Thanks to my betas, Monica and Jess, and the support of all the lovely people in my S-D Yahoo groups.
Sam was focused on trying to decide if she wanted to wear the new bright red dress with the long sleeves or fall back on the little black number with deep v-neck that her date was particularly fond of and really didn't notice who else was in the cafeteria as she entered and started down the food line. However, as she stood with her tray waiting to pay, she noticed Daniel literally backed into the corner and fending off four women. They were all sitting at a table at the back of the room, their apparent ringleader, Dr. Carolyn Lam reinforced by her colleague Dr. Bailey DeBarr, and the scientists, Dr. Liz MacDuff and Lina Ragen. Daniel was at the back of the table, his head down, and the four women were all leaning toward him. It looked like they were tag teaming him. He really did resemble a fox in a trap a little. He wasn't looking up so she couldn't make eye contact and she had to content herself with sending encouraging thoughts his way as she waited impatiently to pay.
At last she was able to head over to the table. She was mystified as to what was going on. If it had been just Carolyn and Bailey, she would have been willing to bet they were taking him to task about not taking better care of himself. She knew he didn't take the allergy shots he was supposed to have on a regular basis and, if he got sick and something was prescribed, he ignored half of the treatment regimen if it got in the way of work. Throwing the other two women into the mix, both of whom had worked with him at one point or another and become his good friend by the end of the project, just confused her.
As she approached the table, she heard Carolyn say, "Daniel, I know you think we're nosy busybodies." Daniel's mouth twitched in a way that signaled to Sam that this was exactly what he thought, but she knew he was too sweet to say it. Carolyn continued. "It just time for you to move on."
For an incredulous moment, Sam thought, "Are they telling he needs to get out of the SGC?"
While she was still aghast at that thought, Daniel said, still not looking up, "Trust me. I still miss Sha're, but I moved on a long time ago."
Bailey said, "We know that. That's not what Carolyn is talking about."
Daniel looked up for the first time. His expression was completely befuddled. "You've lost me."
Bailey put a hand on his sleeve and said, "We know how you felt about Janet. You certainly led me to believe that yourself after she died."
"You think I had a thing with Janet Frazier?" Daniel noticed Sam for the first time. He bit his lip. It seemed to embarrass him a little that she had heard that question. "I never said it in so many words did I?" Daniel asked. A sheepish expression came over his face. "Look, you seemed to think that was what was going on when you tried to fix me up with someone, I think she was some cousin of yours who's a physical anthropologist. I just didn't correct you. I wanted to avoid THIS," he finished sweeping his hand around the circle of women.
"Oh really," Bailey said. She sounded a little put out. "I'm not sure I believe you."
Sam put her tray down and people nodded toward her, their focus on Bailey and Daniel. Sam said, "Bailey, give the man a break. If he says he wasn't carrying a torch for Janet, he wasn't carrying a torch for Janet."
Carolyn attacked from a new direction. "Daniel, there's a lot of stress in your job. You need to go out and have some fun. We're just trying to help."
Daniel was starting to get annoyed, or maybe simply starting to let the annoyance that must have already built up show. "I'm not a charity project, Carolyn." His tone was a little sharp. Sam thought to herself how completely different this whole scenario would be if it were the guy she would be seeing tonight who was sitting there, not Daniel. No one looking at that babe magnet in the tight leather pants he frequently wore, the cocky expression on his face, would ever assume he needed help in the date department. She frequently had to practically beat other women off him. They'd be sitting at the bar, talking over a drink, and some woman would walk up, stand between them, and drape herself all over him as if she wasn't even there.
The women all seemed to sense that they had pushed things too far. Carolyn said, "I guess we owe you an apology. It's just that we think you're fantastic and if we weren't all in relationships ourselves, we'd be going after you. I'm sure Sam feels the same way, I mean if she wasn't, you know."
They all got very knowing expressions on their face. Sam was sure every one of them thought she was finally having an affair with Jack or too busy pining for him to be with anybody else. It actually irritated the hell out of her. You moon around over some guy for a few years and long after you're over him, it's like he's got a brand on you or something.
