Disclaimer: I don't own them. Made no money. I'd seize the day, but I'm too poor to do it. Just give me a donut, and we'll call it even.

What the Hell Just Happened?

by Linda Bindner

It was 02:30 in the morning. The corridors of the SGC were all but deserted at this late time of night. Nightime, and an all but barren SGC, had actually become Jack's favorite things over the past year since he had been named commanding General. He thought about that idea of nightime reflections as he slowly sauntered down the empty corridor on this Wednesday night/Thursday morning. He was currently engaged in taking a walk around the base in order to 'stretch his legs,' and to get away from the paperwork that he knew waited for him in his office.

He tried not to feel too guilty for once more ignoring his paperwork so that he could concentrate on his stroll. After a quick peek around, he breathed a sigh of relief. There was no one present to bother him, to make demands of his time, no crises to deal with, no... He could continue his walk unmolested.

Jack again breathed that same deep sigh of relief. He soaked in the quiet of the hallway as he approached the women's locker room. The thought of women in general made him suddenly consider Sam Carter, and he briefly wondered if she was still on base that evening, in spite of the late hour. He knew perfectly well that ever since Jacob had died just last week, followed by his funeral, followed in turn by Carter's decision to end her almost year long engagement, she was very likely to try to bury her attention in her work to save her the trouble of thinking about what she had done. It was sooooo like her to hide in her lab with the excuse of needing to work on a particular doohickey so that she wouldn't need to face her own emotional concerns.

Sam Carter was rather like him in that respect, Jack ruminated. They both tended to pretend that their emotions didn't exist rather than facing them head on. The way they each felt for the other... Or the way that Jack felt for Carter... He guessed he didn't know what she felt for him now, as she hadn't told him lately... But, he was finally able to admit to himself that the excuse he, at least, had used for remaining silent the past ten years had been that if he had ever done something about the regard he felt for her, that chosen action of his would surely have broken the military Fraternization Policy. So he did, and had done, nothing. For eight long years.

He suspected that before the whole Pete/engagement thing, at least, she had done the same thing he had done. It didn't matter whether or not the Frat. Reg. was broken every other day by their fellow soldiers, as he had argued with Daniel many times over the years. The point was that he and Sam had done everything possible to insure that the Frat. Reg. was one policy that neither of them had ever compromised.

Jack grimaced for a moment. Not breaking the Frat. Regs was something to be proud of, certainly, but it also made a tidy little reason for neither he nor Sam to have been forced to come to terms with their feelings for the other. He could be honest with himself, at least. It was interesting how the middle of the night encouraged honesty, he ruminated.

Yet, if he and Sam hadn't always had the excuse of the Regulations to back their behavior, who knows what might have happened to them by now. It was possible that they wouldn't have been allowed on the same team if they'd become involved in a romantic relationship. They might not have even been assigned to the same base like they were.

Then again, they might have been allowed to remain at the same base, on the same team, and been encouraged to follow a personal relationship. It was something that O'Neill had often contemplated when he was thinking over the years about his feelings for Carter.

It didn't matter, anyway, Jack reminded himself. The Fraternization Policy did exist, and both he and Carter did refer back to it in order to have a reason to conceal their emotions, even from themselves. After eight years of such self-deception, both he and Carter had become adept at employing that favorite marathon of theirs; run from any contact with the other, it instructed, and that's exactly what they had done. This decision to end her engagement was the closest either of them had ever gotten to admitting their regard for the other since the Za'tarc test four years earlier. And simultaneously, her confession really didn't outright admit to anything at all.

Jack sighed, frustrated, sad, and happy all at the same time. Carter may have been unable to come out and tell him how she felt, just as he had always been unable to tell her the same thing, but she had at least ended her ties to Pete Shanahan, and for that Jack was grateful. Though he knew she had ended her engagement for her sake, as she should have, and not his, he still felt enormously relieved as well. At the very least, he could finally stop pretending that her engagement hadn't bothered the hell out of him, and he could stop behaving like any reference to it didn't affect him at all. It was a relief, though a small one, considering.

Jack was just strolling by the women's locker room, thinking his thoughts, when the door suddenly burst open to show the object of those thoughts standing in the void she'd made, looking as irritated as he'd ever seen her appear.

Carter? he questioned in a friendly way, doing his best to put her at ease without giving her a single touch. He was used to soothing her with words rather than actions. SG-1's on downtime for a week... I thought you'd gone home long ago... What's up?

Sam blurted what sounded like the first words that came to her mind, not responding at all to his inquiry, but asking one of her own. Sir! What are you doing here at this time of night?

Jack was caught by her slightly indignant gaze, and immediately stopped the relaxing stroll he had been bent on taking down the corridor. Seeing Carter ruffled and bent out of shape gave him plenty of good reasons to halt his walk.

But as they gazed at each other, he fought against his natural draw to her, and won. Yet, at the same time, he hadn't moved from his spot in the corridor, and she was unaware of his internal struggle. Only a second or two went by before he was able to answer her with a self-deprecating wave of his hand. I was... Um...

Sam interrupted him as if he hadn't spoken at all. Do you mind getting something down for me? she pled. At 02:30 in the morning, she clearly wasn't above begging. She went on to explain further, It's a necklace, on loan to me, in a box, up too high for me to reach, if you can believe that, and...

But you're standing in the women's locker room, Jack instantly protested, ignoring her explanation. He spluttered then, trying to explain, but mostly just feeling awkward. I mean... Um...

Please? she asked again. It will only take a minute, and...

Are you serious, Carter? Jack suspiciously asked then. This isn't a practical joke or anything, is it? SG-1 was gaining quite a reputation for playing pranks on the members of the team, both past and present, and this stank as another attempt by the team as a whole to tease the General.

Instead of answering him, Sam simply threw the door open even wider than she had held it till now, and pointed to the left side of the room where a small box was resting on the top of the row of lockers.

Okaaaay, Jack admitted the second he saw that Sam had no hope of reaching the box herself; it had been pushed too far back on the metal to be in easy reach for her. It's obviously no joke then.

No joke, Sam repeated. I just need your help for a few seconds.

Jack smiled now that he knew her request for assistance wasn't a gag meant to be played at his expense. He crossed the corridor towards her, saying, It's a pretty rare thing for Sam Carter to be asking for help. He jovially stated, I should write this down somewhere.

Sam smiled tolerantly back at him, and held the door open for both of them. What are you doing on base so late? she conversationally questioned, then, trying to keep the obvious exhaustion she had to be feeling at this late hour out of her voice. She quietly closed the door behind her, trying not to bother anybody else by slamming it. She then stood almost at attention, as ready to help him as he was to help her, and the quiet of the locker room at 02:30 in the morning enveloped them.

Jack responded readily enough to her plea, genially telling her, I'm waiting for SG-6 to return, and doing paperwork while I wait. They 'Gated to a planet that's on a different time... He searched his mind for the proper word to use in this situation, and finally settled on the phrase, ... time thingy... Anyway, it's different than Earth's. Five in the morning is almost mid afternoon to them. But it means that when they check in, or come back to base, or anything, I have to either stick around here, or come in extremely early, if I'm going to be here to talk to them, or welcome them back. That's what's happening tonight... tomorrow morning... Jack shook his head, as if to clear it. Thoughts dealing with Time always ended up giving him a headache. Anyway, I decided to stick it out tonight, he finally explained.

Sam sent a grin at him. And you couldn't sleep?

Never tried, Jack said next. It was almost midnight before things slowed down for me to even think about getting some sleep. But by then, I had forgotten about sleeping...

Forgotten?!? Sam echoed.

Jack smiled at her display of amazement. I know... I never thought I'd ever forget something like sleep, either, but... Then, he sighed a bit dramatically. Hammond never told me about nights like this one when we were both up for promotion.

Sam smiled again. Well, I won't keep you...

Yeah, that paperwork that I'm doing tonight is really enthralling, Jack sarcastically joked.

Sam's smile remained fixed in place. She crossed her arms in a show of cynicism. No one ever said that being 'the Man' was going to be simple.

Jack snorted, his geniality now giving way to his natural cynicism as well. Wasn't this whole promotion thing Daniel's idea? he rhetorically asked. We can blame him for nights like this. It makes me feel better.

Sam couldn't keep her laughter from exploding out of her mouth. I'll never say a word to Daniel, so you can blame him all you like.

Jack shrugged, and shoved his hands in his pockets. Well, that's something, he admitted. Sam giggled. Jack couldn't help grinning at her even more. It had been too long since he had seen her giggle, and the ease of her bearing was simply too addictive to him to ignore.

But Sam broke the spell of affability that had fallen over them when she again indicated the box on top of the lockers with a wave of her hand. Anyway, there it is, she said. I'd really appreciate it if...

Jack cut her off this time. Did you try moving the bench over to the lockers? he asked, knowing what a good troubleshooter she was, even at 02:30 in the morning.

Sam rolled her eyes, and gently kicked a leg of the single bench nearest her. Of course I did, she responded with an acrimonious sigh. Some idiot bolted all the benches to the floor, including this one.

Ah, Jack said in understanding. Not much help, then, is it? He peered up at the box sitting on the gentle slope of the lockers, and shook his head. So near, and yet so far, he said, speaking of the box's resting place. His voice held a hint of irony. The perfect place to keep something. He turned to Sam then, and wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. What's in that box again?

Sam smiled, then responded, A locket from Captain Bivens... Do you know her? Jack shook his head, but Sam went on with her story, taking his information in stride. She said I could borrow it, but putting it way up there... She contemplated the small box. I think this is her idea of a joke. Always in plain view, but completely out of reach. She shook her head again. Putting it there would never work in the men's locker room, I admit, she said. But...

It's effective, and efficient, at least in here. I have to give this Captain Bivens credit for that, Jack commented as he reached up, and plucked the box off the metal above Carter's own locker. It must be very frustrating to be so short, he said to her, clearly teasing Sam according to his flippant tone and expression. Every member of the base knew that Sam Carter was one of the tallest females stationed in Colorado Springs at the moment. Only Captain Bivens was taller. Apparently.

Sam huffed. She knew he was teasing her, so she firmly stated, I am not short, Sir!

Too short to reach this, anyway, Jack said, still teasing her even more. He held out the box to her in a tantalizing wave.

Sam grabbed hold of her box. That's not as funny as you think it is!

Sure it is, Carter, Jack protested. It's funny to me, anyway. He smiled as he gazed at her, and she gazed back. Hey, this is just like that time I... That we... Um... That you...

The shared memory recitation stopped mid word, and his voice trailed away after a moment. Jack's gaze still met Sam's over his outstretched arm, but the impromptu game of keep away that they had been playing came to a precipitous end. As quickly as it had ended, he was captured by her gaze, and she didn't look away from his, as she usually did. His heartbeat quickened with seeing close up such intense blueness as he was finally allowing himself to stare into.

Jack tried to ignore what her gaze was doing to his insides by going on with the teasing conversation. His attempts, however, were not entirely successful this time, either. As he let his arm drift to his side, so too did his voice drift between them. That time I.., he said, though he sounded absentminded even to his ears. Um... When I... You...

Sam just stood there, and stared back at him. She didn't move, only quietly breathed, a look of longing, and regret, on her face. Her blue eyed gaze singed into his brown. His brown melted her blue. It wasn't anything that hadn't happened to them before. The chaotic swirl of unchecked emotion that Jack saw in her eyes, and had captured him in the span of a heartbeat, wasn't entirely new to him, but was rare. The tiredness he was naturally feeling due to the late hour made his heart beat even more erratically than it already was. That exhaustion also made it that much easier for him to fall victim to the soft entreaty he could see on her features.

Briefly he wondered what they thought they were doing, but Jack couldn't tear his gaze away from hers now if a herd of wild elephants suddenly came charging into the room. Slowly, almost as if he were sleepwalking, his right arm lifted, and his fingers brushed over the soft skin along her cheek. He shivered at just that small touch, but he was still stubbornly thinking about the room they were in, as if he inherently knew that the location of this... whatever it was... was not the best thing for her... for him... for either of them. Being caught in a compromising position with the General of the base would cause bad fallouts for everybody involved. Thinking about the room made him suddenly recall that they were in a public locker room, on a military base, and that this was the last place that they should contemplate doing... whatever it was they were going to do. But she was so soft to touch, and he could feel the heat pouring off her skin in waves, and she smelled so good even at this range...

Jack's last coherent thought that zipped through his stunned mind was Thank god this is was one of the few rooms on base without a security camera...

Then it was too late to think at all. Without any apparent effort or thought on his or her parts, Jack's lips found Sam's, and the emotional explosion, the frantic dance of centuries, burst into glorious life. Jack heard Sam drop her borrowed boxed locket to the floor as she wrapped her arms more solidly around him.

At first, that shared kiss was just a brush of skin on skin, hardly explosive. But it was only seconds before Sam began to deepen the exploratory kiss. There was nothing tentative or hesitant about the way she probed his skin with her hands. Her fingers were everywhere at once, it seemed, wrapped in his shirt, tugging on his hair, gliding erotically across his backside...

Jack felt her soft lips leave his to slide across his cheek, and up to the side of his neck. He sensed the pass of her fingers across every part of his skin, even through his black BDU t-shirt, and onto the skin just above the waist band of his pants. An explosion of emotion melted whatever resistance he had left to sludge the second he felt her. He immediately knew that he was lost. Desire swamped him so hard and so fast that it left his head spinning in a more dizzying spell than anything he'd experienced until now.

He kissed her again. She tasted so good, much better than he had ever anticipated. And she felt..! Oh god... He groaned as passion encompassed him. She was so soft, yet so firm. Hard, yet malleable... Curvy.... Totally delicious.

This second kiss ended, and they moved on to kissing other parts of skin. They fell as one against the wall that held the door, gasping for breath, and leaning into each other like hormone driven teenagers. But Jack couldn't quite make himself care how he was acting. And apparently he wasn't the only one overcome with the sensations ripping through him. He heard the sudden quiet snick of the lock on the door falling into place as Sam locked it against any possible intrusion.

This is soooooo not good, he thought hazily to himself, but he was once again unable to stop. All he could do was think how good it felt to finally have her secure in his arms. He was so astonished, so amazed that he was finally feeling her, finally kissing her, that his fingers began to shake every time he touched her. He felt the heady, familiar haze of desire fall quickly over his mind, clouding out his sanity. It must be doing the same to her, he managed to deduce. Neither of them would have ever considered doing something as rash as this, otherwise.

