Story Notes: It's my first fic- be kind. As you read, each paragraph marks a change from Sam's thoughts/words to Jack's. You'll get the idea, unless this really sucks, in which case you'll stop reading anyway!

Feedback: Welcomed

Date: 8-9-2002

Part One

A feeling of déjà vu hit her as she rounded the corner of the cabin. She shook it off- how was that possible since she had never even been to Minnesota before, let alone his cabin? Straight ahead, with his back to her, he sat facing the lake, fishing pole in hand. Still not able to shake the feeling that something like this had happened before, that she had done this before, she asked, "So, this is the place you've been threatening to bring me?"

He turned around without fully comprehending that the woman who had just spoken was actually standing near him, not in a dream, but actually there. He barely whispered, "Carter."

She took a step forward, and then another- each feeling suspended in time and oddly familiar, yet completely surreal. "I can see why- it's beautiful."

Suddenly aware that this was not a dream, Jack pulled himself back to reality: "I thought you had work to do." Again, he thought. He stood up and took two steps closer to her.

At that moment, a soft breeze blew the trees and the rustle of the leaves signaled to Sam that the few moments of the "been here done this" feeling she had just experienced were over. A small shiver of - what? something she couldn't identify-- ran through her, and then a wave of courage finally allowed her to speak, "Something came up that I needed to talk to you about."

"You found me- shoot." He sounded defensive to his own ears. What couldn't wait until their leave was up? Stop that- why couldn't he just be glad that she was there? Why did it have to be so hard all of the time?

"Do you think we could take a walk or something? I'm tired of sitting- the ride really seemed to take forever." Her back hurt, her legs ached and her head was pounding, or was that her heart she heard in her ears? It had been hard to tell for the past few years.

"Sure." She did look tired, and truth be told, he couldn't remember how long he had been sitting in that chair "fishing" trying to think of anything but her. Nothing new about that, just a different day. Except this was different-she was really here. If this was a dream…


"Sorry- just thinking about the fish I'll miss while we're gone." He smiled a little to make up for his tone earlier. He didn't want to chase her off just after she got there.

They started down a well-worn dirt path. The leaves were already beginning to turn on a few trees, the undeniably signal that summer was coming to a close. The blue sky was beginning to fade too early, and she didn't want to waste any more time before getting it out in the air: "Do you remember after our last mission when we all reported to Janet, before the briefing?" It came out in one breath, almost as one word.

He nodded, not at all sure where this was going and only half-listening- they did that after every mission. Not at all prepared for what was coming next, his mind started to wander.

"Well, Janet found some unusual results in a few of the tests she ran on me, so she asked me to come back the next day so she could run another set."

Okay, so now he was listening. Is that why she said she hadn't been able to come when he had asked- for what, the third time?? She had actually looked like she wanted to go, and he thought maybe she had just gotten better at lying. Maybe he really had seen regret in her eyes… Wait, what kind of tests was she talking about?

"So, I went back, and Janet had called another doctor there, Dr. Anderson. He's an oncologist- the one who looked at Dad, actually."

Damn those "ologists." He could never remember which kind was which, and why would Dad need a- what was it again??- when Selmak could heal everything?

She continued, "It hasn't spread as far as they can tell. It seems to be localized in my thyroid, which is good as cancers go, and it seems that this is not entirely uncommon in women my age. Of course, of all of the things to inherit from Dad, this isn't the one I would have picked."

He had stopped listening and walking at "cancer." What the hell?? Why did he suddenly feel dizzy and why was his stomach so tight? Cancer?? What the hell?? He hoped he looked better than he felt, and tried to start walking again. Not so fast, his body wouldn't cooperate. He had to sit on a nearby rock for support and called for her to stop, "Sam."

She turned to find him a few paces behind her, looking a little pale, lowering himself on a rock to the side of the path. She walked over and sat on the path facing him, her back to the falling sun with a glimpse of a lake just ahead. It was probably better to give him the rest of the news sitting down anyway, so she continued, "It was kind of a shock, but it actually explained so much about my physical condition- feeling tired, losing weight, being sick- all symptoms of a hormonal imbalance that should have been regulated by my thyroid. Janet will need to remove the cancerous part, and then she'll begin trying to find the right balance of hormone replacement drugs. It may take several months, but other than taking a pill a day for the rest of my life, things should go on as normal for me."

Jack kept studying her face as her words were swimming in his head- hormones, thyroid, pills. What did it all mean? Was she going to be okay? Why did it feel like there was another shoe looming just over his head? She wouldn't have come all the way up here to just tell him that she would be fine in a few months, save for a daily dose of- oh my god! She wasn't saying that, she couldn't be saying that- no, no, no!!! Speaking with a voice that suspiciously sounded like it belonged to someone else, he could only say, "You can't be on SG-1." There it was, the other shoe- and the laces were strangling him.

He had been listening, and he understood what she hadn't said. Probably better than what she had said, if she knew him at all. And she did, that's why she had come. Finally. "You know the rules- If I need a daily dose of anything, I would be putting myself, and everyone else on the team, at risk. Neither Janet nor Dr. Anderson would ever authorize my return to a Stargate team, and that, as they say, is that."

Finding some sort of equilibrium, he managed to sit a little straighter, the knots in his stomach loosening just a bit. Not being one to say much anyway, he really didn't know what to say at a time like this- not to her, not about this, not yet. So, he just looked at her, but in a way that said it all, just as it had once before, when a different kind of wall separated them.

Recognizing it, a smile passed her face and she quietly said, "The odds are much better this time."

She looked at him with a calmness he couldn't understand. The sun continued to set behind her. Had they been here 5 minutes or an hour- he wasn't sure. He wasn't sure of anything right now other than that he was angry. What false god had decided to do this to her?? Why not him?? He wasn't the one the world needed to survive- her brain was still worth way more than his, hell, than anyone's! Before blurting something out that he knew he would regret later, he stopped himself and took another look at her. She was waiting for him to realize something- he knew that look. She didn't just come here to tell him bad news; in fact, she wouldn't come here to do that. She would have waited until their leave was over, and they were all back on base. She came here, finally, because she could. Because there weren't anymore reasons not to come. Not on SG-1; not under his command; no more regs; no more excuses. Anger turned to fear in a heartbeat: "What are you going to do?" Please don't say going back to the Pentagon.

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure how long it will be before I feel like 'me' again, and I don't want to impose an arbitrary timeframe for recovery. The last thing I need is that kind of pressure. That's why I turned in my resignation to General Hammond before I came. It wouldn't be fair for me to keep everyone waiting around while Janet tries to get the dosages right. I think, for the first time, I'm going to take some time off, and then when I'm ready, go back to doing something I really love and am pretty good at- being a scientist."

So, she didn't say Pentagon, but she didn't say "staying on base to study doohickeys" either. "The Stargate Program needs you, Sam, whether or not you are in the Air Force."

She laughed- a small, but real laugh. "You and General Hammond must get your lines from the same book. He said pretty much the exact same thing before I left."

Way to go, George! "What did you say to him?" He could almost feel his legs again and was that hunger he felt in his stomach? But panic lurked not far beneath.

"I told him that I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. He looked really relieved- I think he thought I was considering going back to the Pentagon or something. Can you imagine going back to that after everything we've seen? It would be so… dull."

"Even for a scientist?" She smiled a lot at that. She started to get up, sensing his inability to not do something for much longer. They turned around to walk back to the cabin. The sun was almost below the horizon.

Part Two

He spoke first once the cabin was in sight, "Are you hungry?"

"Definitely. In fact, the only orders I had from Janet were- rest and eat, a lot."

Now for the part he was dreading from the moment he saw her standing on the dock, "How long can you stay? " He knew it was selfish given that her health had to come first, but a few days couldn't make that much of a difference, could it?

"The surgery is scheduled for the 16th, and Janet wants me back the weekend before."

Today was the 7th, so about a week. He could handle a week. He would have preferred two or three, especially given her… condition… but he wasn't really given a choice, and neither was she. So, that meant they had to make the most of this time, but he didn't really know what that meant. He refused to consider the possibility that this would be the last week that she would… NO! He wouldn't think like that, and he wouldn't act like that. Some part of his brain switched into military mode, and he stuffed the nagging doubts and questions away. There was work to do; it might only be dinner, but it would get him through a couple of hours until he could sort things out in his head.

She could actually feel him turn off his emotions- that must have come in handy for black ops stuff. Or maybe he could do it because of that. Which came first, she wondered? At any rate, she could see he was determined to keep busy doing any thing, and so she wandered out to her bike to get her stuff. The next few hours were taken up by eating, cleaning and unpacking. All in all, not a bad way to spend an evening when the past few days had been doctors, and tests and more tests that only led to bad news. By the time darkness came, she was literally exhausted and welcomed the peace and quiet of being in the middle of nowhere.

At some point during cleaning up from dinner, Jack realized they hadn't spoken about "it" since Sam told him she had to be back before the 16th. That had been over two hours ago. He still didn't know what to say, but he couldn't stand the silence- odd, he thought, since it was always silent when he was here alone. He needed to hear her voice, he then realized, to make sure she was OK. Nice try, he thought again, he needed to hear her to make sure he was OK. The most frightening thought in the world occurred to him in that split second: if the only person who could make him feel like everything would be alright, wasn't alright herself, then what in the hell was he going to do. Not just for right now, not just today, not just here, but what about tomorrow, and next week, and after that. Not for the first time today, he felt like he was swallowing his heart and forced himself to act "normal." What the hell was that anyway? Well, whatever it was, it sure wasn't this. "Coffee?"

"No, thanks. I think I might just be tired enough to sleep really well, and I don't want to chance it by having something with caffeine. I think I'll take a shower, if you don't mind."

"Help yourself- there are towels in the linen closet in the hall." Good, he thought. Then he could finally sort out all of the stuff going on in his head and figure out what to think. Then that voice contradicted him again, saying something about trying to figure out what was going on in his heart and figuring out what to feel! Whatever!

A shower hadn't felt this good in a long time. Not only was she washing away the hours of dirt and dust from the trip, but she had managed to clear her head a little. So far so good, she thought. He hadn't reacted badly to her news. In fact, he had barely reacted at all. That was better than the alternative, which she considered a real possibility on the way up. She had thought he would hit the roof- why couldn't Janet do more? Why wouldn't the Tok'ra healing device work? How could she just give up on SG-1? The Air Force? All good and legitimate questions, and the only answer that he might understand was that she didn't want any alien thing "healing" or invading her anymore. She just wanted to be human for once- relying on her friend and doctor to make the best choices for her health. It was a small price to pay for what she hoped would be the most important gain of her life. Funny, she never would have considered herself to be one of those people that believed in fate or destiny. But, could the alternate universes really be wrong? When a mind stamp capable of deceiving hundreds of people couldn't make them forget each other; when they didn't even know they were lying, but somehow their bodies and minds gave it away during that damn Za'tarc testing… Even Samantha Carter, Ph.D. could only be blind for so long (almost 6 years to be exact, and that didn't even include the time she spent studying him, uh… the Stargate, before she was part of SG-1). Turning off the water, she felt dizzy and knew it would take every ounce of strength she had just to get dressed and go to bed.

This can't be real, he kept repeating over and over. She's not here, she's not sick, she's not not under my command. Things were going so well this morning, weren't they? Well, not really- where did that voice keep coming from?? He had spent the better part of the drive up here and the majority of the time since arriving on trying to figure out why she hadn't come. He thought they had made up for some lost ground since, well, the "confession." He really thought she would come with him this time, and now he knew why she didn't, and he wished for any other reason than the one he had been given. Suddenly his senses were on fire- the bathroom door had just opened and before he could hear or see her, he smelled the most intoxicating wave of warm, humid air float his way carrying a sweet mixture of soap and shampoo and Sam. Damn, this was going to get hard. Harder than what? Ignoring it for nearly however many years? Or realizing he may only have a week left to do something about it? Again, not great choices, but they were the ones he was left with.

She turned the corner and saw him jump to his feet and come toward her with a look she hadn't seen in awhile. Was the room spinning before or after he touched her? She wasn't sure, but damn if it didn't feel good to have him pick her up and carry her to bed. Was it his bed or hers? She was really confused but too tired to say anything.