Some evil genius prompted her to say, "Daniel is actually seeing somebody not too shabby."
He shot her a surprised look. Liz said, "Oh really? You got to tell us who. Is it anybody we know?"
Daniel said, "Nobody really knows her. I don't think she knows herself."
Sam thought, "Oh boy. He did not appreciate me sharing that. Things are going to be a little frostier than I hoped."
"Tell us something about her. You can't leave us dangling here," Lina pleaded.
Daniel smiled at Lina. She had actually had relatively little to say in the verbal onslaught he had just endured and she seemed to bring out some protective instinct in Daniel that had always made Sam just a tiny bit jealous. Predictably he softened to her plea. "She's pretty much out of this world, most of the time anyway," he said. "Very sexy lady. You know the type. Every man in the room is sitting there wondering what you have that they don't have that you ended up with her."
Sam grinned to herself. She loved the description. "So," she asked, "are we going to get a chance to meet her?" This earned her another look, but he had decided to be amused by her part in the whole exchange and her fears for the loss of fun and games in the near future lessened considerably.
He looked at her challengingly. "I guess when you're ready to introduce everyone to the guy you've been seeing."
Liz blurted out, "But we know-" and cut off short. Sam was pretty sure Bailey had probably stepped on her foot.
"You've been holding out on us, Sam," Carolyn said, laughing. "Just who is this mystery man?"
"He's incredibly hot and makes his living as an investigator." Daniel smirked a little at her words.
"Okay then. It's a deal," Bailey announced. "You're bringing the sexy lady, Daniel, and Sam's bringing the hot investigator to the Christmas party at my house tomorrow night." She stood up and announced, "My work here is done," dusted her hands together and walked away.
Daniel said, "I don't remember signing on the dotted line."
"Me neither," Sam said.
Lina and Liz got up hurriedly, evidently thinking it safer to leave the combat zone. Carolyn had started laughing again. "Let's just say you now have the bulldog of the infirmary on your heels. She won't let go of this."
Sam leaned forward and said, "Here's a challenge for you, Miss Yenta. You and Mitchell come out of the closet and show up at this thing together. If you agree to that, I'll talk to my guy and try to convince him it's time for us to go public."
Carolyn sobered up fast. "I never said I was seeing Colonel Mitchell."
"If I do happen to be dating a certain biscuit loving hunk of southern love, I promise I'll talk to him about it if you'll talk to your mystery guy and you, Daniel, will talk to your lady."
Daniel was sitting there, visibly stunned by the last few minutes of conversation. Sam simply nodded and Carolyn got up and left. When they were completely alone, Sam said to Daniel, "Technically, I have talked with him about it and met the bargain with Carolyn BUT"
He leaned closer to her. "Are you really ready to stop this crazy fantasy relationship we've had all these years and come out in the open? Can you be with me as who you really are instead of the airhead sexpot Mandy you pretend to be when you go out for safe flirting as an escape from yourself?"
"Me? Do I have the guts? What about this DJ guy you've been playing at being to chat up women in bars since before you discovered me being Mandy? DJ the private investigator with the earring, the stud muffin clothes, the swagger, and no glasses in sight?" she hissed back at him.
They stared at each other. He nodded slowly to himself really. "It had to come to this some day. Either we take this into our real lives, to hell with the consequences for our membership on SG-1, or we stop meeting and flirting and pretending we're kissing someone else."
She felt like a huge pit had opened in front of her. She really hadn't intended for this to go this far. All these years, do often the zest in her life, the unexplained spring in her step, had come from pretending to be this sexy, desirable woman who didn't have to worry about saving the planet and playing her off a tough, sexy private eye who didn't make a habit of dying and being resurrected.
"We'd have to tone Mandy and DJ down a little for Bailey's party."
"That's your biggest problem here," he said, a Jack-like trace of sarcasm tingeing his tone.
"I was just thinking, that's all. Look, I don't know. This is kind of scary. I have to think about it. Maybe, it would be wise if Mandy and DJ didn't meet tonight."
