Disclaimer: Don't own them, and don't want to. This is all in fun... Are we having fun yet?

Surprise!

by Linda Bindner

The wormhole engaged, splashing out into the room in a fury of blue before settling into its familiar puddle shining on the 'Gate Room walls.

Incoming signal, Walter informed, and a second later, he confirmed the reading he was getting from the computer. Dr. Jackson's code, Sir. Walter turned towards the man standing behind him. Radio frequency only.

Wants to talk, does he? General Jack O'Neill double checked. Well, put him on the phone.

Walter gave him another look, this one of slight incredulity mixed with concerned confusion. He clearly thought that his Commanding General had finally cracked for speaking the way he just had. I assume you mean the microphone, Sir? he carefully asked.

Jack gave a slight huff of breath in Walter's direction. I forget just how literal you are, Walter, he commented. Yes, by all means, put him on the microphone. He gave a slight emphasis to the single part of the word, as Walter had only moments before.

Walter fiddled with his keyboard controls for a second. Go ahead, he eventually told the General.

Jack leaned in close to the computerized microphone, pushed the 'talk' button, and asked, Hey Daniel, what ya got?

Jack? the distorted voice came into the Control Room.

That's my name, Jack quipped. Don't wear it out.

Jack, you got a minute? Daniel inquired then.

Or two or three, Jack told him. Why? You need some help with those Shelva people?

There was a sigh of resignation that came over the line. You know that's not what they call themselves.

So Jack tried again. Those stair people? But that didn't sound right, either. So Jack tried again. Those rock... tree... grass people?

Try thinking 'Sam' along with 'really cool blue dress' that she hated, but the rest of us liked, Daniel said next.

Jack turned to look at an obviously embarrassed Colonel Carter as she turned beet red at Daniel's words. She sat at the terminal on the other side of Walter, but could still hear every word the two men said. As could the rest of the crew in the Control Room.

Jack grinned, both at the picture before him, and at the memory that Daniel's words invoked. Oh, yeah, Jack said in a nonchalant tone, though inside he was a lot more appreciative. He spoke into the microphone, but didn't take his eyes off Carter. I'm dimly recalling something along those lines. Why don't I see if Carter remembers...

Sam kept her eyes glued to the readings on her screen, but said over her shoulder, No, that's quite all right, Sir. I remember just fine... uh... right here.

Jack smirked as if he were immensely enjoying himself at her expense. Oh, that dress, O'Neill said in sudden, feigned understanding. I'm remembering now. His voice was as sincere as a sheik trying to steal an oil well out from under one's very nose.

Oblivious to the way one of his friends was staring at another of his friends, who was just as determined not to stare back, Daniel went on, Okay... Now that we're on the same page...

Jack interrupted, Daniel, you're babbling... You nervous or something?

Daniel sighed again, the sound seeping through the open wormhole. Jack, there's something of a... problem, Daniel announced.

With your visit to those Mongrel people? Jack inquired.

Daniel simply seemed to concede defeat by accepting Jack's ambiguous terms for the people he was currently visiting. No problem with the visit, exactly.., he tried to answer.

Jack furrowed his brow. You in some kind of danger, Daniel? he asked. Need back up?

You are such a 'worst case scenario' kind of guy, Daniel retorted. No, there's no danger that I know of, just...

Jack interrupted again. Very funny, Dr. I-have-my-nose-buried-in-a-smelly-old-book Jackson, he riposted. What do these people need with an archaeologist, anyway?

Culture, Jack, Daniel responded, irritated now. I'm studying their culture in greater depth. You know that. You sent me here, after all. To see how they've progressed since we were here last.

Jack smirked again. Ah, yes, I seem to recall you prattling on in some briefing about Mongrels, culture, and a hoped-for visit.

Were you even listening to me then, Jack? Daniel asked in supreme aggravation.

Of course I was listening, Jack objected. It just looked like I wasn't...

This time it was Daniel who interrupted. His voice now sounding rushed, he said, Uh... Sorry to cut this fascinating conversation short, Jack. But remember?... Problem? he stuttered, obviously trying to bring them back on topic.

Trying to stay on topic was an unusual tact for Daniel to take. Jack considered the situation for a moment of silent reflection; the 'problem' that Daniel had mentioned must be bigger than Jack had first anticipated. He reined in his natural humor at the brewing situation, and insisted, Of course I remember your 'problem.' But problem with what?

Daniel's voice immediately became hesitant. Uh... Well... Uh...

Jack quickly drew near the verge of tuning his friend out; he could actually feel his mind start to fog over. But before that could completely happen, he ordered, Spit it out, Daniel.

Daniel's voice was even more hesitant, now. Um... Uh... You don't want me to do that, he insisted. I mean, you don't want me to just spit it out just like... Trust me on this one! It's a bit on the personal side... and complicated... and...

You got married again, Jack dryly announced back to him in a moment of pure inspiration.

Very funny, Jack, Daniel said in a voice that told all those listening in the Control Room that he didn't think it was funny at all. Finally, he said, Look, I can't explain this situation over a radio link. Why don't you send the rest of SG-1 through the 'Gate, you come too, as this most definitely involves you, and I'll explain when you all get here.

Jack's brow furrowed again. This a diplomatic situation, then? he asked, wondering what else it could possibly be that required his presence. Is there a reason that whomever's involved can't come here?

Uh.., Daniel spouted, sounding like a man who was thinking fast. Yeah, it's a diplomatic thing... You might say that, Daniel replied. But trust me on this one... You need to come here. Just... Just come, and I'll explain everything.

Jack stood back, quietly puzzling at his friend's mysterious words. At last, he leaned forward and pushed the button on the mic again. Okay... Will do... But I warn you, Daniel, this better be really important, or else...

Oh, Daniel intervened, his tone casual now, and worried. 'Important' is certainly how I would describe this.

Okay, Jack said then, all the while staring in Carter's direction, trying to see if she knew any more about this situation than he did. But according to the expression of bafflement on her face, she had no more of an idea than he had at what Daniel was getting at.

So Jack agreed, saying, Give us about ten minutes to gear up, and another five to get there. But we're coming... If you think that it's necessary...

Jack's voice trailed off, but Daniel overrode his friend's words by saying, Oh, I would say that it's definitely necessary that you all come.

Jack shrugged. See you in a bit, then.

I'll meet you all at the 'Gate, Daniel informed. Jackson out.

The wormhole faded, then winked out.

Jack met Sam's gaze, but that still didn't help him to ascertain what could possibly be up Daniel's... What Daniel could possibly be involved in this time, Jack rephrased his latest mental statement. He just hoped it was worth all the trouble that gearing up for an unscheduled mission was going to be.

It's a Monday, Jack groused, explaining his reluctant acceptance of his friend's unexpected request for their company on the planet that Daniel had 'Gated to earlier that weekend. He and Sam quietly left the Control Room to change clothes for Daniel's unscheduled petition that they join him.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, the wormhole engaged again.

Wormhole activated, Walter said.

In the 'Gate Room, Jack leaned over so that he was closer to Sam standing beside him at the bottom of the Stargate ramp. In a low voice, he whispered, Doesn't Walter know that we can see that the 'Gate's active, I wonder?

Sam couldn't quite suppress her laugh that bubbled up at his words. But it was Teal'c who answered O'Neill's question by speaking quietly of the theory, Perhaps his job has always been to merely state the obvious, and though it is a fairly unavailing position, Sergeant Harriman plans to perform his duties to the best of his abilities.

Oh, I'm way ahead of you, Teal'c, Jack told the Jaffa in his normal voice. That's just like in that movie, Galaxy... He couldn't quite remember the title of that particular film. Maybe it was Universe...?

The film you are referring to is Galaxy Quest, Teal'c informed them both. SG-1 viewed it at a team night at your house, O'Neill, four years ago. You are speaking of how Sigourney Weaver's character repeated the computer throughout the film, and says that though her job on the starship is 'stupid,' she still plans to perform it as best she can.

Jack stared in amazement at Teal'c. How do you remember all this stuff? he asked in incredulity. Is your brain gonna explode due to being overstuffed with useless trivia, or something?

No, Teal'c dryly responded. ColonelCarter...

That was as far as the Jaffa got in his explanation before Jack cut him off. Oh, 'Colonel Carter...' I knew she had to have something to do with this!

Carter blushed again, a reaction she had been having in frequent bouts ever since Jack and Daniel had brought up that damned blue dress. I didn't do anything, she insisted, trying to ignore how hot she suddenly felt. I just gave him a few pointers on how to remember certain things...

Walter chose that moment to call down to the 'Gate Room, I think I should remind you, Sir, that Dr. Jackson is waiting.

Right, Jack said. He had gotten sidetracked by his friends' conversation, an occurrence that was happening more and more often lately. It had to stop, he determined. Jack shook his head. Well, we're off to see the wizard... To save Daniel's...

Sam broke in. Daniel's... is fine, he said, she gently reminded Jack, saving him before he could perhaps embarrass either himself or Daniel.

Jack let her voice override his. Oh, so Daniel says, he added, annoyed now at having to be saved at all. Oh, he knew what she was doing, he admitted to himself. And he supposed he should be grateful that he had Carter to watch his professional six all the time. But he also felt that he was professional enough on his own not to need watching, either. It was a confusing set of circumstances, especially when he didn't think it was particularly bad to have Carter feel like she had to watch his anything. To distract everyone in the Room, he half joked, half soberly stated, And this is an important mission. So look alive...

Sam smiled at the old phrase. She hadn't heard the General make that comment for almost a year now. But she was immediately glad that he had. It was like old times, she fondly thought, then answered, Yes, Sir.

That's 'Lord Sir' to you, Carter, O'Neill said, reminding her that he 'owned' her. I bought you on this planet we're 'Gating to, remember?

Carter groaned. Do we have to bring that up again, Sir?

Jack smiled, just as he had been smiling about this SG-1 inside joke of theirs for years. Just reminding you of how things are, Colonel, he teased.

Teal'c interjected, DanielJackson told me that women are not considered 'property' to be traded in this country, O'Neill. And as this is a governmental facility...

Jack stepped forward onto the ramp. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he muttered, as if he'd heard this argument several times before. You'd think I should be in charge here, but no... It should say 'General' on my uniform somewhere...

Sam laughed again as they followed him up the ramp and through the activated 'Gate.

* * *

Seconds later, they all re-emerged on the steps at the other side of the Stargate. The wormhole disengaged behind them, but they had witnessed just such an event so many times before that they didn't even turn around to watch the blue puddle disappear. Their attention was instead on Daniel Jackson, who stood alone by the DHD in the slightly familiar field surrounding this particular planet's Stargate.

Daniel! Jack called the minute his gaze landed on the archaeologist. This had better be good, he warned as he squinted against the sun, quickly casing the terrain with his hawkish gaze, looking for any reason to be suspicious of their surroundings. When he found none, he glanced up at the sky, noting the position of the sun out of long-standing habit, then slowly slipped his sunglasses onto his face, and turned to their friend.

Oh, Daniel said as his three friends then strolled down the steps of the Stargate platform. He met them at the bottom of those steps. It's good, he insisted.

So, what ya got? Jack asked, going for the same jocular attitude that he had used in the SGC 'Gate Room. Is it a diplomatic disagreement of some kind? he asked. Something happen between two inhabitants that I need to settle?

Daniel blanched a bit. Not quite, he hedged, his gaze darting between Sam and Jack, and back again.

What? The question came from Sam this time as she instantly picked up on the strange vibes coming from her team mate. You can tell us, Daniel, she said.

I bet it's that Turgid fella, Jack said. He wants a rematch with Carter.

Sam laughed again, but in contrast, Daniel went even whiter. Not exactly, he said.

Jack finally got irritated. Out with it, Daniel, come on, you can tell us, we're all friends here, he said, stringing all his words together into one long sentence. And stop being so damned dramatic.

Daniel gazed back at Jack in nondramatic openness. He hurried to explain, Well, you know how we've been teasing Sam all these years about you 'owning' her, Jack?

Jack wondered again where all this was leading. Yeah, we just brought that up, as a matter of fact. I 'bought' her.

Teal'c interrupted to say, If I remember correctly, O'Neill handed over his military-issue pistol in trade for ColonelCarter.

Sam was far too busy concentrating on Daniel's 'problem' and their conversation at the time to think much about the military's firearm policies just now. She gave a nervous little laugh. Okay, look guys, there's no reason we have to go into all that trade stuff again. She hated the whole 'being bought' thing. She hated even referring to it. She hadn't been for sale then, and she certainly wasn't for sale now!

But Daniel disagreed. Uh... Sam...

Sam narrowed her eyes in exasperation. Don't say it.

Daniel instantly soothed her. I wasn't going to say that Shavadai custom claims that Jack bought you when he traded for you, he hurried to defend himself.

Sam looked instantly relieved. Good! She turned to glance in deeper relief at her team. That was a close one! she joked.

But Daniel went on, I was going to say that, according to the old laws of these people, Jack married you when he handed his weapon... any weapon... over to Turghin.

Sam's face immediately drained of all color, and Jack's mouth fell quickly open to form a perfect, astonished 'oh.' They both began to sweat, as if the sun had suddenly become one hundred degrees hotter. I did what? Jack exclaimed.

* * *

Jack's first thought upon hearing Daniel's news coursed instantly through his mind: I can't be married to Carter! That's against the Frat. Regs!

His second thought followed closely behind his first. The Frat. Regs lead to a court-martial in worst case scenarios. This is a worst case scenario if there ever was one. If this gets out, Carter will certainly be court-martialed, and so will I!

His third thought was right behind the second. We'll both be found guilty for fraternizing if we're married. It'll end my career. It'll ruin her life, to say nothing of her career!

His fourth thought made his blood ice over. I was just trying to help all those years ago when I traded for her, but in the end, this will ruin everything for her.

And it's all my fault.

Jack literally dropped to sit in a sorry heap on the stone steps of the Stargate as his heart beat painfully in his chest. He slowly pulled off his sunglasses and his hat, then stared at Carter in shocked hopelessness.

Fuck, he softly said.

* * *

The numbness that had swept over Sam's entire body the second Daniel muttered the news of hers and Jack's married state was just beginning to abate when Jack uttered a curse word that she'd never heard him use before. Her sense of consternation returned when she heard it. Then he glanced her way again, and the total despair in his brown eyes hit her like a wrenching blow to the gut.

It was as if she'd just as abruptly hit a mental wall that put a screeching halt to the direction her life had been calmly going up until that very moment, and started a new course when she caught his glance. She had hoped to never be the cause of such emotional anguish as Jack was obviously feeling, but she was. It seemed that her grace period of no-anguish-causing time had just run out. It was obvious... he felt awful. And she... and only she... could put a stop to it. So she did.

All her inhibitions, all her past reluctance, all her previous fears... All of it suddenly seemed to be so stupid now. It all fell away, melted, vanished, as she sank beside him to the bottom stone step leading up to the Stargate.

She would have to stop pretending. That's all there was to it, she firmly told herself, as if she were dealing with a misbehaving child instead of herself. She would have to stop denying. She would have to stop everything... That is, if she wanted to soothe that expression out of Jack's eyes. And she found that she wanted to disperse the emotional angst she saw in him so badly that her teeth ached.

Unable to help herself, Sam was already making plans to encourage that goal of soothing Jack along. She would have to end things with Pete once and for all, she figured. She instantly felt uncomfortable when she thought of having to deal with her 'fiancé' situation. But it was a situation that she had created... unwittingly created, maybe, but if she'd been honest with herself right from when she'd first met Pete, then she might not be feeling so uncomfortable now.

No, she determined, no more pretending, no more trying to feel okay with second best... Pete would be hurt by her actions, of course. There was nothing she could do now to avoid that. She had never meant to hurt anyone... Sam winced to herself. Hurting Pete couldn't be helped now. Right at this instant in time, her entire world had narrowed down, focused only on her ability to comfort Jack.

This isn't your fault, Sam emphatically said to Jack in a hushed voice. You couldn't possibly have known. So stop blaming yourself.

Jack's response was barely audible. I was trying to help, he claimed in a tone choked with emotion. It was the most hesitant she had ever heard him get. She hoped that he didn't shut down his emotions like he'd done right after Charlie had died. She'd heard from Daniel that he'd been an emotional zombie that first time the two of them plus Jack's military team had gone through the 'Gate to Abydos. I didn't want you to get hurt, Jack continued now. He snorted then, the sound cracking across the ground like a whip lash. I ended up hurting you much worse than Turghin ever could.

Sam heard the pain in his words, and like a surprise train wreck, her patience ended. Stop it, she demanded, her tone firm, but her voice gentle. I just said that this isn't your fault, and it's not. She looked up to regard Daniel. We're considered to be married simply because Jack traded a gun... a weapon... for me?

Daniel nodded miserably, but he still confirmed her worst fears.

Sam argued, But that's the only thing Turghin would agree to take in exchange for me!

I know... I was there, Daniel reminded. But I've found that the old laws of this society... They're few, but very clear, he stated as if he were reciting the facts for a report he was giving at the SGC. According to the rules of trade, the exchanging of a weapon... any weapon... And weapons of all kinds are still considered a highly prized commodity, even today... The trade of a weapon for a woman... also a highly prized commodity... means nothing less that an agreement for marriage between the trade item... you... and the trader... Jack.

Sam argued again, What?... It was better to let Turghin treat me like dirt, beat me..?

Jack broke in on the exchange between Daniel and Sam, croaking the words, He was going to rape you... The leader of the Shavadai... Moghul... told us himself that that's what Turghin would probably do.

Sam huffed a breath, incensed that the creators of these old laws considered trading women as being synonymous to being married off against her will. Though, she had to concede, those same creators probably hadn't thought at the time that women had any amount of free will. Or any will at all.

However, in Sam's book, marriage and trade were anything but synonymous! She turned desperate eyes towards Daniel. There must be something... anything!... that we can do about this... this marriage? she brusquely asked the archaeologist. She was thinking only of Jack and the expression of hopelessness she'd seen in his eyes. She would do almost anything to get rid of such sadness!

Then she thought of something else that might help her and Jack. These Shavadai must have some kind of divorce proceedings? she asked.

Oh crap! Jack thought in finality, like a cell door slamming shut on his mind. She hates the idea of being married to me so much that she immediately wants a divorce.

But before Daniel could say anything to answer Sam's question, she turned back to stare at Jack. And I know what you're thinking, she said to him. I've known you plenty long enough to guess that you think that I dislike this whole being-married-to-you concept that I want a divorce right away. And that thought horrifies you. It's Sara and Charlie all over again.