But the rashness of their actions also worked as a catalyst to egg them both on, to do even more outrageous things. Jack pushed his hips up against her, grinding his sudden erection into her leg. And he was delighted when she pushed back. And she wasn't just pushing, he realized, she was pulling him closer to her, striving to touch him in the most intimate way possible.

A roar filled his ears, and all Jack felt was the harsh beat of his heart, and frantic breathing, hard, groping fingers, heat...

She hungrily kissed him, then was the first to break this new kiss, though her lips stayed firmly connected to his neck. Jack ran his fingers through her hair, and touched her skin wherever he could reach. Shivers shot up his spine from the soles of his feet, wrapping around him in tight, binding flashes of light and sensation. Sam arched into him, and he couldn't stop himself from propelling a hand under her own t-shirt. He felt his questing fingertips hit the underside of her breasts, and it didn't matter that the material of her underwear acted as a final barrier between them. Sam still pushed desperately against his hand, and it was as if she was burning his palm as she whispered, God, yes...

The words were fairly innocent, but acted more like a blazing fire to the sluggish blood in Jack's veins. He was without doubt completely lost then. His somersaulting desire became a burning, raging fire. He was out of control as he kissed the side of her neck, sucked on her skin, tried to soak up her essence with his mouth and his tongue, while she did the same to him. His left hand once again brushed across the tip of her breasts, just as the ends of her fingers searched for his. He groaned in her ear when she found them, the shivers she caused at just that one caress shooting through him to raise his passion another notch.

I don't believe we're doing this, was the logical thought that drifted through Jack's foggy mind. Yet his sudden doubt wasn't nearly strong enough to convince him to stop anything that he was doing with her... to her.

Then, somehow, his pants were open, the tight pressure of his staining trousers wasn't quite as daunting as it had been up till now. Sam's hot hand wrapped around the throbbing length of his penis, and he was lost for a third time in the pulsating maelstrom of emotion that washed into his limbs. His arms shook, his legs trembled, but again he couldn't stop for anything. This feeling guiding him was way too powerful for him to fight, and he didn't want to resist any longer, anyway. Surrender was much, much sweeter than even nobility and honor at this point.

Sam.., Jack whispered to her, the sound being sucked out of his mouth on a gasp of air as her touch greeted his most hidden soul. Sam...

She whispered something back, sounds that were practically incoherent, but he made out the word, Now, in her reckless bid for his affections. She levered her legs around him, then kissed him again in that compelling combination of soft and hard that he couldn't oppose even if he tried... And he wasn't at all sure he wanted to try...

In the next moment, Jack felt the glorious, wonderful, terrifying, brilliant, amazing feeling of the throbbing heat of her insides against the outer edge of his penis. It made him practically melt on the spot, but he locked his knees against the feeling, and worked almost instinctively at supporting their combined weights, though the fire in her touch almost made him lose his tenuous hold, both on reality, and with his feet on the floor.

Sam's breathing grated into his right ear, on his cheek, but shortness of breath didn't stop her from taking his earlobe into her mouth, then running her teeth seductively over each centimeter of skin that she could reach. Jack, already more than hyper sensitive to even the suggestion of her skin on his, felt his eyes roll back into his head in surrender to her current caress. He desperately strove for any shred of control that he had left, but it was destroyed when she gently bit down on the earlobe in her mouth. Once again, passion roared through him. He pushed the rest of the way into her in a sense of desperation, and heady glory, and longing that was so strong as to leave the hardened warrior that he was panting for more of the feel of her.

Fire. Burning. Heat. Sam.., he entreated again, the quiet whisper literally torn out of his parched throat.

She whispered back to him, Jack... Please... Jack! she tossed her head back into his hand cushioning her head from the wall, seductively ran her fingernails over his skin, pulling him close, pulling every inch of him that she could to rub against her skin.

The use of his first name was almost too much for him to take. He grunted into her shoulder, clutching at her as tightly as she clutched at him. His harsh breathing was matched only by hers, and she kissed him in wild abandon as he started to move inside her. She groaned, panted, strained, moved, kissed the skin of his neck. Before he knew it, the rhythm he'd been trying to establish shattered, his grip on her shoulders tightened, he leaned in closer yet to her, yearning for one more touch, one more searing kiss...

And then neither of them could take it a second longer. Years worth of frustrated longing, tension, and desire hit them both at once, and their simultaneous explosion of affection tore through each of them in a blast of pleasure that was so fierce to Jack, it hurt. The sweet agony of orgasm shot through him in forceful swirls, merciless and hot, leaving him shaking and limp inside his now damp uniform as the feeling common to the locker room began to sink into their shared minds.

Sam and Jack both heaved in air. They slid apart... Sam tenderly kissed Jack after she allowed her feet to fall slowly to the floor, and she stood, more solid than she had a right to feel to him after such a powerful surge of emotion. They both fixed their trousers as discreetly as possible... But they then held the other with arms that clutched even tighter than before, refusing to release their hold on the other just yet.

Crap, Jack thought then in a sense of guilt twisted together with the most amazing sense of peace that he had ever experienced. However, in spite of peaceful emotions, there was very little possibility of her wanting to see him again after the way he felt he had taken advantage of her in the locker room. He'd surely destroyed her faith in him, her... Crap crap crap...

But Sam smiled lazily up at him, and nuzzled against the side of his neck. It's a good thing I didn't know what I was missing, she whispered against his bare skin. I could never have made it for as long as I did if I had known.

Sam, I.., entreated Jack in a sorrowful voice. I'm so sorry if I hurt you, or...

It's very like you to want to feel badly about this, she interrupted him. But don't. I feel so good right now, and I've felt so bad for such a long time, that I won't let you ruin my good mood for anything!

Jack was surprised for a moment, so surprised that he tightened his hold on her a third time. You don't regret this, then?

Sam didn't answer him except to ask another question of her own. Do you? she inquired in slight incredulity, as if stunned to think that he could regret what they'd just done.

Jack sighed in sadness.

Sam frowned into his neck. That doesn't sound good...

Jack heaved another sigh, but then turned into her side, and fondly kissed her cheek. She kissed him back so affectionately that it made him want to cry. And Jack O'Neill never, ever, cried. Yet he couldn't put a halt to the emotional war that was already raging inside of him, either. Sam, he tried to explain, No, I don't regret anything that just happened, on a personal level, but on a professional one, I have to worry that I've just hurt you more than I've ever hurt you before, that I've...

There you go again with all that 'we have to think of our careers' bit, Sam interrupted him.

Nothing's changed, Jack regretfully said as he nuzzled her back. Nothing's different, and I... You...

Sam forgivingly smiled then as she shook her head into his chest. How can you say that nothing's changed? Everything's changed, and I'm so glad that it did, I...

Her voice trailed off as she kissed him again on a rising surge of emotion. He kissed her back, helpless to resist his own surging tide of feelings. They parted a moment later, and he simply held her, coddled her, cherished her... A moment passed, then Jack smiled, and closed his eyes, and sighed, the contentedness he was feeling leaking into the sound.

But before he could say anything, she spoke. Smiling languidly, she whispered into his ear, You're so perfect, Jack O'Neill...

Jack had to snort when he heard those words. I'm far from perfect, Sam, as you well know...

Perfect for me, then, she amended, cutting him off to say it. I feel perfect now. And she sighed, leaned into him, and smiled.

* * *

Jack grinned an idiotic, sappy grin as he sat at his desk ten minutes later. What he and Sam had done was wrong in every military book he'd ever seen... though at the same time, it was veeeery right. Wrong... Right... Wrong... Right... It made him dizzy to think about it too much, so he ignored the inevitable consequences of his actions to concentrate on remembering their behavior itself. Recalling the feel of her skin on his made him smile even more.

But the consequences... He had to think about the consequences... No, he wasn't going to let himself think along those lines... He had to return his wandering attention to his paperwork... That's right... To his ever waiting paperwork, and to getting something accomplished that night, or Walter would be left wondering what he had been doing while he waited for SG-6. But Jack doubted that even Walter could predict that he and Sam Carter had been... Like clandestine thieves, shut in the locker room! What had he been thinking?

Well, he hadn't been thinking, actually, and it had felt wonderful! Jack sighed again, smiled, then turned back to the report in his hand.

He read the front page. He frowned, squinted his eyes, then tried to read the opening paragraph again.

Hmmm.

What the heck did it say?

The words garbled before Jack's eyes, and at first he thought the late hour was finally catching up with him. And that half hour he'd spent with Carter shut up in the locker room may have made him smile... was still making him smile... but had done nothing to help him decipher the words swimming before his eyes.

Then he thought to flip the folder closed so that he could see who the report was attributed to. As soon as he saw who had written that particular report, its jumbled mess made sense.

Carter. He should have immediately known that she'd written such a wordy report. He could never understand such complex sentence structures as she tended to use in her writing style.

But she was still awake... He knew she was still awake. And he had seen her disappear in the direction of her base quarters... carrying her loaned box as innocently as if they hadn't just done... She had been too tired to drive after the emotional drain they had experienced, he had argued with her... She was still on base, in her personal quarters... He could drop by her quarters to ask her about this report.

Jack played with the idea for a second. He told himself that he shouldn't try to see her so soon after what they had just done. Besides it being dangerous for them both to be seen together at all, he might make her feel awkward if he sought her out so soon after...

Well, after making wild love to her on the sly in the locker room. She might think this second attempt at seeing her was just a ploy for them to be together... But then, the draw he felt towards her was unquestionable...

He made his decision in one second flat. Jack rose, taking the report with him, and without a second thought, headed for Carter's quarters.

Jack knocked on the door while calling out to her, Carter, it's the General... I have a question about your last report that you turned in, and since I know that you're still awake...

The door opened with a sudden click, and Sam was standing before him, wearing flannel pajamas covered in mathematical equations that all ended in the letter 'x,' her eyebrow raised to her hairline. Right in the middle of her pajama top was the statement 'X equals 6, always.' The duality of her goofy pajamas and serious expression made Jack chuckle as he gazed at her.

Jack pointed at her raised brow. You've been taking lessons from Teal'c, haven't you?

Sam giggled as if she couldn't help it, losing the severe expression she'd had, to be replaced with a look of fresh openness that was completely beguiling. Jack was successfully bewitched in seconds.

Does it show? she innocently inquired.

Jack grinned. Have you been sitting around the campfire with nothing to do but stare at Teal'c lately?

Sam tried to appear innocent, and failed. I learned from the best. Not Teal'c; you.

Jack grimaced, and argued, I only sat up with Teal'c a few times.

Sam grunted in astonishment. I caught you practicing with him for at least seven missions in a row! She paused, then blurted, And you had hand mirrors with you! I saw!

Jack grinned disarmingly. At least we never broke any of the mirrors, he pointed out.

Glass would have been hard to clean up in the dark, she added.

Jack grinned again, then shrugged, not bothering to deny anything.

Carter grinned back at him, as if she couldn't resist his good humor. Then she blinked, and asked, Was there something you needed, General?

Gah! They were quickly falling back into their old habit of formality. He hated being called 'General,' or 'Sir,' or 'General O'Neill.' And to be called those names now! And by her! After what they had just done!

A sliver of doubt raced through Jack's mind then, that the scene in the locker room hadn't meant as much to her as it had meant to him. Yet, still stubborn, he forged on, I don't mean anything by this... honest... but since I knew you were still awake... after that locket thing... There, that statement was innocent enough to say out loud, but brought to mind memories that were undeniably intimate to the two of them. Her expression grew even more inviting. He almost couldn't resist the pull of her gaze then. Jack suddenly found himself swallowing against the natural spike of his desire, but somehow stuck with their original conversation, Did you take that locket with you, by the way?

Yep, Sam told him, then pointed to the box resting on her nightstand. It's over there.

Wear it to our next team night, and we'll call it even, he suggested. I want to see what it is that I've saved for you...

I borrowed it to wear with a particular outfit, Sam said then.

Well, show off the outfit, Jack suggested. I bet Daniel and Teal'c can stand it...

Oh, I'm sure they can, Carter ruefully said. But can you?

Jack gazed at her in mock wonder. Are you questioning my distancing abilities, Carter?

Sam stared straight into his brown eyes. Yep, she said in a tone of finality. But her smile softened her words.

Yet... What did that mean? Jack was starting to sweat under his BDUs now. Maybe coming to her quarters in the middle of the night like this hadn't been such a good idea...

He decided to stick to business, and let her lead their following interview. I was wondering if you could explain your last mission to me one more time. I know you already went over it in the debriefing... But I'm slow, you know...

Sam snorted. You are not... But if that's the image you want to project, who am I to argue?

Jack eyed her innocent grin. You're teasing me, aren't you?

My humor is always a bit eccentric in the early hours of the morning, she admitted then.

That's what I thought, he said.

She took the report he was holding in his hand instead of replying to his comment. Now what can I explain for that 'slow' brain of yours?

Jack went on, ignoring her question to comment, You're right, Carter... Your humor does get a bit eccentric in the wee hours...

Told you, she absently said, reading as she spoke.

Jack wondered how she could read and talk at the same time. It was one of the things he had never been able to perfect. How do you do that reading and talking at the same time thing? he asked as he followed her into her room, shutting the door behind him without thinking how it would look to those watching in the security office. Belatedly, he questioned himself, What's the matter with you tonight?

Jack tried to shake off the residual doubts he was feeling. He leaned next to her, trying for the nonchalant look, and together they peered at the report spread on her table before them. Here's the part I didn't get... He pointed at a sentence near the top for good measure.

Sam read, but commented to him as she leaned in even closer, I hereby complain about the ongoing problem we seem to have about the perpetual lack of enough lighting in base quarters, Sir. She was only half joking as she spoke. But, she turned to him with a grin. We're all going to go blind pretty soon.

Her prediction hung in the air between them as he swung his head around to stare straight into her eyes. He hadn't meant to meet her gaze. It had just happened...

Sparks flew. Before he knew it, Sam had leaned closer towards him, lifted her face up to him, and kissed him without another comment.

Jack answered her gesture by instantly deepening the kiss, and his hands reached for her.

No, surely he wasn't doing this for a second time that night...

Jack cradled her cheeks with his hands in solid affection, and the kiss wore on.

Perhaps he was going to do this for a second time in one night...

The next thing he knew, his arms were clutching tightly to her shoulders, and his fingers were buried in her hair. Just as hers were covered by his own gray strands...

They parted, and he whispered, This is ridiculous, but I want you again...

Then I'm as ridiculous as you are, Sam decisively said as she clung to him, kissing his exposed skin as quickly as she could while still being tenderly affectionate.

