Note: Wow, this chapter's been a long time in coming. Really sorry about the unintentional hiatus. But here's the last chapter, and it's a longer one for you guys too. :) Hope you enjoy, and again, sorry that this has taken forever!
Sam glanced to her side as Jack arrived in the gate room, all geared up with the sleeve of his jacket tugged all the way down, hiding most of the cast on his left arm. Her eyes carefully flicked to his face, and she could see that something was clearly on his mind. He seemed awfully pensive for a simple follow-up mission just to visit some friendly faces. As he came up beside her, offering up a tight smile, Sam's brows furrowed in confusion, but he simply gave her a look that assured her that he would let her know what was going on soon, but not right now. She nodded in silent understanding, then turned to face the gate as it kawooshed to life. Teal'c and Daniel headed up the ramp into the shimmering blue after a brief nod of acknowledgement toward O'Neill, then she and Jack soon followed.
The wormhole slurped at her back after Sam exited the shimmering blue event horizon, Jack emerging right behind her. He had an uneasy look on his face, for just a moment, then the commanding mask was up and she couldn't tell what he was thinking. She could tell that now still wasn't the time for him to tell her what had happened before he reached the gate room, and she forced herself to be patient and focus on why they were here on this planet. They were checking up on Ruksha's people; the kind folks that had helped them escape their second time from P8Y-974, and she suspected, atleast Ruksha had played some part in their escape the first time.
Now that she thought about it, Sam realized that their first escape had been way too easy. She hadn't had much chance to think about it during the actual escape, because she'd been unconscious, but afterwards, after the briefing and reports, and speaking with Daniel conversationally, she decided their chances shouldn't have been as good as they were. There had to have been another manimal, someone other than Ruksha, helping them out. Sam silently wondered about that while they tramped off toward the village, which was nearly a mile from the gate.
Jack gently reached for Sam's arm and pulled her back with him as they walked to the village, letting Teal'c and Daniel get a little more ahead. When she turned to him with a puzzled expression, he gave a slight inclination of his head with a serious look in his eyes.
The message came across to Sam clearly. He was ready to tell her what was going on now. Her pace slowed so she walked closely beside him.
"The General pulled me aside for a little chat on my way to the gate room," he began steadily, his voice low and just loud enough for her to hear.
Sam gulped, and couldn't help the wince that flickered across her face. "That...doesn't sound like a good thing," she grimaced, waiting for him to say more.
"Well...he knew there was something different about us when we came back from '974," Jack noticed Sam's face twitch, but she kept walking alongside him, now staring straight ahead. He chuckled humorlessly. "We really don't give the old man enough credit. He could see that our...ah, professional feelings for one another had changed."
As he paused, Sam raised her head and glanced sideways at him nervously. "I'm guessing we aren't being court martialled...since he's let us on this mission and all."
"For the moment...no," Jack's expression now twitched into a grimace. He stared down at his scuffed boots at they followed along the dirt path, several yards behind Teal'c and Daniel. "He asked me straight out if I thought the two of us could still function in the same unit without a personal relationship getting in the way, if the regs had been dropped. By that point I'd already explained that we hadn't really done anything yet, and then I also told him that I thought we'd be better off staying on SG-1, and neither of us would change the way we operated as a team just because we were together."
Sam's eyebrows rose hopefully, "And he said...?"
Jack sucked in a breath and released it in a long sigh. "Hammond said he'd speak with the President on our behalf while we're here. He trusts us, and he's willing to allow us to remain on SG-1, so neither of us has to get transferred, resign, or retire. But 'The Man' has the final say. He should have an answer by the time we get back."
"Oh," Sam's eyes clenched briefly, her pace slowing just a fraction.
"Well," Jack said loudly, nudging her arm and walking a little faster so they could catch up with Teal'c and Daniel, "Let's not let that spoil this visit now, eh?" He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
Sighing through her nose, Sam matched his stride and put on a false smile as well, trying not to think about what could happen when they returned to the SGC.
The team finally reached a small village that appeared once-abandoned, still needing a lot of work, though it looked as if the refugees from P8Y-974 were doing a good job fixing it up little by little. The place was pretty primitive, but Sam figured anything was better than the grungy underground bunker they'd been surviving in. She'd bet that the people all thought that too. They could now go outside into the fresh air without fear of being captured or killed, and move freely among the small village, actually living their lives instead of merely surviving. Families could be reunited, as Ruksha and Ibsha had been, and from what Sam had heard, the Nox had even been kind enough to heal the sick and wounded while the refugees had temporarily shared planets with them.
