samandjack.net

Story Notes: RmceWrtr@hotmail.com

Genre: UST, RST, Romance, AU

Pairing: This goes without saying. but if I must. Jack/Sam

Rating: PG-13

Length: Novella

Spoilers: All minor for "Affinity", "100 Days", "Window of Opportunity", "Grace", "Chimera". More for Affinity than any other.

Timeline: Season 8, post "Affinity"

Archive: This will be posted (eventually) to my site http://outoftheroom.hometead.com , FF.net, Sam and Jack, SJfic. if you'd like to post it somewhere else, just let me know. I'm sure I'll say yes, just want to know where.

Special Thanks: This is going to be a BIG ONE! Jen, you ROCK! Jen is so far beyond my Beta, it's not even funny. To be completely fair, she should be listed as co-author. She put me on track when I started to wander, she told me "Jack wouldn't say that." when I pegged him wrong. She helped me outline, plot, and even helped with some of the scenes. Some of the truly great lines of dialogue here probably came from her. especially if it's Daniel. She writes a GREAT Daniel. Jen, I couldn't have done it without you, babe!

And so. on with the show.


**"I haven't said yes."**

**"And yet. you haven't said no."**

**"What about you, sir? If things were different."**

**"I wouldn't be here."**

"Um, Jack. Are you okay?"

Jack looked up from the folder on his desk, to look at Daniel in the open doorway of his office. Behind Daniel, in the Briefing Room, Jack saw SG-1 assembling for their pre-mission briefing. Sam was talking to Teal'c about something, and whatever the big Jaffa said made her smile. She shook her head, and the tips of her blonde hair swirled around her neck, caressing her cheek.

"Jack! That pen is about to snap."

Jack stopped, and glanced down at the pen in his right hand. The edge of his desk blotter was heavily dotted with blue ink, an obvious indicator of his tapping. He grimaced at the big glob of ink at the end of the pen and tossed it in the waste basket beside him. Daniel still stood in the doorway, hands in the pockets of his BDU's, when Jack looked back. The expectant 'I'm-gonna-stand-here-until-you-spill-it' expression on his face had his eyebrows arched well above the rim of his glasses.

"What?"

"Something on your mind, Jack?"

It took all the discipline he had learned since being recruited to Special Ops not to look out the window. To her. Jack just arched his eyebrows and tried to look non-committed. "On my mind? Nope. Ready for that pre-mission briefing?"

He stood out of his ergonomic, real leather, 'general's' chair and brushed past Daniel into the Briefing Room, ignoring the mumbled "Ja-ack" as he went by.

"Good morning, Kids. What exciting news do I need to hear before I send you off into the Wild Blue Yonder?" He rubbed his palms together before flopping into the chair at the end of the table. "P9X-4EV, right?"

Teal'c leaned back in his chair as Sam swiveled to face Jack, and Daniel sat down. "Yes, sir," Sam began, and Jack almost smiled at the way she folded her hands across her stomach and crossed her legs as she reclined. "This is our fifth visit to the planet. And thus far, it has been fairly uneventful. The inhabitants are somewhat rustic. No electricity, but some basic tools such as well pumps and metallurgy. Their leaders are more than willing to discuss the SGC setting up a base outside their town to mine the Naquida veins we found on our first visit."

"In exchange for what? The usual? Gate addresses?"

Sam shook her head. "No, sir."

Jack cocked his head. "Really."

"They aren't an ambitious people, Jack," Daniel said, flipping open the folder in front of him. "They seem very content to live as they are. Although they were surprised to see us, they weren't all that surprised to hear that we came from another planet. I think they've chosen this simpler way of living consciously. They are willing to let us be there, as long as we don't try to change them. They will let us have all the Naquida we want as long as we are careful to preserve the land when we do it. They have no use for it."

"Oh. Okay. Is there something we can offer them? They haven't asked for anything? It seems a bit wrong to just. you know. take and not give."

"I was just saying the same thing, sir," Sam said, and Jack turned just enough to look into her eyes. She didn't look away. He loved it when she didn't look away. "And I would like to offer them some basic medicines on this trip, along with a list of ingredients and processes to make and develop their own. Mainly antibiotics and anesthetics."

"Sounds like a good idea."

"Thank you, sir." She smiled, and Jack had to look away. Sometimes, the smiles hurt worse than the avoidance game they'd played for so many years.

"Okay. So, we go today and finalize the deal - spit on our hands and shake on it - and then SG's 24, 25, 26 and 27 move in next week for the long haul with a planned schedule for returns to Earth."

In unison, they all stood, their chairs sliding across the hard floor.

"The three of us will be ready to leave in an hour, sir."

"Four."

Sam's head bobbed and Jack felt a small sense of gratification in the fact that he could still shock her from time to time. She didn't know him so well. he pushed aside the thought.

"Four, sir?"

"Yeah." Jack tapped his fingertips on the tabletop. "I'm coming along for the ride. Need some fresh air. This place has plenty of trees, right, Colonel?"

She still looked surprised, and yet a small smile tipped one corner of her lips. "Yes, sir. Lots and lots of trees."

"Good." He turned and headed back to his office. "Because we **all** know how much I love trees."

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"Aaaahhh, fresh air. Can't get air like this in Colorado." Jack sucked in another deep breath through his nose.

Sam looked at him through her sunglasses, and smiled. She couldn't help it. The big grin on Jack's face was enough to make anyone grin. He was in his element again. Feeling the rush of demolecularization and reconstitution. course, that wouldn't be how he saw it. To him, it was just the power of the Gate.

"Good Day, Samantha," called Aaroon Sonarnon as he walked across the field towards the base of the Gate. He was dressed, as usual, in the simple brown-tone clothing common in his community. The overall-style pants formed a placard across the front of his chest, covering a long sleeve shirt in a slightly darker hue. The shirt was slightly open at the throat, and his face was shaded by the wide-brimmed straw hat he wore. "It is good to see you again."

"Good Day, Aaroon," Sam said as she descended the steps.

"Daniel. Teal'c. It's good to see you, as well. You have brought a new visitor?"

"Yes. This is General Jack O'Neill, my commanding officer," Sam said, turning to face Jack as he approached.

"Jack. Welcome to the Calla Hills community. Come, everyone. My Beloved waits with the mid-day meal."

The four followed behind Aaroon, easily falling into the same comfortable positions. Jack and Sam side by side, with Teal'c and Daniel several paces behind. How many times had they explored worlds in this configuration? When did it become so natural? And with a heavy ache in her chest, Sam realized just how much she missed it and wondered if Jack's feelings were the same.

"Is he the. what?... chief? Leader? Head honcho?" Jack asked in a hushed voice, leaning slightly towards her as they walked.

"Sort of. They live in small communities, and the elders are looked to for guidance, but there really isn't one person who leads. There are religious leaders, and social leaders, and medical leaders. Aaroon is a kind of, um, agricultural elder. Which is why we've been mainly speaking with him. The direct result our mining would have--"

"--on the environment. I get it. But, elder? He's what. thirty-nine? Forty?"

"One-hundred and seven cycles of the season, as they call it."

Sam suppressed her chuckle as she saw the surprise wash over Jack's face. "Keep in mind, sir, that their year is slightly different than ours. Shorter. So, a cycle goes by faster for them. Roughly, nine months to our twelve."

"How old is he in Earth years, then?"

"Seventy-eight. Roughly."

"Why is it, Carter, that we never visit planets were the humans age **faster** than us? We always meet these lucky so-and-so's who live for, like, 3 zillion years and look like they haven't turned thirty. And us, we hit forty and everything goes to hell in a hand basket. Just once, I'd like some alien look at me and say 'Wow, for fifty-something you look great! We're usually dead by forty-five, you know'."

Sam smiled pausing for just a brief moment to take in the angles and profile of her commanding officer. As far as she was concerned, forty had done great things for Jack O'Neill. So had fifty.

"Wow, for fifty-something, you look great. sir." She didn't even try to hide her smirk as his head jerked sharply in her direction, and their stares met. Then Jack's lips tipped just slightly, but the smile went all the way to his eyes. "Thank you, Colonel."

**God, how she missed this!**

"Maybe we can find out their secret while we're here, sir."

"According to you, Carter, I don't need their secret." He didn't look at her this time, but the deep dimples in his cheek told her he was smiling.

They continued another click down the wide dirt road until they reached Aaroon Sonarnon's home. Three children played in the yard with a wooden wheel, each child holding a stick they used to keep the wheel in motion and from falling over. The young laughter reached them well before the house was in sight.

"Beloved," Aaroon called out as they reached the door of the two-story home. "I have brought Samantha, Daniel and Teal'c and they have brought a new visitor."

Sarai Sonarnon came into the entry room, her lovely blonde hair tied back in a queue with curls around her face, holding the hand of their youngest child, Banith, who looked to be perhaps 3 Earth years old. Sarai's other hand rested on her slightly extended abdomen. Sonarnon child number eight. When Sarai reached Aaroon, he pulled her close and pressed a long kiss to her cheek.

"It's good to see you all again, and to meet new friends." She stepped to Jack, and when he extended his hand, she held it between both of hers. "I am Sarai, Aaroon's Beloved."

Jack glanced sideways at Sam, and smiled his best diplomatic smile. "Jack. Thank you."

"Come into the house and rest while I help Sarai," Aaroon said, motioning towards a room to the right of the doorway.

The room focused on a central hearth made of fieldstone, and the floors were wide planks polished to a stunning shine. A variety of wooden children's toys littered the floor near the hearth, and a doll sat perched against the wall. In one of the chairs sat a young girl, looking about eighteen in earth years, with an open book in her lap. She looked up as they entered, and a wide smile spread her lips when she saw Daniel.

"Daniel!" she said on a breath, and color flooded her cheeks. Then she blinked and looked away. "Samantha. Teal'c. It is good to see you."

"Hello, Tella," Daniel said and sat down beside her. "I was hoping to see you when we visited today. I brought you the book I told you about."

Sam walked to a bench that sat facing the hearth, and Jack sat beside her, leaning in as he lowered himself. "Daniel's newest admirer?"

Sam chuckled and nodded. "You know Daniel. Can't stay on any one planet for too long without attracting at least one or two admirers. And as usual, he has no clue. That's Tella, Aaroon's oldest daughter. He has two sons who have already joined - um - married, and have farms of their own."

Jack turned enough to look out the window behind them, and watched the children playing. "Just how many kids does he have?"

"Eight including the one on the way."

Jack looked at her, his eyebrows arched high. "Really. Not bad for over a hundred."

"They are a very, ummm, prolific race. Although, by what I can tell, Aaroon and Sarai are more prolific than some," she said, leaning closer to him so she could speak softly without her voice carrying. "They're also a very affectionate race."

"What do you mean by affectionate?"

Sam bobbed her chin towards the open doorway beside the hearth than led to the kitchen. From their vantage point, they could see Sarai and Aaroon clearly. They stood facing each other, with Sarai's arms around him and he held her face in his hands. They were talking, and by the smiles on both their faces, Sam almost wished she knew what the topic of conversation was. Occasionally, Aaroon leaned forward and kissed her. He brought his hand down to her waist and rubbed slow circles over the soft swell of their unborn child.

Sam's cheeks were suddenly warm, and she looked away. "That's what I mean," she managed to say.

Jack cleared his throat and shifted beside her, purposefully looking away from both the couple in the kitchen, and apparently Sam as well. "Yeah. Okay."

"Hurry, Papa! We have to hurry! I want to see Calab and Orin before they start the bonfire!"

Aaroon laughed as his son, Tannin, tugged urgently at his hand to try and rush the entire group forward faster. Pella and Gabrae, the youngest of the clan except for Banith, ran in excited circles several feet ahead of the group. They all walked together towards the village; Aaroon and his family and SG-1. And Jack. He forgot once in awhile that he wasn't part of SG-1 anymore.

"You couldn't have chosen a better time to come to Calla Hills, Jack. Tonight's bonfire and meal begins a three day celebration for the coming Ornorean."

Jack groaned internally. SG-1 and off world celebrations never seemed to bode well. Someone either ends up drunker than a skunk and hornier than a college freshman, or full of alien nano-things, or betrothed. He glanced back to see where Daniel was, to find out what he knew about it, but saw Daniel and Tella deep in conversation. The young girl was fascinated by every word he said, and Daniel didn't stop talking. Jack couldn't blame him. It wasn't often Daniel had a completely captive audience. Cornering Teal'c in his lab didn't count.

"Celebration, huh? So, what happens at this **celebration**?" he asked of Aaroon. They were approaching the center of the Calla Hills Community, a cluster of buildings gathered in the shape of a horseshoe. It reminded him of the town from **Little House on the Prairie**. All they needed was Olsen's Mercantile, and they'd be all set.

"Everyone gathers together here in the village, and we enjoy three days of rest from our work. We eat good food. Dance. Celebrate."

"Anything **weird** happen?"

Aaroon looked at him with a puzzled expression. "Weird?"

"Yeah, weird. Uh. out of the ordinary. Do things you wouldn't do otherwise."

Aaroon smiled. "No, I don't believe so, Jack. The Ornorean brings a period of bountiful crops and good health, and we simply celebrate it by enjoying time with our family and friends."

"Kind of like a holiday."

"Yes. Please, continue to the meeting hall. We will join you shortly. I would just like to tell my brother Aeric that we have arrived."

He paused in the road, watching Aaroon and his substantial family move towards one of the buildings, Aaroon's hand linked with Sarai's. Jack rotated in a circle, taking in the surroundings. He wanted to find something **wrong** with the planet, and its people. That chink in their armor, but as of yet, he hadn't seen or even suspected anything. And Sam had been here four times before. Her radar for the freaky was just as honed as his, and she hadn't suspected a thing. They just seemed to be good people living happy lives, willing to share with outsiders. It wasn't some idyllic paradise that screamed 'too good to be true'. It wasn't a hellhole with half the population needing salvation from the other half. It was. nice.

Which, while that should have made him feel better, it just left him waiting for the second shoe to drop.

"Sir?"

Jack spun around to face Sam.

"Something wrong?"

He shook his head, but not with any conviction. "What do you know about this Ora Nora thing Aaroon is talking about?"

Sam pursed her lips slightly and shook her head. "I don't think it's anything to worry about. Daniel has spoken with several community members, and he's read some of their histories. It's a natural phenomenon - kind of like our Haley's Comet. It comes by the planet every one hundred of their years, and by what I hear, it's beautiful. They claim that the harvests are more bountiful, as are the births--"

"Like Aaroon needs any help."

She smiled her 'I-can't-believe-you-said-that-Jack' smile. "Anyway. I don't believe it's anything to be concerned over."

Jack shrugged one shoulder. "Good enough for me." Sam lifted her chin to look up at him, a small and slow smile bowing her lips. "So, hear anything good about this celebration?"

"Think Thanksgiving for three days."

"Sweeeet. Think they have cake?"

"In some form, I'm sure. Want to check out the spread, sir?"

"Lead the way, Colonel." He grinned and swept his hand towards the meeting hall. They turned together and walked towards where Daniel and Teal'c stood. "Oh, and Carter. Do me one favor?"

"Yes, sir?"

He did something then that he hadn't done in a very long time. He put his hand on her shoulder and patted it once before squeezing gently. "Don't drink anything funky. We all know how you get."

Sam stopped short, spinning to glare up at him with her eyes wide and her mouth open. "That was **eight** years ago, sir. **Eight** years! Are you ever going to let me live it down?"

Jack let his hand fall from her shoulder. "Probably not."

"And you know, I'm not the **only** one who has gotten into trouble eating odd things on strange planets. Or have you forgotten Kynth--"

"Ah!" Jack shot his hand up, palm to her. "Stop right there, Carter. That's an order." Sam chuckled softly, and shook her head, making a soft click in her cheek. "Besides, it's more fun to tease **you**."

Sam shook her head again, but the smile on her lips let him know she didn't mind. Without another word, they turned and headed for the meeting hall.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

The stack of kindling and logs gathered for the bonfire had to reach at least fifteen feet in height, and the heat thrown off by the massive flames made Sam's cheeks burn hot even while the back of her arms felt the cold of the evening air. Music and laughter filtered to her from the darkness where figures and structures disappeared outside the ring of light from the fire.

The crowd had thinned some, with the youngest of the children having been tucked away to sleep in the tents set up around the area. Apparently, for the three days of the celebration no one left except to see to the necessary needs of their livestock. It truly was a gathering of the community.

"Are you finding it to be an enjoyable evening, Colonel Carter?"

Sam turned enough to see Teal'c standing near by, just far enough into the firelight that she could see his face. The orange flames made his golden tattoo glow.

"Yes, I am. It's almost like a vacation."

Teal'c smiled and dipped his head, stepping closer until he stood beside her. "It has been, as you would say, like old times to have O'Neill accompany us off world. Is it not?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, like old times. He couldn't have picked a better mission to come on. Last I saw him, he was having another helping of Kakaoah cake."

"It is a celebration like none I have seen."

They slipped into a comfortable silence as Sam watched the flames and the citizens of Calla Hills as they gathered near the warmth to talk. Some danced to the music being played by four or five adults on instruments that reminded Sam of fiddles and guitars on Earth. The sound was the same.

"Teal'c, can I ask you something?" Sam said after several moments of no conversation.

"Indeed, Colonel Carter."

"Does the General seem - that is, before we came here - did he seem **off** to you?"

"Off? What would he have been on that he is now off?"

"I mean different. Not himself."

"O'Neill is who he has always been, it is those things around him that have changed."

Sam looked at Teal'c, thinking about what he said. She took in a breath and turned to face him. "Teal'c, I just wonder if. how being General has. Oh, forget it. I don't even know what I'm asking."

"Perhaps the best place to find answers would be with O'Neill."

She shrugged, having to agree at least mentally with Teal'c. If she thought she'd get a straight answer, and could ask without crossing that invisible yet obvious line they had established years before, she might just ask him.

"I believe I saw O'Neill walking north of the encampment not fifteen minutes ago."

"Thanks, Teal'c." Before she had time to think of why, Sam stepped out of the circle of light and headed north.

She found him ten minutes later, sitting on the crest of a small hill looking down on the bonfire below. He had his ankles crossed and his legs drawn up with his elbows on his knees, a broken branch twirling in his fingers. Once she left the light of the fire, her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and could see his form outlined by the light of the triple moons. Sam didn't say anything, but approached him and sat down beside him Indian style. She figured he had known she was coming a good hundred feet or so before she got there. After all, she had known where he was right about then.

"Daniel and T having a good time?" he finally asked.

"Well, Tella hasn't left Daniel's side all day and I think he's finally getting a clue about her interest. And Teal'c is just taking it all in. You know Teal'c."

"Yeah, I do." He tossed the branch aside.

"What about you, sir? Having a good time?"

"Hell, yeah. These guys may not have any use for a Naquida mine, but they sure do know how to cook. So, you learn anything else about this thing they're celebrating?"

"Nothing much. Just that it's a natural phenomenon. Has been happening longer than recorded history. There are some adults in the community who have never experienced it, and some that this is their second time. Like Aaroon. He was only about seven cycles old when it last happened."

"So, it's once, maybe twice in a lifetime kind of stuff."

Sam nodded. "I guess tonight will be when it starts to appear, growing stronger for the next three days to its highest intensity."

"Cool. Carter, check this out."

She glanced in his direction, surprised to realize he had lain back on the grassy hillside without her ever hearing or feeling the shift of his body. "Check what out, sir."

"The sky."

She looked up. The stars were bright, but other than the three moons that overlapped visually over the horizon, she saw nothing spectacular. Sam gasped as Jack grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back onto the grass beside him.

"Now look."

Sam was speechless, and could barely breathe. Silver filaments of light swirled across the sky like ribbons of glitter on black velvet. They shifted slowly, intertwining and dancing around each other reminding her of clouds on a breezy day. Lazy motion. Dazzling beauty. Some of the filaments shifted in hue from silver to a pale pink, and then to purple.

"Wow," she finally managed to say.

"And they say this gets better each day?"

Sam nodded, her head rustling against the grass beneath it. "At it's most intense, I heard it's partially visible during the day. But mostly at night."

"This I'm gonna have to see."

She turned her head towards him, and smiled at the soft glow from the Ornorean as it touched his profile. His lips were apart and his eyes wide open as he watched the sky. After all they had seen, and the things they had done - and despite the sometimes rough face he put on - Jack O'Neill was entranced by an evening light show. Then he turned and their stares met, and Sam's breath stopped.

