Beyond 'Moebius' - a Novel

Version One

by Linda Bindner

Part II: Wedding... s: a Trauma in Infinite Parts

I

Food: The Language That Spans the Ages

Minutes later, Jack was on his cell phone, talking to Walter to give him an update on his ever changing schedule of the day.

No, Jack said into his phone as he hung onto Sam's fingers with his free hand. I need you to cancel the meetings that you can, but the briefings that have to happen, or the departures of the teams, I need you to postpone until this afternoon. Walter mumbled a question of O'Neill then, and Jack had to say, I need to meet with Dr. Jackson and Teal'c this morning around 0830. I'm here with Colonel Carter right now, so you don't need to inform her of such an unscheduled meeting. Just let Dan... Jack paused then added, No, nothing is going on that... Then Jack sighed a big gust of air. Well, if you must know... He listened again. Ha, ha... very funny, Walter... No, it's nothing like that to get your dander up. It's... Jack paused to listen once more, his free hand tightening around Sam's fingers as his attention became even more internal than it already was. No! Jack then spluttered emphatically. It's not like that at all! Damn that base gossip! I swear... Jack paused again. Now Walter, you have to know that isn't even remotely true. That isn't even possible! You know me, you know Colonel Carter... Jack paused once more, and Sam took on a worried expression. Calm down, Walter, Jack next insisted. I haven't been kidnapped by the NID, or The Trust, or rogue Goa'uld pseudo-Gods with a bad taste in outerwear... No! Jack's face went red with anger this time. You can tell Dixon that... Jack sighed as his previous anger turned to defeat. NO, he said in resignation. Sorry to disappoint all those who secretly had me pinned as a captive of Ba'al again, but the truth... Oh, hell, you're gonna learn the truth sooner rather than later, anyway, and I wouldn't dream of denying you the pleasure of spreading the news around the Base... No... Walter... No... Then Jack lost his hold on his patience and yelled into the phone, Walter, I'm engaged to Colonel Carter and we're going out to breakfast for a chance to talk before you ravenous barracudas descend on us. Jack had to pause and listen to Walter again. He sighed. Yes, I said 'engaged.' He listened. Yes, the President knows... or he should know... or at least suspect... and... Jack grunted. You can tell that insensitive big mouth named Daniel that...

Jack! Sam cut in with a warning tone.

Jack gave in with just that one word. Well, he said, changing his mind on what he wanted Walter to tell Daniel. No coffee for him in this morning's briefing, then. Jack listened once more as Sergeant Harriman continued. Okay... See you in an hour or so. He hung up the phone and replaced it in his coat pocket.

Sam was the first to speak. I take it that the Sergeant is spreading the news for us so that we don't have to?

You know Walter, Jack quipped. Gossip central. He made to take her hand more firmly in his. Everybody will know everything by the time we get back. We won't have to say a word. Then he grinned at her. We do, however, have one and a half hours... Wanna go out for breakfast?

Sam smiled. I thought you had already told the Sergeant that that's where we're going... What are you doing asking me now? she inquired.

Jack grinned down at her standing beside him. I don't want to assume, and besides, a girl...

... likes to be asked, Sam finished for him with a smile lighting her features. Your car or mine? she entreated as her way to acquiesce with his suggestion.

Your car has a covered front seat, Jack reminded her.

But it is just over there, and I don't see your truck in the near vicinity, Sam mildly argued with him. We can eat candy on the way to the restaurant... by the way, where is it that you're taking me?

You're taking me you mean, Jack objected as they made their way across the park and the street to Sam's car. And besides, I want to save that candy... Jack shrugged. I'm a sentimental guy, what can I say?

Sam snorted her laughter. Don't worry: I won't tell anyone. You're secret is safe with me.

Jack grimaced. Just don't tell Teal'c, he ordered. Or the next thing I know, he'll be wanting to start Cree Tek Ma Kel ritual fires in his room with his staff weapon, and I'll have nothing but chaos. Sam laughed aloud at his mangling of the names of Teal'c's Goa'uld rituals. Jack couldn't help but grin at her when she laughed. God, I love your laugh, he commented with a sigh that hissed out his feelings of perpetual peace and contentment that he was currently experiencing.

Sam smiled again, and fingered the engagement ring on her finger.

Jack noticed the movement. Mind it? he inquired with a head nod in the direction of her new ring.

Mind it?! she incredulously echoed him as they first cleared the candy from Sam's seat, then drove off towards her favorite dive restaurant. I feel like I'm finally wearing the ring I'm supposed to be wearing.

Jack couldn't help it: he blushed at her words. Hearing that does a lot of good for this old battered ego of mine, he informed.

Sam suddenly turned serious. Jack, I'm sorry about...

But Jack cut off her apology. Don't, he said in his no-nonsense, 'there's a crisis brewing that I need to avoid' tone of voice. Let's not revisit something that we can't change, and will only make us feel bad if we try. He quietly went on to suggest, We both did some things that we need to apologize for. He looked at her out of beseeching eyes that melted her insides enough that she had to draw a shaky breath to resist the pull they had on her. Let me guess... you're feeling sorry, and I've never been so sorry except for when Charlie died... Let's just call it even, and leave it at that.

Sam had to fight the tears that were again pooling in her eyes. But she was determined not to cry, and make him go through trying to comfort her sorrow away when it just made him uncomfortable. She'd already done so much to him, she figured that the least she could do now was agree with his suggestion. Okay, consider it a banned topic, she said in a lighter tone than she wanted to use.

Jack couldn't resist his re-emerging grin. Banished to 'the room?' he guessed.

Sam laughed again as she managed to banish her tears. We take something out, we should replace it with something else, she said. Then she looked at him. It's only the polite thing to do.

Jack snorted this time. Yeah, 'polite,' he repeated her. A comfortable silence descended on them then as they both stared out the window at the passing countryside, lost in their own thoughts. So, Jack said to break through that quiet and those thoughts. You never did say where you're taking me.

Wafflehouse, Sam stated. There's one on 29th.

Wafflehouse?!? Jack asked. You're taking me to..?

Sam interrupted him. They serve a mean breakfast, General 'I-want-a-steak-and-I-want-it-RARE!' O'Neill, she informed. And the coffee would make Daniel sigh in ecstasy.

It's that good? Jack dubiously asked.

Sam grinned. Would I lie to you? she asked. No, don't answer that, she hastily added. Would I lie to you now? she amended.

Jack snorted again, but covered her hand resting on the seat in between them with his own now-warm fingers. He raised her hand up to lightly kiss her fingertips. Can I tell our kids that you took me to a Wafflehouse for our engagement celebration meal?

Sam smiled crookedly at him. So, he wanted to have more children? And with her? Nothing could have been more pleasant for her to hear. You bet! she emphatically said.

* * *

II

Reasons? Excuses? Does it Matter?

An emergency meeting...

Jack glanced again at the small group of people surrounding him seated around the table in the SGC Briefing Room. SG-1. Jack widened his attention to once again include them all. I just informed The President of our thoughts on the situation, and...

Meaning that you and Sam agree, broke in Daniel before Jack had the chance to finish his statement.

Jack scowled at him, secretly amazed again at the power that assumption could wield over perfectly intelligent people, as Daniel was assuming that the President had said something specific while Jack had been on the phone with him just now. Like we have any choice, Jack said in a petulant tone, fanning the flames of that assumption rather than putting out any assumption fires.

You have a choice, Daniel objected, assuming without even knowing that he was assuming anything. It's just that the choices that you have pertain to getting married versus the total annihilation of this timeline, he reminded.

When put like that, the 'assumption' of this situation sounded much more like 'definitely having to chose one action over any other' versus making any assumption about anything in the first place. But still covering any thoughts he might be having about assumption, or even possible assumptions, Jack's steely gaze met the archaeologist's. Like I said, when you put it that way, Carter and I don't have much of a choice in...

It was Daniel who interrupted again. He seemed determined to do his best to tick Jack off that morning. So he bravely said, It's not like it's not something that you haven't wanted for years to have happen, anyway. You should be thanking me for giving you this opportunity of a lifetime.

Jack stared at Daniel as if the linguist had grown two extra heads in the last few seconds. Have you gone insane or something? he nonchalantly asked.

Daniel appeared to be thinking hard. Let's see.., he sarcastically said. Just in the last week, I've ascended, descended, been flipped through several timelines, broken my ankle several times, but... He considered again. No, he finally responded. I don't think I've gone insane. At least, not lately, he amended with a tiny smile.

Jack pushed his friend's glasses up his nose and held them there as his demeanor grew decidedly less friendly. Then perhaps you've been taken over by an evil alien virus intent on giving you bad judgment in spouting off whatever happens to be on your mind at whatever time? His voice grew harder and harder as he spoke.

It was once again Sam's quietly laying an unobtrusive hand on Jack's arm that halted the exchange between the two men. Jack, please. This isn't helping any. She turned to face the linguist. And Daniel, it would be a really good idea for you to hold your tongue right now.

Teal'c furrowed his brow. How can he 'hold' his own tongue, ColonelCarter? he inquired, mystified.

But Sam wasn't fooled. Teal'c, don't pretend that you don't understand what I'm saying in order to try to distract us into giving you lengthy responses and a history lecture on idioms.

What? Daniel objected then. We might as well be honest here! I mean, you two are getting married! Married!

Jack couldn't keep his own sarcasm under control, in spite of Sam's warning fingers wrapped around his arm. Because you scared the Joint Chiefs with your stupid story about timelines enough for them to feel the need to consider..! he harshly bit out, but not finishing his comment. But he went on, How do you think that makes Carter feel, huh? he rhetorically asked. How do you think that makes me feel?

Actually, Daniel quietly said, assuming away that the Joint Chiefs had ordered Jack and Sam to marry, even if they hadn't... officially. I imagine that makes you feel pretty coerced, and out-of-control, and used...

Hmmm. That was close enough to the truth to make Jack feel instantly uncomfortable. But he still didn't have to admit it, either the truth, or his feelings about the truth. Damn straight it does! he barged in to the conversation again.

But Daniel wasn't quite finished. On the other hand, he argued as he went on, I also imagine that you both feel intense relief as well. I mean, here's finally the perfect excuse for you guys. I mean, a union, after all these years of wanting it... Daniel forged on as Jack's finger continued to push on his glasses. This has got to be the most confusing thing you've ever had to do.