Jack studied her in wide-eyed, dumbfounded silence. How..? How could she know? How could she be so right? Was she reading his mind?

Sam went on, That thought you have about me wanting a divorce to end this marriage for my sake is farthest from my mind. I asked Daniel about divorce customs because that's what I figure you must want. She turned back to Daniel, and included Teal'c in her gaze, as well as Jack. When she was certain she had the attention of all three men, she added, This entire thing is something of a surprise, and it's certainly unexpected. She turned again to regard only Jack, who was still sitting on the step, too stunned to speak. But it's... It's not entirely unwelcome, she hesitantly admitted as her gaze again returned to Daniel.

Jack attempted to speak then. Ughghgh.., he stuttered. He just couldn't force his mouth to work right. Briefly, he wondered if the shock of Daniel's news hadn't caused him to have a mild stroke. He was having that much trouble forming his thoughts into words.

Finally Jack took a deep inhalation of air, and calmly managed to say, I'm not.... But that was it. Jack was still so astonished by Sam's words, her actions, and her arguments thus far that he was incapable of communication of any kind. He was further astonished when she next slipped her hand into his.

What's going on here? Jack silently inquired to himself, but more than aware of how wonderful her skin felt next to his. It felt better than he'd always expected it to feel. Yet, he had trouble fully wrapping his brain around her sudden turnaround in attitude. Have I entered an alternate reality? he asked himself.

Sam quietly stared at Jack again. She said, And don't look so surprised by how I'm behaving. She held up their united hands and clinically studied them, almost as if those clasped fingers were her newest scientific experiment.

A detached, logical approach to this whole debacle was very much how the past Sam would have felt the most comfortable in dealing with this issue. Only, this wasn't the past Sam, who could be counted on to be detached in this situation. And the issue couldn't be wholly reduced down to nothing but cold, unfeeling logic. Even as she analyzed the situation between her and the General, Sam and Jack were gripping each other's hands so hard, it appeared that the other must certainly be under threat of death if they let go.

In a far more tender voice than she had used thus far in her conversation, Sam continued, speaking directly to Jack now, I know I've done everything in my power to convince you otherwise, but the truth is that I've always cared... deeply cared... for you, for a long time. She stared straight into his shocked gaze. But I guess you already know that... or you should, she stated. In spite of my most recent asinine mistake. She shook her head and muttered, Personal relationships are destined to be my Achilles Heel: If I can possibly screw them up, I will.

Where was her courage to admit to such feelings coming from? Jack wondered. Unlike her, he still hadn't been able to vocalize a complete thought besides to curse the situation they found themselves in. He certainly hadn't been able to admit to his own feelings in the matter. Typically the strong General, commander of the entire SGC, he was now rendered speechless by her statements. He found each more astonishing than the last.

But Jack didn't have time to ruminate about her remarks, or even his lack of remarks, for Daniel was saying, Uh... Well... There is a divorce procedure in place.

What kind of procedure? Jack croaked. In spite of his gravelly tones, he was finally trying to join the discussion.

Daniel went on, his voice more confident now that he felt like he was giving a report to his commanding General. It's a sort of...

His voice stronger yet, Jack managed to interrupt Daniel. Don't tell me... It's some kind of hand to hand combat.

Daniel looked like he was considering Jack's idea, then he nodded, and said, Yeah, that about sums it up.

I won't fight Jack/Sam, both Jack and Sam stated at once. The synchronicity of their vow was eerie in its unity.

Astonished again, Jack peered at Sam, then turned back to Daniel to argue, Well, I've taught Sam most of the moves she might use to beat me. The best outcome we can hope for is a stalemate, and that won't help us much at all.

Sam took up where he'd left off. And I bet this fight is to the death, right?

Daniel's guilty expression answered for her, but he said, Yeah, anyway. At least, that's the tradition, he went on. The Shavadai tribe isn't as traditional as they used to be... I mean, they have a female leader now and all... but they're not without their customs, either. He eyed both Sam and Jack then. And they take marriage very seriously for a polygamous society.

Teal'c cast a raised eyebrow at his friend, and without having to say a word, asked Daniel what 'polygamous' meant.

Daniel replied to the eyebrow gesture, It means that the men have more than one wife at one time.

Ah, was all Teal'c said.

But Daniel was going on. It's considered to be a sign of strength among the tribes, he helpfully added. Teal'c nodded again, but still said nothing more than his original grunt. What more was there to say?

Jack seemed to be regaining his center of inner as well as outer balance, for he shifted minutely closer to Sam, and asked, Is there any other way to garner a friendly divorce, like a tribal gathering, or a committee, or something like that?

Daniel shook his head in the negative. This is a relatively simple society, he replied. They don't have court proceedings, or anything. Daniel sighed then. When a person marries another, it's generally a marriage for life, he said, then added, As far as I can tell.

Jack sighed out a gust of air, then ran his free hand through his hair in agitation. At last, he said, This probably won't go over well with anybody here, but there is the option of simply not honoring this... this seven... seven and a half... eight... eight year old marriage, he suggested.

Sam instantly shook her head. But if we don't honor the traditions of the foreign planets we visit, then Daniel's Abydos marriage vows have to be thrown out as well. Or Teal'c's Chulak marriage. Her brows rose interrogatively to her hairline. Or Captains Anderson and Baker of SG-6 and 7. Didn't they get married on a planet called... What was its name? Minaras?

Jack immediately argued, I feel like I should point out that the Andersons are members of two different teams. It's not like this... our case... not exactly... Not a 'chain of command' situation is what I'm talking about. He sighed before he went on, The regulations are very specific about COs and subordinates involved in romantic entanglements. They clearly state 'Don't do it. But he at last conceded, Even if the UCMJ is rather vague about other relationships.

Sam internalized his arguments, but felt that she didn't want to agree with them any longer, even while she felt that she had to agree because she wanted to continue to be a soldier. The fact that her feelings on the subject were so opposed to each other in their original makeup suddenly seemed very confusing, as amorphous as Jack's and Sam's personal predicament had ever been.

Suddenly, Sam said to Jack, The regs frequently use the words 'unprofessional relationships.' I just read them again last month, to re-familiarize myself with them, and I was struck by how often those words come into play. She warmed to her subject as she went on. Technically... if I'm reading the regs right... the relationships I have with both Daniel and Teal'c are 'unprofessional' as well as anything that's between you and I. True, we can all argue that Daniel and Teal'c are civilians working for the SGC, but both of them could be considered civilian contractors without too much of a nudge.

Daniel is most definitely a civilian, Sam went ahead and argued. But he especially could just as easily be a civilian contractor... no other SG team has a lingual archaeologist on their team who isn't either already a soldier, or an employee working for the company Historical Resources, who are most definitely under a contract to the Air Force. It would be so easy for Daniel to work for them, and to be under contract to the Air Force... meaning that if we followed the Frat Regs to the letter, he... I... you... none of us could even really consider ourselves to be friends, let alone the close friends that we are.

And Teal'c is... Sam continued talking, all the while considering her friend who often acted the part of her mentor now that Jack was no longer an active part of the team. Teal'c... Teal'c is... Sam considered again. Well, Teal'c actually defies description. He's sort of an alien civilian...

Jack cut off her rambling. That's all fine and dandy, but how does it help us? How does it change our situation? He scowled at her. He wasn't unhappy with her in particular, just with the current disaster that had befallen them. I mean, what does all this 'civilian versus alien' stuff matter? He shrugged. No matter what Daniel or Teal'c are considered, I'm still technically your CO at the end of the day.

Sam pensively sat on the steps beside him. Her thigh rubbed his in a most enticing manner, and she did her best to ignore the feelings it stirred inside her. She was honestly a bit surprised by how much it affected her. Simply touching him, especially through several layers of clothing, shouldn't be sending her stomach tumbling like it was. Or her heart racing in her chest.

Okay, Sam agreed with his comments as she tried to calm her frantic heartbeat. But can you honestly say that your feelings... I assume you still have some feelings for me...? she asked then.

Jack gazed at Sam after she asked that fairly innocent question of hers. There was no guile in her asking, no hoped for emotional manipulation attempts. Only Sam, open and honest for the first time that he could ever remember. Open and honest when she wasn't being forced to be, he amended himself as he glanced at her. That one glance was enough to stop him with enough force that it was as if he'd been hit with a bowling ball. Sam... open... honest... and so very beautiful...

The breath hitched in Jack's chest as he suddenly realized one undeniable fact: Time was up, he admitted to himself while he continued to stare at her in dumbfounded silence. It was either admit everything now, like the time of the Za'tarc incident, or... It was either do or die, sink or swim, fight or flight, claim what he felt for Sam, or deny it all, and hurt her beyond even what his imagination could produce. And he could never purposefully hurt her...

Jack was forced to nod, though he looked as if he would rather face an entire army of angry Jaffa than admit to having feelings for Carter, his coworker and second in command. Not that he disliked his feelings for Sam... He simply had always disliked any overt show that they existed... that their very existence could affect Sam in a harmful way.

But Sam was going on, and Jack had to switch his attention from his feelings for her to her. She still spoke directly to Jack. Can you say that these feelings of yours have had an 'adverse affect' as the Regs dictate we should all avoid... That they have, or have ever had, a poor effect on the team as a whole?

Jack gave an exasperated sigh. Carter, adverse or not, I'm still your CO at this point. Any romantic anything between us is against the regs, we're still in a chain of command...

What if we weren't? Sam abruptly inquired. Would it be okay to you then?

Jack's exasperation grew to irritation. It. Doesn't. Matter, he forcefully repeated. I'm not breaking any more rules than I've already broken. Generals just don't break regulations. Then he went on, And I'm not letting you break any rules or regulations, either.

Jaaaack! came the galled cry from Daniel's mouth. Are you being stubborn on purpose, or are you just dense? He wriggled under the glare that Jack sent him then, but bravely went on, 'Cause we're talking the big 'M' word here. Not just some old fling, or...

Jack glared at Daniel again. I'm well aware of what we're talking about! he snarled. And I don't want anything bad to happen to Sam! He glared at the entire team gathered near him. Something bad happening to her, or to me, or to both of us... is that what you want, Daniel? Cause if we break this Frat rule... get caught at it breaking it, he clarified. It's hello court-martial, goodbye career, for both of us! Is that what you want, to have someone else be the leader of SG-1 because we're busy doing ten years in Leavenworth? His exasperation was returning full force. If I have to say 'no' to any screwy ideas you guys cook up to all of us accepting this marriage, then I'll do it, especially if it keeps Sam out of prison. His hand ran through his hair once more, and more softly, he added, I'm not at all concerned for me in this scenario, but I am concerned about Sam's continued well being. And a court-martial would not be for her well being, I can guarantee that. He went on, And if I have to deny this whole wedding/married thing in order to keep Sam safe, then I will.

But is that what you want? Sam quietly asked from his side.

Jack gave a pained little laugh, as if he were talking to a small child, and he just was not getting through to it. He patiently explained once again, It doesn't matter what I want or don't want, Sam, he said. You matter... You always have... You're the important one here, and if staying away is what's necessary for me to be sure to keep you at the SGC, where you undoubtedly belong, then that's what I'll do. And I don't mind doing it, either. Then, he amended, Well, I don't mind too much.

Daniel thoughtfully cocked his head. That's either really magnanimous of you, Jack, or really, stubbornly stupid.

But Jack wasn't finished talking. Stupid, I'm sure, he proclaimed. And here's one more stupid thing. He adamantly pointed at them all, one at a time, with his index finger. I order all of you to keep quiet about this to anybody at the SGC. If you talk, it means they'll talk, and one thing Sam doesn't need to be doing is to be fielding the questions of the curiosity seekers who are out for the latest thrill ride of gossip.

Sam couldn't help but notice how she, and not he, was the one under his sizable consideration all the time. Though she wasn't quite sure what that meant to her, yet. Her thoughts only partially formed, she piped up then in halfhearted protest, But what if I want to...

Jack cut her off. I won't let you, he firmly said even as he still kept a desperate hold on her hand.

Sam lifted their clasped hands so that they could both see them. And this? she implored. This means nothing to you?

This Jack said, sadly shaking their held hands in the air. He undoubtedly meant those clasped hands to symbolize any possible uniting of the two of them while they were still in the military. This is just a fantasy that lasts until we go back through the 'Gate again, back to our lives, back to you marrying someone else, me hating it but unable to stop it if I want you to find a normal life and finally be happy, back to...

Sam marveled at how honest Jack was being with them, away from the consequences of the prying eyes and ears of SGC personnel. She felt slightly astonished even as she interrupted, her voice laced with an underlay of anger for the first time that afternoon. How on Earth can you know if I'm happy or not? she demanded. Maybe it's this that makes me happy. She waved their clasped hands again. Maybe it's not that 'normal life' that you think I have.

Oh, come on, Sam, Jack scoffed. Of course you want normal! I know you...

Sam stood up, too angry to stay seated now. Maybe you don't know me as well we you think!

Jack stared calmly back at her from his place on the stone steps. Sam, he softly said, reaching for her hand to hold again as he spoke. I don't want to argue about this, he told her. I still think it's for the best to...

For who's best? Sam demanded then. Mine? she asked. Or yours? When he didn't immediately answer, she went on, Is this silence meant to protect me, or protect the status quo?

Neither Jack nor Sam said anything then. They stared at only each other, as if Daniel and Teal'c weren't there any longer. In fact, Daniel was starting to feel uncomfortable, as if he were witnessing a scene that was meant to be completely private between just his two friends.

Sam stared desperately at Jack, and Jack stared just as intensely back at her, both of them trying to will the other to understand and accept their point of view. Neither of them looked away, as if the other was the only person in the entire universe. Their silence grew to bubble over them, wrapping them in the never changing shield of silence that they had always known.

Please, Sam, Jack croaked then, his voice once more choked up with thick emotion. I don't want you to ever regret this, regret...

Sam sighed, and her shoulders drooped, not in defeat, but in surrender. Jack, she whispered pleadingly. Please let me in.

The fact that she still thought that she was a person on the outside of his life was Jack's undoing. He shuddered from strong emotions, and grasped her hand tightly in his, as if he were pulling her towards him, or him to her. He slowly stood next to her, and enfolded her in his a gentle embrace. He softly whispered into her ear, You got in a long time ago, Sam. His tone was a tragic, muted shadow of its normally strong timbre. I just don't want you to get hurt, he whispered on. And I know me... I'll end up hurting you even when I don't want to. So, please, for my sake if not for yours... Tell no one at the SGC. Not yet, not until I've... we've... had time to think about what to do, think of a way around the Regs. Please, for my peace of mind... Stay safe, and stay...

He looked at her again, and his expression fell as agony swept through him. A moment later, he broke. It was as if years worth of the endless tension of wanting something, something that was in frequent sight, but was accompanied by the constant torment of not getting it finally hit him all at once. It was certainly enough to convince him to choke, I wish you could stay here, with me. He gasped the statement out on his last gust of air before clutching her tightly, and burying his face in her neck.

Jack, she soothingly said back, her voice as low as his had been, willing to do anything to take the tortured sound out of his voice. I'm not Sara, not Charlie... I'm not leaving you like they did, she rashly promised.

But by then, Jack's reason and common sense had reasserted themselves, almost as if he'd told himself that he couldn't give in to his feelings like he had. He had to be strong... He gently pulled back from her, staring at her face while distress was written all over his, but he stubbornly stuck to the course he'd set for himself all along. No... This dream... It won't work, will never work... Not if I want to keep you safe from... He studied Sam with all the passionate sorrow he had in him, and said, I'm so sorry, Sam...

Sam brushed at tears as they careened down her cheeks. (When had she begun crying? she wondered.) But she couldn't find it within herself to hurt him even more by arguing with the choice he'd made. After an agonising moment of pondering her few options in this situation, she nodded at last. Okay, I promise that I won't say anything to anyone in the SGC... though it kills me... This is killing me...

Sam was crying again when she heard Daniel trying to convince her to take another course of action. Saaaam! he wailed. You can't..!

Daniel, she said, though even saying nothing more than his name twisted her heart in two as the sense of hopelessness that had always accompanied hers and Jack's situation hit her once again. Stop, she commanded. Just stop.

Daniel, however, was harder to convince to stop than just about anyone. But how can you just give up like that, just...

Teal'c placed a hand on Daniel's arm to arrest his attention. DanielJackson, he carefully intoned. I think that O'Neill and ColonelCarter have done all that they can do at this juncture to...

Sam interrupted him, If there is anything we can do to change the regs, or change the situation, now is the time to mention it, Daniel, she said, offering the archaeologist one final chance to give them all another of his brilliant suggestions to alter their situation. If you have an idea..? When even Daniel remained silent, she had to concede that there just wasn't anything they could do at this point that would change even a small part of their dilemma.

Finally, Sam had to go on. That's what I thought, she despondently intoned. And Jack is right. It's the only thing we can really do... the only way we can keep working together, keep seeing each other every day at least. She turned haunted eyes on her friend. It's all we have, she noted in a beseeching tone. Please don't leave us without even that, Daniel.

Daniel couldn't believe that his friends were just giving up without even fighting this situation. But it wasn't about him, he reminded himself, had never been about him. Reluctant, he said, You have my word. His voice was full of the caution he was feeling. I won't say anything if you don't want me to.

And you have mine as well, Teal'c told them.

Daniel had to add, Though I want to go on record here that I think you're making the biggest mistake of your lives.

Jack argued, But it's our lives, Daniel. You have to trust us to do what's best for each other.

Daniel looked barely convinced, as if there was nothing but their hopes and platitudes keeping him silent, but he regretfully nodded once again.

That was it. They all grabbed hold of the packs they had dropped when they had first met Daniel that afternoon, and Daniel moved to the DHD when Sam ordered him to dial up the 'Gate again. Silent, they all filed back to the SGC without having to be reminded that it was not only Jack's and Sam's careers on the line if any of them ever talked, but Jack and Sam themselves.

No debriefing was necessary, as Jack had accompanied them into the field. They split up the minute the group arrived at the SGC, Sam heading for the showers while the rest headed for their post-mission physicals in the Infirmary. Again, they said nothing to each other as they crossed paths to swap their chosen activities. When they were finished with their physicals and showers, they each retreated to whatever or wherever they had been before the mission had taken place. It was as if they were trying to wipe the mission, and what it had pertained to, away from its ever having existed at all.

Jack went back to the mountain of paperwork in his office, but didn't get any of it finished as he contemplated his and Sam's dilemma for the thousandth time, and ran his hand across his face in distress.