The brown depth of his eyes made them look almost black in the moonlight, and for several beats of her heart they just looked at each other. It was hard to be sure in the low light, but Sam thought Jack's stare shifted away from her eyes to the vicinity of her mouth before coming back again. The cold that had chilled her skin was suddenly gone, and she had to tell herself to take a breath.

Then Jack snapped his head away and rolled up off the ground in one long, fluid motion. He dusted off his pants quickly before offering her his hand to help her stand. As soon as she was on her feet, he released her hand and snagged his hat from the grass.

"We should get back before Daniel finds himself betrothed again," Jack said, his voice heavy in the still silence.

Sam just nodded, not trusting her voice to be strong enough to speak, and followed him down the embankment towards the fire.

**She's engaged, Jack! To another man! And let's not forget the fact that you're still her commanding officer!**

The raging voice inside Jack's head hadn't shut up all day, no matter how he tried to ignore it. Every time he found a bit of peace from his own conscience, he would up and see her. Just like right now.

She stood twenty-five, maybe thirty feet away talking with several women of the community. As he watched, Gabrae Sonarnon ran up to her and tugged on her pant leg. The little girl looked about four, with a mass of honey blonde curls that hung half way down her back. She held a ribbon out to Sam, and Jack watched as she combed the girl's hair with her fingers and skillfully plaited the curls into a braid. When she finished, she knelt on one knee and Raeya hugged her before running off again into the mass of children on the other side of the field.

Jack had to look away. The thoughts that invaded his head were ones that had no place. Like how natural she looked braiding the hair of a little girl. How happy she seemed. How he wished he could be the one to put a smile like that on her face. And wondering if she smiled for Pete the same way she smiled for him. Because she did smile for him, a different smile than for anyone else. It had been that way for a long time, but he hadn't seen it in awhile. Not since Pete Shanahan.

Jack chucked away the rock he had been worrying between his fingers. He had decided they could stay for another night, a diplomatic gesture to join in their celebration since they so graciously offered. And he knew there was no use denying he wanted to stay here for just a while longer. The more he was here, the more depressing the gray walls of the SGC seemed.

"You appear pensive, O'Neill."

Jack looked up from his perch on a rock to where Teal'c stood on his left. "Nah," he said, and bent over to pick up a new stone. "Just enjoying the fresh air."

"It has been many months since you came through the Gate with us. Of all the worlds, you chose well to accompany us here."

Jack picked up more rocks, shaking them in the palm of his hand like dice. "I'm thinking you're right, T. A nice safe planet. No risk. No gunfire. No Jaffa breathing down our necks. No System Lords hovering over the atmosphere."

"Does this disappoint you?"

Jack let the rocks fall from his hand. "Maybe. Maybe not."

"Hey, Jack?"

Jack dusted off his hand and stood as Daniel jogged over to them. "What up, Daniel?"

"Uh, I've been talking with Hetta. He's the educator here for the children. And he told me about some ruins about five miles from here - or, at least, that's my best calculation trying to convert their methods of measurement to ours. It's not exact, but either way it's not too far. I believe we could walk to it and return in a day, and I'm very curious to see if I can determine a point of origin for these people. Or maybe even which, if any, goa'uld brought them here-"

"Daniel!" Jack snapped, and Daniel stopped, staring at him expectantly. "Are you asking me something? Or telling me. Either way, **get to the point**."

Daniel blinked, his eyebrows bouncing up over the rim of his glasses. "I'd like to check them out. But I want to return to Earth and pick up some materials before I go. I didn't pack for an archaeological study."

"Did you ask Carter?"

Daniel glanced over his shoulder to look at Sam, where she still talked to the group of women, and back to Jack, his lips pursed. "Well, uh, no, I just--"

"This is Carter's gig. I'm just extra baggage, Daniel. Clear it with her." Jack knew there was an irritated edge to his voice, but he was irritated, so it was completely justifiable.

"Uh, okay. I will. You.. okay? Jack?"

"Fine. Let me know what Carter decides." He moved between Teal'c and Daniel and headed for the main Meeting House. Everyone seemed to be outside this time of day, and right now he felt like being away. Just. away.

The inside of the meeting house was dark compared to the bright sunshine outside. All four walls were banked with low tables, leaving the center open for young children to play while their parents ate. There were no chairs, just thick cushions and everyone sat on the floor during dinner. The room was empty except for three people at the far end who were talking together. Jack nodded his head as he entered, a silent greeting across the space, and walked to a pile of cushions in the corner of the room. With a sigh, and a groan for the ache in his knees, he sank down into the cushions. He figured he was still digesting the meal from the night before, never mind the bountiful breakfast that had been served, and a nap would do him a world of good. Kind of like during half time of the game on Thanksgiving Day. They weren't set to meet with any elders until later that afternoon, anyway.

He was just slipping into sleep when he heard the doors open with a slow creek. "Sir? General?"

Jack clenched down with his teeth. He once thought there was nothing he hated more than to be called 'Colonel' by Sam Carter. He was wrong. 'General' was ten times worse.

"Over here, Carter." Sam moved from the door to stand near his knees, looking down at him. Jack crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head back on the cushions to see her. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to let you know, I gave Daniel and Teal'c the go ahead to return to the SGC. They'll be back within an hour, but Daniel wanted to collect some things to go to the ruins tomorrow. And Teal'c was running low on Tretonin."

Jack nodded. "Sounds good to me."

"I hope that's--"

"Your gig, Carter. Your gig."

Sam frowned slightly. "Yes, sir. Sir, have I--"

The radio at her waist, clipped there when their ALICE vests were set aside for the visit, buzzed and clicked before Daniel's voice came through. The background feedback was heavy with static, and Jack barely heard what he said.

"Sam, I think - problem - Gate dialing through."

Sam held the radio to her lips. "Repeat that, Daniel."

"The Gate is acting weird. It seemed to delay in connecting. I thought you might want to come see before we go."

"It's going to take me at least fifteen minutes to get there. What is it doing?"

The static lessened, making Daniel easier to hear. Jack stood from the cushions and stood near Sam, listening from her radio.

"Nothing now. The last chevron didn't engage right away. It took probably five or six seconds longer than usual. But then it connected and the wormhole opened."

Sam arched one brow, and shook her head. "Does the event horizon seem steady?"

"Seems fine."

"Sound familiar?" Jack asked.

Sam shook her head. "We've had situations where the chevrons didn't seem to engage immediately, but we've never had any wormhole continuity issues when it happens."

"Should we close the Gate?" came Daniel's voice again, the static heavier than moments before. "And try again?"

"Do you think there's a problem?" Jack asked.

"Not that I know of. But, just to be safe, I'll head to the Gate and check it out. I should be back in an hour, or so."

"I'll come with you. Tell Daniel to go. The sooner he goes, the sooner he's back."

Sam relayed the message, and Daniel responded. They left the meeting house together, and once they found Aaroon and explained where they'd be, Jack and Sam headed south to the Gate. It was a good fifteen or twenty minute walk from the village, and a bead of sweat had formed down Jack's back by the time the hit the clearing. The season was much like fall in Colorado. Cool nights, but the days could be surprisingly warm. Especially in the direct sun. As they reached the DHD, Jack motioned towards it with his hand.

"I guess we dial 'er up and see what happens."

"Yes, sir."

Sam pressed the familiar symbols on the DHD to get them home, the familiar click-thud sound of each echoing through the valley. The inner wheel of the Gate turned, and the corresponding chevrons lit up. But when she pressed the final symbol, the one for point of origin, nothing happened. The inner wheel didn't move. The familiar hum stopped. Sam pressed on the central dome of the DHD. Nothing.

Jack looked from her to the Gate, and back to Sam.

"What's up?"

"I don't know, sir."

She dialed again, with the same results. The first six chevrons engaged, but at the seventh chevron, nothing. As if the button was broken.

"Carter." Jack said, drawing out her name.

Sam shook her head. "I don't know, sir."

"Is it not getting any juice? Why isn't it--"

"I don't know, sir," Sam said, her voice tense. She tried the symbols again, with the same results. "We can't dial home."

Thunk! There went the other shoe

Jack rolled over, stifling his groan as half a dozen bits of straw poked him through the blanket, and tried to settle in again for sleep. Several nights of sleeping on either hay or cold earth was just about all he could take, and his back was telling him so. He blinked his eyes, adjusting them to the dim light in the loft, and focused on Sam's bedroll a few feet away.

Her empty bedroll.

Jack sat up and scanned the loft for any movement, or anything that looked like the form Sam Carter. He listened to the night, hearing only the sound of the breeze in the leaves and the song of night insects.

"Damn it," he mumbled and stood, heading for the ladder that led down to the ground level of the structure. "Carter?" Only silence answered. He stepped out into the night. "Carter!"

"I'm here, sir."

He saw her shadow move where she perched on the top rail of the horse paddock. As his eyes fully adjusted to the moonlight, she became clearer against the silver sky behind her. Aaroon had been right, the Ornorean had grown in intensity until the night sky was filled with it and it was beautiful enough to stop him short every time he saw it.

And put it as a backdrop for Sam Carter, and the effect multiplied times ten.

"What the hell are you doing out here?"

"I couldn't sleep."

He reached the paddock and stood beside her, facing into the enclosure, with his elbow resting on the rail and his fingers linked. "We don't wander off alone on strange planets, Carter." **We don't scare our commanding officer in the middle of the night, Carter.**

Sam slipped down to her feet, leaning back on the wood, putting her head level with his shoulder. "I didn't wan--"

"You weren't beside me when I woke up."

He felt, more than saw, her look at him and he focused on his hands. Rubbing one thumb over the other again and again.

"I'm sorry, sir."

"Yeah, well, next time you can't sleep and feel the need to **wander off**, wake me up. We'll play cards. or something."

He heard her soft laugh. "Yes, sir."

"What were you thinking about?"

"I'm going to open up the DHD tomorrow and make sure there isn't anything wrong with the symbol connections. Since every symbol seems to connect but the point of origin. Even when I've dialed every other address I can think of, they all work but the point of origin."

Jack nodded and turned sideways to face her, leaving his right arm on the rail and pushing his left hand into his pocket. "I'm going to talk with Aaroon tomorrow. See if I can get any more details about this." He jutted his chin up towards the night sky.

Sam tipped her head back and looked up. "Whatever it is, it's beautiful."

Jack swallowed, watching the illumination of silver and light dance slowly over her features. Her eyes sparkled bright, and a slow smile tipped her lips.

"Yeah. Beautiful."

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Blue energy arched from the control crystals in the inner cavity of the DHD, making contact with Sam's bare hand. A painful surge shot up her arm, and she let out a yell as she stumbled back from the mechanism. She landed in the dirt with a grunt, cradling her singed and tingling hand in her lap.

"Damn it. Damn it!" Tears of physical pain and overwhelming frustration burned her eyes as she tried to assess the burned skin.

"Carter? What the hell happened?"

Jack came down on his knees beside her, cradling her burned hand in his, and Sam sucked in a breath as his touch sent shots of pain up her arm.

"For cryin' out loud, Carter. The DHD did this?"

Sam nodded, swallowing back the tears that just pissed her off now. "I guess we know it still has plenty of power," she said through gritted teeth.

"Ya think?"

Despite the pain in her hand, Sam smiled. It was her own fault for sticking her hand into the crystals without properly grounding the DHD. Still holding her wrist gently with one hand, Jack dug into a front pocket of his ALICE vest and took out some triple antibiotic and gauze. Sam watched, finding herself unable to look away from the way his fingers grazed her skin and gently massaged on the medicine, as he carefully held her hand in place. The touch was meant to be a ministration, just caring for her injury, but something about the way the veins stood out along the back of his hand and the almost elegant length of his fingers made her skin warm.

**Now, she really knew she had been on this planet for too damn long.** She was forgetting things like who she was, who **he** was, and the commitments they both had made. All because of his hands?

"This should do for now, but maybe when we get back to the house Sarai can give you some of that balm she used on Banith last week. When he got too close to the stove. Seemed to heal him pretty quick."

Reluctantly, Sam drew her hand back from his grip and ran her other fingers over the gauze. Suddenly, the early evening air seemed very cold. She lifted her chin, meeting his gaze for only a heartbeat before looking up to the swirling brilliance of colors and silver that laced the sky. Even though she had looked up at the same sky for over two weeks, it still took her breath away. Jack shifted and sat beside her near her feet so he faced her, and dusted off his knees.

"What I wouldn't do for my telescope," he said finally, looking up as well. "I bet it's cool close up."

"It's pretty cool right here," she said softly.

"But you think the Ora Nora thing--"

"Ornorean."

"You're sure that's the reason we can't dial home."

Sam sighed, and pressed the palm of her unbandaged hand to her forehead. "It has to be, sir. We never had any problem at all dialing back and forth before the Ornorean began two weeks ago. Even that last connection Daniel and Teal'c made to go home was showing signs of breaking down. I should have seen it then. We should have left while we could."

"We couldn't. The Gate was too far away, and if they had shut the Gate down, Daniel and Teal'c would be stuck here, too. Besides, it was my call."

Sam pulled her knees up to rest her arms, and stared out into the field around them as the sun set. Insects similair to lightening bugs flashed around in the tall grass and a breeze blew through.

"So, you're sure it's the Ornorean?"

She looked at Jack in the growing darkness. The brim of his hat shaded his eyes, and she couldn't read his expression. "It's the only explanation I have."

Jack nodded and dipped his chin slightly, curling his lower lip beneath the top. Sam took a slow breath, a chill racing over her skin.

"Sir, did you talk to Aaroon?"

Jack nodded.

"How long does the Ornorean last?"

Jack looked up then, enough that the light of the three moons moved over his features. He took off his hat and ran a hand over his unruly hair.

"Sir."

"Six of their cycles."

Sam stared, running the numbers in her head. "Sir, that's almost five of our years."

Jack nodded, then raised his chin and looked into her face. Their gazes held for several moments before he parted his lips and softly said "Yeah, I know."

Sam sat back on her heels and wiped the back of her hand across her damp forehead. She fought to steady her exerted breathing as she looked at the now clean wood floor of 'their' temporary home. The space was only about 300 square feet, with a fieldstone hearth at one in and a wood cooking stove and sink with pump at the other. The ceiling was open to the ridge pole, with thick beams spanning the space, and the interior was well lit by the large windows on three of the four walls. The glass was smudge and dusty, and that would be her next project.

But right now, she needed a drink and to get some of the grime off her hands and face. After several pumps at the sink, cool water poured over her hands and she splashed it on her face, sighing at the sheer pleasure of being clean. Cupping her hands, she drank deeply, then used the bar of homemade soap on the sink board to wash away the dirt. As she patted her face dry, she heard the sound of horse hooves and a squeaky wagon wheel in the yard.

"Carter!" came Jack's voice from outside, and she had just enough time to yank off his grimy tee shirt she had 'borrowed' for the job, and pull on her black sleeveless tank before the cabin door opened. "Hey, Carter. Come on."

She followed him outside, and saw Aaroon opening the tailgate of the open wagon with his two oldest sons, Trallen and Ebresh. The wagon was piled high with various pieces of furniture, most appearing well worn but sturdy.

"Good Day, Samantha," Aaroon said, raising a hand in greeting. "I see that you and Jack are making progress on this long-forgotten homestead."

Sam shielded her eyes with her hand. "It's not nearly as bad as it looks once I got through some of the layers of dirt. Thank your brother for allowing us to stay here until we manage to get home."

"I will. And he was most honored to offer. This was, in fact, the same building he and his wife began their union in. They stayed here five cycles before he took over our parents' farm and moved there. You are welcome to stay as long as you need."

Sam nodded. "Thank you."

Jack lifted a small table from the wagon and set it down on its four legs. Trallen climbed up and handed him two chairs. Then came a rocking chair and a long bench. Finally, two small down mattresses and the disassembled parts of two beds. Ebresh handed Sam a pile of linens and towels, which she carried into the cabin and set on the clean floor. One by one, the pieces of furniture came in, and the empty space looked more like a lived in home.

Her home with Jack.

For now, anyway.

The thought made her skin flush hot, and she seriously considered sticking her head under the water pump to cool off. She walked to the basin and leaned into the edge, trying to ignore the amazingly wrong thoughts in her head. Sam was so intent on calming her senses, she didn't hear Jack come in until he stood behind her and his fingers grazed her arm.

"You okay?"

Sam jumped and turned, finding herself chin to chest with Jack, and sandwiched between him and the sink. "What? Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just. tired. I'm tired. This floor was . I'm just tired." She closed her eyes and clamped her mouth shut to stop the senseless string of words coming out of it.

""Look at it this way. Tonight we sleep in **beds**, Carter." He gripped her shoulders and shook her gently. "Beds. Warm, soft beds. After six weeks of hay lofts, we get beds."

Sam smiled and looked up at him, forcing herself not to think about how natural he looked wearing the loose fitting, natural weave shirt common to those native to the planet. The collar was open, revealing some of the dark hair on his chest, only slightly sprinkled with gray. But the hollow of his throat was just about eye level. If she leaned in.

"Sound. sounds good, sir."

"Great." He patted her arm before turning and leaving the cabin.

Sam expelled a long breath and turned to splash cold water on her face.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"Dial again, Sergeant. Please."

"Yes, Doctor Jackson."

Daniel stood behind Sergeant Harriman, his arms crossed over his chest, and watched as the dialing program commenced. One by one, the Sergeant named off each connection. ". Chevron Five encoded. Chevron Six encoded."

Daniel held his breath.

"Chevron Seven will not engage."

"Huh." Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his lips with his index finger. "This is. odd."

"That is our fifth attempt to redial P9X-4EV in twenty-two minutes, Daniel Jackson. There appears to be a malfunction with the Gate."

Daniel pressed his lips together, analyzing each piece of information. Six of the seven chevrons were lit, but the final chevron refused to lock.

"Dial the Alpha Site."

"Sir?"

"If we can dial the Alpha Site, we know it's not the Gate. It's our connection to P9X-4EV."

Sergeant Harriman nodded, and re-entered the coordinates. The inner ring turned with its familiar grind, and one by one the chevrons locked into place. Including the seventh. The event horizon erupted into the Gate Room. Daniel stared through the glass, hoping the missing piece of the puzzle would somehow appear. Sergeant explained to Captain Sheffield that they were just testing the Gate, and then they shut down.

"Dial P9X-4EV," Daniel said as soon as the room was silent again. "Please."

No one said anything for several moments, then Sergeant Harriman said softly "Yes, Doctor Jackson."

"Please let me know if we make a connection," he asked over his shoulder as he walked up the spiral staircase to the briefing room above.

Once there, he dropped into one and rested his chin on the heel of his hand. **Well, this was interesting.** Minutes later, he heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up to see Colonel Reynold's reflection in the glass.

"What happened, Doctor Jackson?"

"Apparently, the Gate is malfunctioning."

"And?"

"And Sam and Jack are still on P9X-4EV."

"Explain."

He ran down quickly the conversation he had with Jack, clearing the return to Earth through Sam, and the way the Gate hadn't seemed to connect right away. And how the Gate wouldn't reconnect.

"How long were you back here before you attempted redial?"

"Uh, maybe ten minutes. I went to my lab, grabbed what I needed and met up with Teal'c in the Gate room. When Sergeant Harriman attempted to dial, nothing happened."

"And that was."

"Twenty-seven minutes and forty-two seconds ago," Teal'c filled in as he reached the top of the stairs. "We are still unable to make a connection."

Colonel Reynolds sat down and drummed his fingertips on the tabletop. "How long did they expect you to be gone?"

"An hour at the most."

Colonel Reynolds paced the carpet along the bank of glass facing the Gate Room, his hands clasped behind his back. As he walked, Teal'c sat down beside Daniel and the two of them watched him for several minutes.

"Standard Operating Procedure an off world team cannot be contacted is to attempt contact every hour on the hour. Until we are able to either fix the damn problem, or dial through again, we will continue in that manner."

"For how long?" Daniel asked. "How long do we just dial before we try something else?"

"And what will our next course of action be?"

Daniel pointed towards Teal'c. "Good question."

Reynolds snapped his head around to glare at them, and Daniel glanced at Teal'c. The big Jaffa arched a single brow.

"We will attempt redial at the top of the hour. Right now, I get General Hammond on the horn." Colonel Reynolds turned on his heels and headed for Jack's office. "Next time General O'Neill decides to skip the planet." he mumbled, but never finished the thought.

