The Trader's Wife

Sam had not been as nervous as this for a long time. Not since introducing her fiancé Jonas Hanson to her father eight years ago, she realised. The roller coaster of emotions she had experienced in the last month was something she should be getting used to, but deep down, she knew that this first meeting between her new boyfriend Michael and SG-1, and particularly its leader, was her biggest ordeal since she'd fallen for him.

She glanced nervously at Michael and smiled briefly as they pulled into the parking lot of the bar-restaurant where *her* team would have been waiting since seven o'clock. That they were thirty minutes late was entirely her doing, as her nerves had got the better of her several times before leaving home. But with Michael's encouragement, here they were. She was reassured by the sight of Daniel's car, and hoped that the fact that the Colonel wasn't driving did not mean he would be drinking heavily this evening. She had been away for a month, the first two weeks working in Washington with Michael, the second two on vacation with him in Florida.

"Courage, Sammie!" said Michael, squeezing her hand as they walked to the door. "I'm not at all worried about meeting your Air Force friends. I don't care what they think of me - just as long as you love me." She smiled in response, but the butterflies were still there. After a few moments she spotted her friends through the relative dark of the room and walked over. Teal'c, Daniel and Jonas rose to their feet as Sam and Michael arrived.

'Oh crap!' thought Sam, her heart sinking. 'He's not come. I should have known.' Introductions and handshakes for Michael followed, and brief hugs for her. Teal'c was 'Murray', as was usual off-base. They ordered more drinks and answered questions about their vacation. Jonas and Michael got into quite an animated conversation about... something, Sam realised, but she didn't know the details as she hadn't been listening. She knew that Daniel and Teal'c were holding back, and saw that if she didn't ask the question, they would not be forthcoming.

She sank a deep draft of her beer, and took the dreaded step. "So, where's the Colonel tonight, Daniel?"

Daniel's face reddened and he looked down at the table. "He's, er, gone Sam." His fingers were pulling shreds off the beer mat.

"Gone?" echoed Sam, her voice faltering. "You mean gone fishing, I suppose?"

Daniel opened his mouth to reply, but hesitated, and Teal'c cut in. "No, Samantha. He is not fishing, to the best of my knowledge. Colonel O'Neill has taken retirement for medical reasons and left the Air Force. He went two weeks ago and is now travelling *abroad* for the next twelve months."

The thin façade of her new-found happiness vanished instantly. She found her fingers turning to ice as she clumsily set the glass back on the table, beer spilling onto the surface.

"Sammie is everything OK?" asked Michael anxiously. She could not have replied if she had wanted to, and rose quickly, heading for the rest room as tears started to fill her eyes.

Sam emerged after a traumatic twenty minutes, only returning to their table when the waitress had appeared to ask if she was all right, at the behest of Michael. The rest of the Saturday evening went badly, as only Jonas seemed to be able to engage Michael in natural conversation, whereas Daniel and Teal'c restricted themselves to polite replies and innocuous questions. Sam hardly said a word. She wanted desperately to ask them for details, but knew that they couldn't talk about it in public, and she certainly didn't want Michael to be involved in that discussion.

As the evening wore on, she barely took in any of the conversations, and became aware of the bigger truth. She didn't love Michael, and wasn't ever going to. She had never told him about her would-be relationship, or lack of it, with the Colonel. The hole in her heart created by the thought that she may never see Jack again was huge, and growing larger by the hour.

She wished that she had had the courage a month ago to tell Jack about Michael when they were alone, but she had told the whole team together during one of their evenings at her house. The sick look on Jack's face afterwards and his early departure without speaking had made her feel bad for a moment, but at the time her enthralment with her new boyfriend had soon caused the feeling to pass. If she could move on, so should he.

When they got back to her house, Michael could not help but realise that Sam's feelings towards him had changed drastically. At first he tried to win her round again, but then got angry when she started apologising and distancing herself physically from him. He went to sleep on the couch, but was gone when Sam got up the next morning. After washing, breakfasting and tidying up, she sat down and wrote him a letter of apology, phrased with genuine regret over the way she had dumped him, but leaving it quite clear that it was definitely over. She didn't think her feelings would change, and to make sure she walked down the road and posted the letter without hesitation.


Daniel's arrival at Sam's house shortly after her return gave her the opportunity she was longing for. After a hugged greeting on the doorstep, she made coffee and they sat down in her lounge. Before she could start a stream of questions, Daniel said, "He failed his medical, Sam. His knee is going to give out soon with the kind of stress that our job puts on it, but he'll be OK if he leads a normal life. Healthy exercise and all that stuff. But you know Jack. He'd never sit behind a desk for the rest of his career, so he resigned."

"Was that the only reason?" asked Sam.

"Nooo, well, yes *officially*." replied Daniel. "But you know as well as I do that he'd just lost any remaining reasons for staying. I haven't seen him that depressed off-duty since our first Abydos mission. But the difference this time was that General Hammond needed someone working independently in a new role and Jack's sudden availability solved a problem for both of them."

"Why, what's he doing now?" she asked, dreading the answer.