Daniel waved his arms in a friendly greeting as he saw the big sabretooth-man emerge from a small hut. "Ruksha! Hi!"
With a huge cat's grin, Ruksha approached SG-1. "It is good to see you again, my friend," he nodded his head slightly at Daniel, then waved a big, paw-like hand toward the rest of the team. "My friends,"
Jack just nodded, but he was a little tense. He knew Ruksha had helped them out and done nothing to harm them, but he couldn't help but be wary of all the manimals. Their very existence unnerved him, and the fact that more than one of them hurt him very badly hadn't helped any. And the fact that the damn gator man-beastie had hurt Carter made him dislike their kind even more. But it wasn't their fault; the Goa'uld had done that to them. And folks like Ruksha hadn't always been that way.
Sam glanced sideways at Jack with concern. His rigid posture was obvious, and she knew that he was still disturbed by what had been done to him by the manimals, even if he'd never admit it. She consciously took a side step closer to him, smiling kindly at Ruksha.
Smiling, but at a lesser degree now, Ruksha gestured behind him. "Come inside, we have much to discuss,"
Jack nodded when Daniel glanced at him for silent approval, then he watched Teal'c and the archaeologist go with Ruksha before moving from his spot to slowly follow, Sam still close at his side.
Inside the small house, SG-1 sat around a big wooden table with Ruksha, his wife Ibsha, and a strange bear-looking fellow whom Jack was extremely wary of. Daniel knew that the manimal wouldn't have been there if he wasn't allied with Ruksha and the rest, so the archaeologist was immediately friendly and trustful. Teal'c was impassive, but sharply aware of everything that went on as usual.
"Forgive me," Ruksha said with a small, abashed grin as he waved a paw-like hand toward the bear-man. "This is my friend, Barrek. He help me assist you during the second escape,"
"Second escape?" Daniel questioned with a bit of confusion. His brows knit together in thought. "So...you helped us the first time too?"
"No," Ruksha bowed his large feline head slightly. "The first time I worked alone, and did not yet know I would find a friend in Barrek," he gestured toward the bear-man, who stood back from the table, leaning against a wall and nodding in acknowledgement.
Jack offered a wry smile and snapped his fingers, "I knew it was way too easy gettin' out the first time,"
Ruksha continued speaking, nodding his head toward Daniel. "After you were captured the second time, I took charge of removing your equipment, and made sure to leave your...communication device alone. The other manimals wanted your friend," his gaze shifted to Jack, "O'Neill, for his mark of the Ancients because they thought they could offer him to the Goa'uld and be rewarded. Their God has not come by in many years, and I believe he has abandoned them,"
Daniel and Sam both nodded at the same time, taking everything in with interest. "That makes sense," Sam muttered her thoughts aloud, then looked up at the others. Jack sat rigidly at her side. She'd felt him tense up as Ruksha explained what the manimals had wanted with him. "The Goa'uld ruling here must have found no more use for them. It could have been for a number of reasons, but I'm guessing they finally realized that even though the manimals had the potential to become stronger than them, since they couldn't become hosts, if the Goa'uld stopped supplying them with the technology and just left them alone, they could only advance so far. Apparently the Goa'uld didn't even think they were worth killing, sadly,"
Daniel nodded in agreement, then added, "And I'm assuming then, that the Goa'uld never gave them enough technology to be able to create any significant weapons or a ship,"
Teal'c spoke up then, "This sounds very much like something a Goa'uld would do. I do not believe they would ever return,"
"Well, that's just fine and dandy," Jack muttered, clapping one hand down on the wooden table lightly. "So the evil beasties are left to their own devices with no one left to torture and/or enslave, so who cares? To hell with 'em,"
The archaeologist's gaze swiveled over to the Colonel. "Yes Jack, I'm not suggesting we do anything about it,"
"Good," Jack growled firmly. His broken left arm rested against his lap, and his gaze flickered sideways when he felt Sam lay a comforting hand on his right knee.