Jack's fingers slid across as much skin as her pajamas left free, just feeling her under his hands. I can't seem to get enough of you now that we've... well... you know. He kissed her a second time, deeply.

And I thought that I couldn't get enough of you, she said the instant they parted. Then she kissed him again, slowly, languidly, lovingly.

Moments spent kissing her in glorious abandon passed. Sam, Jack reluctantly murmured, Maybe we shouldn't do this...

Maybe we should, she persisted, and kissed him once again.

Jack was lost in the feel of her. Okay, he quickly said into her ear, capitulating without a hint of a struggle.

Sam giggled, both from the feel of his hot breath on her ear, and what he had said. She shivered. That was fast.

I aim to please, Jack said then, and kissed her jaw.

Thank goodness you aim to please me, she said then in between kissing him. I couldn't stand it if you aimed to please anybody else.

That comment of hers made Jack instantly feel badly that she had tried to spill her entire soul out to him the week before, and what had actually happened was that she had caught him with Kerry Johnson at his house instead. Talk about awkward moments! Of course, Kerry had dumped him right after she'd seen him and Sam together. Sam had to know that Kerry had instantly called it quits with him after that awkward moment in back of his house. The rumor mill was very forthright with what it had to share on the General of the base, even when he wanted to keep things hushed. Okay... Even when he wanted to keep her from finding out about his relationship with Kerry... But he had never wanted the information about his and Kerry's relationship to hurt her like the information about her engagement to Pete Shanahan had hurt him. Her comment about him pleasing just Sam Carter brought everything rushing back to his mind.

Jack groaned. Sam, please, I'm so sorry for...

She interrupted what could have been one of the few times he'd ever apologized to her. Hush, she instructed. What I felt then is no more than what you must have endured all year, she deprecatingly said. Actually, I'm pretty amazed that you're able to forgive me like you have...

Jack shushed her by placing a finger on her lips. There's nothing to forgive in this case. You should know that. He sighed as she gently rested her head against his chest, and he squeezed her against him. And I will always forgive you... Always be there for you... Always...

She giggled again. You remind me of what my pajamas say...

Who gave these P.J.'s to you, anyway? he curiously inquired. I like them. They're so you.

Sam lifted her face up to him, grinning. They were a Christmas present from Teal'c last year.

He has good taste.

Sam didn't argue with him. Yeah, he does, she agreeably said. He said that he found them on-line one day... She grinned up at him. But I have to say that I like them a lot better when they're pressed up next to you. She kissed him before he could respond to her.

Jack's stomach clenched immediately, swirling as he felt his desire for her build even more for the third time that night. But at last he managed to rein in his stampeding emotions to insist, We really need to talk about this whole thing, Carter.

Sam sighed, but burrowed into his shoulder. I know, she softly admitted. Then she thoughtfully went on, But there's something I think I'd much rather do.

Oh? What's that? he suggestively asked to her equally as suggestive comment. This flirtatiousness she was showing to him was a side of Sam he wasn't familiar with, and he found himself liking this new, wild Sam quite a lot.

Rather than simply telling him, Sam grabbed his hand in hers, and led him over to her bed, which had already been turned down in preparation for sleep. She smiled coyly over her shoulder. Come here, and I'll explain.., she whispered.

Jack reluctantly went with her. Do you really think this is such a good idea? he asked.

She smiled back at him again as they reached her bed. I didn't know that you're such a worrywart.

Being a natural worrier comes with the job, he told her in a matter-of-fact voice. If I don't worry, people have the bad tendency to die on me...

There's no need to worry on that score, at least not about me, not tonight, she told him. And don't fret, either... She gently pushed him down to sit on the bed, then began to unlace his combat boots.

Sam...

Will you stop? she asked in a commanding voice. Now, lay back.

That was really not a good idea! Sam...

She shoved on his chest until he was lying against the sheets and pillows. Then she did something he absolutely didn't expect her to do. She finished stripping off his shoes, followed by his socks, and began rubbing his feet. After a few quiet minutes, he throatily groaned in pleasure. Oh man, that feels so good! he said on a sigh.

Sam smiled. Just relax and stay still...

That was the last thing he knew until the tiny alarm on his watch was waking him up a half an hour later. Damn, he thought, more tired after his nap then he would like to admit.

Cautiously, he peered around in the semi-dark room. Sam was snuggled up next to him, holding tight to his hand even in her own state of deep sleep. They were both fully dressed... except for his socks and shoes... and covered from toe to chin with her blanket.

Good thing he'd thought to set his watch alarm, or there was a good chance he would have slept next to her for the rest of the night. That wouldn't have been such a good thing! Despite the way he felt so comfortable and secure with her, neither of them could afford for him to be discovered in her room the next morning, all curled up with her in her bed... It would have been difficult to explain, to say the least!

Carefully, gently, he extricated himself from Sam's soothing embrace. Then, letting her sleep, he replaced his socks and shoes she'd left at the end of her bed. Before leaving the room, he leaned over her and tenderly kissed her brow. He knew she wouldn't hear a word he said, so he felt safe enough to whisper, I love you, Sam, and kiss her brow again before quietly scooping up the report he'd wanted (been pretending?) to ask her about, and turned to the door.

When he reached the opening, he tried to turn off the tiny lamp that she had resting on a small table beside the door, but the second he touched it, it sparked to a brighter light. He touched it again, and it brightened even more. One more sweep of his fingers, and the room was plunged into darkness.

She had a touch lamp, one that was activated just by the contact of its metal with human skin. It didn't give off much light at its lowest setting, but it was plenty bright enough for her to see by in its higher positions.

It was just so... her... to have a touch lamp that Jack couldn't keep his next whispered statement to himself. Niiiice, he commented in appreciation. He left the room in darkness, and Sam sleeping soundly in her bed. He opened the door to the corridor and slipped through.

Jack walked slowly back to his office, lost in thought. He didn't meet anybody, for which he was grateful, and fell in exhaustion into his chair behind his desk. His feet felt better than they had all year, and he experimentally wriggled his toes inside his boots. His feet might feel better, but the rest of him was running on pure grit by now. He needed sleep, and he knew it.

Thoughts of sleep turned his mind to the other activities of the night. He couldn't believe that he had slept with Sam Carter! On top of making love to her in the locker room! Actually, sleeping beside her was nothing they hadn't done off world many times before. But this was the first time she had purposely soothed him to sleep. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't believe that he'd been that close to her for half an hour, and hadn't made love to her! Had he somehow gone crazy that night, and didn't know it?

Jack pondered on his situation for a minute, then shook his head, and firmly returned his attention to the paperwork before him.

An hour and a half later, Jack heard the sirens indicating an off world activation. Red lights blazed into his office, and just in case he was still able to ignore what was going on around him, Walter's voice broke through his paperwork reverie.

Sir, you're needed in the Control Room.

Jack rose, but paused long enough to say into his intercom, I'm on my way. He was out the door before Walter could say anything more.

He moved to stand behind Walter sitting at a computer terminal, and was once again flooded with gratitude that the man had decided to wait with him through the long night instead of turning over the 'Gate controls to someone else. The return of SG-6 was not the most important thing that might happen that night, but it was a relief that Walter was still available in case anything went wrong.

And something went wrong the minute the 'Gate activated. A staff blast instantly zipped across the distance between Stargates, and impacted harmlessly on the bullet proof glass making up the observation window.

Damn! Jack cursed, glad that the window had diverted the energy of the weapon, or he and Walter would have been two fried Air Force officers in a matter of seconds.

Jack immediately pushed the radio feed button. SG-6, come in... Do you require backup?

The response was instant, and final. Do not send reinforcements! came the panicked voice of Colonel Andrews, the leader of SG-6. No reinforcements! he repeated. It was obvious that he was remembering how Doctor Janet Fraiser had lost her life the last time reinforcements had been necessary to rescue a team under attack. Andrews continued, shouting into his radio to be heard over the fire that was surrounding him. Ambush! Jaffa! They'll only kill anyone you send through! Instead, I have a plan that's a little different!

But you know that protocol demands us to send some kind of rescue, argued Jack, trying to remain calm in all the ensuing chaos of an ambush.

Andrews negated his argument right there. In a screech of static that came over his radio, Andrews yelled, Plan: Shut down the 'Gate, redial PRX-693, and give us cover fire through the 'Gate for one minute! Repeat, one minute! Then shut down again, and we'll redial one more time to come home! Should confuse the hell out of these Jaffa!

More fire sounded over Andrews' radio link. Jack did his best to ignore the noise, and the occasional staff blast that hit the window or the walls of the 'Gate Room. They all sparked into blackened holes that smoked and steamed.

Everyone ignored the holes in order to get their jobs done. Confirmed, Jack said over the ensuing chaos in the room. Shutting down now. He hated to leave one of his teams stranded in an ambush for even a moment, but he agreed with Andrews that his plan was better than ordering good people through the 'Gate as backup to SG-6, only to have that backup slaughtered the minute they arrived at the site of the firefight. He turned to Walter, who was crouching down behind his computer to stay out of line of the incoming staff blasts. You heard the man; start dialing! And call a medical team to the 'Gate Room!

Yes, Sir! Walter said, then punched the correct controls into his specialized computer keyboard. The 'Gate began spinning immediately.

In the meantime, Jack took advantage of the momentary lull in the 'Gate Room to run down the stairs from the Control Room, grab a Zat off one of the SFs waiting to begin firing into the 'Gate, and activated it, keeping it ready to fire in his hand. He took up his position slightly behind the SFs just as the 'Gate whooshed into the Room, and about a thousand bullets zinged through the activated wormhole.

The seemingly random firing lasted for one minute, then they all ceased as one, and the 'Gate shut down. The spinning of an incoming address started immediately afterwards.

Incoming wormhole! Walter needlessly shouted. Then his call of, Medical team to the 'Gate Room! came over the base intercom.

Jack took the reopening of the 'Gate as his cue to move forward, positioning himself just behind the Stargate and it's ramp. He leaned on the metal, and pointed his Zat directly in front of what would soon be the 'Gate's event horizon. Everyone already knew that something was coming through the 'Gate by the wildly spinning chevrons before them. Jack took the best aim that he could as the 'Gate activated again, hoping that his team was able to come through this time, and that no one was injured. He hated it when one of his teams came in hot, but the most he could do was hope. A hard thing to do for a control freak like him, he grimly thought to himself.

The first member of SG-6 came hurtling through the 'Gate, followed quickly by three more. The final member, Andrews himself, rolled onto the ramp an instant later, and Jack yelled, Close the Iris!

The command was given, but not soon enough to keep out the two Jaffa who had followed Andrews to the SGC. They hurtled out of the 'Gate close on Andrews' rolling form, and had lifted their staff weapons in order to fire first at Andrews, then anyone else in the room, when Jack smoothly shot them from behind as they began stepping down the ramp.

The Iris slid shut with a bang, and the 'Gate deactivated, leaving the confusion of a team coming in under fire in the usually calm 'Gate Room. Jack stepped forward. Welcome home, SG-6! It's good to have you back in one piece.

Thanks, General! Andrews shouted back to him. That plan worked like a dream! Confused the hell out of the Jaffa! But we're glad to be back all the same.

Jack watched as the milling SFs first confiscated the Jaffa staff weapons, then shackled the still unconscious prisoners before carting them away to the Holding Cells. He turned back to his team, and said, Alright... Infirmary first. Get checked out. We debrief in two hours.

Move out! Andrews commanded, and the four men followed the waiting medical team out of the room.

Jack sighed as he watched them go. Almost absently, he deactivated the Zat in his hands. Crap, he thought to himself as everyone dispersed to go about their assigned duties. Their General just stood, watched, and finally shook his head in incredulity. What a night!

* * *

Jack should have been busy thinking about the recent arrival of one of his teams twenty minutes later, but he couldn't stop himself from dwelling on Carter as he entered the Infirmary. She smelled, and felt, so good to him! He was selfishly glad that it hadn't been SG-1 who had come in under fire twenty minutes before. Then he felt guilty for his gratitude. He should never hold one team as more important than another, he silently admonished. But he couldn't quite eradicate all his glad feelings as he talked to the doctor in charge of SG-6.

Dr. Brightman had gone home for the night, and wasn't on call, but came back into work at 06:00 the next morning. The confusing site that always indicated an incoming team had met her at the door, and Jack had to give her credit when she remained calm in the ensuing mess of post-off-world physicals, minor injuries, and forthcoming questions.

Six hours somehow elapsed before Jack could sit back and take a needed breath. He felt himself relax for the first time all morning, and he was suddenly aware of his madly rumbling tummy in the quiet of his office. He had been going to do more of the required paperwork for SG-6's unusual return, but hunger drove him to Teal'c's quarters instead, as he planned to ask the Jaffa warrior if he wanted to join him in grabbing something to eat.

He entered Teal'c's quarters, and was immediately struck by a wall of heat. Holy..! Wow, is it ever hot in here! Jack quickly peeled off his BDU jacket, and slung it haphazardly over a nearby chair.

Forgive the conditions, Teal'c immediately said, and glanced up from his place beside his bed. He was surrounded by candles, and positioned on the floor for meditation, even though the presence of Tretonin meant that he didn't need to meditate any longer. He went on to explain, I am attempting to simulate the conditions on Dakarra in order to better acclimate myself to its climate, and practicing the art of meditation in order to put my fellow Jaffa warriors at ease by engaging in an activity that they are very familiar with. He rose in one seamless motion. I hope I have not made things too uncomfortable for you, O'Neill.

Jack fanned his face, but protested, No! You go right ahead and acclimate yourself. Pretend to meditate... Don't mind me!

Teal'c hastily said, I will be quick in requesting the reason behind your visit so that you do not have to remain uncomfortable for longer than necessary. What can I do for you?

Jack swiped at the sweat beading on his forehead. I'm here to ask you if you want to go to lunch? It's about time, and I'm starving.

Indeed, Teal'c told him. Plans to eat together sound most pleasant.

You just want to cool off, Jack accused good-naturedly, the heat making him faster to voice his thoughts than he normally would have been.

Perhaps, Teal'c half admitted.

Hey, Jack continued. I'll meet you in the Commissary in five... I want to ask Daniel to come, too.

An excellent idea, Teal'c agreed. And Colonel Carter?

Jack informed him, I got word that she left for home about two hours ago, so it'll be just us. He turned to retrieve his coat. See you there. Then he was out the door.