"Well, you knew before you left that the SGC is having a budget crisis over the cost of sustaining and operating increasing numbers of Field Units." said Daniel, and Sam nodded. "The need to follow up on previously visited planets is getting more urgent, and conflicts with the needs to keep exploring new worlds for allies and resources. So Jack and Hammond came up with the idea of a *low-profile* person who would travel to planets previously visited by SG teams to report back on how well things were doing. To see how friendly the local population remains with Earth, and to spend more time merging into the society, observing how things really are on certain worlds, and not just how they respond to strangers arriving through the Stargates. We gave Jack a hell of a send-off two weeks ago and barring accidents, he'll be back from his first tour some time next year. He's got a loose schedule for visiting planets and passes reports back through the Alpha Site Stargate. The first note tied to a rock came through on Friday!"

"What, he's not coming back to the SGC in between visits?" said Sam incredulously. "Is he going to meet with SG teams off-world, then?"

"Not by design." sighed Daniel. "The plan is for him to gradually assume the role of an itinerant trader, so people aren't aware of his ties with Earth and our fight against the Goa'uld. He's just going to call himself 'Jack' and he was actually quite looking forward to starting. Oh, he did say to tell you that he wished you and Michael all the best for the future. Where is Michael, by the way?"

"He's 'gone' too." said Sam, looking down. "I realised last night what a terrible mistake I'd made. I hope he'll forgive me, one day." She added after a short pause, "Like Jack did." But she didn't believe it and neither did Daniel.

"Yeah, right!" he smirked. "I'm sorry about Michael. But you know forgiveness isn't high on the list of Jack's priorities, Sam. He's in denial now, and it'll last for God knows how long. He'd fallen so far in love with you and you know it. You also knew he'd respect the regs - look at what happens to people who don't! Their military careers and relationships get blown apart. You made the right move for yourself, finding love outside the SGC, but before Jack fell for you two years ago he'd reconciled himself to being alone for the rest of his life. He started to hope again. He doesn't blame you for finding someone else, but he's doing what Jack does - going back to being alone."

"Daniel, are you mad at me?" asked Sam, on the verge of tears.

"No, not really. But I think you should have told Jack by yourself, not just announce Michael's existence to everyone like that. But Jack's gone now, and that's that. Still, there is one upside - just sound surprised tomorrow when Hammond gives you command of SG-1. You do deserve that, you know."

Sam cried herself to sleep that night, but when she woke in the early hours, a new resolve slowly crept in. Jack would not know what hit him, when the time came.


During the next nine months, Jack's occasional reports from different planets were a joy to read for the SG team leaders, and especially for Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter.

Many worlds turned out to have been merely humouring their original Tau'ri visitors, and cared little for alliances or trade and cultural exchanges: they mainly wanted to be left alone to pursue their own interests. Jack the Trader was welcome enough in these places, and managed to make a reasonably comfortable existence by bartering goods and services. He drew the line at trading in human lives, but could be unscrupulous if necessary and as hard as his hardest opponents.

Freed from military restraint, his reports painted word pictures not only of the places and people he met, but also of the political and economic situations and their relevance to Earth's needs. Hand-written with a real fountain pen in black ink, Sam took copies of all his originals and filed them in a special book in her office. Her initial annoyance at his frequent reduction of technological descriptions to 'doohickeys' and 'gadgets' gradually gave way to a kind of bemused appreciation, as he was quite good at describing their effects. 'Supposed to make the wearer invisible, but gives the game away in UV light.' went one such missive. 'Great for running away from unwanted disco partners.' However she recognised that his lack of technology awareness was the weak point of his campaign, and that set her mind searching for opportunities.

His longest message was around five thousand words, where he was in raptures about the kindness and friendliness of the Mythoran men, and the erotic beauty and generosity of the women. Reading between the lines, Sam felt jealous and upset, and began to realise just what Jack had gone through after she had left him for her new love. She was somewhat relieved and smiled when his next report, the shortest ever, arrived from another world just two days later.

'P5D 564 bastards!' it read. 'May they rot in hell!' She later learned that he had gated briefly to the Alpha Site to receive medical attention for several nasty-looking knife scars on his hands and body, but he was gone again before she could orchestrate an SG-1 visit there.

A few days later, SG-17 burst through the Event Horizon laughing and joking. Sam was watching from the control room, and intrigued by this rare event, went down to meet them. "What's so funny, Major?" she asked.

"We just encountered 'The O'Neill Factor' on that planet, sir." said Major Patterson. "We found the local kids playing a version of baseball, and were wondering where they'd learned it, when the team captain shouted 'Fer cryin' out loud! Get your asses in gear!', and we just knew who'd trained them."

It was at this time that Sam realised she was counting down the days to his first scheduled return to Earth. After summoning Teal'c and Daniel to her office, she confided in them the approach she was going to make to General Hammond.


On day 365, Jack O'Neill strode confidently down the ramp in the SGC, and was surprised to find a welcoming committee of General Hammond and SG Units 1 through 4 paraded at attention in the background.

