Setting: Season 8, before "Threads"

Pairing: S/J UST a lil' bit.

Rating: G/PG (Very mild language)

Summary: I was strangely and pleasantly surprised at how flirty Jack and Sam have become in Season 8, and I also noticed that Sam isn't wearing her engagement ring. So this thing just 'popped right into my frond.' I have to say, I am particularly proud of dear old Daniel in this one.

Rings and Things

It had taken her two weeks and her two remaining team members being kidnapped and framed for murder for her to say 'yes' to Pete. Another week to take the ring out of the box and put it on experimentally, and that had been in response to Daniel asking her why she wasn't wearing it.

Damn Daniel. He'd asked her in that 'I already know the answer you're trying to deny' tone of his that had only gotten worse after he had ascended.

She'd put it on and spent the next six hours cursing as she accidentally banged it against every surface she came into contact with.

Including General O'Neill.

He'd been standing just a little too close, as he usually did. She had been a little bit too excited about the device she was trying to explain to him, as she always was.

Then, in one of the most awkward and embarrassing moments of her life, she'd gestured with both hands and the ring had caught the SGC patch on his sleeve and ripped it right off. They both just stood there, staring at the offending ring, Sam desperately trying to think of something to say.

"Sorry," she had finally managed, her eyes conveying that she wasn't just talking about the ring.

He pretended not to notice, swallowed hard, and put on a smile he didn't feel at all. "Well, good thing I didn't opt for the short sleeves like Hammond or I'd probably be needing stitches right about now," he finally said.

She laughed because she was grateful he was trying to clear the tension, and as soon as she was dismissed from his office, she hurried back to her lab and stuck the ring back in its box.

The next time Daniel asked why she wasn't wearing the ring, they were off-world. She told him she didn't want it getting in the way while she was trying to shoot. Not that that made any sense at all. Their were plenty of people on other SG units that wore wedding rings all the time, both men and women. Daniel hadn't bought it, but he hadn't pushed the issue. He was doing that really annoying thing he sometimes did where he just pointed out something seemingly harmless and waited patiently for your own mind to fill in the rest.

It was damn annoying, and she was in charge of SG1 now! He should have more respect for her than that. She had got up angrily to do a completely unnecessary patrol and told Teal'c to make sure Daniel didn't manage to get himself hurt while she was gone, hoping she had hurt his feelings as she stalked away.

From not wearing the ring off-world, it was easy to stop wearing it in her lab as well. At first she told herself she wasn't used to its presence and that many of the devices she worked on were very small, very intricate, and very delicate. She couldn't afford to let it get in the way.

"Sam, where's your ring?" Daniel asked casually yet again.

"Can't wear it in the lab. It's loose. Gets in the way."

That was true, the ring was continually slipping around towards her pinky finger.

"You should get it sized down. You're going to be wearing it forever, you know," he said innocently.

"Thanks for the advice," she replied through her teeth. "Get back to work."

Even though she was in charge of SG1 now, she rarely flat-out ordered him to do anything when they weren't in the field. That was General O'Neill's style, not hers.

"Sure. Hey, if you take it to the jeweler, that's another ready-made excuse for not wearing it," Daniel tossed over his shoulder as he left her alone in her lab.

She fumed at him for thirty minutes, wondering if it would be too childish to order him to stop asking her about it. Not that he would listen anyway.

From not wearing it in the lab, she easily convinced herself it made sense to stop wearing it on base all together. For one thing, it was ridiculous to be taking it on and off all the time. Plus, it was really out of respect for the General as well. He was being so great about the whole Pete situation. He had left her completely alone, letting her live her own life however she chose, unlike some linguists and Jaffa warriors she wouldn't bother to name.

But she knew the idea of Pete disturbed him, so why should she walk around with the (still too big) ring on all the time when she could just as easily leave it in the box that was now not only sitting on her desk, but shoved behind her left speaker as well? She almost successfully convinced herself that reason was true.

