Jack wondered what a difference seven weeks made. He was once again standing off to the side of a room in the middle of a reception clutching a glass of punch and he was once again wearing his dress blues pretending to listen to Daniel babble while his actual attention remained on a certain blonde Air Force officer making the rounds. But that was where the similarity with Jacob Carter's memorial reception ended.
This reception had a definite celebratory air and was taking place in the SGC commissary. The new structure of the SGC had come into effect at oh-eight-hundred that morning and in addition to the formal inauguration ceremony, there had been a round of treaty negotiations between Earth and her various alien allies. The reception was the final event in a day packed with meetings, speeches and more meetings. The mess was filled with SGC personnel, members of the IOA, the Joint Chiefs, the President and a number of their alien friends; the party had spilled out onto the corridor hours before and showed no sign of letting up. Jack briefly took a sip of his punch and glanced at the clock.
He had expected the President to have left hours before and was getting a little annoyed that Hayes hadn't yet made a move. His eyes slid to the snappily dressed leader of the Free World and took in the way he and Bra'tac were roaring with laughter at something Thor had said to them. It didn't look as though Hayes was going to move anytime soon. Jack sighed impatiently. Protocol insisted that he and every other person there remain until the President left and Jack was anxious to get away. There had been no time in the day's schedule for the discussion. In fact there had barely been time for him to pass Sam a note, like they were teenagers at school, asking her to meet him at his house that evening. Ten hours after his retirement became official and they were still stuck in the same roles they'd played for the previous eight years. He bit back a sigh of frustration.
Jack's eyes collided with Sam's blue gaze across the room. The brief sympathetic smile she was able to give him before Carolyn nudged her and she was dragged back into the conversation with the odious French IOA rep helped ease his nerves a little. And he was nervous. His belly was churning with nerves. God knew why, Jack thought. He knew she loved him. Maybe it was the sudden realisation that their chance of being together was actually, really, honest-to-God going to finally happen. He was retired. She was no longer in his chain of command. There were no regulations or rules standing in their way. If they ever got out of the reception, he thought dryly.
'Are you listening to anything I'm saying?' Daniel's exasperated tone pierced his inner musings and he wrenched his attention back to his friend.
'No.' He admitted. 'How much longer is this thing going to go on for anyway?'
'Everybody's celebrating, Jack.' Daniel reminded him. 'We did save Earth again.'
Jack took a sip of his punch to avoid answering.
'So any plans for tonight?' Daniel asked trying to keep an innocent expression.
'Funny, Daniel.' Jack snapped.
Daniel was about to tease him about his mood when he caught the well-hidden frustration and nerves simmering in his friend's brown gaze. His own blue eyes softened imperceptibly. 'It shouldn't be much longer.' He said comfortingly.
'You said that an hour ago.' Jack complained.
The archaeologist searched for another subject. His eyes alighted on Delek talking with Landry. 'So, are the Tok'ra serious about reinstating the treaty?'
Jack shrugged. 'They say so.'
'I guess our relationship with the Asgard is proving to be attractive since the Tok'ra want to clone Egeria.' Daniel murmured.
'Indeed, Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c said as he and Mitchell came to stand by the archaeologist's shoulder.
Mitchell smiled at them all. 'Is it just me or is it a little freaky that they kept the body and want to clone it?'
'That's what I thought.' Jack said in agreement.
'They are a dying race otherwise.' Daniel pointed out. 'And with the Asgard helping them, they have a real chance to do it successfully.'
Jack pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. 'Whose idea was it for the Asgard to help them anyway?'
'I believe it was Colonel Carter's.' Teal'c said answering the question although he was very aware that Jack already knew the answer.
'Her brain is back to normal, right?' Jack checked. Sam had collapsed on the Prometheus shortly after they had transported over and Jack had insisted Thor check her out. They had discovered that her brain had reverted to normal synaptic activity. They didn't know if it was being subjected to the ribbon device or whether Orlin had always meant for the effect to be temporary. Jack frowned. They also didn't know if Orlin's link between the two of them was still there or not; Jack preferred to think it was.
Daniel sighed. 'Yes, Jack.' He replied patiently. 'Sam is back to normal.'
Or as normal as any of them were, Jack thought smiling wryly and causing Daniel and Teal'c to regard him suspiciously.
Daniel sighed and decided not to pursue it. He gestured with his punch glass. 'What she did with the Replicator though; that was impressive.'
'It was.' Jack agreed. 'I always knew Carter could take her.'