"Welcome back, Jack!" said Hammond, saluting him. Although he was no longer in the service, Jack returned the salute promptly and smartly, through years of habit. "I'd be honoured if you'd inspect the guard." He accompanied Jack past SG-4, none of whom Jack recognised. However, to show respect he met each person eye to eye and briefly nodded in acknowledgement of their presence on parade. At the end of the line, however, discipline broke down as Daniel and Jonas smiled broadly at him, and he returned the gesture. Teal'c's little bow of the head was met with one of his own, and Carter's unmilitary smile and sparkling eyes just took his breath away. She was in awe of his tanned, weather-beaten face and muscular upper body showing through the thin shirt.

"I believe congratulations are in order, Colonel." said Jack, taking in her insignia. "I hope they're giving you the same hard times that they gave me." Carter just carried on smiling and staring at him. Not a soul present missed the look in their eyes.

"Jack, if you'll join me for debriefing after your medical, we can catch up on everything." said Hammond. "Colonel Carter will join us to discuss Phase Two."

Two hours later, the discussions began in earnest. Hammond expressed his pleasure at Jack's progress in visiting the designated worlds and the quality of the information that he was sending back, but chastised him for the lack of in-depth technical reporting. Sam started to explain the shortfalls in more detail, and Jack's eyes began to glaze over, just like the old days.

"Jack, this is a problem." said Hammond. "Everything else you're doing is great, but we've got to improve the tech assessments. Colonel Carter has made a suggestion for Phase Two that I believe has a lot of merit, and has my backing. Colonel?"

"Thank you, sir." replied Sam. "Jack, we propose to resume your mission after your leave with someone accompanying you full-time who has sufficient technical knowledge to make good the shortfall."

"But won't that be a bit too high-profile for this job?" said Jack. "I mean, the original idea was for me to merge into the communities so I could see them acting naturally. Taking along an SGC geek is going to spoil that approach."

"Your partner would be a real partner, if you see what I mean, Jack." explained Hammond, although Jack just looked confused.

"The *geek* would travel as your wife for the duration, Jack." continued Sam. "Sort of 'Mrs. Jack the Trader', so to speak. If you'll have me, that is." Her eyes bored into his, just as if the Goa'uld force field was between them again.

"What? Is this for real, or are you winding me up?" said Jack, in total astonishment. He looked at the General to see if he was laughing. He was, but in a benign, friendly way. "Carter, is this a proposal? I mean a real one? Or just a mission suggestion?"


"I can see that I'd better let the two of you discuss this in more detail." said General Hammond. Jack sat back in amazement, waiting for, but not getting an answer from Sam, who in turn seemed to be unable to stop grinning at him, while the red flush that had started at her neck travelled up her face to her hair line. "I suggest that you report back to me at 0800 on Thursday. Dismissed." After no-one moved for a while, he repeated more loudly, "Dismissed, Colonel, Jack!"

Jack looked round at him and suddenly and rose to his feet, Sam following his lead. As he was leaving, he stopped and turned back. "General, I assume I have quarters assigned to me on base? Don't forget I have nowhere to live outside any more. I sold my house to pay off my ex-wife's alimony."

"I regret not, Jack." replied Hammond. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, "But I'm sure Colonel Carter can organise something for you."

Moments later, as they entered Carter's office, Jack closed the door behind him and grabbed her arm before she could move round to the other side of the desk. "Carter.. Sam, what's going on? I could have sworn back there that you were proposing something way beyond the call of duty for a mission. Or am I missing the point? I mean, last time I saw you, you were off with a new lover. Won't he object?"

"He was a mistake, Jack, and I'm truly sorry I hurt you. When I heard you'd left, I've never been so upset." said Sam quietly. "And I didn't plan this straight away. I just knew that I wanted to be with you again. The opportunity came up when General Hammond and I recognised that what you've been doing is really great for Earth in every respect except the technology feedback. I realised that I could get what I want and at the same time do something useful."

"What *do* you want, Sam?" asked Jack, sliding his hand down her arm until their fingers met and entwined.

She found herself unable to look him in the eye, but then summoned up the reserves of her courage, and raised her head. "A lot more than just a mission together, Jack. But whether that's going to happen depends on you as well."

In answer, he raised his other hand to stroke her cheek. He leaned forward and lightly pressed his lips to hers, and after a few moments of gentle contact, they drew their arms around each other and the passion deepened. Jack was on fire. Breaking off the kiss, he held her to him tightly. He spoke closely into her ear. "Sam.. Sam, please let this be real. I can't stand the hurt again."

"I won't do that again as long as I live, Jack. Come home with me." She murmured into his neck. They broke apart, and Sam cleared a few documents off her desk and locked up before they left for the surface. When they finally walked out into daylight, the forgotten but still familiar smell of Earth hit Jack, and brought back to him the memories his departure a year ago, when he had been looking forward to the distractions of a leap into the unknown on distant worlds, hoping that the dull ache in his heart would diminish.

The ride back to her house was strange for both of them. As she drove, they kept exchanging glances when they thought the other wasn't looking, but eventually locked eyes together for a moment and smiled. As they entered her front door, Jack was taken with an urge to grab her there and then, but he held back, still uncertain of how she was expecting him to behave, and afraid of doing the wrong thing.