My god, she looks pale. He saw her walk unsteadily from the bathroom and got to her just before she fell. Why did he bring her into his room? Not thinking clearly, just acting on instinct. Maybe that answer was actually worse than something believable, like his bed was bigger. At any rate, there she was, lying on his bed, in his room, at the cabin. How many nights had he laid awake wishing for this, fantasizing about this? What the hell was that? How could there be a leak in the ceiling? And when did it start to rain? And, wait, it's not raining, and there isn't a leak, except in his heart- where she lives. Only what if she *doesn't* live? My god, when will it stop raining in here??

How many hours passed before she opened her eyes? It was still dark, but the moon was almost full and the curtains were open so she could make out the room clearly. She was in his bed after all, and there he sat in a chair by the bed just like that time after that thing had left her. She saw his eyes were wide open and staring at her, "Thanks for the ride to bed."

"Anytime." He was searching for a witty remark, but they escaped him now. This was much too real and serious even for him to be sarcastic. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better than before I almost fell over." She managed a smile and found herself wishing more than anything that he was lying next to her. It wasn't "wrong" anymore, and she couldn't help but be afraid that this week would slip by without either one of them making the first move. It was hard to undo all those years of repressing every want, every need, every minute of every day. But what if this week was really it? What if Janet was wrong, and the cancer had spread? What if, what if, what if?? She felt hot tears spring out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks before she could even lift a hand to wipe them away. Why did every part of her body feel so heavy?

Please don't cry, he silently begged her. He had just managed to stop, and wasn't sure that he wouldn't completely break down if he started again. He rose from his chair and went to sit on the side of her bed. Those amazing eyes, filled with tears and fear, and something else he hadn't seen before, were looking up at him through wet lashes. He wiped away the shed tears and rested the palm of his hand on her cheek.

She turned her head into his hand and kissed his palm. She found the strength to lift her hand and clasp his wrist. Were his eyes actually red? From crying? Maybe he had reacted after all. Wouldn't that be typical Jack O'Neill to wait until no one could see or hear, and then afterward, it would be like it never happened. Except she was pretty sure it had- sure enough to call him on it, and sure enough he wouldn't run away. Not now. "You've been crying."

"Am I the pot or the kettle in this scenario?" OK, so not all of the sarcasm was gone. That was probably good, given the situation. Did she actually just kiss his hand? He couldn't remember the last time her lips touched any part of his body. Was it as long as that time loop? Did that even count? Hell, yes, it counted. It meant for the first time he was sure she had those kind of feelings- feelings she wouldn't ignore if the circumstances were different. But that had been two years ago. She couldn't still have those feelings for him, could she? Why not? Didn't he for her? Weren't they even stronger, if that was possible?

She smiled, but was still unwilling to let the moment pass without something else happening. What else, she wasn't sure- of course, she knew what she wanted to have happen, but she was too tired, and emotions were too raw on both sides for that right now. "Why?"

"Why what?" He grew tense at her probing into his emotional state and feigned innocence as a defense mechanism.

"Are you that upset about having to find a replacement for me on SG-1?" Easy does it…

"Yeah, that's it. I hate the idea of searching through all of those personnel files. What if I end up with a scientist again?" Replace her? Now that was impossible in every way.

"I figured." She loosened her grip on his wrist, and his fingers slid down the side of her cheek to hold her hand. She couldn't let him leave- it would be too easy to pack the emotions they both had away again. It was now or never.

He knew he had to get out of there before he couldn't, "I'd better let you get back to sleep. If I'm gone when you wake up, I just went to the store. I need to stock up if you're going to follow doctor's orders." He started to rise.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. All's fair in love and war (which was this again?). Whatever cliché worked, insert it here, because he wasn't going anywhere if she could help it. "Don't go." Simple and straight to the point-he would understand that.

What could he say? That he had to go before he ended up… what? Touching her, kissing her, making love to her? All of those things were options to him now, save for the one thing he never thought he would say to a woman again, but he couldn't do that either, could he? So, a close approximation would have to do, "Sam, I just can't lose someone else that I…"

"Care a lot about?" She finished the thought for him. "So does that mean that you can't care about me anymore or that you can't lose me? The problem with that, Jack, is that you don't get to decide whether I get 'lost' this time. I don't get to decide either. It's up to someone or something else to determine when and if I recover. So, if, knowing that, you want to stop caring about me because it's the only thing you can control, then you should leave. But, there's a problem with that, too, and I think you know it."

Damn, did she know every thought in his head? Yeah, probably. But, darned if he wasn't going to put up a good fight, "And that would be?"

"That you can't stop caring- I can't either for that matter. If we could have done that, then I'm guessing we both would have years ago and saved ourselves the pain. At least I know I've been hurt, on more than one occasion, and if it were at all possible for me not to care about you- and believe me I tried really hard several times- then I probably wouldn't have joined SG-1 to begin with." Oops- did she really just say she had feelings for him before she met him? Maybe he wouldn't hear that part. Please don't let him hear that part…

"What did you just say?" That she cared about him before coming to Colorado? How was that possible?

"Which part?" Maybe she could throw him off. Why couldn't she cry now? Damn it!

"You know which part. The part about you caring for me before joining the team. What did you mean by that?" He was demanding an answer and turning the tables at the same time. Not fair, but all's fair in love and war, right? Well, he was always better at war.

Nice try, Jack. "Alright, I'll answer that question, but I'm not letting you off the hook that easily. I've come this far- literally and figuratively- and we either end up together tonight or not at all." Where the courage came from, she never did know, but divine intervention was not out of the question as she sat up in bed, stared him straight in the eyes, and laid her heart out for him to have, or for him to walk away from, but she was betting on the former, "You already know that I spent two years studying this project and that first mission before I got here. Well, 'studying' is an understatement. I read, re-read and committed to memory every detail about the project and that mission until I felt like I could have been there. That included practically memorizing the personnel files of everyone involved- yours in particular. I really can't say why I felt drawn to you then, but I did. When I finally looked up the personal part of your file and found out you were married- well, the truth is- it was the reason I broke off my engagement." Nothing like the truth, right?

He couldn't have been more shocked- first the 'end up together tonight or not at all' bit- thank god he didn't faint. And now somehow he's responsible for breaking up her engagement before he met her, "What the hell?" Oops- was that out loud?

"I just figured if I could feel the way I felt about you then without even having met you and knowing you were married, then I should at least feel that much for the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Only I didn't feel that way about him. I felt that way about you, a complete stranger for all intents and purposes, and I spent the better part of the next few years trying to make it go away. All it did was get stronger. So, I guess the truth is, I've loved you for almost eight years now, and if I've only got one week left…" That was it; she had said it all. His turn.

So, that was it. His turn to speak, and his voice wouldn't work. He just sat there for what felt like an eternity waiting for something to come out. Where was his buddy Thor now? Surprising her, but himself more, he laughed- not a little, not quietly, but a genuine laugh that was most definitely out loud. He just couldn't believe it, "Not more than 24 hours ago, laying in this bed, the only thoughts occupying my brain were what you would have looked like in a black bikini if you had come up with me, and hoping that it would somehow reveal, finally, where that freakin' mole is! Now, I have to tell you how I've felt about you since I first saw you or risk losing you all together. Of course, the sick irony is that I may lose you anyway." The laughter had stopped. His eyes were serious and pointed right at hers. He wasn't sure up until that moment if he had it in him to say it, but in that instant, he knew he didn't have a choice. She was right, of course, the choice was never really his to make- not in this universe or any other- whether they were infected by a virus or their minds was stamped, whether they knew it or not, the choice had rested in some higher power (since when did he believe in that?), "I love you, too."

She looked down at the blanket covering her body, and whispered, "I guess it doesn't matter now anyway."

The panic that had settled just below since he heard the word 'cancer', finally surfaced- had she not told him the truth about the extent of it? What more could there be?? For cryin' out loud- "What?!?!" He held his breath.

"My bikini is actually blue, and you still couldn't see my mole." She smiled.

Part Three

The tension was broken as she continued to smile at him. The emotional anxiety that they had both felt since he turned around on the dock and saw her standing there had been completely overwhelming. Every fantasy and every fear he had were rolled into one night: having her in his bed and knowing he was in her heart, but the possibility of losing her just as quickly was creeping up behind him. Forever the realist, "So, what do we do now?"

She yawned her answer and sunk a little more under the covers.

He chuckled, "Janet would kill me if she knew I kept you up this late. And frankly, I'm not sure if I'm more scared of you or her. Those needles can be awfully long..." He started to get up for the second time that night, and this time she was too tired to stop him.

As her eyelids grew heavier, she tried to figure out what he had meant by that. Why would he be afraid of her? Must be that arm wrestle challenge, she thought. She drifted off to a peaceful sleep with a smile still on her lips.

He got up to close the window- it was getting cold at night now. A shiver ran up his spine as he realized the seasons were changing, and he couldn't help but wonder how this new- relationship?!- fit into the scheme of nature. God, Jack, you must be tired to be thinking like that. He started to head for the door, but he caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye as he turned around. The part of his mind that could actually process the thought of her- well, not being here forever- wouldn't let him waste a moment. She was right, 'if I've only got one week left,' then every second counted. He settled back into the chair where he had watched her sleep earlier. At least it had stopped raining inside.

True to his word, when she woke up the next morning he was already at the store, which was good considering she couldn't live off of Fruit Loops for a week even if he could. She got out of bed, relieved that she was steady on her feet this time, and started to get dressed. One large denim shirt and a pair of black leggings later, she stepped outside onto the deck with a couple of journals and some coffee. The morning was still cool, but quite refreshing. The irony that she felt more alive at that moment than she had in years was not lost on her. She quickly became engrossed in the latest techno-babble and didn't even hear him pull up.

He had never spent more than $50 at the grocery store in his life. He was most decidedly the kind of guy who gets in the express lane and pays cash for beer and a steak. Maybe a potato, too, if he was really hungry. He had realized while going through the aisles that he knew certain things that she liked- diet soda, lemon chicken (why was that anyhow?)- but it was hard to shop for someone you didn't know really well. Wondering how Sara managed when they probably knew each other half as well, especially in the beginning, he was amazed that a food bill could be over $200 for 2 people for a week. He couldn't have cared less about the money, it was just a new experience. It was all new territory, and while that was fine on a mission, it was more than a little unnerving in "real" life. He carried two of the ten bags of groceries inside and watched her through the sliding glass doors as she was reading something. Probably not a comic book, he mused, and brought the rest of the bags in as she scribbled notes in the margins of the journals.

She heard kitchen cabinet doors closing and went inside to find him putting away what looked like the contents of a mini-mart on the shelves. "Is there anything left *inside* the grocery store?"

"I couldn't let my guest starve, now could I?" He was glad to see that color had returned to her face and that she seemed to have shaken the exhaustion from last night.

"Well, I hope you have invited Teal'c back so he can eat some of this!" She started sorting through the piles for something resembling breakfast.

He waved her away explaining that he was going to make breakfast and she should just go back to whatever fascinating thing it was that she had been reading. Of course, he said fascinating in a way that made her know he was sure that it was really boring.

She shrugged her shoulders and went back outside. If he wanted to cook for her, why in the world would she interfere? Besides that article she was reading had actually been fascinating...

Another meal completed and cleared away, he asked, "So, what do you want to do today? And just so you know, working or reading about work-related things is not an option."

"I thought fishing was the only activity available to your guests. That and getting eaten alive by bugs, if Teal'c is right." She laughed a little at the thought of Teal'c fishing.

"He really has developed a sense of humor over the years, hasn't he?" As of late, Jack was sure he had caught a lot of smiles passing the Jaffa's lips.

"Yeah, that's one of the things I think I'm going to miss the most." The mood in the room changed as instantly as the words were out of her mouth. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that because we won't be working together, I won't see him as much."

"You know what the good thing about that is, don't you?" He didn't want things to start off that seriously so early in the day. There would be time for that later. Right now he just wanted her to have fun and feel good. Very, very good.

"What's that?" She was relieved he didn't want to talk about "it" right now. Maybe later, but not now.

"Since you won't be working with Teal'c, that means you won't be working with me either. And that means that you can see me more off-duty. Or is that more of me?"

He gave her that look- the one with the eyebrows, and she couldn't help but giggle. "Is that a promise or a threat?" She could play at this game for a while. After sitting out for the last few years, she was definitely ready for - well, anything!!