Jack pulled his BDU coat back on as soon as he reached the corridor. BDUs were a comfortable uniform to wear, and certainly unusual for a General to work in. But BDU trousers, complimented only by a black t-shirt, were pushing the limit of acceptable work attire. Jack finished pulling on his jacket, and adjusted the material hanging over his neck. Teal'c didn't follow him out the door.

Jack instantly headed for Daniel's office, glad of the cool air fanning his face as he finished buttoning his BDU overshirt. He didn't know how Teal'c could stand to keep his quarters so hot, but he was just glad that it wasn't him voluntarily having to survive such heat. Even if the air hitting his cheeks now was recycled, at least it didn't make him sweat.

A minute later, Jack sauntered into Daniel's office.

Hey, Jack! greeted the archaeologist before Jack could say anything. He was just replacing his phone's handset in its cradle, but he said to Jack, I've been waiting to see you all day.

Oh? Jack questioned. He grabbed one of the 'rocks' that Daniel always seemed to have sitting so enticingly on his desk, and absently played with it as he continued. Problem?

Daniel shook his head. No, not really. Then he explained, I just talked to Sam earlier this morning, and she sort of played an idea off me, and wondered if I would pass it by you, since I'm here, she's not, and you have the time to hear what I have to say right now.

Jack shrugged as Daniel took the 'rock' out of his hands, and replaced it with another, presumably less expensive, artifact. Okay... Shoot, Jack invited. He didn't tell his friend how his heart began to speed up the second that Sam's name was mentioned. He tried to calm his errant heartbeat as he listened to Daniel.

Okay.., Daniel began. I heard you had some excitement in the 'Gate Room this morning.

Again Jack shrugged. Oh, you know... Team came in hot, there were a few Jaffa...

Daniel choked. In the 'Gate Room?

Jack shrugged once more. Yeah. But I shot them from behind with a Zat before they could do any more damage. They're in holding right now, till I decide what to do with them. He squinched his eyes shut for a moment. I'm thinking about...

Daniel cut him off as he shook his head. Then, he grinned, looking as if he was being forced to concede something to himself. I guess this Jaffa situation is a perfect example of what Sam was talking about this morning.

Oh? Jack asked again. How so?

Daniel came around the side of his desk, his own 'rock' still in hand. But he was staring at Jack instead of his 'rock.' She was thinking that it might be safer, for all of you in the 'Gate and Control Rooms, if it became standard procedure to wear vests whenever a team returns through the 'Gate. That way, you can at least have a little protection in situations like what happened this morning.

Vests, huh? Jack couldn't stop himself when he perked up at what Sam was suggesting, via Daniel. As in bullet proof vests?

It was Daniel's turn to shrug. Yeah.

Jack considered the idea. She isn't worried, is she? The thought of a concerned Sam sitting at her home had never occurred to him. Sure, he worried every time he sent a team through the 'Gate, wishing he was going out instead, but he had never thought that anyone was worried about him!

Actually, she's been worried all year, but kept forgetting to say anything about it. She said she was even worried before your promotion, but General Hammond was gone before she could...

You're kidding! Jack declared. I had no idea that anyone was concerned for those of us left in the 'Gate Room.

Well, it might be a good idea, and after today, I...

Once more, Jack shrugged. Well, yeah, it is a good idea, he agreed quickly. I wonder why none of us thought of it sooner.

Daniel then moved ahead a step, keeping his movements nonchalant the entire time, coming to stand right next to Jack, pretending to study his artifact that he held up to the light. But, instead of commenting on what he was doing, in a voice so low that it was almost a whisper, said, I have something else to talk to you about, Jack, but I don't want anyone to overhear our conversation. And it would be a really good idea if you didn't outwardly react to what I'm about to tell you.

A mysterious Daniel? Jack asked himself. Well, this was new. Okaaaay, Jack slowly agreed, curious now in spite of himself. He seemed to be studying his 'rock,' too, but told his friend, I'm listening.

Good, Daniel said on a sigh. This is rather embarrassing...

Daniel, just spit it out, Jack ordered, his voice low as well.

Okay, Daniel agreeably said. He took a breath, still pretended to study the artifact in his hands, and braced himself. I only mention this as your friend...

Daniel...

So Daniel hurried to continue. I just got a call from Teal'c.

Jack furrowed his brow, definitely surprised to hear this. Teal'c? he questioned. But I just came from seeing him... At Daniel's nod, he went on, What did he want?

He said that you had just been to his quarters a few minutes ago?

Yeah...

And it was really hot in there, so you took your jacket off...

Jack sighed. Daniel, get to a point.

Daniel quickly 'got to a point.' He wanted to know about some bruises that he saw on the side of your neck...

He did? Jack hadn't seen any bruises while he was taking a shower this morning during the lull in between SG-6's physicals, and their debriefing. Of course, he hadn't been looking for latent bruising, either. Jack stopped himself just in time from lifting his hand to his neck in order to probe for the bruises.

Daniel continued, He asked if I had heard whether or not you had been injured during this morning's return of SG-6, then described these bruises you have...

Jack was still confused. And..?

Daniel sighed. And... Jack, there's three hickeys on the side of your neck. No! Don't react!

Jack's arm at his side twitched upwards as he automatically wanted to examine his skin as an awful feeling of horror flooded his being. But Daniel had stopped him just in time.

On the heels of the horror Jack automatically felt came the tight, hot, swooping feeling of regret. Crap, Jack swore in a whisper.

Daniel told him, I just wanted you to know so that you don't take your jacket off again... And you might want to pull the collar of your t-shirt a bit higher on your right side... And stand in shadows... So nobody can see... That would be pretty embarrassing for you... Daniel regarded Jack then, turning his head to look at him for the first time since this second interview between them had begun. Not that your private life isn't your own... You can do whatever you want, after all. But I do just want to say that I hope you know what you're doing. He sighed again. This might just kill Sam, it'll hurt so much... I know... And if you want to...

Jack couldn't stop his brow from lowering in puzzlement again. Why would this hurt Sam? Unless Daniel knew something..? What are you saying? Jack asked, fishing for more information. How much did Daniel know? And how could he deflect his friend's natural curiosity while protecting Sam at the same time? Once again, he cursed his loss of control in the women's locker room that morning. Though, at the same time as a curse entered his mind, he had to acknowledge that he'd had a great time with Sam that morning. But, still curious, he inquired, What does this have to do with Carter?

Daniel breathed a quiet snort of air. I know that she was engaged to that guy friend of hers for a long time, but don't let that fool you. She has the hots for you, and has had them for a long time. Daniel sighed once more. Certainly longer than she knew that Shanahan character...

Daniel! Jack warned again. Though, he wasn't entirely sure what he was warning Daniel about telling him.

Chastised, Daniel hurried on. I know that your life is your life, and you can do what you want, and see who you want... But you need to know that if Sam ever sees those bruises, it'll just crush her, and...

Jack felt his heart beat painfully hard in his chest. Daniel, I want you tell me everything that's goin' on here.

Daniel gripped Jack's arm. I'll be blunt, cause I think it's time for some honesty. He hesitated, then forged on. You and Sam... He blinked owlishly behind his glasses, then sighed, and tried again. I've... uh... had to watch... watch you two... for eight years. He sighed a second time. Isn't it about time you two stopped screwing around with each other? he blurted. Or is what I've watched for the last eight years over and done with, and you two have really moved on from each other? Daniel stared Jack straight in his brown eyes. Is that what the engagement was all about? He blinked again. 'Cause I...

Jack knew then that Daniel didn't know anything about him and Sam, locker rooms, or lockets, beyond already knowing about the bruises on his neck. Question was, should he tell Daniel about it all now, and set his friend's mind at ease, or not? Remaining quiet was the safest option, of course, but staying safe didn't have the appeal that it used to have, either.

Jack studied his friend's face for a moment.

Daniel stuttered, And I... I mean... Finally, he stopped trying to speak as Jack studied him, and just asked, What?

Jack continued to stare at Daniel's intense features. I'm trying to decide... His voice, whisper that it already was, trailed off to silence.

Trying to decide... what? Daniel asked, obviously confused now.

With no more thought, Jack suddenly blurted, You tell anyone, you hurt Sam in any way, and I will personally see your butt nailed to a wall.

Daniel seemed genuinely puzzled to hear this. Jack, what's gotten into you? I don't...

Sam, Jack forcefully uttered. Carter. He moved his head to indicate his bruises, but didn't dare raise his hand any further to touch them. Not with the security camera tucked discreetly into the ceiling the way it was. He could only hope that Daniel understood his gesture. Sam... Bruises...

And Daniel's face took on an expression of comprehension then, to be quickly covered with a look that was far more neutral. You're kidding? he asked anyway, in spite of his expression.

Nope, Jack commented. Never been more sincere in my life.

The two stood, thinking, and pretending to study the 'rocks' in their hands. They even switched 'rocks,' and continued to study them. Finally, Daniel almost smiled, and only swallowed the expression at the last moment. And? he asked. How was..? It must have been pretty wild. I mean... He waved towards Jack's upper half with his hand.

Jack gusted out a sigh this time. His lips barely moved as he imparted, Oh, 'wild' barely covers it...

Daniel did smile now. When? Then, he frowned as Jack looked fiercely at him. Not that it's any of my business, or anything...

Jack cut him off to say, No, it isn't your business... But... Then he drew a deep breath again, his heart pounding a need for him to tell Daniel all about his early morning encounter with Sam, and at the same time, aware that it would be for the best if he just kept his big mouth shut.

But what was the fun in remaining quiet? Jack wanted to do a little bragging about this... thing... that he had shared with someone whom he readily admired, and who, in turn, could use hearing a few bragging compliments told about her just now. For the first time, Jack sort of comprehended why the Goa'uld gloated so much. The thought was appealing in its own right... Locker Room, Jack whispered. This morning... Last night... Whichever you want to call it.

That recently? Daniel incredulously inquired.

Jack didn't answer, but went on, And I hear one word... one word!... about any of this, and I'll...

I know you will, Daniel said. He couldn't do anything to keep a small smile from playing around the corners of his lips.

Don't make me dismember you! Jack harshly stated. And keeping things quiet isn't for me so much as for her...

I know. Suddenly Daniel changed the subject, adding in a louder voice, Teal'c is waiting for us in the Commissary for lunch. Why don't we join him?

Jack gazed at his friend for a moment, then placed his 'rock' on Daniel's desk. Lead on, he invited.

Daniel nodded, set his 'rock' next to Jack's. Then looking for all the world like they were two friends leaving to share a meal, they vacated the office together. Neither man looked back, but Jack carefully adjusted his t-shirt collar to ride a bit higher on his right side. And Daniel's smile burst forth the instant they reached the corridor.

* * *

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, Jack's day fell into something of a routine: doing paperwork... Followed by thinking about Sam... He spent a half hour seeing SG-14 off to P3T-138... He took some time to run to the bathroom, where he examined the bruises left by Sam... Whereupon, he spent the next hour in his office thinking about Sam... He visited Captain Loveless and Major Kint of SG-6 in the Infirmary... He thought about Sam... He received medical updates on the injured parties from that morning's adventure from Doctor Brightman... There was an hour spent on more paperwork... except for the forty-five minutes that he spent thinking about Sam... He attended a briefing for SG-2's next mission... There was a visit from the Tok'ra... He ate his dinner quietly, by himself, in his office, and daydreamed for a solid hour about Sam... Afterwards, he spent another lovely hour thinking about Sam... He did some paperwork... He did more paperwork... He took a break from paperwork to think about Sam... He did even more paperwork... At 21:00 he quit pretending to do paperwork, and spent all his time thinking about Sam...

Jack finally managed to stagger home at 22:00 that night. It was too late for him to call Sam on the phone from the extension in his own living room, and he wasn't certain he was awake enough to be able to hold an intelligent conversation by now, anyway. Besides, what could he possibly say to Carter at this point? 'Hi, I want you more than Walter wants hair'? Or 'I can't get anything done because I spend all my time thinking about you'? Or, his personal favorite: 'Hey, Carter, did you know that you left three hickeys on my neck, and I'm just wondering if I left any on yours?'

Jack's truck sputtered a bit when he first started it in the SGC parking lot, but he was too tired by then to worry much about it.

The next morning began far too early for Jack's taste. 07:00 saw him climbing back into his truck, the pile of file folders that he'd carried home the night before keeping him company on the passenger side. That promise he'd made to Walter several months before about not taking secret information from the base, but taking innocuous file folders full of their innocent information, instead, had once again worked to his advantage. Though he'd been too tired to look through the file folders the night before, Walter thought he was being the good General, and doing the paperwork that he hated to do, and all the while did nothing to compromise the security of the base. In the meantime, the whole bit of pretense still occasionally helped him get the paperwork that Walter wanted to process finished on time. It was a good arrangement for everybody, except that the free file folders had the tendency to slide to the floor of Jack's truck every time he came to a stop sign.

When Jack reached his truck on this bright and cheery morning, he tossed the folders onto the floor of the passenger side of the front seat, saving time, then climbed in himself. He turned the key in the ignition, trying to start his truck, and the file folders that he'd carried home for form's sake the night before threatened to slide around even more.

At 07:05, Jack admitted defeat, called Walter already ensconced in the Control Room for the day, and told him that he would be late due to car trouble. Next, against his better judgment, but fulfilling his heart's greatest wish, he called Carter, who was already awake, showered, dressed (he gulped at the thought of her dressing for the day), and was eating breakfast while drinking coffee at her dining room table. He told her his sob story about his defective truck, adding that he couldn't decide why it wouldn't start. He ended his sad tale with an entreaty for her not to come to his rescue, but for her to tinker with his truck until she possibly figured out what was wrong with the thing, and fixed it. He needed his truck, he said, and then didn't say that he needed her more. She promised to come and take a look at it, after voicing her amazement that he would trust her with his truck. To which he responded that he would trust her with his life. To which she again expressed her astonishment... After all, this was his truck! His baby. His treasure. His heart's desire... To which he had to tell her that she was his heart's desire, whether she wanted to be or not, and that of course he trusted her with his truck. Didn't he already trust her with everything, even his heart?

To which she had no response, except to fondly call him a romantic idiot, and to tell him that she would break speed limits to get over to his house... she just needed time to change into work clothes. He said that he bet she would still look cute, even in work clothes. He was doing his best to ignore her comment about him being a romantic idiot, but feeling more romantic all the time. In the end, she planned to arrive at his house ten minutes later, carrying her old 'work' clothes in her trunk. She would change after he left for the SGC, she said. Then, they hung up, and Jack stared forlornly at his truck, feeling stupidly alone. The minute he caught sight of Sam's car turning into his drive, he called for a cab, and told the cab company to pick him up an hour from the end of his phone call. He had the perfect excuse to be late for work, and he didn't intend to waste a minute of it, hence, the hour time limit.