"Er, Sam, we've got to..." He got no further as she turned and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him passionately and pushing him back to the wall. They devoured each other for endless minutes, before starting to pull at the other's clothes, and by a series of movements took their ancient dance of love first to the lounge and then to bed.


By evening the pangs of hunger drew them to the kitchen, where Sam microwaved some ready meals which they took through to the lounge. As they sat eating, occasionally taking a forkful from the other's plate, Jack found a way to start the question that had been building up in his mind since he first realised a few hours before that he could never leave her again.

"You know this is going to be hard for you at first, Sam? I mean, we'll be travelling for much of the time, and on some worlds I'll be forced to treat you like a second-class citizen in public just so's we fit in with the local customs."

"I'm sure I can get payback on one or two planets where the boot's on the other foot!" she replied, laughing. "Just so long as your public behaviour doesn't carry over to our private time."

"I'm serious, Sam." said Jack earnestly. "We're spying on these people, and you're going to have to do a crash course in basic techniques before we even leave Earth."

"Why? It's not as though I haven't been on hundreds of missions with SG-1." she said.

"Not the same." Jack lowered the empty plates to the floor and put his arm round her. She leaned her head against his shoulder. "For a start, you've got to learn ways to look inconspicuous in public - the way you dress, wear make-up, move, position yourself in a room full of people and stuff like that. Right now you just turn every guy's head the minute you walk in anywhere. And don't deny it, I've been watching you for over six years, remember."

"OK, I grant that flattery will get me to agree there!" she laughed. "What else, James?"

"There are the basic techniques of creating messages and reports in ways that don't blow our game in seconds." he continued. "And how to recognise when you're being watched, or who's likely to be suspicious or unpredictable, and a thousand other small things that'll make the difference between success and failure, maybe even life or death. Another thing you'll have to work on is not radiating the fact that you're smarter than most of us. Full training takes years, but we can't do that here. You're gonna have to take a month out before we can leave, or we ain't going. Simple as that. If you want to go with this, I can arrange for you to start tomorrow. They'll give you the basics and I can fill in the rest over time."

"That soon?" she said, surprised by his serious tone. "And what will you be doing?"

"Urgent stuff like selling up the cabin and getting briefed on the next missions. Maybe getting in a little fishing if there's time." Jack squeezed her tight. "There's one biggie, though. We're gonna have to get married on another world, using local vows and their style of ceremony, so that anyone checking up doesn't make a connection with us being Tau'ri."

"Is that a proposal, Jack?" she asked, turning round to look him in the eye.

"Yes, Sam. Just like the one you made in Hammond's office, remember? But mine's not mission-related. I'm talking about life. I've never stopped loving you for the past four years." He paused before continuing. "You don't have to answer straight away."

"Jack, Jack." she sighed. "Of course it's for life. I love you too."


The whirlwind of their lives during the next three weeks gave them only a few days and nights together. Jack travelled to Minnesota and much though he hated to do it, tidied up his cabin, repaired the odd broken item, and put it in the hands of a realtor for sale. His last evening there was spent fishing on the dock - what else? But his thoughts were on the memories of his life, the good and bad times, and his eyes misted over when he realised that this retreat was his last connection with his dead son. He wondered whether he was doing the right thing, and nearly decided to cancel the sale. But a while later, he saw that leaving the cabin to decay in between rare visits would somehow desecrate his memories and his decision was the correct one. Then he thought of the sparkling blue eyes and the adventure that awaited him, and the journey back to Colorado was made in much higher spirits than the outward one.

He did travel off-world for a few days during the second week, but only General Hammond knew the reason. As far as everyone else was concerned, he had to close a deal on the last planet he'd visited. When he returned, he went back to stay in Sam's house, and in her absence made a few repairs and started to prepare the items they'd agreed on for removal and storage when they left Earth in two weeks' time. They managed a flying visit to her brother Mark to tell him of their engagement, and to explain that they would be living and travelling abroad, but would see them every year.

Sam had thought that her career successes in astrophysics and military studies had made her ready for anything that life could throw at her. This comfortable illusion was totally dispelled by the end of her first day of CIA training in the arts of deception and espionage. The instructor had only agreed to continue her course when he found out that she would be permanently accompanying former Colonel J. O'Neill. "You're too nice and too attractive to be considered an agent." he had told her. "And lady, that's not a compliment coming from me. Just take good notice of everything Jack shows and tells you, and you'll stand a chance. He was one of our great successes. Pity the Air Force spirited him away on some secret project: we could have used him."

However, the agent's respect for Sam grew when he saw how determined she was to succeed, and he had seen highly-edited details of her service record. There would be no need to teach her anything about interrogation techniques or withstanding torture and that made the job a whole lot easier. At the end of the third week's training, Sam was dispatched back to Colorado and Jack's arms. A whole new set of his talents had been exposed to her, and she loved him all the more.


Daniel, Jonas and Teal'c were eating and chatting together in the commissary when they saw Jack enter, collect a tray of food, and head in their direction. Jonas pushed aside the empty fourth chair to make room for him. He smiled at them, but to their collective surprise, proceeded to sit down two tables away beside an airwoman they hadn't noticed before. He placed an arm round her shoulders and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before starting to eat. Daniel and Jonas stared in amazement, but Teal'c's face cracked into the thinnest of smiles.