"I tell you what. Tomorrow night, if this seems like a good idea, DJ will park a block a way from Bailey's, you know right there at the intersection with Cliffwood, at 8:00. If Mandy decides she wants to come, she can show up. Either one of them gets cold feet, no one else is the wiser."
Sam stood up. Her tray was full of uneaten food, but she had lost her appetite. "Okay. It's a deal."
Somehow, she got her tray to the conveyer belt and herself back to her office, but that was the last effective thing she did all day. Saturday, she went through Mandy's things, sifting dresses and shoes and accessories until she came up with something that was way out there for Sam, but reasonably tame for Mandy. She sat and stared at it all then, not putting any of it on. The time ticked down. It was getting too close to the rendezvous. She'd never get the makeup, the hair, the nail polish, and the clothes on in time if she didn't start soon.
She decided that the smart thing to do was to go ahead and get ready. That way she kept her options open. Her hands were shaking and she had to apply her lipstick twice, but five minutes before the last possible minute she could leave she was ready. Now she stared at her car keys. She made a similar decision. She would drive over there and stop short of the rendezvous point. She was sure she wouldn't go the last block, but she wanted to keep the possibility alive until the last moment.
On the drive over there, she kept imagining what it would be like to walk into that party with DJ. Would people be laughing at them? Would people be busy speculating on which one of them was going to get bounced from SG-1? She left the car running and, despite a good car heater, found that she was shivering. Up ahead she saw a car pull up and stop at the intersection with Cliffwood. It had to be DJ, didn't it? How could she hurt him like this? If he really was sitting there and she didn't show up, what would that do to him? It dawned on her that there wasn't anyone whose feelings mattered more to her in the entire universe. To hell with it. She put the car in gear and cruised up the block, pulling up behind the other idling car.
Then she just sat, frozen. The car door opened ahead and the driver walked back to her. It really was DJ! She put her window down and he leaned in and kissed her, his expertise in that department as evident as ever. "I can do this if you can," he said softly.
"Get in," she said. "We ought to arrive together. We're arriving together at everything from now on." He went around and got in. "Right?" she asked, challenge in her tone.
"Right," he said. "Together forever."
Sam stopped the car in front of Bailey's neighbor's, rather amazed to find the parking place behind the Catering by Antoinette van. Bailey's house was lit up top to bottom from the inside and, on the outside, Bailey had an incredible, synchronized light show, with the various trees in her yard blinking on and off to some unknown but catchy rhythm. Even sitting in her car with the windows closed, they seemed to hear faint sounds of happy people and music. It was not a sedate, well-mannered, let's all drink egg nog with our little finger politely raised sort of party. You could be sure that no one was in there was reading Dickens's "Christmas Carol" aloud to an appreciative audience.
Sam said, "Maybe they're all so tipsy, no one will notice us."
Daniel drew her into his arms and said, "Sweetheart, a man would have to be blind not to notice you tonight." He held her off at arms length and did a slow appreciative look from top to bottom. She could feel her cheeks getting warm under his gaze. All these years of meeting and flirting at Scot's Place and they had never once left the bar together or met anywhere as Mandy and DJ. Being Mandy and DJ had been exciting, but in a safe way. It made her hot and cold at the same time to actually be alone in a car with him now that they had given themselves permission to be a couple in every sense. This wasn't safe at all.
"Daniel," she said and then stopped. She wasn't sure what it was she was trying to say to him. She was afraid some evil genii deep inside was about to ask him to have his way with her right there in her car on a public street. She cleared her throat and said, "Maybe we should go in."
"Not yet," he whispered and he kissed his way up her neck, up her jaw line, to her mouth. She grabbed for him and clutched at his jacket. They broke apart at last and she reached up and fingered the small gold hoop in his left ear. "Is it too much?" he asked.
"Hey, if I'm going in there with long red nails, dangly earrings, and this provocative dress you seem so fond of, the least you can do is wear the earring." She studied him, the total glory of the whole package. In the game they had played for so long, when they were Mandy and DJ, they pretended they knew nothing about Sam and Daniel. When they were Sam and Daniel, Mandy and DJ never came up. Now all the rules were different and she could finally ask. "Daniel, how can you get by without the glasses? You don't act like you're having any problem seeing at all."