Jack released his finger and let his hand drop to the table top. How do you know that? he suspiciously asked. I never said a word...

And neither did I, Sam added.

You didn't have to, Daniel said. I'm not blind, ya know, and I'm not an idiot, he defended. And I did just spend the entire weekend watching you...

You watched us? Jack demanded to know.

Daniel huffed a sigh then. Of course I watched you two. Anybody who calls you both 'friend' would have done the same. I bet that Teal'c did that corner-of-his-eye-super-Jaffa thing all weekend...

As you say, DanielJackson, Teal'c admitted with a surprisingly guilty expression for the Jaffa to wear. I admit to being... curious.

'Curious?' Sam echoed.

What are we to you guys? Jack wanted to know. Were we just lab rats to you all weekend?

Daniel sighed again. Of course not, he said. We're just two people who want their friends to be happy. Can you blame us for being curious?

That entire bit of information made Jack pause in his tirade to consider Daniel's words. Well, he intoned at last. He glanced towards Sam, then admitted, It is a bit confusing.

Sam grimaced. And it is like simultaneously feeling two sides of the situation, she agreed. Just like Daniel said.

Do you not want to get married? Jack then asked her, his features perfectly arranged to try to not look worried when he was really worried as hell.

Sam's face relaxed from her grimace as she affectionately smiled at him. It's not that, she insisted. It's just that...

It was a surprise when Teal'c supplied the appropriate answer to this dilemma for them all... or, it was appropriate at least if one was assuming... It is just that you both wish that this marriage had come about on it's own rather than it being pushed to happen so that you both feel the need to once again 'save the planet,' he told them.

Yes! Jack exploded out. Just what he said!

Sam shook her head. Technically, Jack had made his marriage proposal to her without being coerced or being 'ordered' to propose... Or at least, she thought he had. She assumed... She had heard Jack ask The President if he could put off the phone conversation where he had supposedly 'ordered' Jack to propose marriage to Samantha Carter until after this Tuesday morning, and Jack had proposed at 0630... Which would have made it 0530am in DC... She doubted that President Hayes had spoken to Jack so early in the morning. Of course, she didn't know that had been the case, she conceded, but suspected...

But it didn't make much of a difference to the end result, which was what everybody was interested in, anyway. It doesn't matter what was behind the reason Jack proposed, really, she said, then glanced in Jack's direction, hedging, and making sure that he knew she was hedging. Whatever the reason, she said at last, if what Daniel says is true or not...

Hey! It's true! the linguist objected.

It's a gray area, Sam then told them. What really matters is that I've never been this happy before now. Never thought about it, actually, so it's caught me by surprise a bit...

Really? Jack breathlessly asked then. This makes you happy?

Sam looked towards Jack, and that flash of him in her sights was all it took to completely undo years worth of long-fought-for professional distance. In one swift second, that distance was wiped away, and Sam thought for just a second that she was in danger of melting into a puddle of pure ecstasy. She couldn't quite contain the happy little sigh that escaped her lips. I'm more than happy about it, Sam told him without missing a beat. Blazingly happy...

You hide it well, Jack then said as he studied her. I would never guess you feel more than terrified...

I'm that, too, Sam told him as she worked at gathering herself together. I guess what I want to say is that whatever the reason is, I'm just glad you asked, that's all. She shrugged disarmingly.

Totally enchanted, Jack tried not to let his sappiness show. But despite his best efforts, his sappiness was on display for all to see. He might as well have televised his emotions to the entire base.

Don't look too happy, Daniel dryly advised. Feretti might tease you about it in front the entire staff.

Let him, Jack then said with a smile. I'll bust him down to Sergeant...

Jack!

Okay, Captain! Jack capitulated to Sam's warning again. He went on as he decided that Sam was going to be wearing the pants in the O'Neill household, and he might as well accept it. But latrine duty for Feretti for the next year or so has a certain ring to it!

Daniel scoffed. As if! Then he added, But I'll tell him...

Jack sighed a happy gust of air as he stared back at Sam. Tell him that he missed his chance... not that he had one, but he missed it.

Daniel wrote the massage down in a tiny notebook that he kept in his pocket even as he told Jack, You are soooo whipped.

Jack grinned, even if his reaction was uncharacteristic of him. But then, this entire situation was a bit out of character for all of them. His grin widened then. Yeeeeaaahhh, he agreed with Daniel, eyes for no one but Sam. Great, isn't it?

III

Details, Details...

The impromptu meeting General O'Neill was currently embroiled in with SG-1 was about to continue when they were surprised by the arrival of an unexpected, though highly appreciated, visitor.

General Hammond! Jack bellowed in welcome as the meeting paused for a moment so that the members could greet the new arrival.

General! Daniel yelped in surprise while Sam quickly stood up across from him.

Sir! she said, immediately in soldier mode, standing in the presence of a superior officer, at least, one that she wasn't engaged to.

At ease, Colonel, General... Hammond instantly said. And Colonel, get over here so I can give the bride a hug. He smiled at Sam as she grinned back at him in friendly affection. He opened his arms to give Sam the first hug he'd ever officially given to a fellow soldier under his command.

What brings you here, Sir? Sam inquired when she pulled back.

Hammond looked between her and Jack, who had also risen from his chair and took the General's outstretched hand in his for a quick handshake. Well, that's something of a bit of a kickback, I guess, Hammond explained of their welcoming attitudes.

Sam wrinkled her nose. A kickback?

Hammond's grin was reinstated when he looked back to her. Uh... Yes, he finally admitted. The President was feeling sort of... He sighed in resignation then, the sound of his rush of air crowding around the room. To be honest, President Hayes felt downright glum at the way he felt the Joint Chiefs and the Air Force... America, even... is thinking of taking advantage of two people this country has a history of taking advantage of...

We don't.., Sam began to insist, but Hammond cut her off.

Don't tell me that you don't feel partially glad about all this, and partially furious, Hammond said. That's what we expect you to be feeling right now. He gazed at them. As a sort of unofficial compensation to you both, no matter what decision is reached, Hayes has given me the authority to tell you that you are now on a two week long leave from the SGC in order to plan, orchestrate, and carry off this wedding... if a wedding is even occurring at this point? he asked.

Jack and Sam looked to each other in brief consternation, then nodded in Hammond's direction.

As I suspected, Hammond muttered.

However, Sam then peered at Hammond as she said, looking like she felt very uncomfortable. As much as it's an appreciated gesture, General, I don't feel like I can...

Jack interrupted her. Just take what time you can, Carter, and spend the rest of the time before the wedding working in your lab like I know you will anyway. He glanced at Hammond with a grin. You know what a workaholic she is...

Hammond laughed knowingly, but went on as if Jack and Sam hadn't spoken. Then the following two weeks can be used for your honeymoon. Consider it a gift from your Commander in Chief himself. He says to use the time wisely, as we may never get it again... unless Dr. Jackson plays another role in messing with the timelines that he hasn't told us about.

They all chuckled, and Daniel quickly stated, No fancy maneuverings here, just good old, reliable time!

Good! Hammond enthused. Then his attention turned back to the newly-relieved Jack and Sam. Now, before I take over for this Brigadier General here who thinks he's good enough to marry the daughter of my best friend...

Jack cut in, I told Jacob before he died that I would never be 'good enough' for his daughter... that nobody is. I think he would have challenged me to a Ping-pong game right there if he'd been strong enough to convince me that I was wrong, and that I am!

They laughed, even though the laughter was tinged with sadness as they were all reminded of Jacob Carter's untimely death. Hammond distracted them from their thoughts. What have you got planned for the wedding so far? he asked Jack and Sam.

Sam glanced at Jack, who was still stuck on 'month-long leave,' then looked back at Hammond. We haven't exactly planned anything yet, Sir. We... uh... haven't exactly done this before.

Teal'c's forehead furrowed. Was O'Neill not married on one other instance, ColonelCarter?

Yes, she conceded. But...

I was out of the country for six months before the wedding, Jack told them, then, interrupting Sam. Sara planned most of the wedding herself. Then, under his breath, he added, That would explain the huge ice sculpture whale greeting everyone at the reception.

Hmmmm, Hammond hummed again. He peered at the group before him, centering on Jack and Sam after a moment. So you truly have no idea how to go about all this wedding stuff?

Um... Jack looked lost. Um, he repeated. Then he shrugged, appearing completely hopeless. No clue, he admitted at last.

I assume we need a church of some kind, Sam said then.

You're religious? Daniel inquired. You've never said before...

Um... Sam paused. No, that's not what I mean.

Oh? Daniel peered at her over his glasses. What do you mean then?

Sam looked at Jack, who looked back. But he was no help to her at all, a blank expression on his face. So she went on with, Using a church is the traditional thing, isn't it? A church, I mean? For the ceremony?

Um... Well... Jack appeared lost again.

Oh, Jack, don't be so helpless, Daniel said, finally losing his patience.

What? Jack demanded, feeling helpless, like Daniel said, but not wanting to admit it.

Hammond rescued all of them. Here's what I recommend... Then he went on to mutter, And I never thought I'd be the one to recommend anything... I mean, I'm an AF General...

They stared at him, listening closely, even to his mutterings, which caused him to stop his mutterings the moment he caught them listening to them.

General Hammond cleared his throat, then straightened his spine into military stiffness as if he were assigning his toughest mission to his two best personnel. Two ceremonies, Hammond stated, not mincing words. One here at the SGC, for the more... alien... guests that you want to invite. Then the next day, or the next weekend, or whatever, you have another ceremony for the Earth bound guests...

Jack finished for him, Who don't have clearance...

But the first wedding is the real one, Daniel said. Right? he uncertainly continued. The one I have to officiate at?

Right, Hammond answered. Then he turned to stare at Daniel. And before you do that, I have another task that needs a linguist's express knowledge.

Oh? Daniel asked again. I almost hate to ask, but what is it?

Hammond took a breath. I need Sam and Jack to decide what they want their invitations to say, then I need you to translate that into Goa'uld, Ancient, the language of the Asgards, and Furlings, just in case something is still not quite understandable. Teal'c can help you with any language you have trouble with.

Jack puffed a breath in Daniel's direction. You can do that?

Um, Daniel hummed. I guess so.

Cool, Jack declared.

Oh, Sam said in a voice that indicated she had just remembered something else. The announcement in the paper. I can take care of that.