Daniel entered his office, angry that his friends were just giving in to their shared situation without even so much as putting up some kind of a struggle, but not knowing what to tell them to do at the same time. He slammed open his reference book on Egyptology and got back to work, the only panacea he could find in this kind of emotional instance.

Teal'c found himself heading for the SGC gymnasium, and the forgetfulness of a strenuous workout routine.

Sam walked into her lab, glad to finally be away from the ogling gazes of her team mates, and shut the door behind her. She could still hear Jack's final plea to SG-1 to remain silent ringing in her mind as she wandered over to her computer, drawing it closer to her. But she couldn't work, was still thoughtful, still pondering, still thinking...

And then a new sense of determination flooded through her.

True, she... Jack... Daniel... Teal'c... They couldn't do anything about hers and Jack's current situation.

But Sam had learned long ago through the science that had always guided her life that if you couldn't make the variables of a situation work within the parameters that was given to it, then you had to change that situation. We've done everything we can think of, Sam thought. We've even pretended that this thing between me and Jack... the General... doesn't exist at all so that we can protect all those involved. And it's worked so far. But I think it's time to shake thing up a bit...

Without hesitation now, Sam pulled a piece of clean printer paper towards her, and began writing. When she had finished writing her note a half hour later, she read through it one last time before stuffing it into one of the large SGC routing envelopes that each office came equipped with. She sealed the envelope tightly before writing on the outside of the envelope itself.

For General O'Neill's eyes only! If anyone besides him even looks at this letter, I will find out about it, and I then promise to haunt you to my dying day until I finally send you to Ba'al and let him do what he wants with you... I'm serious!

She then signed her little outside note. Next, she called the control room.

Sergeant Harriman, Walter answered the phone.

Sergeant, Sam said. Is it possible that you know where Siler is at this moment?

Yeah, Walter replied. He's standing right here. Why... do you need him for something?

Can you just send him down to my lab? Sam asked. There's something that I need him to do for me. She was being purposefully vague.

But Walter apparently found nothing strange in the request she had made, for he promptly replied, Sure thing, Colonel. And a moment later, added, He's on his way.

Thank you, Sergeant, she answered, then hung up her phone.

While Sam waited for Siler to arrive, she penned a quick note to Daniel:

re: our most recent mission

To quote Teal'c's favorite movie: 'It's not over yet.'

- Princess Leia

She signed that note as well, and quickly stuffed it into its own envelope. She was just sealing this second message when Siler pounded on her lab door before opening it and poking his head in. You wanted to see me about something, Colonel? he asked.

Yep, she instantly replied. After writing Daniel's name on the outside of this second envelope, she approached him and held out both envelopes. I need you to deliver these notes for me in three hours, this one to General O'Neill, and this one to Dr. Jackson. Can you do that for me, do you think? I mean, do you have time?

Siler adjusted his glasses. No problem, he said as he glanced at his watch, added three hours, then took the envelopes and disappeared back into the corridor.

Then Sam opened her computer to search for the next available flight to Washington DC.

When she had secured her seat on the next plane heading East, she grabbed her phone and quickly dialed. The other end of the line was picked up a moment later.

Detective Shanahan, Pete answered.

Pete, Sam said. Hi, it's me.

Sam! Pete called in delight into the receiver. But a second later, that delight of his was tempered. Sam, you're calling me at my office in the middle of the day... what's wrong?

Oh, Sam said, smiling now. Nothing's wrong... I'm just a bit rushed here. But I really need to talk to you. Are you free... say... in half an hour?

I'm sorry, Babe, Pete answered, But I've got meetings all...

Sam interrupted him. No, Pete, you don't understand, she began. I really, REALLY, REALLY have to talk to you this afternoon. Actually, sometime in the next hour...

It's that important? Pete asked.

Sam wished he wasn't being so nice to her. This was going to be hard enough as it was without him being Mr. Nice Guy. She did her best to ignore any guilty pangs that reverberated around her conscience as she responded, You have no idea how important. Can you meet me? She didn't have time any longer for guilty feelings.

Well... It sounded over the phone like Pete was quickly flipping through the pages if his schedule book as he quietly considered his afternoon's agenda. How about an hour from now? he asked. I can give you a half hour in between meetings, I suppose.

The relief in Sam's voice communicated over the phone line. That would be perfect! she enthused.

Where? Pete questioned next.

How about outside the museum on 2nd street? Sam suggested. They have those benches there so that if either of us gets there early, we don't have to stand around waiting for the other.

The benches by the museum. Pete sounded like he was writing a reminder down in his schedule book. Got it. I guess I'll see you then, he glibly said into the phone. Then his voice took on a teasing quality. It won't come soon enough for me. It sounded like he was smiling, but Sam wasn't sure. He then said, Bye, Sam. The line went dead as he hung up.

Sam considered the receiver as she hung up as well. Ugh! She was no one's 'Babe.'

* * *

Sixty-one minutes later, Sam met Pete just outside the Colorado Springs Downtown Museum, where, among other exhibits, advertisements claimed that 'Those Good Old Days' in Ancient Egypt was sure to run until December 31. She made a note to tell Daniel about the scheduled exhibit when she arrived back in Colorado.

Sam! Pete called happily as he walked over to where she was standing beside the bench she had spent the last ten minutes waiting on. Been here long? he genially asked. He noted that she was wearing her dress blues, and wondered if something really official that she had forgotten to tell him about was going on. Is something happening? he asked, eyeing her dress uniform.

I haven't been waiting long, and there's nothing going on that you need to know about, Sam lied. Though I do need to talk to...

Pete interrupted her, fidgeting once he believed that nothing was going on. He glanced pointedly at his watch, and said, Babe, I'm on something of a tight schedule, since we didn't plan to see each other tod...

Sam did her own interrupting. Pete, and she held out the velvet box that had come with her engagement ring that he had given to her. I'm sorry to have to do this so quickly, but I'm on something of a tight schedule myself. She handed the box to him. I'm sorry, but I can't marry you. Her voice sounded sad, yet determined as she spoke.

Pete stopped looking at his watch to gape at her. It was clear in his expression that this was one occurrence that he hadn't been expecting. His ruddy face fell into lines of incomprehension. What? he asked, confused. I thought you needed to tell me about something to do with the caterer, or something.

No caterer, Sam gently said. I'm so sorry if I hurt your feelings, or...

Pete balked. Sam, Babe.., he entreated, still not quite understanding. What's going on here?

Sam explained again in a voice that was full of regret at the thought of possibly hurting him. I don't mean to have to do this so fast, say it and run, but...

Babe! Pete cut her off again, his tone one of complete incomprehension. What..?

Sam hated being called 'Babe!'

Just like that, she snapped as he said that reviled word. Her voice turning much harder, she informed, I have a plane leaving in half an hour. I didn't want to leave you hanging with no idea where I was, or...

But Pete interrupted her to beg, Sam... Babe... You gotta...

Sam's face screwed up in distaste, but she held herself in check. Still, with gritted teeth, she said, How many times do I have to tell you! Please, please, PLEASE don't call me that! I am not your 'Babe!' I am not anyone's 'Babe!' I'm not some trinket for sale to the highest bidder!

Pete held out the velvet box while he spoke, Sam, I think we need to try to get things under control her...

Things are under control, or are going to be, for the first time in... Sam did some quick calculations in her head. For the first time in seven years, five months, she glanced at her watch. ... ten hours, and fifteen minutes. She looked up at his bug-eyed expression of stunned surprise. He looked like a guppy on a fishing line, one that didn't know where to go after being caught. Sam infused as much sincerity as she could into her next apology, I'm sorry Pete, but I really do have to run. She turned to go.

Pete stopped her with a hand on her arm, and begged, Sam... Babe... We need to talk about this, and...

Sam whirled back to face him. First off, I'll tell you again, like I've told you a hundred times already, please, please, please don't call me 'Babe.' It makes me feel like I'm nothing but a thing for sale, and I am no one's thing! She shivered in revulsion. I'm not property! She went on, And if anyone does 'own' me, that would be the General. He bought me seven years ago when he traded a weapon for me in a foreign... place. And third... Sam sighed, her voice now regretful as her anger left her. I can't marry you... I'm already married, have been for seven or so years, just found out about it today, and...

But Pete was starting to hold his hands up in the waiting gesture. Hold on! Slow down here! He gawked at her. I don't believe this! You're married?!? he blurted. Sam, how can you be..?

Upset now, Sam tried to explain, It happened a long time ago, and we didn't know that just by handing over a weapon in trade for me meant marriage in this particular society, and...

Well, get a divorce! Pete insisted next. Or better yet... you said 'this particular society'... Then this isn't your own culture that you're talking about. You don't have to pay any attention to what may not mean anything in...

Sam's sense of regret and confession was soon leaning into a sense of horror. Pete, how can you say that! she quietly cried. You're an officer of the law! She glared at him out of icy blue eyes. The Colonel was simply saving me from what might have been a really bad experience, true, and he didn't have any idea that trading a pistol for me was as good as marrying me, but... If I don't honor this marriage, then any other marriage that happened in another... place... It's like saying it didn't happen, she pointed out. Both Daniel and T. got married... someplace else. If I don't consider myself married by these customs, then they can't, either, by their own customs. I can never do that to them! she explained. Besides, if I'm honest with myself, and with you, I have to say that suddenly finding myself married to the Colonel... the General... isn't...

Sam, come on! Pete desperately tried to convince her to see reason one last time. He chose to ignore the second half of her remark, and focus his further comments on what he hoped would more easily work in persuading her. You can't take all this Daniel/T. thing on your shoulders like this! You're not responsible for...

No! Sam was adamant, even as she was trying to be gentle about it. Her exasperation with the scene was quickly giving way to even more regret... but determined regret. I'm sorry, Pete, so sorry, but I...

Sam! his horror filled voice objected. He was still beseeching her in a tone full of pleading.

He seemed just as determined as she was, even though what she had to say was inevitably going to hurt him. Still, she was doing her best to let him down as painlessly as possible. Pete... Sam sighed a gush of air that helped to rein in her temper one last time so that she could sound more reasonable than angry. I'm sorry. I can't say that enough. But...

All right! Pete growled, angry himself at long last. Who is he? he demanded to know. Who's been fucking with my fiancé?

Pete! Sam hissed, horrified again. No one, and how dare you intimate...

Pete exclaimed, That Indiana Jones guy... Or... Or that General of yours...

That did it for Sam. The tiny hold she'd kept up till now on her temper vanished the second the General was mentioned. Don't say one word about him! she continued to argue with Pete in a low voice. He's the only reason I'm even standing here, and...

It's him, isn't it? Pete asked. That son of a...

Sam's fist hardened at her side. She really wanted to take a swing at him for even mentioning the General in that particular manner, but... Sam breathed harshly through her nose in order to stay in control of herself. The only thing that's keeping me from decking you right this minute is the fact that I'm wearing my dress uniform right now, and representing the US Air Force, which means that I have to behave properly rather than act like a malcontent who'd really take great pleasure in teaching you some manners! She glared at him. I can't believe you would...

Pete continued to gape at her. Now hang on a minute here, Babe, I want to know what that old lecher has been doing all this time to...

Sam stared hard at him. He'd called her 'Babe' on purpose that time. Not to mention what he'd just called General O'Neill...

A red haze dropped over her mind, wreaking havoc on her reason. However, she again took a deep breath, and managed by some miracle to retain her hold on her temper. She held back even now, though the effort it took caused her to shake.

Through clenched teeth, Sam noted, There is no reason for anger, or name calling, or accusations. She still shook as she tried to form the words she wanted to say. We did not know what we were doing at the time, and there is nothing we can do about it now. The divorce procedures in place in this... this society... are such that the General and I would have to face off in a hand battle to the death. Neither of us has any intention of hurting, much less killing, the other. So we have no choice but to accept this marriage for what it is... a mistake made many years ago, and one that can't be fixed, even if either of us wanted to fix it, which I, for one, don't, so...

Pete stared at her now out of pleading eyes again. What do you mean, you don't? he asked. Doesn't this entire thing seem awful to..?

Sam had to stare back at him in sudden sorrow as her anger disintegrated under the appealing expression she saw in his eyes. But, she reminded herself that she had to be honest with him, finally, even if it hurt him to do it. No Pete, it doesn't, she said, her voice soft once more, and conflicted. I'm so sorry, and I don't want you to think that I was ever using you, or...

What are you saying, Sam? he asked, still imploring.

Sam sighed, looked away for a moment, then looked back at him and blurted, I've been in love with General O'Neill since we met over seven years ago. I love you too, she hurried on to say, then sadly added, But I'm not in love with you like I am with him. She did some begging of her own out of her eyes this time. Please, can you see the difference, see...

But what about 'us?' Pete softly questioned.

Sam simply stood and stared with a pained expression on her face. I'm so sorry, she whispered at last.

Pete sighed, then nodded. He stuffed his hand holding the ring in its box in the front pocket of his pants. I understand. So... see you around, Sam, he said at last, then slowly walked away.

Crap, Sam thought. That had been hard. Necessary. But hard.

* * *

Two hours later, Sam was in the air, no longer even thinking about what had happened between her and Pete, but daydreaming about Jack, and considering what she was planning to say to General Hammond when she arrived in Washington DC. She was in the process of writing down in a notebook that was resting, open, on her lap the points she wanted to make in support of her argument as she thought of them. She was completely oblivious of the other passengers surrounding her.

At exactly the same time that Sam was flying over Ohio after picking up a connecting flight in Denver, Jack yelled, Come in! when someone pounded on his office door.

Siler poked his head into the office from the corridor. You got a minute, General? he inquired.

Jack pushed aside the papers he had been in the middle of pretending to sign. I always have a minute for you, Siler, he joked.

Siler pushed his glasses up his nose in an eerie imitation of Daniel Jackson. I bet you say that to all your office afternoon interruptors, he teased back.

Jack held up a finger and pointed it to the ceiling. Ah, he said, But do I really mean it when I say it?

Siler smiled. So I hear, Sir.

Jack frowned. Have you been hearing things again?

Only when I'm in the Infirmary, Sir, Siler deadpanned back to him.

Jack didn't know if Siler was teasing or completely serious, so he opted to instead ask, What's up?

Siler entered the office and held out a yellow envelope. Colonel Carter asked me to deliver this to you, Sir. So, I'm delivering it.

Jack took the offering, scowling now on top of his earlier frown. I'm sure you have more important things to do than play messenger boy.

Siler explained, The envelope says that it's for your eyes only, or she'll do nasty things to anyone who tries to read it. So I figured I'd better hand deliver this to you so you can say that you got it unopened, and she doesn't have to hurt me now.

Jack was already pondering what he would find inside. The possibilities actually frightened him a little. Because of the delicate nature of the mission that he and SG-1 had gone on just a few hours before, he was naturally leery to look inside the envelope. But he said to Siler, We all know that you, as well as I, taught her a lot of the defensive moves she knows, so you can probably do just fine defending yourself...

Against an enraged Colonel Carter? Siler practically choked.

Jack's brows rose to his hairline. I see your point. Maybe you can bribe her with Jell-O?

Siler grinned. Or maybe I'll just get out of here so you can read... whatever it is... in private. See you tomorrow, Sir.

Tomorrow, Jack responded, his mind already on his newest mystery.

Siler closed the office door behind him, and Jack found himself alone in his office again.

Thirty seconds, and a letter opener later, Jack was soon reading the simple letter that fell out of the envelope to his desk.

Jack,

First name got your attention? Good. A 'Sir' or 'General' would just be too... too weird... for this discussion anyway.

Okay... I realize this puts you in a bit of an awkward position, and I don't want to hurt you, or make you feel uncomfortable, but by the time you get this letter, I will be well on my way to... somewhere. I don't want to tell you where I'm going just yet, as you'll probably want to come after me. Though I'm going on official military business, it's not authorized business. Does that mean I'm going AWOL? If it does, then AWOL is sooooo worth it!

I've never gone AWOL before. This is a bit exciting when I think about it. But know that I'm safe (not kidnapped) and this isn't a case of foul play, where you'll be getting a ransom note in the mail, demanding a naqueda generator in return for my release. It's not like that. I'll just say that I got to thinking about what we all agreed to on the planet this afternoon, and while I agree with what you said to a certain extent, I also think this whole situation stinks to a certain extent, too. So I've decided to see if I can do anything about it. But in order to do that, I have to go... somewhere... first.

I'm not planning on talking to anyone in the SGC about Daniel's snafu, either, so I'm holding to my promise... sort of. I'm going to break things off with Pete before I leave, so no matter what happens, I'll be finished with that. I know now that after today there's no going back, anyway, and I don't want to find that 'normal' life unless it's with you, and I'm tired of pretending that I don't care about that at all, and...

Oh hell. It's time to leave, and I've hardly said all the things I want to say, but they'll have to wait. Just don't worry, don't freak out - I'm okay, and I'll see you when I get back. We'll talk then, whenever that is (no, I don't know how long this will take.) Anyway, I promise that we'll talk, and hopefully I'll have good news to tell you.

Or else I'll be kicking myself for doing the stupidest thing I've ever done. Which will be impressive, as I've managed to do some doozies before. Maybe you'll have to kick my ass from here to Kingdom Come. I bet you'll be looking forward to it.

Until then,

Love Sam

Jack sat in his chair in a daze, too stunned to move. Sam was going AWOL? Had gone AWOL by now? Was she nuts? And since when did he call her 'Sam?' What happened to the much more general, but safer, monicker 'Carter?'

What was going on here lately with him, with her, with all of them previously or presently on SG-1? Had one simple marriage made them all lose their common sense so that they ran half cocked around the globe on self-appointed missions to do 'military business?' And what kind of business? Jack had little doubt that whatever Sam had done, it had something to do with the Frat Regs. And anything having to do with the Frat Regs could only mean trouble for her... which was what Jack had not wanted her to find in the first place.

Still holding Sam's letter firmly in his hand, Jack rubbed dispiritedly at his eyes with his free fingers. Sam was beyond his reach now, 'someplace' else, doing God knows what with God knows who, saying things that were better left unsaid...

Jack inhaled a sharp breath as a second thought suddenly occurred to him. What if..? What if she really was planning on doing something 'stupid?' Even Jack had to admit that while Samantha Carter was an undeniable genius in her professional life, her personal life was fraught with moments of... well, the word that she'd used... 'stupidity'... was an appropriate term to use to describe her actions. Those actions she had made in her past had not always been the smartest things she could have done. Even he had to admit that, even if it was also true that he worshiped the ground she walked on. If even he could think so uncharitably, yet truthfully, about her, then others had to have had the same thoughts...

