near the edge of that cliff to...

There! Sam yelled triumphantly. There, you see? It isn't much fun, is it?

What the hell are you talking about? he asked.

I'm talking about how much fun it isn't to watch you die yet again for a country whose residents don't even know what's going on, she responded. Jesus, Colonel, how many times do you think you can beat the odds and stay alive?

Maybe this is my way of thumbing my nose at on opponent who's too arrogant for her own good! Jack admitted then.

But that's just it! burst Carter again, clearly upset to hear the words that were coming out of his mouth. You go off on your glory ride, and we're left back here to pick up the pieces... Only there's no way we can pick up anything if something ever really happens to you!

I've heard this argument before, Jack commented then. Sara used to say the same damned thing every time I saw her after another mission...

Well, maybe you should have listened! Sam half yelled, half whispered. Maybe she understood something that you just haven't ever thought about before!

Jack crossed his arms. What? he asked in irritation. Tell me, because it's plain that I'm not thinking enough to suit your...

Stop it! Carter demanded then, and lowered her head to a shelf, where it rested on the metal edge. She disregarded the fact that that edge was impeding its image into her skin as they spoke. Just stop being the hero for a few minutes, will you? I can't stand it anymore.

Jack stood, his back pressed to the wall of the closet, and stared at her for a minute. Carter, look, I...

But there was anguish in her voice when she interrupted, I can't... I can't do this anymore...

Don't you start talking like that, he warned. You know that it's about as good an idea as...

... as trying to get yourself killed? she asked. As suicide is?

Jack latched onto his arms with his fingers even more tightly than before. Danger is a constant detail that comes with this job, and you know we can't act on any of what we're feeling. The Regulations...

Screw the Regulations! Carter said then. Screw the whole damned military while we're at it.

Jack looked taken aback. That doesn't sound like the Sam Carter that I know.

The Sam Carter you know is at the bottom of the ocean on PXR-114, she retorted. This new Sam Carter has said that she's had enough. I can't take it anymore, she told him. I can't save the world any longer if it means watching you die one more time.

Carter, O'Neill appealed, you know what the risks are every time we step through that 'Gate...

My name's Sam, in case you've forgotten! was what Sam said to interrupt him.

Jack was clearly confused and stunned at her proclamation. What's gotten into you lately? he finally asked in a soft voice that was barely audible, even in the tiny closet. Where's my 2IC gone, where's my..?

She's not here, Sam blurted. Remember, she's at the bottom of the ocean that you just had to jump into.

Have you ingested an alien organism or something? Jack suspiciously asked then, and rightly so. She was hardly behaving like the person that he had grown used to dealing with.

Sam rifled through her blonde hair with a few fingers of her right hand, defeated. No, no organisms, no entities, no aliens, just... She paused, then closed her eyes in resignation. Just in love with a guy who's determined to kill himself, that's all.

What? Jack spluttered. What did you say? Had he heard her correctly? Had she just said those three little words that altered everything they had ever taken for granted between themselves? That they never uttered, according to an unsaid agreement, one of mutual silence?

Now, Sam was breaking that pact of quiet with a vengeance. You heard me, she said with a sigh of honesty. And I know it goes against Regulations, and we've done nothing but work at denying it from ourselves and from the entire base for the last... ten?... years, but who the hell are we kidding, anyway? It's all just dumb pretending that I'm so tired of. She shifted slightly, resting her weight on her other foot. She helplessly said, I'd rather get it over with and face a court-martial and be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force than live like this any longer.

Sam! Jack protested. What are you saying here? We've always done everything that we could... your career... His voice trailed off as he just helplessly stared at her.

At least he had the decency not to try to deceive her any longer that all the feelings they harbored for each other had never existed. Colonel, I'm sorry, and I don't want to put you in this position, but...

Jack grabbed her arms again, turning her, forcing her to look at him. You, he said with finality. I'd choose you every time.

She stared at him, uncomprehending. Then, why all the heroics? Why this desire to end it all?

Jack sighed, then glanced down at the floor. Because... He paused, seeming to consider his answer before saying, I might have decided that since nothing was ever going to change... nothing could ever change... that being more reckless was better than being less reckless.

Did you ever think about what we would have to go through without you? Sam asked, watching him in the white light of the supply closet. How we would have to keep going, in spite of... of everything? She dropped her eyes to study her boots. I couldn't have gone on like that. I would have admitted everything in less than a week.

No! Jack expostulated. It's not worth that kind of...

Yes! she fiercely replied. Were you going to say 'sacrifice?' Why is your sacrifice so much more worthy than mine?

Jack didn't have an answer for her question.

Sam relentlessly went on. Either you quit, or I do, she said. I don't mean to give any sort of ultimatum here, but this is killing me a little at a time, and no matter what you do to stop it, it will kill us in the meantime.

Sam, please, I... Jack stopped his stuttering to just stare at her again. Then, it was as if a curtain that had always hidden his eyes had been drawn aside. For the first time, she actually felt as if she were staring at him instead of around him, or at what he allowed her to see. Sam, don't...

Sam stared at the floor. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have opened my big mouth.

Sam, look at me, Jack softly commanded.

Sam ignored him. I should have just let things go on like...

Jack grabbed hold of Sam's upper arms again. Sam, he interrupted. You have to know that seeing you beside me in the water of that ocean nearly scared me to death.

Then what was it all for? Sam asked tiredly. Or don't you have an answer for that one, either? When he didn't reply right away, she turned, and without another word, pulled herself from his grasp, and yanked open the supply closet door, thinking that his ex-wife might have had more of an understanding of the situation than she had ever given Sara credit for.

The light from the Infirmary temporarily blinded Jack. He blinked, then forced his eyes open wide; he didn't have time for watery eyesight. He followed Carter from the supply closet, and then from the Infirmary as she headed for the locker rooms, a shower, and dry clothes.

He was momentarily stunned; she had never desired a court-martial before, nor had she ever confessed that she loved him. He felt numb, as if he didn't know what to do in this strange and incomprehensible situation.

But one thing was clear; he couldn't allow her to reach the safety of the locker room, a place where she could flip the sign over to read 'women,' a place where he could not follow. She knew that.

So, desperate, reacting again, just as Sam had pointed out, Jack hurried up in front of her, bent down, and lifted her weight entirely onto his left shoulder. His head was at an odd angle, but he squinted to see down the corridor through the uniform wrinkles that fell across his eyes.

Sam wasn't helping the comfort of her apparent kidnapper. She would have kicked her feet into his waist, except that he kept a tight hold on her calves and boots at all times. She wiggled. She squirmed. She yelled, Let me go! But it fell on either deaf ears or no ears, as they had entered the elevator by then, and the door closed off her cries. She pushed against his hold as he tried to steady her with only one hand while punching the button for floor fourteen at the same time.

The elevator eventually spat them out into the atrium of the fourteenth floor, where two guards had been assigned to watch over the lobby. Jack grinned, smacked Carter across her bottom, then said to the guards, Team building.

As if the two men instantly understood that he was trying to tell them that his odd way of carrying an Air Force major was actually a part of a team bonding campaign, they smiled back at him. The fact that O'Neill and Carter were both quite wet, too, only worked to heighten the original claim. The wet uniforms? a guard inquired then.

Water guns, O'Neill replied conspiratorially. You should see a wet Dr. Jackson, he went on, hoping that Daniel would understand the need for a white lie at his expense. Better than a wet Teal'c, Jack intimated then.

The guards laughed, silently agreeing with him that a soaked Jaffa was truly something one didn't want to behold.

Jack didn't give them time to respond. He had pushed the button for the second elevator by then, which had opened, and he and Sam were speeding towards the surface before she could do more than grunt. Jack shifted his arms a bit, but refused to put Carter down when she ordered him to. He only gripped her tighter, and his hand moved dangerously close to a Regulation-breaking caress across her thighs, which, because of her position, were constantly in his face. Even the smell of her wet BDUs was becoming enthralling. Only the presence of the Security camera in the ceiling of the car stayed his hand.

At last, they reached the surface, and Jack zipped through the bunker door to the outside world. He grinned at the guards stationed on duty at that particular entrance, and said, Wait till she gets to carry me in, then trekked into the trees with his struggling burden.

Sam hissed, Colonel! Put me down!

Is your head about ready to explode? Jack asked in a semblance of concern.

Well, no, Sam admitted.

Then, no way in hell am I releasing you, Jack told her.

This only forced Sam to renew her struggles. Colonel! I'm warning you..!

We've already jumped off a cliff today... what are you going to do to try to top that? And out here, by yourself, in the woods?

It was true; they were surrounded by trees that were thick enough to already obscure the entrance to the SGC.

I suggest you just hang on and enjoy the ride, he said.

But Sam could never relax control over to another person without a fight. Have you gone crazy? Did that fall into the water affect your brain?

Jack had to smile in grim appreciation at the image she was implying. She might well think that he had lost his mind to be doing something so... aggressive. But... You aren't the only one who's had enough, he told her. I think it's time we talk about this, and we can't do that in the SGC, and I don't want to wait until we can run home.

What about Hammond? Sam asked, or rather, grunted, due to the air whooshing out of her stomach as it constantly bounced on O'Neill's shoulder. What about the briefing?

We have until tomorrow morning to show up for the briefing. He told me right before I left the Embarkation Room. You had already stormed out in a huff...

Tomorrow morning!? Sam quietly shrieked. No one will miss us until tomorrow morning?

Won't miss us at all. The entire Air Force thinks we're playing at team bonding games.

Sam sighed, aggravated by his apparent habit of being able to charm everyone they met. At least I didn't have to do that thing where you fall over backwards and expect other people to catch you, she grumbled.

Are you saying that I wouldn't catch you? Jack asked. He puffed up an obscured trail that led into the woods around the mountain.

I'd trust you to catch me as long as you could touch me while pretending to catch me, Sam presciently predicted.

Oh, a little touching is nothing you wouldn't have done yourself if given the chance, O'Neill accused while trying to slough off her own accusation.

Unable to deny what he had said, as what he claimed was truer than she wanted to admit, Sam only harumphed, then slipped into silence.

Five minutes later, they reached the side of the river that was a mile from the base entrance. The sound of the gurgling water would be effective in covering their voices as they talked.

Planning to throw me in the Flint River? Sam asked jokingly.

The Flint River is just a few hundred miles from here, Jack reminded her. No, as appealing as it would be to cool you off right now... Sam gasped in a breath of air at his comment. Jack went on, I don't think throwing my 2IC into a river could be construed as part of team building. So... He gingerly set her onto her feet, then helped to support her as the blood quickly drained out of her head, making her too dizzy to take her own weight. Let me help you there...

Sam brushed his hand aside. Who said that I want your help anymore? she asked in a hard tone.

Jack felt the hurt steel through him at her words, but he refused to give in to their promise of depression. I think it's time we talked about this, he resolutely answered instead.

This? Sam asked.

You, me, us, the Air Force... O'Neill replied, gesturing between them.

Sam was a bit surprised by his frankness. You brought me all the way out here to talk? she asked, clearly puzzled. About that?

I think it's time that we were honest with each other, Jack forced himself to say. He was so much more used to hiding what he felt, either from her or from the world at large.

Sam was flummoxed by his candor. Are you saying..? I mean, we've... um... we've never...

... never admitted anything before, he finished for her, sounding a little hesitant now that the subject of their relationship had sort of been broached.

There was that one time...

With the Zatarc test, I know, Jack said for her. But we said that nothing... nothing would ever leave that room... But, out here... He glanced up at the trees, at the sky, at the leaves. It's as far from a room as I can think of.

So it's still in the room is what you're saying, Sam guessed.

Jack shrugged. Well, yeah... militarily speaking, of course.

Sam didn't quite know what to say next, so she latched onto the first thing that came to her mind. Colonel! she chastised. How positively Neanderthal of you!

What? he asked. What'd I do now? He stared at her. And stop calling me 'Colonel.' Call me 'Jack' instead.

What I'll call you is crazy! You kidnapped me! she accused.

Jack's face also turned crimson. Well... It's a good story to tell to children, he suggested.

Suddenly Sam grinned, as she saw the inherent humor in such a situation as theirs. Only if I get to carry you back, like you said.

Wait a minute! Jack lifted his finger. I was joking! Really!

But Sam was not deterred. Do I get to club you over the head, too?

Oh, that's not funny! Jack declared with a scowl.

Okay, Sam said, just as quickly dropping her mein of amusement at the situation, and growing more serious. So... our feelings...

Jack was silent for a long moment. Do you mean what you said back there?

Sam shrugged this time. Yeah.

Jack smiled, and Sam felt her stomach turn to soft goo at just the sight of his gesture. He said, I thought that... Well, you're so good at hiding everything...

I better be, or it's nothing but a court-martial waiting for me! Sam defended herself.

Ah, Jack scoffed. Hammond would never court-martial his best team.