Hi! Jack called as he saw Sam climb out of her car at the same time he snapped his phone closed.

Did you figure out what's wrong with your truck? she called back, and sauntered slowly over to him hiding behind the raised hood of the truck, effectively cutting him off from sight of anyone passing by on his road.

God, she's sexy as hell, was the comment that rose unbidden to Jack's mind, and he pushed the errant thought down. No, I'm too idiotic, remember? he told her, then lowered the volume of his voice to hushed tones as she joined him in front of his truck. I was hoping you could work your regular magic on it, look at it once, then tell me what's wrong with it.

Sam shoved her hands nervously into her back pockets, unknowingly pulling her shirt taut over her breasts with her action. Jack had to close his eyes against the sight, and swallowed convulsively. Sam stood next to him, oblivious, and leaned over the engine.

Could be the spark plugs, she said.

Need to change those, but I don't think that's it. The engine, when it tries to turn over, sounds wrong for the problem to be that simple, Jack told her, ever aware of the smell of her skin as she stood next to him.

The fan belt? she questioned next, troubleshooting with him.

That needs changed too, I admit, but that isn't it, either. Still sounds wrong, he explained.

The oil needs changed? she guessed. The timing chain is off?

Jack couldn't stand it anymore. He ignored her suggestions to instead reach for her hand. Carter... Sam... He took her hand, his action hidden by the raised green truck hood. Damn... But you look good.

She smiled at the compliment. I was wondering if you'd notice.

Jack snorted with a certain amount of desperation in his voice. I'd notice if you were wearing BDUs, an evening dress, or nothing at all. By the way, is there a reason you're wearing a turtleneck today, or is it just coincidence?

She gazed at him, and frowned. Coincidence, she replied. Why? Should I have a reason?

Jack didn't answer except to pull his day's BDU jacket and t-shirt collar aside to reveal the three slightly purple bruises, all in a neat row right below the neckline of his black t-shirt. The bruises were fairly light, but still stood out in stark contrast to his tanned skin.

Sam drew her breath in, covered her mouth with her hand, a look of horror on her face, and quietly said, Shit.

Jack grinned. That isn't exactly what I predicted you to say when you found out, he said.

Sam couldn't help but grin in response to his comment. What did you expect me to say? she asked.

I thought you might ask me out on a date, since my company apparently isn't abhorrent to you, and it being Friday and all. But I guess that hoping to go on a date with you was just me having high expectations for the evening, he admitted.

Sam tried to gauge what he was thinking, according to the wary expression on her face. We can go out if you want to, but I admit that I'd rather stay in, she baldly whispered.

Jack blinked at her ribald response to his suggestion, and she laughed. You should see your face! she told him.

Why? he asked. Is it funny looking?

No, she said. Try 'adorable.'

Jack squinted his eyes at her. Carter, what's gotten into you lately? he asked. Not that I mind, certainly, but even you have to admit that you've been behaving a bit... out of character... for you, anyway, he softly ended.

She shrugged, and stuffed her hands into her jeans pockets. I guess I'm sick of waiting, and pretending, and denying, and I'm terrified that the time in the... you know... the locker room... That it will be a one shot thing.

I hope it's not.

Sam gazed at him.

Jack gazed at her.

His mind swirled, and his gut clenched. Jack broke out into a sweat. Finally, he dissolved the spell that had fallen over them by asking, Mind if I take a look at your neck? Then, after quelling his normal amount of restraint when he wanted to make personal comments, added, So I can see if I need to be more careful next time.

Sam smiled. Sure... As long as you guarantee that there is a next time.

Jack smiled at her. That's one guarantee that I can make.

Yes, but can you keep it?

I'll pencil it into my schedule, Jack said. He really enjoyed their teasing, joking conversation. But now he pulled down a side of the folded material around her neck, only to find smooth, unmarked, creamy skin that he had to fight not to kiss. He moved to the other side of her neck instead, pulled down the material, and saw one livid bruise gracing her smooth skin. Damn.

How bad is it?

Jack studied her neck as Sam arched her head aside so that he could more easily see her skin. Now Jack really had to fight his desire to kiss her neck! Instead, he focused on her one bruise, and said, It should be gone by the time you come back to work next week.

Then maybe you should risk making another one? she suggestively hinted.

Jack grinned again. Don't tempt me, he ordered.

Will a kiss tempt you? she boldly inquired.

Jack breathed more quickly. Oh yeah, that should do it.

Sam squinted up at him in the early morning sunlight. Mind if I try?

'Mind?' Jack rhetorically repeated. Hell no.

Good. Sam stood on her tiptoes, and brazenly kissed him briefly on his lips. I thought about you all last night, she admitted in a whisper. I even dreamt about you!

I hope it was a good dream, he told her, and kissed her on her left cheek.

The best, she simply replied with a grin.

Jack too smiled sappily down at her, his truck forgotten. Were we, maybe, in a...

She cut him off by kissing him again, and he instantly deepened the gesture until it had gone from an expression of affection to one that was definitely raw lust.

Jack's head spun. She wasn't holding anything back, and he couldn't help but respond to her overtures with emotion of his own. Spurred on to be more demonstrative, he placed his hands on her hips, then slid them across her behind in a move that was unmistakably carnal. She moaned into his mouth in response.

That was all it took for Jack to groan as well, and to open his mouth to her questing tongue. This is ridiculous, he hazily thought, I admire her more than anyone I know. I don't want to hurt her. What am I doing? But he kissed her deeper yet in an opposite reaction to his stray idea.

She tasted so good, felt so good! He didn't know if he could ever give her up. Aloud, he whispered, I don't want to hurt you.

Are you hurting me? Sam asked as she pushed her front into him. Jack groaned again as his only response. Sam went on, Keeping yourself away from me now would hurt me far more than anything we could possibly do together. She suggestively pushed into him again.

Oh, god..! He was sweating again. Carter, Jack managed to whisper, You're trying to kill me, right? He kissed the skin on her neck.

Sam arched her head back, welcoming his endearment. No, and no one will see any of this, either, if we go inside.

Whoa! Had he heard Sam just suggest that they take this inside?

Well, Jack considered, they did have almost an entire hour...

Jack didn't need any more encouragement. He knew this was a bad idea, that he was being her willing accomplice in breaking the regulations again, rules that he and she had kept intact for so long.

But, wow, he wanted her, every inch of her, every centimeter, all of her, and he wanted all of her right now...

Quickly decisive, he lowered the hood of his truck with a bang, shut the driver's door that he had left open the last time he'd tried to start his truck, and led the way to his front door. He unlocked his house with hands that trembled, and which he fought to still. At last, he acknowledged that his shaking fingers were due to excitement, not fear...

Jack pulled her in after him, then shut the world out when he closed the door behind them. You do know, don't you, that I had no intentions of doing this when I called you over this morning, right?

Sam smiled at him, then just anchored her arms around the back of his neck. You can kiss me in order to make it up to me, she suggested after she had swallowed, then couldn't seem to help herself as her hands slid over his chest when she moved to cradle his head and neck a second time.

The expression of genuine appreciation on her face let him know that she liked what she was touching. Jack smiled at her, and without saying a word, kissed her so longingly that she couldn't possibly mistake his feelings for her. What is wrong with me? he asked himself. Why didn't he just broadcast his emotions on the evening news while he was at it?

The franticness from before, the raw lust, was gone, but the emotions of shared affection were as strong as ever. Jack found himself wanting to tell her that he loved her more than anything he'd ever encountered, but he had never before been one to put words to his feelings, and now, though he was struggling to do just that, was no different.

Yet, with him staring down at her sweet face, her blonde hair curling over his fingertips as he cradled her face, he also found that his inner urge to speak out made it not nearly as difficult for him to give voice to his feelings as it had always been for him in previous years.

I love you, they both whispered at the exact same time.

The dual confessions made them laugh out loud as a warm heat bloomed inside Jack's chest, near his heart, and blossomed throughout his extremities when he heard her words spoken to him alone for the first time.

Still chuckling, still feeling warm and joyful, Jack ran his fingers covetously across her naked cheek. You're so... He could tell her she was beautiful to him, but he doubted that she would believe him... or care... So, he opted for something more personal to her. So amazing... even when you're working on those doohickeys of yours. Especially then.

Sam smiled up at him, then flirtatiously asked, Will you be my next doohickey?

Jack considered. Well, we've got the 'hickey' part down already...

Sam laughed again. We sure do! she agreed with him. Want me to make sure we know the plan on how to make more?

Sam... sucking on his neck? Was she kidding? Oh yeah, Jack told her. It may not be a good idea, but it's one I'm all for.

Still smiling then, Sam stood on her tiptoes and slowly kissed the side of his neck, making sure her actions took place right below the collar of his shirt, which she pushed aside. She added a tantalizing swirl of her tongue, and Jack thought for sure he was going to explode where he stood.

Carter..! Sam..! Jack groaned, and closed his eyes.

I'm yours, Sam suddenly whispered into his ear. If you want me...

What was she thinking, asking such a non-feminine question like that? She certainly wasn't being the pro-feminine Sam Carter he'd always known. But at the same time, Jack certainly wasn't going to question his luck, either. I want, he immediately replied, his voice a strained whisper. Then, he added, But only if you want me in return.

More than you know, she told him in an answering whisper sent right into his ear. She ran her tongue around the edge of it.

Jack groaned again. God, Sam, you're driving me nuts...

She didn't bother to reply to him, but pushed him back into the wall of his entryway, and proceeded to kiss him senseless.

Jack's last coherent thought was to wonder who was in charge here, her or him, when her tongue scraped against his, and banished all purposeful thought from his head.

Not heeeerrrre, she suggestively told him. Then she led him to his bedroom.

How did she even know where his bedroom was? he wondered, then recalled the time she'd been here with his teenage clone, looking for him in the mess of bedclothes.

Now, she didn't bother pulling the bedcovers down as she encouraged him to lay back onto them with a tiny push of her hands. He sat down on the edge of the bed, then rolled onto his back. She followed him, her lips still firmly locked onto his. She began unbuttoning his BDU overshirt, slowly, seductively. It was the most erotic thing he'd ever experienced.

Once the kiss was over, and she had him completely devoid of the overshirt, she slowly pulled her own turtleneck over her head, revealing an inch of skin at a time. Watching, Jack was certain that this, instead of her unbuttoning his overshirt, was the most erotic thing he'd ever seen. He groaned for a third time, then reached for her.

But Sam had other ideas. She bent and unlaced his combat boots. She removed first the left boot, then his sock, and stroked the inside of his instep with her teeth. The bulge in Jack's trousers suddenly jumped at her touch. Sweeeeeet.., he breathed as he relaxed back into the mattress.

Sam removed his right boot, and next his sock, and kissed that instep, then, and nipped at it with her teeth. Jack jumped again. Sam reached up, and enticingly, agonizingly slowly, drew his trousers and boxers down his legs.

Ugh! This slowness was going to finish him! He'd never been so turned on by the simple act of undressing before. When Sam kissed his leg up to the ticklish spot behind his right knee, he had do make a move of some kind, or melt into sludge on the spot. He slid his fingers into her hair, anchoring her to him, and gently massaged her scalp as she continued to kiss her way up his leg. When she reached his groin, the part of his body longing for her touch, she maddeningly disregarded it to enticingly continue kissing up his body.

Somehow, she had quickly removed her bra, her pants, her underwear... Sam was gloriously naked, crawling up his body! Oh god, he moaned, striving for some sense of control before he completely lost it.

Sam smiled like the beguiling witch that she was, and pushed his black t-shirt ever so slowly up his chest.

You're going to kill me, aren't you? Jack panted under her. That's the plan. He writhed, but she persisted with her chosen activity.

Yes, that's the plan, she said in a low voice, and found his own breasts as hers slipped with a tingling touch to slide up his skin.

She knows that's making me insane, Jack thought, as she finally allowed him to stroke her bare shoulders, her neck, the swell of her own breasts against his chest. His hands wandered to her thin hips again, down and across her bottom...

It was Sam's turn to groan. That feels too good.., she panted. We do have an hour before your taxi gets here, right? she asked then, making sure she'd overheard his phone call from before correctly.

It must be only forty-five minutes by now, Jack managed to force out through his gritted teeth.

So... What you're saying is that I should stop wasting time...

I wouldn't think of it in quite that... Sam! Jack hissed. Ohmygod! he blurted as without warning, Sam slid onto him and kissed him at the same time.

Then she started moving, and Jack thought for sure he'd discovered his own personal slice of heaven. He pushed into her even further, until he could feel her surrounding every centimeter of him. He wanted to take over control of this lovemaking session of theirs, to flip her until she was under him, and he could wring the same overwhelming sense of passion out of her as she was pulling out of him. But he couldn't... She was too much for him. He wanted her too badly. He was already feeling that special tightening in his gut that heralded all his orgasms. It was spreading, consuming him, ready to send bursts of warmth through his veins...

Sam.., he whispered as a last entreaty.

Jack.., she answered, her face just as taut, just as concentrated as his.

Then he brushed passed her hidden center, and her own expression of bliss erupted across her face. She said nothing, only hissed in a breath, tossed her head back, sent him a moan that came from the rear of her throat, and clutched at his shoulders as the pleasure ripped through her.

Jack felt her muscles tense all along his enlarged penis, and he exploded as well. The intense agony of pleasure pulsed through him, washing his essence into her, until she became him, until there was only them left lying in a limp tangle of arms and legs on his bed, panting, still trying to catch their breath.

Wow, Jack whispered when he could talk again. That was... You were... But he couldn't vocalize the one word he was searching for in his mind. He couldn't even find it! Wow.

Wow to the nth degree, Sam finished for him.

She was grinning onto his chest when he glanced up at her. Are you alright? he asked after that amazing rush of emotion.

Are you? she instantly countered.

Jack let his head fall back to the bed covers. No, he firmly replied. That makes me want to do it again... and again... and again... And that is not a good thing, he emphatically stated while he stared at the ceiling, and tried his best to recover his bearings. But am I alright? he echoed her earlier question. Then, he smiled. Oooooh yeah.

Sam smiled a second time, then kissed his smooth skin on his shoulder. That's what I thought.