'As did I.' Teal'c said.
'I don't get how she did it.' Mitchell said.
'Well, her brain was working at a more efficient rate.' Daniel explained. 'Sam was able to control what happened when they linked mentally because her brain was able to keep up with the Replicator's. The Replicator was always linked with her brethren so Sam was linked with them too.'
Orlin's gift had provided Sam with her most formidable weapon during her battle with her Replicator duplicate – her own mind.
'I could only take control for a short time, when I did it, because I had, have, a normal human brain.' Daniel continued sounding slightly peeved. 'I found out her increased brain activity was also the reason why the chair on Dakara responded to only her too.'
'Rule number twelve, Mitchell,' Jack said sighing, 'never ask how around either Daniel or Carter.'
'Is that right, sir?' Sam's amused voice startled the four of them and they whirled around to find her standing just behind them.
'How's everything going out there?' Jack gestured vaguely at the rest of the room quickly diverting the conversation.
'Slowly.' Sam sighed, her eyes meeting his ruefully.
'Tell me about it.' Jack murmured. He indicated the punch bowl to his left. 'Punch?'
She was about to reply when the President appeared beside them. The two military officers snapped to attention. Jack was about to follow suit when he realised he didn't need to anymore.
'At ease, Colonels.' Hayes smiled broadly at them all and regarded them with a fond look. 'I couldn't leave without thanking you all for saving the world. Again. How many times does that make it?'
'This is the tenth occasion, Mr President.' Teal'c responded solemnly.
'Teal'c keeps count.' Jack explained seeing the President's surprise.
'I understand you've lost the speedy brain thing?' Hayes said directing his question at Sam.
She refrained from rolling her eyes at her Commander-in-Chief and nodded. 'Yes, sir.'
'I'm afraid we're back to only having Carter produce one miracle a week like normal, sir.' Jack added.
'I think we can live with that.' Hayes said smiling at her. 'Although I have to say, the Asgard are thrilled with the new Replicator counter-measure especially as they're still uncertain about whether there may be any more secreted away in their galaxy. They're so thrilled in fact that they've agreed to work with us on a new ship design.'
'That's excellent news, sir.' Sam said.
'Yes, which is why they'll be another letter of commendation added to your collection, Colonel.'
Sam's eyes lit up with delight and she looked around her equally delighted team-mates and former CO before they landed back on the President. 'Thank you, sir.'
'No, thank you.' Hayes said. His eyes moved to encompass the whole team again. 'All of you.' He sighed. 'Well, I have to be making tracks.'
Jack made to move; he was supposed to escort the President to the surface.
The President waved him back. 'Stay with your team, Jack. I have more than enough Generals accompanying me to the top.' He indicated a beaming Hammond and Landry who were waiting behind him.
'Thank you, sir. Have a good trip.' Jack said happy to see the President finally leaving.
Unfortunately as the party began to break up various people wandered over to SG1 to say goodbye to them and delayed them further. The room was almost empty before they were left alone again.
'Well, if you'll excuse me I have plans.' Sam's blue eyes caught Jack's briefly before she smiled at the rest of her team-mates. 'See you guys tomorrow.'
Jack watched her leave and checked the clock. OK, he needed to check a couple of things but after that…
'I don't know about everybody else but I could do with a workout.' Mitchell said. 'Who's up for a little one on one basketball?'
'I will join you, Colonel Mitchell.' Teal'c offered.
'Sure.' Daniel said. 'Why not?'
'I guess you have plans too, sir?' Mitchell asked politely.
Jack nodded; Daniel had explained how he had come to tell Mitchell about Jack's relationship with Sam but he was still uncomfortable with the idea of the young officer knowing. 'And I have to think of my knees.' He quipped to get over his discomfort.
'Colonel Mitchell, perhaps it would be prudent for us to secure a court.' Teal'c suggested. He placed a hand on Mitchell's shoulder. 'O'Neill.' He bowed his head.
'General.' Mitchell nodded his own farewell as the Jaffa led him away.
'Well, I'd better go and…' Daniel gestured after the disappearing Mitchell and Teal'c.
'I'll walk out with you.' Jack jerked his head in the direction of the rapidly disappearing Lieutenant Colonel and Jaffa. 'He's working out well isn't he?'
'Who? Mitchell?' Daniel nodded. 'I guess.'
'You're allowed to like him you know.' Jack said.
'I know.' Daniel smiled at his friend. 'I was telling Sam the same thing last week when she was feeling guilty about her friendship with Carolyn because of Janet.'
