--

"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."

Emma

--

A few days later, Sam was all but recovered, and feeling more than a little foolish for putting everyone through such an ordeal. Although everyone insisted that it was no imposition at all, she was certain it must have been, though she had no way of proving it—the memory of her illness was vague at best, consisting mainly of recollections of being too hot and being caught in delusional dreams.

Now that she was back on her feet, her father was once again being called away. Walking him to the door arm in arm because she was as of yet forbidden from venturing further by Janet, Sam reflected that she was a uniquely fortunate woman after all—engaged or not.

"I'm very glad you came," she said to Jacob, completely sincerely. Her first memory upon awakening was hearing his voice. Of course, her second was catching a glimpse of Colonel O'Neill, and as she knew that could be nothing but wishful thinking, she doubted the authenticity of the first. Still, there had been a comfort in his presence that could not be given by anything but the love of a parent.

He tightened his hold around her. "You must just promise never to scare me like that again—I could not bear it."

"I shall do my best. How long do you think you'll be gone this time?"

Surprisingly, he mulled quite a bit over his answer. "Oh, I think you can count on me being around much more frequently from now on. This whole thing has been a bit of a revelation for me. I've been neglecting you for a long time—so long that I cringe to recollect it. But no longer. You are my only daughter, and you are precious to me—that is worth more than any military position."

Feeling strangely emotional at her father's unexpected outburst of emotion, Sam swallowed back the fit of tears that threatened. "I…would like that."

"Good!" he said, squeezing her again before stepping out the door. "Besides, I suppose I shall have to come back before too long for a wedding."

Puzzled over that remark, she called back, "But Dad, you know that Cameron and I are not…."

"Of course not!" he interrupted, an almost gleeful tone in his voice. "That was not the wedding to which I was referring."

He made his departure then, leaving her in a bit of wonderment over his meaning. Finally, she concluded that he must have been referring to the hopeful nuptials of Cameron and Vala—though why that event should bring him so much joy, she had no idea.

--

Now that Miss Carter was well again, Vala found that she felt rather unnecessary, intruding upon the privacy of Cameron and Miss Carter when she was obviously not needed or wanted. Seeing as this was the case, she resolved to take her leave—after exchanging some parting words with Cameron.

She found him sitting in the garden, studying a book about…sailing? Puzzled by that, Vala pushed it aside and cleared her throat.

When he looked up and smiled at the sight of her, she felt a curious sort of pang in her heart, wishing that his smile meant the same thing now as it had meant last summer. "Well, I think I'll be going now," she said.

Strangely, he seemed surprised at this. "Just like that?"

Confused now, she tentatively replied, "Um…yes? There doesn't seem to be any reason for me to stay."

Closing his book and putting it aside, he stood, coming nearer to her. "I had hoped you would stay for the wedding."

The idea of being present while Cameron vowed to love another woman, even one as worthy as Miss Carter, was infinitely distasteful. "Sorry to disappoint."

Now, he seemed amused. But really, his behavior was so scattered that she could not for the life of her determine what it all meant. "You have a curious sort of expression on your face. Is there some reason that the thought of my marrying Miss Carter bothers you so?"

"I never said it bothered me," she corrected, glaring at him defiantly. He was precariously close now, looming directly over her with that strange, self-satisfied smirk on his face.

"But it does," he stated bluntly.

"No!"

At her hotly issued denial, he stepped away from her, which was both a relief and a disappointment. "Ah. I see. Too bad. If it had, I may have reassessed the whole thing."

She certainly hadn't been expecting that. "You would have?"

Carelessly, he shrugged, as though his answer was of no consequence at all. "Well, considering that she and I were never engaged to begin with…."

Her mind did not seem to be able to correctly assimilate this information. "But…there was the announcement…and…." She trailed off, puzzling it out for herself. "It was all…a ploy? And Daniel…he knew?"

"Yes. He was immensely helpful. But it seems that all my plotting has come to nothing, as obviously, you do not care for me in the slightest."

Now recognizing the entire ruse for what it was, instead of being angry, she was strangely…intrigued. One step at a time, she sidled towards him again, the beginnings of a smile on her face. "You plotted for me?"

He leaned down and nuzzled his nose against her ear, a hot breath washing down her neck. "Vala, my dear, I didn't merely plot. I schemed."

Closing her eyes and leaning towards him, she smiled. "I think that is the most romantic thing I've ever heard of."

His low chuckle sent a delicious wave of shivers through her. "Good. Marry me then. I'm going to resign from my position in the Army. We'll live here half the year and on a trading ship to and from India the other half. I'll do my very best to make sure that you're always entertained."

The promise made her smile, but her mind was still mulling over his captivating plan for their future. "A ship?"

"Mmm, yes. A trading ship on the high seas. There could be intrigues, you know, and daring escapes. Perhaps even pirates."

With a laugh, she kissed him. "Sounds…perfect."