Before any arguments could arise, Ruksha's wife, Ibsha, entered the small house accompanied by Rendar, the older man that had taken them in back on the planet.
Daniel was smiling at them both as he got to his feet in greeting. "Rendar, Ibsha, it's good to see you again,"
Ibsha was smiling with genuine happiness, her tanned skin flawless and clean, a sharp contrast to when they'd first met her. Her green eyes were still bright and trusting, and her dark, reddish-brown hair appeared lighter, being clean. "It is good to see you all again as well," she nodded toward each in turn, sidling up to her husband and linking their arms together.
Rendar nodded in agreement with Ibsha's statement. His scraggly grey beard had been shaved, and he looked younger for it. The man had also cleaned up and seemed much healthier and happier. "I'm glad to see you have faired well for your troubles,"
Jack self-consciously lowered his plastered arm beneath the table and sent Rendar a crooked grin as the older man's gaze swept over him. He tugged his sleave down further to try and hide it more. "Yeah, mostly anyways," he murmured softly. None of their people had known anyone had been injured after his and Daniel's escape, and Ruksha was the last of them he'd seen before they took off for the stargate.
After chatting for a long while about how things were going on the new planet and everything, learning about how grateful the people all were for what SG-1 had done for them, and taking a tour around the small village, Sam could see that all the walking and chatting had tired Jack. He hadn't been cleared fit for duty yet, and she knew that this off-world trip was a special occasion, and afterwards Jack would be on light duties for a bit longer. Although the team hadn't done anything strenuous during their visit, it was still more activity than Jack had done since he'd been injured, and it was pretty taxing on his still-healing body.
Sam subtly pulled Jack aside when Daniel and Teal'c sat down on a bench outside Rendar's house and continued talking with him and Leynus, whom they'd met up with during the tour around the village.
Jack glanced sideways at Sam with a raised eyebrow as she held onto his elbow and pulled him over beside one of the buildings set up for some sort of shop. "What?" He asked, straightening his posture to try and make it seem like he wasn't as tired as he was.
It wasn't hard for Sam to see past the act. She gestured toward the stack of wooden beams on the ground behind him. "Jack, why don't you sit down for a minute,"
His eyes narrowed and he grunted. "No thanks, I'm good standing,"
Sam heaved a frustrated sigh and moved next to him, sitting down on the beams. She hesitated briefly before the next words left her mouth, "Stop being stubborn and just sit down. You're exhausted Jack. Please," Even after spending a week alone with Jack, it still felt a little weird showing her emotions to him and saying what she really wanted to say, without fear of being reprimanded. Which, technically, he still had the right to do at this moment, considering they were off-world and technically on a mission. Especially if they were going to get the chance to prove to Hammond they could still function as a team.
Instead of arguing, Jack sat beside her a little reluctantly. He rolled his eyes and grinned, nudging her teasingly with his right elbow. "Atleast you're not bossin' me around in front of Daniel an' Teal'c. Danny would never follow my orders again,"
"Like he follows them now?" Sam laughed softly, shoving him back just as teasingly.
Jack's shoulders slumped visibly after a moment, and his broken arm slid over his lap to subtly press against his right side. His abused muscles had started to get sore during their long walk around the village, but there was no way he would've mentioned anything.
Sam smiled gently at him and put her hand on his leg, her thumb lightly rubbing against his knee. "We've been here awhile now, maybe we should pack up and head home soon?"
He sighed, eyes closing for a long moment before he turned his head and his deep brown orbs met her sparkling blue ones. "I'm not so sure I'm ready to go back,"
When Jack grimaced a little, Sam knew exactly why. It was the same reason she was dreading their return to Earth. Hammond's news could make or break things for herself, Jack, and SG-1. She squeezed his knee, trying to draw strength from him and offer it at the same time. Smiling tightly, she changed the subject, pulling a single packet of Tylenol from her vest pocket and handing it to him. "Here,"
Jack raised both eyebrows, slowly reaching for the packet after Sam narrowed her eyes at him. Tearing it open with his teeth, he dry-swallowed the pills before pulling out his canteen and taking a few slugs of water. Getting to his feet with a visible grimace, he quickly let a neutral mask slip back into the place to hide his discomfort. "Alright, let's get the boys and go home,"
Sam nodded at him as she got up, and the two walked out together.