She'd been engaged twice... if she did indeed carry through with her plans to end things with Pete Shanahan. Her personal judgment would then be suspect, at least. Her grasp at the 'normal' life that she had claimed that she wanted was slipping away from her. Was it possible that she was taking the marriage that had apparently occurred on the Shavadai homeworld to her heart and treating it as the real thing? And what did that mean for him?

Professionally, nothing could change. But personally?

Jack took another sharp breath that rasped in the back of his throat. He had to fight to keep that breath from becoming a gasp. He wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of treating his and Sam's marriage as the real thing, but just the thought turned his stomach to sludge in seconds. He was instantly terrified. But that terror was mixed with an intense sense of hope. If there was any proof necessary to convince him that he wanted this marriage more than even he had suspected, Jack knew that he had it now. If just the suspicion that Sam viewed this marriage as real and true and binding sent his insides into overdrive like this...

Jack ruefully shook his head even as he sat there, lost in thought. God, what a hopeless romantic he was becoming!

* * *

Sam sat on the bench outside the Pentagon and wearily stared at the scribbles she had written in her notebook.

She had just again read over all that she had written, and she suddenly understood several things: 1) It was amazing that neither she nor Jack had ever thought to do this before now. 2) The Frat Regs dealt with much more than just a professional versus an unprofessional relationship between a Commanding Officer and his or her second in command. It dealt with Sam's relationship with Daniel, with her relationship with Teal'c, with Colonel O'Neill's (now General O'Neill's) relationship with both Daniel and Teal'c, with Sam and Jack's fairly unprofessional professional relationship... In fact, unprofessional relationships were rife on SG-1.

Heck, they broke the Frat Regs every day... every hour... on every mission that the team had ever gone on through the 'Gate. Was that a bad thing? It certainly wasn't bad for the SGC, for the Air Force, for the Pentagon, for the world... Not if the record of their success as a team was anything to go by.

But then, did that beg the question that SG-1 was so successful because their relationships were so unprofessional? Were they the last, best line of defense because they were so close, because they broke the Frat Regs on a daily basis? And if either she or O'Neill transferred to another team, like was requested by the Air Force, would SG-1 cease to be that best line of defense for the planet as a whole? Could the Air Force afford to take that chance?

Sam's mind whirled with all that she had spent the last few hours thinking about. It was definitely true that 3) The other SG teams, the teams that followed the Frat Regs to the letter, weren't as close as SG-1, nor as successful in killing System Lords. Did that mean that SG-1's success was because of that willingness of the team members to break the rules as proclaimed by the Air Force? Did that make success synonymous with breaking the rules? She couldn't argue that success was an invaluable asset to any SG team, but was it expected to such an extent that the rules were also expected to be broken in the process? Did that make the Frat Regs inherently detrimental to those same SG teams? Was the Air Force enforcing regulations that were, in effect, harming the SGC and their war against the Goa'uld rather than helping it along?

All these questions, besides giving Sam a pounding headache, led her to believe that more research needed to be conducted with these questions in mind, and that the SGC quite possibly needed an addendum made to the Frat Regs, rescinding them in order to encourage the ongoing success of the SG teams, as proven was possible over and over again by SG-1.

It was all so confusing, complicated, and convoluted that Sam's head again spun, making her stomach twist and turn into knots. The truly amazing thing was that she hadn't even had to consider how the Frat Regs impacted hers and Jack's personal relationship, or their marriage on the Shavadai homeworld, or how a personal relationship between them would affect their professional relationship. It was as if none of those reasons even existed.

Which was ironic, really. Sam had come to DC in the first place to speak to General Hammond about this marriage business between two of the SGC's best soldiers, and had ended up thinking about the impact of the Frat Regs on the team as a whole without even having to take the Carter/O'Neill problem into consideration. It made her snort in humor every time she thought about it.

But now it was already 1450 and she had an appointment with General Hammond, head of Homeworld Security, in minutes. She had made her appointment by phone with his secretary the moment she debarked from the plane in Washington DC. Now she stood, smoothed her skirt, straightened her blue tie, placed her hat on her head, grabbed her notebook, and walked to the second floor, where it still took her ten minutes to find the office she was seeking. Her previous stint at the Pentagon hadn't prepared her for finding post-9/11 offices. She was lost, was found, was lost again, was found again, and walked in circles from the moment she stepped into the strangely shaped building.

She'd always had a theory about the Pentagon that if foreign dignitaries were being particularly problematic at any time, the proper government figures would always use the Pentagon to confuse the dignitaries into submission by dumping them off and making them try to find a certain office in the oddly shaped building. The maze didn't unfold, but she somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time anyway. It was a mystery as to how she did it, but was glad that she did. Computer circuitry creators had nothing on the Pentagon architects for causing confusion.

Sam was ushered through another door that led into an anteroom that in turn led into General Hammond's 'new' office. She silently closed the door behind her, then stood near that door as she took a quick glance around the office.

There was a desk, covered in piles of manila file reports, just as Hammond's desk had always been covered in paperwork back at Cheyenne Mountain. There was a couch fronted by two chairs, a window behind the desk lending its light to spill across the paperwork, no less than four phones, one on each corner of the desk, and General Hammond seated behind it all, confidently signing off on yet another form that demanded his attention for the moment. He didn't even look up when he said, Just take a seat, Colonel, and I'll be with you in a moment.

Sam didn't say anything as she crossed to the two easy chairs fronting the sofa, and sat in one of them, clutching her notebook to her chest and dropping her purse to the carpeted floor.

Five minutes passed, then General Hammond finished with whatever he was currently doing to the pieces if paper in front of him, and he rose from behind his desk, only to take a seat on the sofa facing her. Now, Colonel, what is...? That was when he paused, then gaped at her. Major! he exclaimed. Sam! He gasped. What are you..? Then he gaped anew. I have an appointment with a Colonel Carter...Then he pointed at her. That's you? How did..? He was on his feet, all smiles now as he leaned in and embraced her, saying, Major! Colonel! It's so good to see you!

Sam laughed, hugging him back. Likewise, Sir. How are you?

Oh, you know, arthritis is acting up... Hammond grinned. But how are you promoted to Colonel, and I know nothing about..?

General O'Neill, Sam explained.

That was all she needed to say, apparently. Hammond nodded in sudden comprehension of what must have happened. Jack does have the tendency to forget to send his paperwork to the correct places. Hammond smiled again. Well... Colonel Carter! Then his voice gentled as he inquired, Sam, what can I do for you?

Sam's face turned more serious then. General... Uncle George... She hesitated a moment, then said, Sir, I need your advice, both as a fellow Air Force soldier, and as a friend.

Hammond's face fell to serious lines as well. Sam? What is it? What's happened?

Uh, Sam stuttered. Then she gathered her mind, focused her thoughts, and began speaking. First, I have to have your assurance that what I say in here never leaves here, and that I won't be prosecuted for saying what I'm about to say.

Hammond shrewdly looked at her. Deals with regulations and rules, does it? He looked like he had expected her to say just this type of thing.

You might say that, Sam nervously commented.

Hammond nodded, and said, This is so far off the record that I won't even be able to find it later.

Sam smiled, and reached into the chair behind her for her notebook, beginning, Sir, I've been doing some thinking about Regulation 2909 lately, as regards to the teams at the SGC. And I think I've uncovered something that you might want to hear...

* * *

Sam talked for almost three straight hours to General Hammond. Then over the next several days, she talked to anybody who would sit still long enough to listen to her arguments. That included the members of the Joint Chiefs, singly and in pairs of twos and threes when a group hearing couldn't be organized; to Senate committees such as the NID where its members already had clearance to know about the existence of the Stargate Program; to the President... anybody with security clearance whom General Hammond could bring together on short notice. He had decided that she had something to say with her commentary on the Fraternization Regulations, and should be allowed to argue to all and sundry who had even peripheral input on Air Force regulations. Being Hammond's pet project had its benefits.

The rest of the time, when Sam wasn't doing her laundry, or running to meetings, or finding an odd moment here and there to catch up on her missed sleep, she patiently stenciled words onto four BDU shirts that she had bought at a sidewalk boutique that was set up on her way to the Pentagon. She found the personal project relaxing, and she needed to relax as much as she could so that she might be able to make her arguments even stronger than she had made them to General Hammond her first day in DC.

Speaking to anybody who might listen was why on the following Thursday, an hour before she was scheduled to return to Colorado, she found herself once again patiently explaining her reasoning before a group of twenty or so gathered governmental representatives with the proper clearance, going over her arguments one last time. Her transport plane was even now waiting on the tarmac at the DC airfield, and she only had to arrive with the carry on bag she had brought along for the trip, as well as the carefully wrapped group of four BDU overshirts that she had intended to give as a gift to a General of her acquaintance.

Sam patiently ended her Regulations spiel that Thursday afternoon to what had been a fairly attentive audience. I'd like you to consider being placed in the same position that the employees at the SGC are put in every day. We work at least five days a week, often more. And though we are glad to do exactly that, it doesn't leave much time for outside activities of any kind, due to the fact that even when we're not working, we're on call. You may argue that down time and leave time offer plenty of freedom to enjoy a personal project, and while that's true to some extent, any employee, whether single of married, is then forced to expect that any companion or friend he or she might meet outside the base must in turn be inordinately understanding as the soldier in question is frequently called away to work on projects that he or she cannot discuss, and to work with coworkers whom he or she cannot discuss, either. It's a bit unfair to continue to expect that the Air Force employees of the SGC in Colorado Springs, Colorado find friends and companions outside the base network when those same SGC soldiers are simultaneously expected to bond primarily with their own team members, who they spend the maximum amount of their time with, and who their very lives could depend on.

It's very similar to the hypothetical theory that's been postulated throughout history: first a governmental group makes life so difficult for its citizens to simply have enough to eat, that its citizens are forced to steal food simply to survive. That same government first makes thieves by forcing its people to steal food, then once caught, the government punishes the same people for stealing food in the first place.

The same basic idea can be postulated about the SGC employees... To expect them to chose between saving the planet and having the time to make a friend on that planet, which may or may not happen, and is difficult in the best of times, anyway, is a bit unrealistic. Her speech ended on a high note when the members of her audience laughed at her final comment. Therefore, she continued when the noise level had died in the room, I make the suggestion that an amendment to the Fraternization Regulations be made, rescinding those same regulations to the SGC for the duration of the Stargate Program's mission, so that the teams can be equally as successful in their missions for the SGC as they are with their relationships with each other, which in turn affects the success of those same teams. Sam smiled at the individuals gathered in front of her. At the SGC, we always adhere to the motto that we leave no man behind. We will fight all the harder to carry out that directive if that man or woman is allowed to be our friend, professional or unprofessional, instead of simply an acquaintance as demanded by article 36-2909 of the UCMJ. I thank you for taking the time to listen to my comments. With that, she ducked out through the back curtain as applause washed over her, ending her time in DC on the highest note possible.

Sam glanced at her watch, and saw that she would have to hurry to the airfield if she was to make it back to Colorado Springs before midnight. But she was immediately engulfed in a hug from her former Commanding General before she had the chance to duck out the door to her rental car.

General! Sam exclaimed in delight that he had come to see her off. I want to thank you for having a plane wait for me to take me back to the Springs! I don't know how to thank you enough!

No need, General Hammond chuckled as he continued to give her his fast hug. Just get back safely, and tell the old gang that I say 'Hello.' He stepped back then, smiled, and said, Besides, what good is an old General for except to supply a ride to the airfield for you, and to schedule that flight home that you need?

General, Sam immediately stated, I don't expect...

Hammond interrupted, I know what you don't expect, and it gives me great pleasure to provide it, anyway. Now, there's a driver waiting to take you to the field, and your rental car is being returned as we speak. Your bags are already in the car I had called for you, so there should be nothing for you to worry about except to get back to Colorado as quickly as you can. He continued to smile at her. I'll call you with any decision that's made here the minute I hear about it.

Sam beamed again. I don't want you to think that...

Forget it, Sam. I just want you to know what a delight it's been to have you here these last few days, and to say that it's a wonder that we never thought to try this route before. Then he winked. And to wish you luck.

Thank you, for everything, Sam reiterated one last time as she headed for the door.

You're welcome, and happy flight, came her only reply.

Sam pushed on a pair of sunglasses as she emerged from the building into the sunshine of early evening, and was reminded of General O'Neill always wearing sunglasses for about the hundredth time in the days she'd spent in DC.

But that time was ended at last. Sam was whisked to the airfield, and was in the air before she knew it. She didn't think she would sleep on the long trek back to Colorado, but an exhaustion that she hadn't been aware of snuck up on her, and she was blinking open eyes foggy with sleep just as the lights of the Peterson Air Force Base landing field hove into view.

She was just stepping down from the plane in the dark of a Thursday night when her phone rang. With a heavy, frightened heart, she noticed that the number showed that the call was from out of the area. Now terrified, but hopeful, and with her heart pounding in her chest, she answered. Carter.

Good news, Colonel, immediately came General Hammond's voice over the line. He didn't bother to introduce himself, but then, he didn't have to, as she was expecting his call. He went on, It's a bit early in the process to announce this, but we have another successful mission under our belts; the addendum is being drafted even as I speak. It should be in place be the end of the month. Congratulations, Sam.

Sam smiled so widely that her face hurt. That's great news, Sir! she enthused. Thank you!

But Hammond continued, There's just one thing that has the Joint Chiefs a bit worried.

Sam's heart painfully froze in between beats. She was almost afraid to ask, but was more afraid not to ask. What is it?

Hammond sighed, and regret now tinged his voice. They're only thinking about possible harassment situations in the future...

Sam heard the hesitancy in his tone. Her heart began beating again, but that beating hurt. What are they saying? she requested to know.

Hammond didn't mince words. The Joint Chiefs are concerned about field operations... that if they rescind the entire Fraternization Regulation, it will leave situations of abuse more likely to happen, as Commanding Officers will know that nothing can technically be done to them in the long run if they harass subordinate officers. That they're home free, for all intents and purposes.

Sam scowled as she stood at the base of the powered down airplane and leaned on a strut as various base personnel scurried around her in ignorant bliss of the conversation she was having. Isn't there anything we can do? she inquired.

Hammond sighed again. We're doing what we can, but right now the Joint Chiefs are considering an addendum to the addendum. They're thinking about leaving the clause about COs intact.

Crap! If that happened, then all the arguments she had given over the last few days had been for nothing. There must be something that we can do! she said, not willing to give too much information as to her personal situation over an unsecured phone line.

Do you have any suggestions? the General asked. Because I think my brain is still at the Pentagon... I can't think of a thing.

Sam was quiet for a moment, then at last very slowly and thoughtfully suggested, What about making the addendum only relate to the field? she asked.

Colonel?

Sam repeated her idea with more explanation this time. The Joint Chiefs are concerned about what can happen in the field, right?

It was clear by the confused tone of his voice that General Hammond didn't know where she was going with her line of questioning. But he did confirm her inquiry. Yes, that's right.

So Sam went on, What about saying that the current Commanding Officer clause remain the same while a team's in the field? she suggested. That should cover the concerns of the Joint Chiefs, and end the problem before one's even begun.

Hammond was quiet, thinking. At last, he said, You might have something there. He paused again. It could work... Again came a thoughtful silence. Eventually, he slowly admitted, But the only thing I can do is promise to mention this idea... It will be up to the President and Joint Chiefs to do anything about it.

Sam gave a tiny sigh into the phone. But at least it's a push in the right direction, she argued.

Hammond's tone lightened considerably as he answered, So it is. Oh, and I've just been instructed to ask you to be judicious in who you tell until official word can be given on Monday morning about the policy addendum as it is right now, Colonel.

Of course, Sir!

That's all, Colonel. Have a good weekend.

Sam grinned, her earlier good cheer returning. I think you just made my year, Sir!

Hammond chuckled again. Just promise to take care of a certain General, Sam, and we'll call everything even.

Sam felt herself blush, but responded, That's one promise I can keep, Sir.

See that you do. He chuckled one last time, then said, Until you want another addendum added to the Regs, take care, Colonel.

Sam signed off on her phone call, then followed the eager young soldier who had been assigned to escort her over to the waiting car. The Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, please, she requested. That was where she had left her car parked the Monday before.

The driver began the trip as Sam dialed the SGC the instant she had settled into the cushioned back seat. The call was picked up almost right away.

Sergeant Anders. How may I direct your call?

Sam greeted, Sergeant, this is Colonel Carter...

Colonel! Anders enthusiastically responded. His smile was evident as he said, Welcome back, Ma'am!

Sam smiled, but was loathe to center too much attention on her recent disappearance. So she asked a question of her own as a distraction. Has General O'Neill already signed out for the day?

Anders quickly and efficiently replied, He went home several hours ago, complaining about exhaustion, and hoped to be back at work again by 0700 tomorrow morning. Is there a message I can relay for you?

No, thank you, Sam answered. If you can patch me through to Doctor Jackson's office, I'd be grateful. She could always count on Daniel to work late on a Thursday night.

There was a click, a moment of silence, then Daniel was answering his phone. Daniel Jackson.

Daniel?

Sam! Where the heck have you been? Daniel instantly demanded. The official word is that you've been at an unexpected conference in Seattle, but I checked the Internet, and darned if I can find any mention of a scientific conference in Seattle this past week. Sam could imagine the grimace he gave to his phone. I can't even get Jack to tell me anything.

Sam grinned again. It's hard for him to tell you something he doesn't know. So relax, Daniel, she instructed. Besides being at the Downtown Museum, which has an exhibit on Ancient Egypt that you should check out, I've been in Washington DC since Monday with General Hammond. But I bet that Jack has still been a bear, not knowing where I was.

That is an understatement, Daniel wryly admitted. But what have you been doing in DC, if you don't mind my asking?

Sam lowered her voice so that it wouldn't carry up to the front seat and the driver's ears. Don't get excited yet, and it's not all ironed out yet, but... You can't tell anybody until we get official word about it, but... I got article 2909 rescinded for the SGC.

You're kidding! Daniel's voice exploded over the line.

Daniel! Sam immediately warned. Remember, not a word!

Agh! Daniel dramatically groaned. I can't believe you're asking me not to talk about this! Then he sighed, more resigned, and added, Have you told Jack about this yet?

I'm on my way to get my car, then I plan to run over to his house before I go home tonight.

Can I tell Teal'c at least? asked the overeager archaeologist.