And a photographer, Jack said. Then he looked around at the walls of the Briefing Room, as if suddenly remembering that those very walls were as top secret as the events taking place within them. Though there must be someone around here who knows how to use a digital camera... He glanced around the room once again.

Call the Security Office, Daniel suggested. They'll know what to do.

Sam snorted. Besides, I doubt that most general photographers have high enough clearance for this.

Dress... Bridesmaids dresses... Colors.., Jack said then.

Sam snorted again. Colors... I don't think...

Daniel cut her off to add, I think that camouflage went out in the nineties.

And the dress, Sam went on as she glared at Daniel: she would never choose something like camouflage to get married in! Didn't he know her taste better that that? That's for me to take care of, too.

Jack felt he had to say, I dare you to come dressed to the wedding in a sack.

Sam turned her glare on him, and a wicked smile adorned her lips. I just might, Sir, she threatened. Is that a sack from the grocery store, or a garbage bag? she sweetly inquired.

Carter, you gonna say 'I do, Sir' the day of the wedding? Jack asked instead of answering her question.

How can you call me 'Carter' if I'm really going to be an O'Neill? Sam riposted.

Jack furrowed his brows. I thought you weren't gonna change your name?

Do you want me to? Sam inquired.

Jack considered, unable to help the smile that was plastered on his face. Well... yeah. That's cool.

That's what I thought, she said. 'Colonel O'Neill' has something of a ring to it.

Yeah, Daniel muttered. A familiar ring to it.

Okay, Hammond said, to get everyone's attention, then turned to the bride-to-be and her groom, as long as he didn't get another case of cold feet. That detail about name changes is for you two to settle later on your own, he said to Jack and Sam. Now... Groomsmen? he gently prodded, gazing at Jack.

Um. Jack thought fast. Then he turned to regard Teal'c and Daniel. You both up for it?

Teal'c looked up at the ceiling. What are we up for?

Teal'c, Jack turned to him. I love it when you play dumb.

Teal'c let loose an infrequent Jaffa smile. Perhaps I am simply one of your great successes, O'Neill, he said, then added, Since you taught me all that I know.

Sam swallowed a burst of laughter.

Jack scowled. Watch it.

Watch what? Teal'c innocently asked.

Daniel was the one to respond this time as he said, I'd stop while I was ahead if I were you, Jack.

Well? Jack asked to change the subject. Groomsmen?

Um, Daniel stuttered. How can I be a groomsman when I'll be the one performing the ceremony? he asked, then added, At least, the first ceremony.

Good point, Jack noted. Then he turned his eyes to Teal'c.

Before Jack could even vocalize his request, the big Jaffa bowed his head, grinned ever so slightly, and said, I would be honored, O'Neill.

Hope they make big tuxes, Sam muttered.

Bridesmaids? Jack questioned next in order to try to rile Sam, since he had heard her mutterings.

Cassie, Sam instantly and calmly said.

Cassie it is then, Jack noted. She'll be thrilled, he dryly said, then predicted, More than thrilled.

General Hammond cut off any further comment of Jack's. The bridesmaid dress can be decided on later, he told them. Colonel Carter, Jacob's gone... Sam looked as if he didn't need to remind her. Who do you want to accompany you down the aisle?

Oh, Sam said again. I hadn't thought about that. She paused. Mark?

If he comes, Jack amended.

There is that, Sam said, thoughtfully biting her thumbnail. Then she looked at Hammond. You? At least, for the ceremony here?

Hammond looked as if he had hoped Sam would make that very suggestion, but Jack wasn't fooled: the older man really had hoped she would make that suggestion. Colonel, consider it done, Hammond agreed. You make this old soldier a proud man.

If you're old, what does that make me? Jack asked before they could get lost in the sentimentality of the moment.

The groom? Daniel guessed.

The old groom, Jack retorted back.

Old my right eye, Sam snapped back a quick rejoinder. My Aunt Esmerelda used to say...

Jack peered at her. You really had an Aunt Esmerelda? He appeared dumbfounded. With a name like that... you're joking.

Sam gazed at him, her hands shoved in her pockets. Basically.

Daniel snorted a laugh this time.

Hammond broke up the teasing session. Okay, that's enough to go on with for now. We can decide more as it comes up. Colonel, I believe you need to have a talk with Cassandra Fraiser. Dr. Jackson and Teal'c, you have translations to do, even while Jack makes up the announcements for those translations. And Colonel Carter is to do the newspaper announcement. You all have your assignments...

What is this, a mission? Jack asked then under his breath.

Hammond regarded him. In more ways than you know, he said, and sounded as if he had more experience with weddings than he was letting on. I'm having not-so-fond flashbacks of my daughters' weddings, he explained. He turned to Sam to say something as if he had suddenly recalled it. Oh, Colonel, when you find your wedding dress, have it altered one size too large.

Sam stared at Hammond in confusion. Sir?

Hammond sighed. For eating at the reception, he told them. Barbara ate a three course meal at her reception, and her dress split at all the seams.

Daniel shrugged. That's just things to tell your kids, he said in a dismissive voice.

She was wearing red underthings, Hammond dryly added.

Daniel's eyes widened. Oh. That would be bad, he remarked.

Hammond continued speaking to Sam, So, if you don't want to give the guests a sneak preview of what you plan to wear under your dress...

A size too big, Sam reminded herself. Gotcha.

Hammond knowingly went on. Dismissed.

IV

Emotional Crisis #1

Sam all but bolted out the Briefing Room corridor doorway when they were free to go about their assignments. Jack followed Sam into the corridor, intent on grabbing some coffee and cake in the Commissary before writing any announcements, but a small shake of the shoulders from the woman in front of him alerted him to the fact that he might want to keep her in his sights for the next few moments instead. His brow wrinkled with concern the moment he discerned her failing mood by a second shake of her shoulders, followed by a lifting of a hand to rub dispiritedly at her forehead.

Jack's brows lowered even more in reaction to her apparent discomfort. Why would she be uncomfortable? Unless... His heart froze in helpless dread at just the thought... He forced himself to complete it anyway... unless she didn't like something about some of the wedding details they had decided? Like... maybe... the idea of a wedding at all? This whole wedding thing was moving awfully fast, after all. Since she had just broken an engagement to marry, maybe that meant that she didn't want to marry at all, not just that she didn't want to marry Pete Shanahan. But, his mind argued, she had said 'yes' to his proposal. But, his mind responded quickly that she had said the same thing to Pete Shanahan's.

Jack suddenly trembled in the fear of uncertainty he was feeling. He swallowed, and did his best to remain calm while his heart did anything but stay calm as it raced in his chest. Okay, he thought, don't assume, here. You don't have all the intel, yet... don't assume anything. Jack swallowed again, but found himself assuming the worst even as he told himself to assume nothing.

He shook his head to rid himself of such depressing thoughts. He wanted to make certain that Sam was all right with all the those wedding details, anyway, so he made to follow in her wake down the corridor. However, she wasn't pulling her cell phone out of her pants pocket to phone Cassie, as he expected her to do. Instead, she was heading for the safety of her lab.

If she was stopping in her empty lab, did that mean she had to gather herself together before asking a friend... daughter... ward... to be in her own wedding? Did that mean she was already unsure about the wedding itself?

There were those same dark thoughts again. Jack shook his head a second time, harder than the first, hoping to banish the negative thoughts this time. He should just ask her what she was thinking, he decided, double-check with her.

Jack was on his way to do just that, but the moment he fully stepped into the corridor behind Sam, he was accosted by a flurry of well wishes wearing fatigues, and smiles large enough to warn of the fact that Jack had just won them a great deal of money in the SGC betting pool. Congratulations were on the lips of those same well-wishers, but from the second they ascertained the expressions on both Colonel Carter's face, and then on Jack's, the well-wishes were strangled back into mere whispers and grunts.

Still, Jack had to forge ahead through a steady stream of SGC personnel to keep Carter in sight. Jack didn't have any intention of actually following her, as in spying on her, but he found that he followed her to her lab in spite of what he wanted to do or not do. He was still in the corridor when he heard the telltale sound of a sob that she attempted to restrain reach his ears. He would have missed the sound entirely if he hadn't been listening for it. But with heightened senses zeroing in on any more unhappy sounds that she might make, he slowly entered her private laboratory, unsure of what he might find, or of what he might do in case he found something adverse that he had to handle. He wasn't exactly known as a man who dealt well with other people's emotions. He wasn't even known as a man who dealt with his own emotions! How did he get into these things?

Switching to full-on soldier mode, just to be safe, he carefully walked through the door, only to find Sam sitting at her workbench, slumped over her laptop, her head in her hands, the perfect display of sorrow and dejection... or was she feeling irritation and anger? He couldn't tell.

Still, Jack's heart twisted in two at the sight of her. He tried to avoid his own subsequent thoughts, but he instantly resumed his previous ideas about her not wanting to marry him. Which was ridiculous, he told himself. Of course she wanted to marry him. What could there possibly be about him that wasn't to like, after all? Still, he felt a tiny portion of his brain worry over the idea that she had already begun having second thoughts about this whole wedding thing now that they actually found themselves in the planning stages. However, sorrow and dejection... or irritation and anger... were not things he was anticipating from Sam at the moment. Actually, he had never seen either from her.

Carter? he questioned quietly with his eyebrows furrowed low over his eyes. He quietly closed the lab's door behind him, guessing, and probably rightly so, that she wouldn't want anyone but him to witness her current crumbling mood. Something's wrong, isn't it? He approached her stool pulled up to the worktable, and collected another stool for himself as he neared her. You might as well tell me, ya know, he lightly told her. I'll only worry, and complain, and make a nuisance of myself until you finally come clean, after all.

Sam's head had sprung up the moment he uttered her name, and the sadness and self loathing in her eyes hit him like a solid punch in his gut.

Jack stared at how her eyes suddenly swam with tears, and succinctly predicted, You hate this entire thing.

She vehemently shook her head back and forth, but was unable to vocalize her thoughts, so he spoke for her. You're having second thoughts, and want to give that ring of yours back, don't you?

More sadness shot though her eyes as she stared at him. Of course not, she said, her statement emphatic in spite of her almost overwhelming sadness. Though I can't blame you for thinking that way.