Jack's eyebrows rose a little at the analogy. 'I'm not dead, Daniel, and I'm not planning on going anywhere.'
'Nope, you're not.' Daniel agreed. He shrugged. 'He was the reason I managed to come up with a way to get Landry to agree to let us go after you, you know.'
'Yes, well, Hank had a difficult call.' Jack said. 'He's not used to the weird stuff that happens around here yet.'
'I'm not exactly used to seeing you be replaced by a metal bug either.' Daniel retorted sharply.
'And what was with shooting that bug dead on sight anyway?' Jack questioned. 'Didn't it occur to anyone that it might have been me?'
'You?' Daniel said taken aback.
'I might have been transformed into the bug.' Jack pointed out as they got to the elevator. 'Stranger things have happened.'
'Jack.' Daniel began exasperatedly before he caught a glimpse of something in the depths of Jack's brown gaze and realised with a start that Jack was poking at him because he was nervous about his upcoming discussion with Sam. He sighed. 'You're going to be alright.'
Jack stilled registering the change of topic. 'How do you know?'
'You're just going to have to trust me.' Daniel said. He slapped Jack's shoulder gently and left him by the elevator.
Jack watched Daniel amble away down the corridor. He rubbed his hand through his grey hair and made his way to his office. He figured he would be out of the base in just under half an hour which gave him plenty of time to get everything ready for Sam arriving.
He had most things prepared and waiting to go; the table had been set, the food – a simple steak and salad – was bought and in the fridge along with a cake for dessert, a bottle of wine and some beer. He'd debated candles and settled for one short stub on the table only. He was aiming for cosy but not too romantic; despite his words on Dakara he figured they were someway off a proposal. They both needed time to adjust to the change in their relationship and he had no intention of rushing Sam and screwing up.
Walter entered his office a couple of minutes after Jack. 'I have a couple of things I need you to sign, sir.'
'Thanks, Walter.' Jack took the proffered folders and glanced down at the requisition papers. He grimaced and scrawled his signature at the bottom. 'Is there anything else?'
'Nothing, sir.' Walter said taking the folders back.
'In that case, I am out of here.' Jack said happily.
The alarm sounded.
'Oh for crying out loud.' Jack muttered.
He followed Walter back down to the control room.
'Unscheduled incoming wormhole.' Walter confirmed. 'It's SG6, sir. Code red.'
'Open the iris.' Jack ordered. 'Defence team to the gate room.'
The first blast hit the wall of the gate room; the second impacted the wall just above the observation window of the control room causing all of its occupants to instinctively duck.
SG6 stumbled through the wormhole onto the ramp.
'Close it up!' Jack yelled already on his way down the stairs. 'And get a med team to the gate room.' He entered the gate room at a rush. 'Brace, what the hell happened?'
'Sorry, General.' Brace said taking off his cap and touching a hand to a wound on his head. 'Hostile natives.'
'Noted.' Jack said. 'You'd better get you and your men to the infirmary.'
'Yes, sir.' Brace nodded. 'But I think we should debrief as soon as possible, sir. We found an Ancient artefact on the planet, sir. We think it might be an Ancient repository.'
'You mean one of those head-sucky things?' Jack said alarmed.
'Debrief in one hour.' He agreed reluctantly. He made his way back up the stairs to find SG1 minus Sam running into the control room.
'What's happened?' Daniel asked.
'SG6 think they've found one of those head-sucking devices the Ancients left.'
'An Ancient repository of knowledge?' Daniel translated. 'Really?'
'Really.' Jack sighed. 'Debrief is in one hour. Daniel, it would probably be useful if you could attend.'
'Sure.' Daniel frowned. 'What about you? Aren't you supposed to be…' he let his voice trail away aware of the very public arena.
'Couldn't Colonel Emerson take the debriefing, O'Neill?' Teal'c asked stepping in.
'He's already left the base.' Jack replied to Teal'c. 'Besides he's trying to get his family settled. Let's give the guy a break in his first week.'
'Sir, I'd be happy to take the briefing.' Mitchell volunteered.
Jack was pleased at the young officer's offer but he knew he couldn't accept it; it was against procedure and if the debrief was about a head-sucky thing it really needed him. 'Can't do it, Mitchell, but thanks for the offer.' He sighed heavily. 'I have to make a phone call.' He made his way back to his office and picked up the phone before any of them could protest.
'Hey.' Sam replied her voice filled with curiosity at receiving a call from him.