Don't be too sure, Sam warned.

Jack looked at her. You think he would?

If he ever saw anything that was inappropriate... Sam warned.

Only he never has, Jack informed. That's what we're talking about, isn't it?

Is it?

Jack sighed. I guess we're so used to flirting around the subject that we don't know how to actually address that subject.

'Flirting...' Good word... Sam muttered, then propped her hands on her hips in a show of exasperated procrastination.

Well... Do you? he asked.

Jack! Sam said in indignation, but at least addressing him the correct way this time. You're my CO! It doesn't really matter if I do or if I don't...

I thought you said that you didn't care about that anymore?

Sam stared at him, assessingly, then admitted, I don't.

So you... you accept... all the potential pain and agony that go with a court-martial?

Of course I don't completely welcome them... Sam protested.

What then? he innocently asked.

Well... Jack, look, Sam said at last. I don't want to hurt you with the threat of a court-martial, but I can't just go on pretending till infinity, either.

Okay... This is progress.

Are you saying that you can go on like we have been... forever?

As long as it takes, Jack promptly told her. You're worth the wait.

Hold it, Sam said, confusion taking over her features. You haven't said...

I love you, Sam, Jack told her so quickly it was as if his life depended on it, or as if he was afraid of what would or would not pop out of his mouth if given half the chance. No matter if the Air Force thinks it's wrong, no matter if I think... Well, I don't think it's wrong so much as a matter of bad timing...

Really bad, Sam agreed.

You could say our timing sucks...

Really sucks, Sam agreed again, smiling now.

Sam, Jack said, then grinned. And I know your first name is 'Sam.' Believe me, I know!

Sam blushed once more. Yes, I know that you know.

I cringe every time you call me 'Colonel,' you know.

No, I wasn't aware of that.

He nodded, then blew his breath out in something like a very explosive sigh. It's like a slap in the face, that you can't call me anything more familiar because it might tell someone something... Though there's nothing wrong with calling a friend by a first name...

Yeah, Sam argued. But no one will say that you and I are just friends.

If everyone already knows, Jack argued back, Then what's the point of all this trying to hide it?

Sam could only shrug at him, as if to say that she didn't know.

Jack breathed another explosion of air. The way I see it, we can either stop hiding...

Which would lead to a really good time, but ultimately to a court-martial.

And I don't want to ever jeopardize your career, Jack said.

What else were you going to suggest? Sam asked after a moment.

Or we can forget about all this and just accept that we're really good friends, but nothing more than friends. He had to admit to himself that this option showed the most logic, but caused fear to coil inside him.

Is that what you want?

God, no! Jack suddenly exclaimed in relief.

Me neither, Sam told him.

Jack turned a circle in the woods, reminded of how Sam had done the same thing inside the supply closet. The way I see it, we have something... well... kinda... special... I mean, rare...

This doesn't happen to just everyone...

I mean, the feelings Daniel had with Sha're were pretty special...

There's no real comparison between Daniel and Sha're and us, Sam negated.

Wait, Jack said again. We're not even really sure that we're dealing with anything here...

Well, I am... Are you?

I am...

Sam stared at Jack while Jack stared as Sam.

I guess the only way for us to be sure is to... check, he hesitantly suggested, and uncrossed his arms to let them dangle uncertainly at his sides.

Well, yeah, kind of like a science experiment.

Sam, O'Neill said in an irritated tone. This is nothing like a science experiment. There's nothing farther from science that I can even think of.

I'm trying to convince myself in the easiest way possible that what we're proposing is right... So be quiet, she said. Then she very deliberately took hold of his upper arms in a grip that was neither tight nor hurtful, truly affectionate, nor quite loving.

If I'm quiet, where would we be? Jack asked rhetorically, babbling nervously as he allowed her to come closer to him than she had ever been before. He couldn't help meeting her gaze as they drew ever nearer to each other, then stopped, breathing hard with the restraint necessary to fight their natural resistance. Her eyes twinkled in the dark of the forest, and he felt them tug at his heart a little at a time until he felt lost in their fathomless depths. Lord, he could smell her uniform again, and it smelled of damp, raspberry jello, and that special odor that always clung to the air in her lab; to Jack, it meant Carter, plain and simple, but it was potent enough to make his heart flip over.

Quiet, Sam cajoled a soft reminder as they slowly and deliberately drew closer together. I can do this! Sam told herself, but in truth, she had to combat her instincts honed by several years of hiding in order not to avoid his magnetic pull on her. Do you... Are you sure..?

Sam, Jack said as he slowly caressed her cheek. It felt soft and warm under his bare, inexperienced hand. How can I be quiet and answer your questions at the same time?

They were so close now that Sam could feel his breath wash over her temples, and smell the coffee he'd drunk that morning at camp before the whole thing about Lord Maat had transpired. Her stomach jumped, and her nerves jangled in overtime. Was he going to kiss her?

Was she going to kiss him? Jack wondered. She had never kissed him before. Oh, sure, he had dreamt about such an event occurring, but the real thing was much scarier when it was an actual possibility. Now, his heart hammered with that chance.

The kiss promised to be so much more than any dream he had imagined... enticing, inviting, delightful, it gave an assurance of extreme pleasure...

Tentatively, their lips met in mutual exploration of each other... in a stolen rapture of both their emotions...

Or, at least, it should have been. The first kiss was none of those promised things. It was so frightening that it was more wooden than romantic, more rote than soft and enthralling, more...

And then, it happened. At the same second, Jack's brain realized that he was kissing Sam and Sam's brain realized that she was kissing Jack, and...

Oh, God, Sam murmured, and before they knew it, they had melted into each other as she wrapped her arms around his neck and Jack's hands stole seductively around her waist...

He was feeling her! It was every daydream he'd ever indulged in come true at once! Only, it was better, more... just more as his hands roamed and his heart thundered and his lips slipped to her neck... Oh, lord, her neck... so soft, so warm... He ever so softly bit it with his teeth... Sam groaned at the sensation. Jack quietly smiled... He did that to her, turned her to...

Sam wanted to slide her fingers over all of him at once. The threat of court-martial fell away... The idea of keep it in the room fell away... The SGC and all its baggage fell away... It was only him, holding her, years of hiding, gone in an instant... She wanted to feel him, to become him, to wrap herself up in him...

Jack kissed her like couldn't get enough of her, like she had finally been allowed to be the redemption that he had been promised years ago...

Sam, Jack moaned on a whisper, then backed her into a tree, realizing that it wasn't the most romantic of locations, nor the most romantic of actions, but he couldn't take the time to care. Heat spurted through him, undeniable and ferocious in its urgency. He throbbed against her thigh, and even though he felt he should be embarrassed by the voracity of his behavior, at the same time he acknowledged that nothing had ever felt so good before, so right... God, he could only think that he loved her so much more than even he expected...

Jack pushed into her, frantic, feeling the heat from her skin on his tingling fingers as he thrust aside the top half of Sam's BDUs and his hands grazed across her stomach, questing higher, tighter, searching for that sense of completeness he craved...

Then he found her breast hidden beneath the soaked material she wore, and his fingers passed across the hidden invitation it represented.

And that was all Sam could take. She threw her head back into the tree and let out a carnal growl as she quaked in Jack's arms like the leaves above her, shivering tightly in his grasp, and gasping his name on a whisper of air.

Sam! Jack whispered, straining against her shoulder, pushing up against her for all he was worth as tiny explosions of pleasure and sensation erupted across the goose bumps on his skin, making him shudder as he gently gripped the back of her head. His breath came in short rasps, sucked in as he tried to do the impossible and breath more normally as he writhed against her shoulder.

He felt drained, and deliriously good when it was over and the sensations had finally dissipated to leave a strange heat in his groin, and an overflowing sense of contentment to bloom in his heart. The sensation he was most aware of was that he wanted it all again, wanted more, as he burrowed against her, holding Sam tight, protecting her with all that was in him, though he knew logically that she needed no protection, as she was more than capable of taking care of herself. Jack heaved in air as he tried to regain his sense of balance.

Wow, Sam whispered, and clung to him even tighter. That was...

That was incredible, Jack said, cutting her off. Embarrassing, wonderful, indescribable... Suddenly, he grinned down at her. It makes me want to do it again...

Again? Sam questioned with a chuckle, but then had to admit to herself that the prospect didn't sound too bad to her... She carefully, slowly, affectionately, kissed him on the lips...

And before either one of the knew what was happening, they had slid to the ground, facing each other, completely oblivious to the dirt that was staining the knees of their wet BDUs, totally wrapped up in the feelings that coursed across their skin as they more leisurely kissed, stroked, played with earlobes and the skin along their necks... In seconds, they were both panting in a restrained glory of shared desire.

Sam kissed him as tenderly as she could while her hands roved across the expanse of skin and on to his back. Her fingers barely skimmed across the surface of his spine, but still, he trembled as his arms tightened around her. As gently, as carefully, as lovingly as possible, he guided her down to the riverbank and joined her in complete surrender to the sensations she brought out in him.

It was only minutes later that he was quaking a second time as her arms wrapped around him in a promise of heat and fire. She arched up into him, drawing him deeper into herself, and gasped as she rose again right before the world crashed around her in a splendor of whirling sounds and flashing colors of light that had nothing to do with the sun. God, Jack, this has to be love... I think I'm gonna die right here and right now.

I will never let that happen, Jack vowed on a whisper, grinning into her eyes that radiated the warmth of the sea she had rescued him from. Even wet clothing did little to dampen the all-consuming desire for her that still raged inside him.

Jack, Sam whispered, then blinked her eyes as she gazed at him. Are you going to be alright?

Jack blinked his eyes as well, trying to clear the fog of her out of his mind, and finding it an impossible task. Sam... But he couldn't go on.

Sam smiled at his speechlessness. I love it when you say my name, she announced.

Jack grinned back at her and kissed her on the forehead, her cheek, her lips. He felt the by now familiar swirl of desire in his soul and had to smile at that, too. He was cognizant of himself growing hard inside her, and smiled even wider; that hadn't happened to him since he'd been a teenager in high school! But, he couldn't think of a nicer way to compliment her without saying a word at all.

He didn't know what to say anyway, except to tell her that he loved her more than anything he'd ever loved before. But that concept seemed too corny to voice, so he simply kissed her again, and made love to her in the tenderest manner he knew how, adoring her in ways that surpassed the need for words. His hands traced across her cheeks and into her hair, loving her deeply so that he could be sure his actions would mirror his soul and illustrate his feelings to her.

Sam answered his every caress, exulting in the feel of his fingers linked through hers as she once again felt the tight splinter of passion envelope her in tingles of goodness and warmth. In seconds, the heat had spread to every part of her soul, sending her over the edge of reason and sanity in a blaze of fire that tore her apart even as it soothed and mended. She groaned Jack's name and gripped his hands in a bond that was unbreakable and firm as the first shiver ripped through her.

Jack rasped out her name as well, gasping in a breath of air that barely whispered in her ear as he fell in a spiral of devotion that left him trembling and almost incoherent. Feeling completely drained, they lay together on the ground and gasped for any air they could get.

I guess that proves our theory, Sam whispered when she had managed to regain her powers of speech.

Jack slowly smiled at her, his face alight in raw affection. What theory? he asked, his own voice scratchy and rough.

That you're right... this is sooooo much better than a science experiment, Sam told him on a laugh of pure delight.

Jack joined her in that amusement with a laugh of his own.

* * *

This will be really embarrassing if I just give out and we land in a heap on the floor, Sam said with a grin as she heaved both Jack and herself through the door to the second elevator that led down to the SGC.

I should be the one talking about being embarrassed, Jack huffed as he dangled over Sam's shoulder. Suggesting that you carry me in the same way I did... me and my big mouth.

I think you eat too much, Sam said then on a pained gasp.

Me! Jack pretended that he was wounded. I'll have you know that I'm as fit as anybody on this base!

And you weigh as much as they do, too, Sam grunted. I'm going to fall on the floor if I don't let you down right now... She leaned over and released her hold on O'Neill. She straightened up as soon as she was sure he could carry his own weight. Then she turned her attention to herself. I think I've broken my shoulder... She rubbed aggressively at it as she stretched her neck to the side she hadn't been forced to hold it to by carrying her superior officer.

O'Neill stretched his tight muscles as well. Don't think being carried was any easier on me.

I hope it wasn't, Sam muttered under her breath.

That was when the elevator door opened onto the dim corridor showing the gray and beige of the SGC.

After you, O'Neill said and gestured to Sam the way out of the elevator.

Sam took the invitation his gesture indicated, not that the way wasn't obvious already to her. But she accidentally on purpose rubbed up against him chest as she exited the elevator. To the security camera that was mounted on the ceiling in one corner of the car, her move looked like an innocent act on her part. To O'Neill, it was as far from innocent as the afternoon's activities had been for both him and Sam. In fact, he was secretly hoping that she would take his invitation that had been something innocently proposed and turn it into something much more meaningful.