The next time Daniel asked about the ring, she lied and told him she'd taken his advice and it was at the jeweler being sized down. Then she'd taken it home with her so he wouldn't spot the box in her office and know she'd lied. She really had meant to take it to the jeweler, of course, but she was... busy.

So busy, apparently, that she slipped up when Pete was visiting for the weekend and forgot to put it back on before he got there. Pete wasn't happy about it but he didn't let on. She didn't offer an explanation or apology and he didn't ask for one.

This time, when Daniel asked her why she wasn't wearing her ring, she shook her head quietly and said, "I don't know."

She meant it as an invitation to go ahead, let her have it. Daniel recognized this and took it, gratefully. "Sam, we all love you and want you to be happy, you know that," he started carefully, sounding as though he'd rehearsed this a lot. Which he probably had. She'd been surprised at how long he'd held back his opinion of Pete, and suspected General O'Neill had something to do with it.

"Pete's not good enough for you. That's lame, I know. Nobody will ever be good enough for you to us. But he's not making you happy. Why did you say yes to him after two weeks of putting him off? Because he helped save me and clear Teal'c? He's a cop, Sam, he was doing his job. You don't owe him anything for that. Or did you maybe say yes just because he asked, and it was easier than saying no? Are you just still with him because he hasn't ended up dead yet and you don't care enough one way or the other to break up with him? Or has this whole thing just been a way to get Jack's attention? Agreeing to marry someone else in the hope that it would dare him into asking you not to?"

He waited quietly for a minute before putting a comforting hand between her shoulder blades. He had sounded meaner than he liked to, but she knew why he had done it. She'd asked herself all those questions at one point or another but always dismissed them and focused her attention elsewhere as quickly as possible.

"Sam, I think it's time to stop pushing all this stuff aside till later and really think about it. Figure out what you really want, and stop intentionally treating Pete like crap hoping he'll get fed up and break up with you."

She sighed and leaned into him slightly. He slipped his arm around her and kissed the side of her head. "I won't attack you like this again but if you want to talk later, you know where to find me."

"Thanks, Daniel."

He nodded and left her alone in her office. She took a deep breath. He was right. She did need to seriously think about all of that stuff, and soon. But she still had a report to hand in to the General at seven the next morning, and she was way, way behind. She had quickly realized why he hated paperwork so much when she assumed command of SG1. The sheer volume made her want to scream.

Three hours and a sharp cramp in her neck later and she was interrupted again, but this time it was a welcome distraction.

"Well, well, look who's still here. Why am I not surprised?" General O'Neill asked in a loud and cheerful voice as he let himself into her lab. She smiled at him from behind her computer, grateful for the interruption.

"You're still here too, sir," she pointed out.

"Yes, I am. But I have eight teams off world and they all have various check-ins during the night. What's your excuse?"

"My boss wants this report really early in the morning," she said lightly.

"The handsome guy? Tall, grayish hair?"

"Gray-ish?" she countered, looking at his hair pointedly.

He narrowed his eyes at her, his only acknowledgment of the comment, and said, "Don't worry about the report, Carter, go get some sleep."

"Sir, I shouldn't have put it off this late, it's my own fault."

"Maybe. But I'll let you in on a little secret. The SGC will survive if you hand that into me late," he said, challenging her to say what she was thinking with the twinkle in his eyes. To point out, once again, that she didn't want special treatment.

They had fallen into this new, slightly altered relationship much more easily than she had thought they would upon their promotions. She had to admit, she had been worried. So far, the only thing strange to her was what she was supposed to call him.

She'd been Captain Carter first, then Major Carter, so most of the time, he just called her Carter, which was fine. Truth be told, she really, really liked it. So she was still Carter. But he had always been Colonel O'Neill. The Colonel. Colonel. It was how she thought of him in her head, and she still did. She couldn't help it.

When someone addressed her as 'Colonel,' she looked around for him automatically, even when they were off-world and he wasn't even there. And she couldn't just call him 'General,' because that reminded her of General Hammond. So he was still 'General O'Neill' every time she spoke.