Jack walked along the dirt road that led from Aaroon Sonarnon's fields to home, just as the sun sank below the horizon and the brilliance of the Ornorean took over. He was tired. Bone tired. Tired so deep he couldn't think of a place on his body that wasn't tired. But ironically, it felt good. It had been a long time since he spent a day in the sun doing nothing but physical labor.

And clearing Aaroon's lower fields to prepare for the 'rest' season definitely qualified as physical labor. He had been down there for nearly two weeks, swinging the scythe to cut through the thick grass and splitting wood to stockpile for the coming cold.

Three months. It had been three months since the damn Gate refused to dial. Religiously, every morning Sam walked to the Gate and gave it a try. And every day, she reported no luck. Jack was beginning to think they were stuck here for awhile, at least until the Ornorean passed.

Which was going to be awhile.

He saw the lights of the house ahead, and almost broke into a jog but decided he was too damn tired. A hot meal and hotter shower would be heaven right now, but neither was likely. Maybe some hot food, but there would be no shower and the water in the wash basin was warm, but no where near hot. Then sleep. Glorious sleep.

Jack stepped onto the porch and opened the door. "Carter?"

The large room was empty, but a fire burned in the fireplace and the smell of stew mingled with the scent of burning hickory, making his stomach rumble. If he had to live without electricity, running water or cars, Jack couldn't think of anything better to come home to than a warm house and homemade stew on the stove.

And a beautiful woman.

He pushed the thought aside. Allowing his thoughts to linger too long on Sam was becoming a habit. But who could blame him? They shared a home. They slept not six feet from each other in the corner of the room. They ate together. He woke up every morning to her. For the last three months.

Jack went back to the door and looked out into the settling twilight. "Carter?" he called out. "Probably visiting Sarai, or something," he said aloud to the empty room.

Walking towards the fire, he saw she had left a pot of water to warm. Jack lifted it from the embers and set it on the nearby table, retrieving a washcloth from the neat stack Sam had made in the cabinet by the sink. As he went back to the fireplace, he pulled his shirt off over his head and tossed it towards the foot of his bed. A stinging pain stretched across his chest and he hissed, looking down at the long scratch that stretched from sternum to left shoulder. The scythe had twisted in his hand and the tip caught him mid swing earlier that day. It wasn't a deep cut, but it still stung like hell. Like a really big paper cut.

Jack sank his hands into the warm water and sighed. He soaked the washcloth, and worked on cleaning up.

The door opened and Sam came in, a basket draped on her arm. She wore a flowing skirt and white linen blouse, having had to give up her BDU's when they tore on an exposed nail. Jack froze, his hands in the water, as she closed the door. She set the basket down, and turned towards the fire, jumping with a small yelp when she saw him.

"Sir! I - I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were back."

"Just got here. Thanks - um, thanks for the warm water."

Sam nodded, and reached for a bowl on the sink sideboard. "Are you hungry? I don't know how good this stew is. Sarai told me what to do, but I've never been much of a cook."

"If it tastes half as good as it smells, it'll be great."

"She sent home some biscuits with me. I have a hard enough time throwing meat and vegetables in a pot. I think making biscuits from scratch may still be beyond my abilities."

"Carter," he said firmly, making her look up. "It'll be great."

She stared at him for a moment, her eyes wide, then nodded and scooped some of the stew into the bowl. Jack squeezed the excess water from the washcloth and set both cloth and pot on the floor near the fire. When he turned, Sam was within arm's reach with the stew and biscuits in hand.

"Here you go."

"Thanks. Carter, you okay?"

"Sure. Eat up. And don't say I didn't warn you."

"I just need to get a clean shirt." He turned away to walk to his bed, when Sam reached out and touched his arm, sending shots of electricity right through him.

"Wait. Sir, what did you do?"

Jack looked down at the cut. It was bright red again where blood had come to the surface, but it wasn't actually bleeding. "Oh, the scythe and I had words. I won. You should see the scythe."

She didn't say anything, didn't even smile at his joke, but pushed gently on his arms to turn him towards the light of the fire. An oil lamp burned on the table, but the fire gave off a brighter glow.

"It's fine, Carter."

Jack nearly choked on the words when she ran her fingertips along the bare skin in a touch so gentle it nearly made him groan. **Damn!**

"Does it hurt?" she asked, not taking her eyes from his chest. Jack felt her breath against his still slightly damp skin.

He had to swallow, and hoped his voice was strong enough for her to hear. "Uh, no. Well. It stings."

"We should put something on it."

"We're out of triple-A. What are you going to do? Kiss it and make it better?"

Her chin came up, and he heard her sharp breath as she met his gaze. **Where the hell did that come from, O'Neill? Kiss it and make it better? Good one!**

Jack didn't make the conscious decision to do it, but his hands touched her waist, and with the slight touch, Sam moved closer. Her palm came against his chest, and Jack almost flinched at the heat of the contact. Was it the fire? Or was it just her? She dipped her chin, and held his gaze for just a moment longer before she closed her eyes and leaned forward. Her lips pressed against the scratch, and Jack involuntarily sucked in his breath, his fingers curling into the fabric of her skirt.

Her eyelids fluttered open, and she looked up at him again. Jack let his eyes wander over her face, noting that her hair had grown long enough to curl beneath her jaw, and three new freckles had appeared across the bridge of her nose. He brought up one hand and touched her cheek, his thumb brushing her lips. Her tongue came out to spread moisture over them, leaving them shiny in the firelight.

Jack bent his neck and moved to her, closing the distance between their lips. Her breath caressed his cheek in short, shallow waves. But as he felt the softness of her mouth just touching his, Sam jerked away and stepped free of his hold. He didn't try to stop her as she darted away and went to the door. "I -- ah -- need to --" She never finished the sentence. The door shut behind her, leaving Jack alone again.

He sank down in his chair and slammed his elbows on the table, bracing his head in his hands. The bowl of stew jumped and settled again, but Jack had completely lost his appetite.

His appetite for food, anyway. His appetite for Sam Carter was damn near ravenous.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"If you don't mind me saying so, Samantha, you seem distracted today."

Sam looked up from the large bowl of Kakaoah cake batter, to where Sarai sat at her kitchen table. She held Raeya, their newborn baby, beneath a light blanket and fed the hungry little girl her mid-afternoon meal.

"I'm sorry. Did you say something? Do you need something?"

Sarai smiled. "Not at all. I'm concerned for you, though. Come. Sit with me and we can talk. The batter must rise for a short time before we can bake it, anyway."

Sam wiped her hands and sat down near Sarai. Since Raeya's arrival, Sam had spent her days at the Sonarnon home, helping Sarai with the baby and the other children. Sarai took Raeya from beneath the blanket and set the baby on her shoulder for a burp. When a sound so unimaginably loud for such a tiny thing echoed through the kitchen, Sam laughed.

"She is her father's daughter. A hearty eater, and one willing to show her gratitude for it," Sarai said. "Here. My arms are weary. Would you hold her for awhile?"

"Would you like me to lay her down for a nap?"

"It is daylight. She should be held."

Sam nodded and took Raeya, settling the baby into the crook of her arm. "She's a beautiful baby."

"While I am usually one more than willing to discuss the beauty of my children, I want to talk about you, Samantha. What troubles you?"

Sam shook her head. "Nothing. I'm fine."

Sarai smiled and tipped her head to the side. "Samantha. You have been with us for four changings of the moon. Perhaps that is not long where you come from, but it has been long enough for me to learn you, my dear friend. For many days, I've seen a heaviness in your eyes. Are you unhappy? Are you missing your home?"

Without thought, Sam began slowly swaying Raeya. "No, it's not - well, yes. I do miss home. I miss long soaks in warm baths and take out Chinese." She smiled at Sarai's puzzled look. "I told you on our second visit, our culture is very different than here. In many ways I envy you the lives you have here, but it's hard to change."

"And this is what troubles you?"

Sam looked away from Sarai's inquisitive eyes and focused on Raeya's delicate features. Her pink lips pouted in a soft heart shape, and her chin still worked even in sleep against a breast that was no longer there.

"Is it, perhaps, Jack?"

Her head snapped up. "Why would you say that? No. I just--" Sam sighed. "I can't explain something I don't get myself, Sarai."

They slipped into easy silence, and Sam stroked Raeya's soft hair. Even here, without all the pre-packaged lotions and creams, babies still smelled like babies.

"You are good with her."

"Thank you."

"Are you sure you don't know what troubles you?"

**I know exactly what troubles me.** But, Sam decided mentally that telling Sarai she lusted after her superior officer - more than lusted - this was so much more - wouldn't be a good idea. It had been over a week since the near kiss in the cabin, and neither of them had said a word about it. The tension in the cabin each night was so thick she could cut it with the damn scythe that sliced Jack's chest.

"I think I feel a bit useless," she finally said, pulling on the other emotion that left her frustrated and edgy.

"Useless? Samantha, you have been a gift to me. You have helped me endlessly both before and since Raeya's birth. Tella is a help, but the other children are still young."

"And I've been glad to help. I've enjoyed it. But, on Earth I'm a scientist. An explorer. It has been eight years. that would be almost eleven of your season cycles. since I spent more than one day that didn't involve disassembling some Goa'uld technology, or traveling to other worlds, or having the General asking me to fix this or that. I - I'm not a wife-and-mother type of woman, Sarai."

"Women are remarkable creatures, Samantha. We often become more than we ever thought we would be."

**You know, all these years I've been concentrating on work. I just assumed that one day I'd."**

**"Have a life?"**

** What about you? If things were different."**

**"I wouldn't be here."**

Sam drew in a breath, and had to blink hard to bring Raeya's face into focus again. **Well, things were certainly different.**

"This is really good, Carter," Jack said, scooping up another bite of mashed potatoes, heavily garnished with some season he didn't recognize. But damn, it was good. "Goes great with the ham."

She just nodded, silent across the table from him, and pushed her fork through the full plate of food in front of her. He had seen her take maybe four or five bites. Jack rested his fork on the edge of the plate, watching her for several minutes. "Aaroon said you've been great with Sarai. Says he doesn't worry so much with someone with her."

Sam just nodded and turned towards the fire. The glow of the flames lit up her face, but her eyes were dark with thought.

"Said you keep the kids in line pretty well."

She said nothing, just watched the flames.

"You'll never guess what I saw in the field today. A lion, a scarecrow and a tin man with this **hot** little brunette. They were singing and dancing like a Broadway chorus line."

"Uh, huh."

"Then this rabbit ran by, screaming that he was late. Then he jumped down this **giant** hole.Carter!"

Sam jumped, nearly knocking over her cup of water. Jack caught it and set it upright, watching her as she tried to compose herself.

"I'm sorry, sir. I was --"

"Preoccupied?"

She met his gaze for a split moment before looking away again. That's the way it had been for almost two weeks. Sam barely spoke, and when she did it was quick and rushed, usually so she could get away from him. She rushed out of bed in the morning, usually before he even thought about opening his eyes, because he always woke up to an empty house. The fire was always stoked, the native version of coffee boiling on the stove, but no Sam.

He wasn't an idiot, despite what some thought. He knew why. The damn near-kiss. Jack also wasn't blind. The moment hadn't been one-sided. They had both been **there**. But Sam had been the one smart enough to step back, 'cause he damn well hadn't planned on it.

But tonight, it just seemed to be more.

Sam started to stand, and reached for his empty plate. Jack laid his hand over hers, stopping her. "Hey."

She sank back down in her chair, but he noticed she didn't pull her hand away. If she wasn't going to bring it up, he wasn't either. Her skin was warm, and despite the work she put in herself during the day, it was amazingly soft. Jack tempted fate and ran his thumb over her knuckles.

"What if they didn't make it through?" she finally said, her voice tight.

"Who? Daniel and T?"

Sam nodded, looking at him. Her eyes were bright with moisture, and he squeezed her hand.

"I feel so selfish that I haven't thought about it until now. The Gate connection was breaking down, and they went through. What if the Ornorean overtook the wormhole and they didn't get home? What if everyone on Earth thinks we're all dead?"

"Carter, they're fine."

"How do you know?"

She stared at him, expectantly. He didn't know the scientific reasons, probably didn't have a clue about any of it, anyway. But Sam never asked him for reassurance. Never looked at him like she needed him to fix things. He'd be damned if he screwed it up when she did.

"Because the alternative isn't acceptable. It connected, they went home, that's it."

"If they made it home, wouldn't someone have come by now?"

"I was on Edora for three months before--" Her gaze dropped away, and Jack mentally kicked himself for bringing up **that** monumental lapse in judgment. "Point is, Carter. If they can come, they will. One way or another. Daniel will hitch a ride with my buddy Thor, and if they can, they will come. Until then."

Sam's lips tipped up slightly in a smile. It was not her typical make-his-heart-do-crazy-stuff smile, but it was something. "Until then, we eat cake?"

Jack straightened. "Cake?"

She smiled wider, this time the good smile. "Yeah. I've been helping Sarai with the cooking--"

"I could tell."

"So, I tried one on my own today."

"Sweet! Bring 'er on!"

Her hand slipped free of his, then, and his fingers felt remarkable empty. He leaned back in his chair as she set the dishes in the sink and opened the cabinet he had built for beside the stove. Inside was a plate wrapped in wax cloth which she carefully took out.

"It's a little.uh, crooked. But Sarai assures me it doesn't change the taste."

The cake was incredible. Moist and spongy, and absolutely delicious. Jack devoured the first slice she gave him, and willingly accepted the second. When he was done, and felt like he was about to bust, he stood and went outside, dragging the deep metal tub back in with him. For its size, it was amazingly light and Jack made a mental note to ask Aaroon about the metal in the morning. Sam looked up from wrapping the cake.

"Sir? What are you doing?"

"A cake like that deserves a long, hot bath. Right by the fire. You just." he swirled his hand around in her general area. "Go about your business. I'll let you know when it's ready."

Her smile was an added bonus to the evening. One would think cake would be enough.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Sam sat at the small table, in her small house, with her small deck of cards that she had nearly worn through. Thank God Jack never went off world without something to amuse him. She flipped three cards over, saw nothing would play, and huffed loudly.

The window near the sink rattled as another gust of wind whipped around the house. She looked up to see a light dusting of snow dance and whirl outside the glass. Sarai told her they never got much snow, and Sam had to believe it was because of the cold. Too damn cold to snow.

With a frustrated groan, she pushed away from the table and took her wrap off the hook by the door. The stack of wood by the mantle was getting low, and they'd need more by morning. Might as well get it now while there was some amount of light.

Sam opened the cabin door, and the wind whipped her hair away from her face, stinging her cheeks. What she wouldn't do for a down field jacket and some winter boots right about now. She pushed into the wind, trying to keep the shawl around her, and moved to the stack of wood Jack had made against the house wall. With four logs balanced in her arms, she headed back for the door.

"Let me get that, Carter." Jack bounded up the porch steps and tried to take the logs from her.

"I've got it, sir."

"Just get in the house. It's colder than a witch's--"

Sam shot a look at him.

"--It's damn cold."

"I've got it, sir."

She wasn't in the mood for another go around about who did what at the cabin. It had been the heated topic of discussion for the last month, especially since the cold had settled into the valley keeping them inside more and more. The arguments were more about what Sam was perfectly capable of doing, but Jack didn't feel she should. Like chopping and stacking wood, or apparently carrying it in the house. Going out at night to close the barn doors when a storm came in suddenly. Yesterday, he got ticked because she shifted the beds closer to the end of the room with the fireplace without calling him for help.

As if she wasn't capable of dragging two beds ten feet!

"Carter."

"I've **got** it, sir."

She twisted away from him, not realizing he had a grip on one of the logs, and all four tumbled from her arms. They fell to the porch floor with a series of thumps, and Jack yelled out in pain, hopping away on one foot. He stumbled back to the wood stack and leaned against it, holding his right foot off the ground.

"For cryin' out loud!" he yelled again. "Damn it, Carter!"

"I'm sorry. But, sir--"

"That is **it**!" he shouted, raising his hand to stop her. "Carter, do **not** call me 'sir' again!"

"What?"

He stepped away from the log, favoring the foot as he walked towards her, his fists clenched beside him. "I said do **not** call me 'sir'."

She stared at him, knowing the shock had to be apparently on her face.

"Damn it, Carter. We're a few **hundred** light years from Earth. We've been stuck here for six months. We're living in the same **house**, for chrissake. I don't think Uncle Sam is going to give a rat's ass if you don't call me 'sir'!"

Sam drew in her breath slowly, staring hard at him until he stopped rampaging. "Is that an order, **General**?" she ground out through clenched teeth.

His shoulders visibly dropped and his hands released the tight fists. Sam stepped over the log at her feet and turned to go inside. Jack reached out and caught her elbow, bringing her attention back to him.

"Sam."

The fury and frustration was gone, like someone had turned on a faucet and drained it away. She looked into his eyes, and saw the warm shadow of something she hadn't seen in a long time. Sam dipped her chin and tried a small, apologetic smile before she pulled back and went into the house.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"Was there anything else you needed, Jack?"

Jack looked up from the round piece of convex glass he had picked up from a small basket on the barter station counter. "Um, yeah. Coffee."

Breana, the woman in charge of the barter station, tipped her head and looked at Jack with a confused look on her face.

"Coffee. uh, dark stuff. Grind it up, drink it. What is it you call it."

"Your pronunciation is just a little off, Jack. We call it Keva, from the Keva bean."

**You call it Keva, I call it Java.**

"Yeah, that's it. A pound -- a sack -- of it. Please."

As she went to the back room to retrieve the coffee. keva. whatever. Jack went back to examining the glass. He picked up the basket and fished through the contents, finding a variety of sizes and thicknesses. Some were convex, some concave with different levels of magnification and reduction strength.

"Those are toys for the children. Eman Tennson, our glass and metal craftsman, makes them."

Jack held one up to one eye, testing its strength as he changed distances away from his face. "Could I get some of these?"

Breana looked puzzled. Jack found she often looked puzzled when they talked. "If you would like. Take whatever you need."

"Do you have any squares of leather? About yay big?" He held up his hands in example. She nodded, still looking puzzled. "I'll take two, please. No! Three."

She disappeared again and Jack sorted through the glass to find the closest strengths to what he would need. He piled them on the counter, and when Breana returned she rolled and tied them in a piece of fabric to protect them. The confused look on her face was much worse now. Guess she finally figured he truly **was** from another planet.

"Anything else?"

"Do you have paper?"

She stared at him.

"Um, you write on it." He held his hand like a pretend notebook and pencil, scribbling on his palm. "Not the slates they use in school. Permanent. Like books."

"Oh, yes! Parchment."

"Parchment! Of course, **that** word would be the same. Could I have some of that?"

"Loose?"

"Do you have it in book form?" He put his palms together and opened them like a book. She shook her head. "No problem. I'll take it as you have it."

With all the items neatly packaged, Jack thanked Breana and put everything into the leather satchel he brought to hold it all. The entire walk back to Aaroon's and then home, he churned and formed an idea in his head. It might just work.

I've been thinking about something," Jack said as he rinsed off and dried the last plate from dinner.

Sam looked up from the game of solitaire she had going on the table. "What's that?"

Jack turned around and walked towards her, shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants. "I guess we've pretty much decided we're going to be here awhile, right?"

Sam set the cards down and straightened, putting her hands in her lap. "I suppose we have."

"Well, while we're here we should probably be **doing** something, right? Recording scientific data. stuff like that."

Sam's eyebrows arched, and she smiled a yeah-that'd-be-nice-but smile. Jack raised his hand and motioned for her to come to the other side of the cabin with him. He heard her chair scrape on the wood as he walked away, going to his bed to pull a box out from underneath. The top was draped with a piece of fabric, and he pulled it aside as she reached him.

"It won't be the most accurate thing in the world, but I did my best to calibrate it," Jack said as he lifted the telescope from the box, setting it down on the bed. He heard Sam's soft gasp, but didn't look at her. Not yet. "I figure you might be able to." he motioned up towards the ceiling. "Get a better look at the Ornorean field and at least know **why** we're stuck. And you know that metal the washtub is made of? How light it is? Kinda like aluminum, but a hell of a lot stronger. I talked to Aaroon about it, and he says it's abundant in the hills. Could be useful, right?"

He looked at her then, and a wave of warmth hit him at the genuine happiness that brightened her face. Jack smiled, and turned back to the box.

"I made a couple of these. Again, not positive on the magnification, but I'm guessing this one." He set a much smaller version of the telescope on the bed, holding the other in his hand. "Is somewhere around fifteen times magnification. And this one around thirty. I think I can talk to Eman Tennson - the guy who made them - and see if he can make them to order. He makes them now for the kids. As toys."