It was several hours before his and her shift was over, and there was plenty of time to either continue the 'team bonding' that they had so naively begun, or the discussion that they had started at the bottom of the Stargate ramp.

Either way, it was going to be a loooooong few hours, Jack admitted to himself, and inwardly groaned as Carter preceded him out of the elevator.

* * *

It was 1830 hours that night when Jack's cell phone stored in his trouser pocket rang. He had negligently placed it there for safe keeping, but was now glad it was readily available; he had been surreptitiously hoping that Sam would call all night. Half of him was afraid she would say that the wonderful afternoon they had shared could never be repeated. The other half of him was frightened that she would say that she wanted to repeat it every day from then on. Though that scenario frightened him a great deal, he desperately hoped that she was leaning in that direction. However, he didn't want to appear to be too desperate to hear her voice again, though he wanted to hear her voice... Oh hell, he thought. So the evening wore on towards supper, and he didn't cave in to his fear, one way or the other, and call her, but she was more then welcome to phone him.

But now his cell phone was clanging for his attention. His heart thumping in over time, he dragged it from his pocket, and noted that the return number was, indeed, hers. Thinking vaguely about Teal'c and his penchant for intoning 'Indeed,' which reminded Jack of the team, which in turn made him think of Sam, which led his thoughts to his ringing cell phone... Jack hesitantly flipped it open. O'Neill, he answered, his voice carefully controlled as he pretended to pay careful attention to the chicken pieces he was grilling. If he didn't get the timing just right, they would all burn; he had personal experience with eating tough, charred, chicken.

*Uh...* Sam's voice uttered over the connection. *Hi, Sir,* she said at last, falling back on protocol at the final moment.

Jack grimaced and, in a lighthearted voice meant to completely fool her, asked, Sam, what do I have to do to get you to call me 'Jack'?

Sam wasn't fooled in the slightest. Instead, the smile that she was indulging in colored her voice. *You just did it,* Sam responded, suddenly a lot more chipper. *You called me 'Sam.'*

So I did, Jack said into the phone held to his ear as he tried his best to calm down and enjoy their conversation. He was so busy paying internal attention to their talk that he forgot all about the food on his grill. I like calling you 'Sam.' he craftily said, indicating everything that had happened between them at the riverbank that very afternoon without having to say a single word.

*And I have to say that I like hearing it,* Sam announced.

Good. Her voice was as lighthearted as his. Which meant that she fully accepted what had happened between them and was moving forward from there. Gently, Jack breathed a sigh of relief, and then grinned. You're smiling as you say that, right? he asked next.

*What makes you think that?*

I can hear it in your voice, Jack told her, and grinned even more himself.

*Now I would say that you're the one smiling,* Sam announced.

Are we talking about smiling, for crying out loud? Jack asked, half teasing and half serious. We can do better than that... I have some topics that I could suggest we discuss...

*Okaaaaay...* Sam said, cutting him off in mid thought. *I wouldn't want to suggest that we talk about anything unsuitable...* She was indicating that if she knew him as well as she thought she knew him, he definitely planned to suggest an improper subject... and she was probably right in her assumption. Instead, she meditated for a moment. *What are you doing right now?* she asked.

Besides thinking about you? Jack rhetorically inquired. I'm grilling chicken, marinated in just a hint of bar-b-cue sauce that I'm brushing on myself. Why? Are you interested in coming over and joining me for dinner? She will never agree to that, Jack told himself.

*Are you inviting me?* Sam asked.

Jack sighed, as if the idea of inviting her over for dinner was a huge bother. I don't know.., he said in a voice tinged with faked irritation. Then he went on, Weeeell, there is enough here for two... He tried to sound as if the idea had just occurred to him when in actuality, he'd had the notion of eating with her from the moment he plopped the raw pieces of chicken onto the grill.

*I could take the opportunity to tell you about my new idea,* Sam suggested. *So this could be construed as official business...*

No, Jack emphatically stated. No 'official business.' No unofficial business. No business is allowed at all, as a matter of fact.

*What about a proposal?* Sam inquired.

The tone of her voice and the subject their discussion had change sufficiently to completely enrapture Jack in spite of what he had just said about no business being allowed as a topic of discussion. Sounds intriguing... What have you got in mind?

*Do you want me to come over and explain it to you?*

Nooooo, Jack intoned. I want you to come over and have me... uh, some chicken... for dinner. If your explanation comes up as an order of the general conversation, then... But it's up to you, of course.


Among friends... where you can propose your idea if you want.

Sam hissed in a breath. *Maybe that was a bad choice of words...*

It was a perfect choice of words... as perfect as you are, Jack softly said.

*And I'm not as perfect as you are,* Sam replied, just as quickly and just as softly.

Thank you... that's the first time I think I've heard a compliment come out of your mouth... Jack groaned, Um, I shouldn't think about your mouth...

*Think all you want.*

I will, whether I want to or not.., Jack admitted. But I think I want to.

*I can't believe you're saying things like this over a phone line.*

It's a cell phone line... no way to tap such a connection, so I can say whatever the hell I want, and right now I want to say that you're one mighty good looking Major...

*Who takes her orders from the best looking man in the military.*

Oh, come on, Jack scoffed, though he sounded pleased that she had paid him such a compliment. I'm not the best looking man in the military... The Air Force, maybe... but the entire military..?

*I admit that I am a bit biased in my assessment,* Sam answered.

You can assess me any day, he suggested.

*I do,* she interrupted. *All the time. Maybe too often.*

Too often? Jack asked appraisingly. I think I like the sound of that.

*Anyway, back to the invitation to dinner..,* Sam said, redirecting the conversation.

It's an open invitation that's one I hope you take me up on as often as possible.

*An open invitation?* Sam ascertained.

As open as a book, Jack answered and grinned again. How does she do that? he wondered; always make him grin.

*You're grinning again,* Sam noted.

If I am, it's your fault. I grin at just the thought of seeing you.

*Funny; I was going to say the same thing about you.*

Tomorrow's briefing is going to be really weird, then, with both of us grinning like maniacs, and Daniel and Teal'c wondering what the joke is about.

*Chicken, you say?*

With sauce basted on so lightly... I call it my Chicken con Carter... That title doesn't necessarily make any sense, but I like the way it sounds... Such a nice ring to it... Nice alliteration...

Sam actually giggled about that one. *How can I turn down food named after my own family?* she asked.

Jack smiled; he had her. I admit, that was the idea, he told her over the line, now sounding a bit satisfied.

*Okay, you've convinced me.*

I know I have.

*Don't sound so smug.*

You like it when I sound smug.

*Do not.*

Do too.

*Now we sound like you and Daniel.*

Don't drag Daniel into this, Jack warned. I want you all to myself.

*I don't know...* Sam hesitated. *A major eating dinner with her CO..?*

I'm not your CO tonight.

*You're not?*

I'm just a guy asking a really good friend over for dinner. What's wrong with that?

*A really good friend?*

Okay, Jack admitted. A bit more than a friend, but we can't tell anybody about that.

*How much more than a bit?*

Are you fishing, Sam Carter?

*Of course I am. Now what, exactly, am I?*

Jack took a chance and, smiling, said, Come over and find out. Then he snapped the lid of his phone shut, cutting off the connection.

Ten minutes later, the chicken was beautifully browned with just a fringe of black to add nice color to each piece when a knock sounded at the front door. Jack hurried through the kitchen and down the hall to answer the knock. How do you like your corn cooked? he asked Sam as he pulled the door open as wide as it could go so that she could enter.

Sam pulled the trigger on the imitation combat water gun she was carrying, spraying O'Neill with water, leaving a large, round, wet stain on his shirt.

Hey! he exclaimed in mock anger as he examined his shirt. Haven't we spent enough time soaked today?

This water gun is what I want to ask you about... but first, don't you need help getting out of those wet clothes?

Jack laughed. You sound so innocent when you say that, and I know that you're anything but innocent.

That's the fatal mistake that everyone else makes about me... I'm not sweet and innocent at all.

I know, Jack growled, then shut the door behind her right before he pulled her into his arms so that she had to lean against his chest. Come here, you not-so-innocent sight for sore eyes... He kissed her straight on the lips, disregarding his chicken still on the grill, disregarding the dinner entirely, disregarding the fact that he was her superior officer and such behavior as their's was forbidden by Air Force policy... Disregarding so many things as he tightened his embrace around her and buried his face in the side between her neck and shoulder. I love the smell of your hair, he declared, smiling once more. I'm smiling again. You do that to me.

Sam set the water gun on the hall table he kept near the door. I'll be very glad to make you smile on any occasion that I can, she answered, her voice muffled in his own neck and chest.

Are you flirting with me?

Yes, Sam answered in a firm tone. Then, she looked up at him. Am I succeeding?

Yes. Flirt some more.

Is that an order, even though we're not on duty right now?

Sam, you feel so good that I'll make it an order if you want me to.

I love you, Jack, Sam blurted.

Don't tell me that unless you're willing to see it through to a court-martial.

Sam answered, I've never been more willing in my life.

Jack kissed her again, softly, seductively, affectionately, gently, lovingly. How I've missed you, he said when they parted.

It's only been a few hours since we last saw each other, she protested.

A few hours with you in my thoughts, in my soul, in my heart...

She suggested, That's where I want to spend all my time.

You already do, Jack told her before kissing her once more. That's where I want you to be.

Jack, Sam said, pulling back suddenly. I can smell your Chicken con Carter burning all the way in here.

Jack grinned down at her. Let it burn. It can't compare to the real thing, anyway.

We leave our emotions at home, right? Off base only? Sam suddenly inquired, wanting to make sure.

I thought we already agreed to that? Jack kissed her quickly around her ear, as if he was threatened with the abrupt termination of a real place to spend his affections, as if what he was doing at the moment was only a dream, wispy and vague, and certain to disappear without warning.

I'm only making sure, Sam said, kissing him just as quickly.

I promise to be the model of deportment when we're on a mission or anywhere at work, Jack said. But get me off base, and off base with you... Well, then, I can't be held accountable for my actions, he stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, as if such a thing were incontrovertible.

Sam didn't look as if she minded the concept of his future behavior in the least. Is that a promise?

Absolutely. Now, how do you like to cook your corn?

Is that what we're having?

Goes well with chicken, so I've heard. Jack released her, but kept a firm hold on her hand as he led the way back towards the kitchen.

Do you mind sharing? Sam asked. Really, I don't want to beg all of your food away.

Will you be quiet? Jack demanded. I wouldn't have invited you over for dinner if I minded sharing that dinner, now would I?

It's hard to say... Sam began skeptically. I don't have much frame of reference for something like this.

I know... Great, isn't it? Jack suddenly smiled, making himself appear to be ten years younger at the same time it made Sam melt at just the sight of his gesture.

Well, it's new, at least, she conceded.

Jack quickly let go of her hand and collected enough table items for her to join him. Then he took a plate out to the grill, where he transferred several fairly dark pieces of chicken to the platter in his hand, and from there to the table. Then he opened the refrigerator door. Beer? he asked.

Sam nodded, and Jack pulled two bottles from the fridge. You know, Sam said as she searched through two cupboards before she found his stash of glasses. Janet says you drink too much.

Janet should mind her own business, Jack replied in a lighthearted manner. What do you think?

So few men in the military desired to know her thoughts that she almost didn't know what to say. You never go near the stuff if you're on duty, and off duty, you should be able to do what you want. That's what I think. Then, she admitted, There are some fairly persuasive studies that link drinking to several diseases, though. You don't want to risk your health. If something were to happen to you, where would the rest of the team be? she questioned and shrugged.

No one is irreplaceable, Jack reminded her. Someday... hopefully a day very far in the future... I'll retire and be replaced, and eventually you'll all forget I even exist.

Sam looked straight at him and somberly said, I will never forget you exist, anyway, but particularly not after today. She set the glasses, now full of ice, on the table and poured her beer into one while Jack poured his into the other.

A lot did happen today, Jack softly confessed. He eyed her as he continued to pour. What do you think of that? he asked. Because I'm sure you're thinking something, one way or the other; you always are.

Which part are you talking about? Sam asked for clarification. Some of it is why I came over here toting a water gun.

Yeah, why did you do that? Jack queried. Besides making me delighted to see you again, and wanting to soak my clothes when I least expect it, that is.

Sam gathered her thoughts for a moment. Do you remember what you said about team bonding games?

Sure, Jack said, then gestured at the table, indicating that dinner was ready. At any rate, it made for a really good cover story, he went on.

Sam pulled out her chair after retrieving a bowl full of fresh corn from the microwave. Right. She smiled at the memories induced by his words. Well, it can keep on acting like a good cover story for us. She didn't even pretend not to be talking about the state of their relationship anymore.

What does that mean?