He chuckled. "I don't. I have contacts. I just don't wear them most of them time because they're more trouble than they're worth. That question has been eating you up for years, hasn't it?"
"Kind of. Look, we'd really better go in. The windows are getting all fogged up and people will start thinking the worst of us."
He got serious very quickly. "Sam we don't have to do this. I mean if what people think is going to bother you, this is the in your face way to announce that we are together. Not only are we showing up together, but we've kept a little of the Mandy and DJ look. By the way, you need to know that although I love the way you've put yourself together, the Mandy look has nothing to do with why I love you."
Sam felt a spurt of pure joy. That was the first time he had said, "I love you," and meant it this way. She smiled and said, "I knew that but I'm very glad to hear you say it"
Daniel lightly caressed her cheek and then continued. "I guess I dressed a little differently, a little like DJ, because part of this is saying 'you don't know us as well as you think you do.'"
Again, she interrupted to say, "And I don't love you because of the whole DJ thing either." She paused replaying her words. "That sounded odd. I mean I do love you and that isn't the reason."
He smiled his brilliant smile that made her turn to mush inside and chuckled a little, but then his face assumed it's serious expression again. "Now that we've got that settled, back to my point. We could ease into it, get people used to the idea of us being involved gradually. I don't want you upset."
"There's no gradual way to tell Cam and Landry this. As soon as I come off SG-1, the gossip is going to be huge."
"You come off? No way. It'll have to be me."
"That's crazy Daniel. My type of research doesn't really require going through the gate. What you do has much more value in our first contact situations. Anyway, when I get…I mean it might not be possible for me to.. if I was…"
"Sam," he asked, "did you just offer to have my children?" His voice was awed.
"We'd have to get married first though," she said, wincing. He'd never brought it up. Things kept coming out of her mouth without any conscious plan. Denial wasn't just a river in Egypt; it had also apparently been a way of life for her. Now that she had given herself permission, all sorts of things were coming to the surface.
He was whispering now, worshipping in the church of Sam. "Oh, Sam, oh how I love you. I wish I had a ring I could put on your finger so we could walk in there and announce our engagement."
She pulled the ring off her right hand and handed it to him. Mandy wore a lot of rings. "They've never seen it."
He slid it onto her left hand immediately. "You didn't think I was bluffing did you?" he asked.
She leaned past him and drew a large heart on the window. Inside she wrote "Sam and Daniel are in love."
He laughed. "Unless you think we need to go somewhere and get tattoos with each other's names first, I think we're ready to go in."
While she was gathering up her purse and turning off the car, he jumped out of his side and came around and opened the door for her. "I'd kneecap anyone else who did that," she said, her voice close to his ear as they walked to the house, "but somehow, I like it when you do it."
They reached the front door and he slipped his arm around her waist. She started to ring the bell, but he kissed her again first. They were in liplock when the door opened—Bailey must have noticed someone drive up—and Bailey and her boyfriend and Walter and his date were treated to an unfamiliar couple kissing passionately on Bailey's front step. Sam felt the warm air from the open door against her face and broke away. Daniel's back was to their onlookers and he smiled at her. He whispered almost inaudibly, "Remember DJ and Mandy don't blush and don't get embarrassed."
She returned his smile lopsidedly and said, "Right. Let's go get 'em, Tiger."
They walked through the door and Daniel said, "Hi everybody. Sorry to be a little late."
People made inarticulate sounds. Both Bailey and Walter had their mouths hanging open so they didn't have a good starting point for coherence. Daniel helped Sam out of her coat, revealing the full seductive impact. Walter gasped audibly. Bailey managed to say, "Here let me take that," and she took Sam's coat and Daniel's overcoat. "I'll just, you know, put these somewhere," she stammered and walked dazedly off.
They made their way into the living room, his arm around her waist. The only light in the room came from the Christmas tree and the fire in the fireplace. The room was crowded and only the people near the door really saw them at first, standing in the doorway, Sam leaning into Daniel. There was a sort of ripple effect. They got quiet and stared and then the people next to them. The whole room fell silent and Jack's voice rang out from the back of the room, "What's up?"