Both Fraiser and Hammond were waiting at the bottom of the ramp when SG-1 returned. Sam stiffened apprehensively and saw Jack's shoulders tense. Teal'c and Daniel walked down the ramp without hesitating, figuring the General was just there to find out how things went. But no one was really sure why Janet was there. None of them had gotten injured and they didn't understand her presence.
"Sir," Jack greeted the General with a nod. He didn't expect the man to mention anything about the decision he was supposed to have for him right in front of everybody, but Jack had hoped to be able to get an idea from the man's expression. No go as it turned out. Hammond was giving nothing away, his expression perfectly neutral. That scared Jack more than anything.
"Colonel," Hammond nodded back at him and then addressed the entire team. "SG-1, report to the briefing room. I'd like to know how our new friends are doing," he smiled for a moment, then tilted his chin in Dr. Fraiser's direction, the small woman standing still at his side.
"Please come with me first, Colonel." Janet said with a knowing smile. At Jack's puzzled look, she explained, "I'd like to check you over quickly before you attend the debriefing with the rest of your team. This was a condition to which the General agreed to so you'd be able to go on the mission since I hadn't cleared you fit for full duties yet,"
With a momentary roll of his eyes and a slightly exasperated sigh, Jack dropped his chin and nodded with a forced smile. "Yes ma'am,"
Daniel looked over at Sam as he noticed her glance at Jack apprehensively. Turning back slightly to where Teal'c stood with his hands clasped behind his back, the archaeologist shrugged and left the gate room to attend their debriefing.
Janet calmly approached Jack where he sat on one of the beds in the infirmary, fidgeting more than usual and swinging his legs back and forth. She smiled gently and waved a hand at him. "Colonel, kindly lift your shirt so I can check your wound, please,"
Rolling his eyes, Jack gave an irritated huff and quit swinging his legs so he didn't kick the doctor as she neared. Sliding off the bed, he stood and lifted his shirt with his right hand, holding it up while Janet slipped on a pair of gloves and began examining him. "It's fine, Doc," he assured her confidently.
"Let me be the judge of that sir," she quickly replied, lightly prodding the area around the healing entrance and exit wounds on his right side. Once the stitches had been taken out, the wounds had kept closed and were looking rather well, not showing any signs of infection. Smiling, Janet stood straight and tugged the bottom of his shirt from Jack's grasp, pulling it back down. "I'm glad to say that you're healing very nicely," she gave a long pause, "On the outside atleast,"
Jack made a face at the doctor and shoved just his right hand into his pants pocket. The left was too big to fit with the cast on.
"Still experiencing muscle pain?" Janet asked with clinical concern.
"When I move around alot," Jack responded dismissively with a shrug.
Fraiser eyed him pointedly. "And I suppose you've done just that today, hm?"
"Mostly walking," was his quick, careless answer.
"And walking effects the abdominal muscles along your side, so I'm going to safely say that you're a bit sore?" Janet crossed her arms, knowing she had him effectively pinned with the look in her eyes. There was no way he could deny it.
Jack sighed, suddenly finding the cast on his hand extremely fascinating. "I took some Tylenol off-world just before we came home," he said without directly answering the question.
"Mm-hm," Janet just nodded, crossed and uncrossed her arms. "Alright then, keep taking some form of mild painkiller every four hours for the rest of the day. You've still got the pain medication I sent you home with?"
"Yeah," Jack hadn't used them much when he was home the past week. He hated using the strong stuff most of the time, didn't like the feeling of being drugged out and not able to feel anything.
"If the pain gets worse than what the Tylenol can handle, take one of those before bed," Janet knew he probably wouldn't, even if the Tylenol didn't do the trick.
Nodding absently, and still greatly distracted by the thoughts of what news Hammond had for him and Sam, Jack's gaze kept flickering toward the door. He hadn't even realized it at first, but he'd been shifting from foot to foot as the doctor spoke with him. "Okay, can I go now?"
Janet smiled and waved him off. "Fine, go, shoo!" She nearly laughed as the Colonel practically bolted from the infirmary.
Jack had forgotten about being exhausted and was running off nervous energy as he made it to the briefing room in record time. Daniel, Teal'c, Sam, and the General all glanced in his direction as he gave a nod and tried to slow his breathing as he approached the table, but it was only Sam's blue eyes that he was focusing on. It sounded like they were wrapping up, and he faintly heard Hammond dismissing them before Daniel and Teal'c rose from their seats.