Jack tightened his arms around Sam. We really need to talk about this, he said, sounding reluctant, but determined.

She, however, inquired just as quickly, What's to talk about?

Jack slowly answered her. Well... There's us... Your dad... Us... The end of your recent engagement... The fact that we just blew the Regs out of the water... Us... Just to name a few, he said.

I like that 'us' you want to discuss, she huskily told him. As to the rest... Water under the bridge... I'm not going back, no matter what you say we should do...

Jack peered at her, his face contorted in puzzlement. Are you saying what I think you're saying?

Damn right! she said. I'm sick of my life living me instead of me living my life. She grimaced. I want freedom... or at least, pseudo freedom.

Jack's brow drew down in a frown. Where's all this talk of 'our sudden freedom' coming from? he asked, perplexed.

Sam grinned, heaved a sigh of contentment, settled her head more comfortably on his chest, then said, You're a mighty damn fine looking man, and one of these days, another Kerry's going to come along, and ruin 'Us' unless I do something about it right now...

Jack snorted. I can tell you for certain that no one is ever going to worm their way through my feelings that I have for you again, so...

So you say, she direly predicted. But I want you right now, not 'when the war is over,' not 'when it's convenient' for everybody, not when either of us retires, not when you or I are finally ready...

I'm ready, I'm ready, Jack interrupted her to insist.

Sam smiled in genuine affection. So am I, she told him with no tremble of hesitation in her voice. I guess that's the crux of the situation, she added. I'm willing to do just about anything to make sure you're mine...

Oh, Jack said through his own smile of appreciation. I'm yours, don't you worry about that.

Sam went on, I know that Dad would have been disappointed in my decisions if he was still alive, and I had to hurt a lot of people to even get to this point, and I certainly didn't mean to do that, but... Sam lifted her head to stare straight into his brown eyes. I can't help it... I love you, love everything about you, even the way you don't read or do all your dumb paperwork...

Hey! Jack protested. How do you know about that?

She replied, Everybody knows about that.

Damn, Jack muttered in response. And I thought I was doing such a good job of faking it.

Sam spluttered a laugh, but chose not to comment.

And speaking of faking it, Jack said. If I don't get a move on, I won't make it in to the SGC today. Despite his words, he longingly kissed her. I would, however, rather spend the day with you...

But I need to fix your truck, she told him, and kissed him back.

And I need to take a shower again before Walter figures out what we've been doing just from the smell...

Sam giggled again. A part of me admits that I want to lead him around by his nose for a little while...

You're wicked, Jack appreciatively added.

Sam sighed then. But you're right... It wouldn't be a good idea to tell the whole world about 'Us' just yet...

Patience, Jack counseled.

I don't have much patience left, Sam wryly admitted. I figure that eight years, plus the thirty or so that came before, pretty much used up my quota of forbearance...

And you have more than the normal person does, Jack shyly admitted. Or you wouldn't want to waste any of it on me....

That is so not a waste! Sam cheerfully exclaimed. Even if you say so... Even if you secretly think so...

You can work at changing my mind. It's not something you haven't done before, Jack suggested with a smile.

Sam kissed him one last time. Deal, she agreed. Then she rolled off him, leaving him free to run for the bathroom connected to his bedroom, and the shower that resided in the corner of the room.

Five minutes later, Sam's voice drifted over to him on the steam that was filling up the room. She flicked on the overhead fan for him, something he had forgotten to do when he entered the room, and called, I'm going to run to my car, and get my work clothes. I'll be back in a minute.

Okay, Jack told her. By then I should be out, and you can have the shower.

I'm going to take one later, Sam told him. After I finish fiddling with your truck.

Try not to break anything, Jack warned as he turned off the water, and reached for the towel she was handing him. Man, forgot to turn on the fan, forgot my towel... He grimaced dramatically in her direction. You drive every thought right out of my head. She grinned at him. It's a good thing you're on downtime right now. I don't think I could function if I knew you were at the SGC right now.

Then I'll leave you alone and run and get my clothes.., she promised. But she leaned in to give him a kiss on his lips first.

Oh yeah! thought Jack when she had left his bathroom. Life was definitely looking up!

* * *

It was nearing 1700 when Jack's phone on his office desk rang. He gratefully dropped the pen he was holding to rest on the top of the form he had just finished signing, glad to have an excuse to finally stop dealing with his endless paperwork. He grabbed the receiver, hoping that it was Sam who was calling him, but knowing that that was probably too much to even hope for. O'Neill, he said into the receiver.

You sound tired, Sam's voice immediately proclaimed over the phone line.

His day just kept getting better and better! He smiled. Carter! Jack exclaimed back, trying his best not to let his effusive sense of joy creep into his voice.

I finished messing with your truck, she told him next.

And? he immediately asked. What's the verdict? He saw hundreds of dollar signs swimming in his head.

Sam sighed, but Jack could hear her good humor even in that usually more sober sound. No real verdict. I had the problem figured out before the bus came this morning to pick up that neighbor boy you have...

Ryan? Jack asked. Ryan Kelser? The junior high aged boy had begun mowing Jack's lawn for him two summers before while he was away on missions, so the military man was quite familiar with Ryan.

Right, Sam said. He tried to start the truck for me, and when he did, I saw right away what was going on.

Ryan helped you? Jack asked. You didn't hurt him or anything, did you?

Jack, give me some credit, will you? Sam requested, but Jack could tell by her teasing tone that she really wasn't angry at him. I made him put his hands in his pockets when I showed him how the blue fire would arc towards the spark plugs, and...

Hearing that alarmed Jack to no end. Blue fire?!? he instantly repeated. What the heck was wrong with my truck that it would make blue fire?

Distributor cap, Sam instantly informed him. You needed a new one. Picked one up at O'Reilly's Auto Parts on 20th Street, you know, by the Walgreen..?

Why did you go clear out there? Jack asked. Isn't that a bit out of the way?

Jack could hear the shrug in Sam's voice. Yeah, she admitted. But the employees know me, and...

She didn't get any further, as Jack instantly rolled his eyes, and said, It figures that the employees at an auto parts store would know you. Yeah, and the guys there have probably been panting all day if she flashed that smile of hers at them, he thought. So, how much do I owe you? he inquired. One hundred dollars? Two hundred?

There was a pregnant pause, then Sam quietly said, No, it all came to eighty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

Jack sat up in his seat, stunned at how inexpensive his truck repair had been. You're kidding, he stated.

Nope. Sam's voice was getting stronger now. I'm sorry if you don't think parts from an auto store are as good as having mechanics look at it...

Mechanics?! Jack blurted. Hell no! I don't care at all! he insisted.

So you're not mad? Sam asked, sounding small again with the asking.

Mad? Jack echoed back to her. No... Why should I be mad, for crying out loud?

Sam paused again, then confessed, Well, Mom and Dad weren't too thrilled that one time I took apart the refrigerator to see how it works, and...

Oh, that it explains it then, Jack said to her, amusement evident in his voice. If you left half my truck strewn all over my driveway, then I wouldn't be too thrilled, either, I admit, he confessed. But as you put it all back together again... I assume that's what you did, right?

Sam laughed. No worries, Sir, she said, falling back on her habitual way she had addressed him for years. This isn't like that time with the fridge...

I take it your parents were less than happy about that part where you neglected to put their refrigerator back together again, right? Jack inquired.

Sam's voice sounded defensive then. How was I to know that the food would spoil, and that it would make such a huge mess on the kitchen floor when I unplugged the fridge? she asked. You'd think they would have been happy that I thought to unplug it in the first place...

Now it was Jack's turn to laugh.

She went on, I guess you can say that 'angry' doesn't exactly cover their reaction when they finally found me that afternoon.

And how old were you? Jack asked then.

Eleven, Sam replied.

Damn, Jack appreciatively swore. When I was eleven, I was happy just to be able to ride my bike.

Sam giggled. It probably would have been easier on me if I had stuck to riding my bike, too. At least, it would have been a lot cleaner.

Jack laughed again, but was cut off when Sam said something more. I promise that I put your truck all back together again, she claimed. I learned my lesson the first time around, even if I did learn it the hard way.

Did they punish you?

My dad was a military man, Sam rhetorically told him. What do you think?

I suppose you were grounded?

For life, she told him. They wouldn't let me play with anything electrical for the rest of the year, she said. Then, without warning, she changed gears now that the past had been discussed, bringing with it some not-so-pleasant memories, from the sound of the conversation. Are you sure you're not angry? 'Cause my car is here... I can run away while the getting's still good if you are...

Jack laughed for a third time. No, I'm not mad. But I will keep you away from my fridge for the foreseeable future. His comment made Sam laugh as well, and it made him happy just to have put a smile on her face. He went on to hide the happiness that was expanding in his chest at the moment. It's just that I'm more used to a thing like a truck engine repair costing an arm and a leg, that's all, he patiently explained.

Well, it did take me the rest of the morning to change the fan belt and the spark plugs as well as the distributor...

Jack interrupted her, stunned anew. You changed all that?! he barked into his phone.

Um... Yeah. Sam was hesitant in her answer now. I hope that you don't mind. But I have all this free time, and you never seem to have any, so...

Sam had fixed his truck as well as changing the fan belt and spark plugs, two things that he'd been meaning to take care of for himself for the last month, only he never seemed to find the time? He gaped, not knowing what to say. Finally he managed to mumble, Uh... No, no... I don't mind at all... He could barely speak now.

She interrupted him in spite of her tiny voice, Then maybe you don't mind that I couldn't resist crawling underneath and changing the oil, too? she tentatively asked.

Jack's gape had become a permanent fixture on his face. Carter... Hell, no, I don't mind... That's incredible... You're incredible... He paused, then blurted, Can I marry you?

Sam laughed gleefully over the phone, but didn't respond to his spur of the moment, joking question. Instead, she said, I was thinking that maybe you would like to give your truck a whirl now that it runs right... Runs at all... Do you want me to come and pick you up, or something?

I'm on my way to the surface right now, Jack instantly told her. I'll meet you at the gate in fifteen minutes. He hung up the phone as he rose from his chair. Instead of pushing his intercom button, he yelled down the stairs to the Control Room, I'm heading out, Walter. And no, I can't handle one or ten last minute things! Colonel Carter fixed my truck, and she's coming to take me home, and that gives me a nice excuse to tell you that I need to get out of here!

Walter's voice issued out of the intercom on the phone, like it was supposed to. Don't forget to take the personnel folders home with you. He added, Those files really need to be done by tomorrow mor...

Already did those! Jack called, cutting Walter off in mid word as he started towards the door to the corridor. If he neglected to go through the Control Room to catch the elevator, no one could try to snag him on his way out. He hoped.

Wow... You already did them... I'm impressed, Walter said through the intercom.

So am I, Jack yelled back over his shoulder.

Walter went on, See you tomorrow then, Sir.

Monday morning, Jack reminded him. It's the weekend. So go home to your wife for an early dinner, Walter, Jack called as his parting comment. And I'm making that an order, so you have an excuse to get out of here, too.

Uh... Thanks, Sir, Walter stammered his reply. I'm gone.

Good. It was about time that man found a life away from his computer console...

Jack hurried to the elevator, having to hide only twice as once Dr. Lee seemed to be searching for him, then he saw Daniel stroll down the hall a minute later, in spite of the fact that SG-1 was on downtime. He didn't necessarily behave like he was looking for Jack, but then, Jack didn't want to take a chance on running into him at the last minute, either, and then end up spending the next half hour stuck as Daniel discussed some rock or other. And Jack was also not in the mood to be fielding well-intentioned questions about his love life... now that he most definitely had the one he wanted. So he slid into a handy supply closet before his friend had the opportunity to discover his presence in the corridor outside his office.

Jack was lying on his back, relaxing on an outside bench, and looking up at the sky in a rare moment of contemplation just beyond the first guard gate leading into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex when Sam drove up in his truck. She parked the vehicle at the side of the road just before the drive entered the complex. She climbed out, carrying a leather satchel of some kind, and crossed to him.

A twanging feeling shot through Jack's stomach at just the sight of her. Aloha, he said in order to hide any evidence of his emotions that might be leaking out on his face. He had to be careful while he and she were still in sight of those in the SGC. He turned his head to watch her approach. Whatcha got there?

Sam settled beside him on the bench as he sat up to make room for her. I brought this for you, she told him.

Oh yeah? he inquired, curious now, but not fully believing her yet.

Yeah, she replied, smiling a bit at her growing use of the slang word while she was around him. He was rubbing off on her in the most unexpected ways, she cheerfully ruminated. This was my dad's from a long time ago, she told him. It was thrown in his stuff in my attic, and I had to look for hours before I found it again...

Jack glanced at her in puzzlement. I figured that you had worked at home this afternoon instead of...

Okay, she conceded, and blushed. Maybe 'hours' is a bit of an exaggeration.

Uh huh.

But I found it, then cleaned it up, and... Sam handed it over to him for his general perusal. Dad used it to carry all of his papers and things to work from the time he was just a Colonel. His men got it for him... She hastily went on, And I noticed that you had to juggle some of your files this morning.

Jack thought that he shouldn't ask how she had seen him that morning as he had caught his taxi after he had left her.

Sam shook her head, the day's fading sunlight bouncing off her blonde hair. Anyway, he hasn't used it since that day he became a Tok'ra, and it was just sitting in my attic, and I can't believe I never thought of it before now, and... You get the picture.

Jack was stunned speechless for the hundredth time in the last hour. It was quite an achievement. Thanks! he breathed as he gazed at the satchel she had given him. It had been embossed with the Air Force symbol on its front flap, and in order to make it big enough to fit the entire picture of the spikes that had always reminded Jack of an eagle's wings with the slivering diamonds underneath, the front flap entirely covered the front of the bag and its zipper closure. Two clasps were meant to hold it shut, and a handle rubbed against his wrist as he examined it.

Dad always used the handle to carry it in.., Sam began, but Jack was already throwing the long olive green strap over his head so that he could sling it around his shoulder. Or you can carry it that way, I guess, Sam added.

This is so cool! Jack enthused then. Now, Walter won't have to yell at me for losing files all the time...

Sam rolled her eyes just a smidgen. That was the idea, she said then.

Well... Gosh... Thanks! Though how you know that Walter's always yelling at me for losing things I'll never know, he added in a quiet voice.

Sam grinned. I wouldn't want anyone to yell at you all the time, she said. After all, you're the General... Don't you get to yell at all of us?