It means that... Sam paused, then plunged on, Here's my idea; We can agree to continue to engage in team bonding games, or war games, call them what you want.

You mean, using the water guns instead of paint guns? Jack ascertained.

Why not? Sam queried. That way, we can be open about meeting each other while simultaneously improving our battle-readiness skills... Of course, she shyly, as well as slyly, went on, what happens after those skills are improved is the real reason we may want to improve them in the first place... What do you think?

Jack wiped his fingertips on the napkin he had thought to provide with the meal, as bar-b-cue could be messy. I think it's a great idea, but I don't think Hammond will ever go for it.

That's what I think, too, Sam afforded. So we might want to keep these games off base, as well, so that Hammond can't issue demotions concerning our...

Preoccupation? O'Neill guessed. With the games, of course.

Sam feigned not knowing what he was referring to. Of course. She was grinning again.

Jack sat back and considered, secretly loving that grin she was giving. You... and me... sneaking up on each other and shooting water onto clothes and such?

Only in the interest of improving certain military skills.

Jack raised his eyebrows, as if to say 'Ah,' but indicating with the move that he didn't quite believe all that he was hearing. Naturally, he said sarcastically.

We would be better prepared for missions, the personnel at the base could know and talk about it, and we could... Sam sighed, then, in annoyance at herself. Okay, it's no secret, is it, that I want to spend as much time with you as I can?

I hope you do, Jack smiled seductively.

And this way, we can spend time together, and it still looks like innocent activity...

Jack interrupted, Not to mention that it can be a lot of fun in itself.

Which is just an added benefit, Sam went on with her argument. We'll each need a key to the other's house, or we won't accomplish much sneaking.

This is sounding better and better all the time, Jack admitted.

Then you agree?

Lean over here and kiss me and I'll agree to anything you... propose.

Sam grinned, not just at his invitation, but at his use of the word she had chosen to employ earlier that evening over the phone. I can propose quite a lot, Sam suggested with a smile in place. She half stood, then leaned over the table and kissed his cheek.

That's not exactly what I meant, Jack stated, and grimaced. He didn't even try to hide his disappointment.

After dinner, Sam promised. There's always dessert.

Dessert? Jack perked up. I think I like the sound of that. Only, four times enjoying... dessert... in one day has to be a new record for both of us.

Again, Sam grinned. I'm beginning to realize that anything is possible.

* * *

And so, the games began. Neither of them took their vehicles when they went into 'sneak attack mode,' in order not to give away their presence, either to each other or to anybody else. Everything was proceeding along very quietly until Jack caught Sam preparing her breakfast one morning, enjoying jumping out from behind her counter, and soaking her so liberally that she had to change clothes... after other activities were just as liberally engaged in. They were both late enough that day that their tardiness caught most of the SGC's personals attention, so they confessed that Sam had been forced into a change of clothing right before heading to work, and why that change had been necessary. The fact that it had been Colonel O'Neill who had soaked her in the first place only added to the interest their lateness was generating. Bets began to be placed about how long it would take, and what the Major would do, when she got even.

That moment was not long in coming, as Sam hid in the passenger side of Jack's truck, and thoroughly covered him in water from her water gun as he tried to enter his truck one morning before driving in to the SGC. The method was enough in and of itself to cause quite a stir, but a dripping Colonel was also enough of an unwanted commodity at the SGC that an entire change of clothing was again in order, one that Sam was more than happy to help him make. Their lateness once more prompted two probationary periods, one for each of them, as punishment for tardiness, and the bets to fly. It wasn't long before they were each sneaking through the nights towards one another's houses, or sitting inside closets while waiting for the other to use the bathroom, or sitting behind sofas in an attempt to catch the other at watching a hockey game or the occasional television show... Before two weeks were out, it was widely known throughout the base that the war games were continuing, with more and more varied 'attacks,' and if one couldn't be reached by phone, then the other's house was called, in case an assault was currently in progress.

A very enjoyable and lively two months went by... the weather just beginning to grow too cold for the use of water guns outside... and Jack and Sam were both wondering how to solve that particular dilemma... when Jack was summoned to General Hammond's office.

Jack was currently on the phone with his partner in water crime when Walter stopped by his office to inform him of the news. Wonder what the General wants? Jack asked absent mindedly into the receiver.

*Probably wants to know where we bought such great toys,* Sam suggested with an audible smirk. *Now, the entire Air Force wants to use them instead of paint guns in its next set of training exercises.*

Jack couldn't help but smile. Oh, we wish, he sarcastically said, then added, But, as Master Bra'tac always calls him, I better not keep 'Hammond of Texas' waiting. I'll talk to you sometime after I soak you with my own toy.

*Not if I soak you first,* Sam said. Her voice gave away the smile that was curving her face in that instant. *Tell the General that we got our water guns at Woolworths on 22nd street, just to throw him off.*

I'm going to tell him you said that, Jack threatened, grinning himself. Then he said, I really do need to go... talk to you later. He hung up the phone on his desk, smiled, then headed out his door, a bounce in his step as he strode down the hall and up to the General's office door.

Jack knocked lightly, poked his head into the office when he heard the command to enter, and asked, Hey, General, you wanted to see me?

In opposition to Jack's jocular tone, Hammond seriously said, Come in, Colonel, and close the door.

The hair on the back of Jack's neck went up at that order, but he dutifully entered and closed the door behind him. What's up? he asked, trying to lighten the mood that had fallen over the office with his teasing voice.

Hammond stared at him with a baleful eye. Take a seat, Colonel. I doubt you want to be standing when I tell you about what just happened.

What did just happen? Jack asked as he pulled a chair out from Hammond's desk and sat down.

Hammond stared again, appearing as if he were assessing Jack's need to hear what was on his mind versus his own need to tell him. Finally, he sighed. Jack, I just got through with a very interesting conversation with Private McGillis.

Jack blinked; what did this have to do with him? But he played along with the General's opening line. What did old crabby-because-they-promoted-you-and-not-me want this time? To complain again? Dean McGillis was infamous around the base for requesting promotion and not getting it. The fact that he rarely did any work might have something to do with his status as a fifty-year-old private.

Hammond didn't appear to be amused at O'Neill's attempt at humor. He said something about war games being used as a cover for something much more prohibited.

To his credit, Jack didn't blink an eyelid or make any other movement that might give away the fact that his heart had just skipped a beat. More prohibited? he repeated. Such as what?

Such as two Air Force officers in a direct chain of command involved in an illicit affair, that's what, Hammond stated.

Jack's heart stopped beating altogether, but he feigned nonchalance. He hadn't spent years engaged in coercive behavior for nothing. He was the king of deception by now. Did Private McGillis say what made him think this way? Jack inquired.

Hammond sighed once more. He said something about Major Carter's back kitchen window needing a window shade.

Jack snapped out of nonchalant mode the second the words 'Major Carter' passed Hammond's lips. What we need to do is leave Carter's name out of this.

I can't do that, Colonel, when she's more involved in this little drama than you or I want to admit. Hammond was once again sizing up Jack as he swiveled his office chair around. What I want to know is how the names of two of my best officers are suddenly two names under the suspicion of a court-martial?

Jack felt the blood freeze in his face. Court-martial? He asked the dreaded words in a near whisper.

Hammond leaned on his desk, linking his fingers together. Tell me, just how long has this 'drama' been going on? As long as the 'team bonding' games that I've been hearing about have been going on? he intimated.

Jack let his chair's feet thud across the floor. General, you can't tell me that you believe what this guy is saying? he accused.

Hammond continued to lean on his elbows and link his fingers. Are you going to tell me that what he's saying is a falsehood? he asked.

Jack couldn't do that. Lying was as punishable as an 'affair' was, according to Air Force policies. Besides, he was certain that he didn't want to claim that his feelings for Carter didn't exist in order to protect the Major from any recrimination now. So he did the next best thing he could do in this situation; he remained silent while trying to look like he was taking a deep breath.

Hammond repeated, Can you tell me that it's not true that you and Major Carter are involved in a relationship outside of work?

Jack replied, I'm involved in a relationship with all of my team members, and Carter happens to be a member of my team, is all.

Let me amend that, Hammond said then. Are you involved in a romantic relationship of some kind with Major Carter?

Jack sat and stared at General Hammond, and General Hammond stared back. Jack let the moment stretch out in silence. At last he decided that he couldn't very well lie to the General. So, he proudly declared, Yes.

Hammond leaned back in his chair. That's what I was afraid you would say.

If it helps to know, I think that this is the best thing I've ever decided to do, Jack insisted.

Hammond's sigh again split the air in the tiny office. It helps to know that, but it doesn't change anything.

What are we trying to change? Jack asked carefully.

General Hammond said, There's been a citation put on both yours and Major Carter's records, with the request of further investigation into the matter pending the initiation of a court-martial.

Isn't that jumping ahead several steps, General? Jack wanted to know.

Hammond again leaned forward. Colonel, I don't think you understand the seriousness of this situation...

Jack interrupted, Oh, I understand perfectly. Someone's angry because he got passed by for promotion again and he's taking it out on me and Sam, that's...

I thought it was always 'Carter?' Hammond said immediately.

Jack glared at his superior officer. 'Carter' then! Geez, General..!

Colonel Davis is going to be heading the investigation from this point on.

Jack jumped up. Before you start any kind of investigation, and he sneered the word, let me talk to Carter, first.

To warn her? Hammond questioned.

Jack blurted, To tell her why the heck her career is suddenly on the line!

Don't you think you should have already thought of that, Colonel? Hammond asked.

We did already think about that! Jack bit back in a harsh voice. I just want to let her decide on her own what to do next... retire, resign, or be cashiered out of the military on a dishonorable discharge order! Jack ran a hand through his hair. You have to remember that she's a smart woman...

Hammond interrupted, I'm perfectly aware of how smart she is, Colonel, and...

And she's solved countless problems many times, and saved Private McGillis' damned butt a time or two... Jack interrupted back.

That will be enough, Colonel! Hammond demanded, finally losing his own temper.

Jack persisted, But do you realize what this will mean to the military? To the Air Force? Then he answered his own questions, Whatever happens, the SGC will lose the best theoretical physicist on this entire planet! Can the military really afford to do that?

Hammond's stare had lost its previous anger, and now just looked bleak. Jack, my hands are tied on this one; I have to report this complaint or lose my own job.

A beat went by. I don't want that to happen, Jack said, then, matching Hammond's soft tone.

What do you want to have happen? Hammond gently asked.

Jack sighed again. I want to say I resign, but I don't want to do that yet. I want to talk to Carter first, then talk with Daniel and Teal'c. Whatever happens, this affects the entire team of SG-1, not just half of us.

I can give you one hour, Hammond told him in a soft, but firm, voice. Tell me what you've decided to do by then.

Jack stood next to the door, but paused as if he wanted the General to say something more.

So General Hammond spoke. Was it worth it? he asked quietly.

Jack turned back, and with an emphatic expression on his face, said. It was sooooooo worth it! Then he pulled the door shut behind him right before striding off towards Carter's lab, the first place he always looked when searching for the Major.

* * *

Sam glanced up from peering into her microscope the second that Jack entered her lab and shut the door. Her expression fell when she caught sight of his serious face. Uh-oh, what happened? she asked right away. Did the General want to contact the Tok'ra, and couldn't?

Jack came to the point immediately. We need to talk, Sam. He took hold of her hands, and just that show of affection at the SGC tipped her off that he had something serious on his mind. Sam, we've been found out, he announced.

Her brow puckered. What do you mean?

I mean 'court-martial,' Jack said to clarify himself a bit more.

Oh, Sam whispered, her eyes wide.

Yeah, 'oh,' Jack imitated her. We have an hour to decide what we want to do.

Oh, God, Sam intoned, sitting, unmoving, on her stool.

As nice as calling on a deity would be right now, I don't think it will help us much, Jack quipped. General Hammond says that we're facing an investigation pending court-martial right now, but if we want to resign first, he didn't seem opposed to the idea.

What about Dad? Sam asked, her face now stricken.

We'll handle him when the time comes, Jack said, then gathered Sam in close for a hug, not particularly mindful of the security camera in the corner of the lab. It hardly mattered who found out about them, now. We always knew it might come to this, he reminded her. Now it has.

But, what about..? What about..? she sputtered ineffectually.

What about what? he gently asked, still standing with his arms wrapped around her.

Sam swallowed the bile that had been sitting in her throat. Jack felt the motion against the side of his chest. What about the SGC? she finally managed to ask. If there's a court-martial, surely the Stargate Program will come out into the open.

I think that's the least of our concerns, Jack told her.

But... But... Sam started to say.

We have to decide; What do you want to do? he asked then.

Um... Sam thought for a moment. Then, she drew back to confront Jack more straight on. Do you plan to confess anything? she inquired.

I already have, he informed her.

Then it seems rather pointless for me not to make the same confession, she stated.

There's the idea of your complete denial if you don't want to lose your career, Jack suggested.