Sam grinned again. I can tell that you're just about bursting to tell somebody. She considered. Just Teal'c, though. If you breath one word to anybody else, the Joint Chiefs may change their minds, and all this will have been for nothing. Actually, Sam had no idea if the Joint Chiefs would change their minds about rescinding the Frat Reg or not, but she figured that threatening such a thing was a small ultimatum to make to Daniel compared to the damage that he could potentially do over the coming weekend. But she didn't want to be responsible for squashing his obvious enthusiasm, either.

Promise! Daniel immediately shouted. Just wait till Teal'c hears about this!

Sam couldn't seem to wipe the smile off her face. Just keep it quiet, Daniel, she felt she had to remind one more time. And I'll see you sometime this weekend, probably.

You're not seeing Pete this weekend? Daniel innocently asked then.

Sam sighed at that question. Daniel was rather inelegantly fishing for information, she was sure. I broke things off with Pete before I left, she stated, giving in to the inevitability of her friends fishing around a bit for information in her personal business affairs. I felt like I had to, what with... you know... on the planet.., she timidly told him.

Daniel actually whooped into the phone. Oh God! he yelled. Okay... This is great news... Uh, going to tell Teal'c now...

Don't blow a fuse or anything, Daniel, Sam cautioned, but he had already hung up from their shared conversation.

It didn't matter. As long as General Hammond was as eloquent about the CO addendum as she suspected he would be, she had nothing to worry about now. Sam smiled in satisfaction, and settled back against the seat for a nice ride to the Municipal Airport.

Twenty-two minutes later, Sam was in front of Jack's door. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and her palms were sweating so profusely that she felt she had to reprimand herself for being a lovesick idiot, and showing it. But her excitement did not go away as she glanced again at her watch, and debated with herself.

She could knock, or she could use the key that Jack had given her, but that she had never used before now. It was already 2300, and the switchboard operator had said that Jack had gone home early due to exhaustion... Briefly, she wondered what had happened while she'd been gone, but most of her attention was still on her internal debate.

At last, she decided to use her key, figuring that Jack would be less likely to think poorly of her if she didn't wake him up to answer his door in the middle of the night. So she shook the appropriate key forward on her key ring, then slowly opened the door.

The first thing she noticed was that she didn't need her key after all, as the door wasn't even locked against intruders. She took care of that oversight when she shut the door behind her, locking it tightly in its frame. There was no light coming from the living room, and Sam had to flick on the bright entryway lights in order to see anything. Quickly, she set her purse and bag softly to the floor by the door, then dug through her bag until she found the present she had been working on all week. Then, soft as she possible could, she stepped down the hall, searching for any sign that the house was occupied.

Sam found Jack sound asleep in the master bedroom when she peaked into the masculine room. The bedclothes were rumpled, as she expected them to be, and he lay unmoving in the center of the bed. Knowing how easy it was to wake him from even the soundest sleep, Sam crept to the side of the bed on her silent stockinged feet, then leaned down beside the bed. She quietly studied him in the filtered light of the moon shining in through a slit in the curtains pulled across the one window in the room. Her heart seized as if she hadn't seen him for a year, and she drank in the sight of him. She couldn't seem to get enough of simply looking at him.

Well, she figure, she hadn't seen him for almost a year in reality. She hadn't allowed herself to see him. Wry now, she admitted the simple fact that she hadn't even dared to glance at him should have told her something this past year... that she was fooling herself with that relationship she was trying to have with Pete. It had all been an attempt to get over her feelings for the man before her, and she should have known that there was no 'getting over' anything of the kind.

But now, Jack slumbered on as she slowly took in every detail about him. The gray Air Force t-shirt he was sleeping in was all twisted and wrinkled, and she especially noted the fact that he had chosen to sleep in only his boxer shorts, despite the fact that the nights were already growing cooler in Colorado Springs. He had kicked the blankets off, and lay curled on top of a twisted sheet. His face seemed softened in sleep, many of the worry wrinkles he carried on any given day smoothed away on the high forehead that had proven to be more expressive than she had ever expected it to be. The slightest twitch had always meant so much to the few who knew him well, she considered.

And thinking of knowing his habits well... Sam carefully slipped her hand under the upper edge of the cool pillow he had propped against the bed's headboard. A hard bulk met her questing fingertips, and she silently slid a pistol into the light of the moon. It lay like an evil black stain, a stark contrast to the white sheets it rested against.

Sam considered that there would definitely be those who thought that Jack was being nothing less than paranoid to sleep with a pistol under his pillow at night, especially given his past. But she also knew that he was simply opting to be ready for any occurrence by keeping it there. He had made too many enemies over the years, and fallen into too many personal scrapes to be anything besides thoroughly cautious now.

So she quietly drew the gun towards her along the sheets until she had it resting in the palm of her right hand. Then, without even taking the time to look at it properly, she only noted that the safety was flipped on as she lowered it to the far side of the table next to his bed. Only then did she flick on the bedside lamp, flooding the dim light across the room.

Sam leaned across the bed, but made sure not to get too close to the form sleeping on the mattress. Jack, she called in a half whisper.

In spite of her call, Jack slept on.

Wow. He must be tired to sleep through her calling his name. She doubted that he had gotten so used to not needing to be instantly alert in only a year. He had the reputation of sleeping barely enough for him to remain alert during the day. She had always known him to be such a light sleeper that she was surprised now by her inability to instantly rouse him.

Jack, she called again, a little louder than before.

That did the trick. Jack jerked awake, his eyes slamming open at the same time his hand instinctively reached under his pillow, groping for his weapon even before he was fully awake. What is it? Daniel! he said.

The comment made Sam laugh. Not Daniel, she said. It's Sam.

Now Jack was completely awake, and she had his undivided attention. Sam! he exclaimed. Then a smile enveloped his features until his face all but glowed. You're back! He reached for her before his well developed sense of restraint had managed to kick in. His hand grazed across her cheek before he could stop himself. Where the hell have you been? he asked without preamble.

Sam laughed again, her smile lighting up the room even more. I have news that I think you're gonna like to hear, Jack, she informed.

Jack propped himself up on his elbow so that he could look at all of her at once. He stared as if she were a sight for sore eyes. It was the most openly he had ever gazed at her before. It would have unnerved her, but she was too excited about her news to be unnerved by anything at the moment. Jack...

You've been to Europe chasing a stray Goa'uld that's gone undetected all this time, Jack guessed, making Sam laugh again.

No, she smiled. That's not it.

Then you've been helping Thor out of another tight spot, he next suggested.

No, Sam giggled. Though that's a good guess.

You went to visit your brother, then were kidnapped by cadets in the Navy Seals, who are after your Christmas memories of Jolinar.

Jolinar was a Tok'ra... They don't celebrate Christmas, Sam swiftly negated.

Jack ran a hand over his face to clear off the last vestiges of sleep. Then I have no idea where you've been these last few days, and I've racked my brain trying to figure this out, let me tell you.

You'll never guess, so you might as well give up trying, Sam suggested.

Then tell me, he demanded. Or is it some classified secret that you can't talk about?

Sam regarded him on the bed, looking at his rumpled clothes, his warm skin, his soft eyes, and felt a second or a third delicious tingle erupt inside her. She didn't hesitate as she placed a hand on his arm, and squeezed. I've been in DC with General Hammond, she told him.

Jack narrowed his eyes at her. General Hammond? he half asked, half barked in surprise. What did you need to see him about?

Sam stared at him, then her brows rose in a prompting manner, though she didn't say anything.

Jack seemed to magically understand. Oh no, he groaned. You didn't.

I did, Sam firmly told him.

Sam, you're gonna be court-martialed if you keep this up, Jack direly warned. I can't stop...

Sam interrupted him to softly say, I'm not going to be court-martialed. You don't have to worry about that. I didn't say a word about either you or me while I was in DC, she explained.

Jack looked endearingly confused. Then, what..?

So Sam said, I spent the last two days talking to anybody who would listen, and General Hammond called me right before I came over here... I convinced the Joint Chiefs to more or less rescind the Fraternization Regulations for the SGC, she admitted at last. And I didn't have to say a word about top secret marriages, or mention either one of us in order to do it.

Jack just stared at her in surprise, too flummoxed to speak for a full minute. Then he blinked, and seemed to recover from his initial surprise. 'More or less?' he echoed.

There's still some questions about regulating the behavior of Commanding Officers while in the field, she admitted. But since you don't go into the field any longer, that policy doesn't really apply to you. So as of now... She let her voice trail away to see if he would understand her inherent meaning without her having to vocalize the situation for him.

Jack stayed so silent, though, that it was finally beginning to disarm her. Aren't you going to say something? Sam asked at last, her expression now worried. It's not like you to be this quiet for this long.

Uhhhhh, Jack stuttered.

What does that mean? she inquired. Are you having a heart attack? Should I call for an ambulance? She rose and reached for the bedside phone.

Jack's hand slammed down on her fingers, stopping her. Don't you dare! he exclaimed.

Sam placed the cordless phone back in its cradle. Jack, you...

He interrupted her. I'd feel better hearing about this from Hammond himself, or seeing it in writing...

I've been promised a memo Monday, with all the details, Sam explained.

Without warning then, Jack leapt out of bed then, somehow managing not to get his legs twisted in the bedclothes. He roughly pulled her to him as he hugged her for all he was worth. You're telling me stories, right? he demanded to know. I'm dreaming, and in a minute I'm gonna wake up and wish I hadn't eaten that last piece of pizza, right?

Sam clutched him closer to her. He felt so warm from sleep! Warm, and wholly too inviting! No, she whispered. I can't say about the pizza, but this isn't a dream, or...

You're making this up, he proclaimed then. This is wishful thinking...

But Sam was already shaking her head. There's nothing wishful about this. It's as real as I am standing here.

At those words, Jack's hands tightened on her shoulder and arm. You're really not fooling me now? This isn't the worst joke possible?

No joke, Sam assured. If you don't believe me, call General Hammond.

Without another word, Jack reached for the phone, dialed, and once the line was connected, swallowed, and in a shaky voice, said, George... Hi... It's Jack O'Neill...

I was waiting for you to call, Hammond informed him. And you can believe her Jack. She argued starting Tuesday morning, until she could convince a dead man... Jack? His concerned voice traveled over the line.

But Jack wasn't listening any longer. He had hung up without even saying a polite goodbye-see-ya-later to his old CO. Jack dropped the phone to the floor in the same move that he made to cup Sam's cheeks with his warm hands and to kiss her on the lips like a man who was dying in the dessert and he'd just found a promised oasis. He grunted something that sounded like her name, but Sam was way too busy being swept away in the heat of the moment to pay much attention to what he was almost saying.

His arms clung to her in desperation then, and Sam clung back just as tightly. Jack groaned into her neck, and Sam thought she felt the slick of tears against her skin.

Jack shuddered a breath. This isn't happening, he said. I'm still asleep. I'm still dreaming.

Jack, was all that Sam could whisper. At last she was able to go on. You're not still asleep...

Jack suddenly held her at arms length, and seeming unashamed of the water streaks crisscrossing his cheeks, asked, Your engagement... Did you end it?

Pete... God, I haven't thought of Pete since Monday.., she admitted. She recalled how Daniel had asked the same basic thing, and how that first reminder of Pete had surprised her, too.

Did you? Jack harshly demanded, caught on that one little detail about her ending her engagement.

Right away this past week, Sam told him. I only felt it was fair... I gave his ring back and everything.

Jack studied her for a breathless moment, judging her, looking for the late night truth of the situation. Does that bother you? he asked at last, quietly, though sincerely.

Sam tried to avert her eyes, but Jack's hold on her cheeks forced her to stare at him. It doesn't bother me as much as it probably should, she admitted at last. I didn't want to hurt anyone in this situa...

But it was enough for Jack. Again he hauled her into his arms, holding her against his chest. And there's no chance of any...

Sam knew what he was going to ask, and said, I told him I was already married, she admitted. I don't think we have to worry about him wanting me back, or...

That was when Jack's gaze landed on the wrapped package resting on the floor beside his bed. What's that? he asked, cutting her off.

Sam sniffed her own tears back, then reached down to the gift. Just something I thought to make for you, you know, as a wedding present.

Jack couldn't quite hold back the grin that split his features when she uttered those words. You thought of wedding presents? he asked in incredulity. How..?

A sidewalk boutique on my way to the Pentagon, she explained.

Really?

Really, Sam echoed his word. I hope you like what I got you. I can't exactly take them back.

Jack looked at her sharply as he fingered the gift. Them?

Sam nodded, but didn't say anything more. Jack was like a kid at Christmas as he ripped open the paper and pulled out an olive green, extra large, BDU shirt.

You got me BDUs? he asked in some puzzlement.

That was when Sam pointed to the name' General O'Neill' stenciled across the shirt's left side. Now you really do have 'General' written on your uniform, was all she said.

For one stunned moment. Jack didn't react at all. Then a beaming grin slowly wormed its way across his face. He held up the shirt for his inspection, then noticed that there was another olive green shirt below it. Two blue BDU shirts followed, all with the words 'General O'Neill' stenciled across the left breast of each shirt.

Jack was speechless even as he grinned. Sam, I... He exhaled a deep breath of air. I don't know what to say. He blinked owlishly, then added, Except that I hope they fit!

Sam grinned as well, gratified that he seemed to like his gift, and relieved because of it. She hadn't been at all sure that he wouldn't think this was too forward of a gift for a Lieutenant Colonel to give to a General, even if he was her husband! You don't have to say anything, General, she said then. I'm just glad that you like them.

Like them?!? Jack asked back, still flabbergasted. Then he held the shirt in front of him to see how it hung, all the while staring intently at her. And so help me, if you ever call me 'General' or 'Sir' again, I hereby give myself permission to either kiss you senseless, even if we're in the Commissary surrounded by a million people, or alone in my office, or else I get to tickle you until you writhe helplessly in my arms, and then send the security tapes to everyone on base...

Sam gaped. You wouldn't dare!

Oh, wouldn't I? Jack told her, then placed a kiss on her lips that was meant to do nothing but entice her into staying exactly where she was standing in his bedroom. Thank you, so much, and I'll thoroughly embarrass myself if you move a muscle. Wait right there, he instructed.

Sam was more than confused by his words, and she was even more confused when he crossed the room to his closet. He reached up to the shelf above his wardrobe, then pulled down a dusty box, and handed it to her.

Sam took the box, then let it fall in a controlled descent to the floor. It's heavy! she exclaimed. What the heck do you have in here... an anvil?

Jack glared at her. Oh, ha, ha, he said, not amused. Go ahead, open it.

So Sam reached for the nearest flap, then lifted it away. The box didn't disintegrate the moment she touched it, but it looked like it could, and the musty smell that came from it and its contents had mixed with the smell of Jack's clothes years ago to become an indelible part of him. Sam wasn't sure she liked discovering that what she had always thought was part of 'Jack' to her was in reality a smelly old box in his closet.

Keep opening, Jack again commanded, and she pulled another side away from the top. She then picked up the entire box and upended it onto his bedroom floor, as the shadows inside the box were too much for her to peer through.

Sam stared at several... eight... differently shaped boxes all wrapped in paper that was of a yellowish-green cast...

Sam wrinkled her nose. Is that peridot? she guessed of the color of the tissue wrapping paper on each individual box.

Jack nodded.

Sam had never seen anything colored peridot, though she knew that Jack had often proclaimed it his favorite color. It looks like someone got sick.., she began.

Jack quickly gave her a soft nudge with his foot. You're going to be the one getting sick if you keep it up, he warned, though there was definite warmth in his tone.

So Sam did her best to ignore the color that greeted her. Okaaaay. She picked up a box, one that had been wrapped in peridot tissue paper and had her name written on the side. 'Samantha' it said, not 'Carter,' or 'Sam,' as one might expect it to. But her full name stared her in the face.

What is this? she asked as she held the box in her hand, and stared up at him.

Jack looked a bit uncomfortable as he stared back at her. Uh, he said, stuttering again. Uh...

Jack?

Jack sighed, then confessed. Okay... Those are the real Christmas presents I got you every year. The ones I actually gave to you... Those were the secondary presents...

Sam gawked again. You did this every year?

Um.., Jack hummed. Then in a soft voice, confessed, Yeah.

Sam blinked. What if I never got these... What were they? Gifts? Presents? Really good bribes? These gifts? she lamely ended.

You didn't get them, Jack told her. I never expected that you would, he said. But now... He seemed to shake himself as emotions suddenly ran across his face. Open them, he roughly told her, and had to clear his throat. They're yours.

Sam gaped again at the eight boxes before her. Well... Thank you, she said.

Don't thank me yet, he said. You may not like them at all.

Of course I'll like them, Sam negated. Then she ripped away the paper of the first small present. Inside was a nondescript box that had no words written on it to give a clue as to where it had come from. She pulled off the lid, and inside was an exquisite, very delicate bracelet full of diamond chips surrounding sapphires...

Oh, my God, Sam immediately said in a flat voice.

Jack replied, No, I don't think I'm a God yet... I'm just a General...

Sam laughed in spite of herself. Jack! she exclaimed. You know what I mean! She lifted out the bracelet and held it up. This is way too...

Jack knew that she was going to say it had been too much for him to spend on her, but he stopped her before she could say anything. It's as beautiful as I always thought you were, he softly said. If anyone deserves something like that, it's you, he proclaimed.

Sam blinked. She could hardly believe the amount that Jack must have spent on that bracelet, and felt spoiled beyond belief. She clasped it around her wrist, then picked up another box wrapped in more greenish-yellow paper, and hefted it experimentally in her hand. What's in here? God, she hoped it wasn't a necklace to match the bracelet! Jack had already been generous enough for ten years!

It was clear that Jack was enjoying watching her as he sat on the carpeted floor and leaned back against the side of the bed. Open it and find out, he challenged.

Sam eyed him, then twisted the paper away from the tiny box in her fingers. Again, there was nothing written on the outside of the box to give her a clue. But she admitted to herself that this box looked suspiciously as if it had come from a jewelry store...

It was a sapphire ring, a flat circle of gold, with a tastefully sized sapphire stone centered in its surface.

It's flat so you won't get it caught in one of those doohickeys of yours, Jack explained. I really had to search for a ring like that.

Sam sat on the floor, again mortified that such a thing was obviously so costly. You didn't have to do that, she began, but he cut her off.

Buying that ring was the best time I had that entire year, Jack noted. And you wish that I had denied myself that fun? He looked at her in mock horror. Are you nuts?

No, you are, she said as she tried the ring on for size even as she said the words.

Size six, Jack announced. Just the size for thin, delicate fingers...