Sam picked up the lower magnification lens and held it to her eye. "This is amazing." she said softly.

Jack paused to watch her, enjoying the excitement in her eyes. Almost like when she made a new discovery, or finally figured out one of her doohickeys.

"Oh! And I tried to get pre-made journals, but they didn't have any. So, I made these."

He took the final contents from the box. Two leather bound journals of blank parchment, each with a charcoal pencil attached by a leather thong. Sam took them from his hand, running her hand over the soft leather.

"You made these? All of these?"

"Yeah, well, I just figured you -- we -- should be documenting some of this stuff. That way, when we get back to Earth--"

He stopped mid-sentence when Sam wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. The journals fell to the bed with a soft thump as her fingers curled into his hair. Jack returned the embrace, pressing his face into the curve of her neck. Hell, he was never one to turn down a chance to hug Samantha Carter.

"Thank you. Jack," she said against his ear.

He tightened the hold, closing his eyes when she said his name. Since the 'fight' she hadn't 'called' him anything. Not sir. Not General. Not even Jackass. Nothing.

She pulled back, her hands sliding down his shoulders to his arms, but he didn't release her. Not yet. "Hey, it was nothing."

Sam smiled. "It wasn't 'nothing', Jack. How long have you been working on this?"

He shrugged, but still didn't take his hands from her waist. "A week. Almost two. Maybe. well, three."

She touched his cheek, resting her palm against his skin, and Jack didn't think twice about turning into the touch. Her thumb brushed his lips, and he remembered the last time they had been this close. He had touched her the same way. Jack looked down at her, meeting her gaze.

What he saw there flashed through his blood like wildfire. Her eyes shifted to look at his mouth, and Jack barely suppressed his groan as she leaned up on her toes and pressed her lips to his. For several beats of his heart, they just held their lips together, neither moving. Then Sam parted her lips, and Jack's world exploded.

He slid one hand up her back to hold her closer, touching her face with the other as he slanted his open mouth over hers. Their tongues connected, completing the electrical circuit that shot through him, sending every sense into overdrive.

Jack moved his hands over her body, enjoying every curve that he had known by sight but never by touch. She leaned into him, her arms coming around to press into his back. When her hands slipped beneath the hem of his shirt, and her delicate yet strong hands made contact with his skin, Jack curled his fingers into her clothes but forced himself to pull back.

Sam looked up at him, her eyes heavy and dark with what they both were feeling. Jack knew that much. Her hands smoothed over his skin, playing havoc with his ability to think. And he needed to think.

"What, Jack?"

He brought up one hand to touch her face, and she closed her eyes as she kissed his palm. Jack wanted to groan with the erotic effect.

"Sam." he managed to say. She looked up at him again. "I'm not Pete."

She withdrew, he could see it happening. And not just from his arms. Sam stepped back until her calves bumped the edge of the bed. "What?"

Jack held on to the contact as long as he could, until she was out of reach, but left his arm extended. "That didn't come out right."

"How did you mean it to come out?" Her voice seemed astonishingly small, and the cabin suddenly large enough to swallow it whole.

He brought his hand up to rest on the back of his neck and bent his head forward, trying to push through the haze of desire to make her understand. This couldn't be just.

"I can't be his stand in. A substitute," he finally said.

She stared at him with wide eyes. "How could you even think--?"

"How? Because, Sam, last time I checked you were **engaged**. To him." He paused and took a cautious step towards her. "Not me."

She looked away and crossed her arms over her body, visibly swallowing before she spoke again. "It's been six months. Jack."

"And what does **that** mean, Sam? It's gonna be awhile before we get home so we might as well make the best of it?"

She visibly flinched, her mouth falling open. Sam swallowed hard before she spoke. "No, Jack." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

Jack sank down hard on the edge of his bed, holding his head in his hands. "For cryin' out loud," he mumbled under his breath. **Once again, O'Neill, things are completely FUBAR.** After moments of the silence stretching out between them, her body drawn so tight he could feel the tension in the air, Jack stood.

Sam watched him with tear-filled eyes, and he touched her arm. "I'm sorry, Sam. I didn't--" He shook his head and let his hand drop from her arm, then walked to the door.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Sam's entire body jerked when the door closed, and she pressed her eyes shut against the silence in the cabin that suddenly seemed so vast and deafening. Her eyes burned and she blinked against the tears. She couldn't take a deep breath, and her heart pounded in her chest like a caged bird.

She sank down onto the edge of her bed. Processing the last few minutes was like trying to figure out a movie when someone had cut out ever other word.

Jack O'Neill had never been the most eloquent person she had ever known, but in the end she usually could figure him out. If she paid attention and didn't jump to any conclusions. Which was the opposite of what she had just done.

She wiped her cheeks with her fingers, looking across the space to the array of things he had made for her. Telescopes, rough microscopes, and journals to write it all down. Sam smiled, despite the weight in her chest, and picked up one of the journals. The tanned leather was smooth and soft, and he had taken great care to fashion them into sturdy covers for the parchment inside. The paper crinkled under her fingers as she turned each page.

Sam curled her lower lip through her teeth and realized she could still taste his kiss. The slight stubble on his cheeks had abraded her skin, leaving it tingling and alive. She ran her fingertips over her lips and closed her eyes.

He had to know. To understand.

She stood from the bed and grabbed her wrap, barely getting it around her shoulders before stepping into the evening air. The slight dusting of snow they had received two days before was already gone, but the ground was hard beneath her feet and the wind held a sharp nip. The night sky was lit up, as usual, with the silver filaments of the Ornorean. Sam wondered if she could ever look at a simple night sky again.

She looked around the yard, and spotted his form standing between the barn where they kept their milk cow and the small bunch of chickens they had accumulated. His face was tipped to the sky and his hands were in his pockets.

Sam walked slowly towards him, taking deep breaths to steel her nerves and hopefully give her the right words to say. She was ten feet away before he spoke.

"Carter."

She stopped, wrapping her arms around her body as much against the quivering butterflies in her stomach to the cold. This was it. Live or Die. Do or Don't. She knew it, and Jack probably did, too.

"It's cold. You should go inside." His voice was heavy, so low she could barely hear it.

"I came to tell you something."

He turned his head slightly, his back still to her. She felt his gaze on her, even in the dark.

"You were wrong, Jack."

He took a breath. "About what?"

"You aren't the substitute for Pete. He was the substitute for you."

Jack turned on his heels, the gritty earth crunching beneath his feet. But he didn't move any closer.

"When I was on the Prometheus, I had hallucinations. Visions. And one was my father. He told me that I deserved to be happy. To love someone, and to be loved just as completely in return. He told me to find that love."

She heard him expel his breath, and his head tipped forward, the dark outline being her only guide to what he did. Before he could speak, she kept going.

"I misunderstood what he -- what my subconscious-- was trying to tell me. I thought he meant I had to **go** find love. To seek out something I didn't have."

"That's not what he meant?"

Sam shook her head. Her throat was thick with the emotions she couldn't let out. Not yet. "No. I didn't have to find love. I just had to accept it. So, Pete wasn't the love to make me happy. If he was, it wouldn't have taken me over two weeks to finally say yes. He was what I was willing to take when I couldn't have who I wanted."

"Like you said, Sam. It's been six months. Maybe this is just time and distance."

"No, Jack. It's not. Do you know how I know?" He didn't say anything, and she swallowed against the desert in her throat. "I know because, up until you said his name in the house, I hadn't even thought of Pete Shanahan. Not right after we realized we were stuck. Not in the months since. And especially not when you were kissing me."

Silence stretched between them, and Sam could barely breathe. Had she gone too far? Had she said too much? Finally, she drew in a shaky breath and turned back to the house. Before she took two steps, Jack closed the space between them and gripped her elbow, turning her back. She looked up at him through a haze of tears she didn't have the will to hide anymore.

"Sam, I -- We're not going to be here forever."

She tried to smile, but the weight on her chest was too much. "Here. Earth. It doesn't matter anymore, Jack. I can't go back to the way it was. It's too late. I want this -- I want **you** -- too much to ever go back."

He stepped closer, bringing his face into the light cast by the front window. His eyes were almost black in the dim light, and his lips were set and straight. Sam held her breath as he drew towards him, not saying a word. His large hands, with fingers so long he should have been an artist, held her face as he tipped her chin up and their eyes met. Everything disappeared - the tears, the weight, the worry - as he leaned in and kissed her. Slow and deep and complete.

Her shawl slipped from her shoulders as she wrapped her arms around him, falling willingly into the drowning pleasure created by his touch. A shiver moved through her, and Jack pulled back from the kiss, a small, slow smile bowing his lips. Holding her gaze, he slipped one hand down her arm to link their fingers together and bent over to retrieve the wrap. Sam smiled as he straightened, and together - hand in hand - they walked back into their cabin.

Jack nuzzled his nose against the back of Sam's neck, moving her hair aside to expose the skin beneath. He pressed his lips to the small bump of her spine, rubbing the tip of his tongue over the softness.

Sam hummed softly and shifted her body closer, her bottom settling against his lap as his legs found their home along the back of her own. He moved his hand beneath the heavy quilt and found the curve of her waist, exploring with his hands what the blankets hid. Jack worked her hair away from her neck and shoulders with his chin, finding the spot beneath her ear that made her groan when he sucked gently on it the night before.

Sam groaned.

Jack smiled.

"Your nose is cold," she said softly as she rolled onto her back and scooted around to find space for both of them on the small bed.

The cramped space was fine with him. It just meant that more of his skin was touching more of her skin. Sam's skin. Sam's warm, soft, naked skin. In his bed. Under his blankets. Sighing at the touch of **his** hands. He pushed up on one elbow with his fist against his temple so he could look down on her. Her cheeks were rosy from sleep, and her eyelids still hung heavily over her blue eyes. Jack slid his hand up her body, enjoying every part he encountered, and leaned in for a long, deep, good morning kiss.

"I guess someone forgot to stoke the fire last night," he said against her lips. "Must have had other things on their mind."

"Must have." Her hand came out from beneath the covers to lace into the hair at the nape of his neck, and pulled him closer. Her leg bent and nestled against his hip, her ankle hooking around his thigh to bring him even closer.

"Ah, damn!" Jack cursed, pulling back.

"What?"

He looked to the window that sat center between their two beds. The sun was already up, and the light streamed through the window. "Aaroon and Ebresh are coming here this morning. We're going up into the hills to do some hunting."

Her fingertips danced around his ear and along his jaw, dipping down to trace his collarbone. "Will you be back tonight?"

Jack smiled wide, and kissed her again. "You betcha. Undomesticated Equines couldn't keep me away."

Sam smiled at the inside joke. Jack knew he should get out of the warm bed, but after eight years of wanting this very thing -- Samantha Carter in his arms -- it was a hard thing to move away from. He settled back down into the bed, just for another minute, resting his cheek on her breast. Beneath his ear, he could hear the steady rhythm of her heart. Her fingers stroked his hair, and Jack knew this just had to be heaven.

With a groan of protest, he forced himself from the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Stay right there until the fire is going again."

Sam nodded, brushing a blonde bit of hair from her cheek. Jack reached out and curled it behind her ear. Then he stood and pulled on his pants before throwing several logs on the fire. He glanced over to the bed once, after putting a pot of coffee on the cook stove and getting that fire started as well. Sam had closed her eyes again, and Jack found himself watching her sleep.

**Damn, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.**

He finished with the coffee, took a few minutes to wash up and shave with cold water from the pump because there was no time to heat it, and pulled on a clean shirt. Just as he finished lacing his shoes, there was soft knock at the door. Jack glanced at the bed to see if Sam had woken, and jogged to the door.

Aaroon and Ebresh were on the porch, bow and arrows in hand. Jack saw that Ebresh carried a second bow for him.

"Good day, Jack. Ready to leave?"

"Yeah, sure," he said just louder than a whisper. "I'll -- ah -- I'll be right out. Just stay right here."

He shut the door again and went back to the bed, sitting down on the edge near Sam's hip. "Sam," he said softly, touching her hair and cheek.

She drew in a long breath and opened her eyes. "Hey."

"Aaroon and Ebresh are here. I'll be home some time after dark. Don't stay up if you get tired."

Sam nodded and reached out to run her hand down his arm. "Be careful."

"We're going with bows and arrows. How dangerous can that be?"

Sam smiled and Jack leaned over for a kiss. Before he could stand and walk away, Sam grabbed his hand. Jack crouched down beside the bed, bringing himself to eye level with her.

"What?"

Her expression turned serious and she touched his cheek. "I love you, Jack."

Jack brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "Get some more sleep. I'll see you tonight." He brushed one more kiss across her forehead as he stood. "I love you, too."

Never in his life had he wanted to spend the day in bed like he did right then. **Damn hunting! Damn need to eat! Damn!**

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"This is the first tolerable day we've had in nearly two moons," Sarai said as she motioned for the children to play in the yard. "After so long in the house, they are ready to drive me mad."

"Cabin fever," Sam said with a chuckle.

"Is that what you call it? Sounds more like a disease to be treated with a strong poultice and weak tea."

Both women laughed, and Sam sat down on the front step of Sarai and Aaroon's home. The children played in the yard, running out all the energy they had been forced to hold in during the coldest of the 'rest' season. Sarai held Raeya against her chest, wrapped in a warm knit blanket.

"You seem happy today, Samantha. It would seem the sunshine is doing you some good, as well."

Sam smiled. **Oh, it was more than sunshine. Much, much more.** "I guess it does feel good to be out in the open."

"I'm glad you came today. I often spend my days worrying when Aaroon goes hunting. Although he has always come home safe, it still troubles me. With you here for company, at least part of the day will go by without me sitting by the fire waiting."

Sam spent a good portion of the day with Sarai, enjoying talking to another woman. Janet had been gone over a year, and her absence still left a hole in Sam's heart. In Sarai, she found someone she could talk to almost as easily. But still unaccustomed with their beliefs and customs, Sam wasn't sure what would be acceptable to say or not. Not that she planned on confessing to the woman that she now had carnal knowledge of her commanding officer.

**No! She couldn't think of him like that anymore!** It would drive her insane. He was Jack. Had to be Jack. Earth - and the consequences of their decision - was too far away for her to worry about it. When the time came, she would face whatever changes they faced. But right here, right now, being with him was the only thing she cared about.

As the sun began to set, Sam said her good-byes to the children and headed for the door for her twenty minute walk home. Sarai walked with her, and when they reached the door, she handed Sam a folded blanket.

"What's this?" Sam asked.

"It's a larger quilt. I sent the two smaller ones before, but I thought you might need a larger one. now." Sarai smiled, a mischievous and knowing grin, as Sam took the blanket.

Sam's cheeks burned, but she smiled in return. Was she that obvious? Good Lord, they'd be through the Gate three seconds before Daniel and Teal'c knew!

"Thank you, Sarai." She hugged the woman and held the quilt to her chest as she left.

The cabin was empty and chilly when she opened the door. Part of her hoped he would be home when she got there, but she hadn't really expected it. She stoked the fire and put a log in the stove, trying to decide what to make to eat. There was some ham left from the night before, and she had brought in some eggs from the barn that morning. Not exactly a typical dinner choice, but an omelet didn't sound half bad.

But as she gathered the ingredients, her gaze moved from the folded quilt where it sat on the table to the two small beds on the other side of the room. Forgetting dinner, she set to work.

Jack came through the door just as she finished smoothing the new quilt over the now double size bed. It was no King, but pretty close to a Queen size at home. Jack paused in the doorway, his hand on the latch, and Sam straightened from her bent position.

A small smile tugged at his lips as he shut the door. "Whatcha doin?"

"I think that's obvious, don't you? Jack?" She made sure to emphasize his name with an extra breath.

"Trying to save space in here? Do you plan on moving in more furniture?"

Sam shook her head and smiled at the subtle sarcasm in his voice. "More like I don't want to fall out of bed in the middle of the night."

He walked to her, and with each step that brought him closer, Sam felt her heartbeat speed up until he stood right in front of her, the heat of his body emanating outward. Jack reached up to touch her hair, flipping it behind her ear. The simple act sent shock waves through her body.

"I don't know. I kinda liked the tight quarters." His fingers trailed down her neck to the dip at her collar, following the edge of the fabric down to the valley between her breasts.

Sam's body was in overdrive. "Yeah, but this gives us more. uh." His fingers released the first button of her blouse. "More maneuverability."

"Ah, hell," Jack whispered before his open mouth covered hers.

Hunger and need and eight years of catching up swept over them both like a tidal wave. As Jack lowered her onto the bed, the omelet was forgotten. Who needed to eat anyway. Jack's hand was . oh, wow.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Daniel sat at his computer, staring at the cataloging of artifacts he had left incomplete the day before when they left for P9X-4EV. He idly typed in stock numbers and bin locations, tapping his pen in a steady rhythm on the edge of the monitor. It was busy work. Keeping him occupied while Harriman dialed the Gate, and Reynolds called Hammond.

A shadow fell across his door, and he looked up. "Hey, Teal'c."

Teal'c walked into the room, his hands tucked behind his back. "Colonel Reynolds has asked me to inform you that General Hammond had departed Washington and will arrive within the next few hours."

"Thanks. Has anyone made any progress on the Gate?"

"No, they have not."

Daniel nodded and stared at his monitor, not really seeing the data anymore. "Hey, Teal'c. Do you think we should be worried that we can't connect?"

"P9X-4EV is a beautiful planet."

Daniel looked up, studying the Jaffa. "But that wasn't the question." He paused. "So, you'd be a lot more worried if it were -- say -- a desert planet, or an ice planet."

Teal'c slowly bowed his head.

"So, what you're saying is let Jack have this little vacation and stop worrying about it so damn much?" Teal'c smiled and bowed his head again. Daniel chuckled. "Okay, I get it. And I suppose if he's going to get stuck on a peaceful planet where there is plenty of cake and food, who better than Sam to be with him? Oh, wait. I don't know if that is a good thing, or not."

"There could be no better choice."

Daniel slowly sat forward, his chair thunking down into its upright position again. "Teal'c, did you know something like this might happen?"

"No, I did not, Daniel Jackson."

"And yet. you don't seem surprised."

"I have seen instances when the Chaapa'I system have temporarily malfunctioned when attempting to connect to certain worlds. The malfunction usually passes."

"Malfunctions like this one?"

"Of varying kinds."

"Teal'c. you've never lied to me, right?"

"No, Daniel Jackson."

"So, you didn't somehow manage to work it out that Sam and Jack would be left behind?"

"No, Daniel Jackson. But had the Gate not malfunctioned, I may not have been able to properly restore my supply of Tretonin to return to the planet as quickly as you desired." Teal'c expression didn't change, but even in the dim light, Daniel swore he saw a spark in the big man's eyes.

Daniel smiled. "You sly devil. You don't like him either, do you?"

"To whom do you refer?"

"Shanahan. You don't like him any more than I do."

"Pete Shanahan is not a suitable match for Colonel Carter."

"And Jack is?"

Teal'c arched one eyebrow and met Daniel's stare. He neither flinched, nor nodded or looked away. After several minutes, Daniel chuckled and went back to his artifact cataloguing.

Sam walked across the yard from the house to the barn, a glass of cold water in her hand. The mid-morning sun was warm and bright and wonderful, and she let the heat sink into her bare arms. The summer -- the 'growth' season -- had been warm and beautiful, and now the harvest approached,

The sound of wood being chopped came from the other side of the barn, and Sam passed through the building to reach the other side. She stopped in the doorway, her shoulder against the jamb, to take in the view. Jack's new kiln stood fifteen feet from the barn, to keep the heat from being too intense so near a wood structure, and a bright flame burned inside the open door at the bottom. Jack stood just a few feet from her, chopping more wood to build the fire to several hundred degrees.

His back was to her, his shirt discarded on the stack of round logs nearby. With each swing of the ax, the muscles of his shoulders and back flexed, the light sheen of sweat on his skin glistening in the sun. Each time he raised the axe, his drawstring pants rode low on his hips, gifting her with a pleasant view of the two dimples right above his.

"Would you like a drink?"

Jack stopped mid-swing, letting the axe head fall into the chopping block. He turned to face her with a smile, his chest rising and falling with the exertion of the work.

"Yeah, thanks."

She walked to him, holding out the glass, and he drank it greedily, two drops of water falling from his chin to his chest. As he drank, Sam took the opportunity to look at him. Something she did whenever she could.