She had loved saying it at first, because she was very proud of the fact that he was now in charge of the entire SGC, even though it wouldn't have been appropriate to tell him so. Now, after the newness of the title had started to wear off, she was just left feeling painfully formal every time she said it. Ironically, despite the more formal titles that now existed between them, lately they had fallen into a very casual, light, teasing way of speaking to each other.

"Oooo-kay!" he said loudly, clapping his hands together. She gave a little jump and smiled apologetically, realizing she had just been staring vacantly in his general direction while her mind wandered.

"Sorry."

"Yeah, when people start spacing out right in front of me like that I... well, okay I realize how Daniel must feel most of the time, but I also know they're way overdue for some sleep."

She laughed at the comment about Daniel and saved her report. "I'm not that tired, sir," she lied, because he expected her to protest. She was exhausted, mentally and physically, but that was rapidly becoming her permanent state of being, so she wasn't about to stop working just because she was tired.

"All right, Carter, you're not tired, let's just play a little game then," he said with a smile, leaning against her desk and crossing his arms.

"With the security cameras on and everything, sir?" she countered easily.

"Sorry to disappoint you, but that wasn't the type of game I had in mind."

"What sort of game did you have in mind then, sir?"

"I Spy," he said. "And hey, I'll start. I spy a star."

She rolled her eyes. She'd walked right into that one.

"You see it, Carter?"

"Yes, sir, I see it."

"Where is it?" he asked patiently.

"On your uniform."

"Very good. So what does that mean?"

"You get to be as sarcastic as you want and the people under you can't hit you for it?" she guessed with a big grin.

Chuckling, he shook his head and said, "Nope. Okay, yes, it does mean that. But it also means I can order you to get out of your office and go to bed. Better yet, go home."

"I don't want to go home, sir," she said quickly. Too quickly. He'd pick up on it and make her confess to the fact that Pete was there this week. Yeah, okay, she was hiding out on the base, but she really did have a lot to do, and he just didn't understand that. He wouldn't let her work at all when she was at home, and that was unacceptable. It was much easier to just remain on the base than have an argument with him about it though. "I mean," she added quickly. "I think I'm too tired to drive home safely, so I'd better stay here."

He gave her that deeply penetrating and intuitive look that never failed to catch her off-guard, as he was always trying to appear like he never paid close attention to things. She knew he had figured out why she was so insistent on staying on base, but to her grateful surprise, he didn't bring it up. Just nodded and said, "All right, good idea. Wouldn't want you falling asleep driving, after all. So, off you go."

He made a shooing motion with his hands and she shook her head and started saving the information on her computer. "I'm almost finished with this section, sir."

"Hey! Stars, remember!"

"Five more minutes," she pleaded.

"Five more... Carter, were you this much trouble when you were a kid and your parents were trying to get you to go to bed, because if you were, I have a newfound respect for Jacob and I am going to put him up for a whole bunch of new medals for patience and perseverance."

"You'd have to ask my father about that, sir, but I fail to see the relevance. You're going to be up most of the night, so it's not really fair for you to order me to go to bed," she pointed out.

"You know, Carter, your impression of a brick wall is getting remarkably better as the years go by," he said, sounding thoroughly exasperated. "It doesn't have to be fair, I'm telling you to... hey, you know what? Forget this. I'm done talking. I'm going to try something else."

She barely had time to register her shock as she was dumped unceremoniously over his shoulder. Great, she thought as the blood rushed to her head and he headed towards the door with his arms pinning her legs securely. Her ass was sticking straight up in the air for all the world, and all of the security guards on duty that night, to see.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!" she yelped.

"That's what the hell do you think you're doing, sir," he reminded her lightly as he nodded at a passing airman, who was making a valiant effort not to acknowledge the fact that the leader of the base had his 2IC thrown over his shoulder. "And this is just a little something I picked up from Daniel from his little Prometheus vacation with the crazy alien chick. Ach! Be still!"