Hammond waved a hand at his 2IC, gesturing toward Sam as well as he slid his chair back and got up. "Colonel, Major, my office please,"
Daniel sent Jack an encouraging smile as he passed him, as though he knew what was going on and what Hammond wanted to see them about.
Teal'c nodded at O'Neill and silently strode by him, hands clasped behind his back.
Jack gulped, his eyes darting toward Sam as he moved to follow her into the General's office. He heavily took a seat, his plastered arm coming to rest awkwardly on the arm of the chair while his other hand tapped a staccato beat against his thigh.
Sam shifted her chair closer to Jack's subtly before General Hammond entered. She watched the bald man stride calmly around his desk before settling in the leather armchair and looking between them. His face was unreadable, and that made her nervous. She unconsciously scraped the tips of her fingers against her chair's armrests and clenched her teeth.
"Sir I-" Jack began awkwardly, cutting himself off as the General raised a hand to forestall anything he might have said.
"Relax Jack," then Hammond smiled, a genuine one at that, and the tension in the room eased considerably.
O'Neill became suddenly hopeful. He stopped tapping at his thigh and risked a quick sideways glance at Sam. She appeared cautiously optimistic. Patiently, he waited for the General to speak.
"Major Carter, I'm assuming Jack has told you that I talked with him before you went off-world?" Hammond began, continuing to speak as Sam gave a slow a nod, followed by a 'Yessir'. "Very well then," he nodded to himself and folded his hands over the desk. "The President is fully trusting my own personal judgement on this matter, and believes that if my decision does not affect the whole of the SGC and the work we do here, then it does not affect him and he isn't concerned,"
"Yessir?" Jack murmured slowly, unsurely. Hammond's expression was unreadable again.
"Tomorrow I'll be sending out a memo to all personnel, as well as an announcement over the speaker system, stating that the fraternization regulations have been suspended for the SGC," Seeing both Jack and Sam's relieved and stunned faces, the General kept speaking. "However, every month or so there will be a team evaluation, with each team member in attendance to determine whether or not the unit cohesion is still there, and any personnel wishing to pursue a relationship with another member of their field team must go through me first. I'll need to know which teams need to be included in the monthly evaluation."
"So," Jack began hesitantly, clearing his throat and blinking in stunned awe. It was still hard for him to believe that what he'd longed for for so long was finally going to be possible. "Does this mean no court martial?" His hands gestured in the air between himself and Sam.
"No Jack," Hammond chuckled, his face breaking out into a smile. "No court martial,"
"Phew," O'Neill leaned back in his chair with relieved silence.
"Also," The General added, both the Major and Colonel's attention raptly focusing on him once more, "I'm trusting the both of you to remain professional while on base, though whether or not you choose to address one another by your given name during your time here is solely up to you.
Sam gave a nod and smiled over at Jack. Yes, Jack. Her smile widened. She was finally able to speak his name in front of everybody, and there was no chance of her going back to calling him 'Sir' or 'Colonel', unless they were on a mission and she got totally into 'Major Carter' mode and slipped.
Jack was positively grinning from ear to ear in his seat beside Sam.
Hammond smiled to himself and rolled his eyes when the pair weren't looking at him. This had certainly been a long time coming. He just hoped their team dynamic wouldn't change, otherwise he'd have to split up his flagship team, and he really didn't want to do that. "Major, Colonel," he addressed each in turn, "I'll be making the announcement to the base sometime tomorrow, and SG-1 is officially on downtime for the weekend. Report to base on Monday morning. Dismissed," The General waved them off, watching the two nearly leap from their seats and exit the office as though he might change his mind.
Not yet saying a word to eachother, the pair headed down the stairs. Sam noticed Jack's slight wince with every other step, her arm brushing against his as they neared the bottom.
"So," he started quietly as they began now walking along the corridor toward the elevators. "We have the weekend," Jack glanced over at her and smiled.
Sam grinned teasingly. "Yep. I think I'm gonna spend two days at home in the garage, working on my bike." She giggled as Jack shot her a look, then lightly swatted his shoulder.