You would think so, he said, just as Daniel drove up in his rusty, falling apart car, and pulled alongside the bench so that he could talk to both of them at the same time before he left to head for home. Hi Sam... Jack... What have you got there? Daniel asked before either of them could greet him. Then he suspiciously eyed Jack. You're not trying to smuggle artifacts out of the base again, are you? he inquired.

Jack had to grin. No, not this time, I promise, he said. Carter just brought this for me to use. It was Jacob's. He took off the bag, and handed it to Daniel through the lowered window on the passenger side of his car.

Daniel stared at the design emblazoned on the front flap of the bag. Wow! he said. he turned the bag over and over in his hand. This has to be old! he gushed then. From the sixties, I'd guess. He smelled the bag next. This is real leather! he exclaimed. Nothing's made out of real leather anymore... It's always plastic. Cheaper that way, he explained.

Hey! Jack cautioned. No smelling! He retrieved the bag again from his friend.

Sam piped up, then. The sixties is probably about the time that Dad got this bag, actually. She didn't look at all upset to be talking about Jacob when they had just buried him the week before. That was when he got this bag as a Christmas present, I was always told.

Neat gift! Daniel exclaimed then. Don't lose this, he told Jack. I doubt that you can just go to the gift shop at the Academy to buy a replacement.

I'll keep it in my office at home when I'm not using it, Jack told Daniel to mollify him.

Daniel wasn't mollified, though. You forget that I've seen your office, Jack, he dolefully said.

Sam laughed, but Jack only slung the strap over his shoulder again. Very funny, Daniel, was all he said. Aren't you supposed to be on downtime or somethin'? Why are you even here?

I was taking a look at... Daniel was interrupted when a horn noisily honked from behind them. Daniel glanced in his rearview mirror, annoyed, at the SUV that was sitting behind his car. You'd think that a person working at the SGC would be smart enough to swing around... But he obligingly shifted his car into 'drive' again, and started forward. I better go... See you guys tomorrow! he called, then apparently remembered that he was supposed to be gone on downtime. Not to mention that this was Friday, and he now faced an entire free weekend. The look that Jack sent his way must have reminded him, as well, and he called, Or maybe I'll see you in a few days... He then used the electronic button on his arm rest to raise the window again before driving off and heading for home. The window actually raised... this time.

Jack told Sam in a subdued voice, I remember the time that Daniel's car wouldn't start when he and I were in Denver one day. I fixed the car, but then had to ride all the way back to Colorado Springs with the window down because the electronic buttons wouldn't work anymore. It was January, and cold enough to freeze... Well, it was a cold ride, he ended before he could say something that he might want to take back.

Sam laughed again. Where was I that day? she asked as they rose to cross the road again to his truck.

You were still in San Diego that year, as I recall, Jack told her. Probably living it up on the beach while we were freezing our asses off! Oops... He'd gone and said the word that he'd just avoided not saying... So much for that that!

No doubt I was living it up on a beach in January, Sam sardonically replied as she mischievously snuck a glance at his butt. And for almost freezing it off, it's looking pretty good, she whispered into his ear. He gawked a second time that evening, but before he could answer her raunchy comment with a raunchy comment of his own, she said, Keys, and tossed his truck keys at him.

Jack caught them before they could hit the ground. At least his coordination skills were still intact, he figured. He hadn't lost all those abilities while riding a desk for a year, he thought.

They climbed into the vehicle, then Jack swung the truck around, and they headed back down the mountain. They were taking 'the long way' back to Jack's house, so Jack could appreciate how well the truck drove now that Sam had 'tinkered' with it.

Jack suddenly broke the silence that had settled over them when he conversationally told her, By the way, two things happened at the SGC today that you might be interested in... First: You remember those two Jaffa prisoners that we had captured when SG-6 came back through the 'Gate? Sam gave a nod, so he continued, I sent them on to the Free Jaffa Nation to do what they want with them... train them, re-educate them, send them back to Ba'al... That's where they came from to begin with...

Sam inquired, Have you heard about what's happened to them since, or..?

Not yet, Jack said. On Monday, I plan to ask Master Bra'tac about how they're doing, and what the Free Jaffa have chosen to do with them.

After another moment of silence had settled over them, Sam nodded, then turned her head toward him so that she could stare straight at him to ask, Aside from Jaffa prisoners... What was the second thing that happened?

Jack couldn't keep the grin off his face, then: she had such beautiful blue eyes. It might interest you to know that an idea that someone had, that she told to someone else, that was then passed on to me, became reality for the first time today when SG-11 got back at the SGC from their mission to PRX... somethin' or other... Jack risked a glance at her in his passenger seat. Everybody in the 'Gate and Control Rooms wore protective vests when the team came back through the 'Gate. Just in case something happened, and SG-11 was coming in hot...

Sam gave an answering grin, and, suddenly shy, imparted, That is good news... She paused, then took a deep breath and added, But I feel like I should tell you that I... She sent a look of trepidation at Jack then. I... kinda sorta... lied... when I first mentioned... to Daniel... about having that idea...

Lied? questioned Jack in sudden confusion.

Sam blushed furiously, her face turning beet red in the few seconds that he was able to watch her. Um... Yeah, she uncomfortably said.

How so? Jack cautiously asked next, unable to resist interrogating her a little further.

Sam's blush remained. Well, she slowly confessed. Well... I sort of told Daniel... that I'd first had the idea way back when General Hammond was at the SGC...

That wasn't the truth? Jack cut her off to ask, a perplexed look on his face now.

Sam's blush deepened, if possible. Uh... No, she went on.

No?

Knowing how he hated to be the object of anyone's concern... He would rather be the person concerned, she had realized over the years... So, Sam reluctantly told him, I got that idea after you were promoted to General. Right after SG-1 came back hot through the 'Gate... you know, that time you thought the three of us had been captured by Ba'al?

Not long after your promotion ceremony? Jack ascertained.

Um... Yeah, Sam said. I kind of told Daniel that story about having the idea pertaining to General Hammond, too, so he wouldn't get suspicious of... That anything was going on... That I was really worried about...

She was worried about him! In spite of his preference for wanting to be the one who was worried about any person under his command, it oddly pleased Jack that she had clearly spent some time thinking about him while in between her missions all those months ago... He wasn't glad that she'd been worried about his safety, though at the same time, her apparent concern had made him just a little glad that he now had proof that she'd been thinking about him even while she'd been engaged to someone else. It made no difference that she had claimed to have moved passed her feelings for him, supposedly illustrated by her engagement to another man. She had still been thinking about him. Jack grinned: forgotten for awhile, but not completely gone...

However, no matter how it still pleased him that he had obviously played a bit part in Sam's mind even so long before, there was another matter now that was more important to tell her about than his pleasure at her past thoughts. Jack's face took on a serious expression then. Um... I suppose I should tell you that... Um... Teal'c and Daniel already know something's... going on.

Sam's blush drained away until her face had gone completely white. They know?

Jack sent an understanding grimace her way, then divulged, Teal'c called Daniel yesterday, asking about bruises he'd seen on my neck, and when Daniel asked him to describe what he said he'd seen... he described... well... Honestly, he described hickeys...

Sam finished coloring a pasty white. Damn...

That's how I even found out about them... the marks, Jack told her then. But I'm sure that we can trust both Daniel and Teal'c not to say anything one way or another...

Sam sighed, a guilty sound, followed by a resigned sighing sound... Followed by a definite squaring of her shoulders that even Jack could see while most of his attention was taken up by driving. She then changed the subject to inquire, It seems like the right time... um... to... um... She turned to regard him. Jack, can I ask you a... personal... question?

Jack glanced over at her as she nervously sat in his passenger seat. Trying to bolster her flagging sense of courage, as well as soothe her, he jocularly exclaimed, Hey, you fixed my truck for under one hundred dollars... You can ask me anything you want to ask.

Sam smiled, though her expression was still tremulous, displaying her ongoing apprehension in this case. Well, I mean... Not here... Though it's been on my mind ever since you mentioned it over the phone earlier...

Jack made a quick decision based on what she'd just said, and in particular, how she'd said it. Without even giving her time to adjust to his new destination, Jack turned the truck into an access road that ambled and swerved through some trees, and into a park that he had heard the teenagers of the day favored as a great 'time waster.' It was perfect for him and Sam, too... it was private, had a great view of a lake, and was above all else, secluded.

There were no teenagers present on this Friday afternoon in late Autumn as Jack turned into the lake parking lot. In fact, the lot was empty except for Jack's truck, which was completely hidden from the main road in the isolated lot. He and Sam would never be discovered here.

Now you can ask whatever you want, Jack told her as he parked the truck, and flipped the engine to idle, then shut it off. Come on... Let's sit out by the lake, he suggested.

Sam shivered. The weather's growing colder, and I didn't bring my jacket, she protested halfheartedly.

Jack instantly offered, You can take my BDU shirt, and I'll wear this jacket that I always keep in my truck just for times such as these. He pulled a coat out from behind the passenger seat. The jacket firmly in hand, he climbed out of the truck, removed his BDU shirt, and handed it to her. Then, he shrugged into the coat still in his hand. The black jacket came with elastic sleeves, a zipper-closing front, and tight elastic wrist bands. They fit snugly around his wrists, but would have done nothing but gotten in the way of her hands. His extra large BDU shirt fell to her fingertips as it was, even with the sleeves already rolled up to the shirt's elbows. Sam was tall, but she wasn't as large a person as he was.

But Jack had to give an appreciative grin as she donned his shirt. The look of appreciation slid through his eyes, and he sincerely sighed, and happily announced, Cuuuute!

Sam rolled her eyes, and snorted. Thanks a lot! she sarcastically said, though his voice had denoted his genuine esteem of the picture she was painting for him.

No, I mean it, Jack protested. You are lookin' mighty cute! I should give you my shirt more often...

Carter finished buttoning up the shirt then as Jack zipped up his black jacket that clashed with the blue BDU trousers that he had worn that morning, and still had on.

Okay, Jack said, and climbed to the top of a bare picnic table, and sat down in spite of the odd cool breeze that strafed over him. Sam settled next to him. You said that you have something to ask me? he prompted.

Sam looked decidedly nervous, but went on anyway. Yeah... Um... You were just making a flippant comment over the phone this evening, I know, but it got me to thinking...

And that's always a dangerous thing, Jack said to her.

Jack! she sang, then shouldered him. I'm being serious here!

When are you not being serious? Jack rhetorically asked.

Sam eyed him, an evil look...

Jack held up warding hands. I don't mean anything by that! he immediately assured. I love that you're always thinking, and always serious...

Jack! Sam protested again.

Go on, Jack ordered. I said... what? What did I say over the phone tonight?

Sam sighed. I guess I should just spit this out...

Sam! Jack warned encouragingly.

So Sam didn't waste a single minute this time. You asked if you can marry me... Then she shrugged. And I know you were just sayin'... And while 'no,' you technically can't... It occurred to me that I don't even know what you think about getting married again. I mean, are you interested in it? She peered at him. Do you hate the idea of marriage? She peered even closer at him. What?

Jack felt his insides squeeze together at her mention of marriage, but the sensation wasn't... as tight... as intense... as it had been the few times the thought of marriage in general had crossed his mind in the past. First, though, he needed to ask for clarification. Do you mean, what do I think of marriage in general, or marriage to you specifically? Or do you think I should just get it over with and marry Teal'c this weekend?

Sam laughed. Have you asked Teal'c what he thinks about all this?

I thought we should sedate him in the Infirmary and not tell him what we have planned until it's all over, Jack teased back.

Ahhh, Sam said, comprehending his joke. Then you plan to run the other way while he wakes up?

Sam, Jack noted, not teasing now, and not moving more smoothly into his warning. You're avoiding the question, he accused. What did you mean? Was she already wanting to discuss marriage with him? Though Jack wasn't necessarily opposed to such an idea as being married to her... Not opposed at all!... However, he'd always thought of it as a future occurrence... A far future occurrence!

But it appeared that Jack O'Neill's 'future' had met his present, and forgotten to invite him to the party they intended to throw together.

Sam sat silently beside him. She was so somber that Jack instantly had the worrying thought that she meant to tell him that, rather than marrying him, she wanted to cease altogether all their romantic relations with each other. The move would be very like her. Panic set in, and he looked at the waters of the lake in order to calm his insides.

Except, the water did little to comfort him. It was even more agitated than he was. The lapping water of the lake hit the shore mere yards from their picnic table. It was the only sound that broke through the stillness surrounding them. Finally, he ignored the sound of the lake water, and asked for more information. I suppose, he slowly commented, we need to first decide what it is that we think we've been doing lately.

That's a good idea, Sam said in an offhand tone of voice.

Sam's nonchalant tone did nothing to set Jack's pounding heart at ease. He continued anyway, Um... I guess we need to talk about... He swallowed, then glanced at Sam sitting so sedately beside him on the table. What we've had... He looked away again, unable to invite the danger of accidentally peering into her blue eyes. If the look in them was cold and calculated, he wasn't sure that he wanted to know. Fear again shot through his heart as he went on, I don't know about you, but...

Are you trying to tell me that what we've had was never anything more than sex? she suddenly asked. She turned to gaze at him, her eyes too opaque to judge her emotions at the time.

Jack's head jerked around when she spoke. No! burst out of him in a yell. God no! Then after he'd had time to think about what she was asking, he amended, At least, it wasn't ever just sex for me. He turned again to stare at her. Was it for you? he hazarded to ask.

Sam straitened up the instant he glanced her way. No! That's not what I'm trying to say here.

Jack peered at her. Then what are you trying to say?

Sam smiled tenderly at him, a small smile of tolerance before she answered, I want to say... Well, several things, really...

Jack leaned back on his hands, then decided that conditions were favorable enough for him to chance another repetition of his earlier divulgence of, It wasn't just sex, you know, not for me, anyway. You can believe that... Honest. He met her gaze when she turned to study him. He continued, We made love, several very enjoyable times, and I hope to continue making love to you for many more times. Is that specific enough?

Sam grinned at his heartfelt, sincere speech. I guess I need to clarify what I'm talking about, she said, and blinked.

Jack's brows rose. You weren't making love?

Sam quickly responded, No..! I mean, yes! I mean... She turned back to look at him once more. I mean that I'm not talking about making love versus sex versus marriage in general... I would definitely have to say that these have been the best two or three days so far in my life. She glanced at him. And I don't want that feeling to end.

Jack couldn't help the sense of relief he felt engulf him when she said that.