"It's both." He was loving this, "I won't subject you to fishing your first day here, but I do believe someone promised me a look at a certain blue bikini and a guess at where a certain mole is."

"I don't recall that at all." Oh yeah, this was fun, "In fact, I distinctly remember telling you that you couldn't see my mole."

"No, no! You said I couldn't see your mole with your bikini on. You didn't say anything about not seeing it at all." A minor technicality, but it just might work.

"Since when did you pay such close attention to what I say?" All right, so maybe he usually paid attention, he just didn't understand it all. Or did he? He deserved a bone, at least, for being a good sport, "But since you made me breakfast, I will demonstrate for you that my mole can not been seen with a bikini on." There, that should do him in.

It did. He watched speechlessly as she went to change. Sweet!

Part Four

Sam entered the guest room where she had unpacked all of her stuff last evening. She hadn't really looked around then; she had barely had the energy to walk. This time, though, she took note that this must have been Charlie's room. There really wasn't anything sitting out that would indicate a little boy used to sleep here, and she had to resist the urge to snoop to find a picture or a toy or some indication of his life. She mentally chastised herself, 'It's none of your business Sam. Just get dressed!' So, after rummaging around, she found the subject of much debate- a sea blue, classic bra-style top in a soft fabric that conformed to her extremely well. She was not as oblivious as people thought to the looks she got from men, on and off the base. Just because she didn't respond or talk about it didn't mean she wasn't aware. Taking a look in the mirror on top of the dresser, she appraised herself favorably. Deciding to be just a little evil, she put a sarong around her waist and slid a tank top over her head just to make him wonder for a little longer... Packing a journal and some sunscreen in a bag, she headed back out to the living room.

What the hell could be taking so long? This was Carter who could shower, change and be in a briefing room in 8 minutes flat. Was it that he was impatient at the thought of what was going on behind that door, or was she really taking forever? His mind didn't have long to decide as she emerged from the guest room. "What's this? Trying to get out of it, are you?"

"Not at all- just thought I'd make you suffer until we get to the beach. Are you ready?" She said it with a feigned innocence that he recognized immediately.

Not only had he changed, but he had managed to pack a picnic lunch while she was getting dressed, "I've been ready! Let's go already!" He really was getting hot and bothered the more he looked at her and thought about that damn mole...

The walk to the sandiest beach around the lake took about 20 minutes. Neither one of them said much, but Jack did mention a few "landmarks" like which tree was Charlie's favorite to climb and where the best views of the lake were. She was surprised that he didn't seem to mind talking about the past when he was here while usually on base or on a mission he would clam up when asked about it. Of course, she wasn't much better- how long had it been before she had told the team she had been engaged? Neither one of them were going to get an award for being talkative when it came to their personal lives.

He had forgotten how much he loved it here. Each time he came up, it got harder and harder to leave. Even though he knew the importance of what he did, and especially given the past few years of wanting to get back to see her, it was still difficult to leave the serenity of the woods and the lake. While he was here, he could almost fool himself that the world was safe. "We're here."

They both dropped their stuff, and he spread out the blanket for them to sit on. While he was concentrating on unpacking the water and sunscreen, she removed her tank top and sarong to reveal the much-discussed bikini. She heard him gasp and turned around.

"Wow." He really couldn't hold back his appreciate gaze, and given their discussion the previous night, he didn't see the need to.

"Let me know if you find it," she smirked, referring to the mole, and settled on the blanket and began to read.

"Wow." His mind was jello, and his legs weren't much sturdier, so he sat down and began applying sunscreen. One eye was glued to her, while the other tried to pay enough attention to put lotion on at least most of his body.

"Turn around, and I'll do your back." She was starting to realize just how much he must really have thought about her in that way up until now- especially now. Not that she hadn't done her fair share of thinking, too, but she was certainly doing a better job of acting like normal, right? Then why couldn't she actually look at him?

He did as he was ordered- coherent thought still escaping him, but aware enough of the situation to realize this was not a dream and hoping to god the water was at least a little cool. Some shrinkage might actually be good right now! "I don't suppose I can return the favor?"

"I had the forethought to put some on before we left, thanks. You know you are supposed to put it on at least 20 minutes before you get in the water?" God, were her hands actually shaking from touching him? Like they hadn't touched before, but this was different. Or rather, their circumstances were different. And my god, his body was, well, wow.

His skin was tingling all over, "Then I guess you're stuck with me reading over your shoulder for the next 20 minutes." His smile couldn't be bigger as he laid down on his stomach next to her.

She put down her journal and matched his smile. She truly had never seen him look so relaxed, and happy. Actually happy, without the pressure of command or the shadows that always seemed to line his eyes. Something about this place seemed almost magical, and she decided to just be honest with him, "I've never seen you like this- you look so happy and carefree. There's something about being here that really agrees with you."

"I've been here hundreds of times, but this is the first time I've felt really happy in a long while- here or anywhere else." He was sincere and serious.

His words sent her heart racing. She had always suspected that beneath his sarcasm and avoidance techniques that he did feel things very deeply. Hadn't Teal'c said something like that once? It was true, at any rate, and she didn't want to give up on his sudden burst of emotional outpouring, "It's been a long time for me, too." As he gazed at her face with those eyes, she felt very shy.

"How long?" He wasn't just talking about her feeling happy anymore. He meant the question in more than one way, and he knew she knew it.

She carefully considered her answer. The truth was that she had *never* felt like this, and the relationships that she remembered were cheap imitations of whatever this was. Certainly none of the men (or aliens) she had encountered since being in SG-1 held a place in her soul like him. Not even Martouf, whom she guessed was really at the heart of his question, "Longer than you think."

A few minutes passed as they both stared out over the water considering what had just transpired. He spoke first with more than a little hesitation, "You're not going to ask me the same question back?"

Here it was- the one period of time in the past six years that she really didn't want to talk about. The longest three months of her life spent trying to bring him back to a home that he didn't want to be brought back to. It felt like the ultimate betrayal- and not just because of whatever happened between him and that woman- but because he had given up on them coming to rescue him, given up in her finding a way. No matter what the odds, it was the one thing she didn't expect from him. "No. I'm not." She didn't look at him, and she hoped he didn't hear what she desperately wanted to keep out of her voice: anger and pain.

He heard. He reached over and turned her chin toward him so that she would see he meant it, "It's been longer than you think for me, too." He expected some kind of reaction, and was surprised when all he got was a blank stare in return. He took his hand away from her face, and wondered how he had misjudged the situation. He guessed that she knew he had slept with Laira, but he also knew now that that wasn't all she was angry about. So, what...

She knew herself well enough to know that if she couldn't get past this issue, it would come up again later. And it would feel bigger, maybe bigger than they could work out, so she took a breath and said, "If I had known you didn't want to come home, I could have worked on something else for 100 days, and we would have waited for the ship to bring you back in a year." That thought had played in her head thousands of times since they stepped back through the gate from Edora.

Damn. So she had heard what he said to Laira that day. Damn. How in the hell was he supposed to make up for that? The only way he could now, "I'm sorry."

She could see he meant it, but she didn't know if it was enough. Yet somehow it had to be. She couldn't go back and change the past, and neither could he. Deep down, she suspected that if he hadn't been stuck there, she would never have been forced to realize her feelings for him so soon. There had to be a reason it worked out that way. And it wasn't like he had tried to go back there, was it? She needed to make a choice to either accept his apology and move forward or resign herself to the fact that she couldn't forgive him. The problem was, she knew she could forgive him for anything. She had definitely never felt this vulnerable, "It's okay." She could feel her heart begin to accept it.

He wasn't so sure, "Is it? Really?" Why did he feel like he was walking a tightrope? One wrong step, and he would fall into a place without her that no one could reach.

She looked at him without a trace of resentment, "Yes, it is."

That was a close one, but the real test was yet to come. Later. Right now, "Last one in makes dinner!"

Before she could process what he was saying, he was 5 leaps ahead of her. She had almost caught up to him, but he stopped just before reaching the edge of the water, "What is it?"

"I just realized that either way I lose- if I go in first, I have to eat your cooking!"

The words were barely out of his mouth before she pushed him in- just enough for his legs to get wet, but if looks could kill, he would be a goner, "Now we're even!" She was in up to her waist in clear blue water.

"What for!?!" He was following her out- his feet now barely touching the bottom.

"For pushing me through the Stargate the first time. AND you have to eat my cooking!"

The afternoon passed by with jokes and smiles and personal stories about family, friends, co-workers... He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so comfortable with someone or been so open about his life. They danced around the intense topics- Charlie, Daniel, Sara, her mom, cancer. He had almost forgot why she had come, why they could be like this. Almost. Something in his face must have betrayed his thoughts.

"Jack, what is it?" She looked at him with so much concern, so much love.

He looked up at the sound of her voice; they were standing on the beach, drying off from their last swim of the afternoon and getting ready to head back. He was completely caught off-guard by the emotions that registered on her face. Even though he had promised himself that things wouldn't get physical between them until he was sure she was ready, he just couldn't take it anymore. Taking the two steps that separated them seemed like walking a mile- what happened next could change everything.

Part Five

Her head couldn't register what was going on as quickly as it seemed to be happening. One minute they were joking around, the next he looked so serious, and now he was coming toward her. What was that feeling in her stomach- panic? Fear? Longing? Desire? All of those and more, she realized as he stood in front of her. So much more.

He took her face in his hands and leaned down to kiss her lips. Just one, soft kiss. Not demanding or eager. Just gentle and warm.

The minute his lips touched hers, the floodgates to her heart opened wide. All of the misgivings she had about coming up, about having the conversation about her cancer, about telling him how long she had loved him- they were all gone. She knew this was it- how it was supposed to feel. Nothing was forced or felt wrong. Just perfect. Completely perfect. Complete. She opened her eyes in shock when he pulled away.

Out of breath and unsure he barely whispered, "I'm sorry." His eyes didn't leave hers.

"For what?" She honestly didn't know.

"I should have waited until-"

She cut him off, "I think we've waited long enough, don't you? Let's go back- I think I owe you a dinner." She flashed him a grin before packing up her things.

"I think you've been holding out on me, Sam." He was drying the dishes while she relaxed on the sofa.

"How so?" She was full enough from dinner to burst and was enjoying the cool, crisp air that was blowing in from an open window. She was already looking forward to a good night's sleep, but she couldn't help but wonder which bed she would be in and if she would be alone.

"You're a pretty good cook. I guess you learned a thing or two cooking for Dad and Mark, huh?" Maybe he shouldn't bring that up...

She didn't seem to mind, "I guess I did." She was kind of tired of talking; it had been a long day full of conversation- some of it pretty loaded.

He finished up the dishes and came to sit beside her on the couch. He could see the fatigue in her eyes, but there were some things that couldn't wait any longer, "Thank you."

"It was only dinner." She couldn't believe it was that good.

"That's not what I meant." Three years later, but there it was. "I didn't say it then, and I should have. But I want you to know that I did feel it, even though it didn't seem like it at the time. I did want to come home. To you."

Even though she didn't want to talk about it anymore, she understood that it must really be eating away at him for him to bring it up again. "What do you want me to say?" She wasn't angry, but she didn't know how to get him to believe that she forgave him.

"You don't have to say anything. I just want you to know that I will never forget how hard you worked to bring me back or take for granted what you did. I guess that was the first time I knew, really knew, that I loved you. I didn't want to admit it to myself, but there was no other explanation for the emptiness I felt when I thought I would never see you again. I didn't want to hold out hope that I would ever see you because I knew that if I didn't- well, I just couldn't believe there was a chance."

"I couldn't not believe, or I would have gone nuts. I think Janet was ready to lock me up as it was." They both smiled at that. "You're welcome."

There was one more thing. He had put it off this afternoon, but he wanted to spend the night with a clear conscience, preferably with her in his arms, although this would probably cost him that, but at least without any guilt, "The night before Teal'c dug through, she and I..."

Could her heart beat any louder? What was she supposed to feel? Grateful that it had only been once? Angry at herself that she didn't work harder so they could have gotten through one day earlier? No! She took a breath, and said as evenly as possible, "You don't owe me an explanation- you didn't then and you don't now. You've apologized and thanked me. That's all I need. Well, that and a promise that you aren't going back there for some other black ops mission."