She stopped squirming and looked around hopefully. He had stopped. It wasn't to put her down though, merely to swipe his keycard for the elevator.

"Don't you think you've made your point now, sir?" she asked pointedly as he stepped on the elevator and greeted the guard on duty there with a casual nod.

"Nope. As we established earlier - you're a little bit hardheaded, Colonel."

"Wonder where I learned that from, sir," she said sarcastically.

Even two or three years ago, maybe even less than that, she would have been completely mortified at the situation. Now, she had to admit, it was kind of funny. Plus, hey, she just noticed that her strange position gave her quite a good view of General O'Neill's ass.

As she stepped off the elevator he jostled her deliberately. She dug her elbow into his back in retaliation. He yelped and warned, "I would be very careful if I were you, Carter, you're in a much more dangerous position than I am at the moment."

"At the moment, you are correct, sir, but if you think I'm not going to find a way to get back at you for..."

"Colonel Carter, are you threatening your Commanding Officer?" he asked, sounding scandalized.

"I would never do that, sir. And I would also never, say, dismantle the engine of your truck just before your next fishing trip, leaving you stuck here during your vacation. Or anything like that. Sir."

"Well, Carter, if you're that desperate to keep me here, you could try asking me to stay, no need to dismantle my vehicle. Or you could always come with..."

"Aw, and I thought you knew me well enough to realize I wouldn't find staring at a cork in a lake completely devoid of fish as interesting as you do."

"It's not supposed to be interesting, it's supposed to be relaxing!" he said defensively. Pushing the fishing button was always the quickest way to get him.

"Isn't this bad for your knees?" she asked innocently. Ha, double whammy. Mock the fish-free lake and his knees.

She was expecting a comeback but he didn't say anything, just reached into her pocket.

"What are you doing!" she demanded as he withdrew his hand.

"Getting your keycard," he replied innocently, unlocking the door to her quarters. "Sorry, Carter, I've got a scheduled contact in a few minutes, I don't have time for anything else," he added suggestively. Watching Star Wars over and over with Teal'c had finally paid off!

The irritated noise that escaped her mouth was much more girly than she would have liked, and for the life of her she couldn't think of a decent comeback to their verbal...

She froze, her eyes widening in a sudden rush of understanding. It was probably the first time anybody had ever had an epiphany while hanging upside down over someone's shoulder.

Was it possible... no way. It couldn't be. Okay, she was crap at relationships. That was a given. And yes, the strange tension and uncertainty, the cycles of seemingly impossible-to-deny attraction and then apparently total indifference had always been maddening, but this was... ridiculous, right? He set her down and laughed at the way her hair was sticking up.

"Nice 'do, Carter. Kinda reminds me of that little Nox boy that liked you so much."

Sorry, can't really respond right now, having a revelation... or possibly an aneurysm, she thought.

He smiled fondly at her, ruffled her hair even more, and said, "Get some sleep."

He turned and began walking down the hallway in a rather bouncy way. "Good night, sir!" she called after him, closing the door slowly. She turned around and rested her head against the back of the door.

Everything Daniel had said had sort of made sense but it wasn't... everything. She shook her head. It just couldn't be true. It was so ridiculous... but if it were true it had worked and actually been kind of ingenious. The perfect cover... nobody would care, nobody would place secret bets about the two of them if she was engaged to another man... no. It just wasn't possible. Surely, surely, she hadn't agreed to marry Pete so she'd have an airtight alibi to flirt with her CO... right?

The end.

A/N: (VAGUE SPOILER BELOW FOR 'THREADS,' DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO BE COMPLETELY SURPRISED BY THAT EPISODE)

I wrote this before 'Threads' aired but I intended it to be a longer story with chapters, possibly an alternate reality of sorts if the series headed in a direction I couldn't live with. So I didn't post it, because I like to have my stories at least halfway done before I begin posting so that I can update them more frequently, which I think people like. However, I decided after seeing that episode that it would be perfectly all right to just have this take place sometime before it and leave it at that.