Jack had always been in peak physical shape. He had to be to do his job. He was a soldier, had been most of his life. But the physical labor of living on a world where hard work was a way of life had done things to his body that many young men would envy. His arms were hard and strong, his chest and stomach hard and flat. He moved like a well-oiled machine, fluid and sleek and sexy as hell.

She had to break away from her voyeurism as he finished the water and sighed in pleasure. "Good stuff." He wrapped his arm around her waist and brought her hard up against his chest. "Better stuff," he said, almost as a growl, and pressed his face to her throat.

Sam leaned into him, running her hands over his damp chest and arms. "We need to leave for the joining ceremony soon. It begins at mid-day."

"Yeah, sure," he mumbled against her neck, right below her ear, and a tremble moved through her. "You betcha." His hand slid from her waist to her backside.

Sam moaned softly. "You need to clean up, Jack." She gasped when he bent and scooped her up in his arms. "Jack! What are you doing?"

"I'm going to wash up. In the creek."

Sam's mouth fell open. "No. Jack. No!"

"Yup."

"Jack!"

He carried her effortlessly down the embankment behind the barn to the small creek that ran behind their house. The whole time, Sam squirmed in his arms, and was nearly free, but not in time to stop him from hauling them both into the cold water. The shock of the cold snatched Sam's breath away as he walked out deeper until the water hit them above the waist, then he set her down on her feet, holding her tight against the current.

"Jack, I swear." He silenced her with a kiss, and all thought of cold disappeared as a different heat moved through her.

Sam sighed as Jack wrapped his arms tightly around her and squeezed, almost taking her breath away, as he pressed his face into the bent of her throat. He kissed her skin before pulling back to look down at her. Sam smiled at the spark in his dark eyes, and the deep dimples in his cheeks from his smile.

"What?" she asked.

"Are you happy, Sam?"

She touched his cheeks, brushing away drops of water that had splashed up from the rushing creek. "Of course I'm happy."

"Even without your lab and your doohickeys and--"

Sam covered his lips with a finger. "Jack, I'm happy. Happier than I can ever remember being. Besides, I'm not without my **doohickeys**, thanks to you."

"Find out anything good," he asked non-chalantly as his fingers worked the hem of her shirt from the waist of her skirt.

Sam's eyes fluttered, but she managed to keep her focus on him. "Um.not much yet. I'm kind of doing things the old fashioned way. I'm running tests on that metal. Corrosion, tenacity, those types of.Oh."

His hands were doing glorious things beneath her blouse, and his lips played against her throat until her knees were weak.

"I love it when you talk science."

"I'd like a little less talk, Jack O'Neill," she whispered as her cold fingers found the drawstring of his pants. "And more action."

"Yes, ma'am."

Some time later, Sam sat on the bank running her fingers through her now damp hair as Jack stood mid stream and finished washing. Every few minutes, Jack would look her way and smile. It was a smile she had never seen on his face before, not before coming here. Certainly, not before the beginning of the growth season. Okay, maybe once.

"Jack, can I ask you something?"

"Of course. What?"

"Four, almost five years ago. When you and Teal'c were caught in that time loop."

"Yeah." He dunked his head beneath the surface and scrubbed at his scalp before flipping back, wet streams of water running down his back and shoulders.

"When we stopped it, the next morning, do you remember talking at breakfast?"

Jack shook his head, sending water flying so far it spotted her skirt. She wiped the drops from her face. "I remember." He came out of the water and pulled on his soaked pants that he had left on the bank. He offered her his hand and pulled Sam to her feet.

"Daniel asked you if you did anything during the loop. something you wouldn't have done otherwise if you had to face the consequences."

They walked hand in hand up the embankment and headed back towards their house. Jack walked with his head down, watching the ground, then he raised his head and squinted at the sun. "Yeah."

Sam sighed. He was going to drag this out. Like pulling teeth. "What did you do, Jack?"

"Do you want to know everything?"

Sam stopped walking, and they turned together to face each other. "Not everything. Since I don't think you knew how to throw pottery when I met you, I'm guessing **that** might be one thing. What I want to know is what you did to put the smile on your face that morning."

"What smile?" His lips turned up just slightly, first one corner then the other.

"**That** smile. Daniel asked you and you looked at me with **that** smile. Jack, did we. did you and I."

"No," he said abruptly. "No, I wouldn't have -- I wouldn't do that."

"But something did happen."

Jack started walking again, bringing her with him. "One day, I waited until the end. Just minutes before the loop would reboot. Then I went to the command center, and I handed George my resignation."

"Your resignation? Why?"

"Because, then I did this." Before Sam could prepare herself, Jack stopped and took her face in his hands, covering her mouth with his own. Then he wrapped his arm around her and dipped her back, still holding the kiss. Sam circled his neck with her arms and held on, kissing him back. Then he brought her upright again and let go, linked their hands, and walked again towards the house.

Sam waited for the flush to cool in her cheeks, licking her lips before she spoke again. "Why did you resign? If there were no consequences, you could have just kissed me and nothing would have happened."

"Maybe."

"So, why did you?"

"Because, I figured that maybe - if I didn't resign first - you wouldn't kiss me back. You know, still worried about . stuff."

Sam nodded, watching his profile as they walked. "Uh huh. And, did it work? Did I kiss you back?"

The same slow, sexy smile moved over his lips. "Hell, yeah."

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

In the Calla Hills, there was only one way to do a celebration. BIG! Big party. Big bonfire. Big spread of food. And at least a solid twenty four hours of partying, if not more. And their Joining ceremonies were no exception.

So, that evening, Jack found himself once again in the big Meeting Hall with his stomach full and his eyes heavy. He reclined back on the pile of cushions behind him and watched the children playing in the middle area. The newly joined couple sat at the head of the room on a raised dias as the members of the community took their turns congratulating them and giving them gifts.

He and Sam had already presented their gifts, a set of stoneware he had fired himself. Not his first attempt. It had been awhile since he had thrown anything, so it took a few tries. But it wasn't half bad, if he did say so himself.

Sam returned from talking with Sarai and sat down, cross legged, beside him. Jack stretched out his hand to rest it on her knee, having little energy to move while he digested the gigantic meal.

"These people know how to throw a party, huh?" Sam said with a smile. "Sarai was telling me how they believe that any union during the Ornorean is especially blessed, that no bad will ever come to the couple. And any child conceived while the Ornorean is in the sky will be healthy and strong, and destined to be a leader of the people."

"Wow. They put a lot of stock in this Ornorean thing, huh?"

Sam nodded. "I suppose they do. But by what I can see, there's nothing here to prove them wrong."

Jack brought his arm back onto the cushions, spread out away from him, and motioned to her with his fingers. "C'mere."

With a sexy smile, she shifted to her knees and crawled towards him. Were they not in a room full of people, Jack would have done a **hell** of a lot more than let her curl against his side with her head on his chest. She draped her arm over his body and drew her leg over his. Jack combed his fingers through her hair.

He could be happy here.

Despite the fact that he didn't have hot water, cold beer, or his truck. It was a pretty damn good place for an extended vacation. And he was happy.

All because of the woman drawing cartouche symbols on his shirt. Jack kissed her forehead and hugged her closer. "Hey, Sam."

"Mmmmm," she hummed softly, and he knew she was dozing off.

He kissed her forehead again, smoothing her hair away from her temple and brow. "Join with me."

She chuckled softly. "Don't you think it's a bit crowded in the meeting hall, Jack?"

Her skin was soft beneath his fingertips as he stroked her cheek and followed the elegant line of her throat from the lobe of her ear to her shoulder. A shiver moved through her and she shifted closer. Jack suppressed the groan her simplest touch induced.

"That's. not what I meant. **Join** with me, Sam."

Her head came up off his chest, and she stared at him with wide eyes and parted lips. Jack grinned. "Close your mouth, Sam, before something flies in you won't like."

Her look of shock slowly changed to a wide smile, and she pulled her lower lip through her teeth. "Jack O'Neill, are you asking me."

"Yeah, I guess I am."

She stared at him, without saying a word. After several moments, Jack shifted and cleared his throat. "Uh, Sam. Could you not take quite so long to answer? You're making me --"

Sam laid her hands on his cheeks and slid up his body to kiss him, and he drew air in sharply through his nose against the intense and weakening effect of the kiss. He cupped the back of her head and held her in place to deepen the kiss as much as possible. Her fingers curled into his shirt.

Before he forgot completely where he was, Jack pulled back and drew in a breath. "I'm hoping that means yes."

Sam nodded. "Yes, but Jack. What about when--"

He put his thumb to her lips, holding her chin in his fingers. Jack shook his head. "Here. Earth. Doesn't matter. Right?"

"It will eventually," she said, her voice more serious.

Jack raised his finger and tapped the end of her nose. "Not as much as you think, I'm willing to bet."

Her eyebrows arched, and she looked at him expectantly. "Oh? And why is that?"

"You don't think that they're going to find a new General to run the SGC? You think they haven't already? Sam, either way, we can't do anything about it. We both knew this wasn't without consequence, right?"

She nodded.

"The question is. are the consequences worth it?"

He held his breath as she seemed to take in the details of his face, his hair, his mouth. She touched the lines at the sides of his mouth, ran her finger along his lower lip, put her palm over his heart.

Jack swallowed hard against the sudden dryness in his throat. "Sam."

"Yeah, Jack. It's worth it."

The tension in his body seeped away, and he pressed his hand into the small of her back, bringing her closer. "Just so we're clear." Jack motioned between them. "We gonna do this union thing?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, we're gonna do this union thing."

Jack grinned. "Cool." He curled forward and stood up from the cushions, offering her his hand.

Sam took it and he brought her to her feet, pulling her to her side as they headed for the door.

"Where are we going?"

He pressed his lips to her ear, and kissed her before whispering "I kinda liked the idea of that **other** joining. Remember that hill we sat on the first night we were here?"

Sam's breath hitched, making his blood burn. "Yes."

They stepped out into the cool evening air, the change in temperature not nearly enough to reduce the fever under his skin. Sam's arm circled his back, her hand slipping into the waistband of his pants. Jack closed his eyes, but then figured it wasn't good to be walking in the dark with his eyes shut. As they moved away from the party, the sounds of music and laughter diminished until they heard only the sounds of the night.

Jack remembered the path he had taken nearly a cycle before, and with a smile, realized they had been on this planet almost one of their season cycles. It was kind of like an anniversary. He led Sam through the darkness until he found the same spot she had found him sitting during the celebration of the Ornorean. They sat down beside each other, and without needing to say a word, reclined back onto the cool grass.

The silver cotton candy filament of the Ornorean swirled and danced over them, and Jack thought about that night. He hadn't been on a planet with Sam in months, and back then, things had been so different. Yet, he had wanted her then just as much as he wanted her now. It had taken all he had to look at her, with the illumination overhead highlighting her face, and not kiss her. Now, he looked at her again, and smiled.

"C'mere," he said softly.

Sam read his mind, and moments later she straddled her legs across his hips and leaned over him for a kiss that would have knocked him to his knees if he had been on his feet. Jack gripped her hips as she straightened up and slipped her shirt off over her head. Behind her, the Ornorean swirled and danced like a glorious, silver halo.

**Yup, the Ornorean made a great backdrop for Samantha Carter.**

"Jack. Samantha. Please join your hands. For as your hands are joined, so are your hearts."

Sam's heart pounded in her chest so hard she couldn't believe her shirt wasn't bouncing with each beat. She swallowed against the thick emotion in her throat and joined her left hand with Jack's, their fingers intertwined. He moved their hands up between them, level with their chests, and leaned in to kiss her fingers.

She smiled, her vision hazy from the tears in her eyes. For years, she had struggled to keep her emotions constantly in check. But now, it seemed silly and wrong to hide from Jack how happy she was. **Tears of joy**. Sam once thought the phrase sappy, now she understood.

Shedesh Malfour presented a length of red ribbon and wrapped it around their hands several times.

"We each are destined to find that one person who completes us. Who makes us better. That intertwine themselves so intricately into our lives and our hearts, they can and will never be removed. Jack and Samantha have found that person in each other."

Shedesh had told them to look at each other through the entire ceremony, because in the other person's eyes they would see their future. Sam met Jack's gaze, and the intensity was so overwhelming it made her breath hitch.

"I love you," she mouthed silently. He smiled.

Shedesh handed Sam a white ribbon, and with her free hand she wrapped it around their joined fingers just as Shedesh had with the red. She had to clear her throat, and force herself to breathe before saying her part.

"My life to yours, for as long as we both draw breath."

Shedesh gave Jack a matching ribbon. With the three ribbons around their hands, Sam looked into his eyes as he spoke his promise. Jack parted his lips and paused, just like he always did before saying something immensely important. or immensely sarcastic.

"My life to yours." His voice wavered, and Sam held her breath.

Jack cleared his throat and shook his head slightly. He drew in a deep breath and huffed, the warmth caressing their hands. Sam brought up her free hand and laid her palm against his cheek, and Jack turned into it, his lips kissing her skin. He drew her closer, until their foreheads rested against each other, their hands sandwiched between them.

"My life to yours, for as long as we both draw breath." His voice was rough and deep, like honey over gravel.

"And with this promise, Jack and Sam are forever joined. Two souls. One life. One future. The union is complete."

"Ah! Hang on a second," Jack said with a smirk, raising his hand to stop the cheers of everyone gathered around them. "There's just this **one** little part of our ceremony I'd like to throw in here."

"Of course," Shedesh said with a laugh. "What is it?"

"The part where you say 'you may kiss the bride'."

"You may kiss the bride."

Jack's hand cupped the back of her head and his open mouth covered hers, sending shafts of heat and joy through her body. "I love you, Sam," he said against her mouth and Sam laughed, simply because she didn't know what else to do with the overflowing cavalcade of emotions that bombarded her heart.

"I love you, Jack O'Neill."

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"Doctor Jackson."

Daniel looked up from the ring of condensation he was dragging his coffee cup through on the tabletop. "General Hammond. It's good to see you, sir."

"You, too, son." Hammond sat down at the head of the Briefing Room table. "Teal'c."

Teal'c bowed his head. "I, too, am pleased to see you once again, General."

Hammond sighed. "What can you tell me."

Daniel ran through the story again. "There was no solid evidence that we wouldn't be able to dial back once we disconnected. Maybe Teal'c and I should have stayed and--"

"If you had stayed, Doctor Jackson, we wouldn't have any idea right now that there was an issue at all. With you here we at least have some Intel to work with."

Daniel nodded and didn't argue. He saw General Hammond's point, but it didn't necessarily make him feel better. They were approaching ten hours at this point. At first, he had pushed it aside as a temporary issue, but with each passing hour his worry grew.

Footsteps came up the stairs, and Sergeant Siler came into the room. "General Hammond," he said with a salute. "We just completed another dial out, with no success. Sergeant Harriman has contacted all off world teams, and let them know the status of things here."

"Thank you, Sergeant. Do you have any idea what is creating the problem?"

Siler shook his head. "Not specifically, sir. Could be almost anything. A meteor strike, electrical surge, or one of the Gates being out of sync with the normal timeline. Sir, even something as simple as the Gate flipping over in the wrong direction could cause problems."

"Oh, I feel **so** much better now," Daniel mumbled and took his glasses off, setting them on the table.

"With your permission, sir, I'd like to run a full diagnostic," Sergeant Siler suggested.

"How long will that take, Sergeant?"

"Could be an hour or more, sir. No one will be able to dial in or out while it's in process."

"Understood, Sergeant. Proceed."

Siler nodded, and went back down the stairs.

"Ok. So now what?" Daniel asked.

"We wait, Doctor Jackson. Since the Alliance fell apart, contact with the Tok'Ra has been spotty at best. And you remember the wait we had to hear from the Asgard. But if this isn't resolved in the next 24 hours we'll start making inquiries. That's the best I can do.

Daniel nodded and tapped his fingers on the tabletop. "I understand, General."

"In the mean time, we'll let the Sergeant run the diagnostic on the system, and give it another try. If that doesn't work, we try something else."

"Sam probably would have had the damn thing figured out by now. Ironic, huh?" Daniel said with a sigh.

"Indeed."

Sam carried the clean bed quilt from the line outside and made the bed, barely conscious of each move, even as she smoothed the fabric out and neatly tucked the corners in engrained military style. She moved through the house, closing her new bedroom door behind her, and paused to stir the stew in the pot on the cook stove.

When there was nothing else to do to keep her occupied, at least in body, she sat down on the bench near the fireplace and stared into the low burning flames. Her mind raced, not giving her a moment's piece since she had gotten home. Before that, really. For several days now. She hadn't even been able to focus on making notations for the experiment she had set up in her lab.

To try and distract her own rebellious mind, Sam looked around the cabin for something to do. In the two season cycles since she and Jack had moved into the small, rundown shack it had taken on many transformations. The space was no longer open, but divided into their bedroom and a living area. Although it lacked many of the amenities of home, Sam did have an attached room just for bathing and a room she used as a makeshift lab. She had filled three journals since the day Jack had given her the first.

Jack seemed to like doing things with his hands, something she never would have guessed before. If he wasn't making his stoneware pots, he was finding some new improvement or repair to do on the cabin.

Sam groaned and pressed her hand to her forehead.

She heard his footsteps on the porch, and her insides did a funny flip. Sam jumped to her feet, and immediately regretted the quick movement. She barely had time to grip the back of the nearby rocking chair before the door opened and he came in.

"Hey, beautiful," he said and crossed the space to pull her into a tight, warm embrace. "You should have come with me today. The weather was great. Aaroon and I rode to the next village, and I managed to get a hold of what I **think** is a pretty close match to hydrochloric acid. That's what you wanted for the next test, right?"

Sam nodded, her voice suddenly completely gone.

"Good." He set his leather satchel down on the table. "The guy who runs the barter station in Rena Valley wants me to make him a bunch of plates and bowls and stuff. He'll trade whatever I need that I can't get here in Calla Hills."

Sam smiled, listening to the excitement in Jack's voice. "That's wonderful," she managed to say.

Jack paused, an amber colored bottle of something in his hand, and looked at her. With his dark eyes trained on her, Jack set the bottle down and moved towards her. Sam's insides twisted and spasmed like an entire handful of Mexican Jumping Beans, and she tried to hide the shaking of her hands by gripping them together in front of her.

"Sam."

"What?"

He gently pulled her hands apart and held them up, looking at them. She tried, with every muscle in her body, to hold back the next tremor but it didn't work. As he tipped his chin, and his gaze locked with hers again, Sam chewed vehemently on her lower lip.

**This should be easier!**

"Sam. what?"

She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face against his shoulder, the tears that had threatened to fall all day hit her like a torrent. Which made no sense at all. She wasn't sad. She wasn't upset. But the tears came anyway. Jack stroked her back and shushed softly in her ear.

When she finally felt like she had regained some amount of control, Sam pulled back and brushed at her cheeks with her fingers. Jack held her shoulders, watching her with a dark expression.

"I'm fine."

Jack only stepped away from her long enough to retrieve a handkerchief from the bedroom for her to wipe her eyes. But even as she dried her cheeks, he stood nearby with his hands at his waist and his stare heavy on her. She could just imagine what he was thinking. Since Sam wasn't really the type of woman to fall apart at the drop of a hat. She laughed softly, which really made Jack look confused.

"I'm not going crazy, if that's what you're thinking."

His eyebrows shot up. "I don't know **what** to think."

Sam sighed and smiled, looking into his eyes. **God, she loved him.** "I've been flipping around in my head all these ways I can. to tell you. but I didn't know -- don't know -- we just never."

"Sam, for cryin' out loud! Spit it out!"

Sam took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "I'm pregnant."

Jack's mouth fell open and his eyes widened, his eyebrows rising in a surprised arch. "Wha.at?"

"Pregnant."

His hands were suddenly holding her head, and his lips on hers in a kiss that was an intoxicating blend of sweet and intense. Sam leaned into him, letting his arms support her and be her strength. Then he wrapped her in his arms and buried his face into her neck. The embrace reminded her of the mission when he had been frozen in Hathor's lab, and how he held her after coming up from the cold; fierce and needy. She had never for a moment considered pulling back.

"Oh. God. Sam," he said against her skin, his voice heavy and thick. "I love you."

Sam stroked his hair and kissed his temple. They stood together for a long time in each other's arms.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"The diagnostic is complete, General," Sergeant Siler said from the doorway of Jack's office, where General Hammond had temporarily taken up residence.

"Did we find anything?" Daniel asked before General Hammond had a chance, then shrugged and raised a hand in apology. "Sorry."