So that wasn't it? Then..? Jack next asked the question that was burning through his mind, Then why the sudden tears? He knew that he had to choose his words carefully now, since his experience with crying women had only let him know that no man said the right thing, ever. If he spoke carefully, then at least he could later claim that he had been cautious.

Her sigh that suddenly cut through the room came just prior to Sam lowering her head into her hands again as he settled more firmly on the seat he had pulled up beside her. She tried to calm herself, but her shoulders continued to shake for another moment.

The sounds coming from Sam suddenly changed. Either she was grateful that all this wedding stuff had happened, or she wanted to kick him in the ass for interfering in her life at all... or both.

Hesitantly, Jack continued, Want to tell me what's wrong? He gently rubbed her on her back, unused to being free to touch her this way. What he was offering was nothing more than a friend would offer, but it felt so much... like so much more coming from him. But he didn't say anything, only once again took the seat beside her and rested his head on his apprised fist so that he might stare at her unimpeded. Then, he waited.

I'm s... sorry, Sir, came the soft reply that floated over to him.

Ah! Jack immediately said. He went on to warn, None of that 'Sir' or 'General' stuff now! It's 'Jack!'

Sam smiled a tiny smile as she sniffed back her tears, trying to stop those tears. Her gesture of a smile was almost hidden by those same tears. She solemnly brushed her cheeks with her hand. Okay... Jack.

Better, Jack grunted. And for calling me the dreaded 'Sir,' I get to call you Carter just once... So, Carter, you gonna tell me what's on your mind?

Again Sam gave a small smile. She took a deep breath, curbed her crying once more, then blurted, It's not you, the ring, or... Her voice trailed off.

Then..? His own hands rose interrogatively. What?

It's just... She had to stop, swallow, sigh, and try again. It's just that this is moving so fast, she quietly said. Not that it's not something I don't want... or haven't wanted for years, if I'm honest with myself, she hastily explained. But it's like... Her voice trailed away, and she looked down at her computer to escape his probing gaze. When she spoke, she spoke to her open laptop instead of to him. Everything... She tried again. Everything... It's a bit overwhelming, she finally admitted in a voice that told Jack there was more to what she was feeling, but she didn't know how to put words to her emotions.

Jack instantly knew just how it felt to be overwhelmed, at least. Yet, he could never put words to his feelings, either. He toyed with some sort of alien device in his hands as he contemplated his possible answers. I know what you mean, he lamely said as a way of buying himself some time, but made certain not to look straight at her, so that she couldn't read the truth of the situation in his eyes. I'm kinda overwhelmed myself, he finally also admitted. And not nearly as much has happened to me as has happened to you lately. I don't know how you're not pulling your hair out in total frustration, to be honest.

But... She did stare at him now, her forehead creased to show her puzzlement. But... You proposed, Sir...

Ah!

Sam corrected what she called him. I mean, Jack... She sighed then. This name thing is going to be harder than one might think...

Oh, come on, Carter! Jack teased while trying to lighten her mood. How hard can it be? 'A rose by any other name smells...'

She cut into his comment before he could even finish his quote. And you just called me 'Carter' again, she accused. It's not so easy, is it?

Jack paused, going over his last few words in his head, and grasped how right she was. Crap, he muttered under his breath. I didn't even realize I was doing it. Jack sighed as well. Maybe I can call you... not 'Carter...' and 'Sam' doesn't come out of my mouth easy enough. Jack paused once more. Then he suggested, What about 'Samantha?' That's not your last name, but it's still something that no one else calls you...

Sam's tears had completely stopped now as she considered his idea. 'Samantha...' She blinked, and linked her hands on her desktop after she had pushed her laptop aside. I kind of like that, she said. No one's ever called me that before... not even my parents.., she said as she recalled how he had called her 'Samantha' while she had been hallucinating aboard The Prometheus. It had been strange enough for her to hear her full name come out of his mouth that she had noted it at the time, even though she was suffering from the effects of a humongous concussion. It made no sense, now or then, but she felt safe just hearing him say her name. Now it still left her feeling soft and glowy inside.

Jack couldn't help the grin that bowed his lips. Okay... Samantha it is, he declared, used to making decisions at a moment's notice.

The thought of being called 'Samantha,' and by him, was a more appealing idea than Sam wanted to admit aloud. However, she didn't want to continue to make an issue out of it. Okay, she agreed instead of going on with what was really a trivial detail. Now that we've got that settled... She sighed again.

Car... Samantha, Jack corrected himself. Actually, he was getting a tingle in his stomach whenever he said her full name. It was a more pleasant experience than he had ever anticipated that it would be. But he didn't want to make an issue of it, either. So, he ignored the issue of what he planned to call her, and just spoke what was on his mind to speak. Out with it, he ordered. Seize the day, and just tell me what's bothering you, why don't ya?

Sam gave a grin that was at odds to the tear streaks still shining on her cheeks. All right, she said with a sense of finality. I trust you enough not to say anything about any of this. I mean, I don't feel like I've thought about it enough to...

Car... Samantha! Jack blushed then. Crap... did it again. He sheepishly glanced her way. You have my permission to slug me on the shoulder every time I accidentally call you 'Carter.' he informed.

Sam did smile this time. You're on.

Anyway... You were saying? Jack prompted.

Sam ordered her thoughts again. Okay... The reason I was crying...

And crying isn't normal for you at all, Jack thoughtfully commented. I ought to know after spending so many years in the field with you. He gave a snort and said, The field can get plenty rough enough for tears at times, and you never cried then.

Sam gave a soft smile. No, I didn't. And that's why crying now made me so upset with myself.

Jack gave a little start. So you were crying because you were crying? he asked.

Another silent moment went by before she gave a brief nod of her head. I know that's stupid... She stopped, and seemed to resolve her determination to tell him. But you don't need to hear all about my emotional history right now...

Car... Irritated with himself, Jack shook his head in remorse, then simply turned his shoulder towards her. She obliged him by slugging him lightly with her fist. Don't go too easy on me, he muttered. When she didn't say anything, he said, Samantha...

Sam playfully slugged him again on his arm nearest her. So you won't forget, she explained her actions, a playfully evil expression on her face now in place of her earlier tears.

I deserved that, Jack noted. Or at least, I deserved the first one... Anyway... As I was saying... Jack cleared his throat, than quickly told her, I'm always interested in whatever you're thinking, even if it affects our emotions. He shrugged. And we both know what an emotional guy I'm not. Sam had to smile again at that statement. We both know that I'm not 'into' my emotions. I'm not scared of them, he denied, trying to explain. Then he amended, Well... Not exactly.

Sam's smile was even bigger this time. I'll remember that... Maybe even already knew that, if I think about it. But now isn't the right time for random thinking... She gathered her thoughts on what was bothering her so she could tell him, I was crying... She stopped herself, and looked as if she wanted to just give up. Oh. She gave a frustrated growl. Not now.

Jack looked at her out of beseeching eyes. Promise to tell me later? he asked.

Sam nodded. Okay... Later, she agreed. Now... What's really been on my mind lately... I've been thinking about this whole double timeline that Daniel's been going on about.

Okay, Jack said slowly in encouragement, trying to understand where she was heading with these kinds of thoughts. He had assumed that Daniel's explanation for the timeline echo was a done deal, over and finished. What more could be said about the subject?

Actually, she explained, as if she were answering his unspoken question, I just thought about this idea over breakfast, asking 'why,' and 'how...' that kind of thing. And this idea just came to me... It wasn't long enough ago for me to think enough about it, or I would have said something sooner, honest.

Since you're having your usual brain... Jack was going to say 'brain farts,' but managed to halt his mouth at the final second. You felt like you couldn't say anything yet, which is why you didn't say anything in the Briefing, right? Jack wanted to know.

Sam was the one to shrug this time. Right, she answered, then explained, I usually spend quite a bit of time thinking about any idea I have before I say something. I wanted to think about it some more, in case I'm wrong.

Samantha, Jack chided, pleased with himself for remembering to call her by the correct name this time. You're never wrong, he pointed out.

Sam rolled her eyes. The less said on that subject, the better, she dryly commented. Anyway... I was thinking about all these alternate timelines that Daniel's been talking about. And the fact that he's so adamant about the wedding between us being the defining event in both timelines. And in case that is the case, Sam said, warming to her subject. I was thinking... How do we know that the fact that Daniel performs the wedding ceremony in this timeline won't just cause the same 'bending of the timeline' to happen that happened before? Jack stared at her, not quite understanding what she was driving at. Talk of timelines and temporal mechanics always gave him dizzy spells. As Sam knew this, she suddenly changed her strategy. She looked around her work area, spotted a pencil and a pen, and drew them towards her. Okay... This pencil represents the original timeline, the one we know as ours, the one we're in right now. This pen is the alternate timeline, the one where there's no Stargate program, no SG-1, no Teal'c, and you're retired...

Pencil is us, pen is the other us, Jack reminded himself. Got it. Go on.

So Sam 'went on.' Daniel was saying that this wedding between the two of us is the defining event in both timelines, the event that catapulted one timeline to the second, then back again... And that's why the President and the Joint Chiefs are thinking about wanting us to carry on this... this event.., she uneasily continued. She didn't actually know what they were considering, after all. But she went on, And why they want Daniel to perform the ceremony. She gazed at him with the same intense twinkle in her eyes that she always got when she was dealing with some mental solution to a problem that she had found. But...

I knew there was going to be a 'but,' Jack commented. There's always a 'but.' He was trying so hard not to behave confused when he was really completely flummoxed. So he again invited her to, Go on.

Sam affectionately grinned at him, seeing his befuddlement for what it was, but deciding not to say anything about it, either. 'But,' she emphasized instead of commenting on his level of confusion. What if the fact that Daniel performs another wedding ceremony for us while he's not ordained pushes the entire human race back into the alternate timeline again? Neither of them said anything as Sam's shoulder rose interrogatively. I mean, after all, Daniel is so sure that the wedding is the defining event, and not the Slave Rebellion, like we all thought. If it is, won't the fact that it's an unordained Daniel performing an illegal wedding ceremony make performing the wedding a third time something of a risk, Sir? Sam closed her eyes, and gave a shake of her head. I mean, Jack. A risk, Jack? she repeated herself. She then opened her eyes again to stare at him, and went on with her explanation. Aren't we risking moving back to the alternate timeline again with all this? she inquired.