'Hey.' Jack answered. 'Listen, there's a situation here, SG6 just came back claiming they found some Ancient thing. I'm going to be a little late.'
'OK. Do you need me to come back to the base?' Sam asked.
'No.' Jack said firmly. 'Look everything is pretty much set up at my place and it isn't locked. Why don't you head over and I'll be with you as soon as I can? I shouldn't be more than an hour late tops.'
'Are you sure?'
'I'm sure.' He answered without hesitation. There was a slight pause and he could hear his heart pounding in his chest as he waited for her answer.
'OK. I'll see you there.'
'OK.' He sighed again; this time with relief. 'See you later.'
Sam disconnected the call and focused back on her driving. Maybe she should have offered to delay their date until the next day. Her lips twisted. She didn't want to delay it.
Count them. Counting was something she was very good at. Mentally, she had ticked off the days and when the previous day had dawned she had moved onto the hours. She had quickly realised that the schedule for the inauguration of the new structure would preclude her and Jack being alone together until the evening and she had simply added the hours to their hastily arranged date to those she was tracking and striking off. In no small way the counting had kept her sane through the incredibly long and tedious day. She couldn't remember another time when she had ever actively looked forward so much to leaving the base.
She sighed as she pulled up in front of her house. Between the Presidential delay and the events back at the base that had delayed Jack, it did feel as though the universe was conspiring against them a little. It couldn't be helped, she thought as she made her way into the house. She figured there were going to be lots of moments in their future just like the one she was experiencing. Both of them were dedicated with a strong sense of duty – if they weren't, it wouldn't have taken them eight years to get to their first date.
Her musings had taken her into the house and through into her bedroom where she decided to look on the positive side of the latest delay. With the Presidential visit lasting as long as it had, she had thought she was going to have to rush getting ready but if Jack was going to be late she could take her time. She was going to pamper herself, she decided and do the whole date routine; bubble bath, make-up, hair.
In the end she arrived at Jack's house a little panicked that she would arrive after him. She checked her watch. Ten minutes before twenty-one hundred which would be exactly an hour after their date was originally scheduled to start. Jack's truck was missing from the drive and she sighed with relief. He expected her to already be there and she hadn't wanted him to arrive before her and give him any cause to think she was having doubts. She smoothed her damp hands on her jeans as she made her way into the house.
The door was unlocked as he'd said and she smiled wryly. He was going to get robbed blind one day. Maybe she could talk him into getting the dog he'd once suggested…the thought caused her to stop uncertainly in the hallway for a moment. Pete had suggested a dog and the very thought had confirmed to her she'd didn't love him enough to marry him; with Jack getting a dog seemed…right. She pottered into the kitchen and smiled at the contents of the fridge; got nervous at the dining table set for two in the room next door. Her fingers traced over the red and white chequered table-cloth, delicate china and crystal glasses. The traditional romantic trappings had her looking at her clothes ruefully. Part of the reason she had been late leaving her own house was because of a multiple number of clothes changes. She had settled for her current outfit; jeans teamed with a leather blazer and a blue silk shirt that highlighted her eyes and made her skin look luminous. Looking at the table setting again, she figured she could have worn the new dress she had tried on first.
She sighed and checked her watch. Five minutes. It wasn't like she expected him to turn up on the stroke of twenty-one hundred. She wandered around and switched some of the occasional lamps on in the living area before she finally sat on the sofa to wait shrugging her blazer off. There were only a couple of minutes left. She wondered at her nerves. It wasn't as though she didn't know how he felt about her. If their goodbye on some spiritual plane when she had been dying on Dakara hadn't been explicit enough, finding out that he had offered his own life to save hers might have given her a clue. She shook her head. She didn't know if the link between her and Jack that Orlin had created when he was healing her was still there or not; she couldn't feel it but she had considered that it might take one of them being in danger for it to come to the fore. She hoped it would be sometime before they tested that particular theory; they'd both been in danger enough of late.
She was actually a little relieved to have her mind back to normal whether it had been a side-effect or an intentional act by Orlin. Having the ability to defeat her Replicator duplicate had been great and she couldn't deny that it had given her a lot of personal vindication but it was good to feel like her mind was her own again. There were some benefits that remained: she could still easily access Jolinar's memories and she still had the Ancient gene. She viewed the latter as a reminder of Orlin and the sacrifice he had made for her. Besides, she considered, as she rubbed her hands on her jeans again, Carolyn had given the go ahead for SGC personnel to begin the gene therapy – every off-world member of the base would soon have the same ability she had.