Returning their gaze, Sam said, "Hi guys! Did you miss me?" and burst out laughing. Jack's deadpan face beside her made it seem all the funnier. Daniel just stared at her brown hair and pale face, and found nothing to say, especially when she removed the wig and shook out her blonde locks.

Jonas, on the other hand, started with "Wow, Sam!" and continued with a barrage of questions. He finished with "I'm gonna call you 'Secret Sam' from now on!"

The hours and days were crammed with briefings and preparation for his next and her first tour of duty. Sam was so looking forward to it all - being with Jack, of course, but equally the prospect of doing a really vital job in a field she just loved working in. Just how big a change her life was undergoing suddenly came home to her the day she officially relinquished command of SG-1, and they held a celebration farewell party in the SGC.

It was Daniel who first asked the question, loudly enough so that everybody stopped to listen. "So you two aren't getting married on Earth, then. Where will it be?" Sam suddenly realised that she'd been so preoccupied with everything else during the last few weeks, that she didn't know the answer to that. She looked round at Jack.

"Oh, I've found the perfect location and culture." he replied. "Beautiful setting, nice people, and a ceremony that's such an intense, satisfying spiritual experience that it puts Earth marriages to shame. As to where, well, that's a surprise."

"Ooookay." said Daniel. "When?"

"Day after tomorrow." said Jack nonchalantly, his arm around Sam's waist, anticipating her need for assistance in staying on her feet.


"Jack, it's too soon!" she had protested at first. "I mean, maybe it's the right thing as far as mission dynamics are concerned, but..."

"Sam," interrupted Jack, "do you trust me? Really trust me?"

"Of course, but..."

"Then listen carefully, and know this. What we are about to do is the defining moment of my life. I don't give a damn if the mission ends the day after. This is about us doing what we both want at a time that just happens to be convenient under the circumstances. If you really want to postpone, or you're having second thoughts, then of course we'll cancel. But I want this to happen for no other reason than I love you, and it feels right."

Sam reached forward and held him, having seen the burning depth of his soul in his eyes. "No, it's what I want too." she said quietly. "But what about Dad? We haven't told him yet."

Jack laughed and squeezed her. "Who do you think will be the first person we meet when we go through the gate tomorrow? He'll be at the ceremony too." As she drew back and stared at him, he continued, "Two weeks ago. I took a few days away while you were training to be Mata Hari and told him about us. He didn't seem too surprised, and his snake seemed OK with it as well. He helped me find the contacts for the ceremony on Mythor. I promise you won't be disappointed. Oh, and stop worrying about getting ready in time. You'll have all the help you need tomorrow from some friends I met there. Now quit thinking up obstacles. You OK to rejoin the party?"

"Yes, but promise me Jack, no more surprises? We're in this together, OK?"

"I promise."

Only partly convinced, but knowing deep down that the roller coaster had started moving some time ago, Sam took his arm and they walked back into the room full of their friends and colleagues. The smile that started to cross her face when the congratulations and questions began gradually deepened, until by the end of the evening she looked and felt the radiant, happy centre of attention that every woman deserved to be at a time like this.


Walking on her father's arm, Sam was a mixture of nerves and anticipation as they proceeded up the long, shallow flight of stairs to the Grecian- style white stone temple where Jack was waiting. Maybe it was the occasion, but she had never seen a sight as breathtakingly dramatic as this, with the columns lit softly against a darkening evening sky and rolling wooded hills, and a warm breeze causing wind-chimes to quietly create a background carpet of music. She glanced at her father, who just smiled in return.

Jacob was too emotional to speak. Images of his own and his son's weddings were playing in his mind, where Selmak lay consciously dormant, herself unprepared for the flood of memories and longing running through him. His symbiote had thoughts of her own drawn from several hundred years of existence, but so rarely experienced that she too was overwhelmed. Jacob concentrated on keeping the slow and steady pace that was just one of the finer points of etiquette in Mythoran weddings, which he had only seen and admired twice before.

His daughter looked as though she had been born to this moment, her golden hair and blue eyes highlighted by her plain white sleeveless gown, with its grey belt. And on her right forearm was the fine gold filigree of a Mythoran im'ri, wrapped delicately in intricate patterns from her wrist to her elbow. Jack would be wearing the only matching one in the entire universe, which would in a few moments time bond them for life. He wondered whether Sam's choice yesterday to use it had been based solely on her love for Jack, or whether the inquisitive scientist in her really couldn't resist the experience of having a neural net embedded in her forearm that would enhance their, and only their emotions whenever they were in close proximity to each other. Either way, the unique fine tattoo-like marks that they would carry for life were so much more a sign of commitment than mere wedding rings on Earth.

The long walk steadied their nerves, and Jacob briefly felt sorry for Jack when they found him waiting under the temple panoply. He saw some of the tension drain away as soon as they came into sight, and smiled at him in reassurance. In compliance with the ritual, he took hold of Sam's right hand and offered it to Jack, who took it in his left. Jacob stepped back, while the couple moved forward to stand in the centre of the temple floor on a large mosaic depicting a spiral galaxy, nebulae and stars.