Yet she was going on, and he didn't say anything more to interrupt her. Sam looked guiltily at the waters of the lake as she said, But I don't think that would be the whole truth of what I feel, either. And we've spent so long trying to cover up our emotions from each other that I feel we need to be completely honest now. While Jack contemplated the concept of getting sick from the nerves that shot through him once more, Sam quietly said, I guess I mean... From our conversation before... I guess I mean: What do you think of marriage to me specifically? She looked up at him. I mean, after all... Marriage has been on my mind lately. She sighed sadly then. You probably guessed that. She gazed again at the water, and blinked one more time. Thus, she had managed to bring up the subject of her recent engagement without mentioning that particular engagement at all.

Jack blew a thoughtful breath out. Uh... He chose to ignore her reference to her engagement, which had done nothing for him but twist his heart into knots. Instead, he focused on his and her past and present relationships. It might surprise you to know that yes, I have thought about marriage before, and yes, I've thought about marriage to you specifically. Then he turned to gaze at her. But isn't it a little soon to be thinking about marriage? he asked. Maybe the whole living together scenario might be more in order for us first. So we can be sure that we're not going to kill each other in the first month or two! he was sure to add.

His last statement made Sam laugh, and set her at ease again. Which was what he had intended when he said it. She stuffed her hands in the oversized BDU shirt's pockets, and the wind blew her hair into her mouth when she opened it to ascertain, Sort of like a trial period?

Right, Jack told her, and smoothed her hair aside for her. Not that I'm trying to rush any decisions here, or anything.

And I'm not trying to rush you, either, she assured him.

So what's the problem, then? Jack asked. Another silent moment engulfed them. Then he said, I mean, I love you, you love me... You do, right?

Sam emphatically nodded. Have for years... Whether I wanted to admit that to myself or not.

The sense of relief that filled Jack when he heard her say that was stronger than he thought it would be. Whew! For a minute there, I thought I had dreamt our entire morning together!

Sam grinned, and shook her head back and forth. No, you didn't dream it... Didn't hallucinate it... Unless I had the same hallucination...

Jack smiled back at her. Good.... that I wasn't hallucinating, he corrected. Then he sighed a big gust of air into the cooling breeze of twilight that had fallen after the sun had set. Sam.., he started to say, then shook his head, stopping his speech. No... I should be honest...

You're starting to make me nervous, Sam told him.

There's no reason to be nervous, Jack soothed. Honestly... He turned to face Sam on the table top. I know this goes against the Regs... And the Regs are there for a very good reason... I don't know how I could have gone out into the field with you after knowing... intimately... how good you taste and smell... How much I want to be with you... But the truth of the matter is that I don't go out in the field with you anymore. So, there's little chance of me screwing things up. And you're in charge of the SG-1 decisions now, anyway, not me. Suddenly, Jack's face fell into much softer lines as he regarded her. Truth is... Damn it, Sam, I don't know how you feel about it all, but I want to climb into bed with you every night, and wake up snuggled into your side every morning, and...

I've never been much of one to snuggle before now, Sam warned.

Jack shook his head. I'll snuggle up to you even if you try to get away from me by falling onto the floor...

Sam sputtered more laughter again as an image of her and him on the floor of his bedroom assailed her.

Jack continued, But the truth is, Sam, that I want... He looked helplessly at her. I just want... And I want you...

Sam's smile blazed out of her, then. It was the expression that she had always seemed to save just for him. Now, it made him feel warm even in the cold Autumn wind. She looked down, then shyly told him, I admit that was what I was hoping you would say. And it's exactly what I want, too. Though we should do our best to avoid the floor... And I didn't know if you had even considered the whole 'together' thing till now...

Oh, I'd considered it, Jack told her. But all that stuff... Cuddling up with you every morning... living with you... Marrying you... That was all kind of a dream of mine, and each time I let myself even think about it, right away I'd tell myself to stop being stupid... that it was all just wishful thinking, he softly admitted.

Then I had the same wishful thinking, Sam told him, now sounding slightly apologetic. Only I thought I was over that particular dream... Stupid of me, wasn't it?

It was Jack's turn to shoulder Sam now. I don't know... A stupid Sam Carter has always had a special appeal to me...

But Sam went on. I never said this before, but... And you probably don't want to hear about it now... But...

Yeah? Jack asked. Go on, Carter.

She glanced at him. I hate to bring up a sticky subject, but now that I've mentioned that subject...

Sam!

She hurried to go on when he used that irritated, warning tone of voice. That dream of mine was actually why I couldn't marry... well, you know... and I knew about it for a long time before I did anything about it. Ever since Ry'ac's wedding... But, I couldn't control what I was thinking, could I?

Jack eyed her. You didn't tell... him... about these thoughts, did you?

Sam snorted. No. I made up something nice, and vague, and pat, and nice...

Well, at least you were being nice, Jack said... sounding like he was being nice.

Sam shrugged inside the huge BDU shirt. When actually, I wasn't being nice at all. She considered for a moment. I guess I was wanting that nice little life that he represented. Then, she shook her head, as if to clear it of cobwebs. But that life isn't for me.

No white picket fences? Jack softly inquired.

Sam turned back to him. Only if they're with you, she quickly told him.

I'm not exactly a white picket fence kind of person, Sam.

Once more, Sam shrugged, her shoulders lifting the shirt a bit. I learned that I'm not the white picket fence kind of person, either.

Jack stared at her again. So what you're saying is that we're perfect for each other as long as we never have a white picket fence?

Sam laughed again. You always make me laugh...

Don't change the subject, Jack warned again.

Do you want to live together, Jack? Sam suddenly asked.

Jack's gaze abruptly darkened as his dream drew closer to becoming reality. Well.., he hesitantly said. Well... He looked at her, into those astonishingly blue eyes. And he saw his destiny in them, reflected back to himself. He wanted to hold her, to touch her, to fill himself up with her. Careful not to do to much too fast, though, he just brushed her hand with his. Finally, he spoke, Yeah, that's what I'm saying. That I want to live every day that I can with you somehow in it, he softly replied. Though I know it's way too early to be askin' stuff like that... Stuff that's sort of permanent... I mean, I know it's too early for that... But I can't help but want it at the same time.

Me, too, Sam firmly said. I mean, so do I, she corrected. Want to live together, I mean, she clarified, stumbling over her words in uncharacteristic nervousness. I want to be with you... She sighed at the words she had chosen. I know that sounds way too corny... But it's true.

Jack curled his fingers around Sam's hand resting beside his on the top of the picnic table. Yeah, he said, agreeing with her.

She looked at him, and smiled.

He smiled at her.

Sam softly commented, I'm glad we got that out of the way. Now let's get on with this living thing...

Jack stopped her as he suddenly hung his head. Hell... Hell, he thought... What was he actually thinking? He looked up to stare straight at Sam then.

Jack? Sam hesitantly questioned. Her brows were drawn together in typical confusion. What is it? What's wrong?

Jack could only stare helplessly into her eyes. Crap...

Now Sam was beginning to appear alarmed. What?

Jack closed his eyes, not quite mentally prepared to do what he was going to do, but determined to do it anyway. Sam, he whispered, and squeezed her hand. His voice was a tragic caricature of its usually strong, decisive tones. I don't want to just live together...

You don't? she asked, and her voice sounded stilted... strangled... terrified... Then what do you want?

Jack breathed, and swallowed. Then, he burst out with, Marry me instead.

Marry you? Sam gaped at him. Her breath puffed out, just barely visible in the waning twilight.

Jack breathed a sad sigh. I know, I know... It's too soon... Too soon after your father... Too soon after the ending of your other engagement... And I'm a total idiot to even be bringing this subject up...

Sam squeezed his fingers more firmly with hers. Jack... Are you being serious?

Jack glanced up at Sam then. Yeah, he said in a soft voice. Yeah, I am. I know that it's stupid, and I'm being dense, even for me, but... Yeah. I'm so serious that I... Jack sighed again, the sound a bit frustrated now. You're all I've been thinking about for years. So, of course my greatest dream is to marry you. Even if I know it's just a dream...

Yes, Sam said in a firm voice.

But Jack was confused now. His expression darkened like the daylight, and his brows drew down in a frown. 'Yes' what? he asked. 'Yes' I think you're being an idiot, too, or 'yes' you've thought about it before now, or...

Sam's eyes smiled even as she tenderly brushed her finger across his mouth to shut him up so that she could speak. No Jack, she said, and sighed, too. That's not what I mean. Then, before he could ask for clarification, like she knew he would, she went on, I mean 'yes,' I'll marry you if that's what you want, if it means that we can be together, if it means that you love me so much that you'll change your freedom for the ties of a marriage... 'Yes'

Jack studied her own expression of decisiveness. They aren't ties, you know, he told her, not speaking from his previous experience with the state of marriage, but at their own projected marriage. Or, if they are the ties of marriage, then they're mighty good ties to have...

Then she was in his arms. Jack...

But his kiss cut her off. It was the most affectionate, loving kiss he could give her. He not only treasured her, cherished her... He worshiped her.

And amazingly enough, she worshiped him back.

The kiss was slow, languid, loving, and explosive all at once. And it was over all too soon.

But it had been enough to show the other that without a doubt, he and she were deeply loved, deeply connected, the soul of the other, the mate. Marriage or not. In fact, marriage was just the icing on the cake.

Jack briefly kissed the end of her nose, stunned that so much could be communicated in nothing but a gentle kiss. He touched both her cheeks in a tender caress, felt her cold skin against his warm palms, felt the chilliness of the wind, noticed the waning light, and knew that his time was limited. So he had to move quickly...

Without saying anything further, Jack reached into the left pocket of his BDU trousers, and pulled out a ring. Two rings, actually.

Sam instantly protested. Jack, please, I don't need something like a ring to remind me that I'm in love with you...

Suddenly, Jack smiled. Damn, I like hearing those words.

What words?

That you're in love with me, Jack told her.

Sam grimaced at his slightly smug tone. She protested again, It's nothing that you didn't already know, Jack, and have known for years...

Okay, okay, Jack conceded then. That I'm reminded, then... He glanced at her. A little reminder every now and then can't hurt. Then he stared at the rings in his hand.

Two rings? Sam asked, curious. Isn't it more typical to have only one? she teased.

Jack linked his fingers through hers as he slid the rings onto her finger so that she could see them they way he had intended them to be displayed. I designed these three years ago...

Sam balked. Three years?!

And the guy who made them for me... Steven... wanted them for a display... Only I wouldn't let him have them... In case... Jack let his head fall forward again. In case I ever found the nerve to do anything about my feelings. Remembering those days, and how he'd felt so scared, and then how he'd felt so helpless after she had gotten engaged, Jack dispiritedly rubbed his temple with a restive hand. Then, after he had swallowed, and blinked back his natural pain at those memories, he went on, But, in retrospect, I'm just one big chickenshit, and I knew it, so I might as well have let him have those rings...

Sam stared at the rings he had slid onto her finger. A circle of diamonds enfolded two sapphires firmly nestled into the center of the white stones. The two rings separated, leaving half the circle behind, and only one sapphire in each part. What am I staring at? Sam asked for an explanation.

It's a wedding set, Jack told her, and gingerly grabbed her finger in his hand so that he could point to the rings as he explained. One's an engagement ring, and the other's the wedding ring, and the two together make one whole ring. He held up her finger to the dying sunlight just gilding them with a rosy glow. See, the two sapphires? He pointed, scraping the blue stones with his thumbnail. That's... Um... He took a breath, then plunged in, feeling stupid the entire time, but also feeling determined to tell her once and for all. Those sapphires are supposed to be me and you... Blue, for the Air Force, of course, two stones for two people...

God, Jack... that's deep, Sam appreciatively muttered. She looked at the rings a little more, pushing them together. And the diamond circle? she asked. Does that mean anything?

Jack looked away, out at the waters of the lake, feeling stupid again, yet still feeling his determination coursing through his veins. That's the Stargate, he told her. And that's us... Going through the 'Gate.

Sam stared some more. At last, she breathed.

Jack interrupted her when he proclaimed, It's stupid, I know, and...

Sam cut him off. No, that's utterly beautiful...

Jack lifted his head to look at her face also gilded a rosy hue as she gazed at the ring he had designed. 'Beautiful?' he repeated in a tone that said he didn't remotely believe what she was saying.

Amazing, Sam went on, even though she knew he didn't believe her. And the most romantic thing I've ever heard of...

Jack had to snort at her when she said that. 'Romantic?' He snorted again. It's not romantic, he told her then in a voice full of self derision. It's proof positive that I'm loony, gone round the bend, nuts... But it's the only ring I have with me right now... And I know that you prefer something much simpler, but...

But Sam was shaking her head.

Jack scoffed at her. Oh, come on, Sam! I saw what you prefer. Remember... You showed it to me in your lab...

But Sam was still shaking her head. No, that's what I was given... Not consulted on, or chose, or anything like that. Actually... I 'prefer' this... God, it was so beautiful, sparkling dimly when it caught the dying light. This is just so... so... She was at a loss for words to describe his design, so she said exactly what she was thinking for a change. It's perfect, she noted. It means so much, symbolizes so much... Then she looked at him. Do you realize how envious everyone will be of me?

Jack grinned then, because he had thought of something that was truly ironic. Envious of you... and you won't even be able to wear it...

Sam shrugged. On my finger... On the chain of my dog tags, stuffed between my breasts...

Jack's grin was growing. I admit that's where I like to be...

Sam was at a loss for words again. Wow, she finally said. Then she reluctantly pulled away half of the design, leaving only a partial circle on her finger. A lonely piece of a design, he thought, waiting to be whole again. He carefully slipped the second half of the ring in his trouser pocket for safe keeping until such time as he would need it once more. He intended to be ready when that time came.

But Sam was looking at Jack once more. You'll make me whole, just like you'll make this ring whole again, she whispered, as if she could read his mind, then smiled at him with trembling lips.

Jack smiled back at her, and brushed her cheek with his curled finger. Now you're getting all mushy... He was interrupted when Sam kissed him again. When they parted, she repeated her earlier declaration. Yes, you idiot, yes.

That 'you idiot' part... Suddenly Jack peered at her in earnest. Can I tell people about that?

Sam grinned at him. I'm sure that Daniel and Teal'c will want to hear about it... And Cassie will get way too much enjoyment out of it...

Jack cut her off for a third time that night. And we'll both enjoy telling it! he declared, and smiled, and hugged her to him, his eyes sparkling with the treasure he held in his arms. Engaged, he thought to himself. He shook his head at all that had happened to him the last week.

Suddenly Jack grinned again. Engaged... And to Sam... All right!

The End


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