--

In celebration of their recently secured engagement, Samantha threw Cameron and Vala a garden party the next afternoon, with a small group of friends sipping champagne and making conversation. Cameron could not help but look around the room and feel a supreme sense of satisfaction—not to mention luck—that everything had ended so fortuitously. Scheming was not something that came easily to him, and had it not been for the aid of these loyal friends, he might have never succeeded in gaining his heart's desire.

Speaking of, next to him, Vala seemed to be enjoying the company almost as much as he was. She, Samantha, and Janet got along famously, debating hot-topic issues like women wearing men's clothing (a notion he found strangely appealing) and what subjects Cassandra might get the most use of knowing in the future, as her education was about to begin (they all seemed to have a curious vendetta against needlework).

Next to them, Daniel, Teal'c, and Cameron could barely keep up with the constant flow of conversation, instead turning to each other for entertainment and leaving the women to their own devices. "So, when will you be married?"

"As soon as possible," Cameron assured the Daniel, who looked curiously relieved. "I have resigned my commission as an officer in the Army, having finally obtained the rank I desired, and have now taken a private job with a new trading company that's to set up shop right here in town—Atlantis Shipping and Trade Co., I believe it's called."

"I think I've heard tell of that. Run by a…John Sheppard?"

"Yes. He's an old friend of mine who was so obliging as to grant me a job as the Captain of one of his vessels. He's even allowing Vala to travel with me, which you can imagine is quite unusual on a trading vessel such as this."

Daniel smiled fondly. "She'll take to it better than you, I'd guess."

Cameron laughed. "I have no doubt."

That was when Jack O'Neill burst onto the patio through the double doors and, without a word, struck Cameron with enough force to throw him to the ground.

--

Jack O'Neill had experienced the gamut of emotions in his lifetime, but there were very few times he could recall being this angry. He fairly seethed with the emotion, and had ever since hearing of Cameron Mitchell's impending marriage…to Vala Maldoran! The very idea that someone could so callously toss aside Samantha Carter was inconceivable to him, and because he lacked the fine manners required when comforting crying women, he opted for the more abrupt action of beating Cameron Mitchell within an inch of his life as punishment for his crime.

The first punch took the unsuspecting man down, and even though he did not wish to, Jack waited until he was back on his feet before charging towards him once again. A commotion arose from the crowd gathered and a flurry of hands and strident voices attempted to stop him, but all of this he ignored—he would have hit Cameron a second time had one set of hands he knew all too well not come to rest on his arm.

Turning, he took in the sight of a refreshingly healthy, but thoroughly startled and more than a little exasperated Samantha Carter. "Colonel O'Neill!" she scolded. "What in heaven's name do you think you are doing?"

Puzzled, he studied her. Although there was more than a little bewilderment in her gaze and anger coloring her cheeks, she certainly did not look like a distraught and jilted lover. "…Defending your honor?"

Confusion now darkened her eyes, as though she could not possibly fathom what he was about, while the group surrounding them seemed to back up at once, moving towards the house in an almost choreographed manner. "That's very…sweet, I suppose. But my honor is not at stake, and even if it was, I would be perfectly capable of defending it myself."

Frustration swept through him, even as he acknowledged the truth of her statement. "I do not doubt it. Still, you should not have to, and someone must." Jack could not help but notice when, one by one, the other guests disappeared indoors to tend to the wounded soldier, leaving him alone with Samantha. All of this only served to exacerbate his frustration. "He was engaged…to you. And now…he's engaged to her. Something must be done!" he insisted.

Her laughter, while a familiar and welcome sound, was a bit befuddling. "Well, you're right on one account anyway." Seeing that he still did not comprehend the truth of the matter, she clarified, "We were never engaged."

Not engaged? Was such a thing possible? Jack could not quite understand how such a thing could be. "…But then, why the charade?"

A shrug was the only ready reply she had. "Miss Maldoran is a curious sort of woman. Cameron thought that it might be best to go about wooing her by a more…circumspect route."

"You mean, by wooing someone else?"

"Well, appearing to, anyway," she confirmed.

So many emotions swamped him all at once that Jack felt compelled to sit down, finding himself now confronted with possibilities he had thought always closed to him. There was anger there still, though it was fading fast, and bafflement, and, most welcome of all, relief. "Why didn't you tell me?"

A raised eyebrow accompanied her next remark, the tone of which was perhaps a bit sharper than he would have liked. "When, exactly, would I have had the chance? Besides, I did not think it would matter to you. You had gone out of your way to make it abundantly clear that your feelings towards me were…nothing of consequence."

At the very idea, he had to close his eyes. Apparently, his careful attempts at appearing indifferent had succeeded. "Miss Carter…I…believe me when I say that my behavior, while probably erratic from your point of view, can all be explained. What is most important right now is that you know how very…untrue…that is."

She seemed very still now, as though if she moved this whole scene might fade away. He could sympathize. "…Really?"