"I'll do my best, but you know I can't really promise anything." What more could he do? Why was she smiling?

"I was kidding- about that last part. The rest I meant. Now can we drop it?"

"Yeah, we can. But I do want to tell you one other thing first."

"Go for it." What could be worse than finding out the man you've been in love with for eight years spent the night with some woman?

"Well, we were pretty drunk that night, and I don't remember much, but I do remember waking up and being surprised that it wasn't you laying next to me. It must have showed on my face, because she reminded me that her name wasn't Sam."

"Ouch. You really should stop doing that." NO! She didn't just say that!!

"Stop doing what?" He didn't think her eyes could get any bigger.

"Nothing. I'm just tired. I think I'll get ready for bed now." She got up to go into the bathroom, but he was too quick. He held her arm, and she turned back around to face him. Even the slight pressure of his hand was exciting.

"Stop doing what?!?!" He wanted to know, even though he suspected he wasn't going to like it. God, he had never seen anyone so beautiful.

"Stop calling out the name of a woman that you aren't with."

Why was she smiling again? "When did I do that to you?" Did he sleep with her and not know it? Was she stuck in a time loop, too? No, he would definitely remember that, no matter what universe or timeline!

"In Antarctica. You were pretty delirious at the time, so I pretended I was Sara. It made you feel better, I hope." The smile she wore grew mischievous, "The next time you decide to call out a name, though, first of all, it had better be mine, and second of all, I had better be there."

"Now that's a promise I can make and keep." He couldn't believe how much crap she had put up with for him- he guessed he didn't know the half of it. The only thing he could do now was to make every minute count, no matter how many were left. He swore right then and there that she would never regret loving him again. And he found himself praying for the first time in - well, longer than he could remember- that he got to keep his promise tonight.

Part Six

"Can I get ready for bed now?" She glanced down at where his hand still rested on her arm.

"Oh, yeah." He followed her eyes and lifted his hold. He watched her walk to the bathroom and close the door. He fell back onto the couch. That was intense- the whole day had been. It was like they were trying to make up for six years in six days. With only five more to go. He couldn't understand why she had done all of the things for him that she did- working on that huge doohickey for three months, without eating or sleeping much, he understood from the gossip around base. Not to mention figuring out where Ba'al was keeping him- how had she done that anyhow? And pretending she was Sara? That must have hurt, even if they hadn't known each other very long. He thought he knew how many times she had saved his life, but he was only just beginning to understand what he owed her. His heart; his soul- how could they be enough for this amazing, beautiful, brilliant, young woman. Why did she do it?

She returned with worn, oversized flannel pajamas on and saw him sitting on the couch with his hands running absentmindedly though his hair. It was unfair how men really did look so much better as they got older. Another one of life's many mysteries, she chuckled to herself.

Suddenly aware of her presence, he turned to see her watching him, and had to ask, "Why me- all of those times, all of these years- why me?"

"I guess it's the same thing it's always been." She wasn't going to hold back anymore, "I love you."

He slowly stood to face her, and repeating his actions from earlier in the day, he took her face in his hands and kissed her. Only it wasn't the same at all. Soft and gentle were replaced by powerful and demanding. Warmth was replaced by heat. And this time, he wasn't going to break the contact. His lips were impatient and his tongue was relentless.

Her knees actually felt weak. Finally, she really understood what that saying was all about. Her hands rested in his chest as he pulled her in tightly to him. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she became suddenly aware that she was oxygen deprived and pulled her head back slightly to breathe.

He didn't loosen his hold on her but waited for her breathing to slow to normal and asked, "If you don't want this, please tell me now."

She had never heard that tone of voice from him before, and she was stuck again at how he must have felt about her all along, "I'm sure." She had never been more sure about anything.

Taking her hand, he led her into his bedroom. Clothes were shed slowly and with great care until they both slid under the covers. Muffled cries and declarations of love were voiced into the early hours of the morning. When sleep took them both, it was with a peaceful contentment that neither had known before.


Waking first, she watched him breathe. He really did look like a big kid, and she noticed the sharp contrast between the calmness in his face and the violent scars that were scattered on his chest. She couldn't begin to imagine the hells he had endured. She shuddered knowing that they may not all be in the past- none of them knew what awaited them anytime they went out on a mission, never mind the tragedies that could happen- hell, had happened- at home.

"Are you going to stare at me all morning, or make me breakfast, woman?" Opening his eyes, he lost the battle not to grin widely at that.

"Oh, no! I'm not about to follow your orders anymore- you want breakfast, pour your own cereal into a bowl!" She pulled the covers more tightly around her to defend against an attack she hoped was coming.

"Cereal? Forget it! I'm thinking eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, coffee, freshly squeezed juice..." As he spoke, he rested his head on one hand while tracing the chain of a necklace she was wearing with the other, "I didn't notice that before. It's really pretty." God, was it from that damn alien? He probably made it from her blender.

"Thanks. The diamond was from my mom's engagement ring. Dad had the stone reset into the necklace for my graduation. As for breakfast, that menu sounds great. Let me know when it's ready." She turned away from him on her side pretending to try to go back to sleep.

"All right, all right. I'll cook, but only because you made dinner and only if you finally show me where that freakin' mole is!" He started tugging at the covers trying to get closer to her to get a look at the few remaining places he hadn't seen in daylight.

She squirmed in a half-hearted attempt to stop him. He finally lifted a corner of a sheet and stuck his head underneath, "Ah ha!" There it was, on her left hipbone, just where the side of her bikini bottom had hit. Mesmerized by the object of so much thought, he circled it with his fingers over and over.

Was there any thing that man could do that wouldn't turn her on? She pulled the cover over her head, "Breakfast can wait."

This time he woke first, and as promised, he started cooking. Noticing the dreary day that gray clouds and drizzle promised, he thought about going into town. There was something he needed to buy, and it would be a nice way to do something together that "normal" people did for a change.

She came out from the bedroom dressed back in her flannel pj's and took note of the weather conditions, "So, what do you do up here on days like this?" She was surprised that reading her journals didn't actually appeal to her right now. This must be what relaxed feels like, she thought.

Putting breakfast on the table, he hoped she would go for his plan, "I thought we could go into town, maybe have lunch, do some shopping?" He almost held his breath- his mission seemed urgent all of a sudden as he spied the necklace again.

"I never thought I would hear you suggest shopping as a way to pass the day, but I think it sounds nice." She followed his gaze down to her necklace again and fingered the stone.

Her action broke his gaze, and he looked at her a little embarrassed, "Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said earlier." He stopped for a minute to be sure of what he wanted to say and to be sure he was ready to say it, "About the time you were getting that necklace, I had a 5 year old son."

"Jack, you can't tell me this is the first time it's occurred to you that you're older than I am." Did he really care about that? Her grandpa had been about as much older as her grandma, and they were married for 52 years. Of course, they had started earlier.

"No, of course not. It's just that I never, well, I've never slept with anyone who wasn't old enough to remember where they were when Kennedy was killed."

"I remember perfectly well where I was when JFK Jr.'s plane went down." Her joke broke the tension, but where was he going with this?

"I just think you should think about the fact that I'm old and graying and..."

"And amazing in bed and extremely good-looking, and best of all, you're already broken-in." She cleared away the dishes from the table and started to head toward the bathroom to shower.

Did she just say 'amazing in bed?' Wait a minute, "What do you mean 'broken-in'?" Good-looking, huh? Well, he had to admit he wasn't in bad shape.

"I just mean that since you've already been around the block, I won't have to do as much training. You know, things like remembering my birthday-"

"Training?!?! That does it!" He sprinted to her and reached the bathroom door just before she did. "I'm going to have to wash your mouth out with soap for that comment." His eyes suggested he actually had other ideas about using soap.

"A shower for two then?"

"Oh yeah!"

Part Seven

He tried to think back to the last time he had spent a day with a woman like this- just hanging out, laughing, talking, enjoying the lapses in conversation as much as the sound of her voice. When had he turned into a hopeless romantic? Well, not in a Hallmark kind of way, but in a your-happiness-means-more-to-me-than-my-own kind of way. That was worth more than flowers and candy, right?

"How long until we get into town?" She could feel herself starting to get drowsy- the motion of the truck with the gray sky made a nap very appealing.

"It's about another 20 miles. You can turn on the radio if you want."

"No, thanks. I'm fine- just enjoying the ride." She smiled and became lost in her own thoughts as the scenery flew by.

Her smile lit up his day. If someone had told Jack O'Neill at that moment that it was a cloudy day, he would have told them they were crazy. Shaking his head, he contemplated for the one-millionth time since meeting her about why the fraternization rules existed. He hadn't really understood before last night the consequences of loving someone under your command. Oh, he understood the part about showing favoritism or giving special attention to someone, but it was more than that. He knew, without a doubt, that just as surely as he was able to order her into life-threatening situations before, he couldn't do it now. Not ever again. There was something so different about knowing you cared about someone- even more than he was supposed to- and admitting it, emotionally and physically to them, and to yourself. It wouldn't matter the cost to himself, his team or even the war against the Go'auld, in the split decision of a battle situation, his heart and mind wouldn't be able to react beyond his need to keep her safe. He would only know that he had to protect her at all costs. She would have become his Achilles' heal, and he would have resented her for it, not to mention it would be the most unfair thing he could do to her and her career. It was odd the way things turned out, he pondered. If Charlie hadn't died, he wouldn't have been sent on the Abydos mission; Sara wouldn't have left him; he wouldn't have met Sam. If she hadn't gotten cancer...

It was odd the way things turned out, she mused. She thought back to the death of her mom and could hardly believe it had been over twenty years now. If that accident hadn't happened, she probably wouldn't have worked so hard to please her dad- probably wouldn't have joined the Air Force at all! Never have heard about the Stargate or met one Colonel Jack O'Neill. That had changed everything. And if she hadn't gotten cancer... Her thoughts were broken by the truck pulling into a parking spot and stopping.

"Are you OK? You looked like you were deep in thought for the past few miles." He wondered how she was holding up. They hadn't really revisited the topic of her illness since she had shown up. He didn't want her to dwell on it, but he wondered how she was dealing with it. He wished he was better at these kinds of things, and decided he would bring it up again before the week went by.

"You know us scientists- always thinking about something or other." She wasn't in the mood to discuss her isn't-it-funny-how-everything-works-out train of thought. If he didn't laugh at her, which she guessed he might, then he would surely think about how that was true in his own life: Charlie, Sara, Adydos, her. It would hit too close to home. Suddenly, spying a red "Shoe Sale" sign across the street, she started to pick up the pace.

"Whoa! Where are you going?" He couldn't figure out the sudden burst of energy that hit her- she looked half-asleep on the way there. As she started to drag him toward the sign, he saw it. Just a sparkle in his peripheral vision, but that was it! He let her hand go, and stood firm, "You go ahead, I'll meet you over there in a few minutes."

"Oh," she looked like a disappointed child, "I'll wait. What do you need to do in there?" She motioned to the storefront that he was standing in front of.

"My watch hasn't been keeping great time, so I thought I would get a new battery while I was here. You go ahead, really, it should only take a few minutes." Why was his stomach suddenly tight at the thought of her going across the street by herself? She had defeated System Lords, for cryin' out loud, and now he was nervous about her shopping at a shoe sale alone? 'Get a grip, Jack' he thought to himself. He knew logically he couldn't be with her every minute of every day, and even if he was, he certainly didn't know how to ward off all of life's evils- on earth or any other planet. He just couldn't help but think that in any situation, her chances of surviving were better with him that without him, and vice versa. A sobering thought given that he would continue to go off-world without her. Except that he knew he wasn't really going anywhere without her ever again, at least the part of her that was in his heart and his soul.

"See you in a bit, then." She was actually jogging now.

He laughed to himself at her excitement over shoes as he waited to make sure she entered the store safely and turned to go into the jewelry store.

"Can I help you?" A man who looked to be in his mid-to-late sixties walked up to the counter at the sound of the bell on the door that had just opened.

"Yeah, actually I need two things. I wondered if you could change the battery in this for me?" He took of his watch and laid it on the glass counter top.

"Sure, we have these in stock," the man looked over the numbers on the back, "and what's the other?"

"I saw a ring in the window, and I wondered if I could look at it?"