As soon as their eyes met, they couldn't resist smiling at each other. Jack was dressed in a light grey tunic and slacks, and looked everything that Sam could have hoped for. Jacob failed to stop his eyes misting over at the sight of them together. The Mythoran priest moved slowly towards the centre and stopped three metres in front of them. The wind-chimes subsided so that only the breeze passing through the columns and rafters could be heard. "Are you here to follow the sacred ceremony of declaration?" he enquired.

"We are." they said together. Jack took Sam's other hand in his as they faced each other.

"Declare the truth, Jack." said the priest.

Jack hesitated only slightly, but then found his voice. "Samantha, you are the reason for my existence and my world, and I love you dearly. I offer you my life and my soul, for all time."

Turning slightly, the priest continued, "Declare the truth, Samantha."

With tears running down her face and neck, Sam too found her voice and said, "Jack, I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I offer you everything that I have, now and always. I am so in love with you."

"You have chosen the im'ri to enhance your lives." said the priest. "Raise your right hands together." They grasped each other's right hand and lifted them above their heads. A bright yellow light shone down on them from the ceiling, and the delicate gold bands on their forearms sparkled and flashed. Sam held tightly onto Jack's hand as a brief moment of pain spread from her arm throughout her body, and she saw Jack wince as the same happened to him. But then it was over, and they lowered their arms. Glancing down, they saw that the filigree metal had now disappeared from the surface of the skin and had become like fine gold tattoo marks on their arms, the patterns matching exactly.

"The feelings and consciousness given by the im'ri will develop slowly over the next few weeks," explained the priest, "otherwise you would be drowning in each other's spirits. Congratulations, you are now joined as wife and husband." They leaned forward and kissed, and for a brief while nothing existed except the moment and each other.

Jacob could keep away no longer, and embraced them both. They shook hands with the priest and slowly walked out of the temple into their new life.


They had not spent so many nights together in the last month, and the novelty of being a couple was still with them on their wedding night. Jacob had dined with them at the small lakeside inn where they planned to spend a few days, but departed by mid evening. Being Jacob, his last words were to Jack - the usual father's well-meant but unnecessary advice to look after his daughter.

Jack entered their room to find Sam sitting on the bed examining her new golden tattoo. They were both still in their ceremonial clothes. "Is it working yet?" he asked, sitting down beside her and placing his arm alongside hers. "D'ya think we can pick up the local radio station?" He playfully kissed her cheek and ran his hand up and down her thigh. "D'oh! I'm on overload already. Was that good for you, honey?"

Sam laughed and kissed him back. "I couldn't help but remember Anise's armbands, and how they got us into this situation in the first place. If I hadn't got stuck behind the force field, we'd never have had to confess to the Zanax detector."

"Za'tarc." replied Jack, without thinking.

"Fraud!" she shouted.

"Am not."

"Are too!"







The pace of the conversation slowed to a standstill and they stared into each other's eyes. Kissing tenderly at first, but with greater passion as the minutes passed, they fumbled with the other's clothes and gently removed them, showing respect for the ceremonial garments. Unlike their first nights together, this was gentle, and slow, and filled with a lasting desire to please one another. And when the whispered three words were uttered, they had a meaning that seemed so much more than before.

As they lay together side by side, with Jack's arm around her shoulder and hers over his chest, he murmured, "We can have a rededication of vows back on Earth with friends and relatives some time next year, if you want."

"Maybe." she replied. "But I see what you meant now by this ceremony putting Earth marriages into the shade. Just having to think about the whole truth of why we want to be together, and hearing you say it, was the best moment of my life."

"Me too."

After a long silence, she asked sleepily, "Where are we going first? I can't remember."

"Doohickey heaven." he replied. "Agricultural show on Tau Ceti 4."

"Technology at an agricultural show?" she asked, raising her head to look at him.

"Wait and see. You'll like selling off our stand there. It's next to the Goa'uld Pavilion."


"Remember," said Jack just before the Tau Ceti Agricultural Show opened, "we're proud to be traders but we're sufficiently cowed by their presence so's they feel like they've got the upper hand in doing business with us. Just you watch them go for this crap. I couldn't believe it last year when the Goa'uld actually started handing over good money for photographs of famous symbiotes. And they get quite talkative if you ask them who their favourites are."

"Yes, I remember your report." said Sam. "Quite a few names from history we'd never suspected of being Goa'uld before."

The two of them had worked hard for the last two days after travelling from their short honeymoon on Mythor to Tau Ceti 4, where Jack had collected supplies he'd stored after his first trip and they set up their stall in the showground. "Metal polish?" Sam had exclaimed in surprise when she unloaded box after box.

"Yup!" said Jack. "Supply and demand. Just what your average promotion- seeking Jaffa goes for. Buffs up the ol' body armour a treat. Catches the eye of passing lords and despots. Hey! D'ya think we should sell sunglasses as well?" They had carried on stocking up with all manner of Tau Ceti trivia, and Jack had just laughed when Sam said that they should display a price list. "No way! Just keep pricing up things that sell well and reducing those that don't. We'll clear most of it by the last day, just you see."