Jack sat for a moment and blinked as he tried to internalize what she was saying. Finally, he understood that she thought there was a possibility that a wedding between the two of them, one performed by Daniel, could completely wipe their entire timeline out of existence, not secure its safety. The thought was... staggering.

Finally, he managed to roughly declare, You might have a point with all this. He sat silently again, considering her comments. Finally, he asked a question of his own. I know you've explained this already once before, but... Why was it that you didn't bring this up in the Briefing?

Sam looked guilty. Um... That's what I was crying about, she said when Jack wrinkled his forehead at her. I've made so many dumb mistakes lately... All because I didn't want to think, as you pointed out the other day. And I haven't really thought about this particular concept of mine, about Daniel and timelines... I haven't thought about it for very long yet, she guiltily admitted. So I didn't say anything until I have the chance to thoroughly go through my idea. She looked down as if she felt shamefaced. I... She stuttered, but forged on, I don't want to make the same mistake of not thinking things thoroughly through, Sir. She closed her eyes, grimaced, shook her head, then amended, Jack.

Jack decided to ignore her name transgression for now. And how did that cause you to cry? he wanted to know instead.

Sam sighed in disgruntlement. I always do that, Jack, she quietly explained in obvious irritation at herself. I mean, I always make mistakes. And that irritates me. She huffed out a breath of supreme aggravation. I've made mistakes so often lately... So, I told myself that I needed to think some more about things. But I got scared that I still wasn't thinking... like I haven't been thinking lately... which caused a lot of trouble... as you know... She didn't elaborate on her use of the word 'trouble,' but Jack knew what she was referring to. I was yelling at myself for not saying something... again... and the fact that I still didn't say something upset me... She looked at him, meeting his gaze now. See what I mean? she asked. It had nothing to do with your ring, with you at all...

Jack intervened when he guessed, You just don't feel very in control right now?

That's it! Sam emphatically declared, surprised that Jack intrinsically understood what was wrong with her without even seeming to try. She couldn't help but think that Pete had never been able to understand the kind of inner workings of her personality, but Jack knew the facets of her personality right away. She didn't mean to compare the two men, but a comparison happened so fast that she was unable to stop herself. She focused on what Jack had said instead of focusing on the recent comparison itself. I don't feel like this... um... this wedding/marriage situation.., she finally settled on calling it. It doesn't really encourage me to feel very much control, she admitted. And I haven't felt in control at all recently. Feeling suddenly awkward, she thought about the house that Pete had bought for them without consulting her first, the way that she had found out that Jack, a rock in her life, had seemed to be moving on with that life of his without telling her about it, the way her father had suddenly died... Considering all that had recently happened to her, it was no wonder she felt out of control right now!

Jack knowingly commented, And you always like to be in control.

So do you, Sam commented briskly back to him, trying to keep the focus of their conversation off her internal struggle.

Jack snorted. I might like control, he divulged. But I know that I'm not really in control of anything.

As she had been feeling lately! Sam studied him for a second. But you're a General, she protested. You're head of the entire SGC.

Jack went on to explain, And I rely on the many people under my command to actually help me, or to solve the situations that come up.

Sam's nose wrinkled. So what you're saying is that a good commander knows when to delegate?

Who says I'm a good commander? Jack inquired.

It was Sam who snorted this time. I do! she declared. We all do!

But I'm nothing like Hammond! Jack objected, as if intrinsically saying that Hammond had irrefutably been a good commander. He was so... Jack didn't quite know how to describe what he was thinking.

But Sam knew what he was thinking anyway. She shrugged again. So? she asked. Your command style still works, even though it's nothing like Hammond's style. She shrugged again. You're style's more relaxed, that's all. It doesn't mean that it's any less successful.

Jack eyed her while trying not to look like he was eyeing her. He couldn't halt the pleased expression that passed across his eyes. Successful? he echoed. You think I'm successful?

Sam's eyebrow rose a la Teal'c as she quietly regarded him. Why does it matter what I think? she finally asked. It should matter what you think.

Jack grinned a tiny grin, still playing with the doohickey in his hands. He suddenly blinked and looked at it. What's this thing for, anyway? he asked himself even as he tried to answer her question. It's always mattered to me what you think, he softly stated. Right from the day I met you. The fact that you disagreed with me wouldn't have stopped me from doing something that I thought was the right course of action at any given time, but it always mattered what you thought of any subject, he confessed.

Sam appeared surprised. She was silent for a moment, trying to decide what to say. I...

Jack waved his hand towards her. Don't say anything, he suggested. You don't have to. He looked down now, embarrassed by the magnitude of his previous confession. He knew that everyone under his command already knew what his opinion of her was: he'd always valued her opinion. And even though he'd done everything in his power not to make the way he valued what she said as particularly obvious... a commander was supposed to command, after all... that was the point.. a concensus of opinion wasn't necessary or desired in a command...

Except an opinion was now desired by Sam, it seemed. In fact, she seemed more than pleased to find out now that he had ever cared about her opinions to begin with. You really wanted to know my opinions..?

Didn't I always ask for your opinion? Jack responded before she even had a chance to finish her question. I thought that you always knew that. He shrugged. You're right so often that I almost always talk things over with you first before I make a decision of any kind. Then he snorted. Maybe you should be in command instead of me.

Sam frowned. 'Commander Carter' doesn't have the same 'umph' to it that 'General O'Neill' has, she remarked. Besides, how can I be 'the man' when I'm a woman?

And what a woman you are, Jack thought to himself in supreme appreciation, then mentally kicked himself for even having such licentious thoughts in the first place. Then he mentally kicked himself for kicking himself... it was a strange duality of emotion that he was feeling.

Sam's face colored bright red. It was clear that she understood what he wasn't saying even though he hadn't uttered a word. That's one subject that I... uh... suppose we ought to cover, too, she remarked.

But as Jack hadn't voiced what was in his thoughts, he didn't realize she had almost read his mind as well. So he didn't know what she was talking about now. He was soooo confused... which was nothing new when he was talking to Carter... but was new when he was talking to Samantha. Did I miss something here? he asked. What are you talking about?

Sam tried to stare only at the piece of equipment in his hands to hide her embarrassment. Um... She hesitated, then glanced up at the security camera mounted on the ceiling. She gave it a pointed look. Maybe we'd better not address this subject while we're in the mountain, she said then. That could prove rather... She blushed again, a raging red that clashed with her blue BDUs. Um.., she tried to say. Um... embarrassing.

Jack's forehead wrinkled as a way to illustrate his growing confusion. Samantha, either you start making sense here real soon, or I go back to calling you 'Carter.'

Sam sighed, turned her back to the camera, then as calmly as she could, seized the day, as he'd insisted that she do. I'm talking about sex, Sir. You know, the birds and the bees? Now her ears burned with heat as well as her face, in spite of the way that he had encouraged her to be honest with him. Sexual compatibility.

Both Jack's brows rose to his graying hairline now. Oh, he said in understanding. Then he smirked; he couldn't help it. You have questions? he inquired.

Too bad I killed Seth before he could make you a eunuch, Sam teasingly remarked in response to his smart-ass question.

But good for you for even bringing up the subject of sexual compatibility in the first place, Jack couldn't stop himself from saying now.

Sam's lips drew together, but only after she had blown a gusted sigh. Well, that compatibility remains to be seen, doesn't it? she shyly pointed out. We could be as incompatible as night and day. She leaned onto her fisted hand in a mirror of his position so that she could also stare up at him.

Jack was attempting to appear nonchalant when he was really so nervous that he felt sick again. Do you have doubts? he quietly asked.

Sam smiled and pretended to act as if she were considering his question. At last, she admitted, Not really. Do you?

A snort again exploded out of Jack's mouth in an apprehensive affirmation to her query. Then he smiled a tiny smile. I haven't had doubts about that for many, many, many years, he confessed at last in a quiet voice.

Sam's eyes narrowed in calculation then. She grinned back a him. You're flirting, she softly accused. To make certain, she asked, Are you really flirting with me? Then, she added, I mean, openly flirting?

Jack sighed, which calmed his raging stomach, then said, If I am, it's only because you're flirting with me.

Sam grinned even wider. The commander of the base isn't supposed to be caught flirting with his subordinates, she noted.

Jack then decided that he might as well be honest, as she was just going to read his mind anyway. Lying to her wouldn't go very far in convincing her that he was taking her opinions seriously. So he let his gaze roam over Sam's features in a more openly desirous way than he ever had before, landing at last on her lips. He let his eyes linger there before he again brought his gaze back up to meet her own tenacious stare. The commander of the base can do whatever he wants, he slowly retorted, reminding her. Daniel said.

Daniel says lots of things, Sam told him. It doesn't mean that what he says is automatically true.

But don't tell him that, Jack suggested then. It might squash his ego, and everyone knows how important it is to... stroke... His gaze again caressed her lips. He went on as he continued to stare, ... stroke a man's ego.

Sam gave a content sigh. Oh, God, you're making love to me with only a look, she dryly remarked. Janet would have melted if she'd known about this.

Telling Cassie about it will have to do, Jack said suggestively. And if a simple thing as a look will do this to you, what will the real thing do, I wonder? he suggested in a very 'suggestive' way.

Sam laughed. I would try to find out right this minute, she told him. But I'm hungry.

Jack didn't miss a beat this time. We can order pizza and find out about... compatibility issues... after we eat at my house.

Change that order into us eating sandwiches from the deli near your house instead of pizza, and I might just have to agree to your terms.

My terms? Jack repeated. I wasn't aware that I...

Decisive and quick, Sam sat up and powered down her laptop. When she was finished, she grabbed his hand, heart pounding in her throat, but determined to go through with this second new idea of hers now that she had thought of it. She briefly noted to herself that she once again wasn't thinking through her ideas before acting on them, but she wasn't sure she cared at this point. Her emotions had been all over the board so far that morning, and she didn't see an end to that fast pace in sight yet. And since he couldn't slow things down for her, and neither could she, she made a snap decision to enjoy what she could while she could enjoy it. 'Seize the day,' she reminded herself. Come on, she said.

In spite of the way they had just shamelessly flirted with each other, Jack was still surprised by her decisiveness. Samantha! His voice held a warning note to it. I recognize that look on your face... What have you got planned now?