"Think we should give Danny and Teal'c the news?" he asked playfully, his dark eyes showing unhidden happiness.
"Nah," Sam waved a hand dismissively as they stepped into the elevator together, "They'll know once they hear the announcement tomorrow," she laughed.
Jack chuckled and unconsciously leaned back against the elevator wall. After a moment of companionable silence, he suddenly pushed off from the wall and cocked his head to the side at Sam. "Let me make you dinner tonight," He said hopefully.
Sam gave him a suspicious look. "I thought you couldn't cook?"
He shrugged, smiling a little. "I can grill. Sorta," His smile widened as she laughed. He loved the sound of her laugh, and hearing it unrepressed was certainly something special. It was something he really enjoyed during their week together while he was convalescing. Having Carter near him, not holding back her feelings. God, he loved her.
"I have a better idea," Sam said, sidling a little closer to him. "You come to my house and I order us some take-out. We'll relax in the living room and veg out,"
Jack lowered his head and eyed her through raised brows. He crossed his arms awkwardly with the cast on his left. "Sam," he sang, knowing what she was trying to do.
"Come on Jack, you need to rest," Sam said in a firm, yet coaxing voice. "Besides, you're still not supposed to be driving,"
He sighed, rolling his eyes and giving in. Jack really didn't care what they did, as long as they were together. This time they didn't have to worry about regulations, or going too far. And although Jack knew he wasn't physically ready to be intimate with Sam - though not by choice - he could be patient because he knew that there'd be a special time for that, and there was nothing holding them back. "Okay," he said softly. "Your place it is then,"
Sam wanted him to spend the night, though she wasn't quite sure how to ask. As the elevator came to a stop at the locker room level and opened up, she briefly chewed her bottom lip as they stepped out together. They were both still in their BDUs, and she assumed he'd be changing into civvies before they left, as she planned to. "Do you want to stop at your place to get some things on the way? I think I left some of my clothes at your house anyways,"
Jack nodded slowly and then glanced at her sideways, smirking. "You tryin' to say you want me to stay over tonight?" he teased, watching Sam blush a little and laughing. When she didn't say anything, he grasped her arm gently and they stopped in the empty corridor. His voice softened, and his dark eyes locked onto her blue ones seriously. "It's okay. I just want to be wherever you are,"
Nodding, Sam's eyes twinkled and she moved her arm from his grasp, taking his hand and squeezing briefly. "Me too," she told him quietly.
Jack was pretty tired when they reached Sam's house, and she firmly insisted that he get comfortable on the couch while she dug out the paper plates and some drinks after ordering take-out. He felt guilty about nearly falling asleep on her, after all they'd been through to get this far. Being near her was enough for him, but Jack had to wonder, was it enough for her?
Setting down the plates and drinks on the coffee table, Sam turned on the tv and snuggled right up to Jack's left side. She kissed his cheek and smiled. "Pizza should be here in about twenty minutes,"
He nodded, turning his head to capture her lips with his own. Jack's right hand came around to the back of Sam's neck as he deepened the kiss for a long moment before smiling and slowly pulling away. "This is good," he murmured.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, happily dazed, "Pizza won't take long to get here at all,"
Jack rolled his eyes and lightly flicked his finger at the tip of her nose. "Funny,"
"I thought so," Sam grinned impishly and tucked her head into the crook of his shoulder.
Leaning back into the sofa, Jack nodded to himself. He'd gotten his answer. Just having this was enough for her too. Letting out a long, content sigh, Jack murmured, "Love you Sam,"
Tilting her head up, she kissed his chin and cuddled closer to him. "I love you too Jack."
Daniel brought his plate of waffles over to the familiar commissary table and sat down across from Teal'c. He blinked, then looked around the room, expecting to see the rest of SG-1. The General had given the entire team the weekend off, but he doubted that everyone had left already. Usually he and Sam needed to be kicked off base to get some downtime. But Sam wasn't around either. And normally Jack would stop by and pester Daniel about getting off base before he left. Odd.
Teal'c seemed to be wondering the same thing, until General Hammond's voice came over the loudspeaker.
When the announcement was over, Daniel shared a look with the Jaffa and smiled knowingly. "That explains it," he muttered softly.
Thinking on the same wave-length as his friend, Teal'c nodded with a quiet, "Indeed."