"You've really been enjoying yourself, haven't you?" asked Sam, not a little apprehensive of the fact that she'd never done anything remotely like this before.

"Not half as much as I'm gonna with you here." replied Jack. As he slung his arm carelessly around her shoulder, both felt a brief warm feeling pass through, and automatically glanced at the gold tattoos on their forearms. "Hey!" he continued, "d'ya think..?"

"Probably." Sam said. "The induction time for neural enhancement to begin.." She got no further as he placed his hand over her mouth, and she grinned back at him. "OK, OK, enjoy the mystery, no scientific explanations until we're totally helpless around each other."

"Attagirl!" Jack responded. "I'll give you plenty of time to go round the show. Watch out for the kids' toys and trinkets. You'll be surprised how much high-tech electronics and engineering gets used in those after the initial secrecy has worn off. And it'll be easy to send examples back home for analysis."

And so Sam was introduced to the ways of haggling and cajoling money out of visitors of many races, quite a few of whom fell to her determination to not let them walk away without 'just a little souvenir of the show.' Her heart had been in her mouth during the first few conversations with Goa'uld and Jaffa, but following Jack's lead, she realised after a while that they were just not viewed as being anything other than Mythoran traders, of no particular threat to anyone. It was amazing how people's perceptions changed in different circumstances. She quickly learned to be subservient to the haughty and boastful Goa'uld, but quite cheeky and pushy with the Jaffa soldiers, whose come-on lines seemed to be similar to those of men on many worlds as well as Earth. Jack had of course wanted to be protective at first, but quickly realised that Sam was quite capable of delivering one- line put-downs and hand-offs all by herself. And when a group of slightly drunken women from Kindana, a female-dominated world, had surrounded Jack and offered to give him 'a good time to remember', her coarse language in seeing them off had brought laughter to the small crowd at their stand. "Talk dirty to me tonight?" he whispered as the women left, and she had the grace to blush.

On the final day, as they packed away their few unsold goods and she carefully wrapped up the miniature electronic marvels and technical brochures to send home, Jack asked her how she had enjoyed the experience.

"I just love it!" she said. "If we continue at this rate, we could potentially outstrip the combined tech findings of several SG teams. How did your political assessment go?"

"They welcome everyone here." said Jack. "There's no way they'd ever align themselves with us or anyone. Pretty easy pickings for getting any goods or services you want. I don't think they care about whether the recipients are advanced or undeveloped civilisations. Money counts here, not much else."

As she lay asleep next to Jack that night, dog-tired after the whole experience of her first 'mission', he felt the strange sensation of her deep contentment flowing through his consciousness. Truly, a bare five weeks after returning to Earth, his life and future prospects were incomparably better.


Janet Fraiser was reading the fifth report received from Sam and Jack. 'My God, they're rubbing off on each other.' she thought, seeing the increasingly casual style of Sam's technology summary and his more structured and incisive eco-political one.

It had been eight months since their departure, and General Hammond noted with a great deal of satisfaction that their substantial contribution to Earth's ability to detect and withstand alien threats was helping his limited budget go so much further. He should have realised, though, that his summaries to the Chiefs of Staff would inevitably attract the attention of the security agencies and their political cohorts. As was later discovered, spying on alien activities was a two-way process and not a game at all.


The guards at the Alpha site Stargate were on full alert, the incoming wormhole having initiated unexpectedly. Daniel Jackson and Teal'c were standing back, watching the Marines adopt a defensive ring around the gate. To everyone's surprise, Jack staggered through the Event Horizon carrying the unconscious form of Sam, before collapsing to the ground. Teal'c beat everyone to their prone bodies, shouting to the guard to hold fire as he sprinted through.

"Medical emergency!" he shouted, moving Sam's body off Jack as he lay awkwardly beneath her. Both were extensively cut and bruised around their heads and bodies, and Jack was having difficulties breathing steadily.

"Teal'c, ol' buddy." rasped Jack. "Look after Sam. Don't mind.." But he got no further before passing out.

They awoke more or less at the same time in adjacent beds in the SGC infirmary, sensing each other's presence before looking round. Jack realised that they were discovering the downside of their enhanced bonding, each unable to shut out the other's sensations of pain and anguish. With an enormous effort of will, he used his experience of previous capture and torture to still his thoughts and concentrate on something, anything pleasant and soothing. To his relief he saw Sam relax slightly as he did so.

Janet Fraiser appeared and hovered over Sam, checking her IV lines before turning to Jack's bed. General Hammond joined them moments later.

"Well, I've seen you both in worse condition before, but it's been a while. Aren't you supposed to be avoiding combat these days?" she said.

"Colonel Carter, Jack." said Hammond. "Are you up to telling us what happened?"

"Is Sam gonna be OK?" asked Jack, glancing between Janet and his wife's bed, relaxing slightly at the doctor's brief nod. "I wish we knew what happened, General." he continued. "We gated to the planet as planned, and almost before we'd exited the wormhole, a bunch of uniformed goons jumped us and just started to kick the crap out of us. The last thing I heard was some officer raving about this was how they deal with spies and troublemakers, before they dialled out and made it clear if we didn't get out ourselves straight away, they'd kill us on the spot. I managed to pick Sam up and I gated from wherever they'd dialled us to the Alpha Site. You know the rest."