Sam did her best to appear innocent. The expression lasted almost all the way to the lab's closed door before she grinned again. She was so scared, but she also felt entirely exhilarated, and in control for the first time since... for a long time! Besides, this felt more 'right' than anything had in ages.

Not giving herself the time she usually needed to make a move of any kind, she glanced back at him with a smile that was more confident than she felt. Prepare to be seduced, she firmly said.

What? Now? Jack blurted in a panic as she threw open the door and pulled him into the corridor. Now he felt the fear well up inside him again, and quailed. Hadn't we... um... better tell Hammond about your timeline/Daniel idea? Call the President? He was sounding desperate now, and knew it. But he wasn't sure he was ready to think the words 'sex' and 'Sam Carter' in the same thought. Shouldn't we do something..?

Or something, Sam thought. What? she asked of him. Scared?

Jack screwed up his features and tried to be honest again. He adamantly admitted, You bet I am!

Sam smiled again. Good. So am I. It wouldn't be fair if she was frightened as a new school girl while he was as centered as Sergeant Harriman in the Commissary on Taco Tuesday.

Jack tried again to halt her and get her to think about what she was suggesting. Don't you think..?

No, she instantly replied. We shouldn't think. I think too much as it is... you've always told me that I have, she commented. You can grab your coat from your office, but I'm storming it with SFs in tow if you don't meet me by the elevator in five minutes.

Jack gulped. Five minute? Was she serious?

She replied, I'm so serious that we can either go to the surface and get out of here, or I can...

Samantha! Jack broke her off in another warning voice.

But Sam didn't pause. On the Briefing Room table.

Had she just said that out loud in a crowded SGC corridor? That... um... That would be rather crude, Jack stated after a silent, shocked moment.

Not to mention that it would also be highly embarrassing, Sam remarked. She released her rough hold on his hand now that they had reached the elevator. Five minutes, O'Neill, she again firmly reminded. I'm counting.

Jack took a slow breath and let it hiss between his teeth. He noted the determination that he saw displayed in her eyes. God, you are serious, he whispered in astonishment.

But before she had a chance to respond again, he left down the exit stairway, taking the steps two at a time, avoiding the interruptions that were sure to transpire if he walked to his office through the Control Room by taking the stairs. Upon entering his deserted office, he grabbed his coat, but didn't take the time necessary to bring anything else with him. Sam was serious, and Sam was waiting, and Sam was...

Soooo beautiful....

He didn't want to think about what Sam was proposing they do. Even just thinking about it sent twitches up his body, tingles up his spine, goosebumps up his...

No, sooo not going there!

He met Sam's questioning gaze the second he reached her side again as she stood beside the elevator. The second he materialized beside her, she asked out of the blue, Have you had a chance to read.., She paused, decided on what to say, then went on, What we talked about last week?

She was referring to her journal, Jack knew. Guiltily, he shook his head, then explained, I first learned about it last Thursday night, then we left at 0600 Friday morning for Minnesota. His eyes had taken on a teasing gleam as he spoke. And unlike you, he said, I haven't had my computer surgically attached to my side... And since I don't have electricity at my cabin, besides what's provided by the generator... the cabin's not networked with the SGC, anyway... So, no, I haven't had the chance to read it yet.

She peered up at him, then asked, Would it be easier for you to read a hard copy of it?

Jack was impressed again at her thoughtfulness. Had she always been this thorough? He supposed that she had, except he had never seen her in the 'thinking a new concept through' mode before. Yeah, a hard copy that I can actually hold in my hands would make things a lot easier. He suggestively grinned at her then. I'm a very 'hands-on' person.

Sam had to smile at his last statement. I know, she softly said. Her voice was so low that only a person standing right next to her would have even heard her. She put a hand on his arm and turned him to head back down the corridor. Come on, let's get a... a 'haaaaard copy... for you, she said, whispering the phrase 'hard copy' so that it took on a double meaning when she said it in that particular tone of voice.

Jack tried not to think about what she had just said. They traveled down the corridor, but she didn't aim him towards her lab, as he expected her to. Instead, she steered him to the employee recreation room. I thought you were going to print out...

I already have a copy, Sam admitted. It's in the Rec Room.

It was in the Rec Room? What was it doing in there? What happened to the password protected, super encrypted file..?

Sam pulled him into the empty rec room after her, but left the door wide open, at first, because she didn't want to be caught, with him, in a room in the SGC with a closed door. But then she caught sight of his... her... new engagement ring twinkling on her finger in the lights of the room, and thought how ridiculous she was being. They were engaged, after all... no matter how that engagement had come about, she added to her argument. But, old habits died hard, and still the door remained open.

When she turned around to face him, there was a small smile of encouragement on her lips. All that's in that file you'll find on my computer is a question that would bring you here, she admitted. I kind of have something like a treasure hunt going with my journal.

A treasure hunt? As in 'find the hidden jewel and become an instant millionaire' kind of treasure hunt? Except in this case, the 'jewel' was in fact her journal instead of a precious stone. But matters of value were created differently for different items, Jack noted to himself. What could have no value to one person might be very valuable to another.

It also seemed that Samantha's earlier preoccupation with... honestly... with sex... had disappeared now that she had something new to focus on. Trying to keep up with the quick changes in what he was doing, where he was going, and where she was encouraging him to go, Jack took a steadying breath. Um...

Sam interrupted him. The question in my computer file is 'Where do you find AF Guidelines in the SGC?'

Guidelines? Jack silently repeated to himself as he looked at her and around the room in puzzlement. The Guidelines? he asked at last. Samantha... Man! He loved calling her by her full first name!

But Sam interrupted his thoughts again, distracting him from his love of addressing her in a way that was both personal to him and in a way that he had created himself. I haven't gone nuts, she affirmed in a dry voice. Just answer the question.

Forgetting about his rumbling stomach, about sex, about Daniel and timelines and invitations, Jack instead concentrated on what he saw in the room. But all he saw were some pieces of overstuffed furniture, a TV, some card tables, some vending machines, the second Ping-pong table (the first was currently in the gym), and... He gasped then. Behind the Ping-pong table was an entire wall covered in shelves, all filled with books, and with thick black military binders. The Guidelines, he said again. He pointed at the binders, but looked at her. Do you mean the military Regulations?

Something we're very familiar with, she sarcastically stated with a roll of her eyes.

Then Jack turned back to look again at the shelves before him. But there are so many books and binders... How do I know where to start looking?

Again came the sardonic roll of her eyes. What would you look at first when you were searching for my private journal?

Jack moved closer to the wall, peering at the titles of the books. Then he smiled knowingly, if a bit sadly, too. Without comment, he pulled the Rec Room's copy of the UCMJ off the third shelf from the wall on the right, then flipped aside the pages until he reached instruction 36-2909, the Fraternization Policy. At the bottom of the page where a description of that particular regulation began, in pencil, was written the question 'What year did our bus companions get married?'

Jack read the question to himself, then turned to her with narrowed eyes. 'Bus companions?' he mouthed, making certain to ask the question so that no one in the security office could see anything through the camera in the corner, and he didn't speak aloud, as they were still in the SGC, though the Rec Room was empty at the time. The 'we' in the question was automatically SG-1 to him, but... When were we ever on a..? he thought, then didn't finish his mental query as he suddenly recalled the bus belonging to those Jenny and Michael characters when they had 'accidentally-on-purpose' time traveled back to the year 1969. We have such a weird job he was thinking as he pulled the 'Military Strategies Through the Ages' binder-book for the year 1969 off its shelf.

Jack paused with the binder falling open in his hands, revealing pages of battle strategy to anyone who cared enough to look at them. However, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Sam minutely shaking her head as she sat at one of the card tables in the Rec Room. This isn't the right binder? he asked, and indicated the binder he held in his hand.

What information did the question ask for? she inquired from her place by the far wall across from the shelves full of the books and binders that no one ever looked at. What did it ask, precisely?

Jack stared at her stupidly for a moment.

Sam grinned. You get this cute, vacant look on your face when you see a problem that doesn't have an immediate solution.

Jack's brows rose up his forehead. Had she just said that at certain times, he looked... cute?

Jack's brain couldn't wrap around her comment, so he simply repeated the question to himself instead of thinking about what she had just said. Precisely? he asked.

Sam nodded.

Jack thoughtfully lowered the binder in his hands and huffed out a breath. Well, how should I know when they got married? It's not like we even knew that guy's last name or anything! Irritation was sounding loud in his voice.

Ja.., Sam started to say, then, so she wouldn't use her more intimate name for him in the very public SGC, changed her comment to, Jenny told me hers and Michael's last names while we were with her. You can find them in my mission report.

Mission report? Sam Carter was nothing if not thorough, and finding anything specific about an SG-1 mission would mean reading her written report. Jack scratched at his forehead with his left index finger. Where would he find old SGC mission reports?

Well, he considered, there was the batch that he sent to Washington DC, to the Pentagon, every month. But he didn't see how knowing that would help him right now.

Then his eyes brightened. There were boxes of old mission reports sitting right in one corner of the Rec Room...

Jack crossed to the boxes, read the dates on the lid of each box, then pulled one lid off a box, revealing files marked 'Top Secret' all full of hundreds of pages of old, yellowing reports. He riffled through many files until he found the mission he was looking for. He pulled the 'Top Secret' file from the box, opened it, and saw Teal'c's report of what had happened to them that week they had traveled back to the past. But that wasn't the one he wanted. He flipped till he found Daniel's report next.

Nope, not that one... Flip... Ah, Captain Samantha Carter... Jack quickly read the words she had written...

At last, he looked up and said, Jenny Houston, and Michael Callen.

Okay, Sam said. That's good so far. But what precisely is the information the question is asking for again?

Jack mentally reviewed the question he had found on the page in the UCMJ. Had it asked for the year that Jenny and Michael had gotten married, or had it asked for something else, like their last name after getting married?

Now, he didn't remember. So he pulled the UCMJ off its shelf, and looked again.

What year did our bus companions get married?

Bus companions... Jack thought about Jenny and Michael for a moment. They had been so cool to help them out the way they had. If Michael hadn't been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War... And Michael had been one of the most nonaggressive men he had ever known... Anyway, it was unlikely that Jenny and Michael would have met SG-1 at all, as the only reason the hippy couple were even on the road at the time that SG-1 had needed help was that they planned to have one final hoorah at the concert at Woodstock, New York before Michael either left for Canada, or joined the war movement.