Sam slipped the ring the rest of the way onto her finger, feeling how it snugged into her hand, how it felt so natural. Is this really for me? she entreated.

A treasure for a treasure, Jack said, a wry twist to his lips as he said the romantic words. But from the heart.

Sam gazed at her bracelet, at her ring, then finally said, This is better than Christmas... Then she reached for the next small box wrapped in vomit colored paper. Here goes...

An hour later, Sam had finally unwrapped the last gift from him. She had earrings, another ring, another bracelet, an anklet, and even a tiara, all with sapphires, all tastefully rendered, and all quite notably expensive. Holy Hannah, Sam whispered, gazing at all the blue jewels winking up at her from where she'd placed them on the carpeted floor. This is worth more than I make in a year, she flatly announced.

Jack leaned forward then and pulled her into his chest. Worth every penny, he whispered, and kissed her hair.

All sapphires, Sam whispered next.

Jack shrugged unapologetically. What can I say? he rhetorically asked. I like you in blue.

Sam gazed at the solid blue bracelet that lay in front of her on the floor. I guess so, she said. There was even a new blue watch among the pile of gifts.

Oh, and one of those rings, Jack conversationally added. He glanced among the gifts still on the floor, then carefully picked up the ring. This one, I think. He flourished the ring in the palm of his hand. The expensive looking piece of jewelry looked tiny in his large hand. But he handled the ring cautiously. This one came with a ruby as the stone included. I had it reset with a sapphire, because I like them better. Then he glanced up at her. But I guess I'm assuming that you like them as well as I do. He glanced at her then in meaningful silence. Eventually he offered, I can get you some other stone if you like...

Are you kidding?!? she incredulously inquired from her place on the floor. I like sapphires just fine! she exclaimed.

The expression of relief that floated across Jack's features was profound. But you'll tell me when you get sick of them, right? he demanded to know.

Sam grinned at him. I don't think I'll get sick of them any time soon, she said with a smile.

Jack suddenly rose from his position beside the bed. Oh, and there's more.

Sam gaped again. There's more? How could there possibly be more?

Jack opened the drawer in his bedside table, and pulled out two long thin boxes wrapped in white tissue paper. He sat back down beside the bed, handed them to her, then nervously told her, These are for the... um... because of the... um... the wedding.

He'd gotten her a wedding present, too? Did that mean that he'd been thinking about her? She peered at her new acquisitions scattered on the floor, and had to laugh at the irony of that mental inquiry. So, she wondered if he thought about her? It looked like he'd spent the last eight years thinking about her! Well, at least they don't look like you threw up all over them, she commented as emotion welled inside her in a sudden wave of feeling, and tears pricked at her eyes. In an attempt to cover up some of her reaction to that emotion, she had sounded more brusque than she'd meant to.

But very little managed to slip by his attention. Heeeey, he noted with a pang in his voice. You haven't even opened them yet. You might think they're not so bad.

Sam couldn't help herself. She sniffed back more emotional tears. I already like them just fine, she said in as strong a voice as she could manage just then.

Jack was obviously confused by her reaction. Then... What's wrong? he asked with lowered brows.

Sam dashed a hand across her eyes. Oh, don't you know anything about girls by now? she demanded to know, trying to instill humor into their situation. We cry at every little thing.

Suddenly Jack grinned. Not you, he said with conviction in his voice, as if what he was saying was obvious to all who had ever dealt with Samantha Carter. Even Cassie thinks you're superhuman or something.

Sam gave a grunt of laughter that was half tears. Cassie, she said with real regret in her tone now. I haven't seen her in... How long had she been engaged to Pete? Cassie had moved to Jack's house the minute Sam got engaged. It was as if the college student had known something in particular about the cop. Cassie was like all my relationships, Sam lamented to him. She disappeared like all the others.

They didn't all disappear, Carter, Jack quietly noted. I'm still here.

Sam smiled at him. She simply couldn't help it. You're too stubborn to go away. She studied him out of her wet eyes. Thank goodness for your stubbornness.

Jack smiled then. No one's ever complimented me on my stubbornness before... Thanks!

Sam laughed. The sound came out a watery gurgle. You're far more stubborn than I am... apparently. She ended on a wry note of self-deprecation.

Jack pulled her to his chest again. Well.., he began. Stubborn... or stupid... Whatever I am, let's not tell Daniel about it.

Sam giggled for a third time. I promise I won't bring it up if you don't.

Not in this lifetime, he replied which made her laugh again.

You always make me laugh, Jack, she noted. Even when you're not supposed to, like in the Control Room... Especially when we're in the Control Room!

He hugged her close to him. I promise that I won't bring up that blue dress of yours again, as long as you give in and tell everybody that I 'own' you.

Not a chance! she exclaimed, bristling so badly that he could tell that he'd hit a nerve. No one owns me, not even you!

Jack wrapped his arms around her from his position behind her. No, I don't, he said. But I wouldn't mind if you owned me, he quietly told her.

Sam laughed once more. And don't you forget it! she said.

Jack smiled, and kissed her head. I'm not likely to, he muttered. Now, are you gonna open your presents, or what? I'm already gray, so I can't go gray while waiting for you...

All right, all right, she said as she grabbed the first box nearest to her. I'm opening already! She shook her head in mock disbelief. It oughta say 'Colonel' on my uniform somewhere... She lifted the box lid as she spoke, and found a simple silver necklace in the shape of a star, threaded with a small chain, lying on a bed of cotton.

Jack smiled against the back of her head. He explained, I always saved getting a necklace for your wedding present. Blue sapphire chips were nestled into the silver at each downward point of the star. It was engraved on the back with the saying, 'To one kick butt, bad assed, theoretical something or other miracle worker. Never change.' And it was signed simply 'Jack.'

That's for when you want to kick someone's ass... mine, probably, he said. Just think about what that engraving says, and you'll be able to do it.

The confidence the man had in her amazed her! Just think it, huh?

Jack shrugged. Well, I think you're pretty cool, but I'm just the General of the base - No one ever listens to me.

That's not entirely true, Sam cheekily commented then. Sergeant Harriman listens to everything you say.

Jack's fingers instantly dug into her skin in a brief tickle. Open the other one! he said in feigned aggravation instead of answering her.

Sam didn't bother to reply. She grabbed the other long thin box and ripped the paper off. Gee, I wonder what this can be, she deadpanned.

You're sassing me, right? he affectionately inquired.

Right, she replied as she leaned back into him more snugly for just a second. Then she pulled this box lid off as well. Inside she found another necklace, this one silver too, but in the solid shape of a heart. A single sapphire chip was imbedded into the downward point of the heart, right in the middle of the charm. On the back was a second engraving. Sam read aloud,

I looked to the stars

To find my heart.

But I found you instead.

Always, Jack

Crap! Sam thought. She was going to cry! In fact, she felt the tears welling in her eyes already. She let the first few waver on her lashes, and had to sniff them back so that he wouldn't see them. But the flood was an unstoppable barrage by then, and there was no hope of keeping her reaction from him.

He didn't say anything, only embraced her more tightly from behind and let her cry in silence. He was simply there, supporting her as he always had, a quiet, constant presence that she felt honored now to have.

When she could speak again, she sniffled, burrowing her head into his shirt.

Jack watched her from above. Smiling just slightly, he said, Don't worry, I have about ten more t-shirts just like this one that I can wear if this one gets too wet.

Sam self-consciously brushed at his t-shirt, but her gesture was halfhearted at best. Sniffling, she told him in a subdued voice, Thank you... That's probably the most romantic thing anyone's ever told me. She turned to look at him out of the corner of her eyes. She studied the necklace, then him, then the necklace, and him again. Then she burst into more tears. I'm sorry, Jack! she hiccuped. I know you hate tears! More water gushed down her cheeks, and she wiped the tears away with a shaking hand.

Jack's arms tightened on her. It's not tears so much that I hate, he confessed. It's seeing you so unhappy, so...

I don't deserve you, Sam gasped then in a quiet whisper. I've messed up so much lately, made so many people so unhappy, hurt...

But you didn't do any of that on purpose, Sam, Jack quietly reasoned with her. He snuggled his arms around her again, then kissed her hair one more time. I've been pretty miserable this year... He paused to stop Sam's explanations for her actions the previous months which had ostensibly caused that unhappiness in him. But.., he emphasized, But, there's no guarantee that I wouldn't have been just as unhappy anyway, no matter what you decided to do in your personal life. He issued a regretful sigh into the dimly lit room. It's true, I'll admit that your... engagement... didn't help matters any, but for you to take full responsibility for my happiness level this last year... He glanced at her then, and smiled a little. To say that it was all caused by you... That's a bit on the egotistical side, isn't it? I mean, that's more like something I might think... do think, actually.

Sam sniffed back her tears again. I have to admit that I'd never thought of myself as egotistical before.

Jack shrugged. It comes with fighting the Goa'uld for so many years, he nonchalantly explained, brushing the sensation off. If it makes you feel any better, neither of us has ever shown that special brand of megalomania that seems to be a prerequisite for snakeheads.

Sam laughed again through her tears.

Jack stroked her hair. You say that you don't deserve me, and I've always thought that I don't deserve you. The Universe says 'tough shit' to both of us while it laughs its ass off, watching us tonight.

Sam calmed as he spoke. Does the Universe have an ass? she asked at last in a whisper.

Jack gave a genuine smile to the room then. If it doesn't, it should.

Sam sniffed once more. You know, I never meant to hurt anybody this past year. It just happened that way.

I know.

Sam hung her head, and forced herself to continue, I want to say that I'm really sorry... for everything.

Jack stayed behind her in silent support again, and just held her. Finally, he responded, Apologize if it makes you feel better, but you don't have to, at least not to me. He took a deep breath and nuzzled the side of her neck closest to his face. Now if you don't make love to me right this very minute, I won't promise not to attack you.

Which made Sam laugh anew. Which was also Jack's design when he had said it. Oh, he meant it... But it was also nice that she was laughing when he 'attacked' her, kissing her for all he was worth.

* * *

The next morning, they were woken by the ringing of the phone. Jack didn't even look at the clock to see what time it was before he pounced on the cordless phone still innocently resting on the floor where he'd dropped it the previous night. Hammond? he immediately questioned when he found the phone on the carpet. He again didn't give the other person time to respond. Please tell me it's you, he commanded.

It was Walter's voice responding hesitantly, Uh... No... This is Sergeant Harriman...

Jack didn't let him say any more. Walter? he asked, surprise sounding in his voice. What the hell are you doing calling me on a Saturday morning at oh-dark-thirty hours? His features grew more menacing as he scowled. Don't tell me... There's a crisis of some kind that requires my immediate help, right?

Walter paused for a moment, then stuttered, Uh... No... Sir. And it's Friday morning, not Saturday. And you said that you would be in by 0700, and it's 0730 right now. Is everything all right?

But Jack had jerked more fully awake the minute Walter mentioned the late time. Uh.., he spluttered. Uh... Finally, as Sam burrowed her face deeper into the warmth radiated by his thigh closest to her side of the bed, and groaned, Jack gave in and just accepted the fact that he was going to be late for the first day of his work career. Walter? he asked.

Yes, Sir? came the familiar and instant reply.

Give me till 0800 or 0830... I'm sorry... I forgot to set my alarm last night, then forgot what day it was. That was happening with increasing regularity of late. Jack shook his head to rid himself of his last cobwebs from sleep. Um, I'll be in, just a bit late.

As you say, Sir.

Oh, and Walter? Can you patch me through to Daniel? I want him to come out to the house, and stop for some donuts on his way. I plan to bribe him with really strong coffee.

Walter was immediately effusive in his reply. I don't mind coming...

No, Jack quickly told the sergeant. He didn't want the man to take note of Sam's car still in his driveway. But Daniel, on the other hand, already knew about the state of affairs between Jack and Sam. That's all right. I plan to ask him to stay for a minute. I need to speak with him, anyway. If you can just send me to his office?

There was a click, then the voice at the other end of the line changed. Daniel Jackson, came the new greeting.

Jack quickly explained his desired mission to the linguist. Hey, Daniel, it's Jack. Can you grab T., then come over here, but stop to get two dozen donuts on the way? We're celebrating, and Commissary food just won't cut it this morning.

Two dozen? Daniel inquired, to make sure that he had heard correctly.

The shrug that Jack then gave sounded even in his tone. Yeah. T. eats a lot, he said as an excuse.

Okaaaaay, Daniel said, clearly not convinced, but willing to be Jack's accomplice in this breakfast detail. See you in a while. He hung up the phone without saying more.

Jack hung up also. He turned to find Sam snuggling against him. He ruffled his fingers through her tousled hair. Hey, sleepyhead, he said, the affection blatant in his tone. Daniel and T. are on their way with breakfast.

I know, Sam answered on a sigh. I heard. She yawned, then rolled onto her back to contemplate the ceiling for a second. What are we celebrating? she asked.

Jack grinned, then slid down next to her gloriously naked body. How 'bout if I show you? he suggestively asked, and reached for her.

* * *

When the doorbell rang, both Jack and Sam had had a shower (which they had shared, but no one needed to know that) and were dressed, Jack in a pair of his old BDUs (explaining that his new BDUs with the word 'General' on the front was a wedding gift from his wife would be too awkward until they officially heard from Hammond). But he was delighted with the change in his personal life, and it showed in the grin he gave his two team mates as they met him at the door with a box of donuts apiece.

O'Neill, Teal'c spoke instantly. We come bearing gifts.

Sam grinned from behind Jack in the hallway through the open door. By all means, bear them to the dining room, she invited.

Jack pretended to pout when she said that. See, she's taking over my life already, he groused.

Daniel entered the house, and hung up his jacket on the coat tree beside the door. Don't bother pretending, Jack, he said as he got comfortable. We know that you love every minute of this, so... He let his voice trail off.

You bet I do! Jack exclaimed then. I feel like I just woke up from the world's longest nightmare. He turned to usher them into his dining room. Come on, let's eat. I need to be on base pretty soon. T., that whole box is just for you, ya know.

Teal'c didn't smile exactly, but his features seemed to brighten. I am pleased about that, he said. Though I do not know how I will eat so many sweet desserts alone.

Not alone, Teal'c, Jack jovially explained as he pulled out a chair and sat down. Sam sat to his immediate left, then pulled one of the donut boxes closer to them so they could peer inside and decide what they each wanted. It came as no surprise that they first reached for the two glazed donuts in the box. They took them out, spread them on their plates, then Sam reached for the coffee carafe. Daniel? she asked, holding up the carafe in question.

Daniel snorted, then humorously inquired, Need you even ask? Then he pulled the donut box to his side of the table. In the meantime, Teal'c loaded his plate with three donuts.

Sam poured Daniel a cup of coffee while Jack poured milk for Teal'c. Enjoy it, T, Jack said. I may not be able to get you more for a while.

Don't worry, Sam interrupted. I'll be the voice of reason, here.

It was Daniel who replied again. With your work schedule? he incredulously asked. Then he turned to his Jaffa friend. Drink now, Teal'c. It may be the last you get for awhile.

Sam chose not to respond, but held out her coffee mug instead to her friends. Here's to the end of the Frat Regs, she said.

They all clinked mugs, or glasses, in Teal'c's case, and Jack added, To the addendum to the Frat Regs about COs and their subordinates... May it go through as suggested, and may Hammond call us right now with the news.

It was at that very second that Sam's cell phone rang.

I'm psychic, Jack exclaimed in hushed, amazed tones.

With raised brows, Sam lowered the coffee pot to the table, then dug her phone from her pocket. She answered, Carter.

The tension around the table rose noticeably as she listened. Finally, she said, Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir, and snapped her phone shut with a clap.

Well? Jack instantly asked. What's the news?

Sam shook her head. No news yet, but he'll call as soon as he knows for sure.

Jack sat back, trying to absorb his disappointment. So, he called you to tell you that he'll call you?

Sam tried to smile and hide her disappointment as well. Basically, she responded with only a small catch in her voice. At last, she laid a hand on Jack's arm. It's only 0800 the next morning. Give it some time.

Jack blinked, sighed, then sarcastically said, What, you mean they weren't up all night, discussing the idea?

Sam grinned, then pulled off a bite of her glazed donut. Hammond hasn't even mentioned it yet. It was pretty late when I got in last night, she explained.

This waiting is what's killing me, Daniel then noted as he took a drink of extra strong coffee, the way he preferred it, and the way only his friends ever made it for him.

How do you think I feel? Jack asked.

Daniel lowered his mug to the table. Well...

Jack didn't let his friend finish. You know, Daniel, I've been thinking, he said, trying to distract himself. You know when you say your name 'Daniel Jackson,' like when you answered the phone today?

Daniel apparently didn't know what Jack was getting at by the look of confusion on his face. Yeah?

Jack smiled around the bite of donut in his mouth. According to Japanese, 'Jackson' means 'honorable Jack.' So every time you say your name, you're actually saying the honorable Jack is responding. And as I'm Jack...

Oh, no, Daniel instantly said. You're not honorable anything.

Sure I am. Jack grinned.

Daniel snorted again. If you're honorable Jack, what does that make me? Honorable Daniel?

That was when there was a knock on the front door, interrupting the celebratory breakfast of donuts and drinks.

No, Jack said, You're my honorable butler, especially since you're closest to the door. Will you get that, Jeeves?

Sam laughed at Jack's joke, and Teal'c only said, But his name is not 'Jeeves,' as Daniel stood up.

The archaeologist darkly muttered, I'm no man's butler, as he went to the front door, anyway, and yanked it open. Yes?

The man who stood hesitantly on Jack's front step asked, Are you General Jack O'Neill?

Sam's eyes widened when she heard that voice. Mark? she barked.

The sound of chairs scraping on the floor sounded loud in the dining room as both Sam and Jack rose to rush to the front door. Sam followed Jack down his front hall, quickly stuffing the necklaces Jack had given to her down the front of her shirt. Her ring that Jack also had given to her, which Sam had chosen to wear as a wedding ring, she had already slipped into her pants pocket, so it was already out of sight.

As they arrived, Daniel apologetically said, No, I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson, but you're at the right place if you're looking for Jack O'Neill.

Sam peered out through the open door. Mark! she exclaimed. What are you doing here?

Mark scowled the minute his gaze landed on Sam. Better question is, what are you doing here?

Um, Sam stuttered.

Daniel came to her rescue. At a team breakfast, he brightly said. We're eating donuts. You want one?

Mark didn't seem to know what to do with Daniel's offer. Uh...