Taking a deep breath, he stood, walking close to her and brushing a thumb down her cheekbone as he had so long ago, the sweetness of the gesture something he had thought he would never experience again. "Yes. I'll prove it." With a swallow and a giant leap of faith, he asked the question he had so long wanted to ask. "Marry me?"

Incredulity swamped every feature of her face as her expression wavered somewhere between a smile and a frown. "I feel as though I should still be angry at you for everything you've put me through these last months."

"Me! What about you, with the engagement that wasn't an engagement and the nearly dying?" he protested, sidling even closer to her.

She looked a bit sheepish at that, smiling and tilting her head to meet his eyes. "You make a fair point. How about we call it even?"

"I could live with that. You still have not answered my question, though."

In the split second that she deliberated, he was fully prepared to offer her anything, to agree to whatever conditions she might lay down, if only she would agree. Luckily, he didn't have to, for the next and only word out of her mouth was what he most wanted to hear.

"Yes."

--

After much coaxing, the rest of the party joined the happy couple on the patio where they resumed their festivities, now having twice the cause to celebrate. Mr. Siler, ever anticipating his mistress's needs, brought out a fresh bottle of champagne for toasting and soon, everyone had forgotten the taxing events of months past in favor of the joy now facing them.

As Jack surveyed the scene, friends surrounding him and the woman he had so long desired close by his side, he could feel decidedly saccharine thoughts coming upon him. Mitchell, as it turned out, was not a bad sort of man—he had even been gracious about his newly acquired black eye, seemingly too enamored with his own recently secured fiancée to worry over such trivialities. Mrs. Fraiser and Teal'c seemed surprisingly cozy, and for his part, Daniel was obviously content to simply….

At that moment, O'Neill had a curious insight. "Teal'c," he exclaimed slowly. "You…were here. Before me, I mean. At the party."

Sending a look his way that Jack had long since interpreted as 'what's your point?', Teal'c only said, "Yes, O'Neill."

"But…how did you...I mean…." The stammered words conveyed the depths of Jack's bewilderment.

"Janet Fraiser was kind enough to invite me to the festivities," Teal'c explained helpfully.

Jack tried to wrap his mind around this new information. "So…you knew. About…everything?"

Teal'c blinked. "Indeed. Janet Fraiser explained the situation while issuing her invitation."

Now thoroughly exasperated, Jack exclaimed, "Well, why didn't you say anything?"

Teal'c merely blinked again by way of a response—which, as far as Jack was concerned, was no response at all.

Next to him, a laughing Sam squeezed his arm. "Perhaps he thought that your case needed the added effect of a dramatic entrance."

Laughter tittered through the group as a whole and Jack felt slightly insulted. "Did it?"

She rolled her eyes at his petulance, but kept smiling nonetheless. "No. But it certainly was entertaining."

--

Before the end of summer, there were two weddings, and Jacob Carter came home for each of them. Gateshire as a whole could not quite believe it when Samantha Carter, with her six previous fiancés, actually managed to make it down the aisle—and with such a respected man, no less!

But, for the first time in her life, she was blissfully unaware of whatever they might have said against her, being too happy in her new circumstances to care even the slightest about what other people thought. She lived with her frustrating, ridiculous, and beloved husband, the enigmatic and observant Teal'c, and the steadfastly loyal puppy Thor in Cheyenne Manor most happily. For a wedding present, Jack gave her the library to remodel as he had always planned—and for his part, Teal'c began to convert the conservatory into a laboratory. This, of course, sent Walter into fits—but they paid no more attention to him than they did anyone else.

Cameron and Vala took up residence in Vorash Hall's carriage house when they were in town. Jacob, who was home much more often than not these days, enjoyed the company. Daniel visited often, and some time many months later, Teal'c admitted to a deep and ardent admiration for Janet Fraiser.

It took many by surprise when she returned the sentiment.

So it was a thoroughly satisfied Jack O'Neill that went through his post now, smiling at the package that had finally arrived. Tucking it under his arm, he did not have to think twice about where to locate his wife.

Sure enough, she was ensconced in her laboratory, examining something through a looking glass with great intensity. "I have a surprise for you," he said cheerfully upon entering.

Looking up, she gifted him with the brilliant smile he loved so dearly. "Hmm. Flowers?"

He scoffed at the idea. "Please. I would never stoop to such clichéd horrors."

"Candies, I suppose?"

"Hardly!"

"Well, what is it then?"

Without any further ado, he handed her the parcel that had arrived in the mail. It was one of her beloved scientific journals, and on the cover was boldly typed The Behavior of Thermodynamic Reactions as Observed in a Practical Model.

More importantly, underneath it read, A Study in Three Parts by S. O'Neill.

She studied it for a moment almost reverently before putting it down so that she was free to kiss him thoroughly.

"Well, you are certainly a singularly unique sort of man, Colonel O'Neill," she allowed with a smile.

"Coming from the happily married woman working in a laboratory, I'll take that as a compliment," he retorted before embracing his wife once more.