"Who knew you were going to that planet?" asked Hammond.

"No-one off world." replied Jack. "Apart from never talking about the mission in public or where we could be bugged, traders don't let on where they do their business next. It's too damn competitive."

"I see." said Hammond. "Then in all probability we have a security problem either in the SGC or in Washington." Turning to Janet, he asked, "Doctor, let me know their condition and progress. We'll talk later." After briefly squeezing Sam's hand in a fatherly gesture, he left quickly.

Jack tried to sit up and would have walked over to Sam's bed, but was prevented by the doctor and a nurse. "Jack, I know you're anxious, but just leave it for a few hours, OK?" said Janet. "You're both pretty beaten up, and you probably have a cracked rib. But other than that, it looks worse than it really is. I'll talk to you both later when the sedative's let you rest a little."


"Well, folks, I've got bad news, good news and very good news." said Janet some hours later. Sam and Jack's beds had been moved closer together to see whether their alien bond would assist their recovery, and it seemed to be helping Sam a lot. She was now sitting up, reclining against the pillows, but he was still prone.

"I can guess the bad." said Sam. "We're stuck here for a few days, yes? And it isn't going to stop hurting for a while?"

"Got it!" replied Janet. "Sam, you've nothing but cuts and bruises, but Jack seems to have been worked over by those people more thoroughly." Looking at him, she continued, "You've got two cracked ribs and it's taken a while to stop your internal bleeding. You'll be uncomfortable but OK in due time."

"And the good news?" asked Sam.

"You're outta here by the weekend if you behave yourselves in the meantime and take it easy for a week or so afterwards. But you're gonna love the best bit."

"Which is?" said Sam.

"Your baby's fine, Sam. No bruising in the lower abdomen, and all signs normal."

"What?" they cried together. Jack tried to sit up but only succeeded in gasping in agony and lay down again. Sam couldn't help but look down and quickly placed both hands across her stomach, looking up again at Jack when she felt a surge of pure joy emanating from him. It helped to lessen her shock and within moments was reinforced by her own ecstasy. She reached across and took his extended hand in hers, and they grinned stupidly at each other.

"You did know about this, didn't you?" asked Janet in surprise. "You're about ten weeks along." She could see from the changing facial expressions that ranged between tears and laughter that this was an event for them like no other, and she suddenly wished that she had someone to bond with in the same way that they seemed to be filling each other's lives.


General Hammond's report to the Pentagon two days later had been brief and succinct. 'Operation M2 is cancelled forthwith. Col. O'Neill (ret'd.) suffered a relapse after the beatings he received on P2H 442 and died of his injuries at the SGC. Lt. Col. Carter, who had just discovered she was pregnant by him, consequently suffered a nervous breakdown and will be retired from the Air Force on medical grounds.' The report continued with details in the annex.

The General dropped the folder containing the report back onto his desk, and looked at the couple sitting opposite. The clock on the wall ticked on to 02:44.

"Remind me how I died again?" asked Jack, looking across at him.

"Heart attack, massive internal bleeding or an aneurism." replied Hammond. "Each cause has gone into the three different versions of the report. We're pretty sure the agent working for the Goa'uld has one of their subspace transmitters hidden away. Whichever version of the message is picked up by the Asgard ship in orbit should pinpoint which department is harbouring the spy. It should be easier to apprehend or subvert the individual after that."

Hammond glanced across at Sam, who was sitting beside Jack and looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Sam, are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?" he asked.

"Yes, sir." she replied. "We're not as close as some families, and I don't like the idea of lying to my brother, but I know that he and his family will be at risk if I'm not seen to make a clean break with the Air Force and the SGC. It's not so much telling him that I'm a widow, it's going to be hard never being able to visit anyone on Earth with Jack again. But I want to carry on with what we're doing. That has its personal and professional rewards."

"Very well." said Hammond. "It's time to get going, then. The Asgard transporter will activate in five minutes time. Take things steady, Jack, we can't take you back into the infirmary. Are you sure you'll cope in your house on Mythor for the next few days?" Jack nodded in confirmation. "Say your goodbyes here, the cameras are already off in this office." He rose and left the room.

Unable to hug each other because of their injuries, Sam and Jack clasped their right forearms together in the way they were becoming used to. It had taken them five months to get used to the increasing effects of the im'ri bonding, and they were only just learning how to limit the occasional extremes of love and fear. She felt the sudden surge of affection and reassurance that was emanating from him, and in turn filled him with her longing for them to be together again, and the immense satisfaction of carrying the new life within her.

"You're quite sure you want to carry on with the mission?" asked Jack. "I mean, we can always..."

"Stop it, Jack." she replied. "I'm not made of glass, and I can't think that we've many other options open to us. I really do love the work, and if we're making our own itineraries in future, the chances of a repeat ambush are pretty small. There's thousands of planets to travel to, after all."

"Yeah, I guess." sighed Jack. He leaned forward slightly and gently kissed her. "How about Jonathan?"


"Name of our son."

"No chance."


"Get lost."


"He was a Goa'uld."


"So's he."