Then the murmur began and it rippled back until Jack's voice was heard again, "Sam and Daniel what?"
A sort of aisle parted between the doorway and the back of the room and Jack stared right down it at the couple. "Hi," Sam said. Only it was slower and huskier than her usual "Hi." She was clutching Mandy around her like a security blanket.
"Carter?" Jack said. He moved through the twenty or so people between them until he was a couple of feet away. "What happened to you?"
"Dear Jack. The man is no diplomat," she thought. Out loud, she said, simply, "Daniel."
"Daniel happened to you?" he said, trying out the idea. Then he did a double take on Daniel who had been eclipsed by the sexier Sam up to this point. He actually reached out and touched the earring like he couldn't believe he was really seeing it. "I'm guessing Sam happened to you? You guys got together and did makeovers on each other? Daniel, you've had your metrosexual moments, but somehow I never pictured something like this happening."
Now Sam was irritated. Jack's putdowns of Daniel were so wide of the mark. "Actually," she said, "it was more like this." She put her arms around Daniel's neck and kissed him, rather thoroughly. A couple of cheers went up in the room, there was a wolf whistle, and when they broke apart there was a round of applause.
"I'm glad we got here for the end of that," came a southern-accented voice from behind them.
They turned and saw Mitchell with Dr. Carolyn Lam just a couple of feet behind them. Someone in the crowd in front of them said, "It's a good thing you didn't miss it because I honestly don't know what we could come up for an encore to top that."
"Oh I do," Carolyn said. She turned and put her arms around Cam's neck and drew him into a kiss that made the Daniel's and Sam's look almost impersonal. The applause was now thunderous.
"So you think you've topped us?" Sam asked. "Trump this!" She raised her left hand in the air and waved in front of the group.
"Oh… my," General Landry said. He sounded stunned. "Is that an engagement ring?"
Daniel looked at Sam with an expression of huge pride. "That's just a placeholder engagement ring. I'm going to get her something bigger and better tomorrow."
By this time everyone else at the party had crowded in. There was a lot of noise. After all there were over fifty people in the house. After the clapping and hooting, people started to surge forward to congratulate them. Bailey, who had opened a door and thrown the coats in it without looking in order to get back to drama in time, held up a hand. "Just a minute people." People did quiet down somewhat. This was, after all, a military crowd and they did understand chain of command. The hostess was the general of the party and she had called them to attention. "Let's just make sure there isn't anything else going on."
Carolyn and Cam looked at each other and he said, "We don't have anything else up our sleeves at this point."
Bailey said, "I guess we should have champagne all around and let the toasts begin-"
"It is not, I fear, time for imbibing to begin," Teal'c said.
"T, you got something to spill too?" Jack asked. He sounded a little faint and looked slightly wobbly.
"Spilling will come later after the toasts, GeneralO'Neill," Teal'c said. "It will require many toasts first though."
"Enough with the deliberate misinterpretation of the language, Teal'c. Just tell us."
"Ishta has accepted my proposal of marriage."
People were getting hoarse by the end of that round of cheering. Once again, Bailey held up her hand. "Okay. If there is anyone else present with interesting news, now is your opportunity."
By now people were fully expecting another bombshell. In that pregnant pause, the doorbell rang. "I can't stand it," Liz MacDuff said, back in the crowd. Everyone laughed while someone on the vestibule edge of the crowd went to the door. The crowd fell quiet as they heard the door open. Someone said, "Hey Siler, who's this?"
Glances were exchanged and then they all heard a very happy man say, "Her name is Vala. She's back and she's with ME."
Daniel looked at Sam and said, "Honey, if that man can keep her occupied and away from me, he deserves a medal. We may need to name our first child after him." Although it would have made a wonderful ending to the story of Mandy and DJ, their twins were girls and the gesture was never a possibility. They did give him a fruitcake every year, the kind soaked in rum. It seemed both appropriate and useful since, against all odds, five years later Vala and Siler were still together.