Sam rescued him by speaking. Mark, why don't you come in and go to the living room while I wash my hands? she suggested. Then I'll join you there. I assume you have some questions... She didn't even let her brother voice any of his concerns before she began assuming things based on long standing personal experience. I'll only be a min...

But Mark didn't let her finish before accusatorily saying, Pete calls me up yesterday morning to tell me about you already being married, and all you say is that you guess I have some questions? He snorted. Yeah, I guess I do!

Sam's heart fell to her toes. So then, Mark already knew about the marriage? Knew, and had passed judgment about it, and about her, the way it sounded. Suddenly the way she had shoved the two necklaces down her shirt front on her way to the door seemed rather on the dramatic side, now.

That was when Jack interrupted the conversation to add, Sam's not answering anything until you start treating her a bit more nicely, he suggested.

Mark's scowl deepened. Sam's my little sister, and I'll treat her however I want, Mr...

Jack didn't hold out his hand to shake, but instead leaned negligently against the door, exuding control. This is my house, so I also suggest that you play nice, and I'll let you stay.

So you're General O'Neill? Mark inquired then.

Daniel cut in with, He is an a good day. You don't want to catch him on a bad one.

And you're Mark? Jack inquired, ignoring Daniel's comment. Sam's spoken of you.

And Pete's spoken of you, Mark said.

That was a name that Jack preferred not to hear uttered in his house again. Come on in, he invited instead. Unless you like having your sister star in a damned soup opera put on specifically for my neighbors.

Mark didn't respond to that statement, but entered. Sam pointed him in the direction of the living room, then went to the kitchen to wash her hands. Why don't you guys stay here and eat? she suggested to her team members, both past and present. There's no use in all of us starving.

Take your breakfast with you, Jack said then, passing her plate and mug to her. I won't have you starving to death just because your brother's playing twenty questions in my living room.

Sam gratefully took the plate and mug of coffee. Thanks, she said. I am kind of hungry.

Jack grinned minutely then. Lots of activity last night, was all he said.

Sam looked like she was gathering her courage then. But she grinned back at him. And I wouldn't have it any other way, she said, reminding him in one statement that she had as eagerly participated in the previous night's 'activities' as he had engaged in them.

Call, and we'll send in Teal'c, Jack promised.

It's only Mark, Sir, Sam said. I can handle him.

'Jack,' Jack reminded her. No 'Sir.' Ever.

Sam smiled. Sorry, she said then, and kissed him on the cheek before she started for the living room. Habit dies hard.

Just make sure that you don't, Jack cautioned.

Sam snorted. I'll kick his ass if he tries anything, she promised in a whisper.

Jack merely grunted and followed Daniel back to their waiting breakfast while Sam entered the living room.

Nice place here, Mark said when he saw her. It's no wonder that you're being so...

Sam cut him off. Mark, what the hell are you doing here?

Mark scowled again. Well, little sis, he said, emphasizing the word 'little.'

Sam sighed. Mark, I can thump you in three seconds or less. Now I repeat, what are you doing here?

Funny, Mark stated in a voice that lacked all humor. You said basically the same thing to Pete.

Is that how you even found out about..?

About this whole marriage thing you've got yourself into? Mark asked, still sounding ominous. Yeah. I got a call from a really distressed Pete yesterday morning, and he said that yesterday was the soonest he could even speak about all this...

Sam rolled her eyes at the drama that Pete was clearly giving to his friend.

But Mark went on. I said that I would talk to you.

What he didn't say, Sam knew, was that he had told Pete that he would talk some sense into her. Good old, controlling Mark, her brother, same as always, Sam reflected to herself without humor in her thoughts.

Bu Mark was going on. The earliest flight I could get out here was last night. He gestured with wide open arms at the house, taking in the whole situation as he did so. And here I am, in Colorado Springs, all set to ask you what the hell is going on? His voice came out more demanding than inquisitive.

Sam sighed, and regret colored her face. Mark... You know that I can only tell you certain things about what happened, as it's classified, and...

Screw classified, Mark said. I want to know how my little sister was engaged to one man in the morning, then by afternoon, I'm told that she's married to another man. He glared at her. Start explaining, he demanded.

Ask nicer! Jack's voice suddenly carried from the other room. Or she'll just get all stubborn, and you won't learn a thing! He paused, then added, And I wouldn't blame her if it happened that way!

Sam smiled at the obvious support in his loud yell.

Mark explosively huffed a breath of air, and pulled a throw pillow onto his lap. He immediately began pulling it to shreds, one thread at a time. Sam! he growled.

Jack suddenly appeared at the top of his steps leading into his house's lounging space. He gestured at Mark, but asked of Sam, Was he always like this? he asked.

Sam nodded. Pretty much.

Mark growled, Like what?

Jack replied, Like a bulldozer. He turned back to Sam. Need some back up?

Sam quirked a brow. I'll call, like you suggested. Eat your breakfast, was all she said. You have to be on base soon, and only have a few minutes to eat.

Jack turned back to the dining room. I'm only a holler away, he reminded as he went. The reminder was more for Mark's benefit than for Sam's.

Mark turned his gaze on her the second that Jack disappeared. Sam? he wheedled his prompt after Jack had vanished.

Sam sighed. Okay, she agreed. I'll tell you what I can. She sat for a moment, gathering her thoughts. At last, she began, I know that Pete is a friend of yours...

College friend, Mark corrected, as if the distinction was important.

Sam did some glaring of her own then. Mark, you aren't making this any easier, you know!

Hey! Mark immediately objected. I'm not the one who fucked with a good man's future happiness, am I? he sneered.

Sam leapt across the room the minute he uttered a curse word. She loomed over Mark's form, forcing him back into the sofa cushions as she quietly said in a steely voice, I will explain, but don't you dare say one judgmental thing until you've heard all the details! I didn't 'fuck' with anyone's emotions, except for maybe Jack's!

That's not what I heard! Mark hissed, not cowed by Sam's actions. That's not at all what Pete said on...

Sam glared. Oh, I'm sure that Pete said all sorts of things! she whispered back. And I'm really, really sorry that I hurt his feelings, and yours along with his, but maybe you would have preferred that Jack had never married me by buying me with his handgun seven years ago, and just sat back while I was being raped back then? Her eyes became cold blue chips as she stared at him. Would you have liked that better?

Mark stared at her in sudden incomprehension. Raped? What are you talking about?

Sam stepped back. How much do you know? she asked then.

Mark stared at her, his confusion growing. Only that you're married all of a sudden to some guy I only know as your CO...

Sam seemed vindicated. That's what I thought, she answered as she returned to her chair across the room from the sofa where Mark was sitting. You're only getting the bare minimum of the story.

Mark appeared more congenial then. At least, he sounded less antagonistic. Okay... Let's hear your side, he invited.

Sam sighed again. Then she slowly began talking. The team was on one of our first... trips... to... She hesitated. To someplace, she said at last. I can't tell you where, just that the level of technology there was far, far, far below that of the United States. They... the tribes of people who we saw... treated women as things, me among them. Mark gaped as Sam continued with the details she could relate. And if the Colonel... the General, she corrected herself. If Jack hadn't bought me with his weapon, and instead had waited to do something about my situation until the next morning, as our contact suggested, I would have been raped as well as beaten within an inch of my life. Jack's stubbornness saved me from...

Mark cut her off to say, So this whole marriage thing... It's you being grateful? He ran his hand through his hair in aggravation. Sam, there's no reason...

Sam interrupted him this time to say, It would be very easy if it was like that, you know! But it's not! I never said that I have any feelings of gratitude here! My feelings go a lot deeper than that!

Mark's glare was back. What about your feelings for Pete? he asked. Do they mean nothing to you?

Sam sighed again, her regret sounding loud in the room. I lied to Pete, she admitted then.

Mark was confused again. Lied? he repeated. I don't get it.

Sam sighed once more. Not lied, exactly, she admitted. She sighed, as if that was the only reaction she was capable of. Okay... There's a lot of history between me and Jack, she tried to explain.

History? Mark asked.

I was in love with him! Sam fiercely hissed. All right! For six and half or seven years! Since not long after all this marriage/buying/trading thing happened! She let her head fall foreword into her hands as Mark stared at her in bafflement. I always knew that as he was my Commanding Officer, he and I could never get involved in anything but a professional relationship, according to the military. Then she lifted her eyes to gaze at Mark. But I loved my job... I knew that he loved his... He was so good at it... He had to love what he was doing... And he was the best damned CO I'd ever had...

I was? Jack called down to them, his voice cutting into the conversation then. You never told me that! he lightly accused.

Sam replied in a yell, I didn't want it to go to your head!

There was silence, then Teal'c's voice intervened. I think it is too late for that, ColonelCarter.

Sam rolled her eyes. Great, she whispered. He wasn't supposed to know that. Now he'll be totally insufferable.

I'm already insufferable, Jack called down to the living room.

That's true, Mark said under his breath.

Hey, I heard that! Jack told him.

Now both Carters sighed out into the room. Is he always like this? Mark inquired then, mimicking Jack's earlier question about him.

Sam smiled a small grimace. We've never been married before, she explained. Or at least, we didn't know we were married... She shook her head. Whatever...

So, Mark said, trying to bring the conversation back on topic. He traded a gun for you.

Yeah, Sam said. And in this particular society, trading a weapon of any kind is the same as marrying. Only we didn't know that until this past Monday...

So you pined away for this guy for seven years?! Mark demanded to know.

Sam scowled this time. I did not 'pine away' for anybody! she hissed back to him. You make it sound so... pathetic!

Well..? Mark asked. When Sam didn't answer, he prompted, Where does Pete fit into all this?

Sam dropped her head into her hands again. She groaned. Pete! she declared in clear and obvious despair. I was such an idiot!

That was when Jack entered the room, still drying his hands with a hand towel that he'd brought with him. He took a seat in another chair in the room, leaving Mark his couch. This isn't gonna be easy to explain, he remarked congenially.

Sam lifted her head from her hands to gaze at him. You don't have to sit there and try to explain away my own stupidity! she told him. I don't want you to have to go through...

Sam, was all Jack said in order to get her attention. This isn't that hard for me, so...

Don't try to pretend that the whole Pete thing wasn't hard for you! Sam immediately said. I knew what was the only thing that could happen to...

Jack very gently objected, But you thought I was a done for guy who didn't care what you did any more. Jack sat back in his chair. You did exactly what I told you to do, so don't try to take this all on yourself.

Mark looked back and forth between Sam and Jack. You're right, this is a soap opera...

Jack turned back to face Mark, and said, You have no idea how soap operaish it gets.

Mark raised his brows in surprise. There's more?

As calmly as he could, Jack told him, You're looking at the single person who changed the entire military policy for the... for where we work, he finished. She's been in DC this week, arguing till she was blue in the face to change the Frat Regs.

And? Mark prompted when Jack didn't go on. As a kid from a military family, he at least automatically knew what Jack was referring to when he talked about 'Frat Regs.'

And, Jack continued. Well, you know how she is. She probably batted her eyes once, and had the entire town eating out of her hand by Tuesday morning.

I did not! Sam objected.

Jack turned his eyes on her. I bet you did, he quietly argued. That's how I would have acted, he told her. How I have acted for the last eight years, he confessed without hesitation.

Sam again objected. You have not!

Jack was going to snort, but Daniel's snort reached them first. He's been wrapped around your little finger since I met you, Sam! he called down to her from the dining room. And if you won't admit it, I will! He paused for just a second, then added, We're not stupid, ya know, and I know what I've been seeing for eight years. I was once a married fool, too, ya know!

As was I, came Teal'c's voice in agreement. And I knew long before the... before you said anything, he covered at the last moment.

Sam's head fell forward for a third time that morning. Ugh! she groaned. Didn't we fool anyone?

No! two loud male voices answered her, calling from the dining room.

Sam groaned again while Mark just looked wholly confused.

So... Let me get this straight, Mark said then. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. You always liked him. He pointed to Jack. And you always liked her. He pointed at Sam. But the Regs said 'no' to any relationship between you two.

We were in the same chain of command, Jack explained. A relationship in the same command encourages favoritism in the field, he explained.

Mark nodded to show that he understood, then went on, And you pretended that you could care less about each other for... how long?

A long time, Sam answered.

A long time, Mark echoed. And you, He pointed again at Sam. Thought that he, and he gestured at Jack. Thought that he didn't care anymore after 'a long time' had gone by, and started going out with my friend, who's a nice guy, and...

Jack's face fell into a scowl then. 'Nice guy' may be pushing things a bit far, here. But you've got the right idea.

Mark sighed again. I won't even ask what you mean by that, he retorted. Anyway, Sam found out she was married to you by some weird custom in this society...

Sam broke in on his recitation at that point. And we can't get a divorce, not that I want to, but this society only grants a divorce by hand combat, and Jack's taught me just about everything I know about combat...

Jack broke in to say to her, You already knew a lot. Just ask that Turgid fella... He'll tell ya! he muttered.

Turghin, Sam corrected with a sigh.

That's what I said, Jack stated.

Dear God, Mark said then. You weren't kidding before when you told me that this is a soap opera!

Told ya, Jack remarked. He reached across for Sam's donut remains. You gonna eat this? he asked her.

Sam would have laughed at the absurdity of his question if she felt like laughing at all just then. Go ahead, I'll get another one.

Unless T. eats them all, Jack warned her. He took a bite of donut.

Just then, the phone rang, keeping Sam or Mark from saying anything more. As Jack rose to answer his phone, Mark commented, Geez, does it ever slow down around here?

Nope, Jack and Sam simultaneously said. Jack followed it by saying into his phone's receiver, I assume this is Walter, as it's 0830 right now, and we're on our way. Bye. Then he hung up and shouted, T.! Daniel! Time to head out!

Military, Mark darkly muttered to himself, and shook his head.

Jack glared at him as he climbed up the stairs. Better get used to it, he suggested to his new... old?... brother-in-law. That's your sister's career you're talking about. He paused as he reached the top of the steps. And I've heard quite a lot about what you think of the military.

You don't know a thing about it! Mark shouted, half rising from the sofa as he spoke.

Remember, I'm not Jacob, Jack flatly stated as Daniel handed him a coat. I'm nothing like... Then Jack turned to Sam. You gonna be okay if I leave you here alone with this... Jack turned to regard Mark. On second thought...

Jaacck, Daniel warned. I don't like the tone you're using.

Then ignore me, Jack suggested, still eyeing Mark in judgmental interest. Carter, he said, falling back on his usual form of address in a military situation. Do you have your laptop with you?

Sam spluttered, Um... Yes...

Thank goodness you don't go anywhere without that thing. Okay... Then he turned into the dining room Daniel... You drive your car, he ordered, And I'll drive mine. Carter, try to find on the Internet what you can on this... on your brother, he commanded.

Daniel was still suspicious. What are you thinking of, Jack? he asked. I don't trust that look you have.

What kind of look do I have? Jack asked as he shoved his hands through his coat sleeves. His coat was half way on when he realized he was shoving his arm in the wrong hole. He turned it around and started again.

Mark sniggered. Some General you are if you can't even figure out how to put on a coat.

Jack didn't even blink. Carter, he said. Deck him.

Yes, S... She stopped speaking, then growled, Yes, Jack. She rose from her chair in the most threatening manner she could think of.

Mark slid back into the corner of the sofa, warily eyeing his sister.

That didn't take long, Sam muttered.

Carter, Jack continued. You're with me. Daniel, T., see you there. And he was out the door. But his head popped back in before anyone had a chance to follow him. Oh, and bring the donuts, he said. And last one locks up. Let's go. Then he was gone.

Decisive guy, Mark sarcastically commented with a roll of his eyes.

He is when he needs to be. Sam socked Mark in his stomach with the flat of her hand as she strolled past, and climbed the stairs before rifling through her bag that she'd left in the front hallway, searching for her computer. It was at the bottom, and only took a moment to locate. Okay, got it, she said out the still open front door. Go.

Daniel turned to glance at Sam even as he shoved a box of donuts at Mark so that he had two hands free to lock Jack's front door. Any idea what he's up to? Daniel asked. He pulled the door closed behind them all.

Not a clue, Sam said. She strode to Jack's truck, and climbed into the back of the cab. I'm here, she called.

What's he doing? Jack inquired of the figure Mark cut as he stood uncertainly in the middle of the driveway, staring first at his rental car, then at Jack's truck, then at Daniel's car as the archaeologist backed his car into the street and drove off in the direction of Cheyenne Mountain.

Civilians, Jack muttered under his breath. He rolled down the window, yelled, Get in! and started his truck engine.

Sam was already scrolling through websites on the Internet when Mark joined Jack in the front seat. He asked of Sam, Wouldn't you rather sit with..?

Sam didn't even glance up as she said, I'm shorter than you are, though not much shorter, so that's not saying much. Makes sense to put you in front, though. She clicked a link, then scrolled down another page.

Check the FB... was all that Jack said.

Sam answered, Got it.

Read, Jack then commanded.

Sam started reading. Graduated MIT with a degree in Accounting and Business, forty-fifth out of five hundred twelve enrolled. Work experience: Public Accounting firm Statford and Paulie, 1987 to 1993, Business Department GE 1993 to 1994, Accounting Vice Administration...

What the hell is 'Vice Administration? Jack grunted.

Practice to be administration? Sam guessed.

Jack laughed.

No! Mark barked. He had figured out pretty quickly that his own sister had somehow accessed his online resumé, and was reading it aloud as the truck barreled down the road towards the mountains. Mark tried to answer, despite hairpin turns and narrow gullies washed out in recent rains. It's...

Go on, Carter, Jack said, interrupting.

You don't even care, do you? Mark glared at Jack.

Jack turned to regard Mark. Can you add?

Yes, Mark said.

Can you do long division in your head? Jack next inquired.

Mark hesitated for a brief second when he answered, On a good day, I can out think a calculator to the sixth decimal point.

Oh God, groaned Jack. Another Carter.

Incensed, Mark asked, Well, what the hell did you expect?

Sam leaned forward to place a warning hand on her brother's shoulder. Careful what you say, she cautioned in a hushed voice. This is a job interview.

Mark blinked in shock. A job interview? he bellowed. For what? And I don't want any job! I already have a perfectly good job in...

Shut up, Jack commanded as he pulled up to the checkpoint outside Cheyenne Mountain. I'm thinking.

A guard peeked in, then straightened to attention. General O'Neill! he said, then eyed the General's passengers and tightened his grip on his gun. Who you got with you?

Colonel Carter and her brother, Jack replied. Listen, Captain... He quickly read the man's name tag. Captain Carothers...

Yes, Sir? Carothers asked.