"Of course- let me just pop off the back here, and I'll be right back with a new battery."

Jack started looking around the store. There were some nice pieces in here, he guessed, although this was definitely not his department. After a few initial attempts at buying Sara jewelry, and never seeing her wear any of it, he had given up and went for the more practical things that she seemed to want for around the house. He actually couldn't remember buying anything in a jewelry store since the last time he needed a battery. Convenient excuse!

The man returned with a new battery and replaced the old one. Securing the back and resetting the time, he handed it back. "Which ring was it?"

"It was silver, I think, with a blue stone- a sapphire maybe?" How the hell was he supposed to know which was which?

"Oh, this one!" The man was obviously excited about Jack's choice as he pulled it from the window display. "This ring was designed by a friend of mine who just came back from Egypt, actually. He said he was 'inspired' by the temples and the artifacts. If you don't like the sapphire, he can do it with an emerald or a ruby. He can also do it in yellow gold, but this is platinum. It's really beautiful. Funny you should ask for it."

"Why's that?" Jack wondered if this could get any stranger- a designer who was inspired by artifacts? Is that what Daniel had meant when he said that everything would work out?

"It's just that my friend liked it so much, he almost didn't want to sell it. But I told him that I thought it was too special for him to keep to himself. Unique, is the word I think I used."

"Well, it's for a unique person, so I guess that works out." Hadn't he just been saying that earlier, how things turned out for the best. "I'll take it."

Not ten minutes later than when he had watched her run to the sale sign, he followed her steps and saw a madhouse of women jostling each other to try to find a "bargain" in their own size. This was crazy! He decided to wait on the bench outside the store until she found him.

She spied him sitting on the bench, patiently waiting for her to come out. She brought two pairs of boots, a pair of flats and a pair of pumps to the register. The transaction complete, she managed to squeeze past the crowd with her two large bags and flopped down next to him, "Sorry to keep you waiting. It was a little busy in there."

"I gathered. Do you want to grab a sandwich, or did you need to do some more damage to your credit card first?" He was one to talk. He hadn't spent this much on his truck, let alone an item that fit in his pocket. Did 4 carats and platinum really add up to a down payment on a house? The funny part of it was, he truly didn't care. This was definitely love. He smiled at that.

She noticed. "What's so funny? I guess you thought I wasn't a shopper, huh? Well, it's good for you to see the real me now." She smiled right back.

"Actually, I was thinking how nice this is, and how I don't want it to end."

He caught her off guard, and she blushed, "Me either."

"Come on- let's put your stuff in the truck and get you back to the sales. I don't want to be responsible for slowing the national economy."

Part Eight

Six hours later, Jack pulled up to the cabin, and once again, the motion of the truck parking woke Sam from a half-asleep state, "We're back?"

"Think you can stay awake long enough to make it inside?" He was kind of joking, but he had noticed how tired she seemed in the afternoon. He guessed he was partly responsible given their late night. Thoughts of that flooded his mind as he went around to help her out.

She nearly fell out the door when he opened it, and it was obvious she was a lot more tired than she was letting on. He picked her up with only a mild protest, which was a sign in and of itself, and carried her to the sofa. After covering her with a blanket, he took his cell phone outside to call Janet.


She picked up in two rings, "Dr. Frasier."

"Doc- guess who?"

"My favorite patient?" Or was that her favorite *in*patient?

"Funny. Very funny." Be nice, Jack, she has long, long needles. "Look, Sam is up here, and she's really tired a lot. I wondered if you think I should bring her back?"

So, it's Sam now, huh? And she's obviously told him. Temporarily pushing away her hope for happiness for her friends, she went into doctor mode, "Does she have a fever? Is she eating? How does she feel?"

"I didn't check the fever part. She's been eating better than I've seen her in years, but who knows how she feels. She doesn't exactly tell me where it hurts, you know?"

Boy, did she know- they were all like that. And the ones that weren't, well, to call them complainers would be polite. "Look, as long as she's not running a temperature, and if she's not feeling really badly, I think it would do more harm than good psychologically to cut her vacation short." Especially if they're- 'Mind out of the gutter, Janet!'

"Should I have her call you when she wakes up? That might be tomorrow..."

"Just play it by ear. If things get worse call me back."

"Will do. Thanks, Doc." She was a good doctor, and a good friend to all of them.

"And Colonel?"


"Take care of her for us, will you? There are an awful lot of people here who..." Her voice caught in her throat.

"Don't worry. I will." His life depended on it.


Much to his surprise, Sam woke up a few hours into her 'nap.' He had started a fire and made some snacks. She lifted her head from the couch, "Do I smell popcorn?"

"So, Sleeping Beauty wakes to the smell of Butter-Flavored Theatre Popcorn?" He was relieved she was awake and hungry. Both good signs- now to feel her head to make sure she wasn't burning up.

"How long have I been asleep?" It felt like days, and she really didn't want to miss anything by sleeping away the little time they had left.

"A few hours, and on the ride back." Deciding honesty was the only way that it was going to work, "I called Doc Frasier- I was worried that you were sleeping so much."

"And what did she say?" Sam was a little irritated, mostly at herself for being sick. But also touched that he was being so- what was it?- sweet? Jack O'Neill sweet? No one would believe her.

"She said I should make sure you don't have a fever and keep feeding you." If only there was another order he had to follow. Guess that only happened in his dreams. He walked over to touch her forehead- not too hot, not too cold.

"Well, I feel fine, and if you would bring that bowl over here, I would be eating, too." Too bad she didn't get to talk to Janet- she would love to tell her what had gone on up here. Not the juicy details, that would have to wait for later when no one could overhear, but the good parts. The *sweet* parts.

He walked over to the rug in front of the fire and put the popcorn down. "Come and get it!" He didn't know how much he had missed this- sharing a quiet evening with someone, watching flames dance in the fireplace, feeling the warmth of another person lying next to him. It was heaven. Almost- there was one more thing that would make it perfect. He had to know that there was more between them than this week and the uncertainty of the situation drawing them together. On some level, he did know it; he suspected he always had. On another level, he needed something concrete to make it 'real.' That was him- the realist. He never thought he would want to be a husband again, and now it was the one thing he had to be- not just for her, but for himself. To start over. To begin again.

She watched him stare into the fire with some kind of determination. He usually had that look when the odds were against them on a mission. She wondered what he was fighting against inside. It could be anything. She may know his thoughts sometimes, but other times, they were as elusive as the man himself. When he wanted to be. Which wasn't very often with her. How did she get so lucky? She wondered if he knew there were a dozen women on base who asked her all of the time if he was seeing anyone. She usually told them he was still hung up on his ex-wife. 'It could be true,' she rationalized. She just hoped that it wasn't. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, "If I had a penny..."

He could suddenly feel the pressure of the ring in his shirt pocket. He really wasn't very good at these kinds of things, but he wanted this to go well, so, "I was just thinking about what happens, when we go back." That was partly true.

"Well, I guess you go back to work, and I get very familiar with daytime soaps until I recover. Then, it's back to doohickeys." She smiled at her over-simplification of their very complex situation.

"You know that's not what I meant." He wasn't going to let this opportunity get away from him and turn it into a joke, "I mean about us. What will happen to us?" There, that was getting at it.

"What do you want to happen?" What was going on here?

"I guess I want what everyone wants." Easy, Jack- don't blow it now.

"Who's everyone? Like everyone we know? Or normal people?" The idea of normal was such an abstract concept, she didn't know if she would recognize it if it moved in with her.

"Normal people. We could be normal, you know. Except for the working-with-aliens thing. That probably won't be normal for awhile."

"Okay. Even taking out the aliens we work with, how in this world could we be normal? I mean, we work all of the time, can't talk about what we do, and words like "Go'auld' and 'symbiote' are part of every conversation!"

"Right, but if we 1) work together, 2) talk to each other, and 3) use those words in our conversations, then we would be normal to each other, wouldn't we?"

"I suppose so. But since when did you strive to be normal?" This was strange, to say the least.

She wasn't making this easy. He wasn't sure what he expected, but she wasn't getting the hint at all. Time to be more direct, "I'm just saying that it would be nice to come home to this on a regular basis, even though I admit we don't actually go home every night. You know, to a house. Maybe get a dog- did I mention I've been thinking about getting a dog?" Surely that was enough...

"Are you saying you want us to get a house and a dog?" What the hell? Was he doing this because he felt sorry for her? She could feel herself getting very angry. Thankfully, the fire hid the flush that was rising in her cheeks as she tried to stay calm, "What are you saying?" Calm wasn't working.


"You heard me. What are you saying? Are you trying to give me some kind of reason to live or something? Did Janet tell you that something else was wrong? That she missed something the first two times?"


"I get it, Jack. This is Survival 101- give the dying victim something to hold on to. Give them hope so they don't think about death. Did you really think I wouldn't see it?" She was fuming.


"Next time, try to be less obvious about it. On second thought, do me a favor and just stay away. I'll be gone in the morning."

And with that, she stormed off to the guest room. Leaving him completely clueless. He wondered if a marriage proposal had ever gone so wrong? Not that he had extensive experience in that department. In fact, it went pretty much the way it was supposed to with Sara- a candlelight dinner, dancing, champagne, a ring in the middle of her dessert. Down on one knee, an ecstatic 'yes,' a wedding, a honeymoon. So simple. He should have known better- nothing was ever simple when it came to her. To *them*. And if she thought he was giving up that easily, or letting her leave, she had another thing coming.

Completely lost in his own thoughts, he didn't even hear the door open. She stood in the doorway, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement, but realizing none would be forthcoming, she moved closer, "Jack."

His head turned to see her eyes were red from crying. Her arms were folded across her chest, and he stood up to meet her. Even his knee cooperated in what just might be the most important moment in his life, "Sam, look, I'm sorry. I know that all came out wrong, but I didn't mean it the way it sounded, I-"

"No, I'm the one who should apologize. I'm definitely not feeling like myself. I hate being tired all of the time, and I hate that you have to take care of me on your vacation, and I hate that- that, I might- die." The last word was barely audible. She couldn't bring her gaze to meet his.

"You are not dying. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week or next year, or even in 50 years if I have anything to do with it. 'In sickness and in health,' isn't that what they say?"

At that, she lifted her eyes to his with a grin, "I think the only people that say that are the ones getting mar-" She stopped mid-word at the thought that her mind was just beginning to process. Was that what he meant by a house and a dog?

"Getting married." He finished her thought for her and smiled. He fished out the ring that had been in his pocket all afternoon, and held it between them. "So, will you?"

She was speechless. The woman that had an answer for everything was speechless.

"Marry me." Nothing ambiguous about that.

Her eyes kept darting between his and the ring. It was enormous and beautiful, wait- when did he get that? "I think it's only fair to warn you that I don't have the best track record when it comes to engagements."

"That's okay. I'm not exactly one to talk in the marriage department. Maybe we can improve each other's averages." Say yes already!




"Just checking. Woohoo!" He crushed her to him and just held her.

She pulled away first, "I think you have something that officially belongs to me now." She pointed to the ring he was still holding.

"Oh, right." He put it on her finger. Why was he nervous? She had said 'yes.' It wasn't like he hadn't imagined it dozens, maybe hundreds of times. So, what was nagging him? Was it because she hadn't actually answered him about? No, it couldn't be that, could it? It was so unimportant, but he had to know, "So, about that dog?"

"I've always been a fan of Labrador Retrievers."

"I'm kind of partial to German Shepards."

"We could try one of each." This was fun, and easy. And right.

"Our first compromise?" He knew it wouldn't be the last. He wouldn't have it any other way.

Part Nine

The night went on like that for hours- sharing stories (he finally heard the lemon chicken tale; she heard about the kiss during the loop), admitting fears (that she would end up with some young, uncomplicated alien/ambassador/scientist; that he would go back to Edora) and letting go of some old pains (he talked about the last time he saw Charlie alive; she told him how much she missed her mom growing up). If it was possible to make up for all of those years in one night, they were sure making a good try at it. As the fire dimmed and her yawns became more frequent, he decided it was time to call it a night, or rather, a morning. Standing up, he held out his hands to her, and she rose to her feet. He led her to the guest room, and she stopped just outside of the door as he opened it for her, "What are you doing?" Had she misjudged their first night together? She knew it had been awhile, but it couldn't have been that bad, could it have?