The Vietnam War. Even Jack himself had been in the Vietnam War. What a waste of men that whole war had been. It was pure luck that Jack had survived that war, he knew, and Michael would have known the same good fortune if he...

Then, Jack stopped thinking about Michael, the waste of men he thought the war had been... all of it. Instead, he concentrated on the War itself, on Michael being drafted, and on Sam's question about Michael and Jenny. Now, if Michael and Jenny had waited to get married because Michael had been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War... If Michael had been drafted, he had probably gone into the Army... and the Vietnam War had ended in 1975... Then, assuming that Michael had made it through the war with no injuries barring him from battle, he would have been discharged sometime around 1975 or '76... That meant that he and Jenny would have wasted no time if they had gotten married immediately...

Jack pushed the binder for the year 1969 back into it's place, then pulled the binders for Military Strategies in the years 1975 and '76 off the shelf. He hoped he was looking in the correct set of binders, but these binders were the only set of binders that were both numbered in ascending chronological order and dated in the title by year. There was nothing like the military for putting out books in binders, Jack thought a tad ironically, as he flipped each binder open to the index page.

Nothing.

On a whim, he flipped each binder to the last page caught in the binder rings. On the binder marked for 1976, he saw some scratchings of pencil marking another question.

Jack grinned, triumphantly mouthed '1976' to Sam, then pulled the binder full of pages close to him so that he could read her tiny scrawl as she'd penciled her question on the last page.

What year did the Ambassador try to pound out a treaty with the race that wanted to sterilize Humans?

Sterilize Humans? Ambassador? Jack asked himself. What?

Then before he could even look at Sam in puzzlement, he had it. The Ambassador! That's right! The guy with the shoes... the way-too-nice-shoes to be wearing when 'Gating to a farming planet where a race called the Aschen had..!

And when had that happened? Jack narrowed his eyes, thinking. That had happened after the Za'tarc tests, if he remembered right. And before that Anubis thing in Antarctica... Before Jonas Quinn, cause it had been Daniel who found the word he couldn't translate meaning 'to sterilize...' And that would have been... what year?

Well, Daniel ascended for the first time in... had it been in January of 2002?... 2001?... And he had 'descended' sometime after the Jonas Quinn year... They had given up Daniel's apartment for the duration of the time he was gone... and the Ambassador-with-the-nice-shoes had traveled with them to that Aschen/farming planet before...

Jack held up two fingers, made a zero with his fist, made another fist, the held up one finger, his eyebrows raised in question.

Sam said nothing, but gave a tiny nod of her head.

Jack went to pull the binder marked with the year 2001 off its shelf. As he flipped to the last page in the binder, he remarked, You know, there are those people on this planet who would say that all this intrigue is a little on the paranoid side.

Sam stated, I didn't think of it, Jenny did.

Jenny? Jack blurted and looked up at her.

Yeah. Sam scooted up in her chair so she could answer him better. She and I were in a grocery store one day, buying supplies, and we got into this conversation about mysteries. She had learned from reading mystery novels that the best place to hide something is in plain sight. But that didn't mean that 'in plain sight' had to be easy to find. Clues given by asking questions that only the person hiding the... whatever... or his closest friends would know the answers to was the best way to find that 'plain sight' location. Jenny and I argued about what 'plain sight' meant while we shopped.

And where was I at the time? Jack asked with a tiny smile on his lips. He really was enjoying this 'treasure hunt' she had devised.

Sam smiled back to him. I think you were stretched out again on the couch in the back of the bus, taking another nap.

Really? Jack riffled a hand through his hair. I wasn't aware that I slept so much on the trip, he muttered to himself. But then he shook his head when the last binder page fell open in his hand. He saw the question in an instant, and read the words scrawled on the white endpage. How many years have I known my CO?

He was her CO... Sam... Sam Carter had known Jack O'Neill for..?

Eight years..?

Jack replaced the binder of the year '2001' and pulled out the binder marked 'Eight' in the series of military strategy binders.

But Sam was shaking her head 'no.'

Jack glared at her. Is to! he retorted.

Precisely? she asked.

Jack paused. Well... They had met on July 25th, 1997... That was eight years... No, that was seven years and six months ago... He was rounding up the final number of years he was calculating.

Jack returned the binder marked as number 'eight,' then pulled off number 'seven.' He flipped through the pages, and... Something was wrong... not wrong so much as different. The pages were dated, and they were printed on different weight paper than the binders full of pages on military strategy... and they read like a journal...

Yep, this was it...

Jack didn't say anything, but his slow grin perfectly illustrated his pleasure at finding her journal at last. He flipped through several more pages, and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of words she had concocted. How was he going to find the information pertinent to the recent months? Was he going to have to read the entire thing? How do I find the right entries? he quietly asked of her.

Sam answered just as quietly. You need to start reading... She screwed her eyes in concentration. Don't read the whole thing... not that I wrote in my journal all that often... April?... Oh, that was when you were a popsickle in Antarctica... Bad memories, she muttered, then went on, But you're interested in all that happened in the... the recent months... She delicately coughed, referring to Pete with her words without having to say his name at all. Instead, she just continued, Start reading in... in January of 2004. Sam nodded her head. That should be right. And you need to read all the entries from January on to the present in order to understand what I was doing at the time, and why I was doing what I was doing, and thinking what I was thinking.

And I want to understand, Jack quietly declared as he sent a piercing gaze across the room in her direction.

Sam looked down, temporarily unable to meet the look he was sending her way. But then she stared straight at him in with her unflinching gaze. Her stomach flipped over in response. I know you do, she whispered. My thoughts... My real thoughts... They're in the binder...

Jack moved to sit down across from Sam at her table. This means a lot to me, ya know, he said. You letting me read your journal... after I found it first, he wryly finished.

Plain sight, Sam again stated. With a little investigative work thrown in...

In case anyone might just think to look for it in here. Jack's forehead creased. Samantha, are you sure you're not a teeny bit paranoid?

Sam glared at him. Of course I'm paranoid, she emphatically declared in an intense whisper. Do you know what's in there? Jack shook his head. I mentioned your name! she softly hissed. Many times!

Jack whispered back, But everyone knew that Colonel O'Neill was your CO!

Not that name! Sam hissed back. Your first name! It's all over those pages!

This surprised Jack. It is?

Sam glared at him again for a moment, then stated in no uncertain terms, Yes, you're first name is mentioned, and I had to protect you at any cost, no matter what I called you! You're worth a little paranoia! And I knew that if this information ever fell into the hands of guys like Kinsey, our collective geese were cooked!

Isn't that 'goose?' he asked, trying to lighten the mood surrounding the revelations he was hearing. Gooses?

Goose, plural, Sam said back to him. 'Geese.' Then she went on, I knew that hiding it in here, in a public place, was a risk, but no one had touched those binders once in the entire time that the SGC had been operational at the time I began looking at them as a possible hiding place for my journal. I had to dust these binders first before I could even touch them. And the idea for the questions... I thought for days on those...

They're good, Jack stated. Even I wouldn't have figured them out, and some of them pertain directly to me! Or at least directly to SG-1. Jack shook his head, amazed. I can't even imagine how wild you would drive Major Davis, for instance, if he were looking for your journal.

And before I kept my journal in here, I kept it in my lab, in the file cabinet, until I realized that my lab would be the first place anyone would look for my journal. Besides, my computer's in my lab, so I never saved anything I wrote in this journal on my computer... even though I typed the whole thing on that computer... so there's no record of anything on my computer...

Jack sat back, and tapped the binder with his index finger. No one would ever think to look in here. He laid his hand down flat on the black cover of the one inch thick binder. Good hiding place, he said, then added, if a bit on the paranoid side. Then he grinned at her. I taught you well...

She looked back at him in mild irritation. But before she could respond to his comment, Daniel walked into the Rec Room, around the Ping-pong table, and over to them sitting on the other side of the room. He was carrying a coffee mug in his hand that proclaimed that 'Egyptians do it with mummies.'

Daniel peered at them, then looked around until he found the carafe of coffee that he had been looking for sitting on the side counter. Ah, there it is, he said as he started for it. I'm freezing, and I'm all out of coffee in my office, so... He didn't finish what he was saying, but poured out the dark beverage into his mug. He took a sip of the hot coffee, then smiled. Ah! he grunted. So good!

What brings you here, Daniel? Sam asked, her head still resting nonchalantly on her hand. Besides coffee, that is?

Daniel gazed at her over the rim of his cup. Oh, he calmly said, I suppose the same thing that's brought you here.

I doubt that, Jack commented under his breath.

Daniel turned his attention to his male friend after wrapping his hands around the cup of hot liquid to warm them. Why do you say that? he finally managed to ask, curious now, as Jack had probably intended.

Sam spoke quickly, He means we were discussing military strategy, she said while coolly running a finger down the outside cover of the number seven black binder that housed her journal. The words 'Military Strategy in the years 1892-1893' were proudly typed on a paper stuck to the the side of the binder. There was nothing to indicate that it really housed a diary written by Samantha Carter. Nothing you'd be interested in, she nonchalantly added.

That's not quite the entire truth, Jack said just as quickly as Sam had spoken, meaning that she didn't even have a chance to stop him before he blurted out his comment.

Daniel stared at them with narrowed eyes. What do you mean? he asked. Come on, if you're in the middle of some secret...

Jack very casually stated, No, no secret. We were just sitting here talking about the military, sex, sex in the military... that kind of thing.

It was a good thing that Daniel hadn't just taken a drink of coffee before Jack spoke, or he would undoubtedly have given Jack and Sam a coffee shower. As it was, he choked on the little amount of coffee he did have in his mouth. Spluttering, he gave a shocked half chuckle, half gasp, and incredulously asked, You're kidding, right?

No, responded a rather smug looking Jack, who was trying to appear unconcerned without seeming too pleased with himself.

Nope, said Sam at the same time. She glanced at Jack, seeing his unusually satisfied expression, then amended, Well, maybe about the 'sex in the military' part...

Daniel's eyes just kept getting wider and wider. You're not kidding...

Jack kicked out the chair in front of Daniel so that the other man could join them. When Daniel hesitated to sit down in the offered seat, Jack scowled. Don't worry, Daniel, we're not about to do something kinky, like ask you to join us in our... discussion... or anything. But, we have something to run by you.