Sam appeared outraged at the mere suggestion of her denial. I can't do that! I won't do that! Not to you! Sam instantly blurted.

Jack's face showed his relief. I'm more glad than you know to hear that, he admitted with a sigh. But there will be a high price with this if we see it through to completion, and I want you to know that I'll deny any charges against us if you want me to.

For the sake of my career? Sam inquired.

Jack nodded.

Sam grimaced. Now you sound like my Dad, she told him just before a steely look of determination came over her expression. But no matter what he or anybody else says, I'll still plead guilty, she announced firmly. I'll plead it right now if I have to.

Jack didn't tell her how it heartened him to hear her say that she was willing to put him, as well as her relationship with him, over her career. It was a fact that she loved both, but when push came to shove, she had just displayed her willingness to stay with him and start her career over again. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but if it does, know that I've already done the same thing, and that I plan to do it again in front of a court-martial review board if I have to.

Oh, God, Sam said, then. I get the worst case of butterflies just hearing that term.

Do you want to resign, then? O'Neill asked.

Sam hesitated. I'm not sure, she slowly said, and slid off her stool to the scarred floor. I don't feel like I should have to resign. She looked up at O'Neill. I... We've, she corrected. We've done nothing really wrong. She looked around the room, then, but saw none of the gadgets and gizmos she stored in her lab. We've done nothing but save the planet too many times to count, and...

But we can't deny that our relationship has gone to places that... it may not have been originally intended to... Jack pointed out.

No, we can't deny that, Sam admitted, But we've never let it affect our working relationship, Sam argued back. After all, the regs. are really just a guideline.

True, O'Neill conceded with a sigh. But we should find out what Daniel and Teal'c think about all this before we decide on any course of action.

Sam nodded once. I agree. Then, she glanced up at him. And everyone here thinks you're not way smart, she pointed out. What you just said shows that you know more about how the military works than you don't.

Jack seemed surprised by her comment. You think I'm smart? he asked.

She nodded. Of course you are. I've learned more about stealth fighting and reconnaissance from you than I ever learned from anyone else in the Air Force.

Thanks, Jack blurted appreciatively. I think that's about the nicest thing you've ever said to me.

No, Sam negated. 'I love you' is that nicest thing I've ever said to you. This is just the first time I've commented on your extensive brain power.

And to think, it came during threat of a court-martial, Jack commented, still not quite able to fully believe her.

Sam smiled. I can't think of anything better to say, she said, then added, Or truer. Then she gestured at the door with her head. Come on; let's round up Daniel and Teal'c and talk to the guys before we decide to do anything.

Good idea, Jack intoned. Say, where did you ever get so smart? he joked as they headed out into the corridor.

Sam weaved her fingers through his in an obvious sign of ownership. I had the best of teachers, she said, and hugged his arm as they proceeded down the hall in the direction of Daniel's office, a likely place to find him, lost in some translation or other. Teal'c would not be hard to locate from there, as he was always very protective of his team members, whether off world or on base.

Together, Sam and Jack headed out to see 'the guys.'

* * *

Court-martial? Daniel asked in order to ascertain that he was haring the facts correctly.

Teal'c asked a question of his own. That's the military's form of punishing wrong doers?

Sam crossed her arms. Well, it's not really a punishment, and I don't feel like we've done anything remotely wrong...

Hey, Jack said, still joking in the face of such a serious situation, Maybe you can talk to the review board for us, he said with a glance at the Jaffa.

Daniel mirrored Sam's gesture. So you've decided to go for a court-martial, then, instead of retiring or resigning?

It sounds exactly as if that is what you have decided, Teal'c said in agreement.

Sam looked at Jack and Jack looked at Sam. Then Jack said, Well, we haven't exactly decided on any course of action...

Teal'c was the first to negate his words. I would say that you have, O'Neill, he announced.

Daniel took over, then. We've personally witnessed how you two spent years going around each other on tenterhooks.

Terrified, Teal'c stated nonchalantly.

Daniel continued, And no one can argue that you both seem a lot happier now that you're in a relationship, and that's got to affect your working relationship in a positive way.

Yeah? Jack asked.

Yeah, Daniel affirmed.

You willing to state that in front of a board? Jack asked next.

Daniel looked at Sam, Jack, and Teal'c before answering, Well, yeah, I am. Then he amended, We are.

Jack looked to Sam again. Then I guess we're going for a court-martial, he answered. Sam shrugged, then, gambling everything that was part of her military past, agreed with a nod of her head.

Court-martial it is, she said.

Jack sized them all up with his eyes. I'll tell General Hammond.

Worse, we have to tell Dad, Sam threatened, her look turning more glum than it was. The reminder made all three men raise their eyebrows in a show of concern and support for her.

* * *

Two hours later, Jacob walked down the Stargate ramp heading straight for his friend, George Hammond. George! Jacob bellowed in good nature. How are things, my old friend?

Weeeelll... Hammond paused to answer him. Perhaps, the less said on that subject, the better.

Jacob turned to the two others who stood at the bottom of the ramp, stopping to greet him. Jack, he said to the waiting Colonel, do you want to tell me what's going on?

Except that Sam refused to let the man she loved take the entire credit for a court-martial by himself. He would undoubtedly prefer it that way, but it wasn't an entirely accurate picture of the situation. Perhaps we should talk... in private, she added for good measure.

Jacob glanced at the three SGC members in confusion. In private? He snorted a laugh of incredulity that clearly showed his bewilderment. What could you possibly have to say that you can't tell me here? Jacob inquired. We can't possibly need privacy! We never have before!

Oh, Jack said with a nervous scratch at his ear. You might say that this is a first, then.

Again Jacob gave his laugh of disbelief. What is it? What's going on?

Daaaad, Sam half whispered, half whined. You never knew when to stop pushing. We said we'd tell you, and we will. Just not here. She gestured with her arm towards the door to the outside corridor. Perhaps in the Conference Room, or the General's office.., she suggested.

Sam, just tell me, Jacob ordered, losing what little hold on his patience that he had.

Sam sighed, aggravated at him enough to shock his sense of propriety in front of the entire Embarkation Room personnel. All right, have it your way.

Sam.., Jack warned in a low growl.

No, it will come out anyway, and Dad insists on knowing it all.

Jacob looked flummoxed as he shrugged his shoulders. Know what?

The Colonel and I are being accused of entering into an unauthorized, romantic, relationship, and face a court-martial review board in a week, Sam reported.

To his credit, Jacob didn't hit his head on anything damaging as he fainted once Sam's news had the proper time to sink in.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, to the great relief of every person surrounding Jacob's bed in the Infirmary, where he had been carried once it was ascertained that no bones were broken, the Tok'ra started to stir. Five minutes after that, his eyelids blinked, his hands moved, and it was positive that Jacob was going to wake up and make a full recovery from his escapade in the Embarkation Room.

Wh... What happened? Jacob asked in a slurred voice.

Sam gave a tiny grin. You... um...fainted.

I never faint, Jacob protested from his medical bed.

That's what I always say, too, Jack filled in at once. Only there are about ten people who want to say that the opposite is true.

Once the attention was on Jack, however, it was obvious according to the expression on Jacob's face that he remembered what had made him faint in the first place. Jacob's gaze swiveled from Jack, to his daughter, and back again. A court-martial? he asked in a stunned voice. In a week?

Sam nodded, then shrugged. Well, you just had to know right away, she explained her decision to tell him. You never did know when to stop pushing, she added in a mild tone.

Jacob's sense of disbelief deepened. A court-martial? My Sam?

Sam sighed. Okay, here we go... she said in irritation.

Before father and daughter had the chance to bite each other's heads off, Jack jumped in. You can blame me, if you have to blame anybody, Sir.

You? Jacob inquired groggily.

As her CO, I should know better, I admit, but you have to understand...

Do you love her? Jacob interrupted.

Jack was caught off guard by Jacob's question. Excuse me?

Jacob tried a shrug this time, but was only half successful, as his right shoulder was restrained by the pillow he was lying on. It's an easy question to answer, he said, then repeated, Do you love her?

Jack glanced up at Sam, trying to gauge by her response just what her father was searching for. Since he couldn't predict what kind of response Jacob was after, he opted for the truth. More than my own life, he answered honestly.

You're willing to die for her?

That's already been established, Hammond intervened.

But Jacob went on, And are you willing to live without her in case she dies first of something from which you can't save her?

Daaad! Sam protested.

Again Jacob gave his one shoulder shrug. You people are in an extremely dangerous line of work... It's only natural that I wonder what one will do without the other.

Jack held out his hand to stop Sam from responding. I... um... hope that never happens, Sir, Jack said. But I would do anything... anything... to keep her alive.

That's not what I asked, Jacob reminded. Can you go on without her? he repeated.

Jack sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets. I wouldn't want to, Sir, he admitted in a quiet voice.

Woah, Daniel commented under his breath.

Jacob, however, surprised the gathering when he smiled and said, You really do love her.

I said I did, Jack reiterated. He gestured in Carter's general direction with his hand. I mean, what's not to love? he asked rhetorically. I even love her sweat! he declared.

Ooookkkaaayy, Daniel intoned. That was too much information.

O'Neill fisted his hands in his pockets. What? he asked of the group at large. I've seen more of her sweat than most people smell perfume.

True, Jacob countered, pushing himself up with his elbows. And it's a woman at her worst when the truth comes out. And I know that Sam is anything but pretty when she sweats.

Jack smiled and had to say, Yes, but have you seen her covered in... He turned to Sam. What was it? He turned back to regard Jacob again. Some kind of animal dung, I think...

Sam loudly interrupted, I was taking soil samples at the time, she reminded.

Only that particular substance turned out not to be soil, Teal'c vocalized.

Good thing we always wear those rubber gloves, Daniel noted as he scratched an ear in a sarcastic gesture.

Sam planted her hands on her hips. If you guys don't cut it out, I'll dump a whole load of droppings on top of your cars! she threatened.

And she'd do it, too, O'Neill responded, remembering a similar morning where he had been surprised by Sam while crawling into his truck.

It was Jacob who reminded them of the original conversation by turning to his daughter and asking, And do you love him? with a nod towards the Colonel.

Sam looked up at Jack. I know I'm not supposed to, according to some stupid Air Force rules, but yeah, I do.

Are you willing to die for him?

Sam rolled her eyes. Oh, yes, yes, yes, we've been through all this once before.

Jacob shrugged again. Then knock yourselves out, he said, then amended, Though not in the Embarkation Room. He rubbed at his shoulder. The floor's mighty hard in there, he groused.

Clearly bewildered, Jack gestured back and forth between Carter and himself. Then you don't mind? he ascertained.

Mind? Jacob repeated in a tone that clearly indicated he thought Colonel O'Neill had lost his mind. I think you've lost your marbles, but they're your marbles. She ever spew that techno stuff at you until you can't see straight?

Dad! Sam protested.

But Jack was answering. I used to sit through all those mindless explanations of things, but now I always stop her before she really gets going.

Sam rolled her eyes again. Just don't let him push you through the Stargate, she warned teasingly.

Well, at least I was never covered in animal dung, Jack retorted in the same tone as she was using.

At least I never grew old before my time, Sam shot back.

O'Neill raised a finger. Hey, that was not my fault!

Eat any wedding cake lately, Sir? Sam inquired sweetly.

Jacob interrupted. There's that sweet, innocent tone...

It's a sure sign that she's being anything but sweet and innocent, Jack finished for him.

Be that as it may, General Hammond said, overriding Jacob's and Jack's loud guffaws at Major Carter's expense. We're getting a bit off topic here.

Right, Jack said seriously. Court-martial, two weeks.

You sound like you're actually looking forward to it, Daniel commented to his leader as he glanced around the group.

Again, Jack shrugged. Maybe I am. Silence reigned until Jack broke through it once more. A chance to tell the world that I'm in love with Sam Carter? Then he grinned. Wouldn't miss it for anything. Then, he added, Regulations are just guidelines, anyway.

Hope you're just as convincing next week, Daniel went on.

Hey, Jacob intervened. Anyone who can think that Sam looks good covered in alien animal droppings is okay by me.

And Sam was so cute covered in manure, Jack said, with a twinkle in his eye just for Sam.

* * *

A week later, in the building of the Air Force Academy the court-martial was scheduled to be held in, Jack was buttoning the jacket of his dress uniform over his chest, and wriggling against the natural discomfort of the typically ignored uniform. These things have always itched, he complained. You'd think that after all these years, the Air Force would invent uniforms that didn't itch.

Sam explained, Then they'd have to use something besides wool, Sir, and nothing lays quite as nicely as wool.

Do you think we can get some of those nifty clothes the Goa'uld wear? Jack asked, joking.

As much as I dislike dress blues, I hate what the System Lords wear even more, Sam admitted. I'd never wear what they wear.