Jack continued, Both Carter and I have clearance... you know that... but Carter's brother here doesn't. I'm aware that he doesn't. The General suddenly scowled. And I'm not about to suddenly give it to him. But we're having a sort of impromptu job interview, and I'm not quite finished with it, yet. Then he indicated his parking space with a wave of his hand. We'll just be over there, parked, out of the way of the entry gate, until we finish up here. Then Colonel Carter will be taking her brother back home...

Sam perked up when she heard her name being mentioned. I will?

You will, Jack said. Then he turned around to get a look at her. At least, to his car, but as his car is parked at my house, that kind of narrows down your possible destinations. Unless we want him to walk back to my place..?

Sam glanced at Mark. Not that walking wouldn't be good for him, she began. But he isn't exactly dressed for colder Colorado weather, she considered taking in his light sweater and Dockers. Then she turned back to gaze at Jack. But we can ask an Airman to drive Mark back...

You can drive my truck, Jack said, instantly negating her idea. You and he probably have some... Jack cleared his throat. Some... personal stuff... that you want to discuss, anyway. He paused, then added, You can do that on the way home.

Sam protested, But this is your truck, your...

Jack again roughly interrupted her. And I suppose you might need to drive it someday... Who knows... I may be incapacitated with a broken leg or arm, but the doctors won't want me in the Infirmary any longer... You know how I am.

Sam sat stunned beside her computer still open beside her on the back seat. Well, yeah, but...

Carter! Jack barked, his voice still rough. Then much more gently, he said, Sam... You can give me keys to your car if it will make you feel better.

Then Sam finally understood what he was proposing. He wanted her to have access to his truck due to the whole marriage thing... But he couldn't say aloud that they were married now, and she might need to use his truck in the future... So, trading vehicle keys was just his way to share with her without looking like he was sharing with her so that no one would ever suspect...

This was getting so complicated! Not for the first time that morning, Sam wished that Hammond would call, even if he had bad news, just to get the whole thing over with, and they would at least know what needed or didn't need to be avoided, so that they would know what to expect from life.

So... Driving Jack's truck was part of this entire marriage deal... Sam knew. She... nobody, for that fact... had been allowed to drive his truck before. But then, she hadn't been his wife before. Actually, the idea of driving his truck... Just the idea of it made her feel suddenly closer to him again, and she fingered the wedding ring resting in her pants pocket one last time.

Okay, she finally agreed. I can take Mark back to his car at your place, then drive back in my car from when we were there for the team breakfast this morning...

Stay there, Jack then said. SG-1 is on downtime while you get assimilated to Colorado time again.

Captain Carothers spoke up at that point, smiling at the occupants inside the truck. How was Seattle, by the way, Colonel Carter?

Sam answered him without missing a beat. It was wet, she replied. It rained, and then it was humid when it wasn't raining.

Carothers cocked his head and gave her a tiny frown. Of course, anything would seem humid after being in Colorado, he kindly said. But it's good to have you back.

Sam beamed at him, flashing her smile that was almost, but not quite, the one she had always saved just for Jack, the one that made her eyes shine. Thank you, Captain.

She had him eating out of the palm of her hand with just one grin. Mark gaped as Carothers waved them through the checkpoint. You're welcome, the soldier said. Then he nodded, said, General... Sir... Colonel...

Jack eased the truck forward into the parking spot saved for the few Generals and leaders of the programs within Cheyenne Mountain. He turned back to Mark after throwing the truck into 'park.'

Mark was still gaping. That was my sister who that guy was flirting with, he accused.

I know, Jack said with a sigh.

Mark wrinkled his nose. How do you stand it? he asked as nonchalantly as possible.

That was when Sam broke into the conversation, He was just being nice she protested. He wasn't either flirting with me!

Sam, Mark cut in. You may have a PhD in that fancy science thing you have, but you are an idiot when it comes to men.

Hey! Sam objected.

But Mark was adamant. That guy was flirting if you ask me.

He was just being nice! Sam protested again.

Mark whistled then. Guess 'nice' has taken on a whole new meaning when I wasn't looking, he groused to Jack.

But Jack shook his head. Oh, he's just another sucker belonging to the Sam Carter fan club.

Will you stop! Sam insisted. Once and for all, I do not have a fan club!

You talked to Siler lately? Jack inquired then. Walter? Reynolds? Dr. Lee?

Sam did a double take. They don't all belong to any fan club of mine! she said again. Just because they're nice doesn't mean...

But Jack was ignoring her as much as she was insisting that he was wrong about her club. He turned back to Mark. Okay... How do you feel about moving the family to Colorado Springs? he asked, then added, Oh, and by the way, there has always been a Sam Carter fan club. It was either suck it up and get used to it very early on, or end up fighting every single guy on base. He snorted. And for a military base, the... He almost mentioned more than he should have. He rephrased, This base has more than its fair compliment of male soldiers!

Frustrating? Mark asked.

As hell, Jack replied. I once told a friend of mine...

Sam butted into the conversation again, Have I ever mentioned the Jack O'Neill fan club?

Jack stared at her over the back seat. I don't either have a fan club! he spouted.

Hungh! Sam said. You have a fan club just as much as I do, she reported.

Slowly Jack grinned. Yeah? Do tell!

Her bluff called, Sam grimaced. The Infirmary nurses just loved having you as a patient! You got the grouchiest patient award three years running.

Only three years? Jack asked.

Sam shrugged. You got promoted before you could win any more times since they instituted the award.

Oh, Jack noted. If I'd known my time was so limited, I would have tried harder to complain to them.

Then I won't bother to tell you about who got the most infamous visitor award.

Oh? Then he glared at her. It had better be me!

Sam shrugged again. We all flirt in our own ways.

Mark was joined by Jack this time as they both gaped at her.

Jack was flummoxed to find out that she had acknowledged that staying with her during her many Infirmary stays had been known about and commented on to the point of being awarded.

Mark still wasn't over the shock of seeing the effect that his own sister had on a man he'd never met before. Uh, he gasped, desperately trying to rearrange his thoughts in some form of order so that he could answer Jack's earlier interview question. Uh... I haven't thought much about moving the family, actually, he managed to reply. I was in California when I got married, and I just sort of stayed there.

But the Colorado weather doesn't freak you out? Jack then prodded.

Mark's brows drew down in a frown. Do I looked freaked out?

Jack stared at him. Do you want me to answer that? he inquired.

Honestly? Mark goaded.

Jack goaded back. Honestly. Then he sighed. Carter, now I see where Jacob passed his love of sand on to his progeny.

You know Dad? Mark asked, surprised anew, but Sam interrupted him.

We all love a good sand massage of the feet.

Jack continued then. He faced Mark and said, The US Government will be your employer, not me... I'll retire... or get reassed someday...

Sam wrinkled her forehead. You're thinking about retiring again? This was news to her.

Jack told her, When they have to unbury me from my mountain within a mountain of paperwork... That's when I'll retire. In the meantime... He faced Mark again. The salary will more than likely be more than what you make right now in San Diego... I'll look up the exact number when I get to my office... I'm not exactly prepared with details here, ya know. But I do know that Colorado Springs is most likely a cheaper town to live in than anywhere in California.

Mark appeared surprised again, as if this whole concept of a new job, plus Sam's fan club, plus the possibility of Jack's fan club, plus finding out about awards that may or may not exist... It was too much for him to take in at once. Well... I need to discuss this whole job thing with Debbie... my wife, that is... with the kids... I can't decide anything right this minute...

Go, Jack told him. Fly home... Discuss... Then call me back this weekend... I can hold the job open that long before I have to start interviewing other candidates. But if you decide pro job, then you'll get to see what your sister's been doing these last few years, Jack pointed out. Something to consider, he reminded as he began to climb from the truck. He pulled the front seat forward so that he could help Sam climb out without looking like he was helping Sam climb out. Keys are in the ignition, he said. Just don't scratch the paint, he told her.

Jack shut the door when she was in, but then she lowered the window again after turning on the power. Anything I need to know about driving this thing?

Clutch sticks, he immediately said.

Sam grinned just slightly at him. This is an automatic... there is no clutch.

Jack patted her hand once. You noticed, he said in a soft voice.

Sam did grin then. Of course I did.

Then you'll drive her just fine, he said and started to walk away towards the complex entrance bunker.

Her? Sam questioned, calling after him. Your truck is a female?

Uh.., Jack spluttered. Uh... Then he glanced again at Sam's grinning face. He was such a sucker for that grin, always had been, and she knew it! Uh...

Sam let her smile ratchet up a few degrees so that her eyes sparkled.

Jack was lost. He let his face redden as he stood at the door, his hand resting on the knob, knowing that he would find an elevator behind the doors. Um, he said, scrambling for time. Then he admitted, Okay... Well... I should have bought a blue truck instead of a green one, he confessed. Then he grinned back at her. But I hadn't met you yet when I bought this truck.

Sam understood then. You named your truck 'Samantha?'

Jack kept grinning. No, he informed. I named the truck 'Carter.' It's what I call you, after all.

Sam smiled even more. You did?

Jack quirked his eyebrows.

You did, she answered for him. Wow! He'd named his truck after her... And it flattered her beyond even what she thought she could be flattered.

I'll see you when I see you, was all she said then, and powered up the window. Jack disappeared though the bunker door, and Sam watched the door swing shut. She was still smiling even as he vanished.

Okay, Mark scowled. 'Carter?' Not Sam? Did I miss something there? What's going on?

Sam smiled happily as they drove away from the tunnel leading into the mountain. Oh, she explained to him. It's not important.

Come on, Mark wheedled. Tell me... What's so special about what he named his truck?

Sam grinned again. Finally she told him, It's not that he named it, it's the name he gave it.

Again, the name 'Carter' and not 'Sam.' But Mark just didn't get it. He was silent until he couldn't stand that silence any longer. Maybe she would explain the impact of this. And? he prompted.

And... Sam was quiet again as she smiled. Then she turned to stare at him for just a second before returning her gaze to the road before her. He named it 'Samantha.'

Mark narrowed his eyes. But I thought he named it 'Carter,' he protested.

Sam sighed. He did. It's 'Samantha' by association.

Mark's eyebrows rose on his head. He...

Sam's sigh cut him off. Sappily, she kept smiling. He named his truck after me, she reminded in a happy voice. Still smiling, she turned to look at her brother. Still think I might have made a poor choice?

Mark looked like he'd made up his mind. When a man names his truck after you... He snorted a sigh as well. First name or last name... He must be in love with you.

Sam's grin remained. That barely covers it, she dreamily told him.

Mark faced forward to look out the window then. Well, my business here is done, then. I don't have to kill him. I'll let Dad do that. As soon as I can find a flight home...

Dad won't kill him! Sam said.

Maim him then? Mark hazarded to guess.

He might do that, Sam agreed with him. Anyway, I'll look up that flight info. for you, Sam said then. She only did one thing for herself: at the next red light she had to stop the truck at, she pulled the ring from her pocket, and slipped it onto her left hand. The sapphire winked in tiny blue prisms all over the passenger seat as the sunlight came streaming into the cab through the front windows. Then she sighed again. He named his truck after me, she said once more under her breath as she looked at the ring, and grinned. Then she looked up at Mark, and actually giggled in delight. Wow.

* * *

* * *

And so the day went. Sam talked calmly to Mark for several hours until he finally had to leave for the Denver airport at 1300 hours. By 1500 hundred, Sam was back at the SGC and calling Jack on his office phone. He managed to sign his name on the form he was filling out and answer the phone at the same time. O'Neill, he said.

Sir. It was Carter. Jack was immediately arrested by her tone of voice, which was more... something... than he'd heard for a long time. Yes? he asked with an amount of trepidation in his own voice. Then he said, I thought I told you never to call me 'Sir' again.

We're on base, Sam explained. I thought that addressing you any differently would call attention to us. I didn't want that!

Oh, Jack answered in a deadpan voice. Good thinking, Carter.

Sam agrees with you, she replied saucily. Then she hesitantly sighed, as if she had suddenly remembered why she was calling him in the first place, and the sound was loud over the phone line. I need to talk with you for a minute, and I thought we could go to the Commissary for some coffee and cake, since we didn't get much of a breakfast. I don't suppose you can join me for a minute?

Jack slowly allowed himself to grin. For you, anything, he stated.

Which made Sam roll her eyes. I'll try not to take advantage of that attitude, Sir, she promised.

By all means, take advantage of it, Jack suggested right away.

Which made Sam laugh, as he'd known such a remark would. She went on, Just head on down when you can...

How's now? he asked as he straightened the papers covering his desk.

Perfect, Sam admitted. Uh... Guess I'll see you there, Sir.

Not if I see you first, O'Neill flirted back. They both hung up at the same time, and Jack stood, strode around his desk, then out the door.

Five minutes later, he entered the Commissary, spotted Carter just resting two pieces of cake at the center table, and crossed over to her. He noticed Daniel seated at a table on the far side of the room, but Carter had asked to talk to just him... He walked by Daniel straight towards Carter. Thanks for getting cake, but... why cake? he asked when he came within talking distance of the table.

Sam nonchalantly pulled out her chair. We're celebrating, she said, and put a napkin in her lap after she sat down.

That comment stopped Jack's heart, and caught him completely by surprise, leaving him half seated, and half standing by the table. He peered at Carter, trying to determine what she wasn't saying just by looking at her.

She didn't meet his gaze with her own for several seconds. In a shaky voice, she said, You better eat that cake before it totally dries out and crumbles on your plate.

But Jack wasn't buying the attempted nonchalance of her tone. Hammond called, he stated then.y

Sam blushed. She cleared her throat, then admitted, Well... Yes, he did.

Isn't it way too early for him to call? Jack asked, still not sitting down.

Jack... eat, she repeated.

The General ignored her, but didn't ignore the fact that she'd called him by his first name in public. Without further debate, he pulled the cell phone that he always carried from his pocket, and dialed. George? he queried the moment that someone picked up the call.

The answer he got was exactly what he'd been waiting for, only he wasn't aware that he'd been waiting at all. Yes, Hammond said over the line. And the answer to the question you haven't asked yet is 'yes.' It's pretty early in the game, but I just got confirmation from the President.

And what about the..?

Jack didn't have the chance to finish his question either before Hammond was responding. It passed, Jack, addendum to the addendum included. The SGC owes a lot to Colonel Carter. Oh, and speaking of the Colonel... Send in the correct paperwork the next time you promote her.

Uh... Jack was too flummoxed to say anything more than, Yes, Sir.

Now shut up, and see to Carter instead of to me, Hammond commanded.

Jack smiled. Yes, Sir! he enthusiastically said. Then he hung up, but dialed again right away.

Several table away, Daniel suddenly dug through his pocket for his ringing cell phone. Jackson, he answered this phone call.

Jack didn't waste any time. Hey, Daniel... be a good butler, and go. Then he paused before he also added, I mean, tell. Tell everything. When he hung up again, his eyes met Sam's.

Well? she asked.

Well? he echoed.

Now what? she added.

As if he were privy to something she wasn't, Jack carefully removed the fork she'd retrieved from the Commissary counter and set it aside. I kiss you senseless? he guessed.

Sam grinned then. That sounds promising, she blurted, and eyed him with her chin resting in her hand.

This was almost so overwhelming, it was surreal, Jack thought to himself. He contemplated the situation for a moment before he made a single move. He suddenly gave a jerk of his head.

Here he was, standing in the middle of a Commissary full of people, there was cake in front of him, and a beautiful woman was staring at him in expectation... and he wasn't doing anything?

Was he nuts? Jack shook his head to clear it, and stood as tall as he could. He stared purposefully at Sam, and allowed the shields he always wore over his eyes to fall completely away for the first time in... well... ever. He breathed a sharp breath, and leaned down to gently help to her feet. Her napkin fluttered to the floor as she stood by him.

Jack? she asked, not knowing what else to do.

Jack just stared at her for a moment again, and didn't say anything. Then, very slowly, but deliberately, he pulled her forward into his arms, resting his own chin on the top of her head. They silently hugged for several moments. Damn, but this feels weird, Jack commented after the silence continued for another moment.

Sam giggled as she felt the weight of the two necklaces that Jack had given her as a wedding present dangle from her neck, and heard them clang together as they came in unexpected contact with his BDU shirt. She asked the first thing that came through her jumbled thoughts. Can I turn the back bedroom into a computer room?

Can I stop you? Jack rhetorically responded.

No, Sam answered anyway.

Jack took another deep breath, his chest expanding against her own. I can't say that I want to stop you, anyway. His voice finally broke, plunging him into a teary silence.

Jack, Sam soothed, there's no need to cry.

Too late, he whispered his answer.

Damn, now you're gonna make me cry, she softly stated.

Eight years worth of stored tears makes for a lot of tears, Jack commented, his voice sounding dry now to the point of uncaringness.

But that thought was the farthest from the truth as he stood in her arms, trembling from the powerful emotions that were suddenly accosting him. He stepped back a half step so that he could look at her. Then he noticed the necklaces, both hanging free on her shirt front again. You're still wearing...

I never took them off, she informed. And I don't plan to ever do that again.

That was when Jack stopped listening to the voice of reason still resounding in his head, and listened instead the intense beat of his heart, a beat that was growing stronger by the second to thud in his ears. Truthfully speaking, he was terrified, but he'd been more terrified that he'd waited too long to say anything to her, that he'd lost her forever because of his stupid stubbornness and intractability. Now that he had a second chance to get things right, a chance that he'd never anticipated having, he looked her straight in her eyes, and whispered, I love you, Samantha Carter, and I'd ask you to marry me, but we're already married.

Sam burst out in a second laugh, then suggested, We can renew our vows.

We can say them in the first place, Jack suggested back.

Sam brushed at the tears on his cheeks with her thumbs, reveling in the feel of his skin under her fingers. You do know that we're making something of a spectacle in the middle of a Commissary full of people, right?

There's always something, Jack muttered. Then he was kissing her, just briefly, as the news finally hit the gathered crowd as Daniel managed to spread it throughout the Commissary. Jack leaned back again to gaze at her in abject, open worship. The secret to good leadership is always to know when to delegate, he whispered, explaining the sudden chaos that billowed and surged around them. Then he smiled at her, silently thanked whatever God was listening to him that this wasn't a time loop, or a weird alien incursion, or some type of dream reality. Then he kissed Sam again much more passionately than before.

Forgotten, Daniel stood at the corner table that he had ended near. And his look of utter satisfaction couldn't grow any deeper.

What a long road we traveled to get here, he thought. And it couldn't have a better ending!

The End


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