This isn't about sex, is it? Daniel warily wanted to know. Cause I'm not sure I want...

Will you sit? Jack asked, irritated. No, this is about the timelines. We want to ask you what you think about something. Samantha? Jack asked as he turned back to look at her. Do you want to explain it to him? I'll only make a mess of it if I try.

Before Sam could answer him, or even start on her explanation, Daniel's face had screwed up as if he'd tasted something really rotten, catching both their attentions. 'Samantha?' he asked Jack, echoing the older man's language. Since when have you called her anything but 'Carter?'

Since about an hour ago, answered Jack. Now, keep up, will ya?

But Daniel seemed to be stuck at what Jack had told him, for he said, Why? What happened an hour ago? What did I miss?

It was Sam who then retorted, Nothing... She shrugged and added, We got engaged this morning. She shrugged again. Any other questions?

Daniel could only gape at her, but he finally had gathered his mental faculties enough for him to counter her comment with his hiss of protest, You guys were following orders!

Um, Uncomfortable, Jack hummed to get their attentions. Not exactly... If that statement wasn't enough to make both Daniel and Sam look at him in confusion, what he said next was certainly enough to cause heavy bewilderment. I... um,... guess... I owe you both... um... an explanation for that... um... order/engagement thing.

Sam's brows puckered when she heard him say that. You weren't just following orders? she asked. Though she had suspected this very thing to have happened, she still didn't know for certain, and... I know that you claimed that a girl likes to be asked, not ordered, but...

Jack interrupted her. It didn't exactly go like that, he went on, looking down, embarrassed now.

It didn't? Sam inquired. If something had happened that morning, she wished he would tell her! But she tried not to lose her hold on her patience, knowing that he would tell her in his own good time.

However, Daniel squirmed in his chair, impatient enough for both of them, and uncomfortably aware that he suddenly felt like he was intruding on a private conversation. Maybe I should leave you two alone, or...

No, Daniel, stay, Jack deliberately said, though he still hadn't taken his eyes off Sam. He did nothing but blink in a calculating way, now staring between Daniel and Sam. When he spoke, though, he spoke to Daniel. You might as well hear what I have to... um...

Sam sat back in her chair to regard Jack more fully. What is it? she asked, clearly befuddled, and quickly losing her patience, too. I...

Again Jack interrupted her. I called Cassie at her dorm later last Thursday afternoon, after I talked to you, Samantha... and to the President... the first time I talked to the President, he corrected.

This surprised Sam enough to cause her to blink at him in owlish puzzlement. At last she was able to find her voice and suspiciously ask, What was so important to tell Cassie that you had to call her at college?

Jack looked down at the table, finally breaking the eye contact he'd shared with Sam. Still looking down, he softly admitted, I... He cleared his throat. I... um... maybe... suggested that she... At last, he gave up all pretense at sugarcoating his actions for her. He sighed, then admitted, I told Cassie that I needed her help. He jerked. That I was thinking of... doing something... and I needed her help... er... her opinion.

Sam sat unmoving in her chair, too stunned to move much anyway. It wasn't often that Jack O'Neill confessed anything, and she felt dazed by his words now, even if it meant that her suspicions were half confirmed by that admission. After staring at him for a full minute, she inquired, Her opinion? On what? What could he possibly have needed a college student's opinion about?

Here, Jack glanced at Daniel, who was equally as confused by Jack's confession, but was for once either holding back his comments, or rendered speechless. With Daniel, it wasn't always easy to tell. It wasn't like Jack could read Daniel's expressions, then guess at what the linguist was thinking. It wasn't like he was Sam... Samantha!

So Jack glanced at Daniel once to at least try to guess his thoughts, then studied the slightly shocked, slightly worried expression on Sam's... Samantha's!... face, then back to Daniel, then back to answer Sam's... Samantha's!... question. I told Cassie that... um... This was it. Jack took a big breath and blurted, I told her that I wanted to propose to you soon... wanted to, not was going to be ordered to, he emphasized. As in, I wanted to propose so soon that it had to be that coming weekend, or Monday, or before I talked to the President today... I mean on Tuesday morning. He sighed then, and looked down at the table again in order to rein in his growing panic at the idea of confessing anything. Anyway, he said at last, going on in a softer voice, Anyway, whenever it happened, I needed an engagement ring to offer you, and it was already past 1800, and most of the jewelry stores were already closed. She suggested looking at rings the next day, naturally, but then I reminded her that we... all of the original SG-1... would be driving for a planned vacation up to my cabin in Minnesota for the entire weekend, that we wouldn't be back till Monday night, and that time off for me was almost impossible to come by, and I didn't want to reschedule, as I knew that I might never get this chance again, and... He cut himself off, knowing that he was rambling, and giving more information to them than they needed, or wanted, to know. It reminded him of the many times he'd had to stop Carter's technobabbling over the years. Anyway, you get the picture. And eventually Cassie suggested looking on the Net...

Daniel interrupted him to blurt, They have engagement rings on the Internet?

It was Sam who knowledgeably responded, You can find anything for sale on the Internet. It's not where I bought my car, but I looked there first.

I didn't know that! Daniel gaped at Sam as Jack continued with his story.

Anyway, Jack said, moving them beyond Daniel's outburst. I wasn't going to be home to accept an overnight mailing of a ring, if I found one that I liked and bought, and I wanted something quick, since I didn't have any time to waste... But I wasn't going to be home... See my problem? he asked them. Looking on the Internet was a good idea, but if I actually bought something, I wouldn't be around to receive it like I would be on any normal weekend... and that's when Cassie also suggested that she could potentially skip her Friday and Monday classes if she needed to skip things, and then come stay at my place instead of me, so that they could deliver something as possibly expensive as an engagement ring, and she would be there to accept the delivery...

What did Cassie ask for? Sam immediately wanted to know, surprised at how much trouble he had apparently gone to for her, but not commenting on the depth of her astonishment. Instead, she asked, Or what did you offer to Cassie before she could ask for it? Sam sighed then, but said, I know Cassie... she'll want to have had some kind of compensation...

Jack grinned. Sam... Samantha!... was right: she did know how Cassie thought. Jack went on with his confession, At first, she was so thrilled with the entire idea that she squealed so loud that she about took my head off, he ruefully said. But then we got down to serious business, and she asked for a new, state of the art laptop computer...

Sam... Samantha! Jack scolded himself. With a grunt, he finally gave up. He would keep thinking of her as Sam no matter what he wanted to do.

Sam interrupted to let her mouth fall open in shock. Cassie didn't! she insisted in horror. Then she glanced once more at Jack's honest expression, and amended her last statement to, She did!

Jack smiled a tiny smile at her, and at Daniel, who, amazingly enough, still hadn't offered his own opinion of the entire affair. It was nice to do business with someone with such an obvious agenda for a change, he defended his decisions.

There is that, Daniel said, finally entering into the conversation,

Jack looked to Daniel when he spoke, then glanced down at the table again, then back at Sam once more. So that's what I did that night... I packed as quickly as I could, and in all my free time, on base or off, I looked at rings on the Internet. You know, Samantha, Cassie is a girl after your own heart since she was the one who first thought of looking on the Net. I would have been cooked if it hadn't been for her. Jack took a deep breath and gave a sigh of appreciation. The price of a computer isn't much when you look at it that way. He grinned then. She gave me time to do all that I wanted to do: fishing and propose before I was 'ordered' to propose.

Daniel blurted, I thought that the weekend was a team vacation.

It was, Jack quickly stated. But I watched... Jack sighed, a tiny bit guilty. I didn't want to be ordered to propose to Samantha just to save the planet one more time, he said, then blinked at his fianc‚. With a serious expression on his face, he whispered at last, confessing, I wanted it to be real.

A thunderstruck Sam was the next to speak. It was one thing to suspect a certain behavior, but quite another to know! She inquired, Real... She was so numb! But... She coughed and swallowed. But... What if I had said 'no' when you proposed? she finally managed to inquire of Jack.

Jack's eyebrows rose then, and he quietly told them, Then I planned to tell the President that I was sorry, but we would have to see if what Daniel claimed would happen with the timelines would actually happen, if the timelines will do what he says they'll do, or if they don't, and we would have to discover this the old fashioned way... by using the 'wait and see' method. He fiddled with the edge of military binder number seven resting on the table in front of him. But, he continued in a squeak, as if the rest of the confession was being wrung out of him. He looked at Sam, grief written all over his features. But... I didn't want you to be 'ordered' to say yes. I... He paused again, closed his eyes to shut away the regret he was feeling at thinking about what he was naturally remembering now. He said, This whole thing... that I... have with you here... It's too big to me, too important... to... to let it... be reduced down to simple orders, he finished on a whisper.

Sam gaped at him again, her eyes so wide that they took up half her cheeks. Again, even though she had suspected the truth, she was still flummoxed by hearing it. But, she protested. But...

Jack's quiet voice cut her off. I never wanted you to say 'yes' because you felt that you had to.

I didn't, Sam immediately attested. That's not why I answered the way that I did. Finally admitting to herself that she didn't know what to say, she whispered, Um... I don't know what to say... um...

Then it was Daniel again who screwed up his features, and asked, And I needed to hear this because..?

Jack turned to face his friend, a contrite, embarrassed look on his face, and immediately said, I need you to tell all this information to Walter in the Control Room, because 1) I know that he'll believe you, and that he won't believe us, because if we did say this... um, he would think that we would naturally claim such a thing because he'd expect us to say something like this all along, and 2) that once Walter hears this, and from you, he'll believe it, then tell the rest of the base because Walter, as we all know, loves a good gossip.

Sam stared at Jack, stunned again. She might have suspected this entire scenario, but hearing Jack confess to it..! The idea that Jack would be so thoughtful as to not only make certain that she hadn't felt like she needed to answer his proposal in the affirmative, but that he was also making sure that the rest of the base had a way of discovering that as well was...

Before she had the chance to add anything to his idea, Jack added, General Hammond can back us up if anybody asks.

That mention of Hammond was enough to remind Sam that she needed to inform Daniel of her newest theory about timelines. Oh, she said, as if she had just now remembered her own idea. Still slightly befuddled at what Jack had so recently divulged, and apologetic for having to change the subject this way, she still was able to gather her thoughts together and say, Daniel, we need to tell you...

Sequel: Samantha's Journal


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