"Well, I've only done this once before, but I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to spend the night together before you get married." His face didn't give anything away.

Completely waking up in a half-second, she stared at him in total disbelief, "Getting married tomorrow?" Was he serious? She didn't have a dress or shoes. What about flowers? What about her Dad? And their friends? Was he serious?

"Why not? Unless you'd rather go fishing, of course." Still deadpan.

"Jack, I don't know what you're trying to pull here, but we just got engaged- what, four hours ago? And you want to get married tomorrow? Don't you think it would be nice if we had our friends there? And what about Dad? And what would I wear?" This was crazy. He was crazy. She was crazy about him. Maybe this was the most sane thing they could do. What the hell? "On, what the hell." She smiled as she realized he knew she would agree. Maybe it was the late hour, maybe it was her fatigue, maybe it was just that she loved him and he loved her. That simple- that complicated and that simple at the same time. This really was turning into quite a week.

"Great. We'll go into town tomorrow to apply for a license. There is normally a 5-day waiting period between applying and getting one, but I called the courthouse, and we can get it waived. Luckily, the judge is retired from the Air Force, and he sympathized with our situation, at least as much as I could tell him." What were the odds of that? He was actually starting to believe in fate.

"I still have to get a dress. I just can't get married in jeans and a T-shirt." That was just too much, even for her.

"Don't worry, ypu'll find something. You can look for one while I go get wedding bands." He really had thought of everything. He could do that, when it counted.

"Oh my god, I totally forgot about that." This was happening way too fast. Wasn't it? Way too fast after waiting for years, that is. Time and space didn't seem to be as cut and dried as they once did. Even for a theoretical astrophysicist.

He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek, "Enjoy your last night as a single woman. Tomorrow, you belong to me." He was smiling now, confident that the "belong to" remark would send her into overdrive.

But it didn't. He was right- she did belong to him. Only it didn't have anything to do with getting married tomorrow. It was about love and loyalty and trust. And it had been going on longer than a few hours or days. It had been going on for years, in this universe and a few others. She went onto her tiptoes to return a kiss on the cheek and replied, "Don't think even for a second that I'm going to use the word 'obey.' Or that I'm going to change my name. Hyphenate, maybe. And I like to sleep on the right side of the bed, and..."

He shook his head and turned to go to his room as she continued to rattle off a shopping list of things that she would and wouldn't do. It didn't matter, she owned him- body, heart and soul. He was about to turn around and tell her as much when he reached the door to his room, but suddenly he heard-

"I like to squeeze the toothpaste from the top, and-"

"Sam! Leave a few surprises for afterwards, OK?"


A cloudless blue sky greeted the newlyweds as they descended the stairs outside of the courthouse. The judge that Jack had talked to the day before had performed the brief ceremony. Sam had found a simple white sundress at a store she went by the day before. Luckily, the shoe sale was still going on, and she found a pair of white sandals to match. Jack had gone back to the jewelry store and bought matching platinum wedding bands. Hers had a row of channel-set baguette diamonds that the man promised would look beautiful next to the sapphire. All in all, it couldn't have been easier. Or more perfect.

She stopped walking when they reached the bottom of the stairs and looked up at him, "I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me a week ago that this would be happening. I would have more likely believed that earth would have been taken over by Go'aulds."

"Not me. I would have believed it." He put on his sunglasses and let a small grin tug at the corners of his mouth.

She bumped her side against him, "Liar." So this is what is feels like to be married, huh? Not much different really. In some ways, they were already very much like a married couple- knowing what certain looks meant, anticipating the actions of the other person, and spending more time together than most married couples probably did in 20 years! "So, what now?"

"Easy. We go fishing."


The next three days were spent doing just that. Well, that and some other things. Mostly laughing and talking, and not talking, and just loving. Something neither had done openly for a very long time. As the end of the week approached, they both felt the apprehension of going back to the 'real' world. After dinner on their final night, Sam got up to clear the table, "I think I'll finish packing tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow." She was actually looking forward to the distance it would take them to get back to Colorado. They had decided yesterday that she would leave her bike here over the winter and ride back with him. She might not even be able to drive for awhile anyway, and this seemed easier.

"Good idea. It's going to be a long day." It was going to be a long couple of days, actually, but he wasn't ready to think about that yet. One thing at a time... "So, have you thought about how we're going to tell people about us?"

She had thought a lot about it, actually, but her thoughts usually turned to how to tell her Dad. Before leaving for the cabin, she had sent a letter through the gate to the Tok'ra hoping it would get to her Dad before the operation and that he would be there for it. She had written of her intention to visit the cabin and tell Jack of her condition. She didn't think her dad would think too much of that- he knew the two of them were close, and it seemed reasonable that she would want to tell him in person.


"Sorry." She was going to have to get used to thinking some of her thoughts out loud. She had lived alone for a long time. "I was just thinking that everyone is probably going to be really happy for us." Then why didn't she sound a little happier?

"I sense a beat missing here." What was bothering her? She didn't have regrets already, did she?


"Oh." He had thought about that on more than one occasion, too. He knew that Jacob liked him well enough, but being your daughter's CO and doing an OK job were a lot different from being an acceptable husband. He knew Jacob thought he took too many risks and didn't exactly follow the rulebook. Although he had followed the rules when it came to Sam. He really had. Well, mostly. He couldn't help what he felt. He also couldn't help what he felt about the Tok'ra and what had happened with his "blending experience." That was something he didn't even agree with Sam about.

"If he makes it to Earth for the surgery, I think I should tell him. Alone." He wasn't going to like that, but if Jacob really did have a problem with it, she wanted an opportunity to explain what had happened between her and Jack one-on-one.

"No. We're in this together, and whether he likes it or not, I really have a reason to call him 'Dad' now." His eyes were smiling. He really did like Jacob, and he could think of a lot worse in-laws, if you counted Selmak. How did that work anyway?

"Let's just see how it goes, OK?" She didn't have the energy to fight with Jack about her dad or vice versa. She just hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"Sounds good to me." He was going to need his strength to get through the surgery and help her through what he hoped would be a speedy recovery. Every day that they spent together reinforced what he had only let himself believe a little since the day she walked into his life- he needed her to get up in the morning, to breathe, to live. Their lives may have been officially joined just a few days ago by a judge and with a piece of paper, but they had been inextricably wound for much longer. He knew now that although he had loved Sara, it hadn't been like this. Nothing had been like this for him. He also knew with the same absolute certainty that it never would be again. This was it, for better or worse. He prayed that the worst was over and that it would only get better.

Part Ten

It was funny how crossing an imaginary line that symboled a different state could make such a change. Her heart started beating a little faster, her stomach started to get some of those familiar knots, and was it getting warmer, too? Crossing the border into Colorado seemed to make the events of the past week feel a little more real than they had a state or two ago.

Jack noticed her shifting in her seat, "Are you OK? We could stop for awhile if you need to get out." They had made good time, and with only a few hours left in the day, he wanted to spend as much of it with her before they got home as possible. The day after tomorrow was the surgery. Fear and dread started to rise from his gut, but then she spoke...

"No, I'm OK. Just wondering what's waiting, that's all. You know, mail, phone messages, newspapers piled up..." And Dad.

She didn't have to say it for him to hear it. He looked down at the space between them where her left hand rested. He reached over and rubbed it, his fingers taking in the new sensation of her rings. He smiled, "There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow."

They were going to see Janet first thing in the morning to make sure everything was on schedule. They would tell her first about getting married and then General Hammond. If Teal'c was back from Chulak, he would be the next to know, and then Jonas. If they knew anything about the rumor mill in that place, their news would be the topic of conversation by lunch. If Dad was there, well, she would just have to wait and see if he was, "I was hoping to get home early enough to call Mark, but I'll just do it tomorrow."

Which reminded him of somebody else he wanted to tell, "I need to go out tomorrow for awhile, after we're done on base." He could hear the tension in his own voice.

"Sure." She wasn't going to press him when he sounded like that.

About 50 miles later, "I want to tell Sara about us in person. Before she hears it through a mutual friend or something." There. That was it. Not so hard to tell your wife that you wanted to visit your ex-wife alone 5 days after you got married, right?

"I think that's a good idea. I can't imagine how I would feel if I were she and had to hear about it from someone else. Speaking of which, I was thinking about something, and I want you to hear me out before saying anything."

She had completely understood his request, he could only do the same in return, "OK."

"Well, it would mean a lot to me to get married in front of our friends and family- with Dad there- in Colorado Springs. Nothing huge or over-the-top, but..."

"I think that's a great idea." He did.


"Really. But what does that have to do with Sara?"

"I think you should invite her."

"What? Why?" Telling her he got married was one thing, inviting her to an after-the-fact ceremony was something completely different. And weird.

"It's just that if she's not there, it's like all of those years didn't exist for the two of you. And they did. They are as much a part of the reason we're together now as anything else, and to pretend like you haven't been married before or that you two don't still care about each other is ridiculous, don't you think? It would be like a lie if she weren't a part of it somehow. Maybe that's a convoluted way of thinking, and maybe I'm being incredibly naïve, but I just think we've lost enough people in our lives already. Shouldn't we try to include the ones that are still with us?" She had thought a lot about this, and as strange as it would be to see Jack's ex-wife on her wedding day, it would seem weirder still not to. There were enough people that *couldn't* be there, shouldn't they ask the ones that could?

Amazing was the only word that summed her up. Truly amazing. Not once ounce of bitterness or jealousy or distrust flowed through her veins. Naquadah, maybe. Resentment, envy or spite, not at all. He was reminded again why he completely fell in love with her. "That might just be the most amazing thing you've ever said. And you've said some pretty amazing things. Thank you. I'll ask." He squeezed her hand.

"Good." She squeezed back and closed her eyes until they reached her house. They had decided to make her place home until she was able to come back to work. Then they could talk about moving, and getting a dog or two.

He was surprised to see her jump out of the truck as soon as he pulled into the drive. She ran up to the door and turned her key. Loads of mail and a week's worth of papers were piled on her table. Janet must have come by recently. The light on her answering machine was blinking- three times between cycles. She pushed play as Jack followed in with their bags.

"Message one, left at 6:34 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10th: Hi Sam. It's Mark. Just calling to say how you're doing. I know we haven't talked in awhile. So, call me when you get in. You must be due for a vacation soon, right? Well, that lawyer that was at the party we had the last time you were here hasn't stopped asking about you. Maybe I could fix you up for the next time? Just think about it. Love you. Bye."

She turned to see Jack's eyebrows raised at her. She would have to explain that later.

"Message two, left at 10:02 a.m. on Friday, September 13th: Hey Sam. It's Janet. Not sure when you're getting back, but wanted to remind you that I wanted to see you first thing on Sunday morning. Hope your trip turned out OK. I'll want details later. Bye."

He still had that look, but now he wanted to know what kind of details she would tell. Damn answering machine.

"Message three, left at 8:55 p.m. on Saturday, September 14th: Sam? It's Dad. I guess you're getting in kind of late, but I would appreciate a call at the base when you get this. I got your note yesterday and made it here as fast as I could. I'm so sorry this is happening to you. Call me. I love you, honey."

The machine rewinding was the only sound in the room. Jack came up behind her and put his arms around her. She whispered, "I'm going to call before it gets any later."

"I think I'll hit the shower unless you want me to..."

"No, thanks. I'll be fine." She hoped.

He kissed the top of her head, got his bag and went to the bathroom.

She picked up the phone and dialed the all too familiar base number and asked for her dad. He picked up on the first ring, "Sam?"

"Hi, Dad." If her heart would stop racing, she could breathe a lot easier.

"Did you just get in?" He sounded so worried. He was her Dad after all.

"Yeah, Jack did all of the driving in one day." Oops, she should have said 'Colonel.'

Jack, huh? Okay... "How are you feeling? You sound tired."

"It was a long trip, and we're coming in early to see Janet to make sure everything's on track for Monday."

"Jack is bringing you in to see Janet?" What the hell happened up there?

"Just in case I can't drive afterwards, and he has some work to catch up on." Nice save. God, she hated lying to him, even for a day, but this conversation needed to take place in person. Suddenly feeling very tired, "Dad, I really need to get some sleep. I'll come and see you tomorrow after General Hammond."