Hammond nodded, but no one was smiling right now. "Report, Sergeant."

Siler sighed and his shoulders dropped. "I'm sorry, sirs. It shows nothing. All programs are running perfectly fine. Nothing has changed in the system on this end to affect our ability to connect."

"Thank you, Sergeant," General Hammond said, and tapped his fingers on Jack's ink-spotted desk calendar.

"General, can I just throw a thought out here?" Daniel asked, sitting up from his slouched position in his 'usual' chair.

"Of course, Doctor Jackson."

"There are safeguards on the network, right? To prevent us from dialing through under certain conditions. Sam has overridden them before. What if we try now?"

"Yes, and the last time she did we nearly destroyed a planet."

Daniel winced. "Yeah, there is that."

"Sir, you suspect the Orn.. Orn."

"Ornorean."

"This Ornorean is responsible, and it's a natural phenomenon?"

Daniel nodded.

"Do you have an idea, Sergeant?" General Hammond asked.

"I'm not sure, sir. But it may be as simple as an electrical storm and the gate doesn't want to connect due to the increased energy levels. If we overrode that safeguard, it might at least let us make a connection. I wouldn't suggest Gate travel, but we might be able to contact them by radio and better assess the situation."

General Hammond nodded. "See what you can do, Sergeant."

Sergeant Siler nodded his head and left the office. Daniel slumped back in his chair and rubbed his forehead with his fingers, failing miserably at hiding his yawn. He glanced at the clock. It wasn't even nine yet, but he felt like someone had dragged him through the ringer.

"Doctor Jackson, I have always had the utmost faith in the abilities of my top team," General Hammond said after several moments. "Both in whole and in part. Comparatively speaking, this seems to be one of the least dangerous situations General O'Neill and Colonel Carter have been in. My faith still holds."

Daniel nodded and smiled. "Thank you, sir."

Jack paced the length of the front porch, his own nervous energy pushing him to the brink of rage. He stopped her the cabin door and leaned the side of his fist against the wood, listening intently for any sound from inside. When he heard nothing, he pushed back and cursed under his breath before resuming his march.

Aaroon sat on the top step, whittling at a stick of wood with his knife. "I remember when my Beloved birthed Trallen. Like you, I was nervous and unable to rest. It is your first. You need to learn patience, my friend."

"This isn't my first," Jack said, and immediately regretted saying anything. But his mind wasn't on Aaroon, or the conversations, or anything but Sam insides the cabin.

Aaroon stopped his whittling and looked up at Jack, his eyebrows raised in curiosity. Jack leaned his arm high on one of the porch posts and momentarily rested his head in the bend of his elbow. Finally, he took a deep breath and sat down beside Aaroon.

"I had a son named Charlie."

"With Samantha?"

"No." Jack shook his head and picked up a piece of straw from the ground to twirl between his fingers. "I was married -- joined -- before. Sara. We had a son."

"Had."

"He died."

Aaroon set his hand on Jack's shoulder, squeezing it firmly. "I am sorry, my friend. There is no greater pain a man must endure than the loss of a child."

Jack nodded and swallowed. His throat was thick and tight, and his blood felt like it was electrified, the need to be with her almost overpowering.

"You will not feel that pain again, Jack. You and Samantha began your union beneath the Ornorean, and your child is given life in its light. You are a doubly blessed man."

Jack rubbed his face roughly with his hands, then rested his elbows on his knees. "You have no idea, my friend."

They sat in silence again, with only the sound of Aaroon's knife on wood. Jack practically jumped to his feet when the cabin door opened, and Sarai stepped onto the porch.

"What's going on?" he demanded.

"Jack, you should come in."

"Why? What's wrong?"

Sarai smiled, and touched his arm. "You should come because your Beloved has, in no uncertain terms, informed me that she refuses to birth this baby unless you are by her side."

Jack brushed past Sarai and nearly ran to the bedroom. The door was already open and he went immediately to Sam's side. She looked pale and tired, her blonde hair slicked to her forehead, and as he neared the bed, she reached for him.

"Jack."

Jack knelt on the floor beside her, holding her hand to his lips, then pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Sam. you okay?"

She smiled and laughed softly. "Sure. Great. You?"

"I heard you're making demands."

Sam swallowed, and blinked slowly, her eyelids lying heavy over her eyes. "I don't care what they do here, I want you with me."

"Thank God. I was about to go insane--"

Jack stopped when Sam's features twisted in pain and she arched on the bed. "Holy Hannah." she hissed out.

"Sarai!" Jack yelled, and the woman ran in.

"Have you decided you are ready?" Sarai said with a smile.

Sam nodded violently against the pillow. "Oh, yeah." Her grip on Jack's hand tightened and she moaned softly through her teeth. "Now would be good."

Jack focused only on Sam for the next half hour as she fought with all the strength he knew she had to bring their baby into the world. His chest hurt from the intense fear and joy that warred for dominance inside him. He stroked Sam's hair and wiped her face with a cool cloth, whispering to her how much he loved her, and prayed like he hadn't prayed in years.

With one final, long push Sam collapsed back on the bed and the furious cries of a newborn echoed through the room. Jack let his head drop to the mattress beside Sam's shoulder, blinking hard to keep from embarrassing himself. He looked up as Sarai bundled the baby, seeing only flailing arms and legs.

Jack held his breath as Sarai carried the baby to them. "You have been blessed with a girl," Sarai said as she lay the baby against Sam's side between them.

"Oh, Jack. She's beautiful," Sam whispered, tears running from her eyes.

Jack realized he was doing the same, but didn't care. He sniffed loudly and smiled, reaching out to touch his daughter's chubby cheek. Her eyes were already closed, and her rosebud lips curled in a pout. He was amazed at the softness of her skin and the downy fluff of blonde hair on her head.

"She looks like her mom, so yeah, she's beautiful."

He raised his face to look at Sam, meeting her tired gaze. Sarai touched his shoulder and he looked up.

"Why don't you take the little one into the other room, Papa, while I do what needs to be done here. You can come back in just a few minutes. She may be ready to eat by then."

Jack nodded silently, and kissed Sam gently before standing and cradling his daughter in his arms. Aaroon was inside now, adding a log to the fire, and he looked up as Jack came out of the bedroom.

"Good wishes to you, my friend!" he said enthusiastically, standing straight. "So, let's have it. Son or daughter?"

"A girl," Jack said, finally finding his voice again.

Aaroon slapped his shoulder. "What did I say? You are a blessed man, Jack."

Jack nodded and sat down in the rocking chair near the fire. As he gazed at his daughter's face, her eyelids fluttered open, revealing eyes as blue as Sam's. They stared at each other, seeming to assess the new face, and Jack smiled as she yawned, smacking her delicate lips.

"Jack, you can come back now," Sarai said from the bedroom door. "Samantha is fine. She is a strong woman. But she must stay in bed for at least three days, no matter what she says."

Jack smiled. Sarai knew his wife pretty well. Sam was a stubborn woman, nearly as stubborn as him. "Understood."

"We will go, and leave the three of you. If you need anything, I am not far."

Jack nodded and was back in the bedroom before the front door closed. Sam lay partially reclined on the bed, a stack of pillows behind her head, and her eyes were closed. Jack walked to his side of the bed, and with gentle care, laid down beside her. She opened her eyes and smiled.

"You're back."

"Did I go somewhere?"

She shook her head, blinking slowly. Using one free arm, Jack moved up beside Sam and sat with his back against the headboard. Sam shifted with a wince into the space against his side and took the baby. With his wife in his arms and their daughter nestled against her breast, Jack watched his daughter greedily suck down her first meal.

"We need a name," Sam said as she stroked the downy head.

"Can I make a suggestion?"

Sam looked up at him with a smile. "Of course."

"Hannah. As in Holy."

Her smile spread. "I love it."

Jack kissed her temple and her lips, then leaned down to press a kiss to Hannah's hair. "Hannah it is."

He held them all night, as his wife and daughter slept and Jack realized he had never been happier in his entire life. Even guys who have screwed up more times than even **God** could count sometimes get second chances. Jack looked down at Sam, stroking her hair with his fingertips. Her eyes opened and she tipped her head back to look at him.

"I love you, Sam," he whispered, fighting to get past the lump in his throat and the ever-expanding heart in his chest. "A lot more than."

She smiled. "A lot more than you're supposed to?"

Jack chuckled and looked down as his fingers swirled in Hannah's hair. "A lot more than I know how to say."

Sam reached up and rested her hand on his cheek, her thumb stroking his skin. She urged him to look up again, and looked into his eyes. "You do just fine, Jack."

Sam rested her head against his shoulder and slipped back into sleep. Jack ran his fingers over her hair and kissed her forehead.

"Thank you," he whispered against her skin.

Daniel stood in Control and held his breath. **Come on! Come on!**

"Chevron five encoded. chevron six encoded."

Everything went silent in the room, as if every member on staff collectively sucked in breath with Daniel. The inner wheel turned and took position. The Chevron moved, but the red light failed to appear.

"Chevron seven will not engage, sir."

"Damn it," Daniel mumbled under his breath.

"I'm sorry, sir," Sergeant Siler said as he looked up from his command console. "I had hoped overriding the dialing protocol would work."

Daniel took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I appreciate you trying, Siler. I'm sure the General does, too."

With heavy feet, Daniel climbed the stairs to the next level and went to Jack's office door. General Hammond was on the phone, and Daniel heard the tail end of his conversation.

"I understand, sir. Thank you, Mr. President."

General Hammond hung up the phone and turned his attention on Daniel. "The protocol override didn't work," Daniel said simply.

General Hammond sighed. "I just spoke with the President. If we are unable to dial through within the next forty-eight hours, I have been given authorization to contact both the Asgard and the Tok'Ra and ask for their assistance."

Daniel nodded. "Forty-eight hours, huh?"

The older man nodded. "Their lives are not at risk. The President doesn't feel we need to rush things. For now, I think we all should get a good night's sleep, and go back at this first thing in the morning. Fresh minds, maybe fresh ideas."

"Thank you, General. Good night," Daniel said, and tapped the doorjamb with the side of his fist before turning to leave.

**Three days alone on a beautiful planet with Sam. Happy vacation, Jack.**

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Daniel stopped by the commissary on his way to Control for a cheese Danish and a large cup of coffee. He stopped by the Gate Room first, and saw Sergeant Siler running a maintenance check on the giant ring. Siler had been up almost all night, first running another full diagnostic and then checking every other system he could manually.

Daniel walked up the steel grate towards the tall man. "Hey, Siler."

The sergeant looked up. "Good morning, Doctor Jackson. We should be ready to try another dial out in the next five minutes."

"Great. Thank you for your hard work, Sergeant," he said, and held out the cup of coffee.

"Thank you, sir," Siler said as he took it. "But I'm only doing what needs to be done."

"I know, but you're putting everything into it." Daniel gave a small wave and headed back down the ramp.

He found Teal'c and General Hammond already waiting in Control. Daniel bit into the Danish, and realized his stomach **really** didn't want food right now. He offered the remaining baked good to Teal'c, who just raised his eyebrow. With a shrug, Daniel tossed it in the nearest waste basket.

"Here we go again, huh?"

"Indeed, Daniel Jackson. Perhaps today we will procure some good fortune."

"It's 'get lucky', Teal'c. But close. Very close."

The intercom crackled. "We're ready to give it a try, sir," came Sergeant Siler's voice.

"Understood. Thank you, Sergeant." General Hammond turned to the bank of computers that sat facing the giant glass window. "Sergeant Harriman, dial P9X-4EV."

"Yes, sir."

Harriman typed in the coordinates, and Daniel tapped his fist against his lips. waiting. waiting.

"Chevron five encoded. chevron six encoded."

Daniel closed his eyes. **One, two, three. damn. four, five**

**Clank!**

"Chevron seven has engaged, sir!" Harriman nearly shouted. "Tracking MALP trajectory now, sir."

"Yes!" Daniel jerked his fist in the air. "General Hammond, permission to--"

"That's strange," Sergeant Harriman mumbled.

"Hold on, Doctor Jackson. Not quite yet. What is it, son?"

"It's the internal clock on the MALP, sir. The time is off."

"By how much?"

"**Way** off, sir. But it may be a malfunction due to the interference that disrupted the Gate."

General Hammond nodded. "See if you can get General O'Neill on the radio."

Sergeant Harriman nodded, and tried for several minutes to com Jack and Sam, with no answer.

"The Ornorean could still be affecting radio transmissions, sir. When we were there, there had been a lot of static."

General Hammond stared out the window at the glowing event horizon of the Gate. "Shut her down, Sergeant."

"General--"

General Hammond raised his hand, and Daniel bit of his words. The event horizon dissolved and the Gate shut down with a swoosh. General Hammond turned to Sergeant Harriman.

"Redial the gate in ten minutes. If it connects without issue, then, Doctor Jackson, you and Teal'c may go through."

"Thank you, sir." Daniel turned to Teal'c and slapped his palm against the big man's chest. "Teal'c, meet me in the Gate room in ten minutes."

Teal'c bowed his head, and Daniel was off and running.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Exactly ten minutes and forty-five seconds later, Daniel and Teal'c stepped through the Gate to P9X-4EV. Behind them, the Gate disengaged and the even horizon was replaced by the idyllic scenery of the planet.

Daniel looked around, and saw no sign of Sam, Jack, or anyone else. Teal'c stepped up beside him, setting the end of his staff weapon on the ground.

"It would appear that O'Neill and Colonel Carter have not been attempting to use the Gate."

"At least not right now." Daniel said and started away from the giant ring. "Let's go see if we can track them down."

The two of them headed for the nearest road they had traveled before with Aaroon, and headed north. As they neared Aaroon's farm, they walked by one of his many fields. Daniel shaded his eyes with his hands and saw Aaroon out amongst the corn stalks as he harvested them. Beside him walked Trallen and Ebresh.

"Aaroon Sonarnon!" Daniel called, and Aaroon looked up.

"Daniel! It is good to see you! I will be right there."

Daniel and Teal'c waited as Aaroon waded through the tall stalks and climbed over the wood rail fence that separated his field from the road. As soon as he reached them, he pulled Daniel into an exuberant hug and patted Teal'c arms.

"It is wonderful to see you again, my friends. Too much time has passed."

Daniel drew his brow together, staring at Aaroon. "Ye-eah. Good to see you, too, Aaroon."

"Do you seek Jack and Samantha?"

"Ah, yes. We're concerned because-"

"Oh, concern is not necessary. As you will see. Continue down this road a short while, and you will find them. You all must come to our home this night for the evening meal. Sarai will be happy to see you again. As will Tella."

"Let me first speak with Jack and Sam, and we will let you know."

"Fine. Fine. Until then, I must go. The harvest does not care about returning friends."

As Aaroon went over the fence again, Daniel turned to Teal'c."

"That was."

"Unusual, Daniel Jackson. He acts as though much time has passed since our last visit."

"Yeah," Daniel said slowly. "Let's just find Jack and Sam. I'll feel much better when I know they're fine."

They headed down the road again, meeting no one along the way. As they crested a hill, Daniel spotted a good sized cabin sitting about 100 feet from the road. He could tell the building was a mix of old and new construction, with at least half the building being new. A barn sat further back with a small bunch of chickens pecking at the ground. A tall man with slightly gray hair stepped onto the shaded porch, and stacked his armload of chopped wood with the good cord or so that was already there.

"Maybe they know where Jack and Sam are. Because I'm pretty sure the road that leads to the village is in the other direction. I don't know what they'd be doing out this way."

They continued towards the cabin, and as they reached the edge of the property, the cabin door opened and a blonde woman came out with a cup in her hand. She approached the man, and he took the cup, but before he drank he pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly, dipping her slightly. Their laughter reached Daniel and Teal'c.

"Daniel Jackson, I believe that is--"

"Excuse me," Daniel called out, heading for the house. "We're looking for--"

"O'Neill and Colonel Carter."

The couple turned, and Daniel's jaw dropped open.

"Daniel? Teal'c?"

"It is, indeed, O'Neill and Colonel Carter," Teal'c finished.

Daniel and Teal'c walked forward, but were met more than half way by Sam, who ran to them and threw her arms around his neck. Daniel hugged her back, trying desperately to figure out what the **hell** was going on. Sam moved on to hug Teal'c as Jack reached them, and Daniel could only stare. He knew he was staring. but. JEEZ!

If he didn't know better, he would have sworn Jack had gone back fifteen years in age. His face was lean and line free, and he looked a good ten to fifteen pounds lighter. He put his hand out in greeting, and Daniel took it, almost wincing at the strength of his grip.

"It's good to see you, Daniel."

Daniel just nodded, blinked, and looked to Sam. And blinked again. Sam was stunning -- not that she hadn't always been -- but, damn! The glow of her skin was almost luminous, and she looked as young as they day they met. Her blonde hair shined like golden strands and curled around her cheeks.

"Sam. I. Jack." He looked from Sam to Jack, then to Teal'c, and back to Jack. "I don't mean to be rude, but what the **hell**?"

Jack gripped Teal'c's hand, and they embraced roughly, Jack slapping his free hand on Teal'c's back. "Hey, T. How's it hangin'?"

"I have been well, O'Neill."

"Jack," Daniel snapped.

He stared wide eyed as Jack stepped back from Teal'c, and Sam stepped to his side, their arms going around each other as if it were the most natural thing in the world. This his eyes tracked down.

"Sam? Are you. are you **pregnant?**"

Jack laid his hand on Sam's slightly distended waist. She couldn't be more than four or five months, but Sam Carter was most definitely pregnant. And if he didn't know better, he'd think Jack was the Proud Papa. Daniel was so confused, his head hurt.

"Things have changed the last six cycles, Danny Boy."

"Six. wha--. six cycles?"

The cabin door opened with a crash, and a small sprite of a little girl with long, curly hair came running at them. "Daddy," she cried out as she ran. "Daddy, Momma said ." Her voice trailed off as she reached them.

Daniel stared down at the child. Bright blue eyes, as wide and as curious as any he had ever seen, looked up at him. Then she smiled, wide and sweet and unafraid. Jack stroked the girl's hair.

"Baby, who do I tell you stories about every night?" he asked her.

"My Unca Danul an' Unca Teke an' Grandpa Jakup an' Grandpa George."

Jack nodded. "This is Uncle Daniel and Uncle Teal'c, Hannah."

She smiled wide again, the kind of innocent and accepting smile only ever seen on the face of a child. Despite the dozen or so questions slamming around in his head, Daniel smiled back. Hannah walked over to Teal'c, and after bending her head back so far it looked like she was going to tip over backwards, she lifted her arms to him. Teal'c shoved his staff weapon at Daniel, and picked the little girl up. She giggled as he settled her against his chest.

"You big, Unca Teke," she said with a giggle, and touched his golden tattoo. "You bigger dan Daddy."

"And you are very beautiful, little one."

Daniel shook his head and raised his hand. "Okay. Okay. Again, I'm gonna ask. Jack, what the **hell** is going on here?"

"Is it not obvious, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said, smiling wide as Hannah continued to trace his tattoo with her tiny fingertips. "The progression of time on P9X-4EV has not run concurrent with time on Earth."

Daniel squinted. "Oh, yeah. Sure. Obvious."

"Would such a variance not explain the internal time device on the MALP left here varying so greatly when we opened the Gate?"

"Okay, so, hold up." Jack raised his hand, holding up one finger. "Daniel, we've been here six cycles. That's what." He looked down at Sam.

"Four and a half years. Roughly."

"Four and a half Earth years."

"No, Jack. You haven't. Teal'c and I left here yesterday. We have been trying to dial back for the last twenty-four hours, and just now managed to get through."

Sam gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. "Oh. My. God. Jack."

Jack's head dropped forward, and he closed his eyes. "Yeah. Ah, damn."

"Hey," Jack said softly, stepping up behind Sam as he slid his arms around her waist, pressing his palms to her rounded sides. "You okay?"

Sam put her hands over his and looked down at them, loving the picture of his hands cradling their unborn baby. She massaged his hands, now rough and calloused from six cycles of hard work, but just as gentle and elegant as they had ever been. He rested his chin on her shoulder, and she tipped her head so their cheeks rested together.

"I'm enjoying the Ornorean. It'll be gone soon."

"So will we," he added.

"I know," she said. "Jack, we both always knew we were going to go back. But. we thought it would be years after we left. Things would be different. Now, they're not different at all."

His hands shifted over her stomach and he started to sway slowly, taking her with him. But she felt the slight tensing of his body. Jack kissed her cheek, just in front of her ear.