Too much skin showing? O'Neill guessed, and Sam nodded. Well, you look too good in dress blues to warrant a change in the uniform, anyway.

I look good? Sam asked, too stunned by that announcement to think particularly straight.

Jack nodded. Well, yeah, you're one of the more popular soldiers in the Program when wearing a dress uniform.

Of course, that's not saying much, Carter negated. Most of the soldiers are male, and not that they don't look good in dress blues, but... You don't look too bad yourself, I admit. Certainly hot enough to blow away a court-martial review board.

Jack couldn't help the grin that erupted on his face. You think I look hot?

Sam nodded and grinned back. Hotter than a Tok'ra planet, Sir, she flirted.

And you, Jack announced, are hotter than Hathor.

Hey, you two, Jacob intervened. Cut out that flirting business; we're about ready to go in.

Sam straightened her spine minutely to attention. Oh, sorry, she apologized.

Jack took her hand in his. Steady, and stay calm, he suggested to her. We've fought entire armies of Jaffa and won. A few Humans will be no problem for us to handle.

Sam smiled, grateful for his reminder. As you say, Sir.

And Sam, Jack reminded softly as the door to the room was thrown open by a soldier on guard duty. Call me 'Jack,' not 'Sir.' How many times do I have to remind you about that? he asked.

Sam giggled like a much younger girl. One more time, apparently, she said.

Jacob's whispering voice interrupted their banter. Will you two please stop with the flirting? he asked.

Sorry, both Sam and Jack whispered back as they proceeded to enter the room together. Their linked fingers posed an image of strength as they walked side by side down the center aisle between separated seats towards the front of the room while the rest of SG-1, Dr. Frasier, Generals Hammond and Carter took seats in the rows of chairs provided for them.

Another soldier, a woman in her late thirties, dressed also in the same uniform as Jack and Sam, approached them as they took their seats. She introduced herself. Hi, I'm Captain Amanda Oresto. I'm your sort of unofficial lawyer. She shook their outstretched hands.

We need a lawyer? Jack asked in confusion.

Call me Amanda, she invited, and smiled. I'm here just to make sure your rights are not unduly violated by a third party, that's all. Try to think of me as an ally, she suggested.

Yes, Sir, Sam said.

Jack immediately turned to Amanda on his right. She has a problem with saying 'Sir' all the time.

Sam didn't even bother with a comeback to his remark. Stop fidgeting, she told him in an undertone.

Jack turned to Sam on his left. I'm not fidgeting! he protested. It's these dumb uniforms. You know, I think I'm allergic to wool, no matter how nice it lays, he said.

You mean there's a price for beauty? Sam whispered. I'll have to remember that.

No, these uniforms do itch, Amanda piped up, and smiled.

You think so, too? Jack asked right away. That's what I'm saying.

Dad said to stop with the flirting, Sam reminded out of the side of her mouth.

I'm not flirting, Jack told her. I'm just being nice. Who knows; maybe she's heard of me, and I don't want to give the wrong first impression.

Sam snorted, but Amanda only looked amused. Who in the Air Force hasn't heard of you? she corrected.

What? Jack asked, his confusion growing.

Don't tell him that, or it will go to his head, Sam warned.

Amanda smiled. Don't worry, I won't. Consider it stricken from the record.

Sam grinned again as several Air Force officers, four men and three women, filed into the room. The members of the review board, Sam figured. They were also dressed in formal military attire, giving the room an official air of formality. Sam did her best to ignore it as she said to Amanda, I knew I liked you the moment I saw you.

Let's get back to hearing about me, Jack ordered. I think I like that bit about me having a reputation.

Careful, Sam cautioned in a whisper. It might be a reputation for insubordination.

Amanda nodded, but Jack only shook his head in a sarcastic manner, and said, Nah, couldn't be.

Sam was giggling again when one of the officers in the front of the room called the proceedings to order, and everyone grew quiet. Sam's laughter trailed off, but it lent just a hint of warmth to the chill of the room.

We are here for legal military proceedings against Colonel Jonothon O'Neill and Major Samantha Carter for being involved in a prohibited relationship, one of the men announced.

They make it sound so bad when it's not bad at all, Jack noted to Sam in a whisper.

Sam whispered back, It's their job. Now be quiet before we get in more trouble.

Can we get in more trouble? Jack wanted to know.

No! both Sam and Amanda whispered at the same time.

One of the men glared at them before he continued, This is not a court of law, but a military court-martial. It would do well for all those involved to remember that. Then he went on, If found innocent, the two accused will be allowed to return to their posting. If found guilty, the two accused will be released from the military with a dishonorable discharge order, and returned to their homes, where a nonmilitary existence must commence.

Again, it sounds bad when he says it that way, Jack whispered to Sam, who only smiled this time, but didn't answer.

The man continued. Proceed. And he banged on the bench in front of him with some sort of ceremonial hammer. Jack thought of Thor's Hammer, and couldn't help his grin.

Something funny about that, Colonel O'Neill? the man asked coldly,

No, Sir, Jack immediately assured. Just admiring your gavel, Sir.

It's been around longer than you have, the man said swiftly.

Ah, but not as long as Thor's Hammer, I bet, and that's what I was smiling at, Jack noted. I apologize. It won't happen again.

Sam could have died of embarrassment right there before the court-martial had even really begun, but a woman officer leaned forward into the microphone set up in front of her, and asked, Thor's Hammer? Care to explain that reference?

Jack hesitated. Well, it's rather a long story, he finally said.

The woman shrugged. We have all the time in the world.

That's what you think, Jack quipped. He turned to glance at Hammond, then turned back to face his questioner. How high is your clearance? he asked dubiously.

The woman rolled her eyes in a sardonic manner. We're a court-martial review board... our clearance is assured, or we wouldn't even be on this board. Now, please, just answer the question, Colonel O'Neill.

Sam's hand tightened on Jack's just a bit as he shrugged and replied, Thor's an Asgaard, and his Hammer's his... Hammer.

An Asgaard? the female soldier went on. I'm not familiar with that term.

Jack sighed, but released Sam's hand so that he could gesture around, waving his fingers, then gamely tried to explain, He's from a race who's at war with the Goa'uld System Lords.

The woman's eyes wrinkled. The Goa'uld?

Jack noted, Look, this is a bad idea, and goes against everything we're fighting for...

Answer the question! a man rumbled, and the hand hold was reinstated to tighten even further.

Jack shrugged once more. Okay, you asked for it, He took a deep breath, then said, The Goa'uld are a group of aliens bent on taking over or destroying the galaxy one piece at a time. Their symbiotic relationship obliterates their host, so the System Lords are always harvesting new hosts, and their favorite at the moment happens to be Humans. He fell into silence, then, lest he be asked for more of an explanation.

Good briefing, Sir! Sam complimented in a whisper.

His words seemed to be having a more stunning effect on his reviewers, however. Aliens? one of the men asked who hadn't spoken yet.

Jack went on. Yeah, aliens. You know, cosmic bad guys. Then he turned to the others in the room. Hey, Jacob, can you do that glowing eye thing for us for a minute? You know, just to demonstrate?

Sure, Jacob said, then complied helpfully. His eyes lit up for just the smallest of seconds.

But the demonstration was enough. The entire review board fell back in astonishment.

Jack released his hold on Carter again, and held his hands in a calming gesture. It's all right! It's all right! he assured. The General's Tok'ra, not a System Lord... You have nothing to fear from him!

Tok'ra? the same woman who had spoken before asked.

All right, the man beside her said, stopping them. He held up his hands. A little explanation is in order before we get started, I think.

Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Carter cut him off. If I may be allowed to speak? she began. Several members of the board nodded. Sam graciously said, Thank you, then continued. She raised both hands before her. Think of the Goa'uld...

This alien race? a man on the board asked.

Sam nodded. Yes. Now, please, bear with me. The Goa'uld are symbiots, meaning that there are two beings in one host. She pointed at Jacob for a moment. My own Dad is one of them.

'Father,' one man scratched on a legal pad set before him. 'Goa'uld.' Then he paused and looked up. Does anybody know how to spell that? he inquired.

Sam smiled and said, G-a-o- apostrophe - u-l-d.

Jack looked down and noticed that the same courtesy in the form of a yellow legal pad of paper had been given to him. He knew it was meant to take notes on from the proceedings, but he suspected that it would simply become paper for his doodles as the court-martial proceeded. He was sure to get bored with all the witnessing that was meant to come later and be glad for that paper before the court-martial was over.

Sam was going on, however, and Jack redirected his attention back to her. Think of the entire race as Goa'uld. Sam traced a circle in the air with her hand. Then she held out both hands. On the one hand, we have the System Lords, and she raised her left hand into the air. And fighting them is the Tok'ra. She raised her right hand, then. The Tok'ra are good Goa'ulds. They've been at war with the System Lords for... She glanced at her father. Dad? Do you know?

Two thousand years, he calmly announced to the review board.

The board members gave a start, and one officer asked, Two thousand? as if he wanted to make sure.

Jacob nodded. Give or take a few years.

The astonishment grew in all but one man, who appeared to be growing more and more skeptical instead. Okay, alien races aside, that's not why we're here. We convened because of a complaint made against these two individuals, and he pointed at Sam and Jack. We've established that they're fighting on the front line against... He stumbled. ... against... something.., but things changed at some point in time. Colonel O'Neill, please come forward and take the witness chair before more formally giving testimony. He gestured to a chair stationed to the side of their bench, all set up with a microphone already, waiting.

Jack stood after Sam grabbed his hand for a quick squeeze once again, and tugged his jacket down before threading his way forward and taking a seat on the chair.

State your full name for the record, the man ordered.

Jack leaned forward just a bit so that his voice would be sure to be picked up by the microphone and carry around the rather large room. Colonel Jonothan O'Neill, though I go by the name Jack O'Neill much more often. I'm part of the United States Air Force, stationed at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base, part of the Stargate program and leader of SG-1. He leaned into the back of the chair.

Sg-1? The woman officer, obviously a General, according to the three stars on her shoulder, asked for clarification.

Jack answered, Teams of three, four, and five individuals who fight the Goa'uld on a regular basis. The members of my team are Major Sam Carter, he pointed. Teal'c, and Dr. Jackson.

Your the Commanding Officer of this... this team? one officer ascertained.

That's right, Jack responded. We've been a team since the beginning. In fact, we were the first team that went to... He paused, and looked to General Hammond seated in the audience on the provided benches.

The General nodded. You might as well tell them, he ordered.

To Abydos, Jack finished.

Who is that man? asked the female General.

General Hammond, my superior officer, Jack answered.

Another officer, a man this time, asked, And this Abydos... It's a... another city?

No, Sir, Jack corrected. It's another planet.

More astonishment met his gaze, and Jack sighed. Look, can I use your... your chalk board for a minute?

A chalk board was moved from the side of the room closer to Jack's position in the witness chair. He hesitantly stood and grabbed the piece of chalk sitting in the groove in the board's chalk tray. He drew a circle, and underneath the outer rim of the circle, drew wriggly lines. Think of the circle as the Stargate, which we walk through, and these wriggly lines are address points, each address consisting of seven symbols sent into a computer dialing program, which... Jack turned back to the table where Sam and Amanda were sitting. ... which Sam wrote, by the way, long before she even saw the Stargate... Then he turned back to his drawing. We went to Abydos the first time we went through the 'Gate, and we've been visiting different worlds now for... eight?... He looked again at Hammond, who nodded. Yeah, eight years. He tossed the chalk back into its tray and returned to his seat.

This team of yours was created when you went to.., one of the officers wanted to know. He checked his yellow legal pad. To Abydos?

Jack nodded. That's right.

Is that team the only team, then? the same woman from before went on.

This time, Jack shook his head. No. There were two teams to begin with. Then ten. Now, we have fifteen.

And you're the leader of the first team? she asked.

Jack nodded again.

And Major Carter is under your command? asked another male officer.

Jack's eyes met Sam's from across the room; he knew where this line of questioning was going, and he wondered if he should just cut it short by giving more information than requested. Yes, I'm her Commanding Officer, he finally said.

For how long?

Since the beginning of Sg-1... eight years, Jack said, still wondering.

And you and she have been... involved... for..?

Jack glanced again at General Hammond. But the General already knew all about him and Sam, so he said, Two months.

One of the female officers smiled, but it was a smile of incredulity. Your telling us that you went for six years without feeling anything for Major Carter, and then in the past two months, you... what..? Suddenly romantically noticed her? Did she seduce you, or what? This is an explanation I would love to hear.

Jack again leaned forward, but this time, there was a granite expression carved into his face. For the record, Sam and I have been 'involved' for two months, though we've known each other for much longer. And don't think that Sam 'seduced' anyone; I said I'd known her for eight years, and that we've been together for two wonderful months... I never said that I didn't have feelings for her for a long time before that.

How long? asked another officer, as if he were looking for the correct answer to a test question in a class.