"Of course. Get some sleep, and I'll see you tomorrow. Oh, and Sam?"

"Yeah, Dad?"

"Could you ask Jack to stop by, too? I need to talk to him about something."

"Sure. Goodnight."

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

She hung up the phone and made her way to the bathroom. A shower sounded great about now. Especially a shower with her husband. That was a hard word to get used to. It had taken her weeks to get used to saying fiancé years earlier. This sounded so much more- well, permanent. She laughed at herself. Yeah, this was more long-term for sure.

She opened the door to the shower and let her eyes float down his body. This was like some shower scene in a porn with the soap trailing down his back and- WOW!- he was so hot. Really, really hot. His hands were braced on the same wall as the shower spray, and he was letting the water just pour over him with his eyes closed and head back. Not wanting to disturb him, she started to close the door-

"I thought you might join me. Or did you just come for the entertainment value?"

Rethinking her decision, she decided to slip in between his body and the wall. He bent his head to kiss her and all thoughts of her dad and Janet and General Hammond were washed away.

Part Eleven

The base was so quiet, but then it was a Sunday, and only essential personnel were there. Besides them, Hammond, Doc Frasier and Jacob he wondered who else was-

"O'Neill, you have returned."

Leave it to the big guy to state the obvious.

"Yeah. I'm back." Why did it seem so awkward? Oh, right, because of that! He felt his left thumb trace the ring on his finger automatically.

"MajorCarter is not well."

"No, she's not, but the good Doctor will have her as good as new tomorrow, so..." Maybe if he kept saying it, then it would really happen that way. He ran his hands through his hair. Why did he feel so tired so early in the morning? Maybe because he didn't get enough sleep. He could feel a smile starting as he remembered exactly why that was.

Teal'c noticed something shiny on Jack's finger that he hadn't seen before, "O'Neill. Is that not the symbol for a union between two people on Earth?" He nodded his head toward Jack's left hand.

"Oh, that. Yeah, it is." His smile just got bigger as the Jaffa pulled him into a bear hug.

"Congratulations, O'Neill! I am pleased for you. Who is the woman you are now... 'married' is the term I think you use?"

"Who do you think, Teal'c?" Had he really missed everything all of these years? No, he couldn't have, could he? He looked at Teal'c just as what passed for a smile crept onto his usually straight lips.

"Please tell MajorCarter I wish her the best of luck."

"Thanks, Teal'c. I will." He was actually turning into a smart ass. Wonder whose influence that was?

"She will need it." And with that, Teal'c nodded and turned to continue his walk to the commissary.

Why that... You had to love Teal'c, and if you didn't, he would kill you, so, it all worked out. He had dropped Sam off at Janet's office just a few minutes ago and was planning to hide out in his office to avoid Jacob until after he and Sam had a chance to talk to Hammond. He was still trying to convince her to let them both talk to Dad. She could really be stubborn. Wonder where she got that from? He no sooner thought it, than-


Damn! Maybe if he just kept walking...


Nope. He had to stop and say something, "Jacob, I was just on my way to find you." Right, that's why he was walking in the opposite direction of the guest quarters.

"Did Sam tell you I wanted to talk to you?"

Yeah, right after we took a shower together and made love three times, she mentioned it briefly, "Yes, she did." God, he was getting horny again thinking about it, and her dad was here. Dad was here, for cryin' out loud. Stop thinking about having sex with his daughter for five minutes. He was a trained soldier, he could do that, right? Maybe.

"Good. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"

Teal'c was in there, and he definitely didn't want Jacob finding out from him, so, think fast- "Uh, no. How about my office instead? I, uh, already had two cups this morning."

"Okay. Let's go then."

They walked silently down the hall to Jack's office. No one else in sight now. Of course, not. Maybe Janet would get done with Sam faster than she thought. As Jacob closed the door behind them, Jack let out a sigh, "So?"

"Look, Jack. I hate to go behind Sam's back, but she's not always great about divulging personal information, and I figured since she went to tell you about the- cancer- that maybe you knew the whole story."

Thank god. He didn't know. He just wanted to talk about Sam being sick. A ridiculous amount of relief swept over him, and feeling more relaxed than he should, he made the same mistake of running his hands through his hair as Jacob watched and waited and noticed everything, "There really isn't much to tell according to Sam. It's operable, not life-threatening, and after a recovery period where Doc experiments with her hormones, she should be good as new." That was it in a nutshell. So why was Jacob looking at him like that? Maybe he didn't know Sam was having surgery- had he given too much away? "Jacob?"

"What the hell is that?" His eyes were stuck on the platinum band on Jack's finger.

Damn! He should have taken it off after Teal'c saw it. Damn! He couldn't speak. This was definitely not going the way it was supposed to.

"Answer me, Jack. What is that? Or more to the point, who is wearing the matching one?"

Well, lying was out, and the truth didn't sound so great either, but here it went, "Sam." He felt like he was being grilled by Hammond, only worse. *Way* worse.

Jacob half-sat, half-fell into the couch in Jack's office. Now it was his turn to be speechless. His daughter had gotten married to a man he didn't even know she was in love with. Well, that wasn't entirely true. He suspected there was something going on between them, but he also knew the rules, and as much as he knew Jack wasn't a play-it-by-the-rules kind of guy, he didn't think he would do anything to jeopardize her career or hurt her. Oh my god! Had he? Had they? Before now?

As if reading his mind, Jack found his voice, "We never did anything remotely... unprofessional... until she came to the cabin. After she resigned. Nothing before. I swear." At least he could say that with a straight face, and he guessed he might have to do it again with Hammond later, but this was harder. Without a doubt, this was harder.

"When? I mean... when did you two start having feelings for each other? Why didn't she tell me?" He knew why. He would have disapproved and been so angry. Said and done things he would have regretted later. He correctly guessed she hadn't told him in order to preserve their new father-daughter relationship. He wished he could say that he would have been understanding, that she should have told him, but the truth was, he doubted he could have been. As usual, she was smarter than him.

"Look, Dad."

That drew a look from Jacob, and maybe even a hint of a grin.

"You are going to have to ask Sam about all of that. She wanted to tell you herself about us so that she could answer the questions she knew you would have. All I can say is that I love her. I have for a very long time, before I even knew it, and I'm going to do everything I can to make it work. I'm not sure what else you want to hear." Jack realized that he cared about this man more than he had for his own father and wanted- no, needed- to hear that he was going to be alright with Jack being married to his daughter.

"I'm not going to lie to you, Jack. You're not exactly the kind of guy I had hoped Sam would end up with. I mean, is it wrong to want a normal life for your kids? I thought a doctor, or a lawyer maybe. You know, a regular-hours, suit-and-tie, white picket fence, mini-van kind of guy. Someone without a lot of baggage. Someone-"

"If you're telling me that you don't think I'm good enough for her, then at least we agree on that much. Hell, don't you think I see? I'm older than she is; I have a twisted past. I can't even keep her safe. Most of the time, she ends up saving my ass. I know all of that. But you can't help who you fall in love with. At least I can't. And I don't think Sam can either, or-"

"Or she would have taken Martouf up on his offer to be more than a friend?"

"Him or any one of the other guys that asked her out, or would have, if she would have thrown a smile in their direction for encouragement."

"I think she reserved that smile for you, Jack. I'm not totally blind, but as a father, trust me when I say that thinking about your daughter with any guy gives you nightmares. Let alone her CO."

"Let alone me."

"Oh, god. This is complicated. But I guess I can't ask anything more than for her to be happy. And if that means you're the one that does it for her, then I wouldn't dream of butting in. But that doesn't mean I won't be watching you. And her. And if I even get the slightest hint that you aren't keeping up your end of the bargain- I swear to god, Jack." He wasn't angry now. Just resigned to the fact that his daughter was married. In truth, he could think of men a lot worse than the one she picked. But he wasn't going to tell Jack that. No, make him squirm for awhile. This could be fun- later- much later.

"Trust me. If there's one thing I've learned this past week, it's that if I screw this up, there won't be anything left of me." He looked at Jacob with a mixture of fear, at the possibility of losing her, and pain, at the thought that this wouldn't all work out. It had to. It just had to.

Jacob could tell he was sincere. In fact, he hadn't seen Jack this serious about something ever. He guessed this was the side Sam saw when no one else was around. The side she fell in love with; the side Jacob would have to trust now that Jack was married to her. Time to get back to business, "Where is she now?"

"Still with Janet, although I thought they would have been done by now."

"Let's go." He got up as Jack headed toward the door. "Jack-"

He froze. What else was there to say, "What?"

"Welcome to the family." He hugged him and patted him on the back like he would his own son. Hell, he spent more time with Jack than his own son and knew him a great deal better. He could actually feel himself start to get choked up. A retired general crying.

"Thanks, Dad." Not a dry eye in the house.

Part Twelve

Janet looked up from Sam's file just as Jack and Jacob walked in, "She's getting dressed. She'll be right in. Oh, and congratulations, Colonel. You're a very lucky guy. And don't forget I have very long needles in case you need reminding of that."

Jacob chuckled. This was fun already.

"Thanks, Doc. I'll keep that in mind. Is there anything else you would like to share? Like how my wife is?" That was the first time he had said those words in- well, a long time. And they had stopped having meaning in any real sense long before he had stopped saying them then. They felt odd on his lips, but it felt so right to say them now about her.

Janet smiled. It would take everyone awhile to get used to the new relationship between those two. Except that it wasn't really new- just in the open. "She's the same as before, Colonel. We're scheduled for 0600 hours tomorrow. No food or drink after 1800 tonight. A full night's rest is in order. In fact, that's an order."

Jack wondered what Janet knew about his sleeping habits, or lack thereof. Yep, this was weird. She was hinting at his sex life in front of his new father-in-law, who, by the way, had a snake thingy in him. Not many newly married men had his set of circumstances that was for sure. He didn't have to think about it anymore, though, as the reason for all of these changes walked into the office, "Hey."

She was still buttoning her blouse and didn't look up, "Hey."

"Sam!" Jacob was visibly relieved to see her.

"Hi, Dad." He walked over to hug her.

Sam looked at Jack questioningly.

He held up his ring and pointed.

So, her Dad knew. Well, she didn't see any bruises or cuts on either one of them, so it must have gone reasonably well.

Jacob was so relieved to see her looking well and just- alive, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, actually. A little tired, but fine." She had to stop herself from smiling at the implication that everyone got except her Dad.

"Well, I understand my little girl got married without telling her dear old dad first?!" He couldn't even pretend to be mad. Not under these circumstances. Not when she just beamed at him as he said the word 'married.'

"Um, sorry about that. I was kind of a surprise to us, too. But, we're going to do it again in a few months when I'm feeling better so that everyone can be there."

Jacob glared at Jack, "You left that part out, I think. That would have been nice to know." He was enjoying his son-in-law already.

"Right. Well, now you know. Speaking of people knowing, we should go see the General before he hears it at the water cooler." Escape!

"Okay. Dad, I'll find you before we leave. Janet, I'll see you in the morning."

"Take care, Sam. And Colonel, don't forget my orders." So much fun already.


As it turned out, the base was still gossip central even on a Sunday with a skeleton crew. A janitor had overheard Teal'c in the hallway congratulating Jack on his marriage. Since everyone knew Sam had resigned last week, the rumors we're flying from the control room to the locker room. Jack had barely knocked on General Hammond's door when he was greeted by a hug (he couldn't remember the last time he had been hugged by so many men on the same day). After the obligatory conversation about Jack needing to take more leave to stay with Sam until she recovered, they told him that they hoped he would officiate at their 'second' wedding. Of course, the General was delighted as he thought of them both as his extended family. After a few more hugs and 'congratulations' as they made it down the hall, they finally reached Sam's lab.

"Are you sure you want to stay here while I'm gone?" At Sara's. They both knew where he was going.

"Yeah. There are some things I need to give to Jonas, and there's a chance- however small- that he may not have heard about us yet, so... Anyway, I promised Dad I would visit with him some more before we left. Just come and get me when you're done. Or I could have Janet drop me off if it's easier."

"No, I'll come back. It shouldn't be more than an hour. Don't do too much work. I really think Janet will hurt me if she finds out you're in here." The threat of the needles was still fresh in his mind.