"Does this change things for you?"

Sam turned in his arms, curling her fingers into the front of his shirt. The homespun fabric was soft from a season of use, and she leaned her forehead against his chest and drew in the scent of the soap they used to wash it that mingled with the scent she knew simply as 'Jack'.

He held her head in his hands and gently urged her to look up. The light from inside the house lit half his profile, leaving the other half in shadows. Jack's lips were parted, straight and he drew a shallow breath before speaking.

"Sam, does this change things for you?"

She shook her head in his hold. "No, Jack. Never. I told you. Here. Earth. Doesn't matter. We'll deal with the consequences."

Sam leaned into him again, and closed her eyes as his hands gently stroked her hair and back, soothing her with the touch. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she had spent every moment with Jack doing her best to avoid contact. Not even allowing their arms to brush each other if they stood side by side, or their knees to bump beneath tables. Every touch was a temptation, a taste of something she couldn't have. Now, the thought of never being touched by Jack again brought tears to her eyes. She took in a shuddered breath.

"What?" he asked.

"For six cycles, I've thought about what I miss at home. Pork Eggs Foo Yong and spring rolls. Diet Coke. Hot baths. Hair conditioner."

"The Superbowl. The World Series. The Stanley Cup. Guinness. Pizza. The Simpsons," he added to the list.

Sam laughed, enjoying the game. "Central heating. Central air conditioning. Microwave popcorn with butter. Ice Cream. **Real** chocolate cake with thick frosting." Jack moaned loudly, hugging her tighter. Sam smiled, but then the heaviness crept back into her chest. "But now, as much as I want to go home, I don't want to leave." He held her closer, and Sam wrapped her arms around him. She took in a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "But, it's time."

"We'll leave tomorrow."

Sam nodded against his chest. "Okay, Jack. Tomorrow."

"And besides, it's not like we won't ever be here again. The negotiations to set up the Naquida mine are still a go, as far as Earth is concerned. There are going to be teams coming and going, and we can come back whenever you like."

"Not for awhile. I'm not worried about making a single trip through the Gate to get home, but until the baby comes."

"Well, you know Sarai will want to see the baby."

"Jack, what if they don't **let** us. I mean, we haven't exactly conformed to military regulations while we're here."

"Extenuating circumstances."

She looked up at him. "Extenuating circumstances?"

"Oh, come on. I've been on a beautiful planet for **years**, with a beautiful woman - a beautiful woman that I have loved for a **long** time, I might add - just how long was I supposed to last? Hell, Uncle Sam is lucky I lasted six months!"

"You've loved me for a long time?"

Jack shrugged, raising one eyebrow. "Yeah."

Sam stood on her toes and offered her mouth for a kiss. Just before their lips touched, she heard Daniel clear his voice from inside the cabin. Sam caught Jack's grin just before covered her lips with his and kissed her deep, moaning softly against her mouth. When she pulled back, Daniel stood in the doorway, trying very hard to look everywhere but at them.

"What's up, Daniel?"

"Um, Uncle Teal'c." he said, a smile popping his lips up, crinkling the corners of his eyes behind his glasses. "Says that Hannah is ready for bed and she wants you, Jack."

Jack kissed Sam's temple and let her go to head back into the house. He patted Daniel's shoulder as he went by. "Thanks, Daniel."

Sam leaned back onto the porch railing behind her and watched Daniel watch Jack head for Hannah's room. When he turned back, he crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her with the same big smile. He stepped out onto the porch, and stood near her.

"So," he finally said.

Sam hitched up her chin to look at him, stroking her hand over her stomach. The baby was active tonight. Maybe he or she sensed something was about to change.

"So."

Daniel looked back at the house, hitching his thumb in the direction Jack had gone. "You and. ah. Jack, huh? This is. this is."

"It's good, Daniel."

"Well, I can't really say that I'm surprised. I mean, I'm surprised to come here and find you two - what, married? - and with a little girl. But you and Jack, I can't say I'm surprised. God, Sam." He touched her cheek. "You look beautiful."

"Thank you."

"And Jack. I almost didn't recognize him. Actually, I **didn't** recognize him. Sam, have you looked in a mirror?"

Sam nodded. "I've written it all down. It took about a year. over a cycle here. before I really noticed. I saw it in Jack first. That his knees stopped hurting. He didn't come home as tired. The lines on his face faded. His body."

"Yeah, okay," Daniel said, holding up his hand. "I get it. But, you see it in yourself, too, right?"

Sam nodded. "I do, and now that I know the Ornorean changes the entire timeline, I can't wait to look into it more. Of course, the Ornorean won't happen again for another 100 cycles. But there may be enough information recorded on the MALP to use for study."

Daniel chuckled. "Ever the scientist."

She shrugged. "I guess so."

He came to sit beside her, crossing his ankles in front of him. Sam took his hand and laced her fingers through his, leaning her head on his shoulder. "It's good to see you, Daniel. We've missed you."

Daniel laughed. "You really think Jack missed me?"

She nodded against his jacket,. "He did. Weeks after we realized we were going to be here awhile, I told him one night that I was afraid that you and Teal'c were dead. That the wormhole had failed. He told me that he knew you were alive, simply because the alternative -- the two of you being gone - was unacceptable. His way of saying he didn't want to think of you being gone any more than I did."

"Huh," Daniel huffed. "Who'da thought?"

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

"Are we really going on a trip tomorrow, Daddy?"

Jack sat down on the edge of Hannah's little bed, the mattress so low his knees were almost level with his chest. He pulled the blanket up around her chin and tucked her in tight, setting Anna, her favorite doll, on the pillow beside her cheek.

"We sure are, baby. Do you remember me telling you about the place that Momma and I came from?"

"Erf."

Jack smiled. "Yeah, Earth. That's where we're going. And we're going to live there."

"We ever gonna see Raeya again? Ever?"

"Sure. Just not for a little while. But we will come back. I promise. Now, you get some sleep."

Hannah lifted her arms for a hug, and Jack leaned over to kiss her cheek as she squeezed his neck just as hard as she could. "Love you, Daddy."

"Love you, too, baby."

He stood up, giving her blonde curls one more stroke before heading for the door. Teal'c stood in the doorway, and stepped aside so Jack could come out.

"Can I get you anything, T? I've got water and milk. Sorry, fresh out of beer."

Teal'c smiled and dipped his head. "Water would be most refreshing, O'Neill."

Jack took a cup from the cabinet and let the water run from the pump until it was cold before filling it. "Here ya go."

"Thank you.

"Follow me, T. Keep me company," Jack said, heading for the closed and locked door off the main room.

He led the way to Sam's lab, lighting several oil lamps she kept by the door. Teal'c stood in the doorway as Jack took a wooden box from beneath the workbench. He wanted to get the lab packed up. First, so Sam didn't try to do it herself. And second, so they didn't have to worry about it in the morning.

"This would appear to be a laboratory," Teal'c said from the doorway.

"Got it in one, T. I built this for Sam about. oh, I don't know. five or so cycles ago."

"It is quite impressive, O'Neill. You have accomplished much with very limited resources."

"I can be innovative when I want to be," Jack said with a grin. "Sam needed it. She never said it, but I knew after about three months here, she was starting to go stir crazy."

Teal'c raised one eyebrow in question.

"Bonkers. Bored out of her gourd."

"Indeed. I would imagine that Colonel Carter would find it difficult not to study her environment."

Jack paused, a stack of journals in his hands. "Wow."

"What is wrong, O'Neill?"

"Colonel Carter. Haven't heard anyone call her that in so long, it almost sounds. wrong. ya know?"

"As does, I'm sure, General O'Neill."

Jack thought about it a moment, and nodded. "Sounds like someone I don't even know. Hey, so, Daniel radioed the SGC that we're heading back tomorrow?"

"Indeed."

Jack tried to look casual, flipping through some of the pages of her latest journal. "What'd he tell them? Do you know?"

"I believe he said only that you and Colonel Carter would be returning with us, and that you were well. Daniel Jackson said to me that there were no words to adequately explain the situation until such time as General Hammond could 'see it for himself'."

"Ah. Good enough."

He continued working on collecting Sam's equipment and notes, and the remains of experiments she had conducted and completed. Teal'c picked up a wooden toy from beneath another table and held it up. Jack took it and smiled.

"Hannah's. I had to put a lock on the door last year. She'd sneak in here whenever Sam wasn't looking. As inquisitive as her mother."

Jack set the toy down, and when he looked up, Teal'c watched him just slightly more intently than usual. "What." Jack said as he picked up the box and headed for the door.

"It pleases me greatly to see that you and Colonel Carter--"

"Stop calling her that, will ya?"

"Have chosen each other."

Jack set the box down on the table in the main room, bracing his hands on the edges. "Wanna know the truth, Teal'c? I chose her a long time ago. Whatever the Ornorean did to keep us here, I'm glad as hell it happened."

Teal'c bowed his head and Jack set his hands at his waist, looking around the room to see what else he needed to pack up. Besides some of Hannah's toys, most everything in the house could stay behind. His life for the last four and a half years in two boxes.

Scratch that. His life was Sam and Hannah. Boxes were just extra. Sappy as it sounded, there it was.

Daniel and Sam came in from the porch, Daniel shutting the door behind them. With a smile, Jack reached out his arm and Sam came to his side so he could pull her close. This time tomorrow, they'd be back on Earth.

And all hell would probably break loose.

Hannah was screaming when they stepped through to the SGC, clinging tightly to Jack with her face buried against his neck. Jack didn't have time to even look around, to take the moment he needed to assimilate himself with the Gate Room. He went down on one knee, shifting his daughter so she sat on his raised leg, but she refused to release her hold on his neck.

"Shhh, baby. It's okay. We're done. No more," he whispered, stroking her hair.

Sam knelt beside him, one arm stroking Hannah's back and the other around Jack's shoulders. She cajoled and soothed, and the entire Gate room remained silent. Finally, Hannah lifted her head and brushed her hands across damp cheeks. Her lower lip pouted out and she took a shaky breath.

"Dat was scary, Daddy," she said accusatorily.

"I'm sorry, Hannah. Daddy always thought it was fun." He glanced at Sam, and nodded his head. As he stood, he set Hannah on her feet and held her tiny hand in his.

Daniel and Teal'c stood together near the base of the Gate ramp beside General George Hammond. His expression was priceless, and Jack wondered who he could bribe to get a still shot off the security cameras. There was no fury. That would probably come later. Right now it was shock, pure and simple. Hammond's eyes shifted from Sam, to Jack, down to Hannah, and back to Jack.

"General O'Neill, I would very much like an explanation. Doctor Jackson has just begun to tell me that you were in some type of time dilation, and now."

"We'll get to that, George. First things first. Hannah, baby, this is your Grandpa George."

"Grandpa George? Jack, what the--"

Sam suddenly grabbed Jack's sleeve, and he saw her body sway out of the corner of his eyes. "Sam?" Jack caught her before she fell and swept her up into his arms.

He pushed past General Hammond and Daniel, all of them shifting back to get out of his way. His only goal was getting Sam to the infirmary. Behind him, he heard General Hammond shout his name, but didn't pause.

"Sam is five months pregnant," was the last thing he heard Daniel say before he made it to the hall.

"What?!"

Sam's face was pale, a slight sheen of perspiration on her forehead, and her eyes were closed. Jack's heart pounded like he had just run five clicks. **Back on Earth for less than five minutes and he already had a crying daughter and a wife in the infirmary. For cryin' out loud!**

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Jack sat on the edge of one of the infirmary beds, Hannah curled around his hip with her head on the pillow. Anna was tight in her hold, and for the first time in months, she had reverted back to sucking her thumb. He stroked her hair and touched her cheek.

Sam slept in the next bed, getting some rest even though she argued with Dr. Brightman that she was 'fine' and 'didn't need it'. Jack smiled in the dark. That was his Sam.

His Sam.

After 6 cycles -- No, four and a half years -- Jack sometimes had a hard time believing she was finally his. He squinted his eyes and looked around the dimly lit infirmary. The doc had moved Sam away from the 'activity' so she could rest. Gray walls. Gray floors. Gray pipes. Flourescent lights. Forced, filtered air.

**StarGate Command Welcomes You**

"General O'Neill."

Jack turned towards the door, and saw General Hammond filling the frame. The General stepped into the room, stopping at the foot of Sam's bed. His look of concern had a definite edge to it, one Jack had learned to recognize serving seven years under the man's command.

"Is everything all right?"

Jack nodded, turning on the bed so his legs hung straight down and he linked his hands together to hang loosely in his lap. "Yeah. Doc Brightman said it was just a shock to her system. It's been awhile since we've Gate traveled, and with the baby."

General Hammond made a sound somewhere between a huff and a groan. Jack pulled his lips back in a wince and stepped to the floor. He eased the safety railings up on the bed, so Hannah wouldn't fall out, and without a word followed General Hammond out of the infirmary. They walked in silence through the halls, and Jack nodded to some of the servicemen they met. He was sure the story had already spread through the base, and wondered what transmutations it had already gone through.

It was late, and the halls of the SGC were quiet. The briefing room was empty as they passed through and Jack led the way into his office, even though George was the senior officer. **Hell, I might not be an officer at all.**

He didn't feel quite right sitting behind the desk yet, and yet he didn't want to make it look like he was ready for a dressing down by sitting on the other side. So, he leaned back onto the edge of the desk and crossed his ankles. General Hammond stood at the glass window that looked out onto the briefing room. Silence sat like a blanket over the air.

Finally, Jack cleared his throat. "I'm not going to apologize, George."

General Hammond turned to stare at him. Jack wasn't' sure what he expected. There had been plenty of times he'd pissed George Hammond off. but he was pretty sure this took the cake when it came to pushing the limits and breaking the rules.

"I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to deal with this, Jack."

"Were I in your shoes, I wouldn't either."

"That doesn't help me, son. The regulations are **very** clear on these matters. And even if there were room for leeway for personal interpretation, you blew it clear out of the water. Jack, you are still Colonel Carter's superior officer. And you've. you've."

"Married her. Had a child with her. George, I've been in the Air Force long enough to know that to Uncle Sam these are terrible, grievious crimes, but I gotta tell ya, from this side I just don't see it."

Hammond huffed and shook his head. "Son--"

Jack brought his hand up. "I know what you're thinking, George. I was never so stupid as to think you didn't damn well know how I felt about Sam. And if we were able to maintain a professional, completely within the regs relationship for eight years, then why - ah, hell, General. We were there a **long** time."

He thought he saw the slightest hint of a smile **almost** cross General Hammond's face, but he turned away to the window before Jack could be sure.

""Did you doubt that you would eventually return to Earth?"

Jack shook his head. "No, we didn't. But that's the thing. We had no idea that time was different here. We figured that when we came back it'd be nearly five years later. And really, at that point, who the hell would care?"

"But that wasn't the case. Just what do you think I should do about this, Jack? Because I sure as hell would like to know." His voice was quiet in the dark of the sleeping building.

"Sam and I made a decision, and neither of us are going to back out of it. We can't. Moreover, we don't want to. We **want** to stay with the SGC. Sam studied and tested the whole time we were there. She's dying to get her hands on a spectro-whatever. The point is, she still has something to offer. Hell, maybe I do, too."

"There's no doubt in my mind that this program is better for the two of you," General Hammond said with a sigh.

Jack drew in a short breath, and paused before saying in a low voice "You do what you gotta do."

"It's not entirely in my hands, Jack."

"I know that. But I know you've got our backs."

Hammond nodded, and headed for the door. "As far as I'm concerned, the three of you are free to go whenever you like."

Before he hit the door, Jack called out to him. General Hammond stopped and turned back, the light of the hall behind him.

"If this all goes south. Sam."

Hammond nodded, and Jack knew he understood. "Get some rest, Jack." He was in the hall when he turned back again. "Did you really tell your daughter I was Grandpa George?"

Jack smiled and shifted to push his hands into his pockets. "Since the day she was born."

Hammond smiled and chuckled. "I'm honored, Jack."

Jack just waved him away, smiling. General Hammond tapped the doorjamb with his hand and walked down the hall. Alone again, Jack linked his fingers behind his neck and bowed his head. This was **so** not going the way he thought. But, then again, when did good things ever come easy? He looked at the clock on his desk and saw it was nearly 2300 hours. Back less than a day, and his brain was already clicking back into military procedure. Jack smirked. Was that good, or bad?

Before he went back to the infirmary, he had one last thing to take care of. Jack walked through the dimly lit briefing room and went down the stairs to Control. Sergeant O'Brien was on duty and looked up as Jack entered.

"Good evening, General."

Jack nodded. "Evening, Sergeant. It's Bernard, right? Bernard O'Brien?" He nodded. "I need you to send a message for me."

"Yes, sir. Where?"

"The last known Tok'Ra location. I need to contact Jacob Carter."

"Yes, sir. What should I tell him?"

"Tell him Colonel Carter needs to see him. But make sure he knows it's not life threatening, or anything."

"Yes, sir. I'll take care of it for you."

Jack nodded and turned to head for the infirmary.

"General?"

He stopped on the top step leading to the corridor and looked back. "Hmm?"

"Congratulations, sir."

Jack nodded. "Thank you, Sergeant. Good night."

Sam put the key in the lock of her front door, the common action feeling foreign. She turned the knob and stepped inside as Jack came up the porch steps with Hannah.

She half expected to walk into the cottage and see cobwebs in the corner and dust half an inch thick on the furniture. Before coming back through the Gate, she had assumed the house would have been sold or closed up, or something. Somewhere along the way, their absence would have to be explained and dealt with. Of course, now that they knew about the time dilation on the planet, her logical mind accepted that the house hadn't changed. That didn't mean some part of her wasn't having a hard time with it.

Jack was 'flying' Hannah through the air, making sounds like a jet, and her laughter reminded Sam of silver bells. As she came in for a landing in the front hall, Sam looked back at her husband. He still had the same cocky smirk on his lips that he had since just before they left the SGC.

He walked towards her, his eyes almost predatory, and Sam moved into his arms when he reached her. "I have wanted to do this since we got back." The words rumbled from his chest, and warmed her lips as he leaned in to kiss her.

Sam hummed in pleasure, breaking the contact just enough to say "And I've wanted you to."

His mouth moved to her throat, and her breath hitched as his hands found their favorite places. "You're just feeling extra feisty after what Dr. Brightman told you."

Jack pulled back, his hands at her waist. "Hey, it's not every day an old warhorse like me hears I've got the body of a thirty-five year old and the ticker of a champion athlete. Kinda makes a man want to." His last words were just mumbles against her skin.

Hannah tugged at Sam's tee-shirt. Actually Jack's tee shirt since none of the clothes in her locker at the SGC would fit over her ever-disappearing waistline.

"Momma," Hannah said insistently. "Momma!"

Sam reluctantly stepped out of Jack's embrace. The decision to never hide their affection from Hannah was a two-edged sword. The good side was that she never felt like she had to hold back a kiss or an embrace. The bad side was that Jack's touch often set a fire burning in her that couldn't be put out in the company of her young daughter. She crouched down to be eye level with Hannah, Jack's hand between her shoulder blades to provide silent support.

"What up?" she asked.

"I gotsa pee."

"I'll take her," Jack said. "She's still nervous around the toilet."

She nodded, and he helped her stand before taking Hannah's hand and heading down the hall. Sam walked to the kitchen, taking in her surroundings. It was like walking into the house you grew up in, after someone else had bought it. She didn't feel right. Didn't feel comfortable. As if she were trespassing.

The answering machine sat on the counter, with the message light flashing. Sam moved behind the counter and took a bottle of water from the refrigerator before she pushed play. The first was a message from her dry cleaner that her pick up was overdue. The second, her mechanic to let her know the carburetor seals were in for her motorcycle. When the third voice came over the speaker, Sam's heart dropped like a lead ball.

"Hey, honey. I know you're just getting home today, and you're probably tired from saving the world again, so I'm coming over tomorrow morning to take you out for brunch. I'll see you then. I love you."

**Message received yesterday. 3:30 pm. No further messages.**

Sam looked at the clock. It was almost ten. What did Pete consider brunch? Could he have come already, and gone when she wasn't here?

"Oh, great," she mumbled, wishing she could say more, but remembered her daughter was in the house.

**Her daughter. Her husband. Oh, sh--**

On cue, the front door opened, and Sam couldn't move.

"Hey, Sam? Sam? I'm here to take you to brunch. You up?"

"Yes, I'm in the kitchen," she answered, surprised her voice was loud enough to carry. But maybe, just maybe, she could convince him she wasn't in the mood for brunch and he'd leave her alone. Just until she had enough nerve to tell him the truth.