Jack shrugged again. Six years or so, he replied. Then, he amended, At least, I admitted the truth too myself a six years.

One of the female officer's eyes widened. You've had feelings for the Major for possibly longer than six years? she asked.

Jack nodded. We thought we both did a good job at hiding our feelings, but... maybe not, since we're here, he ruefully admitted.

And what, pray tell, are these professed feelings, now? asked a bald man on the end of the board.

Jack shrugged for the umpteenth time, looked again at General Hammod, and told them everything there was to know, really, about his 'affair' with Sam. At least, everything that was important. I'm in love with her, he stated. It's no secret.

Not infatuated? the same officer asked in a cold voice. You don't feel a schooltime crush, do you? It's sometimes hard to tell the difference.

No, Jack stated simply. She's my everything, and it's just a shame that the regulations aren't written in order to take that kind of a relationship into consideration. That's all I've got to say.

A moment went by as every member of the board scribbled something on their legal pads, then a woman, the friendlier General who had spoken before, looked up, smiled, and said, You're dismissed, Colonel O'Neill.

Jack resumed his seat, greeted by one of the Major's warm hands again. Only, this time, she didn't let go.

Thank you, the woman officer said. Then, she glanced out at the audience, and called. Dr. Daniel Jackson.

Daniel strode forward, tripped on the microphone chord, caght his balance, then seated himself. The questioning began.

After Daniel came Teal'c, Janet, General Hammond... they all testified to the same end, that the new state of affairs (good word, Jack thought) between the Colonel and the Major was strictly prohibited from their work on the base; missions and time on base were kept professional.

Jack did doodle on his legal pad, sharing his pictures with Sam when it seemed appropriate, and she smiled when he drew a picture of a good representation of a pyramid with a large 'X' marked through it. Her amusement, however, ended when her name was called loud and clear through the microphone.

Major Samantha Carter.

Suddenly nervous, Sam cleared her throat, then slowly stood up,

Jack whispered, Just think of all of them naked, and you'll be fine.

Sam was giggling when she took her seat in the witness chair.

Care to tell us what's so damned funny? a bald male officer asked.

Sam composed her expression. Not really, she answered, and she could swear that she heard someone, Jacob probably, groan.

Tell us anyway, the same officer ordered.

Sam blushed to the roots of her blonde hair, but she obligingly leaned forward. Colonel O'Neill was just telling me to... well, to think of you all as wearing no clothes, and that I would be much calmer if I did.

Without exception, the three women officers blushed, as well as Sam, and several of the men had red faces, too. All of them save one smiled tolerantly.

That one, a man, was red with rage, however. That is insubordination! he yelled. And I will not have it in a court-martial proceeding!

The guards moved from the corners of the room to stand near Jack, but Sam was leaning forward again. That's hardly fair, since you asked me to tell you what I was laughing at, and I did tell you. There's no reason to take anything out on Colonel O'Neill.

Things calmed down in the room, and the bald man smiled, though unpleasantly. Ah, pretty protective of Colonel O'Neill, aren't you?

I have to be, Sam responded. If we didn't constantly watch each other's six, then we would have been shot by Jaffa a long time ago.

Jaffa? he tiredly asked.

Sam squirmed on her seat, getting comfortable before she launched into an explanation. Yes, Sir, she said. Soldiers in the service of the System Lords. Teal'c was a Jaffa before we liberated him.

Liberated? he repeated sarcastically, then rubbed at his bald head. So, you're saying that a member of your team is an alien?

Yes, Sam said.

The officer laughed ironically. He shook his head. This life of yours sounds more and more like a bad 'B' science fiction movie all the time.

It's the truth, though, Sam argued from her seat. Teal'c, stand up and show them your pouch... not Junior, though,.. I don't thing they're quite ready for that.

Teal'c stood obligingly, and drew his shirt up so that the members of the board could gape in his general direction.

What the hell is that? demanded the bald man.

It is a symbiote pouch, Teal'c informed them. I carry an infant Goa'uld within me, and have done so since I was a child on Chulak.

A city? one of the review board murmured.

A planet, Teal'c said, and lowered his shirt.

But Teal'c's explanation wasn't enough for the bald man again. How come you didn't say this when you were testifying earlier? he demanded to know.

Teal'c dryly sized him up, and finally proclaimed, You did not ask.

Well, that's true, one of the board members whispered to another.

The bald man banged his hammer, and the collected company all jumped in their chairs. Order! he demanded.

Collins, that's enough, I think, another woman answered his pounding. One more bang, and you're going to give me a heart attack.

I'm going to have one if I don't get something to eat, and soon, one of the other members said. Decisively, she lifted her own gavel and banged it down for everyone's attention. We'll resume after we have some lunch, in say... two hours. Dismissed until 1400.

Slowly the crowd began to disperse. The members of the review board disappeared into a room with a door that no one had noticed before now, and Sam climbed down from the witness chair and went to join Amanda and Jack.

Well, that was easy, she said when she reached them. Hope this continues to be as simple.

Amanda was shaking her head. I'm afraid it's going to get a lot worse, she announced.

Why? Jack asked. They weren't so hard on me, he noted.

Amanda sighed. As much as I hate to admit this, it's still a man's military, Colonel. Things are much harder, more loss of privacy, for women.

I'll remember that, Sam said with a groan.

You'll do better if you do, Amanda said, then gathered her papers together and threw the lot into a briefcase that had previously been stashed under the table.

Hey, Jack said then to Amanda. Join us for lunch if you've got nothing else to do.

Amanda smiled. Are you flirting with me again? she asked as she closed her case.

Jack answered right away. I can't help it; I have a thing for blonde women.

You're on, then, she responded with a smile.

Just don't offer to arm wrestle him, Sam warned as they made their way up to the top of the room and the door. She stared at Jack. He might just take you up on it.

Afraid she'll lose? Jack inquired and took Sam's hand in his.

Sam grinned, then sweetly said, No, that she'll hurt you. Today is not a good day to get hurt.

Jack grimaced. Oh, ha, ha, very funny. You know, Jacob was right when he told me to watch out for your sweet side... you can be deceptive when you want to be.

Sam sighed. That's how I got to be a Major.

Jack shook his head. And I thought that promotion was because we kicked some 'major' Goa'uld... He stopped, and looked at Amanda. ... patutie, he ended.

Sam grinned, and hugged his arm again as they pushed through the door. Yeah, that too, she said.

* * *

They ate at a Mexican restaurant that was known to be friendly, inexpensive, and above all, fast, which they all appreciated, especially since they had such a big party. Things were going along quite well until Daniel's voice boomed above the rest of the conversations, Teal'c, you brought your staff weapon with you?

Everyone immediately fell into the quiet of bated breath as they all waited for the Jaffa to reply. Jacob was looking horrified, and rubbing over what little hair he had left on the top of his head.

I did not know if we were going to find friend or foe here, Teal'c carefully replied. It seemed prudent to bring a weapon of some kind along as protection from a possibly hostile force.

General Hammond held up his hands. I didn't even know about it until we were already here, he said. Teal'c and I rode over to the Academy in different vans.

What did you do with it; leave it in the van? Daniel asked next.

No, Teal'c reported in his dispassionate way. I was forced to leave it with the guard of the room. He returned it me when we disbanded in order to eat.

Sam rubbed away at her face, trying to hide her reaction to Teal'c's offer of assistance. Uh... Thanks, Teal'c, she said at last. That was thoughtful of you. Then she tried to smile encouragingly. But now that you know we have nothing to fear from these... hostiles... perhaps you can leave your weapon in the van after lunch, huh?

That sounds like a good idea, Jack said, backing Sam. We wouldn't want to cause a misunderstanding or anything.

Amanda glanced between Jack and Sam, and asked, Staff weapon? What kind? What's he talking about?

Sam leaned in, then, and whispered, You don't want to know.

The ride back to the Academy was slightly more joke-filled, as stomachs were less rumbly and insistent. The driver of the van carrying Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter among its passengers was fifteen minutes early arriving back at the main building of the campus.

Everybody, remember where we parked, called a joshing Colonel as they all disembarked and headed into the air-conditioned building. The weather had become quite warm as the day progressed.

They were all standing, talking among themselves, waiting for the doors to the court-martial room to open again, when Jack suddenly pulled at Sam's arm. She went with Jack, but kept her eyes on Teal'c, making sure that he hadn't tried to sneak his staff weapon into the building. But Jack was speaking into her ear. Sam, can you come over here for a minute? I want to talk to you. He surreptitiously corralled her into a corner away from the others, then forced her eyes on him by turning her back to the others. No one even noticed them.

Jack, what's wrong? Sam inquired immediately. Are you sick or something?

Or something, Jack responded, then blew out his breath as nerves clearly took over his demeanor. He reached into his trouser pocket with his fisted hand, once again outardly nervous. Sam, I... Then, he paused, and just looked at her again.

Jack, Sam protested. If something's wrong, you really should tell someone. She pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. Would you like me to get Janet for you?

No, Jack insisted. I'm fine. I'm just not doing this very well. I never did know what was the right thing to say.

Sam's confusion was mounting to reach new heights, even for her. Jack, maybe Janet can really...

Jack interrupted her, Sam, he exploded into rapid speech, I think we ought to get married.

Sam paused in a stunned silence. What? she finally asked in a show of dumb vagueness, then blinked.

Jack sighed, and forced himself to take a deep breath before he went on. I'm asking you to marry me, he stated.

What? Sam repeated again, dazed.

Jack thrust a ring between them. For someone so smart, you sure can be dense sometimes. Sam, will you marry me? It's not that hard of a question to answer, to quote Jacob... sort of.

The dazed look slowly drifted from Sam's eyes, and she carefully lifted her hands to cradle the ring he held pinched between his thumb and index finger. Oh. My. God, Sam announced.

Not yet, thank goodness, Jack quipped. Well, whadya think? he asked.

Sam was quiet so long that Jack thought she was going to say 'no.' But, instead, she stipulated a question of her own. No matter what the review board decides? No matter the Regulations?

Jack sighed again. No matter about any of it. he told her. I want to snatch you before anybody else asks you... And don't think there's not a line a mile long... They're all just scared that you'll spray them with your water gun, and...

Oh my god, Sam repeated on a breath of air, totally interrupting him. Y... yes, she gasped, then, and shoved the ring onto her left hand. It fit, but it was half a size too big. She had to turn it over and hold it steady so that she could look at its blue stone. God, yes! she yelled when she had regained her bearings. I don't believe this! She threw her arms around Jack's neck, and a laughing Colonel responded in kind.

Jack continued to explain in a rush, I was so afraid that you would say 'no,' or that you would need to think about this for awhile, or that you would wish for your water gun so you could squirt the ring a million miles away. Jack smiled in relief now that his asking was over. It's not like I've ever asked this question before.

But... Sara..? Sam inquired, though the more she thought about it, bringing up his ex-wife's name was probably not the swiftest thing to do during a marriage proposal.

Charlie, was all Jack said by way of an explanation. We had to get married then. But this is different. So different. He'd loved Sara and Charlie and their life together as a family, but... Sam was... Sam. He hugged her for all he was worth.

Then Janet was there, and was not to be denied as she reached for Sam's left hand and demanded, Let me see it! She looked on as the others began trickling over to Sam and Jack's secluded corner. They were slower than the doctor in figuring out the significance of Sam's shout. A blue stone? she asked, and looked at them both. Does that color mean something to you, or something? Why blue? she queried. Or am I missing something, here?

Jack smiled. Sam looks good in blue... don't ya think?

But Daniel was there before Janet could respond. You guys are really engaged now, he declared, and grinned.

Ya think? Sam yelled at him, and everyone who had gathered around them laughed at her imitation of Jack.

But no one else had time to peruse the sapphire stone that O'Neill had chosen to give to Sam before the doors to the court-martial room were thrown open. Everyone looked around at them, then the group slowly began to file through the doors.

Sam smiled maniacally and bounced on her feet.

You keep grinning like that and the board will wonder if we got news that the war is over, Jack cautioned.

For the first time ever, I can honestly say that I don't bloody well care if it is or if it isn't, Sam stated. Her grin threatened to engulf her entire face. She smiled, she grinned, then she smiled some more. Bring 'em on.

Jack laughed at her enthusiasm, and gave her one last arm-squeeze before leading her through the open door. But he was grinning, too.

They separated at the bottom of the room, and Jack walked to his chair behind the table while Sam took her seat in the witness chair again. Still, the smiles wore on.

Her gesture lasted until everyone was sitting down and the review board resumed its questioning.

Now, state you name and rank for the record, one of the officers stated after everyone had been called to order.

Sam cleared her throat and tried to wipe the smile off her face. Dr. Major Samantha Carter, physical astrophysicist, stationed at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, part of Stargate Command, member of Sg-1, and its second in command. She looked up hesitantly, wondering if she had gotten everything in the right order for them all.