"I'll see you later then." She was already half-absorbed in the latest device that someone had set on her table.


She stopped whatever she was doing to whatever that thing was, "What?"

"I love you. That's all."

"That's enough. Now get out of here!" She smiled and shooed him out the door.


'Get a hold of yourself, O'Neill. You were married to this woman for years. It's not like she's going to slam the door in your face. Probably.' He rang the bell.

A few seconds later he heard a familiar voice call out, "Coming!"

He stepped back and braced himself for whatever was going to happen.

The door swung open, and Sara stood on the other side of the doorway, "Jack."

"You were expecting an encyclopedia salesman maybe?" The humor always came out when he was nervous or felt awkward.

"I was expecting anyone but you. Come in." She waved him into the living room. "Coffee?"

"No, thanks. I'm fine." He surveyed the surroundings- comfortable and warm. That was Sara. "How are you?"

"Doing well, thanks." She sat down in a chair across from him. "But I'm guessing you didn't show up at my door after all this time to inquire about my health?" She wasn't accusing him, exactly, but she did want to know why he was here. They had parted on good terms, but he was her *ex*-husband for a reason, and communication was not his greatest strength.

"No. I came to tell you some news." His left hand was folded into his right. He wasn't going to make that same mistake *three* times today. He drew a breath, "I got married this week."

"Wow! Well, congratulations." She didn't jump up to hug him, but she looked genuinely happy for him. Surprised, but happy.

"Thanks. I thought you should hear it from me before you found out some other way."

"I appreciate that. Anyone I know?"

"Yes. No. Not really. I mean, you saw her that day..."

"Oh, right." The blond. She was pretty, and young, but wasn't she under his command? Wasn't that...

After seeing *that* look on Jacob's face earlier, he knew what she was thinking, "She resigned."

"Oh. Not that it's any of my business. I would just hate to see you get in trouble for something like that." She knew how important his career was to him.

"There's one other thing, actually."

Oh god, was she pregnant? That would be too much to handle in one day...

"We would like you to come to a ceremony that we're going to have in a few months. We didn't have family or friends there the first time, but we'd like to this time, so if you could make it, that would be great."

"Are you sure you would both be comfortable with that?" She wasn't sure *she* would be comfortable with that, but first thing was first.

"It was Sam's idea, actually. She thought it was important to have as many people that we care about as possible there. She wants to include you, and I think it's a great idea."

"Your wife sounds like a very confident person. I'm not so sure I could do the same, if our positions were reversed." Saying 'wife' and not referring to herself felt odd, to say the least.

"I'm not sure I could either. But that's why I married her. She comes up with the good ideas for both of us." He smiled at that. "You don't have to answer now. I'll call you when we decide on a date." He stood up to leave. He needed to get back to base.

"I can't make any promises. But I will think about it, and I look forward to hearing from you." She meant that. For the first time in years, the thought of seeing her ex-husband wasn't so bad. That had to be good, right?

"Good. I'll tell Sam." He stepped outside her doorway, "It was good to see you again."

"Yeah, you too." She started to close the door, but she had to ask, "Jack..."

He turned back around to face her, "What?"

"Does she know what she's getting into with you?" She was smiling just a little.

"I doubt it. Thank god. Or she wouldn't have said 'yes'!" He smiled, too.


"I can't believe I missed it!" Jonas was having difficulty dealing with the news.

"You weren't supposed to see it. We had gotten pretty good at hiding what we felt. We had a few years to work on it before you came along."

"Did Daniel know?"

The mention of her friend's name brought a smile to her eyes, "I don't know. Probably. But he knew us both better than we knew ourselves, so..." Sam had given Jonas some notes she had been working on from her lab so that he could keep up on things while she was recovering.

He looked over at her as she got up to leave, "Is there anything I can do for you tomorrow?"

"No, but thanks. I'll be back before you know it." She closed the door and went off in search of her Dad.

He hoped so. He may not have known how much they were in love, but he would have to have been deaf, blind and stupid not to see that Jack was a different person when Sam was around. A lot nicer and a lot calmer. Now he knew why.


As she made her way down the hall to his quarters, she ran into Teal'c.

He really had to stop meeting people like this, "MajorCarter. Congratulations on your marriage to O'Neill. He is a lucky man indeed."

She hugged her friend, "Thanks, Teal'c. I feel pretty lucky, too."

"I understand from DoctorFrasier that you are scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning."

"Yeah, I guess I'm going under the knife."

"I did not know that it was customary to bring cutlery to an operation, but I will stop by the commissary before coming to the infirmary."

"It's just an expression, and you don't have to come. I'll be fi-"

"I will be there. For both of you." He nodded and went in search of a knife.

Sam understood what he wasn't saying. If something went wrong tomorrow, then Jack would need Teal'c. She was reminded again how important a role her friends, their friends, played in their lives. More like family than friends really. Lucky, indeed.


She knocked on the door to Jacob's room.

He was happy to see her and opened the door for her to enter, "Where's Jack?"

"He had an errand to run." No point in explaining about that just now.

"So, are you changing your name?" That was Dad, straight to the point.

"I'm not sure. Maybe hyphenating it, maybe not." Why did she feel so nervous? Like she was back in high school talking about her new boyfriend and asking for a later curfew. 'Stop it, Sam! You're an adult, so have an adult conversation about this!' She took in a deep breath, "Look, Dad. I know that you think he takes too many risks and that he's a smart ass, and-"

"Doesn't he? Isn't he? I don't think I've ever accused him of something he didn't do, Sam."

"Okay. Then accuse him of some other things, too. Like taking care of me when I was sick this past week. And being kind and gentle and loving and generous."

She looked at him with eyes as blue and as wide as he had ever seen, just like her mother. He wondered if his wife had ever had a conversation like this with her dad. He hoped not, and decided to end it right then, "You don't have to defend him to me, Sam. He's already part of our family. He has been for years now, in a way, I guess. I mean, we're all kind of in this together. Now, he's more than just someone that I respect and trust. He's your husband. And whether I like it or not, and I do like it by the way, I have another son."

Tears welled up in her eyes. She really couldn't believe he had accepted it that easily. He was almost happy about it. Well, as happy as her dad got about anything, "Thanks, Dad. You have no idea what that means to me right now."

"You mean everything to me. You and Mark. Always have." Their embrace was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Jacob opened it to see Jack standing there, looking like he half-expected Jacob to turn him away, "Speak of the devil."

"Great, so now I'm the devil?" He looked at Sam who was wiping away a few tears, "Is everything alright?" Jacob may be her Dad, but if he upset her the day before her surgery, god help him.

"Yeah, it's great. But, I think I'm ready to go home and get some sleep. Big day ahead." She walked to the door, but kissed her dad on the cheek first, "I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you kids in the morning." He smiled at Jack as he led Sam away.


It was late afternoon, but Sam didn't have any interest in food, so she decided to call it a night and get to bed early. As she slipped into bed with Jack following behind, she finally asked the question she had been wondering the whole way home, "How did it go with Sara?"

"Pretty well. She said she would think about coming."

"Was she OK with it? With us?"

"I think so- just surprised. She asked if you knew what you were getting into."

"Do I?"

He could feel the smile on her face as she laid her head on his chest, "I hope not. Then there wouldn't be any surprises left, would there?"

"I can't imagine our lives ever being boring." Her body felt heavy and her eyelids shut lightly, "I love you." She heard him mumble something as she drifted off to sleep.

"That's all I need."

Part Thriteen

An audible sigh was heard in the waiting room as Janet announced the surgery had been a success. As she looked around the room, she could see varying degrees of relief from the men who had been waiting to hear about the woman who held a special place in their hearts: daughter, friend, teammate and wife. She was amazed at her friend's ability to command such respect and admiration. And love. They really did all love her, albeit in different ways, but each just as strong. As she turned back around to help the nurses get Sam settled in the recovery room, she silently thanked whoever might be listening for the way the surgery had gone. If there was a god, not the false kind they were used to, but a real one, she hoped that he or she understood how important Sam's life was to so many people, herself included.

Hours later, Sam awoke to a room full of people anxiously waiting for her to come around. Janet was sitting on one side monitoring her vitals while Jack was on the other, just holding her hand. Teal'c had long ago posted himself at the door- always the protector. Jonas and Jacob sat in chairs against the far wall and were the first to see her eyes struggle to open.

"Sam!" Jacob smiled and walked over to the side of her bed, next to Janet.

"Hi." She was barely aware of who was in the room, but she did sense that everything went well given the smiles she saw greeting her. "I guess I made it."

Janet squeezed her hand, "You did great. It went exactly as we hoped, and you should be out of here day after tomorrow." She went to make notes on the chart as Jack helped her sit upright. Janet noticed that he still hadn't spoken. In fact, he hadn't said anything since Sam had been anesthetized.

Once comfortable- or as comfortable as possible in one of those beds- she returned the smiles of relief that were being sent her way. Even Teal'c managed to turn the corners of his mouth upward more than usual.

Finally, Jack spoke, "Do you want anything?"

She looked at him but couldn't read what was being reflected back, "Just water."

He couldn't get out of there fast enough, but she was the only one that seemed to notice. Janet followed behind him, "Sam, I'll see you later. You guys shouldn't stay but a few minutes." The door closed behind her.

Teal'c and Jonas each bent down to kiss her and promised to stop by tomorrow. Jacob held her hand for a minute before saying the words she knew would be coming, "I'm sorry, Sam, but I have to go back tonight. I've been away for a few days now, and we can't afford-"

"I know, Dad. It's okay. I'll be fine. Really." She looked at him with confidence and a kind of peace that he wasn't sure came from her new marriage or the anesthesia. He hoped it was the former. One last kiss, and he left.

Out in the hall, he ran into Jack coming back with her water, "Jack- you've been awfully quiet. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just tired. She'll be fine."

"That's what Janet said, and I believe her. But, will you? You really look like hell- worse than Sam."

"Thanks." He was acting enough like himself to be sarcastic. "I'm okay if she's okay. I guess it's just taking me longer to come out of it." A hint of a smile crossed his lips.

Jacob nodded. He remembered one time when his wife had been sick with pneumonia and was hospitalized. It had been days after she recovered that he finally admitted he had been scared. More scared than he had ever been, and he guessed Jack was experiencing something similar, "Call me if something comes up."

"I will." Jack started to walk past him to her room.

Jacob touched his shoulder as he walked by, "Take care of her. In case you didn't notice, there are quite a few people who will stand in line to kick your ass if you screw this up." He smiled as he said, it, but Jack knew he was serious, too.

"Between you and Janet, I don't stand a chance, do I?" He was relaxing just a bit.

"Not a chance, Son. Not a chance."

Jack continued his walk into her room. She was still sitting there, and her eyelids were drooping already. She opened them as much as possible when he came in. He wordlessly lifted the cup to her lips, and she drank a little before pulling her head back to indicate she was finished. Putting the cup down, he said, "I saw Dad leaving."

"He needed to get back. It's just as well- he can't do anything, and there's no point in two of us going stir-crazy in here." She was really fighting to stay awake.

"Doc said it would just be two nights."

"Not so bad, I guess, all things considered." She started to sink back down into the bed.

"Not bad at all." He tucked the covers around her and resettled back into his earlier position at her side, holding her hand. The worst was over, he hoped. She had made it through the surgery. The cancer hadn't spread. He knew that a long recovery lay ahead, but he still marveled at how far they had come in the last week. Well, six years and one week, really. It was hard to figure out where one relationship ended and another one started. Even though they had only been married a few days, he felt like he had known her for so long. He knew that she knew him better than anyone, and that was more than a little frightening. The past few hours had reminded him yet again how vital she was to his happiness- his very existence. He looked over at her and whispered, "Thank you for bringing me home again."

Her eyes fluttered open for an instant, "You already said that up at the cabin."

He had thought she was asleep, "You need to rest." He needed to rest, but she had to go first.

She wanted an explanation of his comment and her eyes showed she was determined to get one.

"I just meant that I feel like I'm home now. Here with you."

"In Colorado Springs?"

"No, anywhere- now that you're all right."

"Then I'm glad to be home, too."

As he fell asleep right after her, he murmured to himself, "There's no place like home." It didn't take a wizard to figure that out. Just one week, one Theoretical Astrophysicist and one Air Force Colonel.


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