Pete Shanahan came through the entry into the kitchen, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. "Hey, beautiful," he said. "It's good to see your face. Wow, you look great!"

He moved towards her, but Sam dodged him by taking the flowers, strategically keeping the counter in front of her. "Thank you. But, Pete, you know. I'm really exhausted from this last trip. It seemed really long" **No lying there** "Do you mind if we skip brunch?" Pete grinned, and Sam recognized the look in his eye. And it was one she had absolutely, **positively** no interest in.

"Sure, honey. We can stay in bed all day if you want."

Sam felt flushed and nauseous. **This was so not going well.** She leaned into the edge of the counter, and tried desperately to find the words she had - until this point - efficiently ignored needing.

"Sam, are you okay?" He managed to move close enough, with the corner of the counter still between them, to touch her arm.

"No, Pete. I'm really not. Can we . can we talk later? A day or two, maybe?"

Pete's forehead creased as his brows pulled down into hoods over his eyes. "A day or two? Sam, what's going on? If I didn't know better, I'd think you were hiding something from me. What? Did you catch some alien bug while you were off saving the wor--"

"Damn it, Pete. Will you please **not** say that every time you refer to what I do?" she snapped.

Pete pulled back. "Sorry, babe. I didn't know it bothered you."

"Well, it does." Sam took a deep breath and sipped at the cold water. The baby decided that now would be a good time to add to his mother's already tumultuous position by kicking sharply at her bladder. She closed her eyes and leaned forward to rest her elbow on the countertop, and her head in her hand.

"I don't really want to wait two more days to see you, Sam. I have some news. I was going to tell you at brunch, but I guess I might as well now. I got my transfer. I'm moving to Colorado Springs in two weeks."

Sam's stomach twisted and her eyes hurt. **Damn pregnancy hormones! This wouldn't be nearly half as bad if she didn't want to burst into tears at the drop of a hat!**

"Oh, Pete," was all she could manage.

His hand touched her arm again, and she couldn't help the knee-jerk reaction of flinching away. She felt the tension snap in the air as he pulled his hand back.

"What the hell is going on, Sam?" Pete's voice was so low it sent shivers up her spine.

"Sam." came Jack's voice down the hall. His boots made soft thuds on the hardwood floor. Pete stepped back and faced the doorway just as Jack stuck his head around. "Sam, baby, where do you keep your suitcase." His voice trailed off as the two men met again, face to face.

"Hey. Paul."

"Jack." Sam mumbled.

"Pat?"

"Pete," he said slowly. "Pete Shanahan. Sam's fiancÚ. Colonel O'Neill, right?"

"General now, but who's counting."

Sam closed her eyes. **God, just whisk me away. right now. please!**

Jack cleared his throat and moved into the kitchen, managing without obvious intent to slip into the space between her and Pete, forcing Pete to take a step back, and he braced his hands into the edge of the counter. He turned towards Sam, and winked, and despite it all, she actually felt better. Not **a lot** better, but better.

"So, kids. What's going on?"

"That's what I'd like to know." Sam could see the color seeping into Pete's face, and his fingers curled into a fist on the countertop. "Sam, what the hell is he doing here?"

Sam drew in a long breath and drew back her shoulders. There was no good way to do this. no way that Pete wasn't going to come out hurt. but she was determined to do the best she could considering the circumstances.

"Pete, I have to tell you something. I'm sorry. I really am, but you have to understand."

"No.No, I don't think I have to understand anything. I think **you**, General O'Neill, need to leave now so Sam and I can talk. Alone."

"That's not going to happen, Pete."

Sam put her hands up. "Pete, Jack is staying. Please, if you would just let me - whoa!" Her hand shot to her side, where the baby had just planted a firm and swift kick to her kidney. "Ouch."

Jack was beside her in an instant, moving her back from the counter so he could touch her, one arm coming behind her back while the other covered her own where it rested.

"What? What's wrong?"

Sam shook her head. "Nothing. He just. wow. That was a good one. I'm fine." Without thinking, Sam reached out to touch his cheek, wanting to ease the concern in her husband's eyes.

Then, like a cold bucket of water splashed in her face, Sam remembered Pete once again. She met Jack's gaze, and in silence, Jack stepped back so Sam could see Pete again.

He stood in the same spot, his mouth slightly open, and his arms hanging at his side. His eyes trained to her stomach, and without thought, Sam moved her hand to stroke the swell beneath Jack's black tee shirt.

"Pete, you have to let me explain -- Pete!"

Pete lunged at Jack, hunching over to hit him mid-torso, a nearly primordial scream ripping from his throat as he did. Sam stepped back as Jack effortlessly grabbed Pete's shirt and twisted them around so Pete was against the refrigerator door, and Jack held fistfuls of his shirt.

"This is **not** the way this is going down, Pete," Jack said through clenched teeth. "I'm trying to be sympathetic here. This has got to be a shock. But you are **not** going to do anything to upset my wife. Is that **clear**?"

Pete nodded and Jack released him. Sam stepped up behind Jack and laid her hands on his back, feeling the tension that knotted his muscles. "Jack, I can do this. Please. Go with Hannah. The suitcase is in the closet on the top shelf."

Jack turned his back to Pete and took her face in his hands. His chest rose and fell with the effort of keeping his emotions in check. "Are you sure, Sam?"

She nodded. "I'm sure. Go. Hannah has probably opened every bottle in the shower by now."

Jack pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I love you," he said softly. As he stepped back, he glared at Pete. "And I'm right down the hall. Packing."

Jack left with one final stern glance over his shoulder before disappearing down the hall. Pete still stood against the refrigerator, his shirt wrinkled by Jack's hands, and a devastated look in his eyes. Sam closed her eyes and ran her fingertips across her forehead, rubbing her stomach with her other hand in an effort to soothe both herself and her baby.

"Sam." Pete finally said, his voice heavy and thick. "I don't understand. I saw you a week ago, and you weren't. you weren't pregnant. Were you?"

"No. Pete, this is going to sound crazy, but you've accepted what I've told you so far when it comes to the Stargate. You're just going to have to take what I **can** say, and accept the truth of what I can't."

He swallowed, his eyes red. "Who is Hannah?"

Sam took a deep breath. "Hannah is my daughter. Our daughter. Jack's and mine. She's two and a half."

"Two and a half? Sam, you never told me any of this. How could you not tell me?"

"Pete, wait. It's more complicated than me not telling you about a past relationship. Much more complicated."

"You love him?"

"Yes," she said without hesitation. "I do. I always have."

Pete closed his eyes. "Somewhere deep down, I think I knew that. I just didn't want to ." His voice disappeared and fell away.

"Pete, what I'm about to tell you is Top Secret Classified. You can never, ever tell anyone. You know what will happen if you do."

"Don't threaten me, Sam. I think I've heard enough bullshit to know the routine. Just tell me so I can get out of here and get good and drunk."

She nodded, unable to fault him for his reaction. Taking a deep breath, she did her best to explain a situation that was almost unexplainable.

"You're sure you want to be here, and not your place?" Jack asked, rubbing his hand in a circular motion over Sam's stomach.

She was curled on her side, her back against his chest and her bottom nestled close to his hips. Her skin still emanated a pleasant heat from their lovemaking, and the sweet lethargy of contentment danced pleasantly over his body. His arm extended beneath her head, and she used it as a pillow, tracing patterns in the hollow of his elbow with her fingertip.

"I'm sure. I didn't feel right there. This," she said with a sigh. "This feels right. And besides, your daughter likes the trees here."

Jack chuckled and pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder. Sam rolled onto her back to look up at him, and Jack shifted to support his head on his hand. He pulled the blankets up to cover them against the evening chill that blew in through the slightly open window. The light from the bathroom illuminated her features, and Jack ran his finger along her jaw and chin.

"You're beautiful," he finally said.

Sam touched his cheek, her thumb brushing his lips. "You talked to General Hammond?" she asked.

Jack nodded. "I did."

"What did he say?"

"He doesn't know what's gonna go down any more than we do, Sam."

Sam stared up at him, examining his face, and Jack saw the thoughts swirling behind her blue eyes. "What is it, baby?"

"I don't want SG-1 anymore."

He pulled back to better focus on her face. "What?"

"Jack, it's going to be months before I can go off world again. And even when I can, I don't think I want to."

"You don't?"

Sam shifted closer, the back of her hand coming up to rub her knuckles across his chest. "We talked about this a very long time ago, when I was considering the possibility of children. I didn't know then what I'd do."

Jack remembered. It had been one of the hardest conversations he'd ever had with Sam.

**"What about kids?"**

**"What about them?"**

**"Do I take maternity leave and then come back? What, do I drop the baby off at daycare on my way to some unexplored planet on the edge of the Crab Nebula?"**

**"Carter, there are people on this base who have families."**

**"What about you, sir?"**

"I remember."

"I know now. I know because no matter what I choose, you'll support me. Right?"

"Of course."

"I have too much to keep me here. I don't need to go off world anymore. We've saved the planet how many times now? Someone else can take over from here. I want to come home every night to Hannah, and you, and our new baby. I don't want to risk it."

Jack watched her face, studied her eyes, looking for the truth. And that's all he saw. "If that's what you want, and it's in my power in any way to give it to you, I will."

Sam touched his cheek again, and he turned into it to kiss her palm. He moved onto his back and Sam curled into his side, her round stomach pressing against his hip, and her head resting on his chest. Jack pulled the blankets up further to make sure her shoulders were covered, and ran his fingers through her hair.

"Did you enjoy your bath?" he asked.

"Mmmmhmmm," she mumbled. "It was glorious. Especially after you joined me."

Jack smiled and stared up at the ceiling. "Sam."

"Yeah."

"Marry me."

She leaned up on her elbow and looked at him with a crooked smile. Jack continued to stroke the hair around her face, pausing to touch her cheek.

"I thought we already were married?"

"It seems that the date you figured out we got married on. correlating to Earth and whatnot. won't happen for another year or so. And would you believe. the State of Colorado refuses to acknowledge the Calla Hills Community as an actual place. And without a marriage certificate."

"I get the point," she said with a crooked smile. "So, you want to get married again."

"Yeah. Unless, of course, you don't. This would be your chance. We'd have to work out custody, which is another problem all together since technically Hannah hasn't been born yet."

She silenced him with a kiss, and Jack cupped the back of her head to hold her closer. Sam kissed him long and deep, and every nerve ending of his body was so alive he hated to stop even to breathe. But when he did, he pushed his head into the pillow so he could see her face.

"Just so I'm clear. We're going to get married?" he said, smiling.

Sam's smile lit up, telling him she got the joke. "Yes, Jack. We're getting married. Again."

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

Daniel waited for the nod from the Justice of the Peace, and stepped forward to take his position. Jack and Sam, two people that meant more in his life than many he had ever known, stood side by side at one end of Jack's -- their -- patio. Behind them stood General Hammond and Jacob Carter, Cassie, Teal'c, and a small few others from the SGC. Without explaining in great detail what happened, those that could be in attendance were limited.

He knew that this was just a ceremony for Jack and Sam. Nothing more. In their hearts they had been married for a long time. Earth laws had no bearing on that fact, no more than it had on his marriage to Sha're. The linking of hearts went beyond planetary boundaries.

Daniel cleared his throat. "Since the day the four of us began traveling through the Gate, and before that for me, we have discovered the wonders of other cultures and civilizations. Some very different than our own, some not very different at all. So, today, I want to read from a text that very much is a part of our past. Though not uncommon in a marriage ceremony, for Jack and Sam it has special meaning."

He lifted the tattered and torn book he had carried from home, and with careful ease, opened to the page he had marked. The pages crackled as he spread them open, and he smoothed the parchment with his hand.

"This is in ancient Hebrew, so I'm going to translate as I read," he explained, pushing his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. "From the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians."

"Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them.

"If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

"If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all.

"If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

"Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful

"Love takes no pleasure in other people's sin, but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

He paused, looked up at Jack and Sam, and smiled at the peace he saw in their faces. Not the bubbly joy of young newlyweds. Not the giddy happiness of two people new in love. But peace.

"Love does not come to an end," he finally said.

He moved back to join Teal'c and Cassie as the JP finished the service.

"Do you, Samantha Carter, take this man, Jonathan O'Neill, to be your husband? Do you promise to honor and cherish him, to be his strength and his support, to never fail him, whatever life comes?"

Sam looked up at Jack as they joined hands and held them between them, clenched tightly.

"My life to yours, as long as we both draw breath. I do."

"And do you, Jonathan O'Neill, take this woman, Samantha Carter, to be your wife? Do you promise to honor and cherish her, to be her strength and her support, to never fail her, whatever life comes?"

Jack kissed their joined hands. "My life to yours, as long as we both draw breath. I do."

"By the powers vested in me by the State of Colorado, I do now pronounce you husband and wife. Jack, you may kiss your bride."

Daniel led the chorus of cheers and clapping as Jack pulled Sam into his arms and kissed her, slowly dipping her back. Then suddenly, everyone fell silent in a split moment. Jack slowly righted Sam, and looked back towards the door to the house. Everyone turned to look, including Daniel.

Jack cleared his throat. "Glad you could make it. Mr. President."

Sam walked beside Jack into the house, leaving behind them the small circle of friends that had come to celebrate with them. The food was out, and she looked around until she saw Hannah sitting in her Grandpa Jakup's lap with Teal'c beside them. As she watched, Grandpa George joined them carrying a bowl of fruit for Hannah.

They disappeared from her line of site as she and Jack followed the President into the house and they sat down at the dining room table. President Hayes motioned to his Secret Servicemen to leave them, and took a seat at the table. The sliding glass door opened, and General Hammond came in, taking a seat as well.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. President."

"Not a problem, George. Look, I'm sorry to party crash here, but I guess I just had to see for myself that all the stuff you put in your report was true." He looked to Sam and Jack, and Jack took her hand on top of the table. "I guess it is."

"I honestly wasn't expecting to hear from you quite so soon, sir," General Hammond said. "It's only been a few days."

"To be honest, I don't want the leadership of the SGC to be unclear for any length of time. You guys are our front line. I wanted this resolved."

Jack's hand squeezed hers gently, and Sam sat silent. Waiting.

"You've made a decision, then, sir?" Jack asked.

President Hayes leaned over the table, linking his fingers in front of him. "I have. And while I may be the Commander in Chief, some things are simply out of my control. The policy of the United States Air Force strictly states that relationships, including marital ones, are not permissible within the same line of command. And to be quite honest, I pretty much thought we were screwed."

Sam smiled at the President's bluntness. "Excuse me, sir. It sounds to me like you may have found a solution?"

"I have, indeed. Based on the information George here sent me a couple of days back regarding you, Colonel Carter. Oh, excuse me, Colonel O'Neill. You going by O'Neill? Or are you going to do one of those hyphenated names?"

"It's O'Neill, sir."

"Good. I never went for all that his name - her name crap. How the hell do you name the kids? Anyway. my point is this. Colonel O'Neill, you informed General Hammond of your desire to no longer travel off world. Correct?"

"Yes, sir. For a time, I can't anyway."

"Understood. So, if you were to stay at the SGC outside the capacity of SG-1's leader, you would - I assume - prefer to work on the science end of things?"

"Yes, sir."

"She can't be long without her doohickeys, sir. Trust me. I know," Jack said, teasing.

"Well, that right there gave me my out. Jack, I said months ago that you were the best man to run the SGC once George here moved on to bigger and better things. I stand by that. And while I'm going to have to put a caveat in your permanent file, officially expressing my unhappiness with the situation, I want you to remain in that position. There will be no Courts Martial, as we have all agreed there were extenuating circumstances. But I couldn't let this go without note."

"I understand, sir. Thank you."

"As far as I'm concerned, you can report back as soon as you like. Course, I'm assuming you'll want to take a little time."

"Yes, sir."

"And as for you, Colonel O'Neill. We still have the issue of chain of command."

Sam drew in a breath and squared her shoulders. "Yes, sir."

"I have submitted a formal request to have you removed from General O'Neill's command. You will now be directly reporting to General Hammond in your position as Head of Scientific Studies."

"Congratulations, Colonel," Jack said and leaned over to kiss her temple. Sam blushed hot, and smiled.

"I hope this all seems agreeable?"

"Yes, sir," Jack, Sam and General Hammond said in unison.

"Good, because the food out there looks delicious, and I'm anxious to meet your little girl, Jack. Hannah, is it?"

"Yes, sir."

They stood together and headed for the back door. Hannah looked up and waved, and President Hayes waved back.

"I had a great aunt named Hannah. She always smelled like Bengay and peppermint candies, but she could make the best blueberry cobbler in all of the tri-county area. Won the blue ribbon at the state fair two years in a row."

Jack leaned over and kissed Sam's temple, hooking his arm around the back of her neck as they went.

*[]*[]*[]*[]*

**The SGC, 2 months later**

Lieutenant Haley sits at her customary table in her customary corner of the SGC mess, taking in her customary morning events. She discovered the routine several weeks before, even before the legendary trip of SG-1's to P9X-4EV. But since their return, she enjoys her morning routine even more.

Months ago, she sat and ate her scrambled eggs with ketchup and a side of raisin toast and watched General O'Neill eat his fruit loops and Colonel Carter whatever fare she chose for the day. The two of them would talk, and he would pick miniscule fuzzies from his coffee cup. But they never looked at each other for too long, and they never touched. Not even a brush of his long legs against hers beneath the table. Eventually, Dr Jackson and Teal'c would join them. Dr. Jackson liked waffles, with extra syrup and often would be so excited over some topic that his hands never stopped moving as he argued his point. Teal'c always had a tray full of fruit. Lots of fruit.

Some things had changed since then, some hadn't. The General and the Colonel always arrive first, as they always did. And they always sit at the same table. But he doesn't sit across from her anymore. He sits beside her. And she doesn't get her own breakfast, but eases her pregnant body down into the chair while the General gets it for her.

And she's not Colonel Carter anymore. She's Colonel Sam O'Neill. And she is no longer the leader of the Alpha SG team. She is the department head for all scientific studies that stem from off world missions.

The General always has a smile on his face now, where before there always was a shadow. When he brings their tray back, he leans in to kiss her - always thoroughly and deeply, never just a peck - before setting the food down. They sit close now, not worrying if his knee should rub against hers. His arm is usually draped on the back of her chair, his fingers rubbing across the base of her neck. They talk with smiles of their faces, and their heads inclined towards each other as if they share the secrets of the world.

Eventually, Doctor Jackson comes with his tray of waffles. He always sets it down and moves to the other side of the table to press a kiss to Sam's cheek, and usually to smooth a hand over her ever-expanding abdomen. Teal'c joins them, his tray loaded with strawberries and melons and bananas. He smiles, and Lieutenant Haley sees his eyes fall to Sam's stomach, as if assessing the growth.

The days only vary in small degrees, but Haley enjoys watching them all the same.

When she first came to the SGC, she had seen their team -- the former SG-1 -- as a cohesive group. Each member bringing with them a strength that added to the whole. Then O'Neill had been frozen for weeks, and she had seen the other three pull together even closer to bring him home again.

It was then that Haley had begun to see them as more than just a team. They were a family, finding strength and friendship with each other that none of them could find anywhere else.

And now, it was even more so. And she thought to herself many mornings, how lucky a woman Colonel Samantha O'Neill truly was.

Today, Teal'c is late, the others nearly done by the time he arrives. As always, his tray looks more like a cornucopia horn. General O'Neill glances at the food, and at his friend.

"You really should eat more fruit, T," he says with a cocky grin. "All that crap isn't good for you."

Teal'c raises an eyebrow, and Dr. Jackson smothers his chuckle in his coffee. Sam smiles, her face clean of the subtle tension that had marred it before. General O'Neill leans towards her and kisses her cheek, his large hand spanning her stomach.

They wait for Teal'c to finish eating. As they clear the table, General O'Neill stacks the trays, Dr. Jackson takes them away, and Teal'c offers his hand to the very pregnant Colonel to rise from her chair. He says something to her, and she smiles with a nod of her head. The big Jaffa, whom many see as stoic and unemotional, presses his large, dark hand to her stomach.

The four of them walk to the door, and meet with Sergeant Harriman as he enters. As they talk, General O'Neill puts his arm around his wife and pulls her close to press a kiss to her temple. Moments later, they go through the door and Haley stands to return her empty tray.

As far as she is concerned, Jack and Sam should have been stranded on that planet years ago.

TE




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