Very good, said the friendly female officer, a two star General. Now, I'm afraid we're going to have to get a bit personal for our next question, she apologized.

The bald officer who had been badgering witnesses before lunch jumped into the conversation. She wants to know if you're pregnant, he announced in as indelicate a manner as possible.

Sam choked. N... No, she finally responded.

We might not believe just your word on that, he said. It's amazing how women will lie about this in order to protect someone, or encourage things to go the way they want them to, or...

Well, Sam said as her face colored red again. There's just my word, since we didn't bring my medical records along.

Janet spoke up, then. As her doctor, you can take it from me that she is not what you're insinuating.

One of the three women board members smiled kindly at Janet. It's not that we doubt your word, Dr. Frasier, but we would really like it to be confirmed by a third party physician, one that we retain for our own purposes.

Ew, Janet said as she screwed up her face. I don't think I like the sound of that.

One of the officers turned towards Sam. Please, if you will, dial extension 981 on the wall phone over there, and ask for Dr. Langtree.

Sam hesitated, but then said, All right. She rose, and dialed the number. I have him now, she said.

The officer moved forward and spoke into the receiver. Dr. Langtree, it's General Adams... She smiled. Yes, that's exactly what I need, a full physical workup. She paused. We're looking for early signs of pregnancy. She eyed Sam up and down until Sam felt like a particularly juicy slab of meat. General Adams went on, No, that won't be necessary, just a physical... Thanks, we'll send her right over. The General hung up the phone, then turned to regard Sam. He's waiting for you at his clinic, located in Simmons Hall... it's right next door. Room 105.

Uh... Sam looked at the woman officer, then glanced at the others on the board, and last looked at Jack. Okay.

We'll wait for you to get back... it should only be a few moments, the woman stated.

Still slightly befuddled, Sam turned to the door and started to leave the room.

Jack sat up in his chair. Teal'c, why don't you go with her? he asked, not caring if he got into trouble with the review board for speaking out of turn. He did turn to them as he said, Not that we don't trust you all, but... Then he paused. Well, we don't trust you.

One of the members smiled at him in understanding. I wouldn't expect you to trust any strangers after all that you've been through. It's exactly what we anticipated, and quite an intelligent safeguard, Colonel.

Teal'c rose without asking for more permission, mumbled, I should not have left my staff weapon in the van, then moved to follow the Major. It was like the many missions they had participated in before when Teal'c had been assigned to follow Major Carter into a possibly dangerous situation.

Another board member asked, What's he protecting her from... cadets? The review board members laughed.

Jack cut their laughter short. Hey, I was once a cadet, too... I know exactly what a group of cadets can do to a lone woman walking across a campus.

One of the women officers appraised him, then. Smart move. She is much safer with this escort than she would have been alone. She nodded approvingly.

But the bald officer was not so happy about the situation. Warding of the competition? he inquired of Jack somewhat nastily, enough for another member to murmur, John!

Jack raised an eyebrow, then replied to the bald man's comment, No, just call me overly protective of my team members.

You got something to protect that you want to tell us about? John Collins inquired.

Jack's face tightened as anger began to worm it's way across his features. No, nothing besides the obvious, he answered.

They were all quiet, then, for the ten minutes that Teal'c and Sam were gone. Then, they suddenly returned, and Sam handed a file folder to the first member of the board sitting nearest her witness chair. She stiffly resumed her seat.

Yes? No? a member asked.

Like I said, Sam patiently told them, No.

I'm sure Dr. Langtree's word can be trusted.

Sam grimaced. His bedside manner can improve, she commented.

Okay, the bald officer named Collins stated. Back to why we're all here today. He took a deep breath. Major Carter, when did you first meet Colonel O'Neill?

Sam visibly gathered her thoughts together. Eight years ago this October.

And you singled him out for your attentions... when? he inquired.

Sam heaved a sigh. Eight years ago this October.

One of the three women's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. Was it love at first sight? she asked.

No, Sam answered. He asked if I wanted to arm wrestle him at the time.

And that's when you... whatever you want to call it? John Collins asked.

Yes. Then, Sam amended, Well, the Colonel... intrigued me, Sir.

Intrigued you... how? another officer inquired.

I read his personnel file report again that night. I was looking for... whatever it could tell me about the personal life of a man who had been to another planet.

Did you find what you were looking for? a man kindly asked.

Sam seemed to hesitate again. Yes and no, she replied. Colonel O'Neill seemed normal enough, but his military career had its... highlights... you might say.


Yes, Sam replied. A prison term in Iraq jumped out at me.

A murmur split through the air, and Sam took the second she was given to shoot an apologetic glance at Jack. She didn't enjoy this divulgence of his military career, but she wouldn't lie, either, even to save him some embarrassment. However, she went on, and the whispering in the room died without someone having to call everyone to order. I was much more intrigued about his first mission to Abydos, especially as I was already set to go on the second mission.

That's understandable, Officer Collins stated. Now, why don't you tell us about the last two months, since we already know about the past eight years?

The last two months... Sam remembered a great deal worth telling, according to the soft smile curving her lips. Colonel O'Neill and I had an argument two months ago, if I remember right.

What about?

Sam explained, We had a bomb set to go off at a System Lord's camp during a mission to PCX-459. The timer flew out of Jack's... the Colonel's... hand before he could depress the switch when a rock fell and pushed the timer box over a cliff, leading to an ocean about 150 feet below. Jack went after the timer, and I went after Jack... the Colonel.

And he didn't like this? Collins asked.

No, Sir, Sam responded. He yelled at me that it was perfectly fine if he hit his head on a rock in the ocean and drowned, but I had better not.

Jacob's laugh rang through the other laughter from the gathered people.

And that led to..? Collins inquired.

Sam heaved another sigh. That led to a fight in a supply closet in the base Infirmary, which led to Jack...Colonel O'Neill... throwing me over his shoulder and carrying me outside the base where we could talk undisturbed.

General Hammond's voice clearly rang forth as he announced, That was never in the final report.

I didn't know that, either, Daniel stated in a bit of confusion. He looked rather accusingly at Jack.

But Collins was going on. That's when you..?

Sam's face colored red for a third time. She ducked her head, and stated, I'd rather not say, Sir. But everyone listening to her testimony could gather what had happened next. Sam felt the event cheapen in her memory until it had become nothing but a rote series of mishaps. She quickly went on, knowing how well Human attention could be diverted. Then I came up with the idea of war games, or team bonding games, from something he had said, and things... sort of... went from there.

More murmuring filled the room, then Collins' voice easily carried over the crowd. Major Carter, what do you think that Colonel O'Neill will do if a life-threatening situation arises while the team is on a future mission?

You mean, something more life-threatening than normal? Sam inquired, and again, laughter followed on the heels of her question.

Yes, Collins remarked sardonically. Will he have the courage to send you into a dangerous situation while he remains safe and out of harms' way?

Sam smiled at that question. She leaned forward towards the microphone pickup. Colonel O'Neill is rarely 'out of harms' way.' Sir, she said. And he's already ordered me into many dangeous situations, more times than I can tell you about.

Name one, a board member requested, Just for the sake of the record.

Sam hesitated, shifting though her memories and what to say about the incident she chose to recite. At last, she said, We were on an enemy spacecraft. Jaffa... enemy soldiers... were closing in on our position, when Colonel O'Neill and I were suddenly separated by a force field. The Colonel was on the correct side of it, and I... I wasn't. It was obvious when her voice broke how difficult it was for her to repeat the details of this event.

What did he do? asked one of the board members, sounding as if she wanted to know the outcome of the story rather than hear enough information for her to make a decision of her own.

He stayed with me, Sam stated softly. The Colonel went a little nuts at first, trying to break the controls for the force field, but nothing he did worked. He had to stand there and watch as we both heard the Jaffa coming closer down the corridor. God, the sound of their feet reverberated in her memory with the retelling.

What did you do next? asked another board member, breathless with anticipation.

God, why was she crying? Sam asked herself. She wiped at her nose, then kept her hand raised to ineffectually catch her tears as they fell. Um... We stared at each other... We both knew that there was nothing either of us could do... I was as good as dead already, but I was dead only if I was lucky and not taken immediately to be used for a host... She gathered her emotions again, and went on. Then, the C4 we had planted earlier on the power source for the force field went off, and bingo, the shield was down. The Jaffa were scattered by the blast, and so were we.

How did you escape?

Sam glanced up, and through her tears, laughed a tiny laugh. Are you kidding? We ran like Hell, and got lucky that the others were waiting for us with the Stargate already opened. We just ran into it, and voila, here we are.

You make it sound so easy, someone from the general public commented before they could stop themselves.

But Sam responded to the comment. It's never easy. There's always the possibility that some mission could be our last, that some day we'll die on a cold, friendless planet... Sam looked at Jack again as he sat with his hands somberly folded before him, staring down at the floor. It looked as if he weren't paying attention, but Sam wasn't fooled. She knew that the longer he studied the floor, the more deeply he felt the situation under discussion. Or maybe we'll meet the end in some uncaring, alien ocean, she went on. That's what we were arguing about the day we... well, that day.

Silence followed her recital of information, then Collins quietly said, That's all, Major Carter... you're free to step down. Dismissed.

Sam tried to swallow, stood, then shakily drew a breath before crossing the room and returning to her seat beside Jack. She gratefully sank into the seat's cold plastic comfort, and let out the breath she had been holding. It was only then that Jack understood that she had been wondering if she was going to make it, walking all the way across the room or not, and had sighed when she did. Carefully, he lowered his hand onto her back, but his gesture seemed to be too little comfort offered way too late. But, what else could he do?

Major Carter? asked one of the members in a surprise outburst. One last question.

Sam seemed to mentally gather her faculties, brushed at her cheeks, then responded, Yes?

The officer paused for a second, then she blurted, Forgive me for asking this, but... what's on your finger?

Oh. Sam had honestly forgotten about Jack's proposal in the upset of the moment before. She looked again at her hand. It's an engagement ring.

Your engaged? Collins blurted.

Sam was able to nod her head.

Was that there this morning? asked the first officer.

No, Sam reported, and swallowed again.

The first officer leaned back in her chair. I thought not, she responded.

Sam added, It's beautiful blue sapphire.

Why blue? the woman wanted to know. Is there some significance to the color that you're not telling us?

Slowly, Sam grinned and snuck a look at Jack. No, no significance. Jack... the Colonel... just thinks I look good in blue.

This time it was Jack who blushed to the roots of his gray hair.

One of the four men slammed his folder shut suddenly and stood. I've heard enough. I vote for dismissal, on all grounds, and say that we need to rewrite those damned Regulations, and soon, before something else embarrassing like this happens to us. Do I hear a second?

Second, several people shouted, then, and more folders snapped shut.

The first man slammed his gavel onto the bench. Dismissed. Return to your duties, and try to stay out of trouble, he said, looking at Jack.

Jack weakly stood. Now that it was over, he had a hard time processing the events that had just transpired. We'll try, he answered the man, then went on, But I can't make you any promises.

Slowly Sam let her head fall onto her crossed arms on the table before her. That was terrible, she thought as she remembered. Just as lethargically, those in the audience section of the room began to stir and move around as the review board filed out of that same hidden door in the corner of the room.

Sam, you okay? Jack's voice carried to her right away. Did that doctor hurt you somehow?

The concern was evident in his voice. Sam lifted her head, only to give it a shake of denial. No, I'm fine, she assured him. Just tired.

I don't doubt it, Amanda commented, again pulling her briefcase out from under the table. After what you just told us, it's a wonder you don't simply fold up and fall to the floor. You wait here and I'll get you something to eat and drink. There's a vending machine just around the corner... Then, she had disappeared, hurrying in the direction of the door, parting the crowd with her briefcase.

Jack chuckled at her departing back. e said to Sam, Think she'll ever agree to take your place if you go out on maternity leave or something? She's too much like a certain Major I know for me to ignore her potential.

Sam laughed weakly into her arms. It's a possibility, she conceded. She'll be out of the Academy in a few years. If we wait until then, we can...

Then General Hammond and Jacob and Daniel and Teal'c were crowding around, demanding hers and Jack's attention.

Boy, am I glad that's over! Jacob firmly said.

Jack smiled. I think that just about sums up what everyone is thinking. Then, he gestured towards the door. Come on, folks, let's head home.

Slowly, Sam stood up to follow such sound guidance that had come from her superior, but also from her friend. Sounds like good advice, Sir, she said, and laughed shakily.

Then someone was thrusting chips and a soda at her. But her hands wee shaking so bad that she couldn't open the bag of chips.

Jack tore open the bag, and took a chip for himself before passing the rest to Sam. Carter, he said as they slowly walked towards the exit to the room, how many times do I have to tell you? Drop the 'Sir.'

Sam smiled and ate another chip. She swallowed, then said, Yes, Sir, as they left the room.

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