The clock on the mantel chimed. It claimed it was twenty-one hundred; her watch corroborated it. She sighed and reached for the National Geographic on the coffee table. She flipped through it idly before she glanced back up at the clock. Five minutes past nine. Great, she thought exasperatedly, she'd gone from counting the minutes before to counting the ones after. Maybe a glass of wine would settle her nerves. She headed into the kitchen and reached into the refrigerator for the bottle. Her eyes caught on the beer and she had a sudden idea. She moved quickly grabbing a beer along with the leather blazer she had discarded and a few minutes later, she settled into the oversize chair on Jack's roof by his telescope and looked up at the night sky. The minutes slipped by and lulled by the alcohol and her own tiredness, Sam closed her eyes.
She was asleep when Jack found her a couple of hours later. He sighed in relief at the sight of her. The debriefing had taken longer than he had anticipated; the first delay had been down to much needed medical treatment but once the debrief got underway, SG6's archaeologist had rambled; Jack had never seen Daniel so close to lynching one of his own people. In the end they had substantiated it wasn't a head-sucky thing but it had taken way too long.
Jack had tried calling an hour before to apologise and beg Sam to stay; when she hadn't answered he'd worried that she had been upset at ostensibly being stood up and had left. His mood had been pretty dark leaving the base but it had done a miraculous one-eighty on seeing her car in front of his house. Finding her had been a challenge but seeing her curled up on his look-out chair, her blonde hair mussed by the breeze and her face smoothed in peaceful sleep made it worthwhile.
He rubbed his hands back through his own thoroughly messed up grey hair and crouched beside the armchair. He cupped her cheek and winced at the coldness. She must have been sat out a while, he thought.
'Sam?' He brushed a thumb over her cheekbone and tucked an errant curl of blonde hair back behind her ear.
Her eyes snapped open, wide and startled before they settled abruptly at the sight of him. 'You're home.'
I am now. The thought popped unbidden into Jack's head. 'Sorry I'm late.' He said gruffly.
'That's OK, sir.' Sam murmured as she uncurled from the chair.
'You know you don't have to call me 'sir' any longer.' Jack's lips quirked upwards in a reluctant smile.
There was a faint glimmer of nerves in her face as she registered what she'd said. 'Habit.' She admitted defensively when she regained her voice. 'You only stopped being my CO,' she checked her watch and her brow creased a little at the time, 'fifteen hours and eight minutes ago.'
'You've been counting?' Jack asked amused.
Sam shrugged a little embarrassed.
Jack felt the rest of his tension drain away. She'd been counting. 'C'mere.'
He held out a hand to her and she left the chair willingly, sliding her hand into his. He pulled her to her feet and wrapped her against him as her arms went around him and held him as equally tightly against her. He buried his face in her hair as she pressed her face into the crook of his neck. Sam breathed in the scent of him and snuggled closer.
Eventually, Jack shifted so he could see her face, his soft brown eyes meeting hers unguarded and vulnerable. 'I love you, Samantha Carter.'
'I love you back, Jack O'Neill.' Sam said simply.
Their first kiss was soft, tentative and Jack eased back as he felt her lips curving into a smile under his. He looked at her questioningly and saw the smile actually started in the blue depths of her eyes.
'We're on your roof under the stars.' She said pointedly.
He examined her expression carefully. Maybe the proposal wasn't rushing things…maybe he wasn't going to screw this up. He began to sway a little with her; a barely perceptible movement. 'And we're dancing.' His voice wasn't quite steady.
'Yes.' Sam registered with a laugh. 'We are.' She hooked her arms around his neck, her fingers stroking through the grey strands at the back of his neck.
'I don't hear you telling me how the universe works.' Jack prompted shifting his own hold to her waist.
Sam's smile widened, simple joy gleaming back at him from her blue eyes. 'I have this theory…'
Jack's eyes held hers and he was sure she was able to hear his heart it was beating that loudly. 'Marry me?'
'Yes.' There was no prevarication, hesitation or indecision. She didn't need to think about it; didn't want to make him wait; they'd both waited long enough.
Jack gave a relieved sigh and brushed his lips across Sam's. Once, twice; the third time they settled into a kiss that quickly slipped into something altogether deeper that had Jack pressing her closer and Sam burying her hands in his hair.
The happiness her father had once wished for her wrapped itself around her and Samantha